Hung Lou Meng, Book I (B)
By Cao Xueqin

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Public Domain Books

Chapter XI.

  In honour of Chia Ching’s birthday, a family banquet is spread in the
      Ning Mansion.
  At the sight of Hsi-feng, Chia Jui entertains feelings of licentious
      love.

We will now explain, in continuation of our story, that on the day of Chia Ching’s birthday, Chia Chen began by getting ready luscious delicacies and rare fruits, which he packed in sixteen spacious present boxes, and bade Chia Jung take them, along with the servants belonging to the household, over to Chia Ching.

Turning round towards Chia Jung: “Mind,” he said, “that you observe whether your grandfather be agreeable or not, before you set to work and pay your obeisance! ’My father,’ tell him, ’has complied with your directions, venerable senior, and not presumed to come over; but he has at home ushered the whole company of the members of the family (into your apartments), where they all paid their homage facing the side of honour.’”

After Chia Jung had listened to these injunctions, he speedily led off the family domestics, and took his departure. During this interval, one by one arrived the guests. First came Chia Lien and Chia Se, who went to see whether the seats in the various places (were sufficient). “Is there to be any entertainment or not?” they also inquired.

“Our master,” replied the servants, “had, at one time, intended to invite the venerable Mr. Chia Ching to come and spend this day at home, and hadn’t for this reason presumed to get up any entertainment. But when the other day he came to hear that the old gentleman was not coming, he at once gave us orders to go in search of a troupe of young actors, as well as a band of musicians, and all these people are now engaged making their preparations on the stage in the garden.”

Next came, in a group, mesdames Hsing and Wang, lady Feng and Pao-y, followed immediately after by Chia Chen and Mrs. Yu; Mrs. Yu’s mother having already arrived and being in there in advance of her. Salutations were exchanged between the whole company, and they pressed one another to take a seat. Chia Chen and Mrs. Yu both handed the tea round.

“Our venerable lady,” they explained, as they smiled, “is a worthy senior; while our father is, on the other hand, only her nephew; so that on a birthday of a man of his age, we should really not have had the audacity to invite her ladyship; but as the weather, at this time, is cool, and the chrysanthemums, in the whole garden, are in luxuriant blossom, we have requested our venerable ancestor to come for a little distraction, and to see the whole number of her children and grand-children amuse themselves. This was the object we had in view, but, contrary to our expectations, our worthy senior has not again conferred upon us the lustre of her countenance.”

Lady Feng did not wait until madame Wang could open her mouth, but took the initiative to reply. “Our venerable lady,” she urged, “had, even so late as yesterday, said that she meant to come; but, in the evening, upon seeing brother Pao eating peaches, the mouth of the old lady once again began to water, and after partaking of a little more than the half of one, she had, about the fifth watch, to get out of bed two consecutive times, with the result that all the forenoon to-day, she felt her body considerably worn out. She therefore bade me inform our worthy senior that it was utterly impossible for her to come to-day; adding however that, if there were any delicacies, she fancied a few kinds, but that they should be very tender.”

When Chia Chen heard these words, he smiled. “Our dowager lady,” he replied, “is, I argued, so fond of amusement that, if she doesn’t come to-day, there must, for a certainty, be some valid reason; and that’s exactly what happens to be the case.”

“The other day I heard your eldest sister explain,” interposed madame Wang, “that Chia Jung’s wife was anything but well; but what’s after all the matter with her?”

“She has,” observed Mrs. Yu, “contracted this illness verily in a strange manner! Last moon at the time of the mid-autumn festival, she was still well enough to be able to enjoy herself, during half the night, in company with our dowager lady and madame Wang. On her return, she continued in good health, until after the twentieth, when she began to feel more and more languid every day, and loth, likewise, to eat anything; and this has been going on for well-nigh half a month and more; she hasn’t besides been anything like her old self for two months.”

“May she not,” remarked madame Hsing, taking up the thread of the conversation, “be ailing for some happy event?”

But while she was uttering these words, some one from outside announced: "Our senior master, second master and all the gentlemen of the family have come, and are standing in the Reception Hall!” Whereupon Chia Chen and Chia Lien quitted the apartment with hurried step; and during this while, Mrs. Yu reiterated how that some time ago a doctor had also expressed the opinion that she was ailing for a happy event, but that the previous day, had come a doctor, recommended by Feng Tzu-ying–a doctor, who had from his youth up made medicine his study, and was very proficient in the treatment of diseases,–who asserted, after he had seen her, that it was no felicitous ailment, but that it was some grave complaint. “It was only yesterday,” (she explained,) “that he wrote his prescription; and all she has had is but one dose, and already to-day the giddiness in the head is considerably better; as regards the other symptoms they have as yet shown no marked improvement.”

“I maintain,” remarked lady Feng, “that, were she not quite unfit to stand the exertion, would she in fact, on a day like this, be unwilling to strain every nerve and come round.”

“You saw her,” observed Mrs. Yu, “on the third in here; how that she bore up with a violent effort for ever so long, but it was all because of the friendship that exists between you two, that she still longed for your society, and couldn’t brook the idea of tearing herself away.”

When lady Feng heard these words, her eyes got quite red, and after a time she at length exclaimed: “In the Heavens of a sudden come wind and rain; while with man, in a day and in a night, woe and weal survene! But with her tender years, if for a complaint like this she were to run any risk, what pleasure is there for any human being to be born and to sojourn in the world?”

She was just speaking, when Chia Jung walked into the apartment; and after paying his respects to madame Hsing, madame Wang, and lady Feng, he then observed to Mrs. Yu: “I have just taken over the eatables to our venerable ancestor; and, at the same time, I told him that my father was at home waiting upon the senior, and entertaining the junior gentlemen of the whole family, and that in compliance with grandfather’s orders, he did not presume to go over. The old gentleman was much delighted by what he heard me say, and having signified that that was all in order, bade me tell father and you, mother, to do all you can in your attendance upon the senior gentlemen and ladies, enjoining me to entertain, with all propriety, my uncles, aunts, and my cousins. He also went on to urge me to press the men to cut, with all despatch, the blocks for the Record of Meritorious Deeds, and to print ten thousand copies for distribution. All these messages I have duly delivered to my father, but I must now be quick and go out, so as to send the eatables for the elder as well as for the younger gentlemen of the entire household.”

“Brother Jung Erh,” exclaimed lady Feng, “wait a moment. How is your wife getting on? how is she, after all, to-day?”

“Not well,” replied Chia Jung. “But were you, aunt, on your return to go in and see her, you will find out for yourself.”

Chia Jung forthwith left the room. During this interval, Mrs. Yu addressed herself to mesdames Hsing and Wang; “My ladies,” she asked, "will you have your repast in here, or will you go into the garden for it? There are now in the garden some young actors engaged in making their preparations?”

“It’s better in here,” madame Wang remarked, as she turned towards madame Hsing.

Mrs. Yu thereupon issued directions to the married women and matrons to be quick in serving the eatables. The servants, in waiting outside the door, with one voice signified their obedience; and each of them went off to fetch what fell to her share. In a short while, the courses were all laid out, and Mrs. Yu pressed mesdames Hsing and Wang, as well as her mother, into the upper seats; while she, together with lady Feng and Pao-y, sat at a side table.

“We’ve come,” observed mesdames Hsing and Wang, “with the original idea of paying our congratulations to our venerable senior on the occasion of his birthday; and isn’t this as if we had come for our own birthdays?”

“The old gentleman,” answered lady Feng, “is a man fond of a quiet life; and as he has already consummated a process of purification, he may well be looked upon as a supernatural being, so that the purpose to which your ladyships have given expression may be considered as manifest to his spirit, upon the very advent of the intention.”

As this sentence was uttered the whole company in the room burst out laughing. Mrs. Yu’s mother, mesdames Hsing and Wang, and lady Feng having one and all partaken of the banquet, rinsed their mouths and washed their hands, which over, they expressed a wish to go into the garden.

Chia Jung entered the room. “The senior gentlemen,” he said to Mrs. Yu, "as well as all my uncles and cousins, have finished their repast; but the elder gentleman Mr. Chia She, who excused himself on the score of having at home something to attend to, and Mr. Secundus (Chia Cheng), who is not partial to theatrical performances and is always afraid that people will be too boisterous in their entertainments, have both of them taken their departure. The rest of the family gentlemen have been taken over by uncle Secundus Mr. Lien, and Mr. Se, to the other side to listen to the play. A few moments back Prince Nan An, Prince Tung P’ing, Prince Hsi Ning, Prince Pei Ching, these four Princes, with Niu, Duke of Chen Kuo, and five other dukes, six in all, and Shih, Marquis of Chung Ching, and other seven, in all eight marquises, sent their messengers with their cards and presents. I have already told father all about it; but before I did so, the presents were put away in the counting room, the lists of presents were all entered in the book, and the ’received with thanks’ cards were handed to the respective messengers of the various mansions; the men themselves were also tipped in the customary manner, and all of them were kept to have something to eat before they went on their way. But, mother, you should invite the two ladies, your mother and my aunt, to go over and sit in the garden.”

“Just so!” observed Mrs. Yu, “but we’ve only now finished our repast, and were about to go over.”

“I wish to tell you, madame,” interposed lady Feng, “that I shall go first and see brother Jung’s wife and then come and join you.”

“All right,” replied madame Wang; “we should all have been fain to have paid her a visit, did we not fear lest she should look upon our disturbing her with displeasure, but just tell her that we would like to know how she is getting on!”

“My dear sister,” remarked Mrs. Yu, “as our son’s wife has a ready ear for all you say, do go and cheer her up, (and if you do so,) it will besides set my own mind at ease; but be quick and come as soon as you can into the garden.”

Pao-y being likewise desirous to go along with lady Feng to see lady Ch’in, madame Wang remarked, “Go and see her just for a while, and then come over at once into the garden; (for remember) she is your nephew’s wife, (and you couldn’t sit in there long).”

Mrs. Yu forthwith invited mesdames Wang and Hsing, as well as her own mother, to adjourn to the other side, and they all in a body walked into the garden of Concentrated Fragrance; while lady Feng and Pao-y betook themselves, in company with Chia Jung, over to this side.

Having entered the door, they with quiet step walked as far as the entrance of the inner chamber. Mrs. Ch’in, upon catching sight of them, was bent upon getting up; but “Be quick,” remonstrated lady Feng, “and give up all idea of standing up; for take care your head will feel dizzy.”

Lady Feng hastened to make a few hurried steps forward and to grasp Mrs. Ch’in’s hand in hers. “My dear girl!” she exclaimed; “How is it that during the few days I’ve not seen you, you have grown so thin?”

Readily she then took a seat on the rug, on which Mrs. Ch’in was seated, while Pao-y, after inquiring too about her health, sat in the chair on the opposite side.

“Bring the tea in at once,” called out Chia Jung, “for aunt and uncle Secundus have not had any tea in the drawing room.”

Mrs. Ch’in took lady Feng’s hand in her own and forced a smile. “This is all due to my lack of good fortune; for in such a family as this, my father and mother-in-law treat me just as if I were a daughter of their own flesh and blood! Besides, your nephew, (my husband,) may, it is true, my dear aunt, be young in years, but he is full of regard for me, as I have regard for him, and we have had so far no misunderstanding between us! In fact, among the senior generation, as well as that of the same age as myself, in the whole clan, putting you aside, aunt, about whom no mention need be made, there is not one who has not ever had anything but love for me, and not one who has not ever shown me anything but kindness! But since I’ve fallen ill with this complaint, all my energy has even every bit of it been taken out of me, so that I’ve been unable to show to my father and mother-in-law any mark of filial attention, yea so much as for one single day and to you, my dear aunt, with all this affection of yours for me, I have every wish to be dutiful to the utmost degree, but, in my present state, I’m really not equal to it; my own idea is, that it isn’t likely that I shall last through this year.”

Pao-y kept, while (she spoke,) his eyes fixed intently upon a picture on the opposite side, representing some begonias drooping in the spring time, and upon a pair of scrolls, with this inscription written by Ch’in Tai-hs:

  A gentle chill doth circumscribe the dreaming man because the spring
      is cold!
  The fragrant whiff which wafts itself into man’s nose, is the perfume
      of wine!

And he could not help recalling to mind his experiences at the time when he had fallen asleep in this apartment, and had, in his dream, visited the confines of the Great Void. He was just plunged in a state of abstraction, when he heard Mrs. Ch’in give utterance to these sentiments, which pierced his heart as if they were ten thousand arrows, (with the result that) tears unwittingly trickled from his eyes.

Lady Feng perceiving him in tears felt it extremely painful within herself to bear the sight; but she was on pins and needles lest the patient should detect their frame of mind, and feel, instead (of benefit), still more sore at heart, which would not, after all, be quite the purpose of her visit; which was to afford her distraction and consolation. “Pao-y,” she therefore exclaimed, “you are like an old woman! Ill, as she is, simply makes her speak in this wise, and how ever could things come to such a pass! Besides, she is young in years, so that after a short indisposition, her illness will get all right!" "Don’t,” she said as she turned towards Mrs. Ch’in, “give way to silly thoughts and idle ideas! for by so doing won’t you yourself be aggravating your ailment?”

“All that her sickness in fact needs,” observed Chia Jung, “is, that she should be able to take something to eat, and then there will be nothing to fear.”

“Brother Pao,” urged lady Feng, “your mother told you to go over, as soon as you could, so that don’t stay here, and go on in the way you’re doing, for you after all incite this lady also to feel uneasy at heart. Besides, your mother over there is solicitous on your account.” “You had better go ahead with your uncle Pao,” she consequently continued, addressing herself to Chia Jung, “while I sit here a little longer.”

When Chia Jung heard this remark, he promptly crossed over with Pao-y into the garden of Concentrated Fragrance, while lady Feng went on both to cheer her up for a time, and to impart to her, in an undertone, a good deal of confidential advice.

Mrs. Yu had despatched servants, on two or three occasions, to hurry lady Feng, before she said to Mrs. Ch’in: “Do all you can to take good care of yourself, and I’ll come and see you again. You’re bound to get over this illness; and now, in fact, that you’ve come across that renowned doctor, you have really nothing more to fear.”

“He might,” observed Mrs. Ch’in as she smiled, “even be a supernatural being and succeed in healing my disease, but he won’t be able to remedy my destiny; for, my dear aunt, I feel sure that with this complaint of mine, I can do no more than drag on from day to day.”

“If you encourage such ideas,” remonstrated lady Feng, “how can this illness ever get all right? What you absolutely need is to cast away all these notions, and then you’ll improve. I hear moreover that the doctor asserts that if no cure be effected, the fear is of a change for the worse in spring, and not till then. Did you and I moreover belong to a family that hadn’t the means to afford any ginseng, it would be difficult to say how we could manage to get it; but were your father and mother-in-law to hear that it’s good for your recovery, why not to speak of two mace of ginseng a day, but even two catties will be also within their means! So mind you do take every care of your health! I’m now off on my way into the garden.”

“Excuse me, my dear aunt,” added Mrs. Ch’in, “that I can’t go with you; but when you have nothing to do, I entreat you do come over and see me! and you and I can sit and have a long chat.”

After lady Feng had heard these words, her eyes unwillingly got quite red again. “When I’m at leisure I shall, of course,” she rejoined, “come often to see you;” and forthwith leading off the matrons and married women, who had come over with her, as well as the women and matrons of the Ning mansion, she passed through the inner part of the house, and entered, by a circuitous way, the side gate of the park, when she perceived: yellow flowers covering the ground; white willows flanking the slopes; diminutive bridges spanning streams, resembling the Jo Yeh; zigzag pathways (looking as if) they led to the steps of Heaven; limpid springs dripping from among the rocks; flowers hanging from hedges emitting their fragrance, as they were flapped by the winds; red leaves on the tree tops swaying to and fro; groves picture-like, half stripped of foliage; the western breeze coming with sudden gusts, and the wail of the oriole still audible; the warm sun shining with genial rays, and the cicada also adding its chirp: structures, visible to the gaze at a distance in the South-east, soaring high on various sites and resting against the hills; three halls, visible near by on the North-west, stretching in one connected line, on the bank of the stream; strains of music filling the pavilion, imbued with an unwonted subtle charm; and maidens in fine attire penetrating the groves, lending an additional spell to the scene.

Lady Feng, while engaged in contemplating the beauties of the spot, advanced onwards step by step. She was plunged in a state of ecstasy, when suddenly, from the rear of the artificial rockery, egressed a person, who approached her and facing her said, “My respects to you, sister-in-law.”

Lady Feng was so startled by this unexpected appearance that she drew back. “Isn’t this Mr. Jui?” she ventured.

“What! sister-in-law,” exclaimed Chia Jui, “don’t you recognise even me?”

“It isn’t that I didn’t recognise you,” explained lady Feng, “but at the sudden sight of you, I couldn’t conceive that it would possibly be you, sir, in this place!”

“This was in fact bound to be,” replied Chia Jui; “for there’s some subtle sympathy between me and you, sister-in-law. Here I just stealthily leave the entertainment, in order to revel for a while in this solitary place when, against every expectation, I come across you, sister-in-law; and isn’t this a subtle sympathy?”

As he spoke, he kept his gaze fixed on lady Feng, who being an intelligent person, could not but arrive, at the sight of his manner, at the whole truth in her surmises. “It isn’t to be wondered at,” she consequently observed, as she smiled hypocritically, “that your eldest brother should make frequent allusion to your qualities! for after seeing you on this occasion, and hearing you utter these few remarks, I have readily discovered what an intelligent and genial person you are! I am just now on my way to join the ladies on the other side, and have no leisure to converse with you; but wait until I’ve nothing to attend to, when we can meet again.”

“I meant to have gone over to your place and paid my respects to you, sister-in-law,” pleaded Chia Jui, “but I was afraid lest a person of tender years like yourself mightn’t lightly receive any visitors!”

Lady Feng gave another sardonic smile. “Relatives,” she continued, “of one family, as we are, what need is there to say anything of tender years?”

After Chia Jui had heard these words, he felt his heart swell within him with such secret joy that he was urged to reflect: “I have at length to-day, when least I expected it, obtained this remarkable encounter with her!”

But as the display of his passion became still more repulsive, lady Feng urged him to go. “Be off at once,” she remarked, “and join the entertainment; for mind, if they find you out, they will mulct you in so many glasses of wine!”

By the time this suggestion had reached Chia Jui’s ears, half of his body had become stiff like a log of wood; and as he betook himself away, with lothful step, he turned his head round to cast glances at her. Lady Feng purposely slackened her pace; and when she perceived that he had gone a certain distance, she gave way to reflection. “This is indeed," she thought, “knowing a person, as far as face goes, and not as heart! Can there be another such a beast as he! If he really continues to behave in this manner, I shall soon enough compass his death, with my own hands, and he’ll then know what stuff I’m made of.”

Lady Feng, at this juncture moved onward, and after turning round a chain of hillocks, she caught sight of two or three matrons coming along with all speed. As soon as they espied lady Feng they put on a smile. "Our mistress,” they said, “perceiving that your ladyship was not forthcoming, has been in a great state of anxiety, and bade your servants come again to request you to come over.

“Is your mistress,” observed lady Feng, “so like a quick-footed demon?”

While lady Feng advanced leisurely, she inquired, “How many plays have been recited?” to which question one of the matrons replied, “They have gone through eight or nine.” But while engaged in conversation, they had already reached the back door of the Tower of Celestial Fragrance, where she caught sight of Pao-y playing with a company of waiting-maids and pages. “Brother Pao,” lady Feng exclaimed, “don’t be up to too much mischief!” “The ladies are all sitting upstairs,” interposed one of the maids. “Please, my lady, this is the way up.”

At these words lady Feng slackened her pace, raised her dress, and walked up the stairs, where Mrs. Yu was already at the top of the landing waiting for her.

“You two,” remarked Mrs. Yu, smiling, “are so friendly, that having met you couldn’t possibly tear yourself away to come. You had better to-morrow move over there and take up your quarters with her and have done; but sit down and let me, first of all, present you a glass of wine.”

Lady Feng speedily drew near mesdames Hsing and Wang, and begged permission to take a seat; while Mrs. Yu brought the programme, and pressed lady Feng to mark some plays.

“The senior ladies occupy the seats of honour,” remonstrated lady Feng, "and how can I presume to choose?”

“We, and our relative by marriage, have selected several plays," explained mesdames Hsing and Wang, “and it’s for you now to choose some good ones for us to listen to.”

Standing up, lady Feng signified her obedience; and taking over the programme, and perusing it from top to bottom, she marked off one entitled, the “Return of the Spirit,” and another called “Thrumming and Singing;” after which she handed back the programme, observing, “When they have done with the ’Ennoblement of two Officers,’ which they are singing just at present, it will be time enough to sing these two.”

“Of course it will,” retorted madame Wang, “but they should get it over as soon as they can, so as to allow your elder Brother and your Sister-in-law to have rest; besides, their hearts are not at ease.”

“You senior ladies don’t come often,” expostulated Mrs. Yu, “and you and I will derive more enjoyment were we to stay a little longer; it’s as yet early in the day!”

Lady Feng stood up and looked downstairs. “Where have all the gentlemen gone to?” she inquired.

“The gentlemen have just gone over to the Pavilion of Plenteous Effulgence,” replied a matron, who stood by; “they have taken along with them ten musicians and gone in there to drink their wine.”

“It wasn’t convenient for them,” remarked lady Feng, “to be over here; but who knows what they have again gone to do behind our backs?”

“Could every one,” interposed Mrs. Yu, “resemble you, a person of such propriety!”

While they indulged in chatting and laughing, the plays they had chosen were all finished; whereupon the tables were cleared of the wines, and the repast was served. The meal over, the whole company adjourned into the garden, and came and sat in the drawing-room. After tea, they at length gave orders to get ready the carriages, and they took their leave of Mrs. Yu’s mother. Mrs. Yu, attended by all the secondary wives, servants, and married women, escorted them out, while Chia Chen, along with the whole bevy of young men, stood by the vehicles, waiting in a group for their arrival.

After saluting mesdames Hsing and Wang, “Aunts,” they said, “you must come over again to-morrow for a stroll.”

“We must be excused,” observed madame Wang, “we’ve sat here the whole day to-day, and are, after all, feeling quite tired; besides, we shall need to have some rest to-morrow.”

Both of them thereupon got into their carriages and took their departure, while Chia Jui still kept a fixed gaze upon lady Feng; and it was after Chia Chen had gone in that Li Kuei led round the horse, and that Pao-y mounted and went off, following in the track of mesdames Hsing and Wang.

Chia Chen and the whole number of brothers and nephews belonging to the family had, during this interval, partaken of their meal, and the whole party at length broke up. But in like manner, all the inmates of the clan and the guests spent on the morrow another festive day, but we need not advert to it with any minuteness.

After this occasion, lady Feng came in person and paid frequent visits to Mrs. Ch’in; but as there were some days on which her ailment was considerably better, and others on which it was considerably worse, Chia Chen, Mrs. Yu, and Chia Jung were in an awful state of anxiety.

Chia Jui, it must moreover be noticed, came over, on several instances, on a visit to the Jung mansion; but it invariably happened that he found that lady Feng had gone over to the Ning mansion.

This was just the thirtieth of the eleventh moon, the day on which the winter solstice fell; and the few days preceding that season, dowager lady Chia, madame Wang and lady Feng did not let one day go by without sending some one to inquire about Mrs. Ch’in; and as the servants, on their return, repeatedly reported that, during the last few days, neither had her ailment aggravated, nor had it undergone any marked improvement, madame Wang explained to dowager lady Chia, that as a complaint of this nature had reached this kind of season without getting any worse, there was some hope of recovery.

“Of course there is!” observed the old lady; “what a dear child she is! should anything happen to her, won’t it be enough to make people die from grief!” and as she spake she felt for a time quite sore at heart. "You and she,” continuing, she said to lady Feng, “have been friends for ever so long; to-morrow is the glorious first (and you can’t go), but after to-morrow you should pay her a visit and minutely scrutinise her appearance: and should you find her any better, come and tell me on your return! Whatever things that dear child has all along a fancy for, do send her round a few even as often as you can by some one or other!”

Lady Feng assented to each of her recommendations; and when the second arrived, she came, after breakfast, to the Ning mansion to see how Mrs. Ch’in was getting on; and though she found her none the worse, the flesh all over her face and person had however become emaciated and parched up. She readily sat with Mrs. Ch’in for a long while, and after they had chatted on one thing and another, she again reiterated the assurances that this illness involved no danger, and distracted her for ever so long.

“Whether I get well or not,” observed Mrs. Ch’in, “we’ll know in spring; now winter is just over, and I’m anyhow no worse, so that possibly I may get all right; and yet there’s no saying; but, my dear sister-in-law, do press our old lady to compose her mind! yesterday, her ladyship sent me some potato dumplings, with minced dates in them, and though I had two, they seem after all to be very easily digested!”

“I’ll send you round some more to-morrow,” lady Feng suggested; “I’m now going to look up your mother-in-law, and will then hurry back to give my report to our dowager lady.”

“Please, sister-in-law,” Mrs. Ch’in said, “present my best respects to her venerable ladyship, as well as to madame Wang.”

Lady Feng signified that she would comply with her wishes, and, forthwith leaving the apartment, she came over and sat in Mrs. Yu’s suite of rooms.

“How do you, who don’t see our son’s wife very often, happen to find her?” inquired Mrs. Yu.

Lady Feng drooped her head for some time. “There’s no help,” she ventured, “for this illness! but you should likewise make every subsequent preparation, for it would also be well if you could scour it away.”

“I’ve done so much as to secretly give orders,” replied Mrs. Yu, “to get things ready; but for that thing (the coffin), there’s no good timber to be found, so that it will have to be looked after by and by.”

Lady Feng swallowed hastily a cup of tea, and after a short chat, “I must be hurrying back,” she remarked, “to deliver my message to our dowager lady!”

“You should,” urged Mrs. Yu, “be sparse in what you tell her lady ship so as not to frighten an old person like her!”

“I know well enough what to say,” replied lady Feng.

Without any further delay, lady Feng then sped back. On her arrival at home she looked up the old lady. “Brother Jung’s wife,” she explained, "presents her compliments, and pays obeisance to your venerable ladyship; she says that she’s much better, and entreats you, her worthy senior, to set your mind at ease! That as soon as she’s a little better she will come and prostrate herself before your ladyship.”

“How do you find her?” inquired dowager lady Chia.

“For the present there’s nothing to fear,” continued lady Feng; “for her mien is still good.”

After the old lady had heard these words, she was plunged for a long while in deep reflection; and as she turned towards lady Feng, “Go and divest yourself of your toilette,” she said, “and have some rest.”

Lady Feng in consequence signified her obedience, and walked away, returning home after paying madame Wang a visit. P’ing Erh helped lady Feng to put on the house costume, which she had warmed by the fire, and lady Feng eventually took a seat and asked “whether there was anything doing at home?”

P’ing Erh then brought the tea, and after going over to hand the cup: "There’s nothing doing,” she replied; “as regards the interest on the three hundred taels, Wang Erh’s wife has brought it in, and I’ve put it away. Besides this, Mr. Jui sent round to inquire if your ladyship was at home or not, as he meant to come and pay his respects and to have a chat.”

“Heng!” exclaimed lady Feng at these words. “Why should this beast compass his own death? we’ll see when he comes what is to be done.”

“Why is this Mr. Jui so bent upon coming?’ P’ing Erh having inquired, lady Feng readily gave her an account of how she had met him in the course of the ninth moon in the Ning mansion, and of what had been said by him.

“What a mangy frog to be bent upon eating the flesh of a heavenly goose!” ejaculated P’ing Erh. “A stupid and disorderly fellow with no conception of relationship, to harbour such a thought! but we’ll make him find an unnatural death!”

“Wait till he comes,” added lady Feng, “when I feel certain I shall find some way.”

What happened, however, when Chia Jui came has not, as yet, been ascertained, but listen, reader, to the explanation given in the next chapter.

Chapter XII.

  Wang Hsi-feng maliciously lays a trap for Chia Jui, under pretence
      that his affection is reciprocated.
  Chia T’ien-hsiang gazes at the face of the mirror of Voluptuousness.

Lady Feng, it must be noticed in continuation of our narrative, was just engaged in talking with P’ing Erh, when they heard some one announce that Mr. Jui had come. Lady Feng gave orders that he should be invited to step in, and Chia Jui perceiving that he had been asked to walk in was at heart elated at the prospect of seeing her.

With a face beaming with smiles, Lady Feng inquired again and again how he was; and, with simulated tenderness she further pressed him to take a seat and urged him to have a cup of tea.

Chia Jui noticed how still more voluptuous lady Feng looked in her present costume, and, as his eyes burnt with love, “How is it,” he inquired, “that my elder brother Secundus is not yet back?”

“What the reason is I cannot tell,” lady Feng said by way of reply.

“May it not be,” Chia Jui smilingly insinuated, “that some fair damsel has got hold of him on the way, and that he cannot brook to tear himself from her to come home?”

“That makes it plain that there are those among men who fall in love with any girl they cast their eyes on,” hinted lady Feng.

“Your remarks are, sister-in-law, incorrect, for I’m none of this kind!" Chia Jui explained smirkingly.

“How many like you can there be!” rejoined lady Feng with a sarcastic smile; “in ten, not one even could be picked out!”

When Chia Jui heard these words, he felt in such high glee that he rubbed his ears and smoothed his cheeks. “My sister-in-law,” he continued, “you must of course be extremely lonely day after day.”

“Indeed I am,” observed lady Feng, “and I only wish some one would come and have a chat with me to break my dull monotony.”

“I daily have ample leisure,” Chia Jui ventured with a simper, “and wouldn’t it be well if I came every day to dispel your dulness, sister-in-law?”

“You are simply fooling me,” exclaimed lady Feng laughing. “It isn’t likely you would wish to come over here to me?”

“If in your presence, sister-in-law, I utter a single word of falsehood, may the thunder from heaven blast me!” protested Chia Jui. “It’s only because I had all along heard people say that you were a dreadful person, and that you cannot condone even the slightest shortcoming committed in your presence, that I was induced to keep back by fear; but after seeing you, on this occasion, so chatty, so full of fun and most considerate to others, how can I not come? were it to be the cause of my death, I would be even willing to come!”

“You’re really a clever person,” lady Feng observed sarcastically. “And oh so much superior to both Chia Jung and his brother! Handsome as their presence was to look at, I imagined their minds to be full of intelligence, but who would have thought that they would, after all, be a couple of stupid worms, without the least notion of human affection!”

The words which Chia Jui heard, fell in so much the more with his own sentiments, that he could not restrain himself from again pressing forward nearer to her; and as with eyes strained to give intentness to his view, he gazed at lady Feng’s purse: “What rings have you got on?" he went on to ask.

“You should be a little more deferential,” remonstrated lady Feng in a low tone of voice, “so as not to let the waiting-maids detect us.”

Chia Jui withdrew backward with as much alacrity as if he had received an Imperial decree or a mandate from Buddha.

“You ought to be going!” lady Feng suggested, as she gave him a smile.

“Do let me stay a while longer,” entreated Chia Jui, “you are indeed ruthless, my sister-in-law.”

But with gentle voice did lady Feng again expostulate. “In broad daylight,” she said, “with people coming and going, it is not really convenient that you should abide in here; so you had better go, and when it’s dark and the watch is set, you can come over, and quietly wait for me in the corridor on the Eastern side!”

At these words, Chia Jui felt as if he had received some jewel or precious thing. “Don’t make fun of me!” he remarked with vehemence. “The only thing is that crowds of people are ever passing from there, and how will it be possible for me to evade detection?”

“Set your mind at ease!” lady Feng advised; “I shall dismiss on leave all the youths on duty at night; and when the doors, on both sides, are closed, there will be no one else to come in!”

Chia Jui was delighted beyond measure by the assurance, and with impetuous haste, he took his leave and went off; convinced at heart of the gratification of his wishes. He continued, up to the time of dusk, a prey to keen expectation; and, when indeed darkness fell, he felt his way into the Jung mansion, availing himself of the moment, when the doors were being closed, to slip into the corridor, where everything was actually pitch dark, and not a soul to be seen going backwards or forwards.

The door leading over to dowager lady Chia’s apartments had already been put under key, and there was but one gate, the one on the East, which had not as yet been locked. Chia Jui lent his ear, and listened for ever so long, but he saw no one appear. Suddenly, however, was heard a sound like “lo teng,” and the east gate was also bolted; but though Chia Jui was in a great state of impatience, he none the less did not venture to utter a sound. All that necessity compelled him to do was to issue, with quiet steps, from his corner, and to try the gates by pushing; but they were closed as firmly as if they had been made fast with iron bolts; and much though he may, at this juncture, have wished to find his way out, escape was, in fact, out of the question; on the south and north was one continuous dead wall, which, even had he wished to scale, there was nothing which he could clutch and pull himself up by.

This room, besides, was one the interior (of which was exposed) to the wind, which entered through (the fissure) of the door; and was perfectly empty and bare; and the weather being, at this time, that of December, and the night too very long, the northerly wind, with its biting gusts, was sufficient to penetrate the flesh and to cleave the bones, so that the whole night long he had a narrow escape from being frozen to death; and he was yearning, with intolerable anxiety for the break of day, when he espied an old matron go first and open the door on the East side, and then come in and knock at the western gate.

Chia Jui seeing that she had turned her face away, bolted out, like a streak of smoke, as he hugged his shoulders with his hands (from intense cold.) As luck would have it, the hour was as yet early, so that the inmates of the house had not all got out of bed; and making his escape from the postern door, he straightaway betook himself home, running back the whole way.

Chia Jui’s parents had, it must be explained, departed life at an early period, and he had no one else, besides his grandfather Tai-ju, to take charge of his support and education. This Tai-ju had, all along, exercised a very strict control, and would not allow Chia Jui to even make one step too many, in the apprehension that he might gad about out of doors drinking and gambling, to the neglect of his studies.

Seeing, on this unexpected occasion, that he had not come home the whole night, he simply felt positive, in his own mind, that he was certain to have run about, if not drinking, at least gambling, and dissipating in houses of the demi-monde up to the small hours; but he never even gave so much as a thought to the possibility of a public scandal, as that in which he was involved. The consequence was that during the whole length of the night he boiled with wrath.

Chia Jui himself, on the other hand, was (in such a state of trepidation) that he could wipe the perspiration (off his face) by handfuls; and he felt constrained on his return home, to have recourse to deceitful excuses, simply explaining that he had been at his eldest maternal uncle’s house, and that when it got dark, they kept him to spend the night there.

“Hitherto,” remonstrated Tai-ju, “when about to go out of doors, you never ventured to go, on your own hook, without first telling me about it, and how is it that yesterday you surreptitiously left the house? for this offence alone you deserve a beating, and how much more for the lie imposed upon me.”

Into such a violent fit of anger did he consequently fly that laying hands on him, he pulled him over and administered to him thirty or forty blows with a cane. Nor would he allow him to have anything to eat, but bade him remain on his knees in the court conning essays; impressing on his mind that he would not let him off, before he had made up for the last ten days’ lessons.

Chia Jui had in the first instance, frozen the whole night, and, in the next place, came in for a flogging. With a stomach, besides, gnawed by the pangs of hunger, he had to kneel in a place exposed to drafts reading the while literary compositions, so that the hardships he had to endure were of manifold kinds.

Chia Jui’s infamous intentions had at this junction undergone no change; but far from his thoughts being even then any idea that lady Feng was humbugging him, he seized, after the lapse of a couple of days, the first leisure moments to come again in search of that lady.

Lady Feng pretended to bear him a grudge for his breach of faith, and Chia Jui was so distressed that he tried by vows and oaths (to establish his innocence.) Lady Feng perceiving that he had, of his own accord, fallen into the meshes of the net laid for him, could not but devise another plot to give him a lesson and make him know what was right and mend his ways.

With this purpose, she gave him another assignation. “Don’t go over there,” she said, “to-night, but wait for me in the empty rooms giving on to a small passage at the back of these apartments of mine. But whatever you do, mind don’t be reckless.”

“Are you in real earnest?” Chia Jui inquired.

“Why, who wants to play with you?” replied lady Feng; “if you don’t believe what I say, well then don’t come!”

“I’ll come, I’ll come, yea I’ll come, were I even to die!” protested Chia Jui.

“You should first at this very moment get away!” lady Feng having suggested, Chia Jui, who felt sanguine that when evening came, success would for a certainty crown his visit, took at once his departure in anticipation (of his pleasure.)

During this interval lady Feng hastily set to work to dispose of her resources, and to add to her stratagems, and she laid a trap for her victim; while Chia Jui, on the other hand, was until the shades of darkness fell, a prey to incessant expectation.

As luck would have it a relative of his happened to likewise come on that very night to their house and to only leave after he had dinner with them, and at an hour of the day when the lamps had already been lit; but he had still to wait until his grandfather had retired to rest before he could, at length with precipitate step, betake himself into the Jung mansion.

Straightway he came into the rooms in the narrow passage, and waited with as much trepidation as if he had been an ant in a hot pan. He however waited and waited, but he saw no one arrive; he listened but not even the sound of a voice reached his ear. His heart was full of intense fear, and he could not restrain giving way to surmises and suspicion. "May it not be,” he thought, “that she is not coming again; and that I may have once more to freeze for another whole night?”

While indulging in these erratic reflections, he discerned some one coming, looking like a black apparition, who Chia Jui readily concluded, in his mind, must be lady Feng; so that, unmindful of distinguishing black from white, he as soon as that person arrived in front of him, speedily clasped her in his embrace, like a ravenous tiger pouncing upon its prey, or a cat clawing a rat, and cried: “My darling sister, you have made me wait till I’m ready to die.”

As he uttered these words, he dragged the comer, in his arms, on to the couch in the room; and while indulging in kisses and protestations of warm love, he began to cry out at random epithets of endearment.

Not a sound, however, came from the lips of the other person; and Chia Jui had in the fulness of his passion, exceeded the bounds of timid love and was in the act of becoming still more affectionate in his protestations, when a sudden flash of a light struck his eye, by the rays of which he espied Chia Se with a candle in hand, casting the light round the place, “Who’s in this room?” he exclaimed.

“Uncle Jui,” he heard some one on the couch explain, laughing, “was trying to take liberties with me!”

Chia Jui at one glance became aware that it was no other than Chia Jung; and a sense of shame at once so overpowered him that he could find nowhere to hide himself; nor did he know how best to extricate himself from the dilemma. Turning himself round, he made an attempt to make good his escape, when Chia Se with one grip clutched him in his hold.

“Don’t run away,” he said; “sister-in-law Lien has already reported your conduct to madame Wang; and explained that you had tried to make her carry on an improper flirtation with you; that she had temporised by having recourse to a scheme to escape your importunities, and that she had imposed upon you in such a way as to make you wait for her in this place. Our lady was so terribly incensed, that she well-nigh succumbed; and hence it is that she bade me come and catch you! Be quick now and follow me, and let us go and see her.”

After Chia Jui had heard these words, his very soul could not be contained within his body.

“My dear nephew,” he entreated, “do tell her that it wasn’t I; and I’ll show you my gratitude to-morrow in a substantial manner.”

“Letting you off,” rejoined Chia Se, “is no difficult thing; but how much, I wonder, are you likely to give? Besides, what you now utter with your lips, there will be no proof to establish; so you had better write a promissory note.”

“How could I put what happened in black and white on paper?” observed Chia Jui.

“There’s no difficulty about that either!” replied Chia Se; “just write an account of a debt due, for losses in gambling, to some one outside; for payment of which you had to raise funds, by a loan of a stated number of taels, from the head of the house; and that will be all that is required.”

“This is, in fact, easy enough!” Chia Jui having added by way of answer; Chia Se turned round and left the room; and returning with paper and pencils, which had been got ready beforehand for the purpose, he bade Chia Jui write. The two of them (Chia Jung and Chia Se) tried, the one to do a good turn, and the other to be perverse in his insistence; but (Chia Jui) put down no more than fifty taels, and appended his signature.

Chia Se pocketed the note, and endeavoured subsequently to induce Chia Jung to come away; but Chia Jung was, at the outset, obdurate and unwilling to give in, and kept on repeating; “To-morrow, I’ll tell the members of our clan to look into your nice conduct!”

These words plunged Chia Jui in such a state of dismay, that he even went so far as to knock his head on the ground; but, as Chia Se was trying to get unfair advantage of him though he had at first done him a good turn, he had to write another promissory note for fifty taels, before the matter was dropped.

Taking up again the thread of the conversation, Chia Se remarked, “Now when I let you go, I’m quite ready to bear the blame! But the gate at our old lady’s over there is already bolted, and Mr. Chia Cheng is just now engaged in the Hall, looking at the things which have arrived from Nanking, so that it would certainly be difficult for you to pass through that way. The only safe course at present is by the back gate; but if you do go by there, and perchance meet any one, even I will be in for a mess; so you might as well wait until I go first and have a peep, when I’ll come and fetch you! You couldn’t anyhow conceal yourself in this room; for in a short time they’ll be coming to stow the things away, and you had better let me find a safe place for you.”

These words ended, he took hold of Chia Jui, and, extinguishing again the lantern, he brought him out into the court, feeling his way up to the bottom of the steps of the large terrace. “It’s safe enough in this nest,” he observed, “but just squat down quietly and don’t utter a sound; wait until I come back before you venture out.”

Having concluded this remark, the two of them (Chia Se and Chia Jung) walked away; while Chia Jui was, all this time, out of his senses, and felt constrained to remain squatting at the bottom of the terrace stairs. He was about to consider what course was open for him to adopt, when he heard a noise just over his head; and, with a splash, the contents of a bucket, consisting entirely of filthy water, was emptied straight down over him from above, drenching, as luck would have it, his whole person and head.

Chia Jui could not suppress an exclamation. “Ai ya!” he cried, but he hastily stopped his mouth with his hands, and did not venture to give vent to another sound. His whole head and face were a mass of filth, and his body felt icy cold. But as he shivered and shook, he espied Chia Se come running. “Get off,” he shouted, “with all speed! off with you at once!”

As soon as Chia Jui returned to life again, he bolted with hasty strides, out of the back gate, and ran the whole way home. The night had already reached the third watch, so that he had to knock at the door for it to be opened.

“What’s the matter?” inquired the servants, when they saw him in this sorry plight; (an inquiry) which placed him in the necessity of making some false excuse. “The night was dark,” he explained, “and my foot slipped and I fell into a gutter.”

Saying this, he betook himself speedily to his own apartment; and it was only after he had changed his clothes and performed his ablutions, that he began to realise that lady Feng had made a fool of him. He consequently gave way to a fit of wrath; but upon recalling to mind the charms of lady Feng’s face, he felt again extremely aggrieved that he could not there and then clasp her in his embrace, and as he indulged in these wild thoughts and fanciful ideas, he could not the whole night long close his eyes.

From this time forward his mind was, it is true, still with lady Feng, but he did not have the courage to put his foot into the Jung mansion; and with Chia Jung and Chia Se both coming time and again to dun him for the money, he was likewise full of fears lest his grandfather should come to know everything.

His passion for lady Feng was, in fact, already a burden hard to bear, and when, moreover, the troubles of debts were superadded to his tasks, which were also during the whole day arduous, he, a young man of about twenty, as yet unmarried, and a prey to constant cravings for lady Feng, which were difficult to gratify, could not avoid giving way, to a great extent, to such evil habits as exhausted his energies. His lot had, what is more, been on two occasions to be frozen, angered and to endure much hardship, so that with the attacks received time and again from all sides, he unconsciously soon contracted an organic disease. In his heart inflammation set in; his mouth lost the sense of taste; his feet got as soft as cotton from weakness; his eyes stung, as if there were vinegar in them. At night, he burnt with fever. During the day, he was repeatedly under the effects of lassitude. Perspiration was profuse, while with his expectorations of phlegm, he brought up blood. The whole number of these several ailments came upon him, before the expiry of a year, (with the result that) in course of time, he had not the strength to bear himself up. Of a sudden, he would fall down, and with his eyes, albeit closed, his spirit would be still plunged in confused dreams, while his mouth would be full of nonsense and he would be subject to strange starts.

Every kind of doctor was asked to come in, and every treatment had recourse to; and, though of such medicines as cinnamon, aconitum seeds, turtle shell, ophiopogon, Y-ch herb, and the like, he took several tens of catties, he nevertheless experienced no change for the better; so that by the time the twelfth moon drew once again to an end, and spring returned, this illness had become still more serious.

Tai-ju was very much concerned, and invited doctors from all parts to attend to him, but none of them could do him any good. And as later on, he had to take nothing else but decoctions of pure ginseng, Tai-ju could not of course afford it. Having no other help but to come over to the Jung mansion, and make requisition for some, Madame Wang asked lady Feng to weigh two taels of it and give it to him. “The other day,” rejoined lady Feng, “not long ago, when we concocted some medicine for our dowager lady, you told us, madame, to keep the pieces that were whole, to present to the spouse of General Yang to make physic with, and as it happens it was only yesterday that I sent some one round with them.”

“If there’s none over here in our place,” suggested madame Wang, “just send a servant to your mother-in-law’s, on the other side, to inquire whether they have any. Or it may possibly be that your elder brother-in-law Chen, over there, might have a little. If so, put all you get together, and give it to them; and when he shall have taken it, and got well and you shall have saved the life of a human being, it will really be to the benefit of you all.”

Lady Feng acquiesced; but without directing a single person to institute any search, she simply took some refuse twigs, and making up a few mace, she despatched them with the meagre message that they had been sent by madame Wang, and that there was, in fact, no more; subsequently reporting to madame Wang that she had asked for and obtained all there was and that she had collected as much as two taels, and forwarded it to them.

Chia Jui was, meanwhile, very anxious to recover his health, so that there was no medicine that he would not take, but the outlay of money was of no avail, for he derived no benefit.

On a certain day and at an unexpected moment, a lame Taoist priest came to beg for alms, and he averred that he had the special gift of healing diseases arising from grievances received, and as Chia Jui happened, from inside, to hear what he said, he forthwith shouted out: “Go at once, and bid that divine come in and save my life!” while he reverentially knocked his head on the pillow.

The whole bevy of servants felt constrained to usher the Taoist in; and Chia Jui, taking hold of him with a dash, “My Buddha!” he repeatedly cried out, “save my life!”

The Taoist heaved a sigh. “This ailment of yours,” he remarked, “is not one that could be healed with any medicine; I have a precious thing here which I’ll give you, and if you gaze at it every day, your life can be saved!”

When he had done talking, he produced from his pouch a looking-glass which could reflect a person’s face on the front and back as well. On the upper part of the back were engraved the four characters: “Precious Mirror of Voluptuousness.” Handing it over to Chia Jui: “This object," he proceeded, “emanates from the primordial confines of the Great Void and has been wrought by the Monitory Dream Fairy in the Palace of Unreality and Spirituality, with the sole intent of healing the illnesses which originate from evil thoughts and improper designs. Possessing, as it does, the virtue of relieving mankind and preserving life, I have consequently brought it along with me into the world, but I only give it to those intelligent preminent and refined princely men to set their eyes on. On no account must you look at the front side; and you should only gaze at the back of it; this is urgent, this is expedient! After three days, I shall come and fetch it away; by which time, I’m sure, it will have made him all right.”

These words finished, he walked away with leisurely step, and though all tried to detain him, they could not succeed.

Chia Jui received the mirror. “This Taoist,” he thought, “would seem to speak sensibly, and why should I not look at it and try its effect?” At the conclusion of these thoughts, he took up the Mirror of Voluptuousness, and cast his eyes on the obverse side; but upon perceiving nought else than a skeleton standing in it, Chia Jui sustained such a fright that he lost no time in covering it with his hands and in abusing the Taoist. “You good-for-nothing!” he exclaimed, "why should you frighten me so? but I’ll go further and look at the front and see what it’s like.”

While he reflected in this manner, he readily looked into the face of the mirror, wherein he caught sight of lady Feng standing, nodding her head and beckoning to him. With one gush of joy, Chia Jui felt himself, in a vague and mysterious manner, transported into the mirror, where he held an affectionate tte--tte with lady Feng. Lady Feng escorted him out again. On his return to bed, he gave vent to an exclamation of “Ai yah!” and opening his eyes, he turned the glass over once more; but still, as hitherto, stood the skeleton in the back part.

Chia Jui had, it is true, experienced all the pleasant sensations of a tte--tte, but his heart nevertheless did not feel gratified; so that he again turned the front round, and gazed at lady Feng, as she still waved her hand and beckoned to him to go. Once more entering the mirror, he went on in the same way for three or four times, until this occasion, when just as he was about to issue from the mirror, he espied two persons come up to him, who made him fast with chains round the neck, and hauled him away. Chia Jui shouted. “Let me take the mirror and I’ll come along.” But only this remark could he utter, for it was forthwith beyond his power to say one word more. The servants, who stood by in attendance, saw him at first still holding the glass in his hand and looking in, and then, when it fell from his grasp, open his eyes again to pick it up, but when at length the mirror dropped, and he at once ceased to move, they in a body came forward to ascertain what had happened to him. He had already breathed his last. The lower part of his body was icy-cold; his clothes moist from profuse perspiration. With all promptitude they changed him there and then, and carried him to another bed.

Tai-ju and his wife wept bitterly for him, to the utter disregard of their own lives, while in violent terms they abused the Taoist priest. "What kind of magical mirror is it?” they asked. “If we don’t destroy this glass, it will do harm to not a few men in the world!”

Having forthwith given directions to bring fire and burn it, a voice was heard in the air to say, “Who told you to look into the face of it? You yourselves have mistaken what is false for what is true, and why burn this glass of mine?”

Suddenly the mirror was seen to fly away into the air; and when Tai-ju went out of doors to see, he found no one else than the limping Taoist, shouting, “Who is he who wishes to destroy the Mirror of Voluptuousness?” While uttering these words, he snatched the glass, and, as all eyes were fixed upon him, he moved away lissomely, as if swayed by the wind.

Tai-ju at once made preparations for the funeral and went everywhere to give notice that on the third day the obsequies would commence, that on the seventh the procession would start to escort the coffin to the Iron Fence Temple, and that on the subsequent day, it would be taken to his original home.

Not much time elapsed before all the members of the Chia family came, in a body, to express their condolences. Chia She, of the Jung Mansion, presented twenty taels, and Chia Cheng also gave twenty taels. Of the Ning Mansion, Chia Chen likewise contributed twenty taels. The remainder of the members of the clan, of whom some were poor and some rich, and not equally well off, gave either one or two taels, or three or four, some more, some less. Among strangers, there were also contributions, respectively presented by the families of his fellow-scholars, amounting, likewise, collectively to twenty or thirty taels.

The private means of Tai-ju were, it is true, precarious, but with the monetary assistance he obtained, he anyhow performed the funeral rites with all splendour and clat.

But who would have thought it, at the close of winter of this year, Lin Ju-hai contracted a serious illness, and forwarded a letter, by some one, with the express purpose of fetching Lin Tai-y back. These tidings, when they reached dowager lady Chia, naturally added to the grief and distress (she already suffered), but she felt compelled to make speedy preparations for Tai-y’s departure. Pao-y too was intensely cut up, but he had no alternative but to defer to the affection of father and daughter; nor could he very well place any hindrance in the way.

Old lady Chia, in due course, made up her mind that she would like Chia Lien to accompany her, and she also asked him to bring her back again along with him. But no minute particulars need be given of the manifold local presents and of the preparations, which were, of course, everything that could be wished for in excellence and perfectness. Forthwith the day for starting was selected, and Chia Lien, along with Lin Tai-y, said good-bye to all the members of the family, and, followed by their attendants, they went on board their boats, and set out on their journey for Yang Chou.

But, Reader, should you have any wish to know fuller details, listen to the account given in the subsequent Chapter.

Chapter XIII.

  Ch’in K’o-ch’ing dies, and Chia Jung is invested with the rank of
      military officer to the Imperial Body-guard.
  Wang Hsi-feng lends her help in the management of the Jung Kuo
      Mansion.

Lady Feng, it must be added, in prosecuting our narrative, was ever since Chia Lien’s departure to accompany Tai-y to Yang Chou, really very dejected at heart; and every day, when evening came, she would, after simply indulging in a chat and a laugh with P’ing Erh, turn in, in a heedless frame of mind, for the night.

In the course of the night of this day, she had been sitting with P’ing Erh by lamp-light clasping the hand-stove; and weary of doing her work of embroidery, she had at an early hour, given orders to warm the embroidered quilt, and both had gone to bed; and as she was bending her fingers, counting the progress of the journey, and when they should be arriving, unexpectedly, the third watch struck.

P’ing Erh had already fallen fast asleep; and lady Feng was feeling at length her sleepy eyes slightly dose, when she faintly discerned Mrs. Ch’in walk in from outside.

“My dear sister-in-law,” she said as she smiled, “sleep in peace; I’m on my way back to-day, and won’t even you accompany me just one stage? But as you and I have been great friends all along, I cannot part from you, sister-in-law, and have therefore come to take my leave of you. There is, besides, a wish of mine, which isn’t yet accomplished; and if I don’t impart it to you, it isn’t likely that telling any one else will be of any use.”

Lady Feng could not make out the sense of the words she heard. “What wish is it you have?” she inquired, “do tell me, and it will be safe enough with me.”

“You are, my dear sister-in-law, a heroine among women,” observed Mrs. Ch’in, “so much so that those famous men, with sashes and official hats, cannot excel you; how is it that you’re not aware of even a couple of lines of common adages, of that trite saying, ’when the moon is full, it begins to wane; when the waters are high, they must overflow?’ and of that other which says that ’if you ascend high, heavy must be your fall.’ Our family has now enjoyed splendour and prosperity for already well-nigh a century, but a day comes when at the height of good fortune, calamity arises; and if the proverb that ’when the tree falls, the monkeys scatter,’ be fulfilled, will not futile have been the reputation of culture and old standing of a whole generation?”

Lady Feng at these words felt her heart heavy, and overpowered by intense awe and veneration.

“The fears you express are well founded,” she urgently remarked, “but what plan is there adequate to preserve it from future injury?”

“My dear sister-in-law,” rejoined Mrs. Ch’in with a sardonic smile, "you’re very simple indeed! When woe has reached its climax, weal supervenes. Prosperity and adversity, from days of yore up to the present time, now pass away, and now again revive, and how can (prosperity) be perpetuated by any human exertion? But if now, we could in the time of good fortune, make provision against any worldly concerns, which might arise at any season of future adversity, we might in fact prolong and preserve it. Everything, for instance, is at present well-regulated; but there are two matters which are not on a sure footing, and if such and such suitable action could be adopted with regard to these concerns, it will, in subsequent days, be found easy to perpetuate the family welfare in its entity.”

“What matters are these?” inquired lady Feng.

“Though at the graves of our ancestors,” explained Mrs. Ch’in, "sacrifices and oblations be offered at the four seasons, there’s nevertheless no fixed source of income. In the second place, the family school is, it is true, in existence; but it has no definite grants-in-aid. According to my views, now that the times are prosperous, there’s, as a matter of course, no lack of offerings and contributions; but by and bye, when reverses set in, whence will these two outlays be met from? Would it not be as well, and my ideas are positive on this score, to avail ourselves of the present time, when riches and honours still reign, to establish in the immediate vicinity of our ancestral tombs, a large number of farms, cottages, and estates, in order to enable the expenditure for offerings and grants to entirely emanate from this source? And if the household school were also established on this principle, the old and young in the whole clan can, after they have, by common consent, determined upon rules, exercise in days to come control, in the order of the branches, over the affairs connected with the landed property, revenue, ancestral worship and school maintenance for the year (of their respective term.) Under this rotatory system, there will likewise be no animosities; neither will there be any mortgages, or sales, or any of these numerous malpractices; and should any one happen to incur blame, his personal effects can be confiscated by Government. But the properties, from which will be derived the funds for ancestral worship, even the officials should not be able to appropriate, so that when reverses do supervene, the sons and grandsons of the family may be able to return to their homes, and prosecute their studies, or go in for farming. Thus, while they will have something to fall back upon, the ancestral worship will, in like manner, be continued in perpetuity. But, if the present affluence and splendour be looked upon as bound to go on without intermission, and with no thought for the day to come, no enduring plan be after all devised, presently, in a little while, there will, once again, transpire a felicitous occurrence of exceptional kind, which, in point of fact, will resemble the splendour of oil scorched on a violent fire, or fresh flowers decorated with brocades. You should bear in mind that it will also be nothing more real than a transient pageant, nothing but a short-lived pleasure! Whatever you do, don’t forget the proverb, that ’there’s no banquet, however sumptuous, from which the guests do not disperse;’ and unless you do, at an early date, take precautions against later evils, regret will, I apprehend, be of no avail.”

“What felicitous occurrence will take place?” lady Feng inquired with alacrity.

“The decrees of Heaven cannot be divulged; but as I have been very friendly with you, sister-in-law, for so long, I will present you, before I take my leave, with two lines, which it behoves you to keep in mind,” rejoined Mrs. Ch’in, as she consequently proceeded to recite what follows:

  The three springs, when over, all radiance will wane;
  The inmates to seek each a home will be fain.

Lady Feng was bent upon making further inquiries, when she heard a messenger at the second gate strike the “cloudy board” four consecutive blows. It was indeed the announcement of a death; and it woke up lady Feng with a start. A servant reported that lady Jung of the eastern mansion was no more.

Lady Feng was so taken aback that a cold perspiration broke out all over her person, and she fell for a while into vacant abstraction. But she had to change her costume, with all possible haste, and to come over to madame Wang’s apartments.

By this time, all the members of the family were aware of the tidings, and there was not one of them who did not feel disconsolate; one and all of them were much wounded at heart. The elder generation bethought themselves of the dutiful submission which she had all along displayed; those of the same age as herself reflected upon the friendship and intimacy which had ever existed with her; those younger than her remembered her past benevolence. Even the servants of the household, whether old or young, looked back upon her qualities of sympathy with the poor, pity of the destitute, affection for the old, and consideration for the young; and not one of them all was there who did not mourn her loss, and give way to intense grief.

But these irrelevant details need not be dilated upon; suffice it to confine ourselves to Pao-y.

Consequent upon Lin Tai-y’s return home, he was left to his own self and felt very lonely. Neither would he go and disport himself with others; but with the daily return of dusk, he was wont to retire quietly to sleep.

On this day, while he was yet under the influence of a dream, he heard the announcement of Mrs. Ch’in’s death, and turning himself round quickly he crept out of bed, when he felt as if his heart had been stabbed with a sword. With a sudden retch, he straightway expectorated a mouthful of blood, which so frightened Hsi Jen and the rest that they rushed forward and supported him.

“What is the matter?” they inquired, and they meant also to go and let dowager lady Chia know, so as to send for a doctor, but Pao-y dissuaded them.

“There’s no need of any flurry; it’s nothing at all,” he said, “it’s simply that the fire of grief has attacked the heart, and that the blood did not circulate through the arteries.”

As he spoke, he speedily raised himself up, and, after asking for his clothes and changing, he came over to see dowager lady Chia. His wish was to go at once to the other side; and Hsi Jen, though feeling uneasy at heart, seeing the state of mind he was in, did not again hinder him, as she felt constrained to let him please himself.

When old lady Chia saw that he was bent upon going: “The breath is just gone out of the body,” she consequently remonstrated, “and that side is still sullied. In the second place it’s now dark, and the wind is high; so you had better wait until to-morrow morning, when you will be in ample time.”

Pao-y would not agree to this, and dowager lady Chia gave orders to get the carriage ready, and to depute a few more attendants and followers to go with him. Under this escort he went forward and straightway arrived in front of the Ning mansion, where they saw the main entrance wide open, the lamps on the two sides giving out a light as bright as day, and people coming and going in confused and large numbers; while the sound of weeping inside was sufficient to shake the mountains and to move the hills.

Pao-y dismounted from the carriage; and with hurried step, walked into the apartment, where the coffin was laid. He gave vent to bitter tears for a few minutes, and subsequently paid his salutations to Mrs. Yu. Mrs. Yu, as it happened, had just had a relapse of her old complaint of pains in the stomach and was lying on her bed.

He eventually came out again from her chamber to salute Chia Chen, just at the very moment that Chia Tai-ju, Chia Tai-hsiu, Chia Ch’ih, Chiao Hsiao, Chia Tun, Chia She, Chia Cheng, Chia Tsung, Chia Pin, Chia Hsing, Chia Kuang, Chia Shen, Chia Ch’iung, Chia Lin, Chia Se, Chia Ch’ang, Chia Ling, Chia Yn, Chia Ch’in, Chia Chen, Chia P’ing, Chia Tsao, Chia Heng, Chia Fen, Chia Fang, Chia Lan, Chia Chun, Chia Chih and the other relatives of the families had likewise arrived in a body.

Chia Chen wept so bitterly that he was like a man of tears. “Of the whole family, whether young or old, distant relatives or close friends," he was just explaining to Chia Tai-ju and the rest, “who did not know that this girl was a hundred times better than even our son? but now that her spirit has retired, it’s evident that this elder branch of the family will be cut off and that there will be no survivor.”

While he gave vent to these words, he again burst into tears, and the whole company of relatives set to work at once to pacify him. “She has already departed this life,” they argued, “and tears are also of no avail, besides the pressing thing now is to consult as to what kind of arrangements are to be made.”

Chia Chen clapped his hands. “What arrangements are to be made!” he exclaimed; “nothing is to be done, but what is within my means.”

As they conversed, they perceived Ch’in Yeh and Ch’in Chung, as well as several relations of Mrs. Yu, arrive, together with Mrs. Yu’s sisters; and Chia Chen forthwith bade Chia Ch’ung, Chia Shen, Chia Lin and Chia Se, the four of them, to go and entertain the guests; while he, at the same time, issued directions to go and ask the Astrologer of the Imperial Observatory to come and choose the days for the ceremonies.

(This Astrologer) decided that the coffin should remain in the house for seven times seven days, that is forty-nine days; that after the third day, the mourning rites should be begun and the formal cards should be distributed; that all that was to be done during these forty-nine days was to invite one hundred and eight Buddhist bonzes to perform, in the main Hall, the High Confession Mass, in order to ford the souls of departed relatives across the abyss of suffering, and afterwards to transmute the spirit (of Mrs. Ch’in); that, in addition, an altar should be erected in the Tower of Heavenly Fragrance, where nine times nine virtuous Taoist priests should, for nineteen days, offer up prayers for absolution from punishment, and purification from retribution. That after these services, the tablet should be moved into the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance, and that in the presence of the tablet, fifteen additional eminent bonzes and fifteen renowned Taoist Priests should confront the altar and perform meritorious deeds every seven days.

The news of the death of the wife of his eldest grandson reached Chia Ching; but as he himself felt sure that, at no distant date, he would ascend to the regions above, he was loth to return again to his home, and so expose himself to the contamination of the world, as to completely waste the meritorious excellence acquired in past days. For this reason, he paid no heed to the event, but allowed Chia Chen a free hand to accomplish the necessary preparations.

Chia Chen, to whom we again revert, was fond of display and extravagance, so that he found, on inspection of coffins, those few made of pine-wood unsuitable to his taste; when, strange coincidence, Hseh P’an came to pay his visit of condolence, and perceiving that Chia Chen was in quest of a good coffin: “In our establishment,” he readily suggested, “we have a lot of timber of some kind or other called Ch’iang wood, which comes from the T’ieh Wang Mount, in Huang Hai; and which made into coffins will not rot, not for ten thousand years. This lot was, in fact, brought down, some years back, by my late father; and had at one time been required by His Highness I Chung, a Prince of the royal blood; but as he became guilty of some mismanagement, it was, in consequence, not used, and is still lying stored up in our establishment; and another thing besides is that there’s no one with the means to purchase it. But if you do want it, you should come and have a look at it.”

Chia Chen, upon hearing this, was extremely delighted, and gave orders that the planks should be there and then brought over. When the whole family came to inspect them, they found those for the sides and the bottom to be all eight inches thick, the grain like betel-nut, the smell like sandal-wood or musk, while, when tapped with the hand, the sound emitted was like that of precious stones; so that one and all agreed in praising the timber for its remarkable quality.

“What is their price?” Chia Chen inquired with a smile.

“Even with one thousand taels in hand,” explained Hseh P’an laughingly, "I feel sure you wouldn’t find any place, where you could buy the like. Why ask about price? if you just give the workmen a few taels for their labour, it will be quite sufficient.”

Chia Chen, at these words, lost no time in giving expression to profuse assurances of gratitude, and was forthwith issuing directions that the timber should be split, sawn and made up, when Chia Cheng proffered his advice. “Such articles shouldn’t,” he said, “be, in my idea, enjoyed by persons of the common run; it would be quite ample if the body were placed in a coffin made of pine of the best quality.”

But Chia Chen would not listen to any suggestion.

Suddenly he further heard that Mrs. Ch’in’s waiting-maid, Jui Chu by name, had, after she had become alive to the fact that her mistress had died, knocked her head against a post, and likewise succumbed to the blows. This unusual occurrence the whole clan extolled in high terms; and Chia Chen promptly directed that, with regard to ceremonies, she should be treated as a granddaughter, and that the body should, after it had been placed in the coffin, be also deposited in the Hall of Attained Immortality, in the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance.

There was likewise a young waiting-maid, called Pao Chu, who, as Mrs. Ch’in left no issue, was willing to become an adopted child, and begged to be allowed to undertake the charge of dashing the mourning bowl, and accompanying the coffin; which pleased Chia Chen so much that he speedily transmitted orders that from that time forth Pao Chu should be addressed by all as ’young miss.’

Pao Chu, after the rites of an unmarried daughter, mourned before the coffin to such an unwonted degree, as if bent upon snapping her own life; while the members of the entire clan, as well as the inmates of the Mansions, each and all, readily observed, in their conduct, the established mourning usages, without of course any transgression or confusion.

“Chia Jung,” pondered Chia Chen, “has no higher status than that of graduate by purchase, and were this designation written on the funeral streamer, it will not be imposing, and, in point of fact, the retinue will likewise be small.” He therefore was exceedingly unhappy, in his own mind, when, as luck would have it, on this day, which was the fourth day of the first seven, Tai Ch’an, a eunuch of the Palace of High Renown, whose office was that of Palace Overseer, first prepared sacrificial presents, which he sent round by messengers, and next came himself in an official chair, preceded by criers beating the gong, to offer sacrificial oblations.

Chia Chen promptly received him, and pressed him into a seat; and when they adjourned into the Hall of the Loitering Bees, tea was presented.

Chia Chen had already arrived at a fixed purpose, so that he seized an opportunity to tell him of his wish to purchase an office for Chia Jung’s advancement.

Tai Ch’an understood the purport of his remark. “It is, I presume,” he added smilingly, “that the funeral rites should be a little more sumptuous.”

“My worthy sir,” eagerly rejoined Chia Chen, “your surmise on that score is perfectly correct.”

“The question,” explained Tai Ch’an, “comes up at an opportune moment; for there is just at present a good vacancy. Of the three hundred officers who at present constitute the Imperial Body Guard, there are two wanting. Yesterday marquis Hsiang Yang’s third brother came to appeal to me with one thousand five hundred taels of ready money, which he brought over to my house. You know the friendship of old standing which exists between him and me, so that, placing other considerations aside, I without a second thought, assented for his father’s sake. But there still remains another vacancy, which, who would have thought it, fat general Feng, of Yung Hsing, asked to purchase for his son; but I have had no time to give him an answer. Besides, as our child wants to purchase it, you had better at once write a statement of his antecedents.”

Chia Chen lost no time in bidding some one write the statement on red paper, which Tai Ch’an found, on perusal, to record that Chia Jung was a graduate, by purchase, of the District of Chiang Ning, of the Ying T’ien Prefecture, in Chiang Nan; that Chia Tai-hua, his great grandfather, had been Commander-in-Chief of the Metropolitan Camp, and an hereditary general of the first class, with the prefix of Spiritual Majesty; that his grandfather Chia Ching was a metropolitan graduate of the tripos in the Ping Ch’en year; and that his father Chia Chen had inherited a rank of nobility of the third degree, and was a general, with the prefix of Majestic Intrepidity.

Tai Ch’an, after perusal, turned his hand behind him and passed (the statement) to a constant attendant of his, to put away: “Go back,” he enjoined him, “and give it to His Excellency Mr. Chao, at the head of the Board of Revenue, and tell him, that I present him my compliments, and would like him to draw up a warrant for subaltern of the Imperial Body Guard of the fifth grade, and to also issue a commission; that he should take the particulars from this statement and fill them up; and that to-morrow I’ll come and have the money weighed and sent over.”

The young attendant signified his obedience, and Tai Ch’an thereupon took his leave. Chia Chen did all he could to detain him, but with no success; so that he had no alternative but to escort him as far as the entrance of the Mansion. As he was about to mount into his chair, Chia Chen inquired, “As regards the money, shall I go and pay it into the Board, or am I to send it to the Board of Eunuchs?”

“If you were to go and pay it at the Board,” observed Tai Ch’an; “you are sure to suffer loss; so that it would be better if you just weighed exactly one thousand taels and sent them over to my place; for then an end will be put to all trouble.”

Chia Chen was incessant in his expression of gratitude. “When the period of mourning has expired,” he consequently added, “I shall lead in person, my despicable eldest son to your mansion, to pay our obeisance, and express our thanks.”

They then parted company, but close upon this, were heard again the voices of runners. It was, in fact, the spouse of Shih Ting, the marquis of Chung Ching, who was just arriving. Shih Hsiang-yun, mesdames Wang, and Hsing, lady Feng and the rest came out at once, to greet her, and lead her into the Main Building; when they further saw the sacrificial presents of the three families, of the marquis of Chin Hsiang, the marquis of Ch’uan Ning, and the earl of Shou Shan, likewise spread out in front of the tablet.

In a short while, these three noblemen descended from their chairs, and Chia Chen received them in the Large Hall. In like manner all the relatives and friends arrived in such quick succession, one coming, another going, that it is impossible to remember even so much as their number. One thing need be said that during these forty-nine days the street on which the Ning Kuo mansion stood, was covered with a sheet of white, formed by the people, coming and going; and thronged with clusters of flowers, as the officials came and went.

At the instance of Chia Chen, Chia Jung, the next day donned his gala dress and went over for his papers; and on his return the articles in use in front of the coffin, as well as those belonging to the cortege and other such things, were all regulated by the rules prescribed for an official status of the fifth degree; while, on the tablet and notice alike the inscription consisted of: Spirit of lady Ch’in, (by marriage) of the Chia mansion, and by patent a lady of the fifth rank (of the titles of honour).

The main entrance of the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance, adjoining the street, was opened wide; and on both sides were raised sheds for the musicians, and two companies of players, dressed in blue, discoursed music at the proper times; while one pair after another of the paraphernalia was drawn out so straight as if cut by a knife or slit by an axe. There were also two large carmine boards, carved with gilt inscriptions, erected outside the gate; the designations in bold characters on the upper sides being: Guard of the Imperial Antechamber, charged with the protection of the Inner Palace and Roads, in the Red Prohibited City.

On the opposite side, facing each other, rose, high above the ground, two altars for the services of the Buddhist and Taoist priests, while a placard bore the inscription in bold type: Funeral Obsequies of lady Ch’in, (by marriage) of the Chia mansion, by patent a lady of the fifth rank, consort of the eldest grandson of the hereditary duke of Ning Kuo, and guard of the Imperial Antechamber, charged with the protection of the Inner Palace and Roads in the Red Prohibited City. We, Wan Hs, by Heaven’s commands charged with the perennial preservation of perfect peace in the Kingdom of the Four Continents, as well as of the lands contained therein, Head Controller of the School of Void and Asceticism, and Superior in Chief (of the Buddhist hierarchy); and Yeh Sheng, Principal Controller, since the creation, of the Disciples of Perfect Excellence and Superior in Chief (of the Taoist priesthood), and others, having in a reverent spirit purified ourselves by abstinence, now raise our eyes up to Heaven, prostrate ourselves humbly before Buddha, and devoutly pray all the Chia Lans, Chieh Tis, Kung Ts’aos and other divinities to extend their sacred bounties, and from afar to display their spiritual majesty, during the forty-nine days (of the funeral rites), for the deliverance from judgment and the absolution from retribution (of the spirit of lady Ch’in), so that it may enjoy a peaceful and safe passage, whether by sea or by land; and other such prayers to this effect, which are in fact not worth the trouble of putting on record.

Chia Chen had, it is true, all his wishes gratified; but, as his wife was laid up in the inner chambers, with a relapse of her old complaint, and was not in a fit state to undertake the direction of the ceremonies, he was very much distressed lest, when the high officials (and their wives) came and went, there should occur any breach of the prescribed conventionalities, which he was afraid would evoke ridicule. Hence it was that he felt in low spirits; but while he was plunged in solicitude Pao-y, who happened to be close by, readily inquired, “Everything may be safely looked upon as being satisfactorily settled, and why need you, elder brother, still be so full of concern?”

Chia Chen forthwith explained to him how it was that in the ladies’ apartments there was no one (to do the honours), but Pao-y at these words smiled: “What difficulty is there about it?” he remarked; “I’ll recommend some one to take temporary charge of the direction of things for you during the month, and I can guarantee that everything will be properly carried out.”

“Who is it?” Chia Chen was quick to ask; but as Pao-y perceived that there were still too many relatives and friends seated around, he did not feel as if he could very well speak out; so that he went up to Chia Chen and whispered a couple of remarks in his ear.

Chia Chen’s joy knew no bounds when he heard this suggestion. "Everything will indeed be properly carried out,” he added laughingly; "but I must now be going at once.”

With these words, he drew Pao-y along, and taking leave of the whole number of visitors, they forthwith came into the drawing rooms.

This day was luckily not a grand occasion, so that few relatives and friends had come. In the inner apartments there were only a small number of ladies of close kinship. Mesdames Hsing and Wang, and lady Feng, and the women of the whole household, were entertaining the guests, when they heard a servant announce that Mr. Chia Chen had come. (This announcement) took the whole body of ladies and young ladies so much by surprise, that, with a rushing sound, they tried to hide in the back rooms; but they were not quick enough (to effect their escape).

Lady Feng alone composedly stood up. Chia Chen was himself at this time rather unwell, and being also very much cut up, he entered the room shuffling along, propping himself up with a staff.

“You are not well?” therefore remarked madame Hsing and the others, “and you’ve had besides so much to attend to during these consecutive days, that what you require is rest to get all right; and why do you again come over?”

Chia Chen was, as he leant on his staff, straining every nerve to bend his body so as to fall on his knees and pay his respects to them, and express his sense of obligation for the trouble they had taken, when madame Hsing and the other ladies hastily called Pao-y to raise him up, bidding a servant move a chair for him to sit on. Chia Chen would not take a seat; but making an effort to return a smile, “Your nephew,” he urged, “has come over, as there’s a favour that I want to ask of my two aunts as well as of my eldest cousin.”

“What is it?” promptly inquired madame Hsing and the rest.

“My aunts,” Chia Chen replied with all haste, “you surely are aware that your grandson’s wife is now no more; your nephew’s wife is also laid up unwell, and, as I see that things in the inner apartments are really not what they should properly be, I would trouble my worthy eldest cousin to undertake in here the direction of affairs for a month; and if she does, my mind will be set at ease.”

Madame Hsing smiled. “Is it really about this that you’ve come?” she asked; “your eldest cousin is at present staying with your aunt Secunda, and all you have to do is to speak to her and it will be all right.”

“How ever could a mere child like her,” speedily remonstrated madame Wang, “carry out all these matters? and shouldn’t she manage things properly, she will, on the contrary, make people laugh, so it would therefore be better that you should trouble some one else.”

“What your ideas are, aunt,” rejoined Chia Chen smiling, “your nephew has guessed; you’re afraid lest my eldest cousin should have to bear fatigue and annoyance; for as to what you say, that she cannot manage things, why my eldest cousin has, from her youth up, ever been in her romping and playing so firm and decided; and now that she has entered the married estate, and has the run of affairs in that mansion, she must have reaped so much the more experience, and have become quite an old hand! I’ve been thinking these last few days that outside my eldest cousin, there’s no one else who could come to my help; and, aunt, if you don’t do it for the face of your nephew and your nephew’s wife, do it, at least, for the affection you bore to her who is no more.”

While he uttered these words tears trickled down his face. The fears that madame Wang inwardly entertained were that lady Feng had no experience in funeral matters, and she apprehended, that if she was not equal to managing them, she would incur the ridicule of others; but when she now heard Chia Chen make the appeal in such a disconsolate mood, she relented considerably in her resolution. But as she turned her eyes towards lady Feng (to ascertain her wishes), she saw that she was plunged in abstraction.

Lady Feng had all along found the greatest zest in taking the initiative in everything, with the idea of making a display of her abilities, so that when she perceived how earnest Chia Chen was in his entreaties, she had, at an early period, made up her mind to give a favourable reply. Seeing besides madame Wang show signs of relenting, she readily turned round and said to her, “My elder cousin has made his appeal in such a solicitous way that your ladyship should give your consent and have done with it.”

“Do you think you are equal to the task?” inquired madame Wang in a whisper.

“What’s there that I couldn’t be equal to?” replied lady Feng; “for urgent matters outside, my cousin may be said to have already made full provision; and all there is to be done is to keep an eye over things inside. But should there occur anything that I don’t know, I can ask you, madame, and it will be right.”

Madame Wang perceiving the reasonableness of what she heard her say, uttered not a word, and when Chia Chen saw that lady Feng had assented; "How much you do attend to I don’t mind,” he observed, forcing another smile, “but I must, in any case, entreat you, cousin, to assume the onerous charge. As a first step I’ll pay my obeisance to you in here, and when everything has been finished, I shall then come over into that mansion to express my thanks.”

With these words still on his lips, he made a low bow, but lady Feng had scarcely had time to return the compliment, before Chia Chen had directed a servant to fetch the warrant of the Ning mansion, which he bade Pao-y hand over to lady Feng.

“Cousin,” he added, “take whatever steps you think best; and if you want anything, all you have to do is to simply send for it with this, and there will even be no use to consult me. The only thing I must ask you is, not to be too careful in order to save me expense, for the main consideration is that things should be handsomely done. In the second place, it will be well if you were also to treat servants here in the same way as in the other mansion, and not be too scrupulous in the fear that any one might take offence. Outside these two concerns, there’s nothing else to disturb my mind.”

Lady Feng did not venture to take over the warrant at once, but merely turned round to ascertain what were madame Wang’s wishes.

“In view of the reason brother Chen advances,” madame Wang rejoined, "you had better assume the charge at once and finish with it; don’t, however, act on your own ideas; but when there’s aught to be done, be careful and send some one to consult your cousin’s wife, ever so little though it be on the subject.”

Pao-y had already taken over the warrant from Chia Chen’s grasp, and forcibly handed it to lady Feng, “Will you, cousin,” he went on to question, “take up your quarters here or will you come every day? should you cross over, day after day, it will be ever so much more fatiguing for you, so that I shall speedily have a separate court got ready for you in here, where you, cousin, can put up for these several days and be more comfortable.”

“There’s no need,” replied lady Feng smiling; “for on that side they can’t do without me; and it will be better if I were to come daily.”

“Do as you like,” Chia Chen observed; and after subsequently passing a few more irrelevant remarks, he at length left the room.

After a time, the lady relatives dispersed, and madame Wang seized the opportunity to inquire of lady Feng, “What do you purpose doing to-day?”

“You had better, please madame, go back,” urged lady Feng, “for I must first of all find out some clue before I can go home.”

Madame Wang, upon hearing these words, returned to her quarters, in advance, in company with madame Hsing, where we will leave them.

Lady Feng meanwhile came into a colonnade, which enclosed a suite of three apartments, and taking a seat, she gave way to reflection. “The first consideration,” she communed within herself, “is that the household is made up of mixed elements, and things might be lost; the second is that the preparations are under no particular control, with the result that, when the time comes, the servants might shirk their duties; the third is that the necessary expenditure being great, there will be reckless disbursements and counterfeit receipts; the fourth, that with the absence of any distinction in the matter of duties, whether large or small, hardship and ease will be unequally shared; and the fifth, that the servants being arrogant, through leniency, those with any self-respect will not brook control, while those devoid of ’face’ will not be able to improve their ways.”

These five were, in point of fact, usages in vogue in the Ning mansion. But as you are unable, reader, to ascertain here how lady Feng set things right, listen to the explanations given in the following chapter.

Chapter XIV.

  Lin Ju-hai dies in the City of Yang Chou.
  Chia Pao-y meets the Prince of Pei Ching on the way.

When Lai Sheng, be it noticed in continuing our story, the major-domo in the Ning Kuo mansion, came to hear that from inside an invitation had been extended to lady Feng to act as deputy, he summoned together his co-workers and other servants. “Lady Secunda, of the western mansion," he harangued them, “has now been asked to take over the control of internal affairs; and should she come we must, when we apply for anything, or have anything to say, be circumspect in our service; we should all every day come early and leave late; and it’s better that we should exert ourselves during this one month and take rest after it’s over. We mustn’t throw away our old ’face,’ for she’s well known to be an impetuous thing, with a soured face and a hard heart, who, when angry, knows no distinction of persons.”

The whole company unanimously admitted that he was right; and one of their number too observed smilingly, “It’s but right that for the inner apartments, we should, in fact, get her to come and put things in proper order, as everything is very much what it should not be.”

But while he uttered these words, they saw Lai Wang’s wife coming, with an indent in hand, to fetch paper for the supplications and prayers, the amount of which was mentioned on the order; and they one and all hastened to press her into a seat, and to help her to a cup of tea; while a servant was told to fetch the quantity of paper required. (When it was brought,) Lai Wang carried it in his arms and came, the whole way with his wife, as far as the ceremonial gate; when he, at length, delivered it over to her and she clasped it, and walked into the room all alone.

Lady Feng issued prompt directions to Ts’ai Ming to prepare a register; and sending, there and then, for Lai Sheng’s wife, she asked her to submit, for her perusal, the roll with the servants’ names. She furthermore fixed upon an early hour of the following day to convene the domestics and their wives in the mansion, in order that they should receive their orders; but, after cursorily glancing over the number of entries in the list, and making a few inquiries of Lai Sheng’s wife, she soon got into her curricle, and went home.

On the next day, at six and two quarters, she speedily came over. The matrons and married women of the Ning Kuo mansion assembled together, as soon as they heard of her arrival; but, perceiving lady Feng, assisted by Lai Sheng’s wife, engaged in apportioning the duties of each servant, they could not presume to intrude, but remained outside the window listening to what was going on.

“As I’ve been asked to take over the charge,” they heard lady Feng explain to Lai Sheng’s wife, “I’m, needless to say, sure to incur the displeasure of you all, for I can’t compare with your mistress, who has such a sweet temper, and allows you to have your own way. But saying nothing more of those ways, which prevailed hitherto among your people in this mansion, you must now do as I tell you; for on the slightest disregard of my orders, I shall, with no discrimination between those who may be respectable and those who may not be, clearly and distinctly call all alike to account.”

Having concluded these remarks, she went on to order Ts’ai Ming to read the roll; and, as their names were uttered, one by one was called in, and passed under inspection. After this inspection, which was got over in a short time, she continued giving further directions. “These twenty,” she said “should be divided into two companies; ten in each company, whose sole daily duties should be to attend inside to the guests, coming and going, and to serve tea for them; while with any other matters, they needn’t have anything to do. These other twenty should also be divided into two companies, whose exclusive duties will be, day after day, to look after the tea and eatables of the relatives of our family; and these too will have no business to concern themselves with outside matters. These forty will again be divided into two companies, who will have nothing else to look to than to remain in front of the coffin and offer incense, renew the oil, hang up the streamers, watch the coffin, offer sacrifices of rice, and oblations of tea, and mourn with the mourners; and neither need they mind anything outside these duties. These four servants will be specially attached to the inner tea-rooms to look after cups, saucers and the tea articles generally; and in the event of the loss of any single thing, the four of them will have to make it good between them. These other four servants will have the sole charge of the articles required for eatables and wine; and should any get mislaid compensation will have likewise to be made by them. These eight servants will only have to attend to taking over the sacrificial offerings; while these eight will have nothing more to see to beyond keeping an eye over the lamps, oil, candles and paper wanted everywhere. I’ll have a whole supply served out and handed to you eight to by and by apportion to the various places, in quantities which I will determine. These thirty servants are each day, by rotation, to keep watch everywhere during the night, looking after the gates and windows, taking care of the fires and candles, and sweeping the grounds; while the servants, who remain, are to be divided for duty in the houses and rooms, each one having charge of a particular spot. And beginning from the tables, chairs and curios in each place, up to the very cuspidors and brooms, yea even to each blade of grass or sprout of herb, which may be there, the servants looking after this part will be called upon to make good anything that may be either mislaid or damaged. You, Lai Sheng’s wife, will every day have to exercise general supervision and inspection; and should there be those who be lazy, any who may gamble, drink, fight or wrangle, come at once and report the matter to me; and you mustn’t show any leniency, for if I come to find it out, I shall have no regard to the good old name of three or four generations, which you may enjoy. You now all have your fixed duties, so that whatever batch of you after this acts contrary to these orders, I shall simply have something to say to that batch and to no one else. The servants, who have all along been in my service, carry watches on their persons, and things, whether large or small, are invariably done at a fixed time. But, in any case, you also have clocks in your master’s rooms, so that at 6.30, I shall come and read the roll, and at ten you’ll have breakfast. Whenever there is any indent of any permits to be made or any report to be submitted, it should be done at 11.30 a.m. and no later. At 7 p.m., after the evening paper has been burnt, I shall come to each place in person to hold an inspection; and on my return, the servants on watch for the night will hand over the keys. The next day, I shall again come over at 6.30 in the morning; and needless to say we must all do the best we can for these few days; and when the work has been finished your master is sure to recompense you.”

When she had done speaking, she went on to give orders that tea, oil, candles, feather dusters, brooms and other necessaries should be issued, according to the fixed quantities. She also had furniture, such as table-covers, antimacassars, cushions, rugs, cuspidors, stools and the like brought over and distributed; while, at the same time, she took up the pencil and made a note of the names of the persons in charge of the various departments, and of the articles taken over by the respective servants, in entries remarkable for the utmost perspicacity.

The whole body of servants received their charge and left; but they all had work to go and attend to; not as in former times, when they were at liberty to select for themselves what was convenient to do, while the arduous work, which remained over, no one could be found to take in hand. Neither was it possible for them in the various establishments to any longer avail themselves of the confusion to carelessly mislay things. In fact, visitors came and guests left, but everything after all went off quietly, unlike the disorderly way which prevailed hitherto, when there was no clue to the ravel; and all such abuses as indolence, and losses, and the like were completely eradicated.

Lady Feng, on her part, (perceiving) the weight her influence had in enjoining the observance of her directions, was in her heart exceedingly delighted. But as she saw, that Chia Chen was, in consequence of Mrs. Yu’s indisposition, even so much the more grieved as to take very little to drink or to eat, she daily, with her own hands, prepared, in the other mansion, every kind of fine congee and luscious small dishes, which she sent over, in order that he might be tempted to eat.

And Chia Lien had likewise given additional directions that every day the finest delicacies should be taken into the ante-chamber, for the exclusive use of lady Feng.

Lady Feng was not one to shirk exertion and fatigue, so that, day after day, she came over at the proper time, called the roll, and managed business, sitting all alone in the ante-chamber, and not congregating with the whole bevy of sisters-in-law. Indeed, even when relatives or visitors came or went, she did not go to receive them, or see them off.

This day was the thirty-fifth day, the very day of the fifth seven, and the whole company of bonzes had just (commenced the services) for unclosing the earth, and breaking Hell open; for sending a light to show the way to the departed spirit; for its being admitted to an audience by the king of Hell; for arresting all the malicious devils, as well as for soliciting the soul-saving Buddha to open the golden bridge and to lead the way with streamers. The Taoist priests were engaged in reverently reading the prayers; in worshipping the Three Pure Ones and in prostrating themselves before the Gemmy Lord. The disciples of abstraction were burning incense, in order to release the hungered spirits, and were reading the water regrets manual. There was also a company of twelve nuns of tender years, got up in embroidered dresses, and wearing red shoes, who stood before the coffin, silently reading all the incantations for the reception of the spirit (from the lower regions,) with the result that the utmost bustle and stir prevailed.

Lady Feng, well aware that not a few guests would call on this day, was quick to get out of bed at four sharp, to dress her hair and perform her ablutions. After having completed every arrangement for the day, she changed her costume, washed her hands, and swallowed a couple of mouthfuls of milk. By the time she had rinsed her mouth, it was exactly 6.30; and Lai Wang’s wife, at the head of a company of servants, had been waiting a good long while, when lady Feng appeared in front of the Entrance Hall, mounted her carriage and betook herself, preceded by a pair of transparent horn lanterns, on which were written, in large type, the three characters, Jung Kuo mansion, to the main entrance gate of the Ning Household. The door lanterns shed brilliant rays from where they were suspended; while on either side the lanterns, of uniform colours, propped upright, emitted a lustrous light as bright as day.

The servants of the family, got up in their mourning clothes, covered the ground far and wide like a white sheet. They stood drawn in two rows, and requested that the carriage should drive up to the main entrance. The youths retired, and all the married women came forward, and raising the curtain of the carriage, lady Feng alighted; and as with one arm she supported herself on Feng Erh, two married women, with lanterns in their hands, lighted the way. Pressed round by the servants, lady Feng made her entry. The married women of the Ning mansion advanced to greet her, and to pay their respects; and this over, lady Feng, with graceful bearing, entered the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance. Ascending the Spirit Hall, where the tablet was laid, the tears, as soon as she caught sight of the coffin, trickled down her eyes like pearls whose string had snapped; while the youths in the court, and their number was not small, stood in a reverent posture, with their arms against their sides, waiting to burn the paper. Lady Feng uttered one remark, by way of command: “Offer the tea and burn the paper!” when the sound of two blows on the gong was heard and the whole band struck up together. A servant had at an early period placed a large armchair in front of the tablet, and lady Feng sat down, and gave way to loud lamentations. Promptly all those, who stood inside or outside, whether high or low, male or female, took up the note, and kept on wailing and weeping until Chia Chen and Mrs. Yu, after a time, sent a message to advise her to withhold her tears; when at length lady Feng desisted.

Lai Wang’s wife served the tea; and when she had finished rinsing her mouth, lady Feng got up; and, taking leave of all the members of the clan, she walked all alone into the ante-chamber, where she ascertained, in the order of their names, the number of the servants of every denomination in there. They were all found to be present, with the exception of one, who had failed to appear, whose duties consisted in receiving and escorting the relatives and visitors. Orders were promptly given to summon him, and the man appeared in a dreadful fright. “What!" exclaimed lady Feng, as she forced a smile, “is it you who have been remiss? Is it because you’re more respectable than they that you don’t choose to listen to my words?”

“Your servant,” he pleaded, “has come at an early hour every day; and it’s only to-day that I come late by one step; and I entreat your ladyship to forgive this my first offence.”

While yet he spoke, she perceived the wife of Wang Hsing, of the Jung Kuo mansion, come forward and pop her head in to see what was going on; but lady Feng did not let this man go, but went on to inquire of Wang Hsing’s wife what she had come for.

Wang Hsing’s wife drew near. “I’ve come,” she explained, “to get an order, so as to obtain some thread to make tassels for the carriages and chairs.” Saying this, she produced the permit and handed it up, whereupon lady Feng directed Ts’ai Ming to read the contents aloud. “For two large, sedan chairs,” he said, “four small sedan chairs and four carriages, are needed in all so many large and small tassels, each tassel requiring so many catties of beads and thread.”

Lady Feng finding, after she had heard what was read, that the numbers (and quantities) corresponded, forthwith bade Ts’ai Ming make the proper entry; and when the order from the Jung Kuo mansion had been fetched, and thrown at her, Wang Hsing’s wife took her departure.

Lady Feng was on the very point of saying something, when she espied four managers of the Jung Kuo mansion walk in; all of whom wanted permits to indent for stores. Having asked them to read out the list of what they required, she ascertained that they wanted four kinds of articles in all. Drawing attention to two items: “These entries,” she remarked, “are wrong; and you had better go again and make out the account clearly, and then come and fetch a permit.”

With these words, she flung down the requisitions, and the two men went their way in lower spirits than when they had come.

Lady Feng then caught sight of the wife of Chang Ts’ai standing by, and asked her what was her business, whereupon Chang Ts’ai’s wife promptly produced an indent. “The covers of the carriages and sedan chairs,” she reported, “have just been completed, and I’ve come to fetch the amount due to the tailors for wages.”

Lady Feng, upon hearing her explanation, took over the indent, and directed Ts’ai Ming to enter the items in the book. After Wang Hsing had handed over the money, and obtained the receipt of the accountant, duly signed, which tallied with the payment, he subsequently walked away in company with Chang Ts’ai’s wife. Lady Feng simultaneously proceeded to give orders that another indent should be read, which was for money to purchase paper with to paste on the windows of Pao-y’s outer school-room, the repairs to which had been brought to completion, and as soon as lady Feng heard the nature of the application, she there and then gave directions that the permit should be taken over and an entry made, and that the money should be issued after Chang Ts’ai’s wife had delivered everything clearly.

“If to-morrow he were to come late,” lady Feng then remarked, “and if the day after, I were to come late; why by and by there’ll be no one here at all! I should have liked to have let you off, but if I be lenient with you on this first instance, it will be hard for me, on the occurrence of another offence, to exercise any control over the rest. It’s much better therefore that I should settle accounts with you.”

The moment she uttered these words, she put on a serious look, and gave orders that he should be taken out and administered twenty blows with the bamboo. When the servants perceived that lady Feng was in an angry mood, they did not venture to dilly-dally, but dragged him out, and gave him the full number of blows; which done, they came in to report that the punishment had been inflicted.

Lady Feng likewise threw down the Ning Mansion order and exclaimed, addressing herself to Lai Sheng: “Cut him a month’s wages and rice! and tell them all to disperse, and have done with it!”

All the servants at length withdrew to attend to their respective duties, while the man too, who had been flogged, walked away, as he did all he could to conceal his shame and stifle his tears. About this time arrived and went, in an incessant stream, servants from both the Jung and Ning mansions, bent upon applying for permits and returning permits, and with one by one again did lady Feng settle accounts. And, as in due course, the inmates of the Ning mansion came to know how terrible lady Feng was, each and all were ever since so wary and dutiful that they did not venture to be lazy.

But without going into further details on this subject, we shall now return to Pao-y. Seeing that there were a lot of people about and fearing lest Ch’in Chung might receive some offence, he lost no time in coming along with him to sit over at lady Feng’s. Lady Feng was just having her repast, and upon seeing them arrive: “Your legs are long enough, and couldn’t you have come somewhat quicker!” she laughingly observed.

“We’ve had our rice, thanks,” replied Pao-y.

“Have you had it,” inquired lady Feng, “outside here, or over on the other side?”

“Would we eat anything with all that riff-raff?” exclaimed Pao-y; "we’ve really had it over there; in fact, I now come after having had mine with dowager lady Chia.”

As he uttered these words, they took their seats. Lady Feng had just finished her meal, when a married woman from the Ning mansion came to get an order to obtain an advance of money to purchase incense and lanterns with.

“I calculated,” observed lady Feng, “that you would come to-day to make requisition, but I was under the impression that you had forgotten; had you really done so you would certainly have had to get them on your own account, and I would have been the one to benefit.”

“Didn’t I forget? I did,” rejoined the married woman as she smiled; “and it’s only a few minutes back that it came to my mind; had I been one second later I wouldn’t have been in time to get the things.”

These words ended, she took over the order and went off. Entries had, at the time to be made in the books, and orders to be issued, and Ch’in Chung was induced to interpose with a smirk, “In both these mansions of yours, such orders are alike in use; but were any outsider stealthily to counterfeit one and to abscond, after getting the money, what could ever be done?”

“In what you say,” replied lady Feng, “you take no account of the laws of the land.”

“How is it that from our house, no one comes to get any orders or to obtain anything?” Pao-y having inquired: “At the time they come to fetch them,” rejoined lady Feng, “you’re still dreaming; but let me ask you one thing, when will you two at last begin your evening course of studies?”

“Oh, I wish we were able to begin our studies this very day,” Pao-y added; “that would be the best thing, but they’re very slow in putting the school-room in order, so that there’s no help for it!”

Lady Feng laughed. “Had you asked me,” she remarked, “I can assure you it would have been ready quick enough.”

“You too would have been of no use,” observed Pao-y, “for it will certainly be ready by the time they ought to finish it in.”

“But in order that they should do the work,” suggested lady Feng, “it’s also necessary that they should have the material, they can’t do without them; and if I don’t give them any permits, it will be difficult to obtain them.”

Pao-y at these words readily drew near to lady Feng, and there and then applied for the permits. “My dear sister,” he added, “do give them the permits to enable them to obtain the material and effect the repairs.”

“I feel quite sore from fatigue,” ventured lady Feng, “and how can I stand your rubbing against me? but compose your mind. They have this very day got the paper, and gone to paste it; and would they, for whatever they need, have still waited until they had been sent for? they are not such fools after all!”

Pao-y would not believe it, and lady Feng at once called Ts’ai Ming to look up the list, which she handed for Pao-y’s inspection; but while they were arguing a servant came in to announce that Chao Erh, who had gone to Su Chow, had returned, and lady Feng all in a flurry directed that he should be asked to walk in. Chao Erh bent one knee and paid his obeisance.

“Why have you come back?” lady Feng readily inquired.

“Mr. Secundus (Chia Lien),” he reported, “sent me back to tell you that Mr. Lin (our dowager lady’s) son-in-law, died on the third of the ninth moon; that Master Secundus is taking Miss Lin along with him to escort the coffin of Mr. Lin as far as Su Chow; and that they hope to be back some time about the end of the year. Master despatched me to come and announce the news, to bring his compliments, and to crave our old lady’s instructions as well as to see how you are getting on in my lady’s home. He also bade me take back to him a few long fur pelisses.”

“Have you seen any one else besides me?” lady Feng inquired.

“I’ve seen every one,” rejoined Chao Erh; and withdrew hastily at the conclusion of this remark, out of the apartment, while lady Feng turned towards Pao-y with a smile and said, “Your cousin Lin can now live in our house for ever.”

“Poor thing!” exclaimed Pao-y. “I presume that during all these days she has wept who knows how much;” and saying this he wrinkled his brow and heaved a deep sigh.

Lady Feng saw Chao Erh on his return, but as she could not very well, in the presence of third persons, make minute inquiries after Chia Lien, she had to continue a prey to inward solicitude till it was time to go home, for, not having got through what she had to do, she was compelled to wait patiently until she went back in the evening, when she again sent word for Chao Erh to come in, and asked him with all minuteness whether the journey had been pleasant throughout, and for full particulars. That very night, she got in readiness the long pelisses, which she herself, with the assistance of P’ing Erh, packed up in a bundle; and after careful thought as to what things he would require, she put them in the same bundle and committed them to Chao Erh’s care. She went on to solicitously impress upon Chao Erh to be careful in his attendance abroad. “Don’t provoke your master to wrath,” she said, “and from time to time do advise him not to drink too much wine; and don’t entice him to make the acquaintance of any low people; for if you do, when you come back I will cut your leg off.”

The preparations were hurriedly and confusedly completed; and it was already the fourth watch of the night when she went to sleep. But soon again the day dawned, and after hastily performing her toilette and ablutions, she came over to the Ning Mansion.

As Chia Chen realised that the day for escorting the body away was drawing nigh, he in person went out in a curricle, along with geomancers, to the Temple of the Iron Fence to inspect a suitable place for depositing the coffin. He also, point by point, enjoined the resident managing-bonze, Se K’ung, to mind and get ready brand-new articles of decoration and furniture, and to invite a considerable number of bonzes of note to be at hand to lend their services for the reception of the coffin.

Se K’ung lost no time in getting ready the evening meal, but Chia Chen had, in fact, no wish for any tea or rice; and, as the day was far advanced and he was not in time to enter the city, he had, after all, to rest during that night as best he could in a “chaste” room in the temple. The next morning, as soon as it was day, he hastened to come into the city and to make every preparation for the funeral. He likewise deputed messengers to proceed ahead to the Temple of the Iron Fence to give, that very night, additional decorative touches to the place where the coffin was to be deposited, and to get ready tea and all the other necessaries, for the use of the persons who would be present at the reception of the coffin.

Lady Feng, seeing that the day was not far distant, also apportioned duties and made provision for everything beforehand with circumspect care; while at the same time she chose in the Jung mansion, such carriages, sedan chairs and retinue as were to accompany the cortege, in attendance upon madame Wang, and gave her mind furthermore to finding a place where she herself could put up in at the time of the funeral. About this very time, it happened that the consort of the Duke Shan Kuo departed this life, and that mesdames Wang and Hsing had likewise to go and offer sacrifices, and to follow the burial procession; that the birthday occurred of the consort of Prince Hsi An; that presents had to be forwarded on the occasion of this anniversary; and that the consort of the Duke of Chen Kuo gave birth to a first child, a son, and congratulatory gifts had, in like manner, to be provided. Besides, her uterine brother Wang Jen was about to return south, with all his family, and she had too to write her home letters, to send her reverent compliments to her father and mother, as well as to get the things ready that were to be taken along. There was also Ying Ch’un, who had contracted some illness, and the doctor had every day to be sent for, and medicines to be administered, the notes of the doctor to be looked after, consisting of the bulletins of the diagnosis and the prescriptions, with the result that the various things that had to be attended to by lady Feng were so manifold that it would, indeed, be difficult to give an exhaustive idea of them.

In addition to all this, the day for taking the coffin away was close at hand, so that lady Feng was so hard pressed for time that she had even no desire for any tea to drink or anything to eat, and that she could not sit or rest in peace. As soon as she put her foot into the Ning mansion, the inmates of the Jung mansion would follow close upon her heels; and the moment she got back into the Jung mansion, the servants again of the Ning mansion would follow her about. In spite however of this great pressure, lady Feng, whose natural disposition had ever been to try and excel, was urged to strain the least of her energies, as her sole dread was lest she should incur unfavourable criticism from any one; and so excellent were the plans she devised, that every one in the clan, whether high or low, readily conceded her unlimited praise.

On the night of this day, the body had to be watched, and in the inner suite of apartments two companies of young players as well as jugglers entertained the relatives, friends and other visitors during the whole of the night. Mrs. Yu was still laid up in the inside room, so that the whole task of attending to and entertaining the company devolved upon lady Feng alone, who had to look after everything; for though there were, in the whole clan, many sisters-in-law, some there were too bashful to speak, others too timid to stand on their feet; while there were also those who were not accustomed to meeting company; and those likewise who were afraid of people of high estate and shy of officials. Of every kind there were, but the whole number of them could not come up to lady Feng’s standard, whose deportment was correct and whose speech was according to rule. Hence it was that she did not even so much as heed any of that large company, but gave directions and issued orders, adopting any course of action which she fancied, just as if there were no bystander.

The whole night, the lanterns emitted a bright light and the fires brilliant rays; while guests were escorted on their way out and officials greeted on their way in; but of this hundredfold bustle and stir nothing need, of course, be said.

The next morning at the dawn of day, and at a propitious moment, sixty-four persons, dressed all alike in blue, carried the coffin, preceded by a streamer with the record in large characters: Coffin of lady Ch’in, a lady of the fifth degree, (by marriage) of the Chia mansion, deceased at middle age, consort of the grandson of the Ning Kuo Duke with the first rank title of honour, (whose status is) a guard of the Imperial antechamber, charged with the protection of the Inner Palace and Roads in the Red Prohibited City.

The various paraphernalia and ornaments were all brand-new, hurriedly made for the present occasion, and the uniform lustrous brilliancy they shed was sufficient to dazzle the eyes.

Pao-chu, of course, observed the rites prescribed for unmarried daughters, and dashed the bowl and walked by the coffin, as she gave way to most bitter lamentations.

At that time, among the officials who escorted the funeral procession, were Niu Chi-tsung, the grandson of the Chen Kuo duke, who had now inherited the status of earl of the first degree; Liu Fang, the grandson of Liu Piao, duke of Li Kuo, who had recently inherited the rank of viscount of the first class; Ch’en Jui-wen, a grandson of Ch’en Yi, duke of Ch’i Kuo, who held the hereditary rank of general of the third degree, with the prefix of majestic authority; Ma Shang, the grandson of Ma K’uei, duke of Chih Kuo, by inheritance general of the third rank with the prefix of majesty afar; Hou Hsiao-keng, an hereditary viscount of the first degree, grandson of the duke of Hsiu Kuo, Hou Hsiao-ming by name; while the death of the consort of the duke of Shan Kuo had obliged his grandson Shih Kuang-chu to go into mourning so that he could not be present. These were the six families which had, along with the two households of Jung and Ning, been, at one time, designated the eight dukes.

Among the rest, there were besides the grandson of the Prince of Nan An; the grandson of the Prince of Hsi An; Shih Ting, marquis of Chung Ching; Chiang Tzu-ning, an hereditary baron of the second grade, grandson of the earl of P’ing Yuan; Hsieh K’un, an hereditary baron of the second order and Captain of the Metropolitan camp, grandson of the marquis of Ting Ch’ang: Hsi Chien-hui, an hereditary baron of the second rank, a grandson of the marquis of Nang Yang; Ch’in Liang, in command of the Five Cities, grandson of the marquis of Ching T’ien. The remainder were Wei Chi, the son of the earl of Chin Hsiang; Feng Tzu-ying, the son of a general, whose prefix was supernatural martial spirit; Ch’en Yeh-chn, Wei Jo-lan and others, grandsons and sons of princes who could not be enumerated.

In the way of ladies, there were also in all about ten large official sedan chairs full of them, thirty or forty private chairs, and including the official and non-official chairs, and carriages containing inmates of the household, there must have been over a hundred and ten; so that with the various kinds of paraphernalia, articles of decoration and hundreds of nick-nacks, which preceded, the vast expanse of the cortege covered a continuous line extending over three or four li.

They had not been very long on their way, when they reached variegated sheds soaring high by the roadside, in which banquets were spread, feasts laid out, and music discoursed in unison. These were the viatory sacrificial offerings contributed by the respective families. The first shed contained the sacrificial donations of the mansion of the Prince of Tung P’ing; the second shed those of the Prince of Nan An; the third those of the Prince of Hsi Ning, and the fourth those of the Prince of Pei Ching.

Indeed of these four Princes, the reputation enjoyed in former days by the Prince of Pei Ching had been the most exalted, and to this day his sons and grandsons still succeeded to the inheritance of the princely dignity. The present incumbent of the Princedom of Pei Ching, Shih Jung, had not as yet come of age, but he was gifted with a presence of exceptional beauty, and with a disposition condescending and genial. At the demise, recently, of the consort of the eldest grandson of the mansion of Ning Kuo, he, in consideration of the friendship which had formerly existed between the two grandfathers, by virtue of which they had been inseparable, both in adversity as well as in prosperity, treating each other as if they had not been of different surnames, was consequently induced to pay no regard to princely dignity or to his importance, but having like the others paid, on the previous day, his condolences and presented sacrificial offerings, he had further now raised a shed wherein to offer libations. Having directed every one of his subordinate officers to remain in this spot in attendance, he himself went at the fifth watch to court, and when he acquitted himself of his public duties he forthwith changed his attire for a mourning costume, and came along, in an official sedan chair, preceded by gongs and umbrellas. Upon reaching the front of the shed the chair was deposited on the ground, and as his subordinate officers pressed on either side and waited upon him, neither the military nor the populace, which composed the mass of people, ventured to make any commotion. In a short while, the long procession of the Ning mansion became visible, spreading far and wide, covering in its course from the north, the whole ground like a silver mountain. At an early hour, the forerunners, messengers and other attendants on the staff of the Ning mansion apprised Chia Chen (of the presence of the sheds), and Chia Chen with all alacrity gave orders that the foremost part of the cortege should halt. Attended by Chia She and Chia Chen, the three of them came with hurried step to greet (the Prince of Pei Ching), whom they saluted with due ceremony. Shih Jung, who was seated in his sedan chair, made a bow and returned their salutations with a smile, proceeding to address them and to treat them, as he had done hitherto, as old friends, without any airs of self-importance.

“My daughter’s funeral has,” observed Chia Chen, “put your Highness to the trouble of coming, an honour which we, though noble by birth, do not deserve.”

Shih Jung smiled. “With the terms of friendship,” he added, “which have existed for so many generations (between our families), is there any need for such apologies?”

Turning his head round there and then, he gave directions to the senior officer of his household to preside at the sacrifices and to offer libations in his stead; and Chia She and the others stood together on one side and made obeisance in return, and then came in person again and gave expression to their gratitude for his bounty.

Shih Jung was most affable and complaisant. “Which is the gentleman,” he inquired of Chia Chen, “who was born with a piece of jade in his mouth? I’ve long had a wish to have the pleasure of seeing him, and as he’s sure to be on the spot on an occasion like this, why shouldn’t you invite him to come round?”

Chia Chen speedily drew back, and bidding Pao-y change his mourning clothes, he led him forward and presented him.

Pao-y had all along heard that Shih Jung was a worthy Prince, perfect in ability as well as in appearance, pleasant and courteous, not bound down by any official custom or state rite, so that he had repeatedly felt a keen desire to meet him. With the sharp control, however, which his father exercised over him, he had not been able to gratify his wish. But on this occasion, he saw on the contrary that he came to call him, and it was but natural that he should be delighted. Whilst advancing, he scrutinised Shih Jung with the corner of his eye, who, seated as he was in the sedan chair, presented an imposing sight.

But, reader, what occurred on his approach is not yet known, but listen to the next chapter, which will divulge it.

Chapter XV.

  Lady Peng, ne Wang, exercises her authority in the Iron Fence Temple.
  Ch’in Ching-ch’ing (Ch’ing Chung) amuses himself in the Man-t’ou
      (Bread) nunnery.

But we shall now resume our story. When Pao-y raised his eyes, he noticed that Shih Jung, Prince of Pei Ching, wore on his head a princely cap with pure white tassels and silvery feathers, that he was appareled in a white ceremonial robe, (with a pattern representing) the toothlike ripple of a river and the waters of the sea, embroidered with five-clawed dragons; and that he was girded with a red leather belt, inlaid with white jade. That his face was like a beauteous gem; that his eyes were like sparkling stars; and that he was, in very truth, a human being full of graceful charms.

Pao-y hastily pressed forward and made a reverent obeisance, and Shih Jung lost no time in extending his arms from inside the sedan-chair, and embracing him. At a glance, he saw that Pao-y had on his head a silver cap, to which the hair was attached, that he had, round his forehead, a flap on which were embroidered a couple of dragons issuing from the sea, that he wore a white archery-sleeved robe, ornamented with dragons, and that his waist was encircled by a silver belt, inlaid with pearls; that his face resembled vernal flowers and that his eyes were like drops of lacquer.

Shih Jung smiled. “Your name is,” he said, “no trumped-up story; for you, verily, resemble a precious gem; but where’s the valuable trinket you had in your mouth?” he inquired.

As soon as Pao-y heard this inquiry, he hastened to produce the jade from inside his clothes and to hand it over to Shih Jung. Shih Jung minutely examined it; and having also read the motto on it, he consequently ascertained whether it was really efficacious or not.

“It’s true that it’s said to be,” Pao-y promptly explained, “but it hasn’t yet been put to the test.”

Shih Jung extolled it with unbounded praise, and, as he did so, he set the variegated tassels in proper order, and, with his own hands, attached it on to Pao-y’s neck. Taking also his hand in his, he inquired of Pao-y what was his age? and what books he was reading at present, to each of which questions Pao-y gave suitable answer.

Shih Jung perceiving the perspicacity of his speech and the propriety of his utterances, simultaneously turned towards Chia Chen and observed with a smile on his face: “Your worthy son is, in very truth, like the young of a dragon or like the nestling of a phoenix! and this isn’t an idle compliment which I, a despicable prince, utter in your venerable presence! But how much more glorious will be, in the future, the voice of the young phoenix than that of the old phoenix, it isn’t easy to ascertain.”

Chia Chen forced a smile: “My cur-like son,” he replied, “cannot presume to such bountiful praise and golden commendation; but if, by the virtue of your Highness’ excess of happiness, he does indeed realise your words, he will be a source of joy to us all!”

“There’s one thing, however,” continued Shih Jung; “with the excellent abilities which your worthy scion possesses, he’s sure, I presume, to be extremely loved by her dowager ladyship, (his grandmother), and by all classes. But for young men of our age it’s a great drawback to be doated upon, for with over-fondness, we cannot help utterly frustrating the benefits of education. When I, a despicable prince, was young, I walked in this very track, and I presume that your honourable son cannot likewise but do the same. By remaining at home, your worthy scion will find it difficult to devote his attention to study; and he will not reap any harm, were he to come, at frequent intervals, to my humble home; for though my deserts be small, I nevertheless enjoy the great honour of the acquaintance of all the scholars of note in the Empire, so that, whenever any of them visit the capital, not one of them is there who does not lower his blue eyes upon me. Hence it is that in my mean abode, eminent worthies rendezvous; and were your esteemed son to come, as often as he can, and converse with them and meet them, his knowledge would, in that case, have every opportunity of making daily strides towards improvement.”

Chia Chen speedily bent his body and expressed his acquiescence, by way of reply; whereupon Shih Jung went further, and taking off from his wrist a chaplet of pearls, he presented it to Pao-y.

“This is the first time we meet,” he observed. “Our meeting was so unexpected that I have no suitable congratulatory present to offer you. This was conferred upon me by His Majesty, and is a string of chaplet-pearls, scented with Ling Ling, which will serve as a temporary token of respectful congratulations.”

Pao-y hastened to receive it from his hands, and turning round, he reverently presented it to Chia Chen. Chia Chen and Pao-y jointly returned thanks; and forthwith Chia She, Chia Chen and the rest came forward in a body, and requested the Prince to turn his chair homewards.

“The departed,” expostulated Shih Jung, “has already ascended the spiritual regions, and is no more a mortal being in this dusty world exposed to vicissitude like you and I. Although a mean prince like me has been the recipient of the favour of the Emperor, and has undeservedly been called to the princely inheritance, how could I presume to go before the spiritual hearse and return home?”

Chia She and the others, perceiving how persistent he was in his refusal had no course but to take their leave, express their sense of gratitude and to rejoin the cortege. They issued orders to their servants to stop the band, and to hush the music, and making the procession go by, they at length left the way clear for Shih Jung to prosecute his way.

But we will now leave him and resume our account of the funeral of the Ning mansion. All along its course the road was plunged in unusual commotion. As soon as they reached the city gates Chia She, Chia Cheng, Chia Chen, and the others again received donations from all their fellow officers and subordinates, in sacrificial sheds erected by their respective families, and after they returned thanks to one after another, they eventually issued from the city walls, and proceeded eventually along the highway, in the direction of the Temple of the Iron Fence.

Chia Chen, at this time, went, together with Chia Jung, up to all their seniors, and pressed them to get into their sedan chairs, and to ride their horses; and Chia She and all of the same age as himself were consequently induced to mount into their respective carriages or chairs. Chia Chen and those of the same generation were likewise about to ride their horses, when lady Feng, through her solicitude on Pao-y’s account, gave way to fears lest now that they had reached the open country, he should do as he pleased, and not listen to the words of any of the household, and lest Chia Chen should not be able to keep him in check; and, as she dreaded that he might go astray, she felt compelled to bid a youth call him to her; and Pao-y had no help but to appear before her curricle.

“My dear brother,” lady Feng remarked smiling, “you are a respectable person, and like a girl in your ways, and shouldn’t imitate those monkeys on horseback! do get down and let both you and I sit together in this carriage; and won’t that be nice?”

At these words, Pao-y readily dismounted and climbed up into the carriage occupied by lady Feng; and they both talked and laughed, as they continued their way.

But not a long time elapsed before two men, on horseback, were seen approaching from the opposite direction. Coming straight up to lady Feng’s vehicle they dismounted, and said, as they leaned on the sides of her carriage, “There’s a halting place here, and will it not please your ladyship to have a rest and change?”

Lady Feng directed them to ask the two ladies Hsing and Wang what they would like to do, and the two men explained: “These ladies have signified that they had no desire to rest, and they wish your ladyship to suit your convenience.”

Lady Feng speedily issued orders that they should have a rest, before they prosecuted their way, and the servant youth led the harnessed horses through the crowd of people and came towards the north, while Pao-y, from inside the carriage, urgently asked that Mr. Ch’in should be requested to come.

Ch’in Chung was at this moment on horseback following in the track of his father’s carriage, when unexpectedly he caught sight of Pao-y’s page, come at a running pace and invite him to have some refreshment. Ch’in Chung perceived from a distance that the horse, which Pao-y had been riding, walked behind lady Feng’s vehicle, as it went towards the north, with its saddle and bridles all piled up, and readily concluding that Pao-y must be in the same carriage with that lady, he too turned his horse and came over in haste and entered, in their company, the door of a farm-house.

This dwelling of the farmer’s did not contain many rooms so that the women and girls had nowhere to get out of the way; and when the village lasses and country women perceived the bearing and costumes of lady Feng, Pao-y, and Ch’in Chung, they were inclined to suspect that celestial beings had descended into the world.

Lady Feng entered a thatched house, and, in the first place, asked Pao-y and the rest to go out and play. Pao-y took the hint, and, along with Ch’in Chung, he led off the servant boys and went to romp all over the place.

The various articles in use among the farmers they had not seen before, with the result that after Pao-y had inspected them, he thought them all very strange; but he could neither make out their names nor their uses. But among the servant boys, there were those who knew, and they explained to them, one after another, what they were called, as well as what they were for. As Pao-y, after this explanation, nodded his head; "It isn’t strange,” he said, “that an old writer has this line in his poetical works, ’Who can realise that the food in a bowl is, grain by grain, all the fruit of labour.’ This is indeed so!” As he spoke, they had come into another house; and at the sight of a spinning wheel on a stove-bed, they thought it still more strange and wonderful, but the servant boys again told them that it was used for spinning the yarn to weave cloth with, and Pao-y speedily jumping on to the stove-bed, set to work turning the wheel for the sake of fun, when a village lass of about seventeen or eighteen years of age came forward, and asked them not to meddle with it and spoil it.

The servant boys promptly stopped her interference; but Pao-y himself desisted, as he added: “It’s because I hadn’t seen one before that I came to try it for fun.”

“You people can’t do it,” rejoined the lass, “let me turn it for you to see.”

Ch’in Chung secretly pulled Pao-y and remarked, “It’s great fun in this village!” but Pao-y gave him a nudge and observed, “If you talk nonsense again, I’ll beat you.” Watching intently, as he uttered these words, the village girl who started reeling the thread, and presented, in very truth, a pretty sight. But suddenly an old woman from the other side gave a shout. “My girl Secunda, come over at once;” and the lass discarded the spinning-wheel and hastily went on her way.

Pao-y was the while feeling disappointed and unhappy, when he espied a servant, whom lady Feng had sent, come and call them both in. Lady Feng had washed her hands and changed her costume; and asked him whether he would change or not, and Pao-y, having replied “No! it doesn’t matter after all if I don’t change,” the female attendants served tea, cakes and fruits and also poured the scented tea. Lady Feng and the others drank their tea, and waiting until they had put the various articles by, and made all the preparations, they promptly started to get into their carriages. Outside, Wang Erh had got ready tips and gave them to the people of the farm, and the farm women and all the inmates went up to them to express their gratitude; but when Pao-y came to look carefully, he failed to see anything of the lass who had reeled the thread. But they had not gone far before they caught sight of this girl Secunda coming along with a small child in her arms, who, they concluded, was her young brother, laughing and chatting, in company with a few young girls.

Pao-y could not suppress the voice of love, but being seated in the carriage, he was compelled to satisfy himself by following her with his eyes. Soon however the vehicle sped on as rapidly as a cloud impelled by the wind, so that when he turned his head round, there was already no vestige to be seen of her; but, while they were bandying words, they had unexpectedly overtaken the great concourse of the cortege.

Likewise, at an early stage men were stationed ahead, with Buddhist drums and gold cymbals, with streamers, and jewelled coverings; and the whole company of bonzes, belonging to the Iron Fence Temple, had already been drawn out in a line by the sides of the road. In a short while, they reached the interior of the temple, where additional sacrifices were offered and Buddhistic services performed; and where altars had again been erected to burn incense on. The coffin was deposited in a side room of the inner court; and Pao Chu got ready a bed-room in which she could keep her watch.

In the outer apartments, Chia Chen did the honours among the whole party of relatives and friends, some of whom asked to be allowed to stay for their meals, while others at this stage took their leave. And after they had one by one returned thanks, the dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts and barons, each in respective batches, (got up to go,) and they kept on leaving from between 1 and 3 p.m. before they had finally all dispersed.

In the inner Chambers, the ladies were solely entertained and attended to by lady Feng. First to make a move were the consorts of officials; and noon had also come, by the time the whole party of them had taken their departure. Those that remained were simply a few relatives of the same clan and others like them, who eventually left after the completion of the three days’ rationalistic liturgies.

The two ladies Hsing and Wang, well aware at this time that lady Feng could on no account return home, desired to enter the city at once; and madame Wang wanted to take Pao-y home; but Pao-y, who had, on an unexpected occasion, come out into the country, entertained, of course, no wish to go back; and he would agree to nothing else than to stay behind with lady Feng, so that madame Wang had no alternative but to hand him over to her charge and to start.

This Temple of the Iron Fence had, in fact, been erected in days gone by, at the expense of the two dukes Ning and Jung; and there still remained up to these days, acres of land, from which were derived the funds for incense and lights for such occasions, on which the coffins of any members, old or young, (who died) in the capital, had to be deposited in this temple; and the inner and outer houses, in this compound were all kept in readiness and good order, for the accommodation of those who formed part of the cortge.

At this time, as it happened, the descendants mustered an immense crowd, and among them were poor and rich of various degrees, or with likes and dislikes diametrically opposed. There were those, who, being in straitened circumstances at home, and easily contented, readily took up their quarters in the temple. And there were those with money and position, and with extravagant ideas, who maintained that the accommodation in the temple was not suitable, and, of course, went in search of additional quarters, either in country houses, or in convents, where they could have their meals and retire, after the ceremonies were over.

On the occasion of Mrs. Ch’in’s funeral, all the members of the clan put up temporarily in the Iron Fence Temple; lady Feng alone looked down upon it as inconvenient, and consequently despatched a servant to go and tell Ch’ing Hs, a nun in the Bread Convent, to empty two rooms for her to go and live in.

This Bread Convent had at one time been styled the Shui Yueh nunnery (water moon); but as good bread was made in that temple, it gave rise to this nickname.

This convent was not very distant from the Temple of the Iron Fence, so that as soon as the bonzes brought their functions to a close, and the sacrifice of evening was offered, Chia Chen asked Chia Jung to request lady Feng to retire to rest; and as lady Feng perceived that there still remained several sisters-in-law to keep company to the female relatives, she readily, of her own accord, took leave of the whole party, and, along with Pao-y and Ch’in Chung, came to the Water Moon Convent.

Ch’in Yeh, it must be noticed, was advanced in years and a victim to many ailments, so that he was unable to remain in the temple long, and he bade Ch’in Chung tarry until the coffin had been set in its resting place, with the result that Ch’in Chung came along, at the same time as lady Feng and Pao-y, to the Water Moon Convent, where Ch’ing Hs appeared, together with two neophytes, Chih Shan and Chih Neng, to receive them. After they had exchanged greetings, lady Feng and the others entered the “chaste” apartments to change their clothes and wash their hands; and when they had done, as she perceived how much taller in stature Chih Neng had grown and how much handsomer were her features, she felt prompted to inquire, “How is it that your prioress and yourselves haven’t been all these days as far as our place?”

“It’s because during these days we haven’t had any time which we could call our own,” explained Ch’ing Hs. “Owing to the birth of a son in Mr. Hu’s mansion, dame Hu sent over about ten taels and asked that we should invite several head-nuns to read during three days the service for the churching of women, with the result that we’ve been so very busy and had so little leisure, that we couldn’t come over to pay our respects to your ladyship.”

But leaving aside the old nun, who kept lady Feng company, we will now return to the two lads Pao-y and Ch’in Chung. They were up to their pranks in the main building of the convent, when seeing Chih Neng come over: “Here’s Neng Erh,” Pao-y exclaimed with a smile.

“Why notice a creature like her?” remarked Ch’in Chung; to which Pao-y rejoined laughingly: “Don’t be sly! why then did you the other day, when you were in the old lady’s rooms, and there was not a soul present, hold her in your arms? and do you want to fool me now ?”

“There was nothing of the kind,” observed Ch’in Chung smiling.

“Whether there was or not,” replied Pao-y, “doesn’t concern me; but if you will stop her and tell her to pour a cup of tea and bring it to me to drink, I’ll then keep hands off.”

“This is indeed very strange!” Ch’in Chung answered laughing; “do you fear that if you told her to pour you one, that she wouldn’t; and what need is there that I should tell her?”

“If I ask her,” Pao-y observed, “to pour it, she wouldn’t be as ready as she would were you to tell her about it.”

Ch’in Chung had no help but to speak. “Neng Erh!” he said, “bring a cup of tea.”

This Neng Erh had, since her youth, been in and out of the Jung mansion, so that there was no one that she did not know; and she had also, time after time, romped and laughed with Pao-y and Ch’in Chung. Being now grown up she gradually came to know the import of love, and she readily took a fancy to Ch’in Chung, who was an amorous being. Ch’in Chung too returned her affection, on account of her good looks; and, although he and she had not had any very affectionate tte--ttes, they had, however, long ago come to understand each other’s feelings and wishes.

Chih Neng walked away and returned after having poured the tea.

“Give it to me,” Ch’in Chung cried out smirkingly; while Pao-y likewise shouted: “Give it to me.”

Chih Neng compressed her lips and sneeringly rejoined, “Are you going to have a fight even over a cup of tea? Is it forsooth likely that there’s honey in my hand?”

Pao-y was the first to grasp and take over the cup, but while drinking it, he was about to make some inquiry, when he caught sight of Chih Shan, who came and called Chih Neng away to go and lay the plates with fruit on the table. Not much time elapsed before she came round to request the two lads to go and have tea and refreshments; but would they eat such things as were laid before them? They simply sat for a while and came out again and resumed their play.

Lady Feng too stayed for a few moments, and then returned, with the old nun as her escort, into the “unsullied” rooms to lie down. By this time, all the matrons and married women discovered that there was nothing else to be done, and they dispersed in succession, retiring each to rest. There only remained in attendance several young girls who enjoyed her confidence, and the old nun speedily availed herself of the opportunity to speak. “I’ve got something,” she said, “about which I mean to go to your mansion to beg of madame Wang; but I’ll first request you, my lady, to tell me how to set to work.”

“What’s it?” ascertained lady Feng.

“O-mi-to-fu!” exclaimed the old nun, “It’s this; in days gone by, I first lived in the Ch’ang An district. When I became a nun and entered the monastery of Excellent Merit, there lived, at that time, a subscriber, Chang by surname, a very wealthy man. He had a daughter, whose infant name was Chin Ko; the whole family came in the course of that year to the convent I was in, to offer incense, and as luck would have it they met Li Ya-nei, a brother of a secondary wife of the Prefect of the Ch’ang An Prefecture. This Li Ya-nei fell in love at first sight with her, and would wed Chin Ko as his wife. He sent go-betweens to ask her in marriage, but, contrary to his expectations, Chin Ko had already received the engagement presents of the son of the ex-Major of the Ch’ang An Prefecture. The Chang family, on the other hand, were afraid that if they withdrew from the match, the Major would not give up his claim, and they therefore replied that she was already promised to another. But, who would have thought it, this Mr. Li was seriously bent upon marrying the young lady. But while the Chang family were at a loss what plan to devise, and both parties were in a dilemma, the family of the Major came unexpectedly to hear of the news; and without even looking thoroughly into the matter, they there and then had recourse to insult and abuse. ’Is a girl,’ they insinuated, ’to be promised to the sons of several families!’ And obstinately refusing to allow the restitution of the betrothal presents, they at once had recourse to litigation and brought an action (against the girl’s people.) That family was at their wits’ end, and had no alternative but to find some one to go to the capital to obtain means of assistance; and, losing all patience, they insisted upon the return of the presents. I believe that the present commander of the troops at Ch’ang An, Mr. Yn, is on friendly terms with your honourable family, and could one solicit madame Wang to put in a word with Mr. Chia Cheng to send a letter and ask Mr. Yn to speak to that Major, I have no fear that he will not agree. Should (your ladyship) be willing to take action, the Chang family are even ready to present all they have, though it may entail the ruin of their estate.”

“This affair is, it’s true, of no great moment,” lady Feng replied smiling, after hearing this appeal; “but the only thing is that madame Wang does no longer attend to matters of this nature.”

“If madame doesn’t heed them,” suggested the old nun, “you, my lady, can safely assume the direction.”

“I’m neither in need of any money to spend,” added lady Feng with a smirk, “nor do I undertake such matters!”

These words did not escape Ching Hs’s ear; they scattered to the winds her vain hopes. After a minute or so she heaved a sigh.

“What you say may be true enough,” she remarked; “but the Chang family are also aware that I mean to come and make my appeal to your mansion; and were you now not to manage this affair, the Chang family having no idea that the lack of time prevents any steps being taken and that no importance is attached to their presents, it will appear, on the contrary, as if there were not even this little particle of skill in your household.”

At these words lady Feng felt at once inspirited. “You’ve known of old," she added, “that I’ve never had any faith in anything concerning retribution in the Court of Judgment in the unseen or in hell; and that whatever I say that I shall do, that I do; tell them therefore to bring three thousand taels; and I shall then remedy this grievance of theirs.”

The old nun upon hearing this remark was so exceedingly delighted, that she precipitately exclaimed, “They’ve got it, they’ve got it! there will be no difficulty about it.”

“I’m not,” lady Feng went on to add, “like those people, who afford help and render assistance with an eye to money; these three thousand taels will be exclusively devoted for the travelling expenses of those youths, who will be sent to deliver messages and for them to make a few cash for their trouble; but as for me I don’t want even so much as a cash. In fact I’m able at this very moment to produce as much as thirty thousand taels.”

The old nun assented with alacrity, and said by way of reply, “If that be so, my lady, do display your charitable bounty at once to-morrow and bring things to an end.”

“Just see,” remarked lady Feng, “how hard pressed I am; which place can do without me? but since I’ve given you my word, I shall, needless to say, speedily bring the matter to a close.”

“A small trifle like this,” hinted the old nun, “would, if placed in the hands of any one else, flurry her to such an extent that she would be quite at a loss what to do; but in your hands, my lady, even if much more were superadded, it wouldn’t require as much exertion as a wave of your hand. But the proverb well says: ’that those who are able have much to do;’ for madame Wang, seeing that your ladyship manages all concerns, whether large or small, properly, has still more shoved the burden of everything on your shoulders, my lady; but you should, it’s but right, also take good care of your precious health.”

This string of flattery pleased lady Feng more and more, so that heedless of fatigue she went on to chat with still greater zest.

But, thing unthought of, Ch’in Chung availed himself of the darkness, as well as of the absence of any one about, to come in quest of Chih Neng. As soon as he reached the room at the back, he espied Chih Neng all alone inside washing the tea cups; and Ch’in Chung forthwith seized her in his arms and implanted kisses on her cheek. Chih Neng got in a dreadful state, and stamping her feet, cried, “What are you up to?” and she was just on the point of shouting out, when Ch’in Chung rejoined: "My dear girl! I’m nearly dead from impatience, and if you don’t again to-day accept my advances, I shall this very moment die on this spot.”

“What you’re bent upon,” added Chih Neng, “can’t be effected; not unless you wait until I’ve left this den and parted company from these people, when it will be safe enough.”

“This is of course easy enough!” remonstrated Ch’in Chung; “but the distant water cannot extinguish the close fire!”

As he spoke, with one puff, he put out the light, plunging the whole room in pitch darkness; and seizing Chih Neng, he pushed her on to the stove-couch and started a violent love affair. Chih Neng could not, though she strained every nerve, escape his importunities; nor could she very well shout, so that she felt compelled to humour him; but while he was in the midst of his ecstatic joy, they perceived a person walk in, who pressed both of them down, without uttering even so much as a sound, and plunged them both in such a fright that their very souls flew away and their spirits wandered from their bodies; and it was after the third party had burst out laughing with a spurting sound that they eventually became aware that it was Pao-y; when, springing to his feet impetuously, Ch’in Chung exclaimed full of resentment, “What’s this that you’re up to!”

“If you get your monkey up,” retorted Pao-y, “why, then let you and I start bawling out;” which so abashed Chih Neng that she availed herself of the gloomy light to make her escape; while Pao-y had dragged Ch’in Chung out of the room and asked, “Now then, do you still want to play the bully!”

“My dear fellow,” pleaded Ch’in Chung smilingly, “whatever you do don’t shout out and let every one know; and all you want, I’ll agree to.”

“We needn’t argue just now,” Pao-y observed with a grin; “wait a while, and when all have gone to sleep, we can minutely settle accounts together.”

Soon it was time to ease their clothes, and go to bed; and lady Feng occupied the inner room; Ch’in Chung and Pao-y the outer; while the whole ground was covered with matrons of the household, who had spread their bedding, and sat watching. As lady Feng entertained fears that the jade of Spiritual Perception might be lost, she waited until Pao-y fell asleep, when having directed a servant to bring it to her, she placed it under the side of her own pillow.

What accounts Pao-y settled with Ch’in Chung cannot be ascertained; and as in the absence of any positive proof what is known is based upon surmises, we shall not venture to place it on record.

Nothing worth noticing occurred the whole night; but the next day, as soon as the morning dawned, dowager lady Chia and madame Wang promptly despatched servants to come and see how Pao-y was getting on; and to tell him likewise to put on two pieces of extra clothing, and that if there was nothing to be done it would be better for him to go back.

But was it likely that Pao-y would be willing to go back? Besides Ch’in Chung, in his inordinate passion for Chih Neng, instigated Pao-y to entreat lady Feng to remain another day. Lady Feng pondered in her own mind that, although the most important matters connected with the funeral ceremonies had been settled satisfactorily, there were still a few minor details, for which no provision had been made, so that could she avail herself of this excuse to remain another day would she not win from Chia Chen a greater degree of approbation, in the second place, would she not be able further to bring Ch’ing Hs’s business to an issue, and, in the third place, to humour Pao-y’s wish? In view of these three advantages, which would accrue, “All that I had to do, I have done,” she readily signified to Pao-y, “and if you be bent upon running about in here, you’ll unavoidably place me in still greater trouble; so that we must for certain start homewards to-morrow.”

“My dear cousin, my own dear cousin,” urgently entreated Pao-y, when he heard these words, “let’s stay only this one day, and to-morrow we can go back without fail.”

They actually spent another night there, and lady Feng availed herself of their stay to give directions that the case which had been entrusted to her the previous day by the old nun should be secretly communicated to Lai Wang Erh. Lai Wang’s mind grasped the import of all that was said to him, and, having entered the city with all despatch, he went in search of the gentleman, who acted as secretary (in Mr. Yn’s office), pretending that he had been directed by Mr. Chia Lien to come and ask him to write a letter and to send it that very night to the Ch’ang An magistrate. The distance amounted to no more than one hundred li, so that in the space of two days everything was brought to a satisfactory settlement. The general, whose name was Yn Kuang, had been for a long time under obligations to the Chia family, so that he naturally could not refuse his co-operation in such small trifles. When he had handed his reply, Wang Erh started on his way back; where we shall leave him and return to lady Feng.

Having spent another day, she on the morrow took leave of the old nun, whom she advised to come to the mansion after the expiry of three days to fetch a reply.

Ch’in Chung and Chih Neng could not, by any means, brook the separation, and they secretly agreed to a clandestine assignation; but to these details we need not allude with any minuteness; sufficient to say that they had no alternative but to bear the anguish and to part.

Lady Feng crossed over again to the temple of the Iron Fence and ascertained how things were progressing. But as Pao Chu was obstinate in her refusal to return home, Chia Chen found himself under the necessity of selecting a few servants to act as her companions. But the reader must listen to what is said in the next chapter by way of explanation.

Chapter XVI.

  Chia Yuan-ch’un is, on account of her talents, selected to enter the
      Feng Ts’ao Palace.
  Ch’in Ching-ch’ing departs, in the prime of life, by the yellow spring
      road.

But we must now return to the two lads, Ch’in Chung and Pao-y. After they had passed, along with lady Feng from the Temple of the Iron Fence, whither she had gone to see how things were getting on, they entered the city in their carriages. On their arrival at home, they paid their obeisance to dowager lady Chia, madame Wang and the other members of the family, whence they returned to their own quarters, where nothing worth mentioning transpired during the night.

On the next day, Pao-y perceiving that the repairs to the outer schoolroom had been completed, settled with Ch’in Chung that they should have evening classes. But as it happened that Ch’in Chung, who was naturally of an extremely delicate physique, caught somewhat of a chill in the country and clandestinely indulged, besides, in an intimacy with Chih Neng, which unavoidably made him fail to take good care of himself, he was, shortly after his return, troubled with a cough and a feverish cold, with nausea for drink and food, and fell into such an extremely poor state of health that he simply kept indoors and nursed himself, and was not in a fit condition to go to school. Pao-y’s spirits were readily damped, but as there was likewise no remedy he had no other course than to wait until his complete recovery, before he could make any arrangements.

Lady Feng had meanwhile received a reply from Yn Kuang, in which he informed her that everything had been satisfactorily settled, and the old nun apprised the Chang family that the major had actually suppressed his indignation, hushed his complaints, and taken back the presents of the previous engagement. But who would have ever anticipated that a father and mother, whose hearts were set upon position and their ambition upon wealth, could have brought up a daughter so conscious of propriety and so full of feeling as to seize the first opportunity, after she had heard that she had been withdrawn from her former intended, and been promised to the Li family, to stealthily devise a way to commit suicide, by means of a handkerchief. The son of the Major, upon learning that Chin Ko had strangled herself, there and then jumped into the river and drowned himself, as he too was a being full of love. The Chang and Li families were, sad to relate, very much cut up, and, in very truth, two lives and money had been sacrificed all to no use.

Lady Feng, however, during this while, quietly enjoyed the three thousand taels, and madame Wang did not have even so much as the faintest idea of the whole matter. But ever since this occasion, lady Feng’s audacity acquired more and more strength; and the actions of this kind, which she, in after days, performed, defy enumeration.

One day, the very day on which Chia Cheng’s birthday fell, while the members of the two households of Ning and Jung were assembled together offering their congratulations, and unusual bustle and stir prevailed, a gatekeeper came in, at quite an unexpected moment, to announce that Mr. Hsia, Metropolitan Head Eunuch of the six palaces, had come with the special purpose of presenting an edict from his Majesty; a bit of news which plunged Chia She, Chia Cheng and the whole company into great consternation, as they could not make out what was up. Speedily interrupting the theatrical performance, they had the banquet cleared, and the altar laid out with incense, and opening the centre gate they fell on their knees to receive the edict.

Soon they caught sight of the head eunuch, Hsia Ping-chung, advancing on horseback, and besides himself, a considerable retinue of eunuchs. The eunuch Hsia did not, in fact, carry any mandate or present any decree; but straightway advancing as far as the main hall, he dismounted, and, with a face beaming with smiles, he walked into the Hall and took his stand on the southern side.

“I have had the honour,” he said, “of receiving a special order to at once summon Chia Cheng to present himself at Court and be admitted in His Majesty’s presence in the Lin Ching Hall.”

When he had delivered this message, he did not so much as take any tea, but forthwith mounted his horse and took his leave.

Chia Cheng and the others could not even conceive what omen this summons implied, but he had no alternative but to change his clothes with all haste and to present himself at Court, while dowager lady Chia and the inmates of the whole household were, in their hearts, a prey to such perplexity and uncertainty that they incessantly despatched messengers on flying steeds to go and bring the news.

After the expiry of four hours, they suddenly perceived Lai Ta and three or four other butlers run in, quite out of breath, through the ceremonial gate and report the glad tidings. “We have received,” they added, “our master’s commands, to hurriedly request her venerable ladyship to take madame Wang and the other ladies into the Palace, to return thanks for His Majesty’s bounty;” and other words to the same purport.

Dowager lady Chia was, at this time, standing, with agitated heart, under the verandah of the Large Hall waiting for tidings, whilst the two ladies, mesdames Hsing and Wang, Mrs. Yu, Li Wan, lady Feng, Ying Ch’un and her sisters, even up to Mrs. Hseh and the rest, were congregated in one place ascertaining what was the news. Old lady Chia likewise called Lai Ta in and minutely questioned him as to what had happened. “Your servants,” replied Lai Ta, “simply stood waiting outside the Lin Chuang gate, so that we were in total ignorance of what was going on inside, when presently the Eunuch Hsia came out and imparted to us the glad tidings; telling us that the eldest of the young ladies in our household had been raised, by His Majesty, to be an overseer in the Feng Ts’ao Palace, and that he had, in addition, conferred upon her the rank of worthy and virtuous secondary consort. By and by, Mr. Chia Cheng came out and also told us the same thing. Master is now gone back again to the Eastern Palace, whither he requests your venerable ladyship to go at once and offer thanks for the Imperial favour.”

When old lady Chia and the other members of the family heard these tidings they were at length reassured in their minds, and so elated were they all in one moment that joy was visible in their very faces. Without loss of time, they commenced to don the gala dresses suitable to their rank; which done, old lady Chia led the way for the two ladies, mesdames Hsing and Wang, as well as for Mrs. Yu; and their official chairs, four of them in all, entered the palace like a trail of fish; while Chia She and Chia Chen, who had likewise changed their clothes for their court dress, took Chia Se and Chia Jung along and proceeded in attendance upon dowager lady Chia.

Indeed, of the two households of Ning and Jung, there was not one, whether high or low, woman or man, who was not in a high state of exultation, with the exception of Pao-y, who behaved just as if the news had not reached his ears; and can you, reader, guess why? The fact is that Chih Neng, of the Water Moon Convent, had recently entered the city in a surreptitious manner in search of Ch’in Chung; but, contrary to expectation, her visit came to be known by Ch’in Yeh, who drove Chih Neng away and laid hold of Ch’in Chung and gave him a flogging. But this outburst of temper of his brought about a relapse of his old complaint, with the result that in three or five days, he, sad to say, succumbed. Ch’in Chung had himself ever been in a delicate state of health and had besides received a caning before he had got over his sickness, so that when he now saw his aged father pass away from the consequences of a fit of anger, he felt, at this stage, so full of penitence and distress that the symptoms of his illness were again considerably aggravated. Hence it was that Pao-y was downcast and unhappy at heart, and that nothing could, in spite of the promotion of Yuan Ch’un by imperial favour, dispel the depression of his spirits.

Dowager lady Chia and the rest in due course offered thanks and returned home, the relatives and friends came to present their congratulations, great stir and excitement prevailed during these few days in the two mansions of Ning and Jung, and every one was in high glee; but he alone looked upon everything as if it were nothing; taking not the least interest in anything; and as this reason led the whole family to sneer at him, the result was that he got more and more doltish.

Luckily, however, Chia Lien and Tai-y were on their way back, and had despatched messengers, in advance, to announce the news that they would be able to reach home the following day, so that when Pao-y heard the tidings, he was at length somewhat cheered. And when he came to institute minute inquiries, he eventually found out: “that Chia Y-ts’un was also coming to the capital to have an audience with His Majesty, that it was entirely because Wang Tzu-t’eng had repeatedly laid before the Throne memorials recommending him that he was coming on this occasion to wait in the metropolis for a vacancy which he could fill up; that as he was a kinsman of Chia Lien’s, acknowledging the same ancestors as he did, and he stood, on the other hand, with Tai-y, in the relationship of tutor and pupil, he was in consequence following the same road and coming as their companion; that Lin Ju-hai had already been buried in the ancestral vault, and that every requirement had been attended to with propriety; that Chia Lien, on this voyage to the capital, would, had he progressed by the ordinary stages, have been over a month before he could reach home, but that when he came to hear the good news about Yuan Ch’un, he pressed on day and night to enter the capital; and that the whole journey had been throughout, in every respect, both pleasant and propitious.”

But Pao-y merely ascertained whether Tai-y was all right, and did not even so much as trouble his mind with the rest of what he heard; and he remained on the tiptoe of expectation, till noon of the morrow; when, in point of fact, it was announced that Mr. Lien, together with Miss Lin, had made their entrance into the mansion. When they came face to face, grief and joy vied with each other; and they could not help having a good cry for a while; after which followed again expressions of sympathy and congratulations; while Pao-y pondered within himself that Tai-y had become still more surpassingly handsome.

Tai-y had also brought along with her a good number of books, and she promptly gave orders that the sleeping rooms should be swept, and that the various nicknacks should be put in their proper places. She further produced a certain quantity of paper, pencils and other such things, and distributed them among Pao Ch’ai, Ying Ch’un, Pao-y and the rest; and Pao-y also brought out, with extreme care, the string of Ling-ling scented beads, which had been given to him by the Prince of Pei Ching, and handed them, in his turn, to Tai-y as a present.

“What foul man has taken hold of them?” exclaimed Tai-y. “I don’t want any such things;” and as she forthwith dashed them down, and would not accept them, Pao-y was under the necessity of taking them back. But for the time being we will not allude to them, but devote our attention to Chia Lien.

Having, after his arrival home, paid his salutations to all the inmates, he retired to his own quarters at the very moment that lady Feng had multifarious duties to attend to, and had not even a minute to spare; but, considering that Chia Lien had returned from a distant journey, she could not do otherwise than put by what she had to do, and to greet him and wait on him.

“Imperial uncle,” she said, in a jocose manner, when she realised that there was no outsider present in the room, “I congratulate you! What fatigue and hardship you, Imperial uncle, have had to bear throughout the whole journey, your humble servant heard yesterday, when the courier sent ahead came and announced that Your Highness would this day reach this mansion. I have merely got ready a glass of mean wine for you to wipe down the dust with, but I wonder, whether Your Highness will deign to bestow upon it the lustre of your countenance, and accept it.”

Chia Lien smiled. “How dare I presume to such an honour,” he added by way of rejoinder; “I’m unworthy of such attention! Many thanks, many thanks.”

P’ing Erh and the whole company of waiting-maids simultaneously paid their obeisance to him, and this ceremony concluded, they presented tea. Chia Lien thereupon made inquiries about the various matters, which had transpired in their home after his departure, and went on to thank lady Feng for all the trouble she had taken in the management of them.

“How could I control all these manifold matters,” remarked lady Feng; "my experience is so shallow, my speech so dull and my mind so simple, that if any one showed me a club, I would mistake it for a pin. Besides, I’m so tender-hearted that were any one to utter a couple of glib remarks, I couldn’t help feeling my heart give way to compassion and sympathy. I’ve had, in addition, no experience in any weighty questions; my pluck is likewise so very small that when madame Wang has felt in the least displeased, I have not been able to close my eyes and sleep. Urgently did I more than once resign the charge, but her ladyship wouldn’t again agree to it; maintaining, on the contrary, that my object was to be at ease, and that I was not willing to reap experience. Leaving aside that she doesn’t know that I take things so much to heart, that I can scoop the perspiration in handfuls, that I daren’t utter one word more than is proper, nor venture to recklessly take one step more than I ought to, you know very well which of the women servants, in charge of the menage in our household, is easy to manage! If ever I make the slightest mistake, they laugh at me and poke fun at me; and if I incline a little one way, they show their displeasure by innuendoes; they sit by and look on, they use every means to do harm, they stir up trouble, they stand by on safe ground and look on and don’t give a helping hand to lift any one they have thrown over, and they are, one and all of them, old hands in such tricks. I’m moreover young in years and not able to keep people in check, so that they naturally don’t show any regard for me! What is still more ridiculous is that after the death of Jung Erh’s wife in that mansion, brother Chen, time and again, begged madame Wang, on his very knees, to do him the favour to ask me to lend him a hand for several days. I repeatedly signified my refusal, but her ladyship gave her consent in order to oblige him, so that I had no help but to carry out her wish; putting, as is my wont, everything topsy-turvey, and making matters worse than they were; with the result that brother Chen up to this day bears me a grudge and regrets having asked for my assistance. When you see him to-morrow, do what you can to excuse me by him. ’Young as she is,’ tell him, ’and without experience of the world, who ever could have instigated Mr. Chia Cheng to make such a mistake as to choose her.’”

While they were still chatting, they heard people talking in the outer apartments, and lady Feng speedily inquired who it was. P’ing Erh entered the room to reply. “Lady Hseh,” she said, “has sent sister Hsiang Ling over to ask me something; but I’ve already given her my answer and sent her back.”

“Quite so,” interposed Chia Lien with a smile. “A short while ago I went to look up Mrs. Hseh and came face to face with a young girl, whose features were supremely perfect, and as I suspected that, in our household, there was no such person, I asked in the course of conversation, Mrs. Hseh about her, and found out eventually that this was the young waiting-maid they had purchased on their way to the capital, Hsiang Ling by name, and that she had after all become an inmate of the household of that big fool Hseh. Since she’s had her hair dressed as a married woman she does look so much more pre-eminently beautiful! But that big fool Hseh has really brought contamination upon her.”

“Ai!” exclaimed lady Feng, “here you are back from a trip to Suchow and Hang Chow, where you should have seen something of the world! and have you still an eye as envious and a heart so covetous? Well, if you wish to bestow your love on her, there’s no difficulty worth speaking of. I’ll take P’ing Erh over and exchange her for her; what do you say to that? that old brother Hseh is also one of those men, who, while eating what there is in the bowl, keeps an eye on what there is in the pan! For the last year or so, as he couldn’t get Hsiang Ling to be his, he made ever so many distressing appeals to Mrs. Hseh; and Mrs. Hseh while esteeming Hsiang Ling’s looks, though fine, as after all a small matter, (thought) her deportment and conduct so far unlike those of other girls, so gentle and so demure that almost the very daughters of masters and mistresses couldn’t attain her standard, that she therefore went to the trouble of spreading a banquet, and of inviting guests, and in open court, and in the legitimate course, she gave her to him for a secondary wife. But half a month had scarcely elapsed before he looked upon her also as a good-for-nothing person as he did upon a large number of them! I can’t however help feeling pity for her in my heart.”

Scarcely had she time to conclude what she had to say when a youth, on duty at the second gate, transmitted the announcement that Mr. Chia Cheng was in the Library waiting for Mr. Secundus. At these words, Chia Lien speedily adjusted his clothes, and left the apartment; and during his absence, lady Feng inquired of P’ing Erh what Mrs. Hseh wanted a few minutes back, that she sent Hsiang Ling round in such a hurry.

“What Hsiang Ling ever came?” replied P’ing Erh. “I simply made use of her name to tell a lie for the occasion. Tell me, my lady, (what’s come to) Wang Erh’s wife? why she’s got so bad that there’s even no common sense left in her!” Saying this she again drew near lady Feng’s side, and in a soft tone of voice, she continued: “That interest of yours, my lady, she doesn’t send later, nor does she send it sooner; but she must send it round the very moment when master Secundus is at home! But as luck would have it, I was in the hall, so that I came across her; otherwise, she would have walked in and told your ladyship, and Mr. Secundus would naturally have come to know about it! And our master would, with that frame of mind of his, have fished it out and spent it, had the money even been at the bottom of a pan full of oil! and were he to have heard that my lady had private means, would he not have been still more reckless in spending? Hence it was that, losing no time in taking the money over, I had to tell her a few words which, who would have thought, happened to be overheard by your ladyship; that’s why, in the presence of master Secundus, I simply explained that Hsiang Ling had come!”

These words evoked a smile from lady Feng. “Mrs. Hsueh, I thought to myself,” she observed, “knows very well that your Mr. Secundus has come, and yet, regardless of propriety, she, instead (of keeping her at home), sends some one over from her inner rooms! and it was you after all, you vixen, playing these pranks!”

As she uttered this remark, Chia Lien walked in, and lady Feng issued orders to serve the wine and the eatables, and husband and wife took their seats opposite to each other; but notwithstanding that lady Feng was very partial to drink, she nevertheless did not have the courage to indulge her weakness, but merely partook of some to keep him company. Chia Lien’s nurse, dame Chao, entered the room, and Chia Lien and lady Feng promptly pressed her to have a glass of wine, and bade her sit on the stove-couch, but dame Chao was obstinate in her refusal. P’ing Erh and the other waiting-maids had at an early hour placed a square stool next to the edge of the couch, where was likewise a small footstool, and on this footstool dame Chao took a seat, whereupon Chia Lien chose two dishes of delicacies from the table, which he handed her to place on the square stool for her own use.

“Dame Chao,” lady Feng remarked, “couldn’t very well bite through that, for mind it might make her teeth drop! This morning,” she therefore asked of P’ing Erh, “I suggested that that shoulder of pork stewed with ham was so tender as to be quite the thing to be given to dame Chao to eat; and how is it you haven’t taken it over to her? But go at once and tell them to warm it and bring it in! Dame Chao,” she went on, “just you taste this Hui Ch’an wine brought by your foster-son.”

“I’ll drink it,” replied dame Chao, “but you, my lady, must also have a cup: what’s there to fear? the one thing to guard against is any excess, that’s all! But I’ve now come over, not for any wine or eatables; on the contrary, there’s a serious matter, which I would ask your ladyship to impress on your mind, and to show me some regard, for this master of ours is only good to utter fine words, but when the time (to act) does come, he forgets all about us! As I have had the good fortune to nurse him in his infancy and to bring him up to this age, ’I too have grown old in years,’ I said to him, ’and all that belong to me are those two sons, and do look upon them with some particular favour!’ With any one else I shouldn’t have ventured to open my mouth, but him I anyway entreated time and again on several occasions. His assent was of course well and good, but up to this very moment he still withholds his help. Now besides from the heavens has dropped such a mighty piece of good luck; and in what place will there be no need of servants? that’s why I come to tell you, my lady, as is but right, for were I to depend upon our master, I fear I shall even die of starvation.”

Lady Feng laughed. “You’d better,” she suggested, “put those two elder foster brothers of his both under my charge! But you’ve nursed that foster-son from his babyhood, and don’t you yet know that disposition of his, how that he takes his skin and flesh and sticks it, (not on the body of a relative), but, on the contrary, on that of an outsider and stranger? (to Chia Lien.) Which of those foster brothers whom you have now discarded, isn’t clearly better than others? and were you to have shown them some favour and consideration, who would have ventured to have said ’don’t?’ Instead of that, you confer benefits upon thorough strangers, and all to no purpose whatever! But these words of mine are also incorrect, eh? for those whom we regard as strangers you, contrariwise, will treat just as if they were relatives!”

At these words every one present in the room burst out laughing; even nurse Chao could not repress herself; and as she invoked Buddha,–"In very truth,” she exclaimed, “in this room has sprung up a kind-hearted person! as regards relatives and strangers, such foolish distinctions aren’t drawn by our master; and it’s simply because he’s full of pity and is tenderhearted that he can’t put off any one who gives vent to a few words of entreaty, and nothing else!”

“That’s quite it!” rejoined lady Feng smiling sarcastically, “to those whom he looks upon as relatives, he’s kindhearted, but with me and his mother he’s as hard as steel.”

“What you say, my lady, is very considerate,” remarked nurse Chao, “and I’m really so full of delight that I’ll have another glass of good wine! and, if from this time forward, your ladyship will act as you think best, I’ll have then nothing to be sorry for!”

Chia Lien did not at this juncture feel quite at his ease, but he could do no more than feign a smile. “You people,” he said, “should leave off talking nonsense, and bring the eatables at once and let us have our meal, as I have still to go on the other side and see Mr. Chia Chen, to consult with him about business.”

“To be sure you have,” ventured lady Feng, “and you shouldn’t neglect your legitimate affairs; but what did Mr. Chia Chen tell you when he sent for you just a while back?”

“It was about the visit (of Yuan Ch’un) to her parents,” Chia Lien explained.

“Has after all permission for the visit been granted?” lady Feng inquired with alacrity.

“Though not quite granted,” Chia Lien replied joyously, “it’s nevertheless more or less an accomplished fact.”

“This is indeed evidence of the great bounty of the present Emperor!" lady Feng observed smirkingly; “one doesn’t hear in books, or see in plays, written from time to time, any mention of such an instance, even so far back as the days of old!”

Dame Chao took up again the thread of the conversation. “Indeed it’s so!” she interposed; “But I’m in very truth quite stupid from old age, for I’ve heard every one, high and low, clamouring during these few days, something or other about ’Hsing Ch’in’ or no ’Hsing Ch’in,’ but I didn’t really pay any heed to it; and now again, here’s something more about this ’Hsing Ch’in,’ but what’s it all about, I wonder?”

“The Emperor at present on the Throne,” explained Chia Lien, “takes into consideration the feelings of his people. In the whole world, there is (in his opinion), no more essential thing than filial piety; maintaining that the feelings of father, mother, son and daughter are indiscriminately subject to one principle, without any distinction between honorable and mean. The present Emperor himself day and night waits upon their majesties his Father and the Empress Dowager, and yet cannot, in the least degree, carry out to the full his ideal of filial piety. The secondary consorts, meritorious persons and other inmates of the Palace, he remembered, had entered within its precincts many years back, casting aside fathers and mothers, so how could they not help thinking of them? Besides, the fathers and mothers, who remain at home must long for their daughters, of whom they cannot get even so much as a glimpse, and if, through this solicitude, they were to contract any illness, the harmony of heaven would also be seriously impaired, so for this reason, he memorialised the Emperor, his father, and the Empress Dowager that every month, on the recurrence of the second and sixth days, permission should be accorded to the relatives of the imperial consorts to enter the palace and make application to see their daughters. The Emperor, his father, and Empress Dowager were, forthwith, much delighted by this representation, and eulogised, in high terms, the piety and generosity of the present Emperor, his regard for the will of heaven and his research into the nature of things. Both their sacred Majesties consequently also issued a decree to the effect: that the entrance of the relatives of the imperial consorts into the Palace could not but interfere with the dignity of the state, and the rules of conventional rites, but that as the mothers and daughters could not gratify the wishes of their hearts, Their Majesties would, after all, show a high proof of expedient grace, and issue a special command that: ’exclusive of the generous bounty, by virtue of which the worthy relations of the imperial consorts could enter the palace on the second and sixth days, any family, having extensive accommodation and separate courts suitable for the cantonment of the imperial body-guard, could, without any detriment, make application to the Inner Palace, for the entrance of the imperial chair into the private residences, to the end that the personal feelings of relations might be gratified, and that they should collectively enjoy the bliss of a family reunion.’ After the issue of this decree, who did not leap from grateful joy! The father of the honourable secondary consort Chou has now already initiated works, in his residence, for the repairs to the separate courts necessary for the visiting party. Wu T’ien-yu too, the father of Wu, the distinguished consort, has likewise gone outside the city walls in search of a suitable plot of ground; and don’t these amount to well-nigh accomplished facts?”

“O-mi-to-fu!” exclaimed dame Chao. “Is it really so? but from what you say, our family will also be making preparations for the reception of the eldest young lady!”

“That goes without saying,” added Chia Lien, “otherwise, for what purpose could we be in such a stir just now?”

“It’s of course so!” interposed lady Feng smiling, “and I shall now have an opportunity of seeing something great of the world. My misfortune is that I’m young by several years; for had I been born twenty or thirty years sooner, all these old people wouldn’t really be now treating me contemptuously for not having seen the world! To begin with, the Emperor Tai Tsu, in years gone by, imitated the old policy of Shun, and went on a tour, giving rise to more stir than any book could have ever produced; but I happen to be devoid of that good fortune which could have enabled me to come in time.”

“Ai ya, ya!” ejaculated dame Chao, “such a thing is rarely met with in a thousand years! I was old enough at that time to remember the occurrence! Our Chia family was then at Ku Su, Yangchow and all along that line, superintending the construction of ocean vessels, and the repairs to the seaboard. This was the only time in which preparations were made for the reception of the Emperor, and money was lavished in quantities as great as the billowing waters of the sea!”

This subject once introduced, lady Feng took up the thread of the conversation with vehemence. “Our Wang family,” she said, “did also make preparations on one occasion. At that time my grandfather was in sole charge of all matters connected with tribute from various states, as well as with general leves, so that whenever any foreigners arrived, they all came to our house to be entertained, while the whole of the goods, brought by foreign vessels from the two Kuang provinces, from Fukien, Yunnan and Chekiang, were the property of our family.”

“Who isn’t aware of these facts?” ventured dame Chao; “there is up to this day a saying that, ’in the eastern sea, there was a white jade bed required, and the dragon prince came to request Mr. Wang of Chin Ling (to give it to him)!’ This saying relates to your family, my lady, and remains even now in vogue. The Chen family of Chiang Nan has recently held, oh such a fine old standing! it alone has entertained the Emperor on four occasions! Had we not seen these things with our own eyes, were we to tell no matter whom, they wouldn’t surely ever believe them! Not to speak of the money, which was as plentiful as mud, all things, whether they were to be found in the world or not, were they not heaped up like hills, and collected like the waters of the sea? But with the four characters representing sin and pity they didn’t however trouble their minds.”

“I’ve often heard,” continued lady Feng, “my eldest uncle say that things were in such a state, and how couldn’t I believe? but what surprises me is how it ever happened that this family attained such opulence and honour!”

“I’ll tell your ladyship and all in one sentence,” replied nurse Chao. "Why they simply took the Emperor’s money and spent it for the Emperor’s person, that’s all! for what family has such a lot of money as to indulge in this useless extravagance?”

While they were engaged in this conversation, a servant came a second time, at the instance of madame Wang, to see whether lady Feng had finished her meal or not; and lady Feng forthwith concluding that there must be something waiting for her to attend to, hurriedly rushed through her repast. She had just rinsed her mouth and was about to start when the youths, on duty at the second gate, also reported that the two gentlemen, Mr. Chia Jung and Mr. Chia Se, belonging to the Eastern mansion, had arrived.

Chia Lien had, at length, rinsed his mouth; but while P’ing Erh presented a basin for him to wash his hands, he perceived the two young men walk in, and readily inquired of them what they had to say.

Lady Feng was, on account (of their arrival), likewise compelled to stay, and she heard Chia Jung take the lead and observe: “My father has sent me to tell you, uncle, that the gentlemen, have already decided that the whole extent of ground, starting from the East side, borrowing (for the occasion) the flower garden of the Eastern mansion, straight up to the North West, had been measured and found to amount in all to three and a half li; that it will be suitable for the erection of extra accommodation for the visiting party; that they have already commissioned an architect to draw a plan, which will be ready by to-morrow; that as you, uncle, have just returned home, and must unavoidably feel fatigued, you need not go over to our house, but that if you have anything to say you should please come tomorrow morning, as early as you can, and consult verbally with him.”

“Thank uncle warmly,” Chia Lien rejoined smilingly, “for the trouble he has taken in thinking of me; I shall, in that case, comply with his wishes and not go over. This plan is certainly the proper one, for while trouble will thus be saved, the erection of the quarters will likewise be an easy matter; for had a distinct plot to be selected and to be purchased, it would involve far greater difficulties. What’s more, things wouldn’t, after all, be what they properly should be. When you get back, tell your father that this decision is the right one, and that should the gentlemen have any further wish to introduce any change in their proposals, it will rest entirely with my uncle to prevent them, as it’s on no account advisable to go and cast one’s choice on some other plot; that to-morrow as soon as it’s daylight, I’ll come and pay my respects to uncle, when we can enter into further details in our deliberations!”

Chia Jung hastily signified his assent by several yes’s, and Chia Se also came forward to deliver his message. “The mission to Ku Su,” he explained, “to find tutors, to purchase servant girls, and to obtain musical instruments, and theatrical properties and the like, my uncle has confided to me; and as I’m to take along with me the two sons of a couple of majordomos, and two companions of the family, besides, Tan P’ing-jen and Pei Ku-hsiu, he has, for this reason, enjoined me to come and see you, uncle.”

Upon hearing this, Chia Lien scrutinised Chia Se. “What!” he asked, “are you able to undertake these commissions? These matters are, it’s true, of no great moment; but there’s something more hidden in them!”

Chia Se smiled. “The best thing I can do,” he remarked, “will be to execute them in my novice sort of way, that’s all.”

Chia Jung was standing next to lady Feng, out of the light of the lamp, and stealthily pulled the lapel of her dress. Lady Feng understood the hint, and putting on a smiling expression, “You are too full of fears!" she interposed. “Is it likely that our uncle Chen doesn’t, after all, know better than we do what men to employ, that you again give way to apprehensions that he isn’t up to the mark! but who are those who are, in every respect, up to the mark? These young fellows have grown up already to this age, and if they haven’t eaten any pork, they have nevertheless seen a pig run. If Mr. Chen has deputed him to go, he is simply meant to sit under the general’s standard; and do you imagine, forsooth, that he has, in real earnest, told him to go and bargain about the purchase money, and to interview the brokers himself? My own idea is that (the choice) is a very good one.”

“Of course it is!” observed Chia Lien; “but it isn’t that I entertain any wish to be factious; my only object is to devise some plan or other for him. Whence will,” he therefore went on to ask, “the money required for this purpose come from?”

“A little while ago the deliberations reached this point,” rejoined Chia Se; “and Mr. Lai suggested that there was no necessity at all to take any funds from the capital, as the Chen family, in Chiang Nan, had still in their possession Tls. 50,000 of our money. That he would to-morrow write a letter of advice and a draft for us to take along, and that we should, first of all, obtain cash to the amount of Tls. 30,000, and let the balance of Tls. 20,000 remain over, for the purchase of painted lanterns, and coloured candles, as well as for the outlay for every kind of portieres, banners, curtains and streamers.”

Chia Lien nodded his head. “This plan is first-rate!” he added.

“Since that be so,” observed lady Feng, as she addressed herself to Chia Se, “I’ve two able and reliable men; and if you would take them with you, to attend to these matters, won’t it be to your convenience?”

Chia Se forced a smile. “I was just on the point,” he rejoined, “of asking you, aunt, for the loan of two men, so that this suggestion is a strange coincidence.”

As he went on to ascertain what were their names, lady Feng inquired what they were of nurse Chao. But nurse Chao had, by this time, become quite dazed from listening to the conversation, and P’ing Erh had to give her a push, as she smiled, before she returned to consciousness. "The one,” she hastened to reply, “is called Chao T’ien-liang and the other Chao T’ien-tung.”

“Whatever you do,” suggested lady Feng, “don’t forget them; but now I’m off to look after my duties.”

With these words, she left the room, and Chia Jung promptly followed her out, and with gentle voice he said to her: “Of whatever you want, aunt, issue orders that a list be drawn up, and I’ll give it to my brother to take with him, and he’ll carry out your commissions according to the list.”

“Don’t talk nonsense!” replied lady Feng laughing; “I’ve found no place, as yet, where I could put away all my own things; and do the stealthy practices of you people take my fancy?”

As she uttered these words she straightway went her way.

Chia Se, at this time, likewise, asked Chia Lien: “If you want anything (in the way of curtains), I can conveniently have them woven for you, along with the rest, and bring them as a present to you.”

“Don’t be in such high glee!” Chia Lien urged with a grin, “you’ve but recently been learning how to do business, and have you come first and foremost to excel in tricks of this kind? If I require anything, I’ll of course write and tell you, but we needn’t talk about it.”

Having finished speaking, he dismissed the two young men; and, in quick succession, servants came to make their business reports, not limited to three and five companies, but as Chia Lien felt exhausted, he forthwith sent word to those on duty at the second gate not to allow any one at all to communicate any reports, and that the whole crowd should wait till the next day, when he would give his mind to what had to be done.

Lady Feng did not come to retire to rest till the third watch; but nothing need be said about the whole night.

The next morning, at an early hour, Chia Lien got up and called on Chia She and Chia Cheng; after which, he came over to the Ning Kuo mansion; when, in company with the old major-domos and other servants, as well as with several old family friends and companions, he inspected the grounds of the two mansions, and drew plans of the palatial buildings (for the accommodation of the Imperial consort and her escort) on her visit to her parents; deliberating at the same time, on the subject of the works and workmen.

From this day the masons and workmen of every trade were collected to the full number; and the articles of gold, silver, copper, and pewter, as well as the earth, timber, tiles, and bricks, were brought over, and carried in, in incessant supplies. In the first place, orders were issued to the workmen to demolish the wall and towers of the garden of Concentrated Fragrance, and extend a passage to connect in a straight line with the large court in the East of the Jung mansion; for the whole extent of servants’ quarters on the Eastern side of the Jung mansion had previously been pulled down.

The two residences of Ning and Jung were, in these days, it is true, divided by a small street, which served as a boundary line, and there was no communication between them, but this narrow passage was also private property, and not in any way a government street, so that they could easily be connected, and as in the garden of Concentrated Fragrance, there was already a stream of running water, which had been introduced through the corner of the Northern wall, there was no further need now of going to the trouble of bringing in another. Although the rockeries and trees were not sufficient, the place where Chia She lived, was an old garden of the Jung mansion, so that the bamboos, trees, and rockeries in that compound, as well as the arbours, railings and other such things could all be very well removed to the front; and by these means, these two grounds, situated as they were besides so very near to each other, could, by being thrown into one, conduce to the saving of considerable capital and labour; for, in spite of some deficiency, what had to be supplied did not amount to much. And it devolved entirely upon a certain old Hu, a man of note, styled Shan Tzu-yeh, to deliberate upon one thing after another, and to initiate its construction.

Chia Cheng was not up to these ordinary matters, so that it fell to Chia She, Chia Chen, Chia Lien, Lai Ta, Lai Sheng, Lin Chih-hsiao, Wu Hsin-teng, Chan Kuang, Ch’eng Jih-hsing and several others to allot the sites, to set things in order, (and to look after) the heaping up of rockeries, the digging of ponds, the construction of two-storied buildings, the erection of halls, the plantation of bamboos and the cultivation of flowers, everything connected with the improvement of the scenery devolving, on the other hand, upon Shan Tzu-yeh to make provision for, and after leaving Court, he would devote such leisure moments as he had to merely going everywhere to give a look at the most important spots, and to consult with Chia She and the others; after which he troubled his mind no more with anything. And as Chia She did nothing else than stay at home and lie off, whenever any matter turned up, trifling though it may have been as a grain of mustard seed or a bean, Chia Chen and his associates had either to go and report it in person or to write a memorandum of it. Or if he had anything to say, he sent for Chia Lien, Lai Ta and others to come and receive his instructions. Chia Jung had the sole direction of the manufacture of the articles in gold and silver; and as for Chia Se, he had already set out on his journey to Ku Su. Chia Chen, Lai Ta and the rest had also to call out the roll with the names of the workmen, to superintend the works and other duties relative thereto, which could not be recorded by one pen alone; sufficient to say that a great bustle and stir prevailed, but to this subject we shall not refer for a time, but allude to Pao-y.

As of late there were in the household concerns of this magnitude to attend to, Chia Cheng did not come to examine him in his lessons, so that he was, of course, in high spirits, but, as unfortunately Ch’in Chung’s complaint became, day by day, more serious, he was at the same time really so very distressed at heart on his account, that enjoyment was for him out of the question.

On this day, he got up as soon as it was dawn, and having just combed his hair and washed his face and hands, he was bent upon going to ask dowager lady Chia to allow him to pay a visit to Ch’in Chung, when he suddenly espied Ming Yen peep round the curtain-wall at the second gate, and then withdraw his head. Pao-y promptly walked out and inquired what he was up to.

“Mr. Ch’in Chung,” observed Ming Yen, “is not well at all.”

Pao-y at these words was quite taken aback. “It was only yesterday,” he hastily added, “that I saw him, and he was still bright and cheery; and how is it that he’s anything but well now?”

“I myself can’t explain,” replied Ming Yen; “but just a few minutes ago an old man belonging to his family came over with the express purpose of giving me the tidings.”

Upon hearing this news, Pao-y there and then turned round and told dowager lady Chia; and the old lady issued directions to depute some trustworthy persons to accompany him. “Let him go,” (she said), “and satisfy his feelings towards his fellow-scholar; but as soon as he has done, he must come back; and don’t let him tarry too long.”

Pao-y with hurried step left the room and came and changed his clothes. But as on his arrival outside, the carriage had not as yet been got ready, he fell into such a state of excitement, that he went round and round all over the hall in quite an erratic manner. In a short while, after pressure had been brought to bear, the carriage arrived, and speedily mounting the vehicle, he drove up to the door of Ch’in Chung’s house, followed by Li Kuei, Ming Yen and the other servants. Everything was quiet. Not a soul was about. Like a hive of bees they flocked into the house, to the astonishment of two distant aunts, and of several male cousins of Ch’in Chung, all of whom had no time to effect their retreat.

Ch’in Chung had, by this time, had two or three fainting fits, and had already long ago been changed his mat. As soon as Pao-y realised the situation, he felt unable to repress himself from bursting forth aloud. Li Kuei promptly reasoned with him. “You shouldn’t go on in this way," he urged, “you shouldn’t. It’s because Mr. Ch’in is so weak that lying flat on the stove-couch naturally made his bones feel uncomfortable; and that’s why he has temporarily been removed down here to ease him a little. But if you, sir, go on in this way, will you not, instead of doing him any good, aggravate his illness?”

At these words, Pao-y accordingly restrained himself, and held his tongue; and drawing near, he gazed at Ch’in Chung’s face, which was as white as wax, while with closed eyes, he gasped for breath, rolling about on his pillow.

“Brother Ching,” speedily exclaimed Pao-y, “Pao-y is here!” But though he shouted out two or three consecutive times, Ch’in Chung did not heed him.

“Pao-y has come!” Pao-y went on again to cry. But Ch’in Chung’s spirit had already departed from his body, leaving behind only a faint breath of superfluous air in his lungs.

He had just caught sight of a number of recording devils, holding a warrant and carrying chains, coming to seize him, but Ch’in Chung’s soul would on no account go along with them; and remembering how that there was in his home no one to assume the direction of domestic affairs, and feeling concerned that Chih Neng had as yet no home, he consequently used hundreds of arguments in his entreaties to the recording devils; but alas! these devils would, none of them, show him any favour. On the contrary, they heaped invectives upon Ch’in Chung.

“You’re fortunate enough to be a man of letters,” they insinuated, “and don’t you know the common saying that: ’if the Prince of Hell call upon you to die at the third watch, who can presume to retain you, a human being, up to the fifth watch?’ In our abode, in the unseen, high as well as low, have all alike a face made of iron, and heed not selfish motives; unlike the mortal world, where favouritism and partiality prevail. There exist therefore many difficulties in the way (to our yielding to your wishes).”

While this fuss was going on, Ch’in Chung’s spirit suddenly grasped the four words, “Pao-y has come,” and without loss of time, it went on again to make further urgent appeals. “Gentlemen, spiritual deputies," it exclaimed; “show me a little mercy and allow me to return to make just one remark to an intimate friend of mine, and I’ll be back again.”

“What intimate friend is this again?” the devils observed with one voice.

“I’m not deceiving you, gentlemen,” rejoined Ch’in Chung; “it’s the grandson of the duke of Jung Kuo, whose infant name is Pao-y.”

The Decider of life was, at first, upon hearing these words, so seized with dismay that he vehemently abused the devils sent on the errand.

“I told you,” he shouted, “to let him go back for a turn; but you would by no means comply with my words! and now do you wait until he has summoned a man of glorious fortune and prosperous standing to at last desist?”

When the company of devils perceived the manner of the Decider of life, they were all likewise so seized with consternation that they bustled with hand and feet; while with hearts also full of resentment: “You, sir,” they replied, “were at one time such a terror, formidable as lightning; and are you not forsooth able to listen with equanimity to the two sounds of ’Pao-y?’ our humble idea is that mortal as he is, and immortal as we are, it wouldn’t be to our credit if we feared him!”

But whether Ch’in Chung, after all, died or survived, the next chapter will explain.

Chapter XVII.

  In the Ta Kuan Garden, (Broad Vista,) the merits of Pao-y are put to
      the test, by his being told to write devices for scrolls and
      tablets.
  Yuan Ch’un returns to the Jung Kuo mansion, on a visit to her parents,
      and offers her congratulations to them on the feast of lanterns,
      on the fifteenth of the first moon.

Ch’in Chung, to resume our story, departed this life, and Pao-y went on so unceasingly in his bitter lamentations, that Li Kuei and the other servants had, for ever so long, an arduous task in trying to comfort him before he desisted; but on his return home he was still exceedingly disconsolate.

Dowager lady Chia afforded monetary assistance to the amount of several tens of taels; and exclusive of this, she had sacrificial presents likewise got ready. Pao-y went and paid a visit of condolence to the family, and after seven days the funeral and burial took place, but there are no particulars about them which could be put on record.

Pao-y, however, continued to mourn (his friend) from day to day, and was incessant in his remembrance of him, but there was likewise no help for it. Neither is it known after how many days he got over his grief.

On this day, Chia Chen and the others came to tell Chia Cheng that the works in the garden had all been reported as completed, and that Mr. Chia She had already inspected them. “It only remains,” (they said), "for you, sir, to see them; and should there possibly be anything which is not proper, steps will be at once taken to effect the alterations, so that the tablets and scrolls may conveniently be written.”

After Chia Cheng had listened to these words, he pondered for a while. "These tablets and scrolls,” he remarked, “present however a difficult task. According to the rites, we should, in order to obviate any shortcoming, request the imperial consort to deign and compose them; but if the honourable consort does not gaze upon the scenery with her own eyes, it will also be difficult for her to conceive its nature and indite upon it! And were we to wait until the arrival of her highness, to request her to honour the grounds with a visit, before she composes the inscriptions, such a wide landscape, with so many pavilions and arbours, will, without one character in the way of a motto, albeit it may abound with flowers, willows, rockeries, and streams, nevertheless in no way be able to show off its points of beauty to advantage.”

The whole party of family companions, who stood by, smiled. “Your views, remarkable sir,” they ventured, “are excellent; but we have now a proposal to make. Tablets and scrolls for every locality cannot, on any account, be dispensed with, but they could not likewise, by any means, be determined upon for good! Were now, for the time being, two, three or four characters fixed upon, harmonising with the scenery, to carry out, for form’s sake, the idea, and were they provisionally utilised as mottoes for the lanterns, tablets and scrolls, and hung up, pending the arrival of her highness, and her visit through the grounds, when she could be requested to decide upon the devices, would not two exigencies be met with satisfactorily?”

“Your views are perfectly correct,” observed Chia Cheng, after he had heard their suggestion; “and we should go to-day and have a look at the place so as then to set to work to write the inscriptions; which, if suitable, can readily be used; and, if unsuitable, Y-ts’un can then be sent for, and asked to compose fresh ones.”

The whole company smiled. “If you, sir, were to compose them to-day," they ventured, “they are sure to be excellent; and what need will there be again to wait for Y-ts’un!”

“You people are not aware,” Chia Cheng added with a smiling countenance, "that I’ve been, even in my young days, very mediocre in the composition of stanzas on flowers, birds, rockeries and streams; and that now that I’m well up in years and have moreover the fatigue and trouble of my official duties, I’ve become in literary compositions like these, which require a light heart and gladsome mood, still more inapt. Were I even to succeed in composing any, they will unavoidably be so doltish and forced that they would contrariwise be instrumental in making the flowers, trees, garden and pavilions, through their demerits, lose in beauty, and present instead no pleasing feature.”

“This wouldn’t anyhow matter,” remonstrated all the family companions, "for after perusing them we can all decide upon them together, each one of us recommending those he thinks best; which if excellent can be kept, and if faulty can be discarded; and there’s nothing unfeasible about this!”

“This proposal is most apposite,” rejoined Chia Cheng. “What’s more, the weather is, I rejoice, fine to-day; so let’s all go in a company and have a look.”

Saying this, he stood up and went forward, at the head of the whole party; while Chia Chen betook himself in advance into the garden to let every one know of their coming. As luck would have it, Pao-y–for he had been these last few days thinking of Ch’in Chung and so ceaselessly sad and wounded at heart, that dowager lady Chia had frequently directed the servants to take him into the new garden to play–made his entrance just at this very time, and suddenly became aware of the arrival of Chia Chen, who said to him with a smile, “Don’t you yet run away as fast as you can? Mr. Chia Cheng will be coming in a while.”

At these words, Pao-y led off his nurse and the youths, and rushed at once out of the garden, like a streak of smoke; but as he turned a corner, he came face to face with Chia Cheng, who was advancing towards that direction, at the head of all the visitors; and as he had no time to get out of the way, the only course open to him was to stand on one side.

Chia Cheng had, of late, heard the tutor extol him by saying that he displayed special ability in rhyming antithetical lines, and that although he did not like to read his books, he nevertheless possessed some depraved talents, and hence it was that he was induced at this moment to promptly bid him follow him into the garden, with the intent of putting him to the test.

Pao-y could not make out what his object was, but he was compelled to follow. As soon as they reached the garden gate, and he caught sight of Chia Chen, standing on one side, along with several managers: “See that the garden gate is closed for a time,” Chia Cheng exclaimed, “for we’ll first see the outside and then go in.”

Chia Chen directed a servant to close the gate, and Chia Cheng first looked straight ahead of him towards the gate and espied on the same side as the main entrance a suite of five apartments. Above, the cylindrical tiles resembled the backs of mud eels. The doors, railings, windows, and frames were all finely carved with designs of the new fashion, and were painted neither in vermilion nor in white colours. The whole extent of the walls was of polished bricks of uniform colour; while below, the white marble on the terrace and steps was engraved with western foreign designs; and when he came to look to the right and to the left, everything was white as snow. At the foot of the white-washed walls, tiger-skin pebbles were, without regard to pattern, promiscuously inserted in the earth in such a way as of their own selves to form streaks. Nothing fell in with the custom of gaudiness and display so much in vogue, so that he naturally felt full of delight; and, when he forthwith asked that the gate should be thrown open, all that met their eyes was a long stretch of verdant hills, which shut in the view in front of them.

“What a fine hill, what a pretty hill!” exclaimed all the companions with one voice.

“Were it not for this one hill,” Chia Cheng explained, “whatever scenery is contained in it would clearly strike the eye, as soon as one entered into the garden, and what pleasure would that have been?”

“Quite so,” rejoined all of them. “But without large hills and ravines in one’s breast (liberal capacities), how could one attain such imagination!”

After the conclusion of this remark, they cast a glance ahead of them, and perceived white rugged rocks looking, either like goblins, or resembling savage beasts, lying either crossways, or in horizontal or upright positions; on the surface of which grew moss and lichen with mottled hues, or parasitic plants, which screened off the light; while, slightly visible, wound, among the rocks, a narrow pathway like the intestines of a sheep.

“If we were now to go and stroll along by this narrow path,” Chia Cheng suggested, “and to come out from over there on our return, we shall have been able to see the whole grounds.”

Having finished speaking, he asked Chia Chen to lead the way; and he himself, leaning on Pao-y, walked into the gorge with leisurely step. Raising his head, he suddenly beheld on the hill a block of stone, as white as the surface of a looking-glass, in a site which was, in very deed, suitable to be left for an inscription, as it was bound to meet the eye.

“Gentlemen,” Chia Cheng observed, as he turned his head round and smiled, “please look at this spot. What name will it be fit to give it?”

When the company heard his remark, some maintained that the two words "Heaped verdure” should be written; and others upheld that the device should be “Embroidered Hill.” Others again suggested: “Vying with the Hsiang Lu;” and others recommended “the small Chung Nan.” And various kinds of names were proposed, which did not fall short of several tens.

All the visitors had been, it must be explained, aware at an early period of the fact that Chia Cheng meant to put Pao-y’s ability to the test, and for this reason they merely proposed a few combinations in common use. But of this intention, Pao-y himself was likewise cognizant.

After listening to the suggestions, Chia Cheng forthwith turned his head round and bade Pao-y think of some motto.

“I’ve often heard,” Pao-y replied, “that writers of old opine that it’s better to quote an old saying than to compose a new one; and that an old engraving excels in every respect an engraving of the present day. What’s more, this place doesn’t constitute the main hill or the chief feature of the scenery, and is really no site where any inscription should be put, as it no more than constitutes the first step in the inspection of the landscape. Won’t it be well to employ the exact text of an old writer consisting of ’a tortuous path leading to a secluded (nook).’ This line of past days would, if inscribed, be, in fact, liberal to boot.”

After listening to the proposed line, they all sang its praise. "First-rate! excellent!” they cried, “the natural talents of your second son, dear friend, are lofty; his mental capacity is astute; he is unlike ourselves, who have read books but are simple fools.”

“You shouldn’t,” urged Chia Cheng smilingly, “heap upon him excessive praise; he’s young in years, and merely knows one thing which he turns to the use of ten purposes; you should laugh at him, that’s all; but we can by and by choose some device.”

As he spoke, he entered the cave, where he perceived beautiful trees with thick foliage, quaint flowers in lustrous bloom, while a line of limpid stream emanated out of a deep recess among the flowers and trees, and oozed down through the crevice of the rock. Progressing several steps further in, they gradually faced the northern side, where a stretch of level ground extended far and wide, on each side of which soared lofty buildings, intruding themselves into the skies, whose carved rafters and engraved balustrades nestled entirely among the depressions of the hills and the tops of the trees. They lowered their eyes and looked, and beheld a pure stream flowing like jade, stone steps traversing the clouds, a balustrade of white marble encircling the pond in its embrace, and a stone bridge with three archways, the animals upon which had faces disgorging water from their mouths. A pavilion stood on the bridge, and in this pavilion Chia Chen and the whole party went and sat.

“Gentlemen,” he inquired, “what shall we write about this?”

“In the record,” they all replied, “of the ’Drunken Old Man’s Pavilion,’ written in days of old by Ou Yang, appears this line: ’There is a pavilion pinioned-like,’ so let us call this ’the pinioned-like pavilion,’ and finish.”

“Pinioned-like,” observed Chia Cheng smiling, “is indeed excellent; but this pavilion is constructed over the water, and there should, after all, be some allusion to the water in the designation. My humble opinion is that of the line in Ou Yang’s work, ’(the water) drips from between the two peaks,’ we should only make use of that single word ’drips.’”

“First-rate!” rejoined one of the visitors, “capital! but what would really be appropriate are the two characters ’dripping jadelike.’”

Chia Chen pulled at his moustache, as he gave way to reflection; after which, he asked Pao-y to also propose one himself.

“What you, sir, suggested a while back,” replied Pao-y, “will do very well; but if we were now to sift the matter thoroughly, the use of the single word ’drip’ by Ou Yang, in his composition about the Niang spring, would appear quite apposite; while the application, also on this occasion, to this spring, of the character ’drip’ would be found not quite suitable. Moreover, seeing that this place is intended as a separate residence (for the imperial consort), on her visit to her parents, it is likewise imperative that we should comply with all the principles of etiquette, so that were words of this kind to be used, they would besides be coarse and inappropriate; and may it please you to fix upon something else more recondite and abstruse.”

“What do you, gentlemen, think of this argument?” Chia Cheng remarked sneeringly. “A little while ago, when the whole company devised something original, you observed that it would be better to quote an old device; and now that we have quoted an old motto, you again maintain that it’s coarse and inappropriate! But you had better give us one of yours.”

“If two characters like ’dripping jadelike’ are to be used,” Pao-y explained, “it would be better then to employ the two words ’Penetrating Fragrance,’ which would be unique and excellent, wouldn’t they?”

Chia Cheng pulled his moustache, nodded his head and did not utter a word; whereupon the whole party hastily pressed forward with one voice to eulogize Pao-y’s acquirements as extraordinary.

“The selection of two characters for the tablet is an easy matter," suggested Chia Cheng, “but now go on and compose a pair of antithetical phrases with seven words in each.”

Pao-y cast a glance round the four quarters, when an idea came into his head, and he went on to recite:

  The willows, which enclose the shore, the green borrow from three
      bamboos;
  On banks apart, the flowers asunder grow, yet one perfume they give.

Upon hearing these lines, Chia Cheng gave a faint smile, as he nodded his head, whilst the whole party went on again to be effusive in their praise. But forthwith they issued from the pavilions, and crossed the pond, contemplating with close attention each elevation, each stone, each flower, or each tree. And as suddenly they raised their heads, they caught sight, in front of them, of a line of white wall, of numbers of columns, and beautiful cottages, where flourished hundreds and thousands of verdant bamboos, which screened off the rays of the sun.

“What a lovely place!” they one and all exclaimed.

Speedily the whole company penetrated inside, perceiving, as soon as they had entered the gate, a zigzag arcade, below the steps of which was a raised pathway, laid promiscuously with stones, and on the furthest part stood a diminutive cottage with three rooms, two with doors leading into them and one without. Everything in the interior, in the shape of beds, teapoys, chairs and tables, were made to harmonise with the space available. Leading out of the inner room of the cottage was a small door from which, as they egressed, they found a back-court with lofty pear trees in blossom and banana trees, as well as two very small retiring back-courts. At the foot of the wall, unexpectedly became visible an aperture where was a spring, for which a channel had been opened scarcely a foot or so wide, to enable it to run inside the wall. Winding round the steps, it skirted the buildings until it reached the front court, where it coiled and curved, flowing out under the bamboos.

“This spot,” observed Chia Cheng full of smiles, “is indeed pleasant! and could one, on a moonlight night, sit under the window and study, one would not spend a whole lifetime in vain!”

As he said this, he quickly cast a glance at Pao-y, and so terrified did Pao-y feel that he hastily drooped his head. The whole company lost no time in choosing some irrelevant talk to turn the conversation, and two of the visitors prosecuted their remarks by adding that on the tablet, in this spot, four characters should be inscribed.

“Which four characters?” Chia Cheng inquired, laughingly.

“The bequeathed aspect of the river Ch’i!” suggested one of them.

“It’s commonplace,” observed Chia Cheng.

Another person recommended “the remaining vestiges of the Ch Garden.”

“This too is commonplace!” replied Chia Cheng.

“Let brother Pao-y again propound one!” interposed Chia Chen, who stood by.

“Before he composes any himself,” Chia Cheng continued, “his wont is to first discuss the pros and cons of those of others; so it’s evident that he’s an impudent fellow!”

“He’s most reasonable in his arguments,” all the visitors protested, "and why should he be called to task?”

“Don’t humour him so much!” Chia Cheng expostulated. “I’ll put up for to-day,” he however felt constrained to tell Pao-y, “with your haughty manner, and your rubbishy speech, so that after you have, to begin with, given us your opinion, you may next compose a device. But tell me, are there any that will do among the mottoes suggested just now by all the gentlemen?”

“They all seem to me unsuitable!” Pao-y did not hesitate to say by way of reply to this question.

Chia Cheng gave a sardonic smile. “How all unsuitable?” he exclaimed.

“This,” continued Pao-y, “is the first spot which her highness will honour on her way, and there should be inscribed, so that it should be appropriate, something commending her sacred majesty. But if a tablet with four characters has to be used, there are likewise devices ready at hand, written by poets of old; and what need is there to compose any more?”

“Are forsooth the devices ’the river Ch’i and the Chu Garden’ not those of old authors?” insinuated Chia Cheng.

“They are too stiff,” replied Pao-y. “Would not the four characters: ’a phoenix comes with dignified air,’ be better?”

With clamorous unanimity the whole party shouted: “Excellent:” and Chia Cheng nodding his head; “You beast, you beast!” he ejaculated, “it may well be said about you that you see through a thin tube and have no more judgment than an insect! Compose another stanza,” he consequently bade him; and Pao-y recited:

  In the precious tripod kettle, tea is brewed, but green is still the
      smoke!
  O’er is the game of chess by the still window, but the fingers are yet
      cold.

Chia Cheng shook his head. “Neither does this seem to me good!” he said; and having concluded this remark he was leading the company out, when just as he was about to proceed, he suddenly bethought himself of something.

“The several courts and buildings and the teapoys, sideboards, tables and chairs,” he added, “may be said to be provided for. But there are still all those curtains, screens and portieres, as well as the furniture, nicknacks and curios; and have they too all been matched to suit the requirements of each place?”

“Of the things that have to be placed about,” Chia Chen explained, a good number have, at an early period, been added, and of course when the time comes everything will be suitably arranged. As for the curtains, screens, and portieres, which have to be hung up, I heard yesterday brother Lien say that they are not as yet complete, that when the works were first taken in hand, the plan of each place was drawn, the measurements accurately calculated and some one despatched to attend to the things, and that he thought that yesterday half of them were bound to come in.

Chia Cheng, upon hearing this explanation, readily remembered that with all these concerns Chia Chen had nothing to do; so that he speedily sent some one to go and call Chia Lien.

Having arrived in a short while, “How many sorts of things are there in all?” Chia Cheng inquired of him. “Of these how many kinds have by this time been got ready? and how many more are short?”

At this question, Chia Lien hastily produced, from the flaps of his boot, a paper pocket-book, containing a list, which he kept inside the tops of his boot. After perusing it and reperusing it, he made suitable reply. “Of the hundred and twenty curtains,” he proceeded, “of stiff spotted silks, embroidered with dragons in relief, and of the curtains large and small, of every kind of damask silk, eighty were got yesterday, so that there still remain forty of them to come. The two portieres were both received yesterday; and besides these, there are the two hundred red woollen portieres, two hundred portieres of Hsiang Fei bamboo; two hundred door-screens of rattan, with gold streaks, and of red lacquered bamboo; two hundred portieres of black lacquered rattan; two hundred door-screens of variegated thread-netting with clusters of flowers. Of each of these kinds, half have come in, but the whole lot of them will be complete no later than autumn. Antimacassars, table-cloths, flounces for the beds, and cushions for the stools, there are a thousand two hundred of each, but these likewise are ready and at hand.”

As he spoke, they proceeded outwards, but suddenly they perceived a hill extending obliquely in such a way as to intercept the passage; and as they wound round the curve of the hill faintly came to view a line of yellow mud walls, the whole length of which was covered with paddy stalks for the sake of protection, and there were several hundreds of apricot trees in bloom, which presented the appearance of being fire, spurted from the mouth, or russet clouds, rising in the air. Inside this enclosure, stood several thatched cottages. Outside grew, on the other hand, mulberry trees, elms, mallows, and silkworm oaks, whose tender shoots and new twigs, of every hue, were allowed to bend and to intertwine in such a way as to form two rows of green fence. Beyond this fence and below the white mound, was a well, by the side of which stood a well-sweep, windlass and such like articles; the ground further down being divided into parcels, and apportioned into fields, which, with the fine vegetables and cabbages in flower, presented, at the first glance, the aspect of being illimitable.

“This is,” Chia Cheng observed chuckling, “the place really imbued with a certain amount of the right principle; and laid out, though it has been by human labour, yet when it strikes my eye, it so moves my heart, that it cannot help arousing in me the wish to return to my native place and become a farmer. But let us enter and rest a while.”

As he concluded these words, they were on the point of walking in, when they unexpectedly discerned a stone, outside the trellis gate, by the roadside, which had also been left as a place on which to inscribe a motto.

“Were a tablet,” argued the whole company smilingly, “put up high in a spot like this, to be filled up by and by, the rustic aspect of a farm would in that case be completely done away with; and it will be better, yea far better to erect this slab on the ground, as it will further make manifest many points of beauty. But unless a motto could be composed of the same excellence as that in Fan Shih-hu’s song on farms, it will not be adequate to express its charms!”

“Gentlemen,” observed Chia Cheng, “please suggest something.”

“A short while back,” replied the whole company, “your son, venerable brother, remarked that devising a new motto was not equal to quoting an old one, and as sites of this kind have been already exhausted by writers of days of old, wouldn’t it be as well that we should straightway call it the ’apricot blossom village?’ and this will do splendidly.”

When Chia Cheng heard this remark, he smiled and said, addressing himself to Chia Chen: “This just reminds me that although this place is perfect in every respect, there’s still one thing wanting in the shape of a wine board; and you had better then have one made to-morrow on the very same pattern as those used outside in villages; and it needn’t be anything gaudy, but hung above the top of a tree by means of bamboos.”

Chia Chen assented. “There’s no necessity,” he went on to explain, “to keep any other birds in here, but only to rear a few geese, ducks, fowls and such like; as in that case they will be in perfect keeping with the place.”

“A splendid idea!” Chia Cheng rejoined, along with all the party.

“’Apricot blossom village’ is really first-rate,” continued Chia Cheng as he again addressed himself to the company; “but the only thing is that it encroaches on the real designation of the village; and it will be as well to wait (until her highness comes), when we can request her to give it a name.”

“Certainly!” answered the visitors with one voice; “but now as far as a name goes, for mere form, let us all consider what expressions will be suitable to employ.”

Pao-y did not however give them time to think; nor did he wait for Chia Cheng’s permission, but suggested there and then: “In old poetical works there’s this passage: ’At the top of the red apricot tree hangs the flag of an inn,’ and wouldn’t it be advisable, on this occasion, to temporarily adopt the four words: ’the sign on the apricot tree is visible’?”

“’Is visible’ is excellent,” suggested the whole number of them, “and what’s more it secretly accords with the meaning implied by ’apricot blossom village.’”

“Were the two words ’apricot blossom’ used for the name of the village, they would be too commonplace and unsuitable;” added Pao-y with a sardonic grin, “but there’s another passage in the works of a poet of the T’ang era: ’By the wooden gate near the water the corn-flower emits its fragrance;’ and why not make use of the motto ’corn fragrance village,’ which will be excellent?”

When the company heard his proposal, they, with still greater vigour, unanimously combined in crying out “Capital!” as they clapped their hands.

Chia Cheng, with one shout, interrupted their cries, “You ignorant child of wrath!” he ejaculated; “how many old writers can you know, and how many stanzas of ancient poetical works can you remember, that you will have the boldness to show off in the presence of all these experienced gentlemen? (In allowing you to give vent to) all the nonsense you uttered my object was no other than to see whether your brain was clear or muddled; and all for fun’s sake, that’s all; and lo, you’ve taken things in real earnest!”

Saying this, he led the company into the interior of the hall with the mallows. The windows were pasted with paper, and the bedsteads made of wood, and all appearance of finery had been expunged, and Chia Cheng’s heart was naturally much gratified; but nevertheless, scowling angrily at Pao-y, “What do you think of this place?” he asked.

When the party heard this question, they all hastened to stealthily give a nudge to Pao-y, with the express purpose of inducing him to say it was nice; but Pao-y gave no ear to what they all urged. “It’s by far below the spot,” he readily replied, “designated ’a phoenix comes with dignified air.’”

“You ignorant stupid thing!” exclaimed Chia Cheng at these words; “what you simply fancy as exquisite, with that despicable reliance of yours upon luxury and display, are two-storied buildings and painted pillars! But how can you know anything about this aspect so pure and unobtrusive, and this is all because of that failing of not studying your books!”

“Sir,” hastily answered Pao-y, “your injunctions are certainly correct; but men of old have often made allusion to ’natural;’ and what is, I wonder, the import of these two characters?”

The company had perceived what a perverse mind Pao y possessed, and they one and all were much surprised that he should be so silly beyond the possibility of any change; and when now they heard the question he asked, about the two characters representing “natural,” they, with one accord, speedily remarked, “Everything else you understand, and how is it that on the contrary you don’t know what ’natural’ implies? The word ’natural’ means effected by heaven itself and not made by human labour.”

“Well, just so,” rejoined Pao-y; “but the farm, which is laid out in this locality, is distinctly the handiwork of human labour; in the distance, there are no neighbouring hamlets; near it, adjoin no wastes; though it bears a hill, the hill is destitute of streaks; though it be close to water, this water has no spring; above, there is no pagoda nestling in a temple; below, there is no bridge leading to a market; it rises abrupt and solitary, and presents no grand sight! The palm would seem to be carried by the former spot, which is imbued with the natural principle, and possesses the charms of nature; for, though bamboos have been planted in it, and streams introduced, they nevertheless do no violence to the works executed. ’A natural landscape,’ says, an ancient author in four words; and why? Simply because he apprehended that what was not land, would, by forcible ways, be converted into land; and that what was no hill would, by unnatural means, be raised into a hill. And ingenious though these works might be in a hundred and one ways, they cannot, after all, be in harmony.”...

But he had no time to conclude, as Chia Cheng flew into a rage. “Drive him off,” he shouted; (but as Pao-y) was on the point of going out, he again cried out: “Come back! make up,” he added, “another couplet, and if it isn’t clear, I’ll for all this give you a slap on your mouth.”

Pao-y had no alternative but to recite as follows:

  A spot in which the “Ko” fibre to bleach, as the fresh tide doth swell
      the waters green!
  A beauteous halo and a fragrant smell the man encompass who the cress
      did pluck!

Chia Cheng, after this recital, nodded his head. “This is still worse!" he remarked, but as he reproved him, he led the company outside, and winding past the mound, they penetrated among flowers, and wending their steps by the willows, they touched the rocks and lingered by the stream. Passing under the trellis with yellow roses, they went into the shed with white roses; they crossed by the pavilion with peonies, and walked through the garden, where the white peony grew; and entering the court with the cinnamon roses, they reached the island of bananas. As they meandered and zigzagged, suddenly they heard the rustling sound of the water, as it came out from a stone cave, from the top of which grew parasitic plants drooping downwards, while at its bottom floated the fallen flowers.

“What a fine sight!” they all exclaimed; “what beautiful scenery!”

“Gentlemen,” observed Chia Cheng, “what name do you propose for this place?”

“There’s no further need for deliberation,” the company rejoined; “for this is just the very spot fit for the three words ’Wu Ling Spring.’”

“This too is matter-of-fact!” Chia Cheng objected laughingly, “and likewise antiquated.”

“If that won’t do,” the party smiled, “well then what about the four characters implying ’An old cottage of a man of the Ch’in dynasty?’”

“This is still more exceedingly plain!” interposed Pao-y. “’The old cottage of a man of the Ch’in dynasty’ is meant to imply a retreat from revolution, and how will it suit this place? Wouldn’t the four characters be better denoting ’an isthmus with smart weed, and a stream with flowers’?”

When Chia Cheng heard these words, he exclaimed: “You’re talking still more stuff and nonsense?” and forthwith entering the grotto, Chia Cheng went on to ask of Chia Chen, “Are there any boats or not?”

“There are to be,” replied Chia Chen, “four boats in all from which to pick the lotus, and one boat for sitting in; but they haven’t now as yet been completed.”

“What a pity!” Chia Cheng answered smilingly, “that we cannot go in.”

“But we could also get into it by the tortuous path up the hill,” Chia Chen ventured; and after finishing this remark, he walked ahead to show the way, and the whole party went over, holding on to the creepers, and supporting themselves by the trees, when they saw a still larger quantity of fallen leaves on the surface of the water, and the stream itself, still more limpid, gently and idly meandering along on its circuitous course. By the bank of the pond were two rows of weeping willows, which, intermingling with peach and apricot trees, screened the heavens from view, and kept off the rays of the sun from this spot, which was in real truth devoid of even a grain of dust.

Suddenly, they espied in the shade of the willows, an arched wooden bridge also reveal itself to the eye, with bannisters of vermilion colour. They crossed the bridge, and lo, all the paths lay open before them; but their gaze was readily attracted by a brick cottage spotless and cool-looking; whose walls were constructed of polished bricks, of uniform colour; (whose roof was laid) with speckless tiles; and whose enclosing walls were painted; while the minor slopes, which branched off from the main hill, all passed along under the walls on to the other side.

“This house, in a site like this, is perfectly destitute of any charm!" added Chia Cheng.

And as they entered the door, abruptly appeared facing them, a large boulder studded with holes and soaring high in the skies, which was surrounded on all four sides by rocks of every description, and completely, in fact, hid from view the rooms situated in the compound. But of flowers or trees, there was not even one about; and all that was visible were a few strange kinds of vegetation; some being of the creeper genus, others parasitic plants, either hanging from the apex of the hill, or inserting themselves into the base of the rocks; drooping down even from the eaves of the house, entwining the pillars, and closing round the stone steps. Or like green bands, they waved and flapped; or like gold thread, they coiled and bent, either with seeds resembling cinnabar, or with blossoms like golden olea; whose fragrance and aroma could not be equalled by those emitted by flowers of ordinary species.

“This is pleasant!” Chia Cheng could not refrain from saying; “the only thing is that I don’t know very much about flowers.”

“What are here are lianas and ficus pumila!” some of the company observed.

“How ever can the liana and the ficus have such unusual scent?" questioned Chia Cheng.

“Indeed they aren’t!” interposed Pao-y. “Among all these flowers, there are also ficus and liana, but those scented ones are iris, ligularia, and ’Wu’ flowers; that kind consist, for the most part, of ’Ch’ih’ flowers and orchids; while this mostly of gold-coloured dolichos. That species is the hypericum plant, this the ’Y Lu’ creeper. The red ones are, of course, the purple rue; the green ones consist for certain, of the green ’Chih’ plant; and, to the best of my belief, these various plants are mentioned in the ’Li Sao’ and ’Wen Hsuan.’ These rare plants are, some of them called something or other like ’Huo Na’ and ’Chiang Hui;’ others again are designated something like ’Lun Tsu’ and ’Tz’u Feng;’ while others there are whose names sound like ’Shih Fan,’ ’Shui Sung’ and ’Fu Liu,’ which together with other species are to be found in the ’Treatise about the Wu city’ by Tso T’ai-chung. There are also those which go under the appellation of ’Lu T’i,’ or something like that; while there are others that are called something or other like ’Tan Chiao,’ ’Mi Wu’ and ’Feng Lien;’ reference to which is made in the ’Treatise on the Shu city.’ But so many years have now elapsed, and the times have so changed (since these treatises were written), that people, being unable to discriminate (the real names) may consequently have had to appropriate in every case such names as suited the external aspect, so that they may, it is quite possible, have gradually come to be called by wrong designations.”

But he had no time to conclude; for Chia Cheng interrupted him. “Who has ever asked you about it?” he shouted; which plunged Pao-y into such a fright, that he drew back, and did not venture to utter another word.

Chia Cheng perceiving that on both sides alike were covered passages resembling outstretched arms, forthwith continued his steps and entered the covered way, when he caught sight, at the upper end, of a five-roomed building, without spot or blemish, with folding blinds extending in a connected line, and with corridors on all four sides; (a building) which with its windows so green, and its painted walls, excelled, in spotless elegance, the other buildings they had seen before, to which it presented such a contrast.

Chia Cheng heaved a sigh. “If one were able,” he observed, “to boil his tea and thrum his lyre in here, there wouldn’t even be any need for him to burn any more incense. But the execution of this structure is so beyond conception that you must, gentlemen, compose something nice and original to embellish the tablet with, so as not to render such a place of no effect!”

“There’s nothing so really pat,” suggested the company smiling; “as ’the orchid-smell-laden breeze’ and ’the dew-bedecked epidendrum!”

“These are indeed the only four characters,” rejoined Chia Cheng, “that could be suitably used; but what’s to be said as far as the scroll goes?”

“I’ve thought of a couplet,” interposed one of the party, “which you’ll all have to criticise, and put into ship-shape; its burden is this:

 “The musk-like epidendrum smell enshrouds the court, where shines the
      sun with oblique beams;
  The iris fragrance is wafted over the isle illumined by the moon’s
      clear rays.”

“As far as excellence is concerned, it’s excellent,” observed the whole party, “but the two words representing ’with oblique beams’ are not felicitous.”

And as some one quoted the line from an old poem:

The angelica fills the court with tears, what time the sun doth slant.

“Lugubrious, lugubrious!” expostulated the company with one voice.

Another person then interposed. “I also have a couplet, whose merits you, gentlemen, can weigh; it runs as follows:

 “Along the three pathways doth float the Y Hui scented breeze!
  The radiant moon in the whole hall shines on the gold orchid!”

Chia Cheng tugged at his moustache and gave way to meditation. He was just about also to suggest a stanza, when, upon suddenly raising his head, he espied Pao-y standing by his side, too timid to give vent to a single sound.

“How is it,” he purposely exclaimed, “that when you should speak, you contrariwise don’t? Is it likely that you expect some one to request you to confer upon us the favour of your instruction?”

“In this place,” Pao-y rejoined at these words, “there are no such things as orchids, musk, resplendent moon or islands; and were one to begin quoting such specimens of allusions, to scenery, two hundred couplets could be readily given without, even then, having been able to exhaust the supply!”

“Who presses your head down,” Chia Cheng urged, “and uses force that you must come out with all these remarks?”

“Well, in that case,” added Pao-y, “there are no fitter words to put on the tablet than the four representing: ’The fragrance pure of the ligularia and iris.’ While the device on the scroll might be:

 “Sung is the nutmeg song, but beauteous still is the sonnet!
  Near the T’u Mei to sleep, makes e’en a dream with fragrance full!”

“This is,” laughed Chia Cheng sneeringly, “an imitation of the line:

 “A book when it is made of plaintain leaves, the writing green is also
      bound to be!

“So that there’s nothing remarkable about it.”

“Li T’ai-po, in his work on the Phoenix Terrace,” protested the whole party, “copied, in every point, the Huang Hua Lou. But what’s essential is a faultless imitation. Now were we to begin to criticise minutely the couplet just cited, we would indeed find it to be, as compared with the line ’A book when it is made of plantain leaves,’ still more elegant and of wider application!”

“What an idea?” observed Chia Cheng derisively.

But as he spoke, the whole party walked out; but they had not gone very far before they caught sight of a majestic summer house, towering high peak-like, and of a structure rising loftily with storey upon storey; and completely locked in as they were on every side they were as beautiful as the Jade palace. Far and wide, road upon road coiled and wound; while the green pines swept the eaves, the jady epidendrum encompassed the steps, the animals’ faces glistened like gold, and the dragons’ heads shone resplendent in their variegated hues.

“This is the Main Hall,” remarked Chia Cheng; “the only word against it is that there’s a little too much finery.”

“It should be so,” rejoined one and all, “so as to be what it’s intended to be! The imperial consort has, it is true, an exalted preference for economy and frugality, but her present honourable position requires the observance of such courtesies, so that (finery) is no fault.”

As they made these remarks and advanced on their way the while, they perceived, just in front of them, an archway project to view, constructed of jadelike stone; at the top of which the coils of large dragons and the scales of small dragons were executed in perforated style.

“What’s the device to be for this spot?” inquired Chia Cheng.

“It should be ’fairy land,’” suggested all of them, “so as to be apposite!”

Chia Cheng nodded his head and said nothing. But as soon as Pao-y caught sight of this spot something was suddenly aroused in his heart and he began to ponder within himself. “This place really resembles something that I’ve seen somewhere or other.” But he could not at the moment recall to mind what year, moon, or day this had happened.

Chia Cheng bade him again propose a motto; but Pao-y was bent upon thinking over the details of the scenery he had seen on a former occasion, and gave no thought whatever to this place, so that the whole company were at a loss what construction to give to his silence, and came simply to the conclusion that, after the bullying he had had to put up with for ever so long, his spirits had completely vanished, his talents become exhausted and his speech impoverished; and that if he were harassed and pressed, he might perchance, as the result of anxiety, contract some ailment or other, which would of course not be a suitable issue, and they lost no time in combining together to dissuade Chia Cheng.

“Never mind,” they said, “to-morrow will do to compose some device; let’s drop it now.”

Chia Cheng himself was inwardly afraid lest dowager lady Chia should be anxious, so that he hastily remarked as he forced a smile. “You beast, there are, after all, also occasions on which you are no good! but never mind! I’ll give you one day to do it in, and if by to-morrow you haven’t been able to compose anything, I shall certainly not let you off. This is the first and foremost place and you must exercise due care in what you write.”

Saying this, he sallied out, at the head of the company, and cast another glance at the scenery.

Indeed from the time they had entered the gate up to this stage, they had just gone over five or six tenths of the whole ground, when it happened again that a servant came and reported that some one had arrived from Mr. Y-’ts’un’s to deliver a message. “These several places (which remain),” Chia Cheng observed with a smile, “we have no time to pass under inspection; but we might as well nevertheless go out at least by that way, as we shall be able, to a certain degree, to have a look at the general aspect.”

With these words, he showed the way for the family companions until they reached a large bridge, with water entering under it, looking like a curtain made of crystal. This bridge, the fact is, was the dam, which communicated with the river outside, and from which the stream was introduced into the grounds.

“What’s the name of this water-gate?” Chia Cheng inquired.

“This is,” replied Pao-y, “the main stream of the Hsin Fang river, and is therefore called the Hsin Fang water-gate.”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Chia Cheng. “The two words Hsin Fang must on no account be used!”

And as they speedily advanced on their way, they either came across elegant halls, or thatched cottages; walls made of piled-up stone, or gates fashioned of twisted plants; either a secluded nunnery or Buddhist fane, at the foot of some hill; or some unsullied houses, hidden in a grove, tenanted by rationalistic priestesses; either extensive corridors and winding grottoes; or square buildings, and circular pavilions. But Chia Cheng had not the energy to enter any of these places, for as he had not had any rest for ever so long, his legs felt shaky and his feet weak.

Suddenly they also discerned ahead of them a court disclose itself to view.

“When we get there,” Chia Cheng suggested, “we must have a little rest." Straightway as he uttered the remark, he led them in, and winding round the jade-green peach-trees, covered with blossom, they passed through the bamboo fence and flower-laden hedge, which were twisted in such a way as to form a circular, cavelike gateway, when unexpectedly appeared before their eyes an enclosure with whitewashed walls, in which verdant willows drooped in every direction.

Chia Cheng entered the gateway in company with the whole party. Along the whole length of both sides extended covered passages, connected with each other; while in the court were laid out several rockeries. In one quarter were planted a number of banana trees; on the opposite stood a plant of begonia from Hsi Fu. Its appearance was like an open umbrella. The gossamer hanging (from its branches) resembled golden threads. The corollas (seemed) to spurt out cinnabar.

“What a beautiful flower! what a beautiful flower!” ejaculated the whole party with one voice; “begonias are verily to be found; but never before have we seen anything the like of this in beauty.”

“This is called the maiden begonia and is, in fact, a foreign species," Chia Cheng observed. “There’s a homely tradition that it is because it emanates from the maiden kingdom that its flowers are most prolific; but this is likewise erratic talk and devoid of common sense.”

“They are, after all,” rejoined the whole company, “so unlike others (we have seen), that what’s said about the maiden kingdom is, we are inclined to believe, possibly a fact.”

“I presume,” interposed Pao-y, “that some clever bard or poet, (perceiving) that this flower was red like cosmetic, delicate as if propped up in sickness, and that it closely resembled the nature of a young lady, gave it, consequently, the name of maiden! People in the world will propagate idle tales, all of which are unavoidably treated as gospel!”

“We receive (with thanks) your instructions; what excellent explanation!” they all remarked unanimously, and as they expressed these words, the whole company took their seats on the sofas under the colonnade.

“Let’s think of some original text or other for a motto,” Chia Cheng having suggested, one of the companions opined that the two characters: "Banana and stork” would be felicitous; while another one was of the idea that what would be faultless would be: “Collected splendour and waving elegance!”

“’Collected splendour and waving elegance’ is excellent,” Chia Cheng observed addressing himself to the party; and Pao-y himself, while also extolling it as beautiful, went on to say: “There’s only one thing however to be regretted!”

“What about regret?” the company inquired.

“In this place,” Pao-y explained, “are set out both bananas as well as begonias, with the intent of secretly combining in them the two properties of red and green; and if mention of one of them be made, and the other be omitted, (the device) won’t be good enough for selection.”

“What would you then suggest?” Chia Cheng asked.

“I would submit the four words, ’the red (flowers) are fragrant, the green (banana leaves) like jade,’ which would render complete the beauties of both (the begonias and bananas).”

“It isn’t good! it isn’t good!” Chia Cheng remonstrated as he shook his head; and while passing this remark, he conducted the party into the house, where they noticed that the internal arrangements effected differed from those in other places, as no partitions could, in fact, be discerned. Indeed, the four sides were all alike covered with boards carved hollow with fretwork, (in designs consisting) either of rolling clouds and hundreds of bats; or of the three friends of the cold season of the year, (fir, bamboo and almond); of scenery and human beings, or of birds or flowers; either of clusters of decoration, or of relics of olden times; either of ten thousand characters of happiness or of ten thousand characters of longevity. The various kinds of designs had been all carved by renowned hands, in variegated colours, inlaid with gold, and studded with precious gems; while on shelf upon shelf were either arranged collections of books, or tripods were laid out; either pens and inkslabs were distributed about, or vases with flowers set out, or figured pots were placed about; the designs of the shelves being either round or square; or similar to sunflowers or banana leaves; or like links, half overlapping each other. And in very truth they resembled bouquets of flowers or clusters of tapestry, with all their fretwork so transparent. Suddenly (the eye was struck) by variegated gauzes pasted (on the wood-work), actually forming small windows; and of a sudden by fine thin silks lightly overshadowing (the fretwork) just as if there were, after all, secret doors. The whole walls were in addition traced, with no regard to symmetry, with outlines of the shapes of curios and nick-nacks in imitation of lutes, double-edged swords, hanging bottles and the like, the whole number of which, though (apparently) suspended on the walls, were all however on a same level with the surface of the partition walls.

“What fine ingenuity!” they all exclaimed extollingly; “what a labour they must have been to carry out!”

Chia Cheng had actually stepped in; but scarcely had they reached the second stage, before the whole party readily lost sight of the way by which they had come in. They glanced on the left, and there stood a door, through which they could go. They cast their eyes on the right, and there was a window which suddenly impeded their progress. They went forward, but there again they were obstructed by a bookcase. They turned their heads round, and there too stood windows pasted with transparent gauze and available door-ways: but the moment they came face to face with the door, they unexpectedly perceived that a whole company of people had likewise walked in, just in front of them, whose appearance resembled their own in every respect. But it was only a mirror. And when they rounded the mirror, they detected a still larger number of doors.

“Sir,” Chia Chen remarked with a grin; “if you’ll follow me out through this door, we’ll forthwith get into the back-court; and once out of the back-court, we shall be, at all events, nearer than we were before.”

Taking the lead, he conducted Chia Cheng and the whole party round two gauze mosquito houses, when they verily espied a door through which they made their exit, into a court, replete with stands of cinnamon roses. Passing round the flower-laden hedge, the only thing that spread before their view was a pure stream impeding their advance. The whole company was lost in admiration. “Where does this water again issue from?” they cried.

Chia Chen pointed to a spot at a distance. “Starting originally,” he explained, “from that water-gate, it runs as far as the mouth of that cave, when from among the hills on the north-east side, it is introduced into that village, where again a diverging channel has been opened and it is made to flow in a south-westerly direction; the whole volume of water then runs to this spot, where collecting once more in one place, it issues, on its outward course, from beneath that wall.”

“It’s most ingenious!” they one and all exclaimed, after they had listened to him; but, as they uttered these words, they unawares realised that a lofty hill obstructed any further progress. The whole party felt very hazy about the right road. But “Come along after me," Chia Chen smilingly urged, as he at once went ahead and showed the way, whereupon the company followed in his steps, and as soon as they turned round the foot of the hill, a level place and broad road lay before them; and wide before their faces appeared the main entrance.

“This is charming! this is delightful!” the party unanimously exclaimed, "what wits must have been ransacked, and ingenuity attained, so as to bring things to this extreme degree of excellence!”

Forthwith the party egressed from the garden, and Pao-y’s heart anxiously longed for the society of the young ladies in the inner quarters, but as he did not hear Chia Cheng bid him go, he had no help but to follow him into the library. But suddenly Chia Cheng bethought himself of him. “What,” he said, “you haven’t gone yet! the old lady will I fear be anxious on your account; and is it pray that you haven’t as yet had enough walking?”

Pao-y at length withdrew out of the library. On his arrival in the court, a page, who had been in attendance on Chia Cheng, at once pressed forward, and took hold of him fast in his arms. “You’ve been lucky enough,” he said, “to-day to have been in master’s good graces! just a while back when our old mistress despatched servants to come on several occasions and ask after you, we replied that master was pleased with you; for had we given any other answer, her ladyship would have sent to fetch you to go in, and you wouldn’t have had an opportunity of displaying your talents. Every one admits that the several stanzas you recently composed were superior to those of the whole company put together; but you must, after the good luck you’ve had to-day, give us a tip!”

“I’ll give each one of you a tiao,” Pao-y rejoined smirkingly.

“Who of us hasn’t seen a tiao?” they all exclaimed, “let’s have that purse of yours, and have done with it!”

Saying this, one by one advanced and proceeded to unloosen the purse, and to unclasp the fan-case; and allowing Pao-y no time to make any remonstrance, they stripped him of every ornament in the way of appendage which he carried about on his person. “Whatever we do let’s escort him home!” they shouted, and one after another hustled round him and accompanied him as far as dowager lady Chia’s door.

Her ladyship was at this moment awaiting his arrival, so that when she saw him walk in, and she found out that (Chia Cheng) had not bullied him, she felt, of course, extremely delighted. But not a long interval elapsed before Hsi Jen came to serve the tea; and when she perceived that on his person not one of the ornaments remained, she consequently smiled and inquired: “Have all the things that you had on you been again taken away by these barefaced rascals?”

As soon as Lin Tai-y heard this remark, she crossed over to him and saw at a glance that not one single trinket was, in fact, left. “Have you also given them,” she felt constrained to ask, “the purse that I gave you? Well, by and by, when you again covet anything of mine, I shan’t let you have it.”

After uttering these words, she returned into her apartment in high dudgeon, and taking the scented bag, which Pao-y had asked her to make for him, and which she had not as yet finished, she picked up a pair of scissors, and instantly cut it to pieces.

Pao-y noticing that she had lost her temper, came after her with hurried step, but the bag had already been cut with the scissors; and as Pao-y observed how extremely fine and artistic this scented bag was, in spite of its unfinished state, he verily deplored that it should have been rent to pieces for no rhyme or reason. Promptly therefore unbuttoning his coat, he produced from inside the lapel the purse, which had been fastened there. “Look at this!” he remarked as he handed it to Tai-y; “what kind of thing is this! have I given away to any one what was yours?” Lin Tai-y, upon seeing how much he prized it as to wear it within his clothes, became alive to the fact that it was done with intent, as he feared lest any one should take it away; and as this conviction made her sorry that she had been so impetuous as to have cut the scented bag, she lowered her head and uttered not a word.

“There was really no need for you to have cut it,” Pao-y observed; “but as I know that you’re loth to give me anything, what do you say to my returning even this purse?”

With these words, he threw the purse in her lap and walked off; which vexed Tai-y so much the more that, after giving way to tears, she took up the purse in her hands to also destroy it with the scissors, when Pao-y precipitately turned round and snatched it from her grasp.

“My dear cousin,” he smilingly pleaded, “do spare it!” and as Tai-y dashed down the scissors and wiped her tears: “You needn’t,” she urged, "be kind to me at one moment, and unkind at another; if you wish to have a tiff, why then let’s part company!” But as she spoke, she lost control over her temper, and, jumping on her bed, she lay with her face turned towards the inside, and set to work drying her eyes.

Pao-y could not refrain from approaching her. “My dear cousin, my own cousin,” he added, “I confess my fault!”

“Go and find Pao-y!” dowager lady Chia thereupon gave a shout from where she was in the front apartment, and all the attendants explained that he was in Miss Lin’s room.

“All right, that will do! that will do!” her ladyship rejoined, when she heard this reply; “let the two cousins play together; his father kept him a short while back under check, for ever so long, so let him have some distraction. But the only thing is that you mustn’t allow them to have any quarrels.” To which the servants in a body expressed their obedience.

Tai-y, unable to put up with Pao-y’s importunity, felt compelled to rise. “Your object seems to be,” she remarked, “not to let me have any rest. If it is, I’ll run away from you.” Saying which, she there and then was making her way out, when Pao-y protested with a face full of smiles: “Wherever you go, I’ll follow!” and as he, at the same time, took the purse and began to fasten it on him, Tai-y stretched out her hand, and snatching it away, “You say you don’t want it,” she observed, "and now you put it on again! I’m really much ashamed on your account!" And these words were still on her lips when with a sound of Ch’ih, she burst out laughing.

“My dear cousin,” Pao-y added, “to-morrow do work another scented bag for me!”

“That too will rest upon my good pleasure,” Tai-y rejoined.

As they conversed, they both left the room together and walked into madame Wang’s suite of apartments, where, as luck would have it, Pao-ch’ai was also seated.

Unusual commotion prevailed, at this time, over at madame Wang’s, for the fact is that Chia Se had already come back from Ku Su, where he had selected twelve young girls, and settled about an instructor, as well as about the theatrical properties and the other necessaries. And as Mrs. Hseh had by this date moved her quarters into a separate place on the northeast side, and taken up her abode in a secluded and quiet house, (madame Wang) had had repairs of a distinct character executed in the Pear Fragrance Court, and then issued directions that the instructor should train the young actresses in this place; and casting her choice upon all the women, who had, in days of old, received a training in singing, and who were now old matrons with white hair, she bade them have an eye over them and keep them in order. Which done, she enjoined Chia Se to assume the chief control of all matters connected with the daily and monthly income and outlay, as well as of the accounts of all articles in use of every kind and size.

Lin Chih-hsiao also came to report: “that the twelve young nuns and Taoist girls, who had been purchased after proper selection, had all arrived, and that the twenty newly-made Taoist coats had also been received. That there was besides a maiden, who though devoted to asceticism, kept her chevelure unshaved; that she was originally a denizen of Suchow, of a family whose ancestors were also people of letters and official status; that as from her youth up she had been stricken with much sickness, (her parents) had purchased a good number of substitutes (to enter the convent), but all with no relief to her, until at last this girl herself entered the gate of abstraction when she at once recovered. That hence it was that she grew her hair, while she devoted herself to an ascetic life; that she was this year eighteen years of age, and that the name given to her was Miao Y; that her father and mother were, at this time, already dead; that she had only by her side, two old nurses and a young servant girl to wait upon her; that she was most proficient in literature, and exceedingly well versed in the classics and canons; and that she was likewise very attractive as far as looks went; that having heard that in the city of Ch’ang-an, there were vestiges of Kuan Yin and relics of the canons inscribed on leaves, she followed, last year, her teacher (to the capital). She now lives,” he said, “in the Lao Ni nunnery, outside the western gate; her teacher was a great expert in prophetic divination, but she died in the winter of last year, and her dying words were that as it was not suitable for (Miao Y) to return to her native place, she should await here, as something in the way of a denouement was certain to turn up; and this is the reason why she hasn’t as yet borne the coffin back to her home!”

“If such be the case,” madame Wang readily suggested, “why shouldn’t we bring her here?”

“If we are to ask her,” Lin Chih-hsiao’s wife replied, “she’ll say that a marquis’ family and a duke’s household are sure, in their honourable position, to be overbearing to people; and I had rather not go.”

“As she’s the daughter of an official family,” madame Wang continued, "she’s bound to be inclined to be somewhat proud; but what harm is there to our sending her a written invitation to ask her to come!”

Lin Chih-hsiao’s wife assented; and leaving the room, she made the secretary write an invitation and then went to ask Miao Y. The next day servants were despatched, and carriages and sedan chairs were got ready to go and bring her over.

What subsequently transpired is not as yet known, but, reader, listen to the account given in the following chapter.

Chapter XVIII.

  His Majesty shows magnanimous bounty.
  The Imperial consort Yuan pays a visit to her parents.
  The happiness of a family gathering.
  Pao-y displays his polished talents.

But let us resume our story. A servant came, at this moment, to report that for the works in course of execution, they were waiting for gauze and damask silk to paste on various articles, and that they requested lady Feng to go and open the dept for them to take the gauze and silk, while another servant also came to ask lady Feng to open the treasury for them to receive the gold and silver ware. And as Madame Wang, the waiting-maids and the other domestics of the upper rooms had all no leisure, Pao-ch’ai suggested: “Don’t let us remain in here and be in the way of their doing what there is to be done, and of going where they have to go,” and saying this, she betook herself, escorted by Pao-y and the rest, into Ying Ch’un’s rooms.

Madame Wang continued day after day in a great state of flurry and confusion, straight up to within the tenth moon, by which time every arrangement had been completed, and the overseers had all handed in a clear statement of their accounts. The curios and writing materials, wherever needed, had all already been laid out and everything got ready, and the birds (and animals), from the stork, the deer and rabbits to the chickens, geese and the like, had all been purchased and handed over to be reared in the various localities in the garden; and over at Chia Se’s, had also been learnt twenty miscellaneous plays, while a company of young nuns and Taoist priestesses had likewise the whole number of them, mastered the intonation of Buddhist classics and incantations.

Chia Cheng after this, at length, was slightly composed in mind, and cheerful at heart; and having further invited dowager lady Chia and other inmates to go into the garden, he deliberated with them on, and made arrangements for, every detail in such a befitting manner that not the least trifle remained for which suitable provision had not been made; and Chia Cheng eventually mustered courage to indite a memorial, and on the very day on which the memorial was presented, a decree was received fixing upon the fifteenth day of the first moon of the ensuing year, the very day of the Shang Yuan festival, for the honourable consorts to visit their homes.

Upon the receipt of this decree, with which the Chia family was honoured, they had still less leisure, both by day as well as by night; so much so that they could not even properly observe the new year festivities. But in a twinkle of the eye, the festival of the full moon of the first moon drew near; and beginning from the eighth day of the first moon, eunuchs issued from the palace and inspected beforehand the various localities, the apartments in which the imperial consort was to change her costume; the place where she would spend her leisure moments; the spot where she would receive the conventionalities; the premises where the banquets would be spread; the quarters where she would retire for rest.

There were also eunuchs who came to assume the patrol of the grounds and the direction of the defences; and they brought along with them a good many minor eunuchs, whose duty it was to look after the safety of the various localities, to screen the place with enclosing curtains, to instruct the inmates and officials of the Chia mansion whither to go out and whence to come in from, what side the viands should be brought in from, where to report matters, and in the observance of every kind of etiquette; and for outside the mansion, there were, on the other hand, officers from the Board of Works, and a superintendent of the Police, of the “Five Cities,” in charge of the sweeping of the streets and roads, and the clearing away of loungers. While Chia She and the others superintended the workmen in such things as the manufacture of flowered lanterns and fireworks.

The fourteenth day arrived and everything was in order; but on this night, one and all whether high or low, did not get a wink of sleep; and when the fifteenth came, every one, at the fifth watch, beginning from dowager lady Chia and those who enjoyed any official status, appeared in full gala dress, according to their respective ranks. In the garden, the curtains were, by this time, flapping like dragons, the portieres flying about like phoenixes with variegated plumage. Gold and silver glistened with splendour. Pearls and precious gems shed out their brilliant lustre. The tripod censers burnt the Pai-ho incense. In the vases were placed evergreens. Silence and stillness prevailed, and not a man ventured so much as to cough.

Chia She and the other men were standing outside the door giving on to the street on the west; and old lady Chia and the other ladies were outside the main entrance of the Jung mansion at the head of the street, while at the mouth of the lane were placed screens to rigorously obstruct the public gaze. They were unable to bear the fatigue of any further waiting when, at an unexpected moment, a eunuch arrived on horseback, and Chia Cheng went up to meet him, and ascertained what tidings he was the bearer of.

“It’s as yet far too early,” rejoined the eunuch, “for at one o’clock (her highness) will have her evening repast, and at two she has to betake herself to the Palace of Precious Perception to worship Buddha. At five, she will enter the Palace of Great Splendour to partake of a banquet, and to see the lanterns, after which, she will request His Majesty’s permission; so that, I’m afraid, it won’t be earlier than seven before they set out.”

Lady Feng’s ear caught what was said. “If such be the case,” she interposed, “may it please your venerable ladyship, and you, my lady, to return for a while to your apartments, and wait; and if you come when it’s time you’ll be here none too late.”

Dowager lady Chia and the other ladies immediately left for a time and suited their own convenience, and as everything in the garden devolved upon lady Feng to supervise, she ordered the butlers to take the eunuchs and give them something to eat and drink; and at the same time, she sent word that candles should be brought in and that the lanterns in the various places should be lit.

But unexpectedly was heard from outside the continuous patter of horses running, whereupon about ten eunuchs hurried in gasping and out of breath. They clapped their hands, and the several eunuchs (who had come before), understanding the signal, and knowing that the party had arrived, stood in their respective positions; while Chia She, at the head of all the men of the clan, remained at the western street door, and dowager lady Chia, at the head of the female relatives of the family, waited outside the principal entrance to do the honours.

For a long interval, everything was plunged in silence and quiet; when suddenly two eunuchs on horseback were espied advancing with leisurely step. Reaching the western street gate, they dismounted, and, driving their horses beyond the screens, they forthwith took their stand facing the west. After another long interval, a second couple arrived, and went likewise through the same proceedings. In a short time, drew near about ten couples, when, at length, were heard the gentle strains of music, and couple by couple advanced with banners, dragons, with fans made with phoenix feathers, and palace flabella of pheasant plumes; and those besides who carried gold-washed censers burning imperial incense. Next in order was brought past a state umbrella of golden yellow, with crooked handle and embroidered with seven phoenixes; after which quickly followed the crown, robe, girdle and shoes.

There were likewise eunuchs, who took a part in the procession, holding scented handkerchiefs and embroidered towels, cups for rinsing the mouth, dusters and other such objects; and company after company went past, when, at the rear, approached with stately step eight eunuchs carrying an imperial sedan chair, of golden yellow, with a gold knob and embroidered with phoenixes.

Old lady Chia and the other members of the family hastily fell on their knees, but a eunuch came over at once to raise her ladyship and the rest; and the imperial chair was thereupon carried through the main entrance, the ceremonial gate and into a court on the eastern side, at the door of which stood a eunuch, who prostrated himself and invited (her highness) to dismount and change her costume.

Having forthwith carried her inside the gate, the eunuchs dispersed; and only the maids-of-honour and ladies-in-waiting ushered Yuan Ch’un out of the chair, when what mainly attracted her eye in the park was the brilliant lustre of the flowered lamps of every colour, all of which were made of gauze or damask, and were beautiful in texture, and out of the common run; while on the upper side was a flat lantern with the inscription in four characters, “Regarded (by His Majesty’s) benevolence and permeated by his benefits.”

Yuan Ch’un entered the apartment and effected the necessary changes in her toilette; after which, she again egressed, and, mounting her chair, she made her entry into the garden, when she perceived the smoke of incense whirling and twirling, and the reflection of the flowers confusing the eyes. Far and wide, the rays of light, shed by the lanterns, intermingled their brilliancy, while, from time to time, fine strains of music sounded with clamorous din. But it would be impossible to express adequately the perfect harmony in the aspect of this scene, and the grandeur of affluence and splendour.

The imperial consort of the Chia family, we must now observe, upon catching sight, from the interior of her chair, of the picture presented within as well as without the confines of this garden, shook her head and heaved a sigh. “What lavish extravagance! What excessive waste!” she soliloquised.

But of a sudden was again seen a eunuch who, on his knees, invited her to get into a boat; and the Chia consort descended from the chair and stepped into the craft, when the expanse of a limpid stream met her gaze, whose grandeur resembled that of the dragon in its listless course. The stone bannisters, on each side, were one mass of air-tight lanterns, of every colour, made of crystal or glass, which threw out a light like the lustre of silver or the brightness of snow.

The willow, almond and the whole lot of trees, on the upper side, were, it is true, without blossom and leaves; but pongee and damask silks, paper and lustring had been employed, together with rice-paper, to make flowers of, which had been affixed on the branches. Upon each tree were suspended thousands of lanterns; and what is more, the lotus and aquatic plants, the ducks and water fowl in the pond had all, in like manner, been devised out of conches and clams, plumes and feathers. The various lanterns, above and below, vied in refulgence. In real truth, it was a crystal region, a world of pearls and precious stones. On board the boat were also every kind of lanterns representing such designs as are used on flower-pots, pearl-laden portieres, embroidered curtains, oars of cinnamon wood, and paddles of magnolia, which need not of course be minutely described.

They entered a landing with a stone curb; and on this landing was erected a flat lantern upon which were plainly visible the four characters the “Persicary beach and flower-laden bank.” But, reader, you have heard how that these four characters “the persicary beach and the flower-laden bank,” the motto “a phoenix comes with dignified air,” and the rest owe one and all their origin to the unexpected test to which Chia Cheng submitted, on a previous occasion, Pao-y’s literary abilities; but how did it come about that they were actually adopted?

You must remember that the Chia family had been, generation after generation, given to the study of letters, so that it was only natural that there should be among them one or two renowned writers of verses; for how could they ever resemble the families of such upstarts, who only employ puerile expressions as a makeshift to get through what they have to do? But the why and the wherefore must be sought in the past. The consort, belonging to the Chia mansion, had, before she entered the palace, been, from her infancy, also brought up by dowager lady Chia; and when Pao-y was subsequently added to the family, she was the eldest sister and Pao-y the youngest child. The Chia consort, bearing in mind how that she had, when her mother was verging on old age, at length obtained this younger brother, she for this reason doated upon him with single love; and as they were besides companions in their attendance upon old lady Chia, they were inseparable for even a moment. Before Pao-y had entered school, and when three or four years of age, he had already received oral instruction from the imperial spouse Chia from the contents of several books and had committed to memory several thousands of characters, for though they were only sister and brother, they were like mother and child. And after she had entered the Palace, she was wont time and again to have letters taken out to her father and her cousins, urgently recommending them to be careful with his bringing up, that if they were not strict, he could not possibly become good for anything, and that if they were immoderately severe, there was the danger of something unpropitious befalling him, with the result, moreover, that his grandmother would be stricken with sorrow; and this solicitude on his account was never for an instant lost sight of by her.

Hence it was that Chia Cheng having, a few days back, heard his teacher extol him for his extreme abilities, he forthwith put him to the test on the occasion of their ramble through the garden. And though (his compositions) were not in the bold style of a writer of note, yet they were productions of their own family, and would, moreover, be instrumental, when the Chia consort had her notice attracted by them, and come to know that they were devised by her beloved brother, in also not rendering nugatory the anxious interest which she had ever entertained on his behalf, and he, therefore, purposely adopted what had been suggested by Pao-y; while for those places, for which on that day no devices had been completed, a good number were again subsequently composed to make up what was wanted.

After the Chia consort had, for we shall now return to her, perused the four characters, she gave a smile. “The two words ’flower-laden bank,’" she said, “are really felicitous, so what use was there for ’persicary beach?’”

When the eunuch in waiting heard this observation, he promptly jumped off the craft on to the bank, and at a flying pace hurried to communicate it to Chia Cheng, and Chia Cheng instantly effected the necessary alteration.

By this time the craft had reached the inner bank, and leaving the boat, and mounting into her sedan chair, she in due course contemplated the magnificent Jade-like Palace; the Hall of cinnamon wood, lofty and sublime; and the marble portals with the four characters in bold style: the “Precious confines of heavenly spirits,” which the Chia consort gave directions should be changed for the four words denoting: “additional Hall (for the imperial consort) on a visit to her parents.” And forthwith making her entrance into the travelling lodge her gaze was attracted by torches burning in the court encompassing the heavens, fragments of incense strewn on the ground, fire-like trees and gem-like flowers, gold-like windows and jade-like bannisters. But it would be difficult to give a full account of the curtains, which rolled up (as fine as a) shrimp’s moustache; of the carpets of other skins spread on the floor; of the tripods exhaling the fragrant aroma of the brain of the musk deer; of the screens in a row resembling fans made of pheasant tails. Indeed, the gold-like doors and the windows like jade were suggestive of the abode of spirits; while the halls made of cinnamon wood and the palace of magnolia timber, of the very homes of the imperial secondary consorts.

“Why is it,” the Chia consort inquired, “that there is no tablet in this Hall?”

The eunuch in waiting fell on his knees. “This is the main Hall,” he reverently replied, “and the officials, outside the palace, did not presume to take upon themselves to suggest any motto.”

The Chia consort shook her head and said not a word; whereupon the eunuch, who acted as master of ceremonies, requested Her Majesty to ascend the throne and receive homage. The band stationed on the two flights of steps struck up a tune, while two eunuchs ushered Chia She, Chia Cheng and the other members on to the moonlike stage, where they arranged themselves in order and ascended into the hall, but when the ladies-in-waiting transmitted her commands that the homage could be dispensed with, they at once retraced their footsteps.

(The master of the ceremonies), in like manner led forward the dowager lady of the Jung Kuo mansion, as well as the female relatives, from the steps on the east side, on to the moon-like stage; where they were placed according to their ranks. But the maids-of-honour again commanded that they should dispense with the ceremony, so they likewise promptly withdrew.

After tea had been thrice presented, the Chia consort descended the Throne, and the music ceased. She retired into a side room to change her costume, and the private chairs were then got ready for her visit to her parents. Issuing from the garden, she came into the main quarters belonging to dowager lady Chia, where she was bent upon observing the domestic conventionalities, when her venerable ladyship, and the other members of the family, prostrated themselves in a body before her, and made her desist. Tears dropped down from the eyes of the Chia consort as (she and her relatives) mutually came forward, and greeted each other, and as with one hand she grasped old lady Chia, and with the other she held madame Wang, the three had plenty in their hearts which they were fain to speak about; but, unable as each one of them was to give utterance to their feelings, all they did was to sob and to weep, as they kept face to face to each other; while madame Hsing, widow Li Wan, Wang Hsi-feng, and the three sisters: Ying Ch’un, T’an Ch’un, and Hsi Ch’un, stood aside in a body shedding tears and saying not a word.

After a long time, the Chia consort restrained her anguish, and forcing a smile, she set to work to reassure old lady Chia and madame Wang. "Having in days gone by,” she urged, “been sent to that place where no human being can be seen, I have to-day after extreme difficulty returned home; and now that you ladies and I have been reunited, instead of chatting or laughing we contrariwise give way to incessant tears! But shortly, I shall be gone, and who knows when we shall be able again to even see each other!”

When she came to this sentence, they could not help bursting into another tit of crying; and Madame Hsing hastened to come forward, and to console dowager lady Chia and the rest. But when the Chia consort resumed her seat, and one by one came again, in turn, to exchange salutations, they could not once more help weeping and sobbing for a time.

Next in order, were the managers and servants of the eastern and western mansions to perform their obeisance in the outer pavilion; and after the married women and waiting-maids had concluded their homage, the Chia consort heaved a sigh. “How many relatives,” she observed, “there are all of whom, alas! I may not see.”

“There are here now,” madame Wang rejoined with due respect, “kindred with outside family names, such as Mrs. Hseh, ne Wang, Pao-ch’ai, and Tai-y waiting for your commands; but as they are distant relatives, and without official status, they do not venture to arrogate to themselves the right of entering into your presence.” But the Chia consort issued directions that they should be invited to come that they should see each other; and in a short while, Mrs. Hseh and the other relatives walked in, but as they were on the point of performing the rites, prescribed by the state, she bade them relinquish the observance so that they came forward, and each, in turn, alluded to what had transpired during the long separation.

Pao Ch’in also and a few other waiting-maids, whom the Chia consort had originally taken along with her into the palace, knocked their heads before dowager lady Chia, but her ladyship lost no time in raising them up, and in bidding them go into a separate suite of rooms to be entertained; and as for the retainers, eunuchs as well as maids-of-honour, ladies-in-waiting and every attendant, there were needless to say, those in the two places, the Ning mansion and Chia She’s residence, to wait upon them; there only remained three or four young eunuchs to answer the summons.

The mother and daughter and her cousins conversed for some time on what had happened during the protracted separation, as well as on domestic affairs and their private feelings, when Chia Cheng likewise advanced as far as the other side of the portiere, and inquired after her health, and the Chia consort from inside performed the homage and other conventionalities (due to her parent).

“The families of farmers,” she further went on to say to her father, "feed on salted cabbage, and clothe in cotton material; but they readily enjoy the happiness of the relationships established by heaven! We, however, relatives though we now be of one bone and flesh, are, with all our affluence and honours, living apart from each other, and deriving no happiness whatsoever!”

Chia Cheng, on his part endeavoured, to restrain his tears. “I belonged,” he rejoined, “to a rustic and poor family; and among that whole number of pigeons and pheasants, how could I have imagined that I would have obtained the blessing of a hidden phoenix! Of late all for the sake of your honourable self, His Majesty, above, confers upon us his heavenly benefits; while we, below, show forth the virtue of our ancestors! And it is mainly because the vital principle of the hills, streams, sun, and moon, and the remote virtue of our ancestors have been implanted in you alone that this good fortune has attained me Cheng and my wife! Moreover, the present emperor, bearing in mind the great bounty shewn by heaven and earth in promoting a ceaseless succession, has vouchsafed a more generous act of grace than has ever been displayed from old days to the present. And although we may besmear our liver and brain in the mire, how could we show our gratitude, even to so slight a degree as one ten-thousandth part. But all I can do is, in the daytime, to practise diligence, vigilance at night, and loyalty in my official duties. My humble wish is that His Majesty, my master, may live ten thousand years and see thousands of autumns, so as to promote the welfare of all mankind in the world! And you, worthy imperial consort, must, on no account, be mindful of me Cheng and my wife, decrepid as we are in years. What I would solicit more than anything is that you should be more careful of yourself, and that you should be diligent and reverential in your service to His Majesty, with the intent that you may not prove ungrateful of his affectionate regard and bountiful grace.”

The Chia consort, on the other hand, enjoined “that much as it was expedient to display zeal, in the management of state matters, it behoved him, when he had any leisure, to take good care of himself, and that he should not, whatever he did, give way to solicitude on her behalf.” And Chia Cheng then went on to say “that the various inscriptions in the park over the pavilions, terraces, halls and residences had been all composed by Pao-y, and, that in the event of there being one or two that could claim her attention, he would be happy if it would please her to at once favour him with its name.” Whereupon the imperial consort Yan, when she heard that Pao-y could compose verses, forthwith exclaimed with a smile: “He has in very truth made progress!”

After Chia Cheng had retired out of the hall, the Chia consort made it a point to ask: “How is it that I do not see Pao-y?” and dowager lady Chia explained: “An outside male relative as he is, and without official rank, he does not venture to appear before you of his own accord.”

“Bring him in!” the imperial consort directed; whereupon a young eunuch ushered Pao-y in. After he had first complied with the state ceremonies, she bade him draw near to her, and taking his hand, she held it in her lap, and, as she went on to caress his head and neck, she smiled and said: “He’s grown considerably taller than he was before;" but she had barely concluded this remark, when her tears ran down as profuse as rain. Mrs. Yu, lady Feng, and the rest pressed forward. “The banquet is quite ready,” they announced, “and your highness is requested to favour the place with your presence.”

The imperial consort Yuan stood up and asking Pao-y to lead the way, she followed in his steps, along with the whole party, and betook herself on foot as far as the entrance of the garden gate, whence she at once espied, in the lustre shed by the lanterns, every kind of decorations. Entering the garden, they first passed the spots with the device “a phoenix comes with dignified air,” “the red (flowers are) fragrant and the green (banana leaves like) jade!” “the sign on the apricot tree is visible,” “the fragrance pure of the ligularia and iris,” and other places; and ascending the towers they walked up the halls, forded the streams and wound round the hills; contemplating as they turned their gaze from side to side, each place arranged in a different style, and each kind of article laid out in unique designs. The Chia consort expressed her admiration in most profuse eulogiums, and then went on to advise them: “that it was not expedient to indulge in future in such excessive extravagance and that all these arrangements were over and above what should have been done.”

Presently they reached the main pavilion, where she commanded that they could dispense with the rites and take their seats. A sumptuous banquet was laid out, at which dowager lady Chia and the other ladies occupied the lower seats and entertained each other, while Mrs. Yu, widow Li Wan, lady Feng and the rest presented the soup and handed the cups. The Imperial consort Yuan subsequently directed that the pencils and inkslabs should be brought, and with her own hands she opened the silken paper. She chose the places she liked, and conferred upon them a name; and devising a general designation for the garden, she called it the Ta Kuan garden (Broad vista), while for the tablet of the main pavilion the device she composed ran as follows: “Be mindful of the grace and remember the equity (of His Majesty);” with this inscription on the antithetical scrolls:

  Mercy excessive Heaven and earth display,
  And it men young and old hail gratefully;
  From old till now they pour their bounties great
  Those rich gifts which Cathay and all states permeate.

Changing also the text: “A phoenix comes with dignified air for the Hsiao Hsiang Lodge.”

“The red (flowers are) fragrant and the green (banana leaves like) jade,” she altered into “Happy red and joyful green"; bestowing upon the place the appellation of the I Hung court (joyful red). The spot where "the fragrance pure of the ligularia and iris,” was inscribed, she called “the ligularia and the ’Wu’ weed court;” and where was “the sign in the apricot tree is visible,” she designated “the cottage in the hills where dolichos is bleached.” The main tower she called the Broad Vista Tower. The lofty tower facing the east, she designated “the variegated and flowery Hall;” bestowing on the line of buildings, facing the west, the appellation of “the Hall of Occult Fragrance;” and besides these figured such further names as: “the Hall of peppery wind,” “the Arbour of lotus fragrance,” “the Islet of purple caltrop,” “the Bank of golden lotus,” and the like. There were also tablets with four characters such as: “the peach blossom and the vernal rain;” “the autumnal wind prunes the Eloecocca,” “the artemisia leaves and the night snow,” and other similar names which could not all be placed on record. She furthermore directed that such tablets as were already put up, should not be dismounted, and she forthwith took the lead and composed an heptameter stanza, the burden of which was:

  Hills it enclasps, embraces streams, with skill it is laid out:
  What task the grounds to raise! the works to start and bring about!
  Of scenery in heaven and amongst men store has been made;
  The name Broad Vista o’er the fragrant park should be engraved.

When she had finished writing, she observed smilingly, as she addressed herself to all the young ladies: “I have all along lacked the quality of sharpness and never besides been good at verses; as you, sisters, and all of you have ever been aware; but, on a night like this I’ve been fain to do my best, with the object of escaping censure, and of not reflecting injustice on this scenery and nothing more. But some other day when I’ve got time, be it ever so little, I shall deem it my duty to make up what remains by inditing a record of the Broad Vista Garden, as well as a song on my visit to my parents and other such literary productions in memory of the events of this day. You sisters and others must, each of you, in like manner compose a stanza on the motto on each tablet, expressing your sentiments, as you please, without being restrained by any regard for my meagre ability. Knowing as I do besides that Pao-y is, indeed, able to write verses, I feel the more delighted! But among his compositions, those I like the best are those in the two places, ’the Hsiao Hsiang Lodge,’ and ’the court of Heng and Wu;’ and next those of ’the Joyful red court,’ and ’the cottage in the hills, where the dolichos is bleached.’ As for grand sites like these four, there should be found some out-of-the-way expressions to insert in the verses so that they should be felicitous. The antithetical lines composed by you, (Pao-y), on a former occasion are excellent, it is true; but you should now further indite for each place, a pentameter stanza, so that by allowing me to test you in my presence, you may not show yourself ungrateful for the trouble I have taken in teaching you from your youth up.”

Pao-y had no help but to assent, and descending from the hall, he went off all alone to give himself up to reflection.

Of the three Ying Ch’un, T’an Ch’un, and Hsi Ch’un, T’an Ch’un must be considered to have also been above the standard of her sisters, but she, in her own estimation, imagined it, in fact, difficult to compete with Hseh Pao-ch’ai and Lin Tai-y. With no alternative however than that of doing her best, she followed the example of all the rest with the sole purpose of warding off criticism. And Li Wan too succeeded, after much exertion, in putting together a stanza.

The consort of the Chia family perused in due order the verses written by the young ladies, the text of which is given below.

The lines written by Ying Ch’un on the tablet of “Boundless spirits and blissful heart” were:

  A park laid out with scenery surpassing fine and rare!
  Submissive to thy will, on boundless bliss bashful I write!
  Who could believe that yonder scenes in this world found a share!
  Will not thy heart be charmed on thy visit by the sight?

These are the verses by T’an Ch’un on the tablet of “All nature vies in splendour”:

  Of aspect lofty and sublime is raised a park of fame!
  Honoured with thy bequest, my shallow lore fills me with shame.
  No words could e’er amply exhaust the beauteous skill,
  For lo! in very truth glory and splendour all things fill!

Thus runs Hsi Ch’un’s stanza on the tablet of the “Conception of literary compositions”:

  The hillocks and the streams crosswise beyond a thousand li extend!
  The towers and terraces ’midst the five-coloured clouds lofty ascend!
  In the resplendent radiance of both sun and moon the park it lies!
  The skill these scenes to raise the skill e’en essays to conceive
      outvies!

The lines composed by Li Wan on the tablet “grace and elegance," consisted of:

  The comely streams and hillocks clear, in double folds, embrace;
  E’en Fairyland, forsooth, transcend they do in elegance and grace!
  The “Fragrant Plant” the theme is of the ballad fan, green-made.
  Like drooping plum-bloom flap the lapel red and the Hsiang gown.
  From prosperous times must have been handed down those pearls and
      jade.
  What bliss! the fairy on the jasper terrace will come down!
  When to our prayers she yields, this glorious park to contemplate,
  No mortal must e’er be allowed these grounds to penetrate.

The ode by Hseh Pao-ch’ai on the tablet of “Concentrated Splendour and Accumulated auspiciousness” was:

  Raised on the west of the Imperial city, lo! the park stored with
      fragrant smell,
  Shrouded by Phoebe’s radiant rays and clouds of good omen, in wondrous
      glory lies!
  The willows tall with joy exult that the parrots their nests have
      shifted from the dell.
  The bamboo groves, when laid, for the phoenix with dignity to come,
      were meant to rise.
  The very eve before the Empress’ stroll, elegant texts were ready and
      affixed.
  If even she her parents comes to see, how filial piety supreme must
      be!
  When I behold her beauteous charms and talents supernatural, with awe
      transfixed,
  One word, to utter more how can I troth ever presume, when shame
      overpowers me.

The distich by Lin Tai-y on the tablet of “Spiritual stream outside the world,” ran thus:

  Th’ imperial visit doth enhance joy and delight.
  This fairy land from mortal scenes what diff’rent sight!
  The comely grace it borrows of both hill and stream;
  And to the landscape it doth add a charm supreme.
  The fumes of Chin Ku wine everything permeate;
  The flowers the inmate of the Jade Hall fascinate.
  The imperial favour to receive how blessed our lot!
  For oft the palace carriage will pass through this spot.

The Chia consort having concluded the perusal of the verses, and extolled them for a time: “After all,” she went on to say with a smile, "those composed by my two cousins, Hseh Pao-ch’ai and Lin Tai-y, differ in excellence from those of all the rest; and neither I, stupid as I am, nor my sisters can attain their standard.”

Lin Tao-y had, in point of fact, made up her mind to display, on this evening, her extraordinary abilities to their best advantage, and to put down every one else, but contrary to her expectations the Chia consort had expressed her desire that no more than a single stanza should be written on each tablet, so that unable, after all, to disregard her directions by writing anything in excess, she had no help but to compose a pentameter stanza, in an offhand way, merely with the intent of complying with her wishes.

Pao-y had by this time not completed his task. He had just finished two stanzas on the Hsiao Hsiang Lodge and the Heng Wu garden, and was just then engaged in composing a verse on the “Happy red Court.” In his draft figured a line: “The (leaves) of jade-like green in spring are yet rolled up,” which Pao-ch’ai stealthily observed as she turned her eyes from side to side; and availing herself of the very first moment, when none of the company could notice her, she gave him a nudge. “As her highness,” she remarked, “doesn’t relish the four characters, representing the red (flowers are) fragrant, and the green (banana leaves) like jade, she changed them, just a while back, for ’the joyful red and gladsome green;’ and if you deliberately now again employ these two words ’jade-like green,’ won’t it look as if you were bent upon being at variance with her? Besides, very many are the old books, in which the banana leaves form the theme, so you had better think of another line and substitute it and have done with it!”

When Pao-y heard the suggestion made by Pao-ch’ai, he speedily replied, as he wiped off the perspiration: “I can’t at all just at present call to mind any passage from the contents of some old book.”

“Just simply take,” proposed Pao-ch’ai smilingly, “the character jade in jade-like green and change it into the character wax, that’s all.”

“Does ’green wax,’” Pao-y inquired, “come out from anywhere?”

Pao-ch’ai gently smacked her lips and nodded her head as she laughed. “I fear,” she said, “that if, on an occasion like to-night, you show no more brains than this, by and by when you have to give any answers in the golden hall, to the questions (of the examiner), you will, really, forget (the very first four names) of Chao, Oh’ien, Sun and Li (out of the hundred)! What, have you so much as forgotten the first line of the poem by Han Y, of the T’ang dynasty, on the Banana leaf:

“Cold is the candle and without a flame, the green wax dry?”

On hearing these words, Pao-y’s mind suddenly became enlightened. “What a fool I am!” he added with a simper; “I couldn’t for the moment even remember the lines, ready-made though they were and staring at me in my very eyes! Sister, you really can be styled my teacher, little though you may have taught me, and I’ll henceforward address you by no other name than ’teacher,’ and not call you ’sister’ any more!”

“Don’t you yet hurry to go on,” Pao-ch’ai again observed in a gentle tone of voice sneeringly, “but keep on calling me elder sister and younger sister? Who’s your sister? that one over there in a yellow coat is your sister!”

But apprehending, as she bandied these jokes, lest she might be wasting his time, she felt constrained to promptly move away; whereupon Pao-y continued the ode he had been working at, and brought it to a close, writing in all three stanzas.

Tai-y had not had so far an opportunity of making a display of her ability, and was feeling at heart in a very dejected mood; but when she perceived that Pao-y was having intense trouble in conceiving what he had to write, and she found, upon walking up to the side of the table, that he had only one stanza short, that on “the sign on the apricot tree is visible,” she consequently bade him copy out clean the first three odes, while she herself composed a stanza, which she noted down on a slip of paper, rumpled up into a ball, and threw just in front of Pao-y.

As soon as Pao-y opened it and glanced at it, he realised that it was a hundred times better than his own three stanzas, and transcribing it without loss of time, in a bold writing, he handed up his compositions.

On perusal, the Chia Consort read what follows. By Pao-y, on: “A phoenix comes with dignified air:”

  The bamboos just now don that jadelike grace,
  Which worthy makes them the pheasant to face;
  Each culm so tender as if to droop fain,
  Each one so verdant, in aspect so cool,
  The curb protects, from the steps wards the pool.
  The pervious screens the tripod smell restrain.
  The shadow will be strewn, mind do not shake
  And (Hsieh) from her now long fine dream (awake)!

On “the pure fragrance of the Ligularia and Iris Florentina:”

  Hengs and Wus the still park permeate;
  The los and pis their sweet perfume enhance;
  And supple charms the third spring flowers ornate;
  Softly is wafted one streak of fragrance!
  A light mist doth becloud the tortuous way!
  With moist the clothes bedews, that verdure cold!
  The pond who ever sinuous could hold?
  Dreams long and subtle, dream the household Hsieh.

On “the happy red and joyful green:”

  Stillness pervades the deep pavilion on a lengthy day.
  The green and red, together matched, transcendent grace display.
  Unfurled do still remain in spring the green and waxlike leaves.
  No sleep yet seeks the red-clad maid, though night’s hours be
      far-spent,
  But o’er the rails lo, she reclines, dangling her ruddy sleeves;
  Against the stone she leans shrouded by taintless scent,
  And stands the quarter facing whence doth blow the eastern wind!
  Her lord and master must look up to her with feelings kind.

On “the sign on the apricot tree is visible:”

  The apricot tree sign to drink wayfarers doth invite;
  A farm located on a hill, lo! yonder strikes the sight!
  And water caltrops, golden lotus, geese, as well as flows,
  And mulberry and elm trees which afford rest to swallows.
  That wide extent of spring leeks with verdure covers the ground;
  And o’er ten li the paddy blossom fragrance doth abound.
  In days of plenty there’s a lack of dearth and of distress,
  And what need then is there to plough and weave with such briskness?

When the Chia consort had done with the perusal, excessive joy filled her heart. “He has indeed made progress!” she exclaimed, and went on to point at the verses on “the sign on the apricot tree,” as being the crowning piece of the four stanzas. In due course, she with her own hands changed the motto “a cottage in the hills where dolichos is bleached” into “the paddy-scented village;” and bidding also T’an Ch’un to take the several tens of stanzas written then, and to transcribe them separately on ornamented silk paper, she commanded a eunuch to send them to the outer quarters. And when Chia Cheng and the other men perused them, one and all sung their incessant praise, while Chia Cheng, on his part, sent in some complimentary message, with regard to her return home on a visit.

Yuan Ch’un went further and gave orders that luscious wines, a ham and other such presents should be conferred upon Pao-y, as well as upon Chia Lan. This Chia Lan was as yet at this time a perfect youth without any knowledge of things in general, so that all that he could do was to follow the example of his mother, and imitate his uncle in performing the conventional rites.

At the very moment that Chia Se felt unable, along with a company of actresses, to bear the ordeal of waiting on the ground floor of the two-storied building, he caught sight of a eunuch come running at a flying pace. “The composition of verses is over,” he said, “so quick give me the programme;” whereupon Chia Se hastened to present the programme as well as a roll of the names of the twelve girls. And not a long interval elapsed before four plays were chosen; No. 1 being the Imperial Banquet; No. 2 Begging (the weaver goddess) for skill in needlework; No. 3 The spiritual match; and No. 4 the Parting spirit. Chia Se speedily lent a hand in the getting up, and the preparations for the performance, and each of the girls sang with a voice sufficient to split the stones and danced in the manner of heavenly spirits; and though their exterior was that of the characters in which they were dressed up for the play, their acting nevertheless represented, in a perfect manner, both sorrow as well as joy. As soon as the performance was brought to a close, a eunuch walked in holding a golden salver containing cakes, sweets, and the like, and inquired who was Ling Kuan; and Chia Se readily concluding that these articles were presents bestowed upon Ling Kuan, made haste to take them over, as he bade Ling Kuan prostrate herself.

“The honourable consort,” the eunuch further added, “directs that Ling Kuan, who is the best actress of the lot, should sing two more songs; any two will do, she does not mind what they are.”

Chia Se at once expressed his obedience, and felt constrained to urge Ling Kuan to sing the two ballads entitled: “The walk through the garden” and “Frightened out of a dream.” But Ling Kuan asserted that these two ballads had not originally been intended for her own role; and being firm in her refusal to accede and insisting upon rendering the two songs “The Mutual Promise” and “The Mutual Abuse,” Chia Se found it hard to bring her round, and had no help but to let her have her own way. The Chia consort was so extremely enchanted with her that she gave directions that she should not be treated harshly, and that this girl should receive a careful training, while besides the fixed number of presents, she gave her two rolls of palace silk, two purses, gold and silver ingots, and presents in the way of eatables.

Subsequently, when the banquet had been cleared, and she once more prosecuted her visit through those places to which she had not been, she quite accidentally espied the Buddhist Temple encircled by hills, and promptly rinsing her hands, she walked in and burnt incense and worshipped Buddha. She also composed the device for a tablet, “a humane boat on the (world’s) bitter sea,” and went likewise so far as to show special acts of additional grace to a company of ascetic nuns and Taoist priestesses.

A eunuch came in a short while and reverently fell on his knees. “The presents are all in readiness,” he reported, “and may it please you to inspect them and to distribute them, in compliance with custom;” and presented to her a list, which the Chia consort perused from the very top throughout without raising any objection, and readily commanding that action should be taken according to the list, a eunuch descended and issued the gifts one after another. The presents for dowager lady Chia consisted, it may be added, of two sceptres, one of gold, the other of jade, with “may your wishes be fulfilled” inscribed on them; a staff made of lign-aloes; a string of chaplet beads of Chia-nan fragrant wood; four rolls of imperial satins with words “Affluence and honours” and Perennial Spring (woven in them); four rolls of imperial silk with Perennial Happiness and Longevity; two shoes of purple gold bullion, representing a pen, an ingot and “as you like;” and ten silver ingots with the device “Felicitous Blessings.” While the two shares for madame Hsing and madame Wang were only short of hers by the sceptres and staffs, four things in all. Chia She, Chia Cheng and the others had each apportioned to him a work newly written by the Emperor, two boxes of superior ink, and gold and silver cups, two pairs of each; their other gifts being identical with those above. Pao-ch’ai, Tai-y, all the sisters and the rest were assigned each a copy of a new book, a fine slab and two pair of gold and silver ornaments of a novel kind and original shape; Pao-y likewise receiving the same presents. Chia Lan’s gifts consisted of two necklets, one of gold, the other of silver, and of two pair of gold ingots. Mrs. Yu, widow Li Wan, lady Feng and the others had each of them, four ingots of gold and silver; and, in the way of keepsakes, four pieces of silk. There were, in addition, presents consisting of twenty-four pieces of silk and a thousand strings of good cash to be allotted to the nurses, and waiting-maids, in the apartments of dowager lady Chia, madame Wang and of the respective sisters; while Chia Chen, Chia Lien, Chia Huan, Chia Jung and the rest had, every one, for presents, a piece of silk, and a pair of gold and silver ingots.

As regards the other gifts, there were a hundred rolls of various coloured silks, a thousand ounces of pure silver, and several bottles of imperial wine, intended to be bestowed upon all the men-servants of the mansions, on the East and the West, as well as upon those who had been in the garden overseeing works, arranging the decorations, and in waiting to answer calls, and upon those who looked after the theatres and managed the lanterns. There being, besides, five hundred strings of pure cash for the cooks, waiters, jugglers and hundreds of actors and every kind of domestic.

The whole party had finished giving expression to their thanks for her bounty, when the managers and eunuchs respectfully announced: “It is already a quarter to three, and may it please your Majesty to turn back your imperial chariot;” whereupon, much against her will, the Chia consort’s eyes brimmed over, and she once more gave vent to tears. Forcing herself however again to put on a smile, she clasped old lady Chia’s and madame Wang’s hands, and could not bring herself to let them go; while she repeatedly impressed upon their minds: that there was no need to give way to any solicitude, and that they should take good care of their healths; that the grace of the present emperor was so vast, that once a month he would grant permission for them to enter the palace and pay her a visit. “It is easy enough for us to see each other,” (she said,) “and why should we indulge in any excess of grief? But when his majesty in his heavenly generosity allows me another time to return home, you shouldn’t go in for such pomp and extravagance.”

Dowager lady Chia and the other inmates had already cried to such an extent that sobs choked their throats and they could with difficulty give utterance to speech. But though the Chia consort could not reconcile herself to the separation, the usages in vogue in the imperial household could not be disregarded or infringed, so that she had no alternative but to stifle the anguish of her heart, to mount her chariot, and take her departure.

The whole family experienced meanwhile a hard task before they succeeded in consoling the old lady and madame Wang and in supporting them away out of the garden. But as what follows is not ascertained, the next chapter will disclose it.

Chapter XIX.

  In the vehemence of her feelings, Hua (Hsi Jen) on a quiet evening
      admonishes Pao-y.
  While (the spell) of affection continues unbroken, Pao-y, on a still
      day, perceives the fragrance emitted from Tai-y’s person.

The Chia consort, we must now go on to explain, returned to the Palace, and the next day, on her appearance in the presence of His Majesty, she thanked him for his bounty and gave him furthermore an account of her experiences on her visit home. His Majesty’s dragon countenance was much elated, and he also issued from the privy store coloured satins, gold and silver and such like articles to be presented to Chia Cheng and the other officials in the various households of her relatives. But dispensing with minute details about them, we will now revert to the two mansions of Jung and Ning.

With the extreme strain on mind and body for successive days, the strength of one and all was, in point of fact, worn out and their respective energies exhausted. And it was besides after they had been putting by the various decorations and articles of use for two or three days, that they, at length, got through the work.

Lady Feng was the one who had most to do, and whose responsibilities were greatest. The others could possibly steal a few leisure moments and retire to rest, while she was the sole person who could not slip away. In the second place, naturally anxious as she was to excel and both to fall in people’s estimation, she put up with the strain just as if she were like one of those who had nothing to attend to. But the one who had the least to do and had the most leisure was Pao-y.

As luck would have it on this day, at an early hour, Hsi Jen’s mother came again in person and told dowager lady Chia that she would take Hsi Jen home to drink a cup of tea brewed in the new year and that she would return in the evening. For this reason Pao-y was only in the company of all the waiting-maids, throwing dice, playing at chess and amusing himself. But while he was in the room playing with them with a total absence of zest, he unawares perceived a few waiting-maids arrive, who informed him that their senior master Mr. Chen, of the Eastern Mansion, had come to invite him to go and see a theatrical performance, and the fireworks, which were to be let off.

Upon hearing these words, Pao-y speedily asked them to change his clothes; but just as he was ready to start, presents of cream, steamed with sugar, arrived again when least expected from the Chia Consort, and Pao-y recollecting with what relish Hsi Jen had partaken of this dish on the last occasion forthwith bid them keep it for her; while he went himself and told dowager lady Chia that he was going over to see the play.

The plays sung over at Chia Chen’s consisted, who would have thought it, of “Ting L’ang recognises his father,” and “Huang Po-ying deploys the spirits for battle,” and in addition to these, “Sung Hsing-che causes great commotion in the heavenly palace;” “Ghiang T’ai-kung kills the general and deifies him,” and other such like. Soon appeared the spirits and devils in a confused crowd on the stage, and suddenly also became visible the whole band of sprites and goblins, among which were some waving streamers, as they went past in a procession, invoking Buddha and burning incense. The sound of the gongs and drums and of shouts and cries were audible at a distance beyond the lane; and in the whole street, one and all extolled the performance as exceptionally grand, and that the like could never have been had in the house of any other family.

Pao-y, noticing that the commotion and bustle had reached a stage so unbearable to his taste, speedily betook himself, after merely sitting for a little while, to other places in search of relaxation and fun. First of all, he entered the inner rooms, and after spending some time in chatting and laughing with Mrs. Yu, the waiting-maids, and secondary wives, he eventually took his departure out of the second gate; and as Mrs. Yu and her companions were still under the impression that he was going out again to see the play, they let him speed on his way, without so much as keeping an eye over him.

Chia Chen, Chia Lien, Hseh P’an and the others were bent upon guessing enigmas, enforcing the penalties and enjoying themselves in a hundred and one ways, so that even allowing that they had for a moment noticed that he was not occupying his seat, they must merely have imagined that he had gone inside and not, in fact, worried their minds about him. And as for the pages, who had come along with Pao-y, those who were a little advanced in years, knowing very well that Pao-y would, on an occasion like the present, be sure not to be going before dusk, stealthily therefore took advantage of his absence, those, who could, to gamble for money, and others to go to the houses of relatives and friends to drink of the new year tea, so that what with gambling and drinking the whole bevy surreptitiously dispersed, waiting for dusk before they came back; while those, who were younger, had all crept into the green rooms to watch the excitement; with the result that Pao-y perceiving not one of them about bethought himself of a small reading room, which existed in previous days on this side, in which was suspended a picture of a beauty so artistically executed as to look life-like. “On such a bustling day as this,” he reasoned, “it’s pretty certain, I fancy, that there will be no one in there; and that beautiful person must surely too feel lonely, so that it’s only right that I should go and console her a bit.” With these thoughts, he hastily betook himself towards the side-house yonder, and as soon as he came up to the window, he heard the sound of groans in the room. Pao-y was really quite startled. “What!” (he thought), “can that beautiful girl, possibly, have come to life!” and screwing up his courage, he licked a hole in the paper of the window and peeped in. It was not she, however, who had come to life, but Ming Yen holding down a girl and likewise indulging in what the Monitory Dream Fairy had taught him.

“Dreadful!” exclaimed Pao-y, aloud, unable to repress himself, and, stamping one of his feet, he walked into the door to the terror of both of them, who parting company, shivered with fear, like clothes that are being shaken. Ming Yen perceiving that it was Pao-y promptly fell on his knees and piteously implored for pardon.

“What! in broad daylight! what do you mean by it? Were your master Mr. Chen to hear of it, would you die or live?” asked Pao-y, as he simultaneously cast a glance at the servant-girl, who although not a beauty was anyhow so spick and span, and possessed besides a few charms sufficient to touch the heart. From shame, her face was red and her ears purple, while she lowered her head and uttered not a syllable.

Pao-y stamped his foot. “What!” he shouted, “don’t you yet bundle yourself away!”

This simple remark suggested the idea to the girl’s mind who ran off, as if she had wings to fly with; but as Pao-y went also so far as to go in pursuit of her, calling out: “Don’t be afraid, I’m not one to tell anyone,” Ming Yen was so exasperated that he cried, as he went after them, “My worthy ancestor, this is distinctly telling people about it.”

“How old is that servant girl?” Pao-y having asked; “She’s, I expect, no more than sixteen or seventeen,” Ming Yen rejoined.

“Well, if you haven’t gone so far as to even ascertain her age,” Pao-y observed, “you’re sure to know still less about other things; and it makes it plain enough that her acquaintance with you is all vain and futile! What a pity! what a pity!”

He then went on to enquire what her name was; and “Were I,” continued Ming Yen smiling, “to tell you about her name it would involve a long yarn; it’s indeed a novel and strange story! She relates that while her mother was nursing her, she dreamt a dream and obtained in this dream possession of a piece of brocaded silk, on which were designs, in variegated colours, representing opulence and honour, and a continuous line of the character Wan; and that this reason accounts for the name of Wan Erh, which was given her.”

“This is really strange!” Pao-y exclaimed with a grin, after lending an ear to what he had to say; “and she is bound, I think, by and by to have a good deal of good fortune!”

These words uttered, he plunged in deep thought for a while, and Ming Yen having felt constrained to inquire: “Why aren’t you, Mr. Secundus, watching a theatrical performance of this excellent kind?” “I had been looking on for ever so long,” Pao-y replied, “until I got quite weary; and had just come out for a stroll, when I happened to meet you two. But what’s to be done now?”

Ming Yen gave a faint smile. “As there’s no one here to know anything about it,” he added, “I’ll stealthily take you, Mr. Secundus, for a walk outside the city walls; and we’ll come back shortly, before they’ve got wind of it.”

“That won’t do,” Pao-y demurred, “we must be careful, or else some beggar might kidnap us away; besides, were they to come to hear of it, there’ll be again a dreadful row; and isn’t it better that we should go to some nearer place, from which we could, after all, return at once?”

“As for some nearer place,” Ming Yen observed; “to whose house can we go? It’s really no easy matter!”

“My idea is,” Pao-y suggested with a smirk, “that we should simply go, and find sister Hua, and see what she’s up to at home.”

“Yes! Yes!” Ming Yen replied laughingly; “the fact is I had forgotten all about her home; but should it reach their ears,” he continued, "they’ll say that it was I who led you, Mr. Secundus, astray, and they’ll beat me!”

“I’m here for you!” Pao-y having assured him; Ming Yen at these words led the horses round, and the two of them speedily made their exit by the back gate. Luckily Hsi Jen’s house was not far off. It was no further than half a li’s distance, so that in a twinkle they had already reached the front of the door, and Ming Yen was the first to walk in and to call for Hsi Jen’s eldest brother Hua Tzu-fang.

Hsi Jen’s mother had, on this occasion, united in her home Hsi Jen, several of her sister’s daughters, as well as a few of her nieces, and they were engaged in partaking of fruits and tea, when they heard some one outside call out, “Brother Hua.” Hua Tzu-fang lost no time in rushing out; and upon looking and finding that it was the two of them, the master and his servant, he was so taken by surprise that his fears could not be set at rest. Promptly, he clasped Pao-y in his arms and dismounted him, and coming into the court, he shouted out at the top of his voice: “Mr. Pao has come.” The other persons heard the announcement of his arrival, with equanimity, but when it reached Hsi Jen’s ears, she truly felt at such a loss to fathom the object of his visit that issuing hastily out of the room, she came to meet Pao-y, and as she laid hold of him: “Why did you come?” she asked.

“I felt awfully dull,” Pao-y rejoined with a smile, “and came to see what you were up to.”

Hsi Jen at these words banished, at last, all anxiety from her mind. "You’re again up to your larks,” she observed, “but what’s the aim of your visit? Who else has come along with him?” she at the same time went on to question Ming Yen.

“All the others know nothing about it!” explained Ming Yen exultingly; "only we two do, that’s all.”

When Hsi Jen heard this remark, she gave way afresh to solicitous fears: "This is dreadful!” she added; “for were you to come across any one from the house, or to meet master; or were, in the streets, people to press against you, or horses to collide with you, as to make (his horse) shy, and he were to fall, would that too be a joke? The gall of both of you is larger than a peck measure; but it’s all you, Ming Yen, who has incited him, and when I go back, I’ll surely tell the nurses to beat you.”

Ming Yen pouted his mouth. “Mr. Secundus,” he pleaded, “abused me and beat me, as he bade me bring him here, and now he shoves the blame on my shoulders! ’Don’t let us go,’ I suggested; ’but if you do insist, well then let us go and have done.’”

Hua Tzu-fang promptly interceded. “Let things alone,” he said; “now that they’re already here, there’s no need whatever of much ado. The only thing is that our mean house with its thatched roof is both so crammed and so filthy that how could you, sir, sit in it!”

Hsi Jen’s mother also came out at an early period to receive him, and Hsi Jen pulled Pao-y in. Once inside the room, Pao-y perceived three or five girls, who, as soon as they caught sight of him approaching, all lowered their heads, and felt so bashful that their faces were suffused with blushes. But as both Hua Tzu-fang and his mother were afraid that Pao-y would catch cold, they pressed him to take a seat on the stove-bed, and hastened to serve a fresh supply of refreshments, and to at once bring him a cup of good tea.

“You needn’t be flurrying all for nothing,” Hsi Jen smilingly interposed; “I, naturally, should know; and there’s no use of even laying out any fruits, as I daren’t recklessly give him anything to eat.”

Saying this, she simultaneously took her own cushion and laid it on a stool, and after Pao-y took a seat on it, she placed the footstove she had been using, under his feet; and producing, from a satchet, two peach-blossom-scented small cakes, she opened her own hand-stove and threw them into the fire; which done, she covered it well again and placed it in Pao-y’s lap. And eventually, she filled her own tea-cup with tea and presented it to Pao-y, while, during this time, her mother and sister had been fussing about, laying out in fine array a tableful of every kind of eatables.

Hsi Jen noticed that there were absolutely no things that he could eat, but she felt urged to say with a smile: “Since you’ve come, it isn’t right that you should go empty away; and you must, whether the things be good or bad, taste a little, so that it may look like a visit to my house!”

As she said this, she forthwith took several seeds of the fir-cone, and cracking off the thin skin, she placed them in a handkerchief and presented them to Pao-y. But Pao-y, espying that Hsi Jen’s two eyes were slightly red, and that the powder was shiny and moist, quietly therefore inquired of Hsi Jen, “Why do you cry for no rhyme or reason?”

“Why should I cry?” Hsi Jen laughed; “something just got into my eyes and I rubbed them.” By these means she readily managed to evade detection; but seeing that Pao-y wore a deep red archery-sleeved pelisse, ornamented with gold dragons, and lined with fur from foxes’ ribs and a grey sable fur surtout with a fringe round the border. “What! have you,” she asked, “put on again your new clothes for? specially to come here? and didn’t they inquire of you where you were going?”

“I had changed,” Pao-y explained with a grin, “as Mr. Chen had invited me to go over and look at the play.”

“Well, sit a while and then go back;” Hsi Jen continued as she nodded her head; “for this isn’t the place for you to come to!”

“You’d better be going home now,” Pao-y suggested smirkingly; “where I’ve again kept something good for you.”

“Gently,” smiled Hsi Jen, “for were you to let them hear, what figure would we cut?” And with these, words, she put out her hand and unclasping from Pao-y’s neck the jade of Spiritual Perception, she faced her cousins and remarked exultingly. “Here! see for yourselves; look at this and learn! When I repeatedly talked about it, you all thought it extraordinary, and were anxious to have a glance at it; to-day, you may gaze on it with all your might, for whatever precious thing you may by and by come to see will really never excel such an object as this!”

When she had finished speaking, she handed it over to them, and after they had passed it round for inspection, she again fastened it properly on Pao-y’s neck, and also bade her brother go and hire a small carriage, or engage a small chair, and escort Pao-y back home.

“If I see him back,” Hua Tzu-fang remarked, “there would be no harm, were he even to ride his horse!”

“It isn’t because of harm,” Hsi Jen replied; “but because he may come across some one from the house.”

Hua Tzu-fang promptly went and bespoke a small chair; and when it came to the door, the whole party could not very well detain him, and they of course had to see Pao-y out of the house; while Hsi Jen, on the other hand, snatched a few fruits and gave them to Ming Yen; and as she at the same time pressed in his hand several cash to buy crackers with to let off, she enjoined him not to tell any one as he himself would likewise incur blame.

As she uttered these words, she straightway escorted Pao-y as far as outside the door, from whence having seen him mount into the sedan chair, she dropped the curtain; whereupon Ming Yen and her brother, the two of them, led the horses and followed behind in his wake. Upon reaching the street where the Ning mansion was situated, Ming Yen told the chair to halt, and said to Hua Tzu-fang, “It’s advisable that I should again go, with Mr. Secundus, into the Eastern mansion, to show ourselves before we can safely betake ourselves home; for if we don’t, people will suspect!”

Hua Tzu-fang, upon hearing that there was good reason in what he said, promptly clasped Pao-y out of the chair and put him on the horse, whereupon after Pao-y smilingly remarked: “Excuse me for the trouble I’ve surely put you to,” they forthwith entered again by the back gate; but putting aside all details, we will now confine ourselves to Pao-y.

After he had walked out of the door, the several waiting-maids in his apartments played and laughed with greater zest and with less restraint. Some there were who played at chess, others who threw the dice or had a game of cards; and they covered the whole floor with the shells of melon-seeds they were cracking, when dame Li, his nurse, happened to come in, propping herself on a staff, to pay her respects and to see Pao-y, and perceiving that Pao-y was not at home and that the servant-girls were only bent upon romping, she felt intensely disgusted. "Since I’ve left this place,” she therefore exclaimed with a sigh, “and don’t often come here, you’ve become more and more unmannerly; while the other nurse does still less than ever venture to expostulate with you; Pao-y is like a candlestick eighty feet high, shedding light on others, and throwing none upon himself! All he knows is to look down upon people as being filthy; and yet this is his room and he allows you to put it topsy-turvey, and to become more and more unmindful of decorum!”

These servant-girls were well aware that Pao-y was not particular in these respects, and that in the next place nurse Li, having pleaded old age, resigned her place and gone home, had nowadays no control over them, so that they simply gave their minds to romping and joking, and paid no heed whatever to her. Nurse Li however still kept on asking about Pao-y, “How much rice he now ate at one meal? and at what time he went to sleep?” to which questions, the servant-girls replied quite at random; some there being too who observed: “What a dreadful despicable old thing she is!”

“In this covered bowl,” she continued to inquire, “is cream, and why not give it to me to eat?” and having concluded these words, she took it up and there and then began eating it.

“Be quick, and leave it alone!” a servant-girl expostulated, “that, he said, was kept in order to be given to Hsi Jen; and on his return, when he again gets into a huff, you, old lady, must, on your own motion, confess to having eaten it, and not involve us in any way as to have to bear his resentment.”

Nurse Li, at these words, felt both angry and ashamed. “I can’t believe,” she forthwith remarked, “that he has become so bad at heart! Not to speak of the milk I’ve had, I have, in fact every right to even something more expensive than this; for is it likely that he holds Hsi Jen dearer than myself? It can’t forsooth be that he doesn’t bear in mind how that I’ve brought him up to be a big man, and how that he has eaten my blood transformed into milk and grown up to this age! and will be because I’m now having a bowl of milk of his be angry on that score! I shall, yes, eat it, and we’ll see what he’ll do! I don’t know what you people think of Hsi Jen, but she was a lowbred girl, whom I’ve with my own hands raised up! and what fine object indeed was she!”

As she spoke, she flew into a temper, and taking the cream she drank the whole of it.

“They don’t know how to speak properly!” another servant-girl interposed sarcastically, “and it’s no wonder that you, old lady, should get angry! Pao-y still sends you, venerable dame, presents as a proof of his gratitude, and is it possible that he will feel displeased for such a thing like this?”

“You girls shouldn’t also pretend to be artful flatterers to cajole me!" nurse Li added; “do you imagine that I’m not aware of the dismissal, the other day, of Hsi Hseh, on account of a cup of tea? and as it’s clear enough that I’ve incurred blame, I’ll come by and by and receive it!”

Having said this, she went off in a dudgeon, but not a long interval elapsed before Pao-y returned, and gave orders to go and fetch Hsi Jen; and perceiving Ching Ling reclining on the bed perfectly still: “I presume she’s ill,” Pao-y felt constrained to inquire, “or if she isn’t ill, she must have lost at cards.”

“Not so!” observed Chiu Wen; “she had been a winner, but dame Li came in quite casually and muddled her so that she lost; and angry at this she rushed off to sleep.”

“Don’t place yourselves,” Pao-y smiled, “on the same footing as nurse Li, and if you were to let her alone, everything will be all right.”

These words were still on his lips when Hsi Jen arrived. After the mutual salutations, Hsi Jen went on to ask of Pao-y: “Where did you have your repast? and what time did you come back?” and to present likewise, on behalf of her mother and sister, her compliments to all the girls, who were her companions. In a short while, she changed her costume and divested herself of her fineries, and Pao-y bade them fetch the cream.

“Nurse Li has eaten it,” the servant-girls rejoined, and as Pao-y was on the point of making some remark Hsi Jen hastened to interfere, laughing the while; “Is it really this that you had kept for me? many thanks for the trouble; the other day, when I had some, I found it very toothsome, but after I had partaken of it, I got a pain in the stomach, and was so much upset, that it was only after I had brought it all up that I felt all right. So it’s as well that she has had it, for, had it been kept here, it would have been wasted all for no use! What I fancy are dry chestnuts; and while you clean a few for me, I’ll go and lay the bed!”

Pao-y upon hearing these words credited them as true, so that he discarded all thought of the cream and fetched the chestnuts, which he, with his own hands, selected and pealed. Perceiving at the same time that none of the party were present in the room, he put on a smile and inquired of Hsi Jen: “Who were those persons dressed in red to day?”

“They’re my two cousins on my mother’s side,” Hsi Jen explained, and hearing this, Pao-y sang their praise as he heaved a couple of sighs.

“What are you sighing for?” Hsi Jen remarked. “I know the secret reasons of your heart; it’s I fancy because she isn’t fit to wear red!”

“It isn’t that,” Pao-y protested smilingly, “it isn’t that; if such a person as that isn’t good enough to be dressed in red, who would forsooth presume to wear it? It’s because I find her so really lovely! and if we could, after all, manage to get her into our family, how nice it would be then!”

Hsi Jen gave a sardonic smile. “That it’s my own fate to be a slave doesn’t matter, but is it likely that the destiny of even my very relatives could be to become one and all of them bond servants? But you should certainly set your choice upon some really beautiful girl, for she would in that case be good enough to enter your house.”

“Here you are again with your touchiness!” Pao-y eagerly exclaimed smiling, “if I said that she should come to our house, does it necessarily imply that she should be a servant? and wouldn’t it do were I to mention that she should come as a relative!”

“That too couldn’t exalt her to be a fit match for you!” rejoined Hsi Jen; but Pao-y being loth to continue the conversation, simply busied himself with cleaning the chestnuts.

“How is it you utter not a word?” Hsi Jen laughed; “I expect it’s because I just offended you by my inconsiderate talk! But if by and by you have your purpose fixed on it, just spend a few ounces of silver to purchase them with, and bring them in and have done!”

“How would you have one make any reply?” Pao-y smilingly rejoined; “all I did was to extol her charms; for she’s really fit to have been born in a deep hall and spacious court as this; and it isn’t for such foul things as myself and others to contrariwise spend our days in this place!”

“Though deprived of this good fortune,” Hsi Jen explained, “she’s nevertheless also petted and indulged and the jewel of my maternal uncle and my aunt! She’s now seventeen years of age, and everything in the way of trousseau has been got ready, and she’s to get married next year.”

Upon hearing the two words “get married,” he could not repress himself from again ejaculating: “Hai hai!” but while he was in an unhappy frame of mind, he once more heard Hsi Jen remark as she heaved a sigh: “Ever since I’ve come here, we cousins haven’t all these years been able to get to live together, and now that I’m about to return home, they, on the other hand, will all be gone!”

Pao-y, realising that there lurked in this remark some meaning or other, was suddenly so taken aback that dropping the chestnuts, he inquired: “How is it that you now want to go back?”

“I was present to-day,” Hsi Jen explained, “when mother and brother held consultation together, and they bade me be patient for another year, and that next year they’ll come up and redeem me out of service!”

Pao-y, at these words, felt the more distressed. “Why do they want to redeem you?” he consequently asked.

“This is a strange question!” Hsi Jen retorted, “for I can’t really be treated as if I were the issue born in this homestead of yours! All the members of my family are elsewhere, and there’s only myself in this place, so that how could I end my days here?”

“If I don’t let you go, it will verily be difficult for you to get away!” Pao-y replied.

“There has never been such a principle of action!” urged Hsi Jen; “even in the imperial palace itself, there’s a fixed rule, by which possibly every certain number of years a selection (of those who have to go takes place), and every certain number of years a new batch enters; and there’s no such practice as that of keeping people for ever; not to speak of your own home.”

Pao-y realised, after reflection, that she, in point of fact, was right, and he went on to observe: “Should the old lady not give you your release, it will be impossible for you to get off.”

“Why shouldn’t she release me?” Hsi Jen questioned. “Am I really so very extraordinary a person as to have perchance made such an impression upon her venerable ladyship and my lady that they will be positive in not letting me go? They may, in all likelihood, give my family some more ounces of silver to keep me here; that possibly may come about. But, in truth, I’m also a person of the most ordinary run, and there are many more superior to me, yea very many! Ever since my youth up, I’ve been in her old ladyship’s service; first by waiting upon Miss Shih for several years, and recently by being in attendance upon you for another term of years; and now that our people will come to redeem me, I should, as a matter of right, be told to go. My idea is that even the very redemption money won’t be accepted, and that they will display such grace as to let me go at once. And, as for being told that I can’t be allowed to go as I’m so diligent in my service to you, that’s a thing that can on no account come about! My faithful attendance is an obligation of my duties, and is no exceptional service! and when I’m gone you’ll again have some other faithful attendant, and it isn’t likely that when I’m no more here, you’ll find it impracticable to obtain one!”

After Pao-y had listened to these various arguments, which proved the reasonableness of her going and the unreasonableness of any detention, he felt his heart more than ever a prey to distress. “In spite of all you say,” he therefore continued, “the sole desire of my heart is to detain you; and I have no doubt but that the old lady will speak to your mother about it; and if she were to give your mother ample money, she’ll, of course, not feel as if she could very well with any decency take you home!”

“My mother won’t naturally have the audacity to be headstrong!” Hsi Jen ventured, “not to speak besides of the nice things, which may be told her and the lots of money she may, in addition, be given; but were she even not to be paid any compliments, and not so much as a single cash given her, she won’t, if you set your mind upon keeping me here, presume not to comply with your wishes, were it also against my inclination. One thing however; our family would never rely upon prestige, and trust upon honorability to do anything so domineering as this! for this isn’t like anything else, which, because you take a fancy to it, a hundred per cent profit can be added, and it obtained for you! This action can be well taken if the seller doesn’t suffer loss! But in the present instance, were they to keep me back for no rhyme or reason, it would also be of no benefit to yourself; on the contrary, they would be instrumental in keeping us blood relatives far apart; a thing the like of which, I feel positive that dowager lady Chia and my lady will never do!”

After lending an ear to this argument, Pao-y cogitated within himself for a while. “From what you say,” he then observed, “when you say you’ll go, it means that you’ll go for certain!”

“Yes, that I’ll go for certain,” Hsi Jen rejoined.

“Who would have anticipated,” Pao-y, after these words, mused in his own heart, “that a person like her would have shown such little sense of gratitude, and such a lack of respect! Had I,” he then remarked aloud with a sigh, “been aware, at an early date, that your whole wish would have been to go, I wouldn’t, in that case, have brought you over! But when you’re away, I shall remain alone, a solitary spirit!”

As he spoke, he lost control over his temper, and, getting into bed, he went to sleep.

The fact is that when Hsi Jen had been at home, and she heard her mother and brother express their intention of redeeming her back, she there and then observed that were she even at the point of death, she would not return home. “When in past days,” she had argued, “you had no rice to eat, there remained myself, who was still worth several taels; and hadn’t I urged you to sell me, wouldn’t I have seen both father and mother die of starvation under my very eyes? and you’ve now had the good fortune of selling me into this place, where I’m fed and clothed just like a mistress, and where I’m not beaten by day, nor abused by night! Besides, though now father be no more, you two have anyhow by putting things straight again, so adjusted the family estate that it has resumed its primitive condition. And were you, in fact, still in straitened circumstances, and you could by redeeming me back, make again some more money, that would be well and good; but the truth is that there’s no such need, and what would be the use for you to redeem me at such a time as this? You should temporarily treat me as dead and gone, and shouldn’t again recall any idea of redeeming me!”

Having in consequence indulged in a loud fit of crying, her mother and brother resolved, when they perceived her in this determined frame of mind, that for a fact there was no need for her to come out of service. What is more they had sold her under contract until death, in the distinct reliance that the Chia family, charitable and generous a family as it was, would, possibly, after no more than a few entreaties, make them a present of her person as well as the purchase money. In the second place, never had they in the Chia mansion ill-used any of those below; there being always plenty of grace and little of imperiousness. Besides, the servant-girls, who acted as personal attendants in the apartments of the old as well as of the young, were treated so far unlike the whole body of domestics in the household that the daughters even of an ordinary and penniless parentage could not have been so looked up to. And these considerations induced both the mother as well as her son to at once dispel the intention and not to redeem her, and when Pao-y had subsequently paid them an unexpected visit, and the two of them (Pao-y and Hsi Jen) were seen to be also on such terms, the mother and her son obtained a clearer insight into their relations, and still one more burden (which had pressed on their mind) fell to the ground, and as besides this was a contingency, which they had never reckoned upon, they both composed their hearts, and did not again entertain any idea of ransoming her.

It must be noticed moreover that Hsi Jen had ever since her youth not been blind to the fact that Pao-y had an extraordinary temperament, that he was self-willed and perverse, far even in excess of all young lads, and that he had, in addition, a good many peculiarities and many unspeakable defects. And as of late he had placed such reliance in the fond love of his grandmother that his father and mother even could not exercise any extreme control over him, he had become so much the more remiss, dissolute, selfish and unconcerned, not taking the least pleasure in what was proper, that she felt convinced, whenever she entertained the idea of tendering him advice, that he would not listen to her. On this day, by a strange coincidence, came about the discussion respecting her ransom, and she designedly made use, in the first instance, of deception with a view to ascertain his feelings, to suppress his temper, and to be able subsequently to extend to him some words of admonition; and when she perceived that Pao-y had now silently gone to sleep, she knew that his feelings could not brook the idea of her return and that his temper had already subsided. She had never had, as far as she was concerned, any desire of eating chestnuts, but as she feared lest, on account of the cream, some trouble might arise, which might again lead to the same results as when Hsi Hseh drank the tea, she consequently made use of the pretence that she fancied chestnuts, in order to put off Pao-y from alluding (to the cream) and to bring the matter speedily to an end. But telling forthwith the young waiting-maids to take the chestnuts away and eat them, she herself came and pushed Pao-y; but at the sight of Pao-y with the traces of tears on his face, she at once put on a smiling expression and said: “What’s there in this to wound your heart? If you positively do wish to keep me, I shall, of course, not go away!”

Pao-y noticed that these words contained some hidden purpose, and readily observed: “Do go on and tell me what else I can do to succeed in keeping you here, for of my own self I find it indeed difficult to say how!”

“Of our friendliness all along,” Hsi Jen smilingly rejoined, “there’s naturally no need to speak; but, if you have this day made up your mind to retain me here, it isn’t through this friendship that you’ll succeed in doing so. But I’ll go on and mention three distinct conditions, and, if you really do accede to my wishes, you’ll then have shown an earnest desire to keep me here, and I won’t go, were even a sword to be laid on my neck!”

“Do tell me what these conditions are,” Pao-y pressed her with alacrity, as he smiled, “and I’ll assent to one and all. My dear sister, my own dear sister, not to speak of two or three, but even two or three hundred of them I’m quite ready to accept. All I entreat you is that you and all of you should combine to watch over me and take care of me, until some day when I shall be transformed into flying ashes; but flying ashes are, after all, not opportune, as they have form and substance and they likewise possess sense, but until I’ve been metamorphosed into a streak of subtle smoke. And when the wind shall have with one puff dispelled me, all of you then will be unable to attend to me, just as much as I myself won’t be able to heed you. You will, when that time comes, let me go where I please, as I’ll let you speed where you choose to go!”

These words so harassed Hsi Jen that she hastened to put her hand over his mouth. “Speak decently,” she said; “I was on account of this just about to admonish you, and now here you are uttering all this still more loathsome trash.”

“I won’t utter these words again,” Pao-y eagerly added.

“This is the first fault that you must change,” Hsi Jen replied.

“I’ll amend,” Pao-y observed, “and if I say anything of the kind again you can wring my mouth; but what else is there?”

“The second thing is this,” Hsi Jen explained; “whether you really like to study or whether you only pretend to like study is immaterial; but you should, when you are in the presence of master, or in the presence of any one else, not do nothing else than find fault with people and make fun of them, but behave just as if you were genuinely fond of study, so that you shouldn’t besides provoke your father so much to anger, and that he should before others have also a chance of saying something! ’In my family,’ he reflects within himself, ’generation after generation has been fond of books, but ever since I’ve had you, you haven’t accomplished my expectations, and not only is it that you don’t care about reading books,’–and this has already filled his heart with anger and vexation,–’but both before my face and behind my back, you utter all that stuff and nonsense, and give those persons, who have, through their knowledge of letters, attained high offices, the nickname of the “the salaried worms.” You also uphold that there’s no work exclusive (of the book where appears) “fathom spotless virtue;” and that all other books consist of foolish compilations, which owe their origin to former authors, who, unable themselves to expound the writings of Confucius, readily struck a new line and invented original notions.’ Now with words like these, how can one wonder if master loses all patience, and if he does from time to time give you a thrashing! and what do you make other people think of you?”

“I won’t say these things again,” Pao-y laughingly protested, “these are the reckless and silly absurdities of a time when I was young and had no idea of the height of the heavens and the thickness of the earth; but I’ll now no more repeat them. What else is there besides?”

“It isn’t right that you should sneer at the bonzes and vilify the Taoist priests, nor mix cosmetics or prepare rouge,” Hsi Jen continued; "but there’s still another thing more important, you shouldn’t again indulge the bad habits of licking the cosmetic, applied by people on their lips, nor be fond of (girls dressed) in red!”

“I’ll change in all this,” Pao-y added by way of rejoinder; “I’ll change in all this; and if there’s anything more be quick and tell me.”

“There’s nothing more,” Hsi Jen observed; “but you must in everything exercise a little more diligence, and not indulge your caprices and allow your wishes to run riot, and you’ll be all right. And should you comply to all these things in real earnest, you couldn’t carry me out, even in a chair with eight bearers.”

“Well, if you do stay in here long enough,” Pao-y remarked with a smile, “there’s no fear as to your not having an eight-bearer-chair to sit in!”

Hsi Jen gave a sardonic grin. “I don’t care much about it,” she replied; "and were I even to have such good fortune, I couldn’t enjoy such a right. But allowing I could sit in one, there would be no pleasure in it!”

While these two were chatting, they saw Ch’iu Wen walk in. “It’s the third watch of the night,” she observed, “and you should go to sleep. Just a few moments back your grandmother lady Chia and our lady sent a nurse to ask about you, and I replied that you were asleep.”

Pao-y bade her fetch a watch, and upon looking at the time, he found indeed that the hand was pointing at ten; whereupon rinsing his mouth again and loosening his clothes, he retired to rest, where we will leave him without any further comment.

The next day, Hsi Jen got up as soon as it was dawn, feeling her body heavy, her head sore, her eyes swollen, and her limbs burning like fire. She managed however at first to keep up, an effort though it was, but as subsequently she was unable to endure the strain, and all she felt disposed to do was to recline, she therefore lay down in her clothes on the stove-couch. Pao-y hastened to tell dowager lady Chia, and the doctor was sent for, who, upon feeling her pulse and diagnosing her complaint, declared that there was nothing else the matter with her than a chill, which she had suddenly contracted, that after she had taken a dose or two of medicine, it would be dispelled, and that she would be quite well. After he had written the prescription and taken his departure, some one was despatched to fetch the medicines, which when brought were properly decocted. As soon as she had swallowed a dose, Pao-y bade her cover herself with her bed-clothes so as to bring on perspiration; while he himself came into Tai-y’s room to look her up. Tai-y was at this time quite alone, reclining on her bed having a midday siesta, and the waiting-maids having all gone out to attend to whatever they pleased, the whole room was plunged in stillness and silence. Pao-y raised the embroidered soft thread portiere and walked in; and upon espying Tai-y in the room fast asleep, he hurriedly approached her and pushing her: “Dear cousin,” he said, “you’ve just had your meal, and are you asleep already?” and he kept on calling “Tai-y" till he woke her out of her sleep.

Perceiving that it was Pao-y, “You had better go for a stroll,” Tai-y urged, “for the day before yesterday I was disturbed the whole night, and up to this day I haven’t had rest enough to get over the fatigue. My whole body feels languid and sore.”

“This languor and soreness,” Pao-y rejoined, “are of no consequence; but if you go on sleeping you’ll be feeling very ill; so I’ll try and distract you, and when we’ve dispelled this lassitude, you’ll be all right.”

Tai-y closed her eyes. “I don’t feel any lassitude,” she explained, "all I want is a little rest; and you had better go elsewhere and come back after romping about for a while.”

“Where can I go?” Pao-y asked as he pushed her. “I’m quite sick and tired of seeing the others.”

At these words, Tai-y burst out laughing with a sound of Ch’ih. “Well! since you wish to remain here,” she added, “go over there and sit down quietly, and let’s have a chat.”

“I’ll also recline,” Pao-y suggested.

“Well, then, recline!” Tai-y assented.

“There’s no pillow,” observed Pao-y, “so let us lie on the same pillow.”

“What nonsense!” Tai-y urged, “aren’t those pillows outside? get one and lie on it.”

Pao-y walked into the outer apartment, and having looked about him, he returned and remarked with a smile: “I don’t want those, they may be, for aught I know, some dirty old hag’s.”

Tai-y at this remark opened her eyes wide, and as she raised herself up: “You’re really,” she exclaimed laughingly, “the evil star of my existence! here, please recline on this pillow!” and as she uttered these words, she pushed her own pillow towards Pao-y, and, getting up she went and fetched another of her own, upon which she lay her head in such a way that both of them then reclined opposite to each other. But Tai-y, upon turning up her eyes and looking, espied on Pao-y’s cheek on the left side of his face, a spot of blood about the size of a button, and speedily bending her body, she drew near to him, and rubbing it with her hand, she scrutinised it closely. “Whose nail,” she went on to inquire, “has scratched this open?”

Pao-y with his body still reclining withdrew from her reach, and as he did so, he answered with a smile: “It isn’t a scratch; it must, I presume, be simply a drop, which bespattered my cheek when I was just now mixing and clarifying the cosmetic paste for them.”

Saying this, he tried to get at his handkerchief to wipe it off; but Tai-y used her own and rubbed it clean for him, while she observed: “Do you still give your mind to such things? attend to them you may; but must you carry about you a placard (to make it public)? Though uncle mayn’t see it, were others to notice it, they would treat it as a strange occurrence and a novel bit of news, and go and tell him to curry favour, and when it has reached uncle’s ear, we shall all again not come out clean, and provoke him to anger.”

Pao-y did not in the least heed what she said, being intent upon smelling a subtle scent which, in point of fact, emanated from Tai-y’s sleeve, and when inhaled inebriated the soul and paralysed the bones. With a snatch, Pao-y laid hold of Tai-y’s sleeve meaning to see what object was concealed in it; but Tai-y smilingly expostulated: “At such a time as this,” she said, “who keeps scents about one?”

“Well, in that case,” Pao-y rejoined with a smirking face, “where does this scent come from?”

“I myself don’t know,” Tai-y replied; “I presume it must be, there’s no saying, some scent in the press which has impregnated the clothes.”

“It doesn’t follow,” Pao-y added, as he shook his head; “the fumes of this smell are very peculiar, and don’t resemble the perfume of scent-bottles, scent-balls, or scented satchets!”

“Is it likely that I have, like others, Buddhistic disciples,” Tai-y asked laughing ironically, “or worthies to give me novel kinds of scents? But supposing there is about me some peculiar scent, I haven’t, at all events, any older or younger brothers to get the flowers, buds, dew, and snow, and concoct any for me; all I have are those common scents, that’s all.”

“Whenever I utter any single remark,” Pao-y urged with a grin, “you at once bring up all these insinuations; but unless I deal with you severely, you’ll never know what stuff I’m made of; but from henceforth I’ll no more show you any grace!”

As he spoke, he turned himself over, and raising himself, he puffed a couple of breaths into both his hands, and hastily stretching them out, he tickled Tai-y promiscuously under her armpits, and along both sides. Tai-y had never been able to stand tickling, so that when Pao-y put out his two hands and tickled her violently, she forthwith giggled to such an extent that she could scarcely gasp for breath. “If you still go on teasing me,” she shouted, “I’ll get angry with you!”

Pao-y then kept his hands off, and as he laughed, “Tell me,” he asked, "will you again come out with all those words or not?”

“I daren’t do it again,” Tai-y smiled and adjusted her hair; adding with another laugh: “I may have peculiar scents, but have you any ’warm’ scents?”

Pao-y at this question, could not for a time unfold its meaning: “What ’warm’ scent?” he therefore asked.

Tai-y nodded her head and smiled deridingly. “How stupid! what a fool!" she sighed; “you have jade, and another person has gold to match with you, and if some one has ’cold’ scent, haven’t you any ’warm’ scent as a set-off?”

Pao-y at this stage alone understood the import of her remark.

“A short while back you craved for mercy,” Pao-y observed smilingly, "and here you are now going on talking worse than ever;” and as he spoke he again put out his hands.

“Dear cousin,” Tai-y speedily implored with a smirk, “I won’t venture to do it again.”

“As for letting you off,” Pao-y remarked laughing, “I’ll readily let you off, but do allow me to take your sleeve and smell it!” and while uttering these words, he hastily pulled the sleeve, and pressing it against his face, kept on smelling it incessantly, whereupon Tai-y drew her hand away and urged: “You must be going now!”

“Though you may wish me to go, I can’t,” Pao-y smiled, “so let us now lie down with all propriety and have a chat,” laying himself down again, as he spoke, while Tai-y likewise reclined, and covered her face with her handkerchief. Pao-y in a rambling way gave vent to a lot of nonsense, which Tai-y did not heed, and Pao-y went on to inquire: “How old she was when she came to the capital? what sights and antiquities she saw on the journey? what relics and curiosities there were at Yang Chou? what were the local customs and the habits of the people?”

Tai-y made no reply; and Pao-y fearing lest she should go to sleep, and get ill, readily set to work to beguile her to keep awake. “Ai yah!" he exclaimed, “at Yang Chou, where your official residence is, has occurred a remarkable affair; have you heard about it?”

Tai-y perceiving that he spoke in earnest, that his words were correct and his face serious, imagined that what he referred to was a true story, and she therefore inquired what it was?

Pao-y upon hearing her ask this question, forthwith suppressed a laugh, and, with a glib tongue, he began to spin a yarn. “At Yang Chou,” he said, “there’s a hill called the Tai hill; and on this hill stands a cave called the Lin Tzu.”

“This must all be lies,” Tai-y answered sneeringly, “as I’ve never before heard of such a hill.”

“Under the heavens many are the hills and rivers,” Pao-y rejoined, “and how could you know them all? Wait until I’ve done speaking, when you will be free to express your opinion!”

“Go on then,” Tai-y suggested, whereupon Pao-y prosecuted his raillery. “In this Lin Tzu cave,” he said, “there was once upon a time a whole swarm of rat-elves. In some year or other and on the seventh day of the twelfth moon, an old rat ascended the throne to discuss matters. ’Tomorrow,’ he argued, ’is the eighth of the twelfth moon, and men in the world will all be cooking the congee of the eighth of the twelfth moon. We have now in our cave a short supply of fruits of all kinds, and it would be well that we should seize this opportunity to steal a few and bring them over.’ Drawing a mandatory arrow, he handed it to a small rat, full of aptitude, to go forward on a tour of inspection. The young rat on his return reported that he had already concluded his search and inquiries in every place and corner, and that in the temple at the bottom of the hill alone was the largest stock of fruits and rice. ’How many kinds of rice are there?’ the old rat ascertained, ’and how many species of fruits?’ ’Rice and beans,’ the young rat rejoined, ’how many barns-full there are, I can’t remember; but in the way of fruits there are five kinds: 1st, red dates; 2nd, chestnuts; 3rd, ground nuts; 4th, water caltrops, and 5th, scented taros.’ At this report the old rat was so much elated that he promptly detailed rats to go forth; and as he drew the mandatory arrow, and inquired who would go and steal the rice, a rat readily received the order and went off to rob the rice. Drawing another mandatory arrow, he asked who would go and abstract the beans, when once more a rat took over the arrow and started to steal the beans; and one by one subsequently received each an arrow and started on his errand. There only remained the scented taros, so that picking again a mandatory arrow, he ascertained who would go and carry away the taros: whereupon a very puny and very delicate rat was heard to assent. ’I would like,’ he said, ’to go and steal the scented taros.’ The old rat and all the swarm of rats, upon noticing his state, feared that he would not be sufficiently expert, and apprehending at the same time that he was too weakly and too devoid of energy, they one and all would not allow him to proceed. ’Though I be young in years and though my frame be delicate,’ the wee rat expostulated, ’my devices are unlimited, my talk is glib and my designs deep and farseeing; and I feel convinced that, on this errand, I shall be more ingenious in pilfering than any of them.’ ’How could you be more ingenious than they?’ the whole company of rats asked. ’I won’t,’ explained the young rat, ’follow their example, and go straight to work and steal, but by simply shaking my body, and transforming myself, I shall metamorphose myself into a taro, and roll myself among the heap of taros, so that people will not be able to detect me, and to hear me; whereupon I shall stealthily, by means of the magic art of dividing my body into many, begin the removal, and little by little transfer the whole lot away, and will not this be far more ingenious than any direct pilfering or forcible abstraction?’ After the whole swarm of rats had listened to what he had to say, they, with one voice, exclaimed: ’Excellent it is indeed, but what is this art of metamorphosis we wonder? Go forth you may, but first transform yourself and let us see you.’ At these words the young rat laughed. ’This isn’t a hard task!’ he observed, ’wait till I transform myself.’

“Having done speaking, he shook his body and shouted out ’transform,’ when he was converted into a young girl, most beauteous and with a most lovely face.

“’You’ve transformed yourself into the wrong thing,’ all the rats promptly added deridingly; ’you said that you were to become a fruit, and how is it that you’ve turned into a young lady?’

“The young rat in its original form rejoined with a sneering smile: ’You all lack, I maintain, experience of the world; what you simply are aware of is that this fruit is the scented taro, but have no idea that the young daughter of Mr. Lin, of the salt tax, is, in real truth, a genuine scented taro.’”

Tai-y having listened to this story, turned herself round and raising herself, she observed laughing, while she pushed Pao-y: “I’ll take that mouth of yours and pull it to pieces! Now I see that you’ve been imposing upon me.”

With these words on her lips, she readily gave him a pinch, and Pao-y hastened to plead for mercy. “My dear cousin,” he said, “spare me; I won’t presume to do it again; and it’s when I came to perceive this perfume of yours, that I suddenly bethought myself of this old story.”

“You freely indulge in abusing people,” Tai-y added with a smile, “and then go on to say that it’s an old story.”

But hardly had she concluded this remark before they caught sight of Pao-ch’ai walk in. “Who has been telling old stories?” she asked with a beaming face; “do let me also hear them.”

Tai-y pressed her at once into a seat. “Just see for yourself who else besides is here!” she smiled; “he goes in for profuse abuses and then maintains that it’s an old story!”

“Is it indeed cousin Pao-y?” Pao-ch’ai remarked. “Well, one can’t feel surprised at his doing it; for many have ever been the stories stored up in his brain. The only pity is that when he should make use of old stories, he invariably forgets them! To-day, he can easily enough recall them to mind, but in the stanza of the other night on the banana leaves, when he should have remembered them, he couldn’t after all recollect what really stared him in the face! and while every one else seemed so cool, he was in such a flurry that he actually perspired! And yet, at this moment, he happens once again to have a memory!”

At these words, Tai-y laughed. “O-mi-to-fu!” she exclaimed. “You are indeed my very good cousin! But you’ve also (to Pao-y) come across your match. And this makes it clear that requital and retribution never fail or err.”

She had just reached this part of her sentence, when in Pao-y’s rooms was heard a continuous sound of wrangling; but as what transpired is not yet known, the ensuing chapter will explain.

Chapter XX.

  Wang Hsi-feng with earnest words upbraids Mrs. Chao’s jealous notions.
  Lin Tai-y uses specious language to make sport of Shih Hsiang-yn’s
      querulous tone of voice.

But to continue. Pao-y was in Tai y’s apartments relating about the rat-elves, when Pao-ch’ai entered unannounced, and began to gibe Pao-y, with trenchant irony: how that on the fifteenth of the first moon, he had shown ignorance of the allusion to the green wax; and the three of them then indulged in that room in mutual poignant satire, for the sake of fun. Pao-y had been giving way to solicitude lest Tai-y should, by being bent upon napping soon after her meal, be shortly getting an indigestion, or lest sleep should, at night, be completely dispelled, as neither of these things were conducive to the preservation of good health, when luckily Pao-ch’ai walked in, and they chatted and laughed together; and when Lin Tai-y at length lost all inclination to dose, he himself then felt composed in his mind. But suddenly they heard clamouring begin in his room, and after they had all lent an ear and listened, Lin Tai-y was the first to smile and make a remark. “It’s your nurse having a row with Hsi Jen!” she said. “Hsi Jen treats her well enough, but that nurse of yours would also like to keep her well under her thumb; she’s indeed an old dotard;” and Pao-y was anxious to go over at once, but Pao-ch’ai laid hold of him and kept him back, suggesting: “It’s as well that you shouldn’t wrangle with your nurse, for she’s quite stupid from old age; and it’s but fair, on the contrary, that you should bear with her a little.”

“I know all about that!” Pao-y rejoined. But having concluded this remark, he walked into his room, where he discovered nurse Li, leaning on her staff, standing in the centre of the floor, abusing Hsi Jen, saying: “You young wench! how utterly unmindful you are of your origin! It’s I who’ve raised you up, and yet, when I came just now, you put on high airs and mighty side, and remained reclining on the stove-couch! You saw me well enough, but you paid not the least heed to me! Your whole heart is set upon acting like a wily enchantress to befool Pao-y; and you so impose upon Pao-y that he doesn’t notice me, but merely lends an ear to what you people have to say! You’re no more than a low girl bought for a few taels and brought in here; and will it ever do that you should be up to your mischievous tricks in this room? But whether you like it or not, I’ll drag you out from this, and give you to some mean fellow, and we’ll see whether you will still behave like a very imp, and cajole people or not?”

Hsi Jen was, at first, under the simple impression that the nurse was wrath for no other reason than because she remained lying down, and she felt constrained to explain that “she was unwell, that she had just succeeded in perspiring, and that having had her head covered, she hadn’t really perceived the old lady;” but when she came subsequently to hear her mention that she imposed upon Pao-y, and also go so far as to add that she would be given to some mean fellow, she unavoidably experienced both a sense of shame and injury, and found it impossible to restrain herself from beginning to cry.

Pao-y had, it is true, caught all that had been said, but unable with any propriety to take notice of it, he thought it his duty to explain matters for her. “She’s ill,” he observed, “and is taking medicines; and if you don’t believe it,” he went on, “well then ask the rest of the servant-girls.”

Nurse Li at these words flew into a more violent dudgeon. “Your sole delight is to screen that lot of sly foxes!” she remarked, “and do you pay any notice to me? No, none at all! and whom would you like me to go and ask; who’s it that doesn’t back you? and who hasn’t been dismounted from her horse by Hsi Jen? I know all about it; but I’ll go with you and explain all these matters to our old mistress and my lady; for I’ve nursed you till I’ve brought you to this age, and now that you don’t feed on milk, you thrust me on one side, and avail yourself of the servant-girls, in your wish to browbeat me.”

As she uttered this remark, she too gave way to tears, but by this time, Tai-y and Pao-ch’ai had also come over, and they set to work to reassure her. “You, old lady,” they urged, “should bear with them a little, and everything will be right!” And when nurse Li saw these two arrive, she hastened to lay bare her grievances to them; and taking up the question of the dismissal in days gone by, of Hsi Hseh, for having drunk some tea, of the cream eaten on the previous day, and other similar matters, she spun a long, interminable yarn.

By a strange coincidence lady Feng was at this moment in the upper rooms, where she had been making up the account of losses and winnings, and upon hearing at the back a continuous sound of shouting and bustling, she readily concluded that nurse Li’s old complaint was breaking forth, and that she was finding fault with Pao-y’s servants. But she had, as luck would have it, lost money in gambling on this occasion, so that she was ready to visit her resentment upon others. With hurried step, she forthwith came over, and laying hold of nurse Li, "Nurse,” she said smiling, “don’t lose your temper, on a great festival like this, and after our venerable lady has just gone through a day in excellent spirits! You’re an old dame, and should, when others get up a row, still do what is right and keep them in proper order; and aren’t you, instead of that, aware what good manners imply, that you will start vociferating in this place, and make our dowager lady full of displeasure? Tell me who’s not good, and I’ll beat her for you; but be quick and come along with me over to my quarters, where a pheasant which they have roasted is scalding hot, and let us go and have a glass of wine!” And as she spoke, she dragged her along and went on her way. "Feng Erh,” she also called, “hold the staff for your old lady Li, and the handkerchief to wipe her tears with!” While nurse Li walked along with lady Feng, her feet scarcely touched the ground, as she kept on saying: “I don’t really attach any value to this decrepid existence of mine! and I had rather disregard good manners, have a row and lose face, as it’s better, it seems to me, than to put up with the temper of that wench!”

Behind followed Pao-ch’ai and Tai-y, and at the sight of the way in which lady Feng dealt with her, they both clapped their hands, and exclaimed, laughing, “What piece of luck that this gust of wind has come, and dragged away this old matron!” while Pao-y nodded his head to and fro and soliloquised with a sigh: “One can neither know whence originates this score; for she will choose the weak one to maltreat; nor can one see what girl has given her offence that she has come to be put in her black books!”

Scarcely had he ended this remark, before Ch’ing Wen, who stood by, put in her word. “Who’s gone mad again?” she interposed, “and what good would come by hurting her feelings? But did even any one happen to hurt her, she would have pluck enough to bear the brunt, and wouldn’t act so improperly as to involve others!”

Hsi Jen wept, and as she, did so, she drew Pao-y towards her: “All through my having aggrieved an old nurse,” she urged, “you’ve now again given umbrage, entirely on my account, to this crowd of people; and isn’t this still enough for me to bear but must you also go and drag in third parties?”

When Pao-y realised that to this sickness of hers, had also been superadded all these annoyances, he promptly stifled his resentment, suppressed his voice and consoled her so far as to induce her to lie down again to perspire. And when he further noticed how scalding like soup and burning like fire she was, he himself watched by her, and reclining by her side, he tried to cheer her, saying: “All you must do is to take good care of your ailment; and don’t give your mind to those trifling matters, and get angry.”

“Were I,” Hsi Jen smiled sardonically, “to lose my temper over such concerns, would I be able to stand one moment longer in this room? The only thing is that if she goes on, day after day, doing nothing else than clamour in this manner, how can she let people get along? But you rashly go and hurt people’s feelings for our sakes; but they’ll bear it in mind, and when they find an opportunity, they’ll come out with what’s easy enough to say, but what’s not pleasant to hear, and how will we all feel then?”

While her mouth gave utterance to these words, she could not stop her tears from running; but fearful, on the other hand, lest Pao-y should be annoyed, she felt compelled to again strain every nerve to repress them. But in a short while, the old matrons employed for all sorts of duties, brought in some mixture of two drugs; and, as Pao-y noticed that she was just on the point of perspiring, he did not allow her to get up, but readily taking it up to her, she immediately swallowed it, with her head still on her pillow; whereupon he gave speedy directions to the young servant-maids to lay her stove-couch in order.

“Whether you mean to have anything to eat or not,” Hsi Jen advised, “you should after all sit for a time with our old mistress and our lady, and have a romp with the young ladies; after which you can come back again; while I, by quietly keeping lying down, will also feel the better.”

When Pao-y heard this suggestion, he had no help but to accede, and, after she had divested herself of her hair-pins and earrings, and he saw her lie down, he betook himself into the drawing-rooms, where he had his repast with old lady Chia. But the meal over, her ladyship felt still disposed to play at cards with the nurses, who had looked after the household for many years; and Pao-y, bethinking himself of Hsi Jen, hastened to return to his apartments; where seeing that Hsi Jen was drowsily falling asleep, he himself would have wished to go to bed, but the hour was yet early. And as about this time Ch’ing Wen, I Hsia, Ch’in Wen, Pi Hen had all, in their desire of getting some excitement, started in search of Yan Yang, Hu Po and their companions, to have a romp with them, and he espied She Yeh alone in the outer room, having a game of dominoes by lamp-light, Pao-y inquired full of smiles: “How is it you don’t go with them?”

“I’ve no money,” She Yeh replied.

“Under the bed,” continued Pao-y, “is heaped up all that money, and isn’t it enough yet for you to lose from?”

“Had we all gone to play,” She Yeh added, “to whom would the charge of this apartment have been handed over? That other one is sick again, and the whole room is above, one mass of lamps, and below, full of fire; and all those old matrons, ancient as the heavens, should, after all their exertions in waiting upon you from morning to night, be also allowed some rest; while the young servant girls, on the other hand, have likewise been on duty the whole day long, and shouldn’t they even at this hour be left to go and have some distraction? and that’s why I am in here on watch.”

When Pao-y heard these words, which demonstrated distinctly that she was another Hsi Jen, he consequently put on a smile and remarked: “I’ll sit in here, so you had better set your mind at ease and go!”

“Since you remain in here, there’s less need for me to go,” resumed She Yeh, “for we two can chat and play and laugh; and won’t that be nice?”

“What can we two do? it will be awfully dull! but never mind,” Pao-y rejoined; “this morning you said that your head itched, and now that you have nothing to do, I may as well comb it for you.”

“Yes! do so!” readily assented She Yeh, upon catching what he suggested; and while still speaking, she brought over the dressing-case containing a set of small drawers and looking-glass, and taking off her ornaments, she dishevelled her hair; whereupon Pao-y picked up the fine comb and passed it repeatedly through her hair; but he had only combed it three or five times, when he perceived Ch’ing Wen hurriedly walk in to fetch some money. As soon as she caught sight of them both: “You haven’t as yet drunk from the marriage cup,” she said with a smile full of irony, “and have you already put up your hair?”

“Now that you’ve come, let me also comb yours for you,” Pao-y continued.

“I’m not blessed with such excessive good fortune!” Ch’ing Wen retorted, and as she uttered these words, she took the money, and forthwith dashing the portiere after her, she quitted the room.

Pao-y stood at the back of She Yeh, and She Yeh sat opposite the glass, so that the two of them faced each other in it, and Pao-y readily observed as he gazed in the glass, “In the whole number of rooms she’s the only one who has a glib tongue!”

She Yeh at these words hastily waved her hand towards the inside of the glass, and Pao-y understood the hint; and suddenly a sound of “hu” was heard from the portiere, and Ch’ing Wen ran in once again.

“How have I got a glib tongue?” she inquired; “it would be well for us to explain ourselves.”

“Go after your business, and have done,” She Yeh interposed laughingly; "what’s the use of your coming and asking questions of people?”

“Will you also screen him?” Ch’ing Wen smiled significantly; “I know all about your secret doings, but wait until I’ve got back my capital, and we’ll then talk matters over!”

With this remark still on her lips, she straightway quitted the room, and during this while, Pao-y having finished combing her hair, asked She Yeh to quietly wait upon him, while he went to sleep, as he would not like to disturb Hsi Jen. Of the whole night there is nothing to record. But the next day, when he got up at early dawn, Hsi Jen had already perspired, during the night, so that she felt considerably lighter and better; but limiting her diet to a little rice soup, she remained quiet and nursed herself, and Pao-y was so relieved in mind that he came, after his meal, over on this side to his aunt Hseh’s on a saunter. The season was the course of the first moon, and the school was shut up for the new year holidays; while in the inner chambers the girls had put by their needlework, and were all having a time of leisure, and hence it was that when Chia Huan too came over in search of distraction, he discovered Pao-ch’ai, Hsiang Ling, Ying Erh, the three of them, in the act of recreating themselves by playing at chess. Chia Huan, at the sight of them, also wished to join in their games; and Pao-ch’ai, who had always looked upon him with, in fact, the same eye as she did Pao-y, and with no different sentiment of any kind, pressed him to come up, upon hearing that he was on this occasion desirous to play; and, when he had seated himself together with them, they began to gamble, staking each time a pile of ten cash. The first time, he was the winner, and he felt supremely elated at heart, but as it happened that he subsequently lost in several consecutive games he soon became a prey to considerable distress. But in due course came the game in which it was his turn to cast the dice, and, if in throwing, he got seven spots, he stood to win, but he was likewise bound to be a winner were he to turn up six; and when Ying Erh had turned up three spots and lost, he consequently took up the dice, and dashing them with spite, one of them settled at five; and, as the other reeled wildly about, Ying Erh clapped her hands, and kept on shouting, “one spot;" while Chia Huan at once gazed with fixed eye and cried at random: “It’s six, it’s seven, it’s eight!” But the dice, as it happened, turned up at one spot, and Chia Huan was so exasperated that putting out his hand, he speedily made a snatch at the dice, and eventually was about to lay hold of the money, arguing that it was six spot. But Ying Erh expostulated, "It was distinctly an ace,” she said. And as Pao-ch’ai noticed how distressed Chia Huan was, she forthwith cast a glance at Ying Erh and observed: “The older you get, the less manners you have! Is it likely that gentlemen will cheat you? and don’t you yet put down the money?”

Ying Erh felt her whole heart much aggrieved, but as she heard Pao-ch’ai make these remarks, she did not presume to utter a sound, and as she was under the necessity of laying down the cash, she muttered to herself: "This one calls himself a gentleman, and yet cheats us of these few cash, for which I myself even have no eye! The other day when I played with Mr. Pao-y, he lost ever so many, and yet he did not distress himself! and what remained of the cash were besides snatched away by a few servant-girls, but all he did was to smile, that’s all!”

Pao-ch’ai did not allow her time to complete what she had to say, but there and then called her to account and made her desist; whereupon Chia Huan exclaimed: “How can I compare with Pao-y; you all fear him, and keep on good terms with him, while you all look down upon me for not being the child of my lady.” And as he uttered these words, he at once gave way to tears.

“My dear cousin,” Pao-ch’ai hastened to advise him, “leave off at once language of this kind, for people will laugh at you;” and then went on to scold Ying Erh, when Pao-y just happened to come in. Perceiving him in this plight, “What is the matter?” he asked; but Chia Huan had not the courage to say anything.

Pao-ch’ai was well aware of the custom, which prevailed in their family, that younger brothers lived in respect of the elder brothers, but she was not however cognisant of the fact that Pao-y would not that any one should entertain any fear of him. His idea being that elder as well as younger brothers had, all alike, father and mother to admonish them, and that there was no need for any of that officiousness, which, instead of doing good gave, on the contrary, rise to estrangement. “Besides,” (he reasoned,) “I’m the offspring of the primary wife, while he’s the son of the secondary wife, and, if by treating him as leniently as I have done, there are still those to talk about me, behind my back, how could I exercise any control over him?” But besides these, there were other still more foolish notions, which he fostered in his mind; but what foolish notions they were can you, reader, guess? As a result of his growing up, from his early youth, among a crowd of girls, of whom, in the way of sister, there was Yan Ch’un, of cousins, from his paternal uncle’s side, there were Ying Ch’un, and Hsi Ch’un, and of relatives also there were Shih Hsiang-yn, Lin Tai-y, Hseh Pao-ch’ai and the rest, he, in due course, resolved in his mind that the divine and unsullied virtue of Heaven and earth was only implanted in womankind, and that men were no more than feculent dregs and foul dirt. And for this reason it was that men were without discrimination, considered by him as so many filthy objects, which might or might not exist; while the relationships of father, paternal uncles, and brothers, he did not however presume to disregard, as these were among the injunctions bequeathed by the holy man, and he felt bound to listen to a few of their precepts. But to the above causes must be assigned the fact that, among his brothers, he did no more than accomplish the general purport of the principle of human affections; bearing in mind no thought whatever that he himself was a human being of the male sex, and that it was his duty to be an example to his younger brothers. And this is why Chia Huan and the others entertained no respect for him, though in their veneration for dowager lady Chia, they yielded to him to a certain degree.

Pao-ch’ai harboured fears lest, on this occasion, Pao-y should call him to book, and put him out of face, and she there and then lost no time in taking Chia Huan’s part with a view to screening him.

“In this felicitous first moon what are you blubbering for?” Pao-y inquired, “if this place isn’t nice, why then go somewhere else to play. But from reading books, day after day, you’ve studied so much that you’ve become quite a dunce. If this thing, for instance, isn’t good, that must, of course, be good, so then discard this and take up that, but is it likely that by sticking to this thing and crying for a while that it will become good? You came originally with the idea of reaping some fun, and you’ve instead provoked yourself to displeasure, and isn’t it better then that you should be off at once.”

Chia Huan upon hearing these words could not but come back to his quarters; and Mrs. Chao noticing the frame of mind in which he was felt constrained to inquire: “Where is it that you’ve been looked down upon by being made to fill up a hole, and being trodden under foot?”

“I was playing with cousin Pao-ch’ai,” Chia Huan readily replied, “when Ying Erh insulted me, and deprived me of my money, and brother Pao-y drove me away.”

“Ts’ui!” exclaimed Mrs. Chao, “who bade you (presume so high) as to get up into that lofty tray? You low and barefaced thing! What place is there that you can’t go to and play; and who told you to run over there and bring upon yourself all this shame?”

As she spoke, lady Feng was, by a strange coincidence, passing outside under the window; so that every word reached her ear, and she speedily asked from outside the window: “What are you up to in this happy first moon? These brothers are, really, but mere children, and will you just for a slight mistake, go on preaching to him! what’s the use of coming out with all you’ve said? Let him go wherever he pleases; for there are still our lady and Mr. Chia Cheng to keep him in order. But you go and sputter him with your gigantic mouth; he’s at present a master, and if there be anything wrong about him, there are, after all, those to rate him; and what business is that of yours? Brother Huan, come out with you, and follow me and let us go and enjoy ourselves.”

Chia Huan had ever been in greater fear and trembling of lady Feng, than of madame Wang, so that when her summons reached his ear, he hurriedly went out, while Mrs. Chao, on the other hand, did not venture to breathe a single word.

“You too,” resumed lady Feng, addressing Chia Huan; “are a thing devoid of all natural spirit! I’ve often told you that if you want to eat, drink, play, or laugh, you were quite free to go and play with whatever female cousin, male cousin, or sister-in-law you choose to disport yourself with; but you won’t listen to my words. On the contrary, you let all these persons teach you to be depraved in your heart, perverse in your mind, to be sly, artful, and domineering; and you’ve, besides, no respect for your own self, but will go with that low-bred lot! and your perverse purpose is to begrudge people’s preferences! But what you’ve lost are simply a few cash, and do you behave in this manner? How much did you lose?” she proceeded to ask Chia Huan; and Chia Huan, upon hearing this question, felt constrained to obey, by saying something in the way of a reply. “I’ve lost,” he explained, “some hundred or two hundred cash.”

“You have,” rejoined lady Feng, “the good fortune of being a gentleman, and do you make such a fuss for the loss of a hundred or two hundred cash!” and turning her head round, “Feng Erh,” she added, “go and fetch a thousand cash; and as the girls are all playing at the back, take him along to go and play. And if again by and by, you’re so mean and deceitful, I shall, first of all, beat you, and then tell some one to report it at school, and won’t your skin be flayed for you? All because of this want of respect of yours, your elder cousin is so angry with you that his teeth itch; and were it not that I prevent him, he would hit you with his foot in the stomach and kick all your intestines out! Get away,” she then cried; whereupon Chia Huan obediently followed Feng Erh, and taking the money he went all by himself to play with Ying Ch’un and the rest; where we shall leave him without another word.

But to return to Pao-y. He was just amusing himself and laughing with Pao-ch’ai, when at an unexpected moment, he heard some one announce that Miss Shih had come. At these words, Pao-y rose, and was at once going off when “Wait,” shouted Pao-ch’ai with a smile, “and we’ll go over together and see her.”

Saying this, she descended from the stove-couch, and came, in company with Pao-y, to dowager lady Chia’s on this side, where they saw Shih Hsiang-yn laughing aloud, and talking immoderately; and upon catching sight of them both, she promptly inquired after their healths, and exchanged salutations.

Lin Tai-y just happened to be standing by, and having set the question to Pao-y “Where do you come from?” “I come from cousin Pao-ch’ai’s rooms,” Pao-y readily replied.

Tai-y gave a sardonic smile. “What I maintain is this,” she rejoined, "that lucky enough for you, you were detained over there; otherwise, you would long ago have, at once, come flying in here!”

“Am I only free to play with you?” Pao-y inquired, “and to dispel your ennui! I simply went over to her place for a run, and that quite casually, and will you insinuate all these things?”

“Your words are quite devoid of sense,” Tai-y added; “whether you go or not what’s that to me? neither did I tell you to give me any distraction; you’re quite at liberty from this time forth not to pay any notice to me!”

Saying this, she flew into a high dudgeon and rushed back into her room; but Pao-y promptly followed in her footsteps: “Here you are again in a huff,” he urged, “and all for no reason! Had I even passed any remark that I shouldn’t, you should anyhow have still sat in there, and chatted and laughed with the others for a while; instead of that, you come again to sit and mope all alone!”

“Are you my keeper?” Tai-y expostulated.

“I couldn’t, of course,” Pao-y smiled, “presume to exercise any influence over you; but the only thing is that you are doing your own health harm!”

“If I do ruin my health,” Tai-y rejoined, “and I die, it’s my own lookout! what’s that to do with you?”

“What’s the good,” protested Pao-y, “of talking in this happy first moon of dying and of living?”

“I will say die,” insisted Tai-y, “die now, at this very moment! but you’re afraid of death; and you may live a long life of a hundred years, but what good will that be!”

“If all we do is to go on nagging in this way,” Pao-y remarked smiling, "will I any more be afraid to die? on the contrary, it would be better to die, and be free!”

“Quite so!” continued Tai-y with alacrity, “if we go on nagging in this way, it would be better for me to die, and that you should be free of me!”

“I speak of my own self dying,” Pao-y added, “so don’t misunderstand my words and accuse people wrongly.”

While he was as yet speaking, Pao-ch’ai entered the room: “Cousin Shih is waiting for you;” she said; and with these words, she hastily pushed Pao-y on, and they walked away.

Tai-y, meanwhile, became more and more a prey to resentment; and disconsolate as she felt, she shed tears in front of the window. But not time enough had transpired to allow two cups of tea to be drunk, before Pao-y came back again. At the sight of him, Tai-y sobbed still more fervently and incessantly, and Pao-y realising the state she was in, and knowing well enough how arduous a task it would be to bring her round, began to join together a hundred, yea a thousand kinds of soft phrases and tender words to console her. But at an unforeseen moment, and before he could himself open his mouth, he heard Tai-y anticipate him.

“What have you come back again for?” she asked. “Let me die or live, as I please, and have done! You’ve really got at present some one to play with you, one who, compared with me, is able to read and able to compose, able to write, to speak, as well as to joke, one too who for fear lest you should have ruffled your temper dragged you away: and what do you return here for now?”

Pao-y, after listening to all she had to say, hastened to come up to her. “Is it likely,” he observed in a low tone of voice, “that an intelligent person like you isn’t so much as aware that near relatives can’t be separated by a distant relative, and a remote friend set aside an old friend! I’m stupid, there’s no gainsaying, but I do anyhow understand what these two sentiments imply. You and I are, in the first place, cousins on my father’s sister’s side; while sister Pao-ch’ai and I are two cousins on mother’s sides, so that, according to the degrees of relationship, she’s more distant than yourself. In the second place, you came here first, and we two have our meals at one table and sleep in one bed, having ever since our youth grown up together; while she has only recently come, and how could I ever distance you on her account?”

“Ts’ui!” Tai-y exclaimed. “Will I forsooth ever make you distance her! who and what kind of person have I become to do such a thing? What (I said) was prompted by my own motives.”

“I too,” Pao-y urged, “made those remarks prompted by my own heart’s motives, and do you mean to say that your heart can only read the feelings of your own heart, and has no idea whatsoever of my own?”

Tai-y at these words, lowered her head and said not a word. But after a long interval, “You only know,” she continued, “how to feel bitter against people for their action in censuring you: but you don’t, after all, know that you yourself provoke people to such a degree, that it’s hard for them to put up with it! Take for instance the weather of to-day as an example. It’s distinctly very cold, to-day, and yet, how is it that you are so contrary as to go and divest yourself of the pelisse with the bluish breast-fur overlapping the cloth?”

“Why say I didn’t wear it?” Pao-y smilingly observed. “I did, but seeing you get angry I felt suddenly in such a terrible blaze, that I at once took it off!”

Tai-y heaved a sigh. “You’ll by and by catch a cold,” she remarked, "and then you’ll again have to starve, and vociferate for something to eat!”

While these two were having this colloquy, Hsiang-yn was seen to walk in! “You two, Ai cousin and cousin Lin,” she ventured jokingly, “are together playing every day, and though I’ve managed to come after ever so much trouble, you pay no heed to me at all!”

“It’s invariably the rule,” Tai-y retorted smilingly, “that those who have a defect in their speech will insist upon talking; she can’t even come out correctly with ’Erh’ (secundus) cousin, and keeps on calling him ’Ai’ cousin, ’Ai’ cousin! And by and by when you play ’Wei Ch’i’ you’re sure also to shout out yao, ai, (instead of erh), san; (one, two, three).”

Pao-y laughed. “If you imitate her,” he interposed, “and get into that habit, you’ll also begin to bite your tongue when you talk.”

“She won’t make even the slightest allowance for any one,” Hsiang-yn rejoined; “her sole idea being to pick out others’ faults. You may readily be superior to any mortal being, but you shouldn’t, after all, offend against what’s right and make fun of every person you come across! But I’ll point out some one, and if you venture to jeer her, I’ll at once submit to you.”

“Who is it?” Tai-y vehemently inquired.

“If you do have the courage,” Hsiang-yn answered, “to pick out cousin Pao-ch’ai’s faults, you then may well be held to be first-rate!”

Tai-y after hearing these words, gave a sarcastic smile. “I was wondering,” she observed, “who it was. Is it indeed she? How could I ever presume to pick out hers?”

Pao-y allowed her no time to finish, but hastened to say something to interrupt the conversation.

“I couldn’t, of course, during the whole of this my lifetime," Hsiang-yn laughed, “attain your standard! but my earnest wish is that by and by should be found for you, cousin Lin, a husband, who bites his tongue when he speaks, so that you should every minute and second listen to ’ai-ya-os!’ O-mi-to-fu, won’t then your reward be manifest to my eyes!”

As she made this remark, they all burst out laughing heartily, and Hsiang-yn speedily turned herself round and ran away.

But reader, do you want to know the sequel? Well, then listen to the explanation given in the next chapter.

Chapter XXI.

  The eminent Hsi Jen, with winsome ways, rails at Pao-y, with a view
      to exhortation.
  The beauteous P’ing Erh, with soft words, screens Chia Lien.

But to resume our story. When Shih Hsiang-yn ran out of the room, she was all in a flutter lest Lin Tai-y should catch her up; but Pao-y, who came after her, readily shouted out, “You’ll trip and fall. How ever could she come up to you?”

Lin Tai-y went in pursuit of her as far as the entrance, when she was impeded from making further progress by Pao-y, who stretched his arms out against the posts of the door.

“Were I to spare Yn Erh, I couldn’t live!” Lin Tai-y exclaimed, as she tugged at his arms. But Hsiang-yn, perceiving that Pao-y obstructed the door, and surmising that Tai-y could not come out, speedily stood still. “My dear cousin,” she smilingly pleaded, “do let me off this time!”

But it just happened that Pao-ch’ai, who was coming along, was at the back of Hsiang-yn, and with a face also beaming with smiles: “I advise you both,” she said, “to leave off out of respect for cousin Pao-y, and have done.”

“I don’t agree to that,” Tai-y rejoined; “are you people, pray, all of one mind to do nothing but make fun of me?”

“Who ventures to make fun of you?” Pao-y observed advisingly; “and hadn’t you made sport of her, would she have presumed to have said anything about you?”

While this quartet were finding it an arduous task to understand one another, a servant came to invite them to have their repast, and they eventually crossed over to the front side, and as it was already time for the lamps to be lit, madame Wang, widow Li Wan, lady Feng, Ying Ch’un, T’an Ch’un, Hsi Ch’un and the other cousins, adjourned in a body to dowager lady Chia’s apartments on this side, where the whole company spent a while in a chat on irrelevant topics, after which they each returned to their rooms and retired to bed. Hsiang-yn, as of old, betook herself to Tai-y’s quarters to rest, and Pao-y escorted them both into their apartment, and it was after the hour had already past the second watch, and Hsi Jen had come and pressed him several times, that he at length returned to his own bedroom and went to sleep. The next morning, as soon as it was daylight, he threw his clothes over him, put on his low shoes and came over into Tai-y’s room, where he however saw nothing of the two girls Tzu Chan and Ts’ui Lu, as there was no one else here in there besides his two cousins, still reclining under the coverlets. Tai-y was closely wrapped in a quilt of almond-red silk, and lying quietly, with closed eyes fast asleep; while Shih Hsiang-yn, with her handful of shiny hair draggling along the edge of the pillow, was covered only up to the chest, and outside the coverlet rested her curved snow-white arm, with the gold bracelets, which she had on.

At the sight of her, Pao-y heaved a sigh. “Even when asleep,” he soliloquised, “she can’t be quiet! but by and by, when the wind will have blown on her, she’ll again shout that her shoulder is sore!” With these words, he gently covered her, but Lin Tai-y had already awoke out of her sleep, and becoming aware that there was some one about, she promptly concluded that it must, for a certainty, be Pao-y, and turning herself accordingly round, and discovering at a glance that the truth was not beyond her conjectures, she observed: “What have you run over to do at this early hour?” to which question Pao-y replied: “Do you call this early? but get up and see for yourself!”

“First quit the room,” Tai-y suggested, “and let us get up!”

Pao-y thereupon made his exit into the ante-chamber, and Tai-y jumped out of bed, and awoke Hsiang-yn. When both of them had put on their clothes, Pao-y re-entered and took a seat by the side of the toilet table; whence he beheld Tzu-chan and Hseh Yen walk in and wait upon them, as they dressed their hair and performed their ablutions. Hsiang-yn had done washing her face, and Ts’i L at once took the remaining water and was about to throw it away, when Pao-y interposed, saying: “Wait, I’ll avail myself of this opportunity to wash too and finish with it, and thus save myself the trouble of having again to go over!” Speaking the while, he hastily came forward, and bending his waist, he washed his face twice with two handfuls of water, and when Tzu Chan went over to give him the scented soap, Pao-y added: “In this basin, there’s a good deal of it, and there’s no need of rubbing any more!” He then washed his face with two more handfuls, and forthwith asked for a towel, and Ts’i L exclaimed: “What! have you still got this failing? when will you turn a new leaf?” But Pao-y paid not so much as any heed to her, and there and then called for some salt, with which he rubbed his teeth, and rinsed his mouth. When he had done, he perceived that Hsiang-yn had already finished combing her hair, and speedily coming up to her, he put on a smile, and said: “My dear cousin, comb my hair for me!”

“This can’t be done!” Hsiang-yn objected.

“My dear cousin,” Pao-y continued smirkingly, “how is it that you combed it for me in former times?”

“I’ve forgotten now how to comb it!” Hsiang-yn replied.

“I’m not, after all, going out of doors,” Pao-y observed, “nor will I wear a hat or frontlet, so that all that need be done is to plait a few queues, that’s all!” Saying this, he went on to appeal to her in a thousand and one endearing terms, so that Hsiang-yn had no alternative, but to draw his head nearer to her and to comb one queue after another, and as when he stayed at home he wore no hat, nor had, in fact, any tufted horns, she merely took the short surrounding hair from all four sides, and twisting it into small tufts, she collected it together over the hair on the crown of the head, and plaited a large queue, binding it fast with red ribbon; while from the root of the hair to the end of the queue, were four pearls in a row, below which, in the way of a tip, was suspended a golden pendant.

“Of these pearls there are only three,” Hsiang-yn remarked as she went on plaiting; “this isn’t one like them; I remember these were all of one kind, and how is it that there’s one short?”

“I’ve lost one,” Pao-y rejoined.

“It must have dropped,” Hsiang-yn added, “when you went out of doors, and been picked up by some one when you were off your guard; and he’s now, instead of you, the richer for it.”

“One can neither tell whether it has been really lost,” Tai-y, who stood by, interposed, smiling the while sarcastically; “nor could one say whether it hasn’t been given away to some one to be mounted in some trinket or other and worn!”

Pao-y made no reply; but set to work, seeing that the two sides of the dressing table were all full of toilet boxes and other such articles, taking up those that came under his hand and examining them. Grasping unawares a box of cosmetic, which was within his reach, he would have liked to have brought it to his lips, but he feared again lest Hsiang-yn should chide him. While he was hesitating whether to do so or not, Hsiang-yn, from behind, stretched forth her arm and gave him a smack, which sent the cosmetic flying from his hand, as she cried out: "You good-for-nothing! when will you mend those weaknesses of yours!" But hardly had she had time to complete this remark, when she caught sight of Hsi Jen walk in, who upon perceiving this state of things, became aware that he was already combed and washed, and she felt constrained to go back and attend to her own coiffure and ablutions. But suddenly, she saw Pao-ch’ai come in and inquire: “Where’s cousin Pao-y gone?”

“Do you mean to say,” Hsi Jen insinuated with a sardonic smile, “that your cousin Pao-y has leisure to stay at home?”

When Pao-ch’ai heard these words, she inwardly comprehended her meaning, and when she further heard Hsi Jen remark with a sigh: “Cousins may well be on intimate terms, but they should also observe some sort of propriety; and they shouldn’t night and day romp together; and no matter how people may tender advice it’s all like so much wind blowing past the ears.” Pao-ch’ai began, at these remarks, to cogitate within her mind: "May I not, possibly, have been mistaken in my estimation of this girl; for to listen to her words, she would really seem to have a certain amount of savoir faire!”

Pao-ch’ai thereupon took a seat on the stove-couch, and quietly, in the course of their conversation on one thing and another, she managed to ascertain her age, her native village and other such particulars, and then setting her mind diligently to put, on the sly, her conversation and mental capacity to the test, she discovered how deeply worthy she was to be respected and loved. But in a while Pao-y arrived, and Pao-ch’ai at once quitted the apartment.

“How is it,” Pao-y at once inquired, “that cousin Pao-ch’ai was chatting along with you so lustily, and that as soon as she saw me enter, she promptly ran away?”

Hsi Jen did not make any reply to his first question, and it was only when he had repeated it that Hsi Jen remarked: “Do you ask me? How can I know what goes on between you two?”

When Pao-y heard these words, and he noticed that the look on her face was so unlike that of former days, he lost no time in putting on a smile and asking: “Why is it that you too are angry in real earnest?”

“How could I presume to get angry!” Hsi Jen rejoined smiling indifferently; “but you mustn’t, from this day forth, put your foot into this room! and as you have anyhow people to wait on you, you shouldn’t come again to make use of my services, for I mean to go and attend to our old mistress, as in days of old.”

With this remark still on her lips, she lay herself down on the stove-couch and closed her eyes. When Pao-y perceived the state of mind she was in, he felt deeply surprised and could not refrain from coming forward and trying to cheer her up. But Hsi Jen kept her eyes closed and paid no heed to him, so that Pao-y was quite at a loss how to act. But espying She Yeh enter the room, he said with alacrity: “What’s up with your sister?”

“Do I know?” answered She Yeh, “examine your own self and you’ll readily know!”

After these words had been heard by Pao-y, he gazed vacantly for some time, feeling the while very unhappy; but raising himself impetuously: "Well!” he exclaimed, “if you don’t notice me, all right, I too will go to sleep,” and as he spoke he got up, and, descending from the couch, he betook himself to his own bed and went to sleep. Hsi Jen noticing that he had not budged for ever so long, and that he faintly snored, presumed that he must have fallen fast asleep, so she speedily rose to her feet, and, taking a wrapper, came over and covered him. But a sound of “hu" reached her ear, as Pao-y promptly threw it off and once again closed his eyes and feigned sleep. Hsi Jen distinctly grasped his idea and, forthwith nodding her head, she smiled coldly. “You really needn’t lose your temper! but from this time forth, I’ll become mute, and not say one word to you; and what if I do?”

Pao-y could not restrain himself from rising. “What have I been up to again,” he asked, “that you’re once more at me with your advice? As far as your advice goes, it’s all well and good; but just now without one word of counsel, you paid no heed to me when I came in, but, flying into a huff, you went to sleep. Nor could I make out what it was all about, and now here you are again maintaining that I’m angry. But when did I hear you, pray, give me a word of advice of any kind?”

“Doesn’t your mind yet see for itself?” Hsi Jen replied; “and do you still expect me to tell you?”

While they were disputing, dowager lady Chia sent a servant to call him to his repast, and he thereupon crossed over to the front; but after he had hurriedly swallowed a few bowls of rice, he returned to his own apartment, where he discovered Hsi Jen reclining on the outer stove-couch, while She Yeh was playing with the dominoes by her side. Pao-y had been ever aware of the intimacy which existed between She Yeh and Hsi Jen, so that paying not the slightest notice to even She Yeh, he raised the soft portiere and straightway walked all alone into the inner apartment. She Yeh felt constrained to follow him in, but Pao-y at once pushed her out, saying: “I don’t venture to disturb you two;” so that She Yeh had no alternative but to leave the room with a smiling countenance, and to bid two young waiting-maids go in. Pao-y took hold of a book and read for a considerable time in a reclining position; but upon raising his head to ask for some tea, he caught sight of a couple of waiting-maids, standing below; the one of whom, slightly older than the other, was exceedingly winsome.

“What’s your name?” Pao-y eagerly inquired.

“I’m called Hui Hsiang, (orchid fragrance),” that waiting-maid rejoined simperingly.

“Who gave you this name?” Pao-y went on to ask.

“I went originally under the name of Yn Hsiang (Gum Sandarac),” added Hui Hsiang, “but Miss Hua it was who changed it.”

“You should really be called Hui Ch’i, (latent fragrance), that would be proper; and why such stuff as Hui Hsiang, (orchid fragrance)?”

“How many sisters have you got?” he further went on to ask of her.

“Four,” replied Hui Hsiang.

“Which of them are you?” Pao-y asked.

“The fourth,” answered Hui Hsiang.

“By and by you must be called Ssu Erh, (fourth child),” Pao-y suggested, “for there’s no need for any such nonsense as Hui Hsiang (orchid fragrance) or Lan Ch’i (epidendrum perfume.) Which single girl deserves to be compared to all these flowers, without profaning pretty names and fine surnames!”

As he uttered these words, he bade her give him some tea, which he drank; while Hsi Jen and She Yeh, who were in the outer apartment, had been listening for a long time and laughing with compressed lips.

Pao-y did not, on this day, so much as put his foot outside the door of his room, but sat all alone sad and dejected, simply taking up his books, in order to dispel his melancholy fit, or diverting himself with his writing materials; while he did not even avail himself of the services of any of the family servants, but simply bade Ssu Erh answer his calls.

This Ssu Erh was, who would have thought it, a girl gifted with matchless artfulness, and perceiving that Pao-y had requisitioned her services, she speedily began to devise extreme ways and means to inveigle him. When evening came, and dinner was over, Pao-y’s eyes were scorching hot and his ears burning from the effects of two cups of wine that he had taken. Had it been in past days, he would have now had Hsi Jen and her companions with him, and with all their good cheer and laughter, he would have been enjoying himself. But here was he, on this occasion, dull and forlorn, a solitary being, gazing at the lamp with an absolute lack of pleasure. By and by he felt a certain wish to go after them, but dreading that if they carried their point, they would, in the future, come and tender advice still more immoderate, and that, were he to put on the airs of a superior to intimidate them, he would appear to be too deeply devoid of all feeling, he therefore, needless to say, thwarted the wish of his heart, and treated them just as if they were dead. And as anyway he was constrained also to live, alone though he was, he readily looked upon them, for the time being as departed, and did not worry his mind in the least on their account. On the contrary, he was able to feel happy and contented with his own society. Hence it was that bidding Ssu Erh trim the candles and brew the tea, he himself perused for a time the “Nan Hua Ching,” and upon reaching the precept: "On thieves,” given on some additional pages, the burden of which was: "Therefore by exterminating intuitive wisdom, and by discarding knowledge, highway robbers will cease to exist, and by taking off the jade and by putting away the pearls, pilferers will not spring to existence; by burning the slips and by breaking up the seals, by smashing the measures, and snapping the scales, the result will be that the people will not wrangle; by abrogating, to the utmost degree, wise rules under the heavens, the people will, at length, be able to take part in deliberation. By putting to confusion the musical scale, and destroying fifes and lutes, by deafening the ears of the blind Kuang, then, at last, will the human race in the world constrain his sense of hearing. By extinguishing literary compositions, by dispersing the five colours and by sticking the eyes of Li Chu, then, at length, mankind under the whole sky, will restrain the perception of his eyes. By destroying and eliminating the hooks and lines, by discarding the compasses and squares, and by amputating Kung Chui’s fingers, the human race will ultimately succeed in constraining his ingenuity,"–his high spirits, on perusal of this passage, were so exultant that taking advantage of the exuberance caused by the wine, he picked up his pen, for he could not repress himself, and continued the text in this wise: "By burning the flower, (Hua-Hsi Jen) and dispersing the musk, (She Yeh), the consequence will be that the inmates of the inner chambers will, eventually, keep advice to themselves. By obliterating Pao-ch’ai’s supernatural beauty, by reducing to ashes Tai-y’s spiritual perception, and by destroying and extinguishing my affectionate preferences, the beautiful in the inner chambers as well as the plain will then, at length, be put on the same footing. And as they will keep advice to themselves, there will be no fear of any disagreement. By obliterating her supernatural beauty, I shall then have no incentive for any violent affection; by dissolving her spiritual perception, I will have no feelings with which to foster the memory of her talents. The hair-pin, jade, flower and musk (Pao-ch’ai, Tai-y, Hsi Jen and She Yeh) do each and all spread out their snares and dig mines, and thus succeed in inveigling and entrapping every one in the world.”

At the conclusion of this annex, he flung the pen away, and lay himself down to sleep. His head had barely reached the pillow before he at once fell fast asleep, remaining the whole night long perfectly unconscious of everything straight up to the break of day, when upon waking and turning himself round, he, at a glance, caught sight of no one else than Hsi Jen, sleeping in her clothes over the coverlet.

Pao-y had already banished from his mind every thought of what had transpired the previous day, so that forthwith giving Hsi Jen a push: "Get up!” he said, “and be careful where you sleep, as you may catch cold.”

The fact is that Hsi Jen was aware that he was, without regard to day or night, ever up to mischief with his female cousins; but presuming that if she earnestly called him to account, he would not mend his ways, she had, for this reason, had recourse to tender language to exhort him, in the hope that, in a short while, he would come round again to his better self. But against all her expectations Pao-y had, after the lapse of a whole day and night, not changed the least in his manner, and as she really was in her heart quite at a loss what to do, she failed to find throughout the whole night any proper sleep. But when on this day, she unexpectedly perceived Pao-y in this mood, she flattered herself that he had made up his mind to effect a change, and readily thought it best not to notice him. Pao-y, seeing that she made no reply, forthwith stretched out his hand and undid her jacket; but he had just unclasped the button, when his arm was pushed away by Hsi Jen, who again made it fast herself.

Pao-y was so much at his wit’s ends that he had no alternative but to take her hand and smilingly ask: “What’s the matter with you, after all, that I’ve had to ask you something time after time?”

Hsi Jen opened her eyes wide. “There’s nothing really the matter with me!” she observed; “but as you’re awake, you surely had better be going over into the opposite room to comb your hair and wash; for if you dilly-dally any longer, you won’t be in time.”

“Where shall I go over to?” Pao-y inquired.

Hsi Jen gave a sarcastic grin. “Do you ask me?” she rejoined; “do I know? you’re at perfect liberty to go over wherever you like; from this day forth you and I must part company so as to avoid fighting like cocks or brawling like geese, to the amusement of third parties. Indeed, when you get surfeited on that side, you come over to this, where there are, after all, such girls as Fours and Fives (Ssu Erh and Wu Erh) to dance attendance upon you. But such kind of things as ourselves uselessly defile fine names and fine surnames.”

“Do you still remember this to-day!” Pao-y asked with a smirk.

“Hundred years hence I shall still bear it in mind,” Hsi Jen protested; "I’m not like you, who treat my words as so much wind blowing by the side of your ears, that what I’ve said at night, you’ve forgotten early in the morning.”

Pao-y perceiving what a seductive though angry air pervaded her face found it difficult to repress his feelings, and speedily taking up, from the side of the pillow, a hair-pin made of jade, he dashed it down breaking it into two exclaiming: “If I again don’t listen to your words, may I fare like this hair-pin.”

Hsi Jen immediately picked up the hair-pin, as she remarked: “What’s up with you at this early hour of the morning? Whether you listen or not is of no consequence; and is it worth while that you should behave as you do?”

“How can you know,” Pao-y answered, “the anguish in my heart!”

“Do you also know what anguish means?” Hsi Jen observed laughing; “if you do, then you can judge what the state of my heart is! But be quick and get up, and wash your face and be off!”

As she spoke, they both got out of bed and performed their toilette; but after Pao-y had gone to the drawing rooms, and at a moment least expected by any one, Tai-y walked into his apartment. Noticing that Pao-y was not in, she was fumbling with the books on the table and examining them, when, as luck would have it, she turned up the Chuang Tzu of the previous day. Upon perusing the passage tagged on by Pao-y, she could not help feeling both incensed and amused. Nor could she restrain herself from taking up the pen and appending a stanza to this effect:

  Who is that man, who of his pen, without good rhyme, made use,
  A toilsome task to do into the Chuang-tzu text to steal,
  Who for the knowledge he doth lack no sense of shame doth feel,
  But language vile and foul employs third parties to abuse?

At the conclusion of what she had to write, she too came into the drawing room; but after paying her respects to dowager lady Chia, she walked over to madame Wang’s quarters.

Contrary to everybody’s expectations, lady Feng’s daughter, Ta Chieh Erh, had fallen ill, and a great fuss was just going on as the doctor had been sent for to diagnose her ailment.

“My congratulations to you, ladies,” the doctor explained; “this young lady has fever, as she has small-pox; indeed it’s no other complaint!”

As soon as madame Wang and lady Feng heard the tidings, they lost no time in sending round to ascertain whether she was getting on all right or not, and the doctor replied: “The symptoms are, it is true, serious, but favourable; but though after all importing no danger, it’s necessary to get ready the silkworms and pigs’ tails.”

When lady Feng received this report, she, there and then, hastened to make the necessary preparations, and while she had the rooms swept and oblations offered to the goddess of small-pox, she, at the same time, transmitted orders to her household to avoid viands fried or roasted in fat, or other such heating things; and also bade P’ing Erh get ready the bedding and clothes for Chia Lien in a separate room, and taking pieces of deep red cotton material, she distributed them to the nurses, waiting-maids and all the servants, who were in close attendance, to cut out clothes for themselves. And having had likewise some apartments outside swept clean, she detained two doctors to alternately deliberate on the treatment, feel the pulse and administer the medicines; and for twelve days, they were not at liberty to return to their homes; while Chia Lien had no help but to move his quarters temporarily into the outer library, and lady Feng and P’ing Erh remained both in daily attendance upon madame Wang in her devotions to the goddess.

Chia Lien, now that he was separated from lady Feng, soon felt disposed to look round for a flame. He had only slept alone for a couple of nights, but these nights had been so intensely intolerable that he had no option than to choose, for the time being, from among the young pages, those who were of handsome appearance, and bring them over to relieve his monotony. In the Jung Kuo mansion, there was, it happened, a cook, a most useless, good-for-nothing drunkard, whose name was To Kuan, in whom people recognised an infirm and a useless husband so that they all dubbed him with the name of To Hun Ch’ung, the stupid worm To. As the wife given to him in marriage by his father and mother was this year just twenty, and possessed further several traits of beauty, and was also naturally of a flighty and frivolous disposition, she had an extreme penchant for violent flirtations. But To Hun-ch’ung, on the other hand, did not concern himself (with her deportment), and as long as he had wine, meat and money he paid no heed whatever to anything. And for this reason it was that all the men in the two mansions of Ning and Jung had been successful in their attentions; and as this woman was exceptionally fascinating and incomparably giddy, she was generally known by all by the name To Ku Ning (Miss To).

Chia Lien, now that he had his quarters outside, chafed under the pangs of irksome ennui, yet he too, in days gone by, had set his eyes upon this woman, and had for long, watered in the mouth with admiration; but as, inside, he feared his winsome wife, and outside, he dreaded his beloved lads, he had not made any advances. But this To Ku Niang had likewise a liking for Chia Lien, and was full of resentment at the absence of a favourable opportunity; but she had recently come to hear that Chia Lien had shifted his quarters into the outer library, and her wont was, even in the absence of any legitimate purpose, to go over three and four times to entice him on; but though Chia Lien was, in every respect, like a rat smitten with hunger, he could not dispense with holding consultation with the young friends who enjoyed his confidence; and as he struck a bargain with them for a large amount of money and silks, how could they ever not have come to terms (with him to speak on his behalf)? Besides, they were all old friends of this woman, so that, as soon as they conveyed the proposal, she willingly accepted it. When night came To Hun Ch’ung was lying on the couch in a state of drunkenness, and at the second watch, when every one was quiet, Chia Lien at once slipped in, and they had their assignation. As soon as he gazed upon her face, he lost control over his senses, and without even one word of ordinary greeting or commonplace remark, they forthwith, fervently indulged in a most endearing tte--tte.

This woman possessed, who could have thought it, a strange natural charm; for, as soon as any one of her lovers came within any close distance of her, he speedily could not but notice that her very tendons and bones mollified, paralysed-like from feeling, so that his was the sensation of basking in a soft bower of love. What is more, her demonstrative ways and free-and-easy talk put even those of a born coquette to shame, with the result that while Chia Lien, at this time, longed to become heart and soul one with her, the woman designedly indulged in immodest innuendoes.

“Your daughter is at home,” she insinuated in her recumbent position, "ill with the small-pox, and prayers are being offered to the goddess; and your duty too should be to abstain from love affairs for a couple of days, but on the contrary, by flirting with me, you’ve contaminated yourself! but, you’d better be off at once from me here!”

“You’re my goddess!” gaspingly protested Chia Lien, as he gave way to demonstrativeness; “what do I care about any other goddess!”

The woman began to be still more indelicate in her manner, so that Chia Lien could not refrain himself from making a full exhibition of his warm sentiments. When their tte--tte had come to a close, they both went on again to vow by the mountains and swear by the seas, and though they found it difficult to part company and hard to tear themselves away, they, in due course, became, after this occasion, mutual sworn friends. But by a certain day the virus in Ta Chieh’s system had become exhausted, and the spots subsided, and at the expiry of twelve days the goddess was removed, and the whole household offered sacrifices to heaven, worshipped the ancestors, paid their vows, burnt incense, exchanged congratulations, and distributed presents. And these formalities observed, Chia Lien once more moved back into his own bedroom and was reunited with lady Feng. The proverb is indeed true which says: “That a new marriage is not equal to a long separation,” for there ensued between them demonstrations of loving affection still more numerous than heretofore, to which we need not, of course, refer with any minuteness.

The next day, at an early hour, after lady Feng had gone into the upper rooms, P’ing Erh set to work to put in order the clothes and bedding, which had been brought from outside, when, contrary to her expectation, a tress of hair fell out from inside the pillow-case, as she was intent upon shaking it. P’ing Erh understood its import, and taking at once the hair, she concealed it in her sleeve, and there and then came over into the room on this side, where she produced the hair, and smirkingly asked Chia Lien, “What’s this?”

Chia Lien, at the sight of it, lost no time in making a snatch with the idea of depriving her of it; and when P’ing Erh speedily endeavoured to run away, she was clutched by Chia Lien, who put her down on the stove-couch, and came up to take it from her hand.

“You heartless fellow!” P’ing Erh laughingly exclaimed, “I conceal this, with every good purpose, from her knowledge, and come to ask you about it, and you, on the contrary, fly into a rage! But wait till she comes back, and I’ll tell her, and we’ll see what will happen.”

At these words, Chia Lien hastily forced a smile. “Dear girl!” he entreated, “give it to me, and I won’t venture again to fly into a passion.”

But hardly was this remark finished, when they heard the voice of lady Feng penetrate into the room. As soon as it reached the ear of Chia Lien, he was at a loss whether it was better to let her go or to snatch it away, and kept on shouting, “My dear girl! don’t let her know.”

P’ing Erh at once rose to her feet; but lady Feng had already entered the room; and she went on to bid P’ing Erh be quick and open a box and find a pattern for madame Wang. P’ing Erh expressed her obedience with alacrity; but while in search of it, lady Feng caught sight of Chia Lien; and suddenly remembering something, she hastened to ask P’ing Erh about it.

“The other day,” she observed, “some things were taken out, and have you brought them all in or not?”

“I have!” P’ing Erh assented.

“Is there anything short or not?” lady Feng inquired.

“I’ve carefully looked at them,” P’ing Erh added, “and haven’t found even one single thing short.”

“Is there anything in excess?” lady Feng went on to ascertain.

P’ing Erh laughed. “It’s enough,” she rejoined, “that there’s nothing short; and how could there really turn out to be anything over and above?”

“That this half month,” lady Feng continued still smiling, “things have gone on immaculately it would be hard to vouch; for some intimate friend there may have been, who possibly has left something behind, in the shape of a ring, handkerchief or other such object, there’s no saying for certain!”

While these words were being spoken, Chia Lien’s face turned perfectly sallow, and, as he stood behind lady Feng, he was intent upon gazing at P’ing Erh, making signs to her (that he was going) to cut her throat as a chicken is killed, (threatening her not to utter a sound) and entreating her to screen him; but P’ing Erh pretended not to notice him, and consequently observed smiling: “How is it that my ideas should coincide with those of yours, my lady; and as I suspected that there may have been something of the kind, I carefully searched all over, but I didn’t find even so much as the slightest thing wrong; and if you don’t believe me, my lady, you can search for your own self.”

“You fool!” lady Feng laughed, “had he any things of the sort, would he be likely to let you and I discover them!”

With these words still on her lips, she took the patterns and went her way; whereupon P’ing Erh pointed at her nose, and shook her head to and fro. “In this matter,” she smiled, “how much you should be grateful to me!” A remark which so delighted Chia Lien that his eyebrows distended, and his eyes smiled, and running over, he clasped her in his embrace, and called her promiscuously: “My darling, my pet, my own treasure!”

“This,” observed P’ing Erh, with the tress in her hand, “will be my source of power, during all my lifetime! if you treat me kindly, then well and good! but if you behave unkindly, then we’ll at once produce this thing!”

“Do put it away, please,” Chia Lien entreated smirkingly, “and don’t, on an any account, let her know about it!” and as he uttered these words, he noticed that she was off her guard, and, with a snatch, readily grabbed it adding laughingly: “In your hands, it would be a source of woe, so that it’s better that I should burn it, and have done with it!" Saying this he simultaneously shoved it down the sides of his boot, while P’ing Erh shouted as she set her teeth close: “You wicked man! you cross the river and then demolish the bridge! but do you imagine that I’ll by and by again tell lies on your behalf!”

Chia Lien perceiving how heart-stirring her seductive charms were, forthwith clasped her in his arms, and begged her to be his; but P’ing Erh snatched her hands out of his grasp and ran away out of the room; which so exasperated Chia Lien that as he bent his body, he exclaimed, full of indignation: “What a dreadful niggardly young wench! she actually sets her mind to stir up people’s affections with her wanton blandishments, and then, after all, she runs away!”

“If I be wanton, it’s my own look-out;” P’ing Erh answered, from outside the window, with a grin, “and who told you to arouse your affections? Do you forsooth mean to imply that my wish is to become your tool? And did she come to know about it would she again ever forgive me?”

“You needn’t dread her!” Chia Lien urged; “wait till my monkey is up, and I’ll take this jealous woman, and beat her to atoms; and she’ll then know what stuff I’m made of. She watches me just as she would watch a thief! and she’s only to hobnob with men, and I’m not to say a word to any girl! and if I do say aught to a girl, or get anywhere near one, she must at once give way to suspicion. But with no regard to younger brothers or nephews, to young and old, she prattles and giggles with them, and doesn’t entertain any fear that I may be jealous; but henceforward I too won’t allow her to set eyes upon any man.”

“If she be jealous, there’s every reason,” P’ing Erh answered, “but for you to be jealous on her account isn’t right. Her conduct is really straightforward, and her deportment upright, but your conduct is actuated by an evil heart, so much so that even I don’t feel my heart at ease, not to say anything of her.”

“You two,” continued Chia Lien, “have a mouth full of malicious breath! Everything the couple of you do is invariably proper, while whatever I do is all from an evil heart! But some time or other I shall bring you both to your end with my own hands!”

This sentence was scarcely at an end, when lady Feng walked into the court. “If you’re bent upon chatting,” she urgently inquired, upon seeing P’ing Erh outside the window, “why don’t you go into the room? and what do you mean, instead, by running out, and speaking with the window between?”

Chia Lien from inside took up the string of the conversation. “You should ask her,” he said. “It would verily seem as if there were a tiger in the room to eat her up.”

“There’s not a single person in the room,” P’ing Erh rejoined, “and what shall I stay and do with him?”

“It’s just the proper thing that there should be no one else! Isn’t it?" lady Feng remarked grinning sarcastically.

“Do these words allude to me?” P’ing Erh hastily asked, as soon as she had heard what she said.

Lady Feng forthwith laughed. “If they don’t allude to you,” she continued, “to whom do they?”

“Don’t press me to come out with some nice things!” P’ing Erh insinuated, and, as she spoke, she did not even raise the portiere (for lady Feng to enter), but straightway betook herself to the opposite side.

Lady Feng lifted the portiere with her own hands, and walked into the room. “That girl P’ing Erh,” she exclaimed, “has gone mad, and if this hussey does in real earnest wish to try and get the upper hand of me, it would be well for you to mind your skin.”

Chia Lien listened to her, as he kept reclining on the couch. “I never in the least knew,” he ventured, clapping his hands and laughing, “that P’ing Erh was so dreadful; and I must, after all, from henceforth look up to her with respect!”

“It’s all through your humouring her,” lady Feng rejoined; “so I’ll simply settle scores with you and finish with it.”

“Ts’ui!” ejaculated Chia Lien at these words, “because you two can’t agree, must you again make a scapegoat of me! Well then, I’ll get out of the way of both of you!”

“I’ll see where you’ll go and hide,” lady Feng observed.

“I’ve got somewhere to go!” Chia Lien added; and with these words, he was about to go, when lady Feng urged: “Don’t be off! I have something to tell you.”

What it is, is not yet known, but, reader, listen to the account given in the next chapter.

Chapter XXII.

  Upon hearing the text of the stanza, Pao-y comprehends the Buddhistic
      spells.
  While the enigmas for the lanterns are being devised, Chia Cheng is
      grieved by a prognostic.

Chia Lien, for we must now prosecute our story, upon hearing lady Feng observe that she had something to consult about with him, felt constrained to halt and to inquire what it was about.

“On the 21st,” lady Feng explained, “is cousin Hseh’s birthday, and what do you, after all, purpose doing?”

“Do I know what to do?” exclaimed Chia Lien; “you have made, time and again, arrangements for ever so many birthdays of grown-up people, and do you, really, find yourself on this occasion without any resources?”

“Birthdays of grown-up people are subject to prescribed rules,” lady Feng expostulated; “but her present birthday is neither one of an adult nor that of an infant, and that’s why I would like to deliberate with you!”

Chia Lien upon hearing this remark, lowered his head and gave himself to protracted reflection. “You’re indeed grown dull!” he cried; “why you’ve a precedent ready at hand to suit your case! Cousin Lin’s birthday affords a precedent, and what you did in former years for cousin Lin, you can in this instance likewise do for cousin Hseh, and it will be all right.”

At these words lady Feng gave a sarcastic smile. “Do you, pray, mean to insinuate,” she added, “that I’m not aware of even this! I too had previously come, after some thought, to this conclusion; but old lady Chia explained, in my hearing yesterday, that having made inquiries about all their ages and their birthdays, she learnt that cousin Hseh would this year be fifteen, and that though this was not the birthday, which made her of age, she could anyhow well be regarded as being on the dawn of the year, in which she would gather up her hair, so that our dowager lady enjoined that her anniversary should, as a matter of course, be celebrated, unlike that of cousin Lin.”

“Well, in that case,” Chia Lien suggested, “you had better make a few additions to what was done for cousin Lin!”

“That’s what I too am thinking of,” lady Feng replied, “and that’s why I’m asking your views; for were I, on my own hook, to add anything you would again feel hurt for my not have explained things to you.”

“That will do, that will do!” Chia Lien rejoined laughing, “none of these sham attentions for me! So long as you don’t pry into my doings it will be enough; and will I go so far as to bear you a grudge?”

With these words still in his mouth, he forthwith went off. But leaving him alone we shall now return to Shih Hsiang-yn. After a stay of a couple of days, her intention was to go back, but dowager lady Chia said: “Wait until after you have seen the theatrical performance, when you can return home.”

At this proposal, Shih Hsiang-yn felt constrained to remain, but she, at the same time, despatched a servant to her home to fetch two pieces of needlework, which she had in former days worked with her own hands, for a birthday present for Pao-ch’ai.

Contrary to all expectations old lady Chia had, since the arrival of Pao-ch’ai, taken quite a fancy to her, for her sedateness and good nature, and as this happened to be the first birthday which she was about to celebrate (in the family) she herself readily contributed twenty taels which, after sending for lady Feng, she handed over to her, to make arrangements for a banquet and performance.

“A venerable senior like yourself,” lady Feng thereupon smiled and ventured, with a view to enhancing her good cheer, “is at liberty to celebrate the birthday of a child in any way agreeable to you, without any one presuming to raise any objection; but what’s the use again of giving a banquet? But since it be your good pleasure and your purpose to have it celebrated with clat, you could, needless to say, your own self have spent several taels from the private funds in that old treasury of yours! But you now produce those twenty taels, spoiled by damp and mould, to play the hostess with, with the view indeed of compelling us to supply what’s wanted! But hadn’t you really been able to contribute any more, no one would have a word to say; but the gold and silver, round as well as flat, have with their heavy weight pressed down the bottom of the box! and your sole object is to harass us and to extort from us. But raise your eyes and look about you; who isn’t your venerable ladyship’s son and daughter? and is it likely, pray, that in the future there will only be cousin Pao-y to carry you, our old lady, on his head, up the Wu T’ai Shan? You may keep all these things for him alone! but though we mayn’t at present, deserve that anything should be spent upon us, you shouldn’t go so far as to place us in any perplexities (by compelling us to subscribe). And is this now enough for wines, and enough for the theatricals?”

As she bandied these words, every one in the whole room burst out laughing, and even dowager lady Chia broke out in laughter while she observed: “Do you listen to that mouth? I myself am looked upon as having the gift of the gab, but why is it that I can’t talk in such a wise as to put down this monkey? Your mother-in-law herself doesn’t dare to be so overbearing in her speech; and here you are jabber, jabber with me!”

“My mother-in-law,” explained lady Feng, “is also as fond of Pao-y as you are, so much so that I haven’t anywhere I could go and give vent to my grievances; and instead of (showing me some regard) you say that I’m overbearing in my speech!”

With these words, she again enticed dowager lady Chia to laugh for a while. The old lady continued in the highest of spirits, and, when evening came, and they all appeared in her presence to pay their obeisance, her ladyship made it a point, while the whole company of ladies and young ladies were engaged in chatting, to ascertain of Pao-ch’ai what play she liked to hear, and what things she fancied to eat.

Pao-ch’ai was well aware that dowager lady Chia, well up in years though she was, delighted in sensational performances, and was partial to sweet and tender viands, so that she readily deferred, in every respect, to those things, which were to the taste of her ladyship, and enumerated a whole number of them, which made the old lady become the more exuberant. And the next day, she was the first to send over clothes, nicknacks and such presents, while madame Wang and lady Feng, Tai-y and the other girls, as well as the whole number of inmates had all presents for her, regulated by their degree of relationship, to which we need not allude in detail.

When the 21st arrived, a stage of an ordinary kind, small but yet handy, was improvised in dowager lady Chia’s inner court, and a troupe of young actors, who had newly made their dbut, was retained for the nonce, among whom were both those who could sing tunes, slow as well as fast. In the drawing rooms of the old lady were then laid out several tables for a family banquet and entertainment, at which there was not a single outside guest; and with the exception of Mrs. Hseh, Shih Hsiang-yn, and Pao-ch’ai, who were visitors, the rest were all inmates of her household.

On this day, Pao-y failed, at any early hour, to see anything of Lin Tai-y, and coming at once to her rooms in search of her, he discovered her reclining on the stove-couch. “Get up,” Pao-y pressed her with a smile, “and come and have breakfast, for the plays will commence shortly; but whichever plays you would like to listen to, do tell me so that I may be able to choose them.”

Tai-y smiled sarcastically. “In that case,” she rejoined, “you had better specially engage a troupe and select those I like sung for my benefit; for on this occasion you can’t be so impertinent as to make use of their expense to ask me what I like!”

“What’s there impossible about this?” Pao-y answered smiling; “well, to-morrow I’ll readily do as you wish, and ask them too to make use of what is yours and mine.”

As he passed this remark, he pulled her up, and taking her hand in his own, they walked out of the room and came and had breakfast. When the time arrived to make a selection of the plays, dowager lady Chia of her own motion first asked Pao-ch’ai to mark off those she liked; and though for a time Pao-ch’ai declined, yielding the choice to others, she had no alternative but to decide, fixing upon a play called, “the Record of the Western Tour,” a play of which the old lady was herself very fond. Next in order, she bade lady Feng choose, and lady Feng, had, after all, in spite of madame Wang ranking before her in precedence, to consider old lady Chia’s request, and not to presume to show obstinacy by any disobedience. But as she knew well enough that her ladyship had a penchant for what was exciting, and that she was still more partial to jests, jokes, epigrams, and buffoonery, she therefore hastened to precede (madame Wang) and to choose a play, which was in fact no other than “Liu Erh pawns his clothes.”

Dowager lady Chia was, of course, still more elated. And after this she speedily went on to ask Tai-y to choose. Tai-y likewise concedingly yielded her turn in favour of madame Wang and the other seniors, to make their selections before her, but the old lady expostulated. “To-day," she said, “is primarily an occasion, on which I’ve brought all of you here for your special recreation; and we had better look after our own selves and not heed them! For have I, do you imagine, gone to the trouble of having a performance and laying a feast for their special benefit? they’re already reaping benefit enough by being in here, listening to the plays and partaking of the banquet, when they have no right to either; and are they to be pressed further to make a choice of plays?”

At these words, the whole company had a hearty laugh; after which, Tai-y, at length, marked off a play; next in order following Pao-y, Shih Hsiang-yn, Ying-ch’un, T’an Ch’un, Hsi Ch’un, widow Li Wan, and the rest, each and all of whom made a choice of plays, which were sung in the costumes necessary for each. When the time came to take their places at the banquet, dowager lady Chia bade Pao-ch’ai make another selection, and Pao-ch’ai cast her choice upon the play: “Lu Chih-shen, in a fit of drunkenness stirs up a disturbance up the Wu T’ai mountain;" whereupon Pao-y interposed, with the remark: “All you fancy is to choose plays of this kind;” to which Pao-ch’ai rejoined, “You’ve listened to plays all these years to no avail! How could you know the beauties of this play? the stage effect is grand, but what is still better are the apt and elegant passages in it.”

“I’ve always had a dread of such sensational plays as these!” Pao-y retorted.

“If you call this play sensational,” Pao-ch’ai smilingly expostulated, "well then you may fitly be looked upon as being no connoisseur of plays. But come over and I’ll tell you. This play constitutes one of a set of books, entitled the ’Pei Tien Peng Ch’un,’ which, as far as harmony, musical rests and closes, and tune go, is, it goes without saying, perfect; but there’s among the elegant compositions a ballad entitled: ’the Parasitic Plant,’ written in a most excellent style; but how could you know anything about it?”

Pao-y, upon hearing her speak of such points of beauty, hastily drew near to her. “My dear cousin,” he entreated, “recite it and let me hear it!” Whereupon Pao-ch’ai went on as follows:

  My manly tears I will not wipe away,
  But from this place, the scholar’s home, I’ll stray.
  The bonze for mercy I shall thank; under the lotus altar shave my
      pate;
  With Yan to be the luck I lack; soon in a twinkle we shall separate,
  And needy and forlorn I’ll come and go, with none to care about my
      fate.
  Thither shall I a suppliant be for a fog wrapper and rain hat; my
      warrant I shall roll,
  And listless with straw shoes and broken bowl, wherever to convert my
      fate may be, I’ll stroll.

As soon as Pao-y had listened to her recital, he was so full of enthusiasm, that, clapping his knees with his hands, and shaking his head, he gave vent to incessant praise; after which he went on to extol Pao-ch’ai, saying: “There’s no book that you don’t know.”

“Be quiet, and listen to the play,” Lin Tai-y urged; “they haven’t yet sung about the mountain gate, and you already pretend to be mad!”

At these words, Hsiang-yn also laughed. But, in due course, the whole party watched the performance until evening, when they broke up. Dowager lady Chia was so very much taken with the young actor, who played the role of a lady, as well as with the one who acted the buffoon, that she gave orders that they should be brought in; and, as she looked at them closely, she felt so much the more interest in them, that she went on to inquire what their ages were. And when the would-be lady (replied) that he was just eleven, while the would-be buffoon (explained) that he was just nine, the whole company gave vent for a time to expressions of sympathy with their lot; while dowager lady Chia bade servants bring a fresh supply of meats and fruits for both of them, and also gave them, besides their wages, two tiaos as a present.

“This lad,” lady Feng observed smiling, “is when dressed up (as a girl), a living likeness of a certain person; did you notice it just now?”

Pao-ch’ai was also aware of the fact, but she simply nodded her head assentingly and did not say who it was. Pao-y likewise expressed his assent by shaking his head, but he too did not presume to speak out. Shih Hsiang-yn, however, readily took up the conversation. “He resembles,” she interposed, “cousin Lin’s face!” When this remark reached Pao-y’s ear, he hastened to cast an angry scowl at Hsiang-yn, and to make her a sign; while the whole party, upon hearing what had been said, indulged in careful and minute scrutiny of (the lad); and as they all began to laugh: “The resemblance is indeed striking!” they exclaimed.

After a while, they parted; and when evening came Hsiang-yn directed Ts’ui L to pack up her clothes.

“What’s the hurry?” Ts’ui L asked. “There will be ample time to pack up, on the day on which we go!”

“We’ll go to-morrow,” Hsiang-yn rejoined; “for what’s the use of remaining here any longer–to look at people’s mouths and faces?”

Pao-y, at these words, lost no time in pressing forward.

“My dear cousin,” he urged; “you’re wrong in bearing me a grudge! My cousin Lin is a girl so very touchy, that though every one else distinctly knew (of the resemblance), they wouldn’t speak out; and all because they were afraid that she would get angry; but unexpectedly out you came with it, at a moment when off your guard; and how ever couldn’t she but feel hurt? and it’s because I was in dread that you would give offence to people that I then winked at you; and now here you are angry with me; but isn’t that being ungrateful to me? Had it been any one else, would I have cared whether she had given offence to even ten; that would have been none of my business!”

Hsiang-yn waved her hand: “Don’t,” she added, “come and tell me these flowery words and this specious talk, for I really can’t come up to your cousin Lin. If others poke fun at her, they all do so with impunity, while if I say anything, I at once incur blame. The fact is I shouldn’t have spoken of her, undeserving as I am; and as she’s the daughter of a master, while I’m a slave, a mere servant girl, I’ve heaped insult upon her!”

“And yet,” pleaded Pao-y, full of perplexity, “I had done it for your sake; and through this, I’ve come in for reproach. But if it were with an evil heart I did so, may I at once become ashes, and be trampled upon by ten thousands of people!”

“In this felicitous firstmonth,” Hsiang-yn remonstrated, “you shouldn’t talk so much reckless nonsense! All these worthless despicable oaths, disjointed words, and corrupt language, go and tell for the benefit of those mean sort of people, who in everything take pleasure in irritating others, and who keep you under their thumb! But mind don’t drive me to spit contemptuously at you.”

As she gave utterance to these words, she betook herself in the inner room of dowager lady Chia’s suite of apartments, where she lay down in high dudgeon, and, as Pao-y was so heavy at heart, he could not help coming again in search of Tai-y; but strange to say, as soon as he put his foot inside the doorway, he was speedily hustled out of it by Tai-y, who shut the door in his face.

Pao-y was once more unable to fathom her motives, and as he stood outside the window, he kept on calling out: “My dear cousin,” in a low tone of voice; but Tai-y paid not the slightest notice to him so that Pao-y became so melancholy that he drooped his head, and was plunged in silence. And though Hsi Jen had, at an early hour, come to know the circumstances, she could not very well at this juncture tender any advice.

Pao-y remained standing in such a vacant mood that Tai-y imagined that he had gone back; but when she came to open the door she caught sight of Pao-y still waiting in there; and as Tai-y did not feel justified to again close the door, Pao-y consequently followed her in.

“Every thing has,” he observed, “a why and a wherefore; which, when spoken out, don’t even give people pain; but you will rush into a rage, and all without any rhyme! but to what really does it owe its rise?”

“It’s well enough, after all, for you to ask me,” Tai-y rejoined with an indifferent smile, “but I myself don’t know why! But am I here to afford you people amusement that you will compare me to an actress, and make the whole lot have a laugh at me?”

“I never did liken you to anything,” Pao-y protested, “neither did I ever laugh at you! and why then will you get angry with me?”

“Was it necessary that you should have done so much as made the comparison,” Tai-y urged, “and was there any need of even any laughter from you? why, though you mayn’t have likened me to anything, or had a laugh at my expense, you were, yea more dreadful than those who did compare me (to a singing girl) and ridiculed me!”

Pao-y could not find anything with which to refute the argument he had just heard, and Tai-y went on to say. “This offence can, anyhow, be condoned; but, what is more, why did you also wink at Yn Erh? What was this idea which you had resolved in your mind? wasn’t it perhaps that if she played with me, she would be demeaning herself, and making herself cheap? She’s the daughter of a duke or a marquis, and we forsooth the mean progeny of a poor plebeian family; so that, had she diverted herself with me, wouldn’t she have exposed herself to being depreciated, had I, perchance, said anything in retaliation? This was your idea wasn’t it? But though your purpose was, to be sure, honest enough, that girl wouldn’t, however, receive any favours from you, but got angry with you just as much as I did; and though she made me also a tool to do you a good turn, she, on the contrary, asserts that I’m mean by nature and take pleasure in irritating people in everything! and you again were afraid lest she should have hurt my feelings, but, had I had a row with her, what would that have been to you? and had she given me any offence, what concern would that too have been of yours?”

When Pao-y heard these words, he at once became alive to the fact that she too had lent an ear to the private conversation he had had a short while back with Hsiang-yn: “All because of my, fears,” he carefully mused within himself, “lest these two should have a misunderstanding, I was induced to come between them, and act as a mediator; but I myself have, contrary to my hopes, incurred blame and abuse on both sides! This just accords with what I read the other day in the Nan Hua Ching. ’The ingenious toil, the wise are full of care; the good-for-nothing seek for nothing, they feed on vegetables, and roam where they list; they wander purposeless like a boat not made fast!’ ’The mountain trees,’ the text goes on to say, ’lead to their own devastation; the spring (conduces) to its own plunder; and so on.” And the more he therefore indulged in reflection, the more depressed he felt. “Now there are only these few girls,” he proceeded to ponder minutely, “and yet, I’m unable to treat them in such a way as to promote perfect harmony; and what will I forsooth do by and by (when there will be more to deal with)!”

When he had reached this point in his cogitations, (he decided) that it was really of no avail to agree with her, so that turning round, he was making his way all alone into his apartments; but Lin Tai-y, upon noticing that he had left her side, readily concluded that reflection had marred his spirits and that he had so thoroughly lost his temper as to be going without even giving vent to a single word, and she could not restrain herself from feeling inwardly more and more irritated. “After you’ve gone this time,” she hastily exclaimed, “don’t come again, even for a whole lifetime; and I won’t have you either so much as speak to me!”

Pao-y paid no heed to her, but came back to his rooms, and laying himself down on his bed, he kept on muttering in a state of chagrin; and though Hsi Jen knew full well the reasons of his dejection, she found it difficult to summon up courage to say anything to him at the moment, and she had no alternative but to try and distract him by means of irrelevant matters. “The theatricals which you’ve seen to-day,” she consequently observed smiling, “will again lead to performances for several days, and Miss Pao-ch’ai will, I’m sure, give a return feast.”

“Whether she gives a return feast or not,” Pao-y rejoined with an apathetic smirk, “is no concern of mine!”

When Hsi Jen perceived the tone, so unlike that of other days, with which these words were pronounced: “What’s this that you’re saying?” she therefore remarked as she gave another smile. “In this pleasant and propitious first moon, when all the ladies and young ladies are in high glee, how is it that you’re again in a mood of this sort?”

“Whether the ladies and my cousins be in high spirits or not,” Pao-y replied forcing a grin, “is also perfectly immaterial to me.”

“They are all,” Hsi Jen added, smilingly, “pleasant and agreeable, and were you also a little pleasant and agreeable, wouldn’t it conduce to the enjoyment of the whole company?”

“What about the whole company, and they and I?” Pao-y urged. “They all have their mutual friendships; while I, poor fellow, all forlorn, have none to care a rap for me.”

His remarks had reached this clause, when inadvertently the tears trickled down; and Hsi Jen realising the state of mind he was in, did not venture to say anything further. But as soon as Pao-y had reflected minutely over the sense and import of this sentence, he could not refrain from bursting forth into a loud fit of crying, and, turning himself round, he stood up, and, drawing near the table, he took up the pencil, and eagerly composed these enigmatical lines:

  If thou wert me to test, and I were thee to test,
  Our hearts were we to test, and our minds to test,
  When naught more there remains for us to test
  That will yea very well be called a test,
  And when there’s naught to put, we could say, to the test,
  We will a place set up on which our feet to rest.

After he had finished writing, he again gave way to fears that though he himself could unfold their meaning, others, who came to peruse these lines, would not be able to fathom them, and he also went on consequently to indite another stanza, in imitation of the “Parasitic Plant,” which he inscribed at the close of the enigma; and when he had read it over a second time, he felt his heart so free of all concern that forthwith he got into his bed, and went to sleep.

But, who would have thought it, Tai-y, upon seeing Pao-y take his departure in such an abrupt manner, designedly made use of the excuse that she was bent upon finding Hsi Jen, to come round and see what he was up to.

“He’s gone to sleep long ago!” Hsi Jen replied.

At these words, Tai-y felt inclined to betake herself back at once; but Hsi Jen smiled and said: “Please stop, miss. Here’s a slip of paper, and see what there is on it!” and speedily taking what Pao-y had written a short while back, she handed it over to Tai-y to examine. Tai-y, on perusal, discovered that Pao-y had composed it, at the spur of the moment, when under the influence of resentment; and she could not help thinking it both a matter of ridicule as well as of regret; but she hastily explained to Hsi Jen: “This is written for fun, and there’s nothing of any consequence in it!” and having concluded this remark, she readily took it along with her to her room, where she conned it over in company with Hsiang-yn; handing it also the next day to Pao-ch’ai to peruse. The burden of what Pao-ch’ai read was:

  In what was no concern of mine, I should to thee have paid no heed,
  For while I humour this, that one to please I don’t succeed!
  Act as thy wish may be! go, come whene’er thou list; ’tis naught to
      me.
  Sorrow or joy, without limit or bound, to indulge thou art free!
  What is this hazy notion about relatives distant or close?
  For what purpose have I for all these days racked my heart with woes?
  Even at this time when I look back and think, my mind no pleasure
      knows.

After having finished its perusal, she went on to glance at the Buddhistic stanza, and smiling: “This being,” she soliloquised; “has awakened to a sense of perception; and all through my fault, for it’s that ballad of mine yesterday which has incited this! But the subtle devices in all these rationalistic books have a most easy tendency to unsettle the natural disposition, and if to-morrow he does actually get up, and talk a lot of insane trash, won’t his having fostered this idea owe its origin to that ballad of mine; and shan’t I have become the prime of all guilty people?”

Saying this, she promptly tore the paper, and, delivering the pieces to the servant girls, she bade them go at once and burn them.

“You shouldn’t have torn it!” Tai-y remonstrated laughingly. “But wait and I’ll ask him about it! so come along all of you, and I vouch I’ll make him abandon that idiotic frame of mind and that depraved language.”

The three of them crossed over, in point of fact, into Pao-y’s room, and Tai-y was the first to smile and observe. “Pao-y, may I ask you something? What is most valuable is a precious thing; and what is most firm is jade, but what value do you possess and what firmness is innate in you?”

But as Pao-y could not, say anything by way of reply, two of them remarked sneeringly: “With all this doltish bluntness of his will he after all absorb himself in abstraction?” While Hsiang-yn also clapped her hands and laughed, “Cousin Pao has been discomfited.”

“The latter part of that apothegm of yours,” Tai-y continued, “says:

“We would then find some place on which our feet to rest.

“Which is certainly good; but in my view, its excellence is not as yet complete! and I should still tag on two lines at its close;” as she proceeded to recite:

 “If we do not set up some place on which our feet to rest,
  For peace and freedom then it will be best.”

“There should, in very truth, be this adjunct to make it thoroughly explicit!” Pao-ch’ai added. “In days of yore, the sixth founder of the Southern sect, Hui Neng, came, when he went first in search of his patron, in the Shao Chou district; and upon hearing that the fifth founder, Hung Jen, was at Huang Mei, he readily entered his service in the capacity of Buddhist cook; and when the fifth founder, prompted by a wish to select a Buddhistic successor, bade his neophytes and all the bonzes to each compose an enigmatical stanza, the one who occupied the upper seat, Shen Hsiu, recited:

 “A P’u T’i tree the body is, the heart so like a stand of mirror
      bright,
  On which must needs, by constant careful rubbing, not be left dust to
      alight!

“And Hui Neng, who was at this time in the cook-house pounding rice, overheard this enigma. ’Excellent, it is excellent,’ he ventured, ’but as far as completeness goes it isn’t complete;’ and having bethought himself of an apothegm: ’The P’u T’i, (an expression for Buddha or intelligence),’ he proceeded, ’is really no tree; and the resplendent mirror, (Buddhistic term for heart), is likewise no stand; and as, in fact, they do not constitute any tangible objects, how could they be contaminated by particles of dust?’ Whereupon the fifth founder at once took his robe and clap-dish and handed them to him. Well, the text now of this enigma presents too this identical idea, for the simple fact is that those lines full of subtleties of a short while back are not, as yet, perfected or brought to an issue, and do you forsooth readily give up the task in this manner?”

“He hasn’t been able to make any reply,” Tai-y rejoined sneeringly, "and must therefore be held to be discomfited; but were he even to make suitable answer now, there would be nothing out of the common about it! Anyhow, from this time forth you mustn’t talk about Buddhistic spells, for what even we two know and are able to do, you don’t as yet know and can’t do; and do you go and concern yourself with abstraction?”

Pao-y had, in his own mind, been under the impression that he had attained perception, but when he was unawares and all of a sudden subjected to this question by Tai-y, he soon found it beyond his power to give any ready answer. And when Pao-ch’ai furthermore came out with a religious disquisition, by way of illustration, and this on subjects, in all of which he had hitherto not seen them display any ability, he communed within himself: “If with their knowledge, which is indeed in advance of that of mine, they haven’t, as yet, attained perception, what need is there for me now to bring upon myself labour and vexation?”

“Who has, pray,” he hastily inquired smilingly, after arriving at the end of his reflections, “indulged in Buddhistic mysteries? what I did amounts to nothing more than nonsensical trash, written, at the spur of the moment, and nothing else.”

At the close of this remark all four came to be again on the same terms as of old; but suddenly a servant announced that the Empress (Yan Ch’un) had despatched a messenger to bring over a lantern-conundrum with the directions that they should all go and guess it, and that after they had found it out, they should each also devise one and send it in. At these words, the four of them left the room with hasty step, and adjourned into dowager lady Chia’s drawing room, where they discovered a young eunuch, holding a four-cornered, flat-topped lantern, of white gauze, which had been specially fabricated for lantern riddles. On the front side, there was already a conundrum, and the whole company were vying with each other in looking at it and making wild guesses; when the young eunuch went on to transmit his orders, saying: “Young ladies, you should not speak out when you are guessing; but each one of you should secretly write down the solutions for me to wrap them up, and take them all in together to await her Majesty’s personal inspection as to whether they be correct or not.”

Upon listening to these words, Pao-ch’ai drew near, and perceived at a glance, that it consisted of a stanza of four lines, with seven characters in each; but though there was no novelty or remarkable feature about it, she felt constrained to outwardly give utterance to words of praise. “It’s hard to guess!” she simply added, while she pretended to be plunged in thought, for the fact is that as soon as she had cast her eye upon it, she had at once solved it. Pao-y, Tai-y, Hsiang-yn, and T’an-ch’un, had all four also hit upon the answer, and each had secretly put it in writing; and Chia Huan, Chia Lan and the others were at the same time sent for, and every one of them set to work to exert the energies of his mind, and, when they arrived at a guess, they noted it down on paper; after which every individual member of the family made a choice of some object, and composed a riddle, which was transcribed in a large round hand, and affixed on the lantern. This done, the eunuch took his departure, and when evening drew near, he came out and delivered the commands of the imperial consort. “The conundrum," he said, “written by Her Highness, the other day, has been solved by every one, with the exception of Miss Secunda and master Tertius, who made a wrong guess. Those composed by you, young ladies, have likewise all been guessed; but Her Majesty does not know whether her solutions are right or not.” While speaking, he again produced the riddles, which had been written by them, among which were those which had been solved, as well as those which had not been solved; and the eunuch, in like manner, took the presents, conferred by the imperial consort, and handed them over to those who had guessed right. To each person was assigned a bamboo vase, inscribed with verses, which had been manufactured for palace use, as well as articles of bamboo for tea; with the exception of Ying-ch’un and Chia Huan, who were the only two persons who did not receive any. But as Ying-ch’un looked upon the whole thing as a joke and a trifle, she did not trouble her mind on that score, but Chia Huan at once felt very disconsolate.

“This one devised by Mr. Tertius,” the eunuch was further heard to say, "is not properly done; and as Her Majesty herself has been unable to guess it she commanded me to bring it back, and ask Mr. Tertius what it is about.”

After the party had listened to these words, they all pressed forward to see what had been written. The burden of it was this:

  The elder brother has horns only eight;
  The second brother has horns only two;
  The elder brother on the bed doth sit;
  Inside the room the second likes to squat.

After perusal of these lines, they broke out, with one voice, into a loud fit of laughter; and Chia Huan had to explain to the eunuch that the one was a pillow, and the other the head of an animal. Having committed the explanation to memory and accepted a cup of tea, the eunuch took his departure; and old lady Chia, noticing in what buoyant spirits Yan Ch’un was, felt herself so much the more elated, that issuing forthwith directions to devise, with every despatch, a small but ingenious lantern of fine texture in the shape of a screen, and put it in the Hall, she bade each of her grandchildren secretly compose a conundrum, copy it out clean, and affix it on the frame of the lantern; and she had subsequently scented tea and fine fruits, as well as every kind of nicknacks, got ready, as prizes for those who guessed right.

And when Chia Cheng came from court and found the old lady in such high glee he also came over in the evening, as the season was furthermore holiday time, to avail himself of her good cheer to reap some enjoyment. In the upper part of the room seated themselves, at one table dowager lady Chia, Chia Cheng, and Pao-y; madame Wang, Pao-ch’ai, Tai-y, Hsiang-yn sat round another table, and Ying-ch’un, Tan-ch’un and Hsi Ch’un the three of them, occupied a separate table, and both these tables were laid in the lower part, while below, all over the floor, stood matrons and waiting-maids for Li Kung-ts’ai and Hsi-feng were both seated in the inner section of the Hall, at another table.

Chia Chen failed to see Chia Lan, and he therefore inquired: “How is it I don’t see brother Lan,” whereupon the female servants, standing below, hastily entered the inner room and made inquiries of widow Li. “He says,” Mrs. Li stood up and rejoined with a smile, “that as your master didn’t go just then to ask him round, he has no wish to come!” and when a matron delivered the reply to Chia Cheng; the whole company exclaimed much amused: “How obstinate and perverse his natural disposition is!" But Chia Cheng lost no time in sending Chia Huan, together with two matrons, to fetch Chia Lan; and, on his arrival, dowager lady Chia bade him sit by her side, and, taking a handful of fruits, she gave them to him to eat; after which the party chatted, laughed, and enjoyed themselves.

Ordinarily, there was no one but Pao-y to say much or talk at any length, but on this day, with Chia Cheng present, his remarks were limited to assents. And as to the rest, Hsiang-yn had, though a young girl, and of delicate physique, nevertheless ever been very fond of talking and discussing; but, on this instance, Chia Cheng was at the feast, so that she also held her tongue and restrained her words. As for Tai-y she was naturally peevish and listless, and not very much inclined to indulge in conversation; while Pao-ch’ai, who had never been reckless in her words or frivolous in her deportment, likewise behaved on the present occasion in her usual dignified manner. Hence it was that this banquet, although a family party, given for the sake of relaxation, assumed contrariwise an appearance of restraint, and as old lady Chia was herself too well aware that it was to be ascribed to the presence of Chia Cheng alone, she therefore, after the wine had gone round three times, forthwith hurried off Chia Cheng to retire to rest.

No less cognisant was Chia Cheng himself that the old lady’s motives in packing him off were to afford a favourable opportunity to the young ladies and young men to enjoy themselves, and that is why, forcing a smile, he observed: “Having to-day heard that your venerable ladyship had got up in here a large assortment of excellent riddles, on the occasion of the spring festival of lanterns, I too consequently prepared prizes, as well as a banquet, and came with the express purpose of joining the company; and why don’t you in some way confer a fraction of the fond love, which you cherish for your grandsons and granddaughters, upon me also, your son?”

“When you’re here,” old lady Chia replied smilingly, “they won’t venture to chat or laugh; and unless you go, you’ll really fill me with intense dejection! But if you feel inclined to guess conundrums, well, I’ll tell you one for you to solve; but if you don’t guess right, mind, you’ll be mulcted!”

“Of course I’ll submit to the penalty,” Chia Cheng rejoined eagerly, as he laughed, “but if I do guess right, I must in like manner receive a reward!”

“This goes without saying!” dowager lady Chia added; whereupon she went on to recite:

The monkey’s body gently rests on the tree top!

“This refers,” she said, “to the name of a fruit.”

Chia Cheng was already aware that it was a lichee, but he designedly made a few guesses at random, and was fined several things; but he subsequently gave, at length, the right answer, and also obtained a present from her ladyship.

In due course he too set forth this conundrum for old lady Chia to guess:

  Correct its body is in appearance,
  Both firm and solid is it in substance;
  To words, it is true, it cannot give vent,
  But spoken to, it always does assent.

When he had done reciting it, he communicated the answer in an undertone to Pao-y; and Pao-y fathoming what his intention was, gently too told his grandmother Chia, and her ladyship finding, after some reflection, that there was really no mistake about it, readily remarked that it was an inkslab.

“After all,” Chia Cheng smiled; “Your venerable ladyship it is who can hit the right answer with one guess!” and turning his head round, “Be quick,” he cried, “and bring the prizes and present them!” whereupon the married women and waiting-maids below assented with one voice, and they simultaneously handed up the large trays and small boxes.

Old lady Chia passed the things, one by one, under inspection; and finding that they consisted of various kinds of articles, novel and ingenious, of use and of ornament, in vogue during the lantern festival, her heart was so deeply elated that with alacrity she shouted, “Pour a glass of wine for your master!”

Pao-y took hold of the decanter, while Ying Ch’un presented the cup of wine.

“Look on that screen!” continued dowager lady Chia, “all those riddles have been written by the young ladies; so go and guess them for my benefit!”

Chia Cheng signified his obedience, and rising and walking up to the front of the screen, he noticed the first riddle, which was one composed by the Imperial consort Yan, in this strain:

  The pluck of devils to repress in influence it abounds,
  Like bound silk is its frame, and like thunder its breath resounds.
  But one report rattles, and men are lo! in fear and dread;
  Transformed to ashes ’tis what time to see you turn the head.

“Is this a cracker?” Chia Cheng inquired.

“It is,” Pao-y assented.

Chia Cheng then went on to peruse that of Ying-Ch’un’s, which referred to an article of use:

  Exhaustless is the principle of heavenly calculations and of human
      skill;
  Skill may exist, but without proper practice the result to find hard
      yet
  will be!
  Whence cometh all this mixed confusion on a day so still?
  Simply it is because the figures Yin and Yang do not agree.

“It’s an abacus,” Chia Cheng observed.

“Quite so!” replied Ying Ch’un smiling; after which they also conned the one below, by T’an-ch’un, which ran thus and had something to do with an object:

  This is the time when ’neath the stairs the pages their heads raise!
  The term of “pure brightness” is the meetest time this thing to make!
  The vagrant silk it snaps, and slack, without tension it strays!
  The East wind don’t begrudge because its farewell it did take!

“It would seem,” Chia Cheng suggested, “as if that must be a kite!”

“It is,” answered T’an C’h’un; whereupon Chia Cheng read the one below, which was written by Tai-y to this effect and bore upon some thing:

  After the audience, his two sleeves who brings with fumes replete?
  Both by the lute and in the quilt, it lacks luck to abide!
  The dawn it marks; reports from cock and man renders effete!
  At midnight, maids no trouble have a new one to provide!
  The head, it glows during the day, as well as in the night!
  Its heart, it burns from day to day and ’gain from year to year!
  Time swiftly flies and mete it is that we should hold it dear!
  Changes might come, but it defies wind, rain, days dark or bright!

“Isn’t this a scented stick to show the watch?” Chia Cheng inquired.

“Yes!” assented Pao-y, speaking on Tai-y’s behalf; and Chia Cheng thereupon prosecuted the perusal of a conundrum, which ran as follows, and referred to an object;

  With the South, it sits face to face,
  And the North, the while, it doth face;
  If the figure be sad, it also is sad,
  If the figure be glad, it likewise is glad!

“Splendid! splendid!” exclaimed Chia Cheng, “my guess is that it’s a looking-glass. It’s excellently done!”

Pao-y smiled. “It is a looking glass!” he rejoined.

“This is, however, anonymous; whose work is it?” Chia Cheng went on to ask, and dowager lady Chia interposed: “This, I fancy, must have been composed by Pao-y,” and Chia Cheng then said not a word, but continued reading the following conundrum, which was that devised by Pao-ch’ai, on some article or other:

  Eyes though it has; eyeballs it has none, and empty ’tis inside!
  The lotus flowers out of the water peep, and they with gladness meet,
  But when dryandra leaves begin to drop, they then part and divide,
  For a fond pair they are, but, united, winter they cannot greet.

When Chia Cheng finished scanning it, he gave way to reflection. “This object,” he pondered, “must surely be limited in use! But for persons of tender years to indulge in all this kind of language, would seem to be still less propitious; for they cannot, in my views, be any of them the sort of people to enjoy happiness and longevity!” When his reflections reached this point, he felt the more dejected, and plainly betrayed a sad appearance, and all he did was to droop his head and to plunge in a brown study.

But upon perceiving the frame of mind in which Chia Cheng was, dowager lady Chia arrived at the conclusion that he must be fatigued; and fearing, on the other hand, that if she detained him, the whole party of young ladies would lack the spirit to enjoy themselves, she there and then faced Chia Cheng and suggested: “There’s no need really for you to remain here any longer, and you had better retire to rest; and let us sit a while longer; after which, we too will break up!”

As soon as Chia Cheng caught this hint, he speedily assented several consecutive yes’s; and when he had further done his best to induce old lady Chia to have a cup of wine, he eventually withdrew out of the Hall. On his return to his bedroom, he could do nothing else than give way to cogitation, and, as he turned this and turned that over in his mind, he got still more sad and pained.

“Amuse yourselves now!” readily exclaimed dowager lady Chia, during this while, after seeing Chia Cheng off; but this remark was barely finished, when she caught sight of Pao-y run up to the lantern screen, and give vent, as he gesticulated with his hands and kicked his feet about, to any criticisms that first came to his lips. “In this,” he remarked, "this line isn’t happy; and that one, hasn’t been suitably solved!" while he behaved just like a monkey, whose fetters had been let loose.

“Were the whole party after all,” hastily ventured Tai-y, “to sit down, as we did a short while back and chat and laugh; wouldn’t that be more in accordance with good manners?”

Lady Feng thereupon egressed from the room in the inner end and interposed her remarks. “Such a being as you are,” she said, “shouldn’t surely be allowed by Mr. Chia Cheng, an inch or a step from his side, and then you’ll be all right. But just then it slipped my memory, for why didn’t I, when your father was present, instigate him to bid you compose a rhythmical enigma; and you would, I have no doubt, have been up to this moment in a state of perspiration!”

At these words, Pao-y lost all patience, and laying hold of lady Feng, he hustled her about for a few moments.

But old lady Chia went on for some time to bandy words with Li Kung-ts’ai, with the whole company of young ladies and the rest, so that she, in fact, felt considerably tired and worn out; and when she heard that the fourth watch had already drawn nigh, she consequently issued directions that the eatables should be cleared away and given to the crowd of servants, and suggested, as she readily rose to her feet, “Let us go and rest! for the next day is also a feast, and we must get up at an early hour; and to-morrow evening we can enjoy ourselves again!" whereupon the whole company dispersed.

But now, reader, listen to the sequel given in the chapter which follows.

Chapter XXIII.

  Pao-y and Tai-y make use of some beautiful passages from the Record
      of the Western Side-building to bandy jokes.
  The excellent ballads sung in the Peony Pavilion touch the tender
      heart of Tai-y.

Soon after the day on which Chia Yuan-ch’un honoured the garden of Broad Vista with a visit, and her return to the Palace, so our story goes, she forthwith desired that T’an-ch’un should make a careful copy, in consecutive order, of the verses, which had been composed and read out on that occasion, in order that she herself should assign them their rank, and adjudge the good and bad. And she also directed that an inscription should be engraved on a stone, in the Broad Vista park, to serve in future years as a record of the pleasant and felicitous event; and Chia Cheng, therefore, gave orders to servants to go far and wide, and select skilful artificers and renowned workmen, to polish the stone and engrave the characters in the garden of Broad Vista; while Chia Chen put himself at the head of Chia Jung, Chia P’ing and others to superintend the work. And as Chia Se had, on the other hand, the control of Wen Kuan and the rest of the singing girls, twelve in all, as well as of their costumes and other properties, he had no leisure to attend to anything else, and consequently once again sent for Chia Ch’ang and Chia Ling to come and act as overseers.

On a certain day, the works were taken in hand for rubbing the stones smooth with wax, for carving the inscription, and tracing it with vermilion, but without entering into details on these matters too minutely, we will return to the two places, the Yu Huang temple and the Ta Mo monastery. The company of twelve young bonzes and twelve young Taoist priests had now moved out of the Garden of Broad Vista, and Chia Cheng was meditating upon distributing them to various temples to live apart, when unexpectedly Chia Ch’in’s mother, ne Chou,–who resided in the back street, and had been at the time contemplating to pay a visit to Chia Cheng on this side so as to obtain some charge, be it either large or small, for her son to look after, that he too should be put in the way of turning up some money to meet his expenses with,–came, as luck would have it, to hear that some work was in hand in this mansion, and lost no time in driving over in a curricle and making her appeal to lady Feng. And as lady Feng remembered that she had all along not presumed on her position to put on airs, she willingly acceded to her request, and after calling to memory some suitable remarks, she at once went to make her report to madame Wang: “These young bonzes and Taoist priests,” she said, “can by no means be sent over to other places; for were the Imperial consort to come out at an unexpected moment, they would then be required to perform services; and in the event of their being scattered, there will, when the time comes to requisition their help, again be difficulties in the way; and my idea is that it would be better to send them all to the family temple, the Iron Fence Temple; and every month all there will be to do will be to depute some one to take over a few taels for them to buy firewood and rice with, that’s all, and when there’s even a sound of their being required uttered, some one can at once go and tell them just one word ’come,’ and they will come without the least trouble!”

Madame Wang gave a patient ear to this proposal, and, in due course, consulted with Chia Cheng.

“You’ve really,” smiled Chia Cheng at these words, “reminded me how I should act! Yes, let this be done!” And there and then he sent for Chia Lien.

Chia Lien was, at the time, having his meal with lady Feng, but as soon as he heard that he was wanted, he put by his rice and was just walking off, when lady Feng clutched him and pulled him back. “Wait a while," she observed with a smirk, “and listen to what I’ve got to tell you! if it’s about anything else, I’ve nothing to do with it; but if it be about the young bonzes and young Taoists, you must, in this particular matter, please comply with this suggestion of mine,” after which, she went on in this way and that way to put him up to a whole lot of hints.

“I know nothing about it,” Chia Lien rejoined smilingly, “and as you have the knack you yourself had better go and tell him!”

But as soon as lady Feng heard this remark, she stiffened her head and threw down the chopsticks; and, with an expression on her cheeks, which looked like a smile and yet not a smile, she glanced angrily at Chia Lien. “Are you speaking in earnest,” she inquired, “or are you only jesting?”

“Yn Erh, the son of our fifth sister-in-law of the western porch, has come and appealed to me two or three times, asking for something to look after,” Chia Lien laughed, “and I assented and bade him wait; and now, after a great deal of trouble, this job has turned up; and there you are once again snatching it away!”

“Compose your mind,” lady Feng observed grinning, “for the Imperial Consort has hinted that directions should be given for the planting, in the north-east corner of the park, of a further plentiful supply of pine and cedar trees, and that orders should also be issued for the addition, round the base of the tower, of a large number of flowers and plants and such like; and when this job turns up, I can safely tell you that Yun Erh will be called to assume control of these works.”

“Well if that be really so,” Chia Lien rejoined, “it will after all do! But there’s only one thing; all I was up to last night was simply to have some fun with you, but you obstinately and perversely wouldn’t.”

Lady Feng, upon hearing these words, burst out laughing with a sound of Ch’ih, and spurting disdainfully at Chia Lien, she lowered her head and went on at once with her meal; during which time Chia Lien speedily walked away laughing the while, and betook himself to the front, where he saw Chia Cheng. It was, indeed, about the young bonzes, and Chia Lien readily carried out lady Feng’s suggestion. “As from all appearances," he continued, “Ch’in Erh has, actually, so vastly improved, this job should, after all, be entrusted to his care and management; and provided that in observance with the inside custom Ch’in Erh were each day told to receive the advances, things will go on all right.” And as Chia Cheng had never had much attention to give to such matters of detail, he, as soon as he heard what Chia Lien had to say, immediately signified his approval and assent. And Chia Lien, on his return to his quarters, communicated the issue to lady Feng; whereupon lady Feng at once sent some one to go and notify dame Chou.

Chia Ch’in came, in due course, to pay a visit to Chia Lien and his wife, and was incessant in his expressions of gratitude; and lady Feng bestowed upon him a further favour by giving him, as a first instalment, an advance of the funds necessary for three months’ outlay, for which she bade him write a receipt; while Chia Lien filled up a cheque and signed it; and a counter-order was simultaneously issued, and he came out into the treasury where the sum specified for three months’ supplies, amounting to three hundred taels, was paid out in pure ingots.

Chia Ch’in took the first piece of silver that came under his hand, and gave it to the men in charge of the scales, with which he told them to have a cup of tea, and bidding, shortly after, a boy-servant take the money to his home, he held consultation with his mother; after which, he hired a donkey for himself to ride on, and also bespoke several carriages, and came to the back gate of the Jung Kuo mansion; where having called out the twenty young priests, they got into the carriages, and sped straightway beyond the city walls, to the Temple of the Iron Fence, where nothing of any note transpired at the time.

But we will now notice Chia Yan-ch’un, within the precincts of the Palace. When she had arranged the verses composed in the park of Broad Vista in their order of merit, she suddenly recollected that the sights in the garden were sure, ever since her visit through them, to be diligently and respectfully kept locked up by her father and mother; and that by not allowing any one to go in was not an injustice done to this garden? “Besides,” (she pondered), “in that household, there are at present several young ladies, capable of composing odes, and able to write poetry, and why should not permission be extended to them to go and take their quarters in it; in order too that those winsome persons might not be deprived of good cheer, and that the flowers and willows may not lack any one to admire them!”

But remembering likewise that Pao-y had from his infancy grown up among that crowd of female cousins, and was such a contrast to the rest of his male cousins that were he not allowed to move into it, he would, she also apprehended, be made to feel forlorn; and dreading lest his grandmother and his mother should be displeased at heart, she thought it imperative that he too should be permitted to take up his quarters inside, so that things should be put on a satisfactory footing; and directing the eunuch Hsia Chung to go to the Jung mansion and deliver her commands, she expressed the wish that Pao-ch’ai and the other girls should live in the garden and that it should not be kept closed, and urged that Pao-y should also shift into it, at his own pleasure, for the prosecution of his studies. And Chia Cheng and madame Wang, upon receiving her commands, hastened, after the departure of Hsia Chung, to explain them to dowager lady Chia, and to despatch servants into the garden to tidy every place, to dust, to sweep, and to lay out the portieres and bed-curtains. The tidings were heard by the rest even with perfect equanimity, but Pao-y was immoderately delighted; and he was engaged in deliberation with dowager lady Chia as to this necessary and to that requirement, when suddenly they descried a waiting-maid arrive, who announced: “Master wishes to see Pao-y.”

Pao-y gazed vacantly for a while. His spirits simultaneously were swept away; his countenance changed colour; and clinging to old lady Chia, he readily wriggled her about, just as one would twist the sugar (to make sweetmeats with), and could not, for the very death of him, summon up courage to go; so that her ladyship had no alternative but to try and reassure him. “My precious darling” she urged, “just you go, and I’ll stand by you! He won’t venture to be hard upon you; and besides, you’ve devised these excellent literary compositions; and I presume as Her Majesty has desired that you should move into the garden, his object is to give you a few words of advice; simply because he fears that you might be up to pranks in those grounds. But to all he tells you, whatever you do, mind you acquiesce and it will be all right!”

And as she tried to compose him, she at the same time called two old nurses and enjoined them to take Pao-y over with due care, “And don’t let his father,” she added, “frighten him!”

The old nurses expressed their obedience, and Pao-y felt constrained to walk ahead; and with one step scarcely progressing three inches, he leisurely came over to this side. Strange coincidence Chia Cheng was in madame Wang’s apartments consulting with her upon some matter or other, and Chin Ch’uan-erh, Ts’ai Yun, Ts’ai Feng, Ts’ai Luan, Hsiu Feng and the whole number of waiting-maids were all standing outside under the verandah. As soon as they caught sight of Pao-y, they puckered up their mouths and laughed at him; while Chin Ch’uan grasped Pao-y with one hand, and remarked in a low tone of voice: “On these lips of mine has just been rubbed cosmetic, soaked with perfume, and are you now inclined to lick it or not?” whereupon Ts’ai Yn pushed off Chin Ch’uan with one shove, as she interposed laughingly, “A person’s heart is at this moment in low spirits and do you still go on cracking jokes at him? But avail yourself of this opportunity when master is in good cheer to make haste and get in!”

Pao-y had no help but to sidle against the door and walk in. Chia Cheng and madame Wang were, in fact, both in the inner rooms, and dame Chou raised the portire. Pao-y stepped in gingerly and perceived Chia Cheng and madame Wang sitting opposite to each other, on the stove-couch, engaged in conversation; while below on a row of chairs sat Ying Ch’un, T’an Ch’un, Hsi Ch’un and Chia Huan; but though all four of them were seated in there only T’an Ch’un, Hsi Ch’un and Chia Huan rose to their feet, as soon as they saw him make his appearance in the room; and when Chia Cheng raised his eyes and noticed Pao-y standing in front of him, with a gait full of ease and with those winsome looks of his, so captivating, he once again realised what a mean being Chia Huan was, and how coarse his deportment. But suddenly he also bethought himself of Chia Chu, and as he reflected too that madame Wang had only this son of her own flesh and blood, upon whom she ever doated as upon a gem, and that his own beard had already begun to get hoary, the consequence was that he unwittingly stifled, well nigh entirely, the feeling of hatred and dislike, which, during the few recent years he had ordinarily fostered towards Pao-y. And after a long pause, “Her Majesty,” he observed, “bade you day after day ramble about outside to disport yourself, with the result that you gradually became remiss and lazy; but now her desire is that we should keep you under strict control, and that in prosecuting your studies in the company of your cousins in the garden, you should carefully exert your brains to learn; so that if you don’t again attend to your duties, and mind your regular tasks, you had better be on your guard!” Pao-y assented several consecutive yes’s; whereupon madame Wang drew him by her side and made him sit down, and while his three cousins resumed the seats they previously occupied: "Have you finished all the pills you had been taking a short while back?” madame Wang inquired, as she rubbed Pao-y’s neck.

“There’s still one pill remaining,” Pao-y explained by way of reply.

“You had better,” madame Wang added, “fetch ten more pills tomorrow morning; and every day about bedtime tell Hsi Jen to give them to you; and when you’ve had one you can go to sleep!”

“Ever since you, mother, bade me take them,” Pao-y rejoined, “Hsi Jen has daily sent me one, when I was about to turn in.”

“Who’s this called Hsi Jen?” Chia Chen thereupon ascertained.

“She’s a waiting-maid!” madame Wang answered.

“A servant girl,” Chia Cheng remonstrated, “can be called by whatever name one chooses; anything is good enough; but who’s it who has started this kind of pretentious name!”

Madame Wang noticed that Chia Cheng was not in a happy frame of mind, so that she forthwith tried to screen matters for Pao-y, by saying: “It’s our old lady who has originated it!”

“How can it possibly be,” Chia Cheng exclaimed, “that her ladyship knows anything about such kind of language? It must, for a certainty, be Pao-y!”

Pao-y perceiving that he could not conceal the truth from him, was under the necessity of standing up and of explaining; “As I have all along read verses, I remembered the line written by an old poet:

 “What time the smell of flowers wafts itself into man, one knows the
      day is warm.

“And as this waiting-maid’s surname was Hua (flower), I readily gave her the name, on the strength of this sentiment.”

“When you get back,” madame Wang speedily suggested addressing Pao-y, "change it and have done; and you, sir, needn’t lose your temper over such a trivial matter!”

“It doesn’t really matter in the least,” Chia Cheng continued; “so that there’s no necessity of changing it; but it’s evident that Pao-y doesn’t apply his mind to legitimate pursuits, but mainly devotes his energies to such voluptuous expressions and wanton verses!” And as he finished these words, he abruptly shouted out: “You brute-like child of retribution! Don’t you yet get out of this?”

“Get away, off with you!” madame Wang in like manner hastened to urge; "our dowager lady is waiting, I fear, for you to have her repast!”

Pao-y assented, and, with gentle step, he withdrew out of the room, laughing at Chin Ch’uan-erh, as he put out his tongue; and leading off the two nurses, he went off on his way like a streak of smoke. But no sooner had he reached the door of the corridor than he espied Hsi Jen standing leaning against the side; who perceiving Pao-y come back safe and sound heaped smile upon smile, and asked: “What did he want you for?”

“There was nothing much,” Pao-y explained, “he simply feared that I would, when I get into the garden, be up to mischief, and he gave me all sorts of advice;” and, as while he explained matters, they came into the presence of lady Chia, he gave her a clear account, from first to last, of what had transpired. But when he saw that Lin Tai-y was at the moment in the room, Pao-y speedily inquired of her: “Which place do you think best to live in?”

Tai-y had just been cogitating on this subject, so that when she unexpectedly heard Pao-y’s inquiry, she forthwith rejoined with a smile: “My own idea is that the Hsio Hsiang Kuan is best; for I’m fond of those clusters of bamboos, which hide from view the tortuous balustrade and make the place more secluded and peaceful than any other!”

Pao-y at these words clapped his hands and smiled. “That just meets with my own views!” he remarked; “I too would like you to go and live in there; and as I am to stay in the I Hung Yuan, we two will be, in the first place, near each other; and next, both in quiet and secluded spots.”

While the two of them were conversing, a servant came, sent over by Chia Cheng, to report to dowager lady Chia that: “The 22nd of the second moon was a propitious day for Pao-y and the young ladies to shift their quarters into the garden; that during these few days, servants should be sent in to put things in their proper places and to clean; that Hsueh Pao-ch’ai should put up in the Heng Wu court; that Lin Tai-y was to live in the Hsiao Hsiang lodge; that Chia Ying-ch’un should move into the Cho Chin two-storied building; that T’an Ch’un should put up in the Ch’iu Yen library; that Hsi Ch’un should take up her quarters in the Liao Feng house; that widow Li should live in the Tao Hsiang village, and that Pao-y was to live in the I Hung court. That at every place two old nurses should be added and four servant-girls; that exclusive of the nurse and personal waiting-maid of each, there should, in addition, be servants, whose special duties should be to put things straight and to sweep the place; and that on the 22nd, they should all, in a body, move into the garden.”

When this season drew near, the interior of the grounds, with the flowers waving like embroidered sashes, and the willows fanned by the fragrant breeze, was no more as desolate and silent as it had been in previous days; but without indulging in any further irrelevant details, we shall now go back to Pao-y.

Ever since he shifted his quarters into the park, his heart was full of joy, and his mind of contentment, fostering none of those extraordinary ideas, whose tendency could be to give birth to longings and hankerings. Day after day, he simply indulged, in the company of his female cousins and the waiting-maids, in either reading his books, or writing characters, or in thrumming the lute, playing chess, drawing pictures and scanning verses, even in drawing patterns of argus pheasants, in embroidering phoenixes, contesting with them in searching for strange plants, and gathering flowers, in humming poetry with gentle tone, singing ballads with soft voice, dissecting characters, and in playing at mora, so that, being free to go everywhere and anywhere, he was of course completely happy. From his pen emanate four ballads on the times of the four seasons, which, although they could not be looked upon as first-rate, afford anyhow a correct idea of his sentiments, and a true account of the scenery.

The ballad on the spring night runs as follows:

  The silken curtains, thin as russet silk, at random are spread out.
  The croak of frogs from the adjoining lane but faintly strikes the
      ear.
  The pillow a slight chill pervades, for rain outside the window falls.
  The landscape, which now meets the eye, is like that seen in dreams by
      man.
  In plenteous streams the candles’ tears do drop, but for whom do they
      weep?
  Each particle of grief felt by the flowers is due to anger against me.
  It’s all because the maids have by indulgence indolent been made.
  The cover over me I’ll pull, as I am loth to laugh and talk for long.

This is the description of the aspect of nature on a summer night:

  The beauteous girl, weary of needlework, quiet is plunged in a long
      dream.
  The parrot in the golden cage doth shout that it is time the tea to
      brew.
  The lustrous windows with the musky moon like open palace-mirrors
      look;
  The room abounds with fumes of sandalwood and all kinds of imperial
      scents.
  From the cups made of amber is poured out the slippery dew from the
      lotus.
  The banisters of glass, the cool zephyr enjoy flapped by the willow
      trees.
  In the stream-spanning kiosk, the curtains everywhere all at one time
      do wave.
  In the vermilion tower the blinds the maidens roll, for they have made
      the night’s toilette.

The landscape of an autumnal evening is thus depicted:

  In the interior of the Chiang Yn house are hushed all clamorous din
      and noise.
  The sheen, which from Selene flows, pervades the windows of carnation
      gauze.
  The moss-locked, streaked rocks shelter afford to the cranes, plunged
      in sleep.
  The dew, blown on the t’ung tree by the well, doth wet the roosting
      rooks.
  Wrapped in a quilt, the maid comes the gold phoenix coverlet to
      spread.
  The girl, who on the rails did lean, on her return drops the
      kingfisher flowers!
  This quiet night his eyes in sleep he cannot close, as he doth long
      for wine.
  The smoke is stifled, and the fire restirred, when tea is ordered to
      be brewed.

The picture of a winter night is in this strain:

  The sleep of the plum trees, the dream of the bamboos the third watch
      have already reached.
  Under the embroidered quilt and the kingfisher coverlet one can’t
      sleep for the cold.
  The shadow of fir trees pervades the court, but cranes are all that
      meet the eye.
  Both far and wide the pear blossom covers the ground, but yet the hawk
      cannot be heard.
  The wish, verses to write, fostered by the damsel with the green
      sleeves, has waxd cold.
  The master, with the gold sable pelisse, cannot endure much wine.
  But yet he doth rejoice that his attendant knows the way to brew the
      tea.
  The newly-fallen snow is swept what time for tea the water must be
      boiled.

But putting aside Pao-y, as he leisurely was occupied in scanning some verses, we will now allude to all these ballads. There lived, at that time, a class of people, whose wont was to servilely court the influential and wealthy, and who, upon perceiving that the verses were composed by a young lad of the Jung Kuo mansion, of only twelve or thirteen years of age, had copies made, and taking them outside sang their praise far and wide. There were besides another sort of light-headed young men, whose heart was so set upon licentious and seductive lines, that they even inscribed them on fans and screen-walls, and time and again kept on humming them and extolling them. And to the above reasons must therefore be ascribed the fact that persons came in search of stanzas and in quest of manuscripts, to apply for sketches and to beg for poetical compositions, to the increasing satisfaction of Pao-y, who day after day, when at home, devoted his time and attention to these extraneous matters. But who would have anticipated that he could ever in his quiet seclusion have become a prey to a spirit of restlessness? Of a sudden, one day he began to feel discontent, finding fault with this and turning up his nose at that; and going in and coming out he was simply full of ennui. And as all the girls in the garden were just in the prime of youth, and at a time of life when, artless and unaffected, they sat and reclined without regard to retirement, and disported themselves and joked without heed, how could they ever have come to read the secrets which at this time occupied a place in the heart of Pao-y? But so unhappy was Pao-y within himself that he soon felt loth to stay in the garden, and took to gadding about outside like an evil spirit; but he behaved also the while in an idiotic manner.

Ming Yen, upon seeing him go on in this way, felt prompted, with the idea of affording his mind some distraction, to think of this and to devise that expedient; but everything had been indulged in with surfeit by Pao-y, and there was only this resource, (that suggested itself to him,) of which Pao-y had not as yet had any experience. Bringing his reflections to a close, he forthwith came over to a bookshop, and selecting novels, both of old and of the present age, traditions intended for outside circulation on Fei Yen, Ho Te, Wu Tse-t’ien, and Yang Kuei-fei, as well as books of light literature consisting of strange legends, he purchased a good number of them with the express purpose of enticing Pao-y to read them. As soon as Pao-y caught sight of them, he felt as if he had obtained some gem or jewel. “But you mustn’t,” Ming Yen went on to enjoin him, “take them into the garden; for if any one were to come to know anything about them, I shall then suffer more than I can bear; and you should, when you go along, hide them in your clothes!”

But would Pao-y agree to not introducing them into the garden? So after much wavering, he picked out only several volumes of those whose style was more refined, and took them in, and threw them over the top of his bed for him to peruse when no one was present; while those coarse and very indecent ones, he concealed in a bundle in the outer library.

On one day, which happened to be the middle decade of the third moon, Pao-y, after breakfast, took a book, the “Hui Chen Chi,” in his hand and walked as far as the bridge of the Hsin Fang lock. Seating himself on a block of rock, that lay under the peach trees in that quarter, he opened the Hui Chen Chi and began to read it carefully from the beginning. But just as he came to the passage: “the falling red (flowers) have formed a heap,” he felt a gust of wind blow through the trees, bringing down a whole bushel of peach blossoms; and, as they fell, his whole person, the entire surface of the book as well as a large extent of ground were simply bestrewn with petals of the blossoms. Pao-y was bent upon shaking them down; but as he feared lest they should be trodden under foot, he felt constrained to carry the petals in his coat and walk to the bank of the pond and throw them into the stream. The petals floated on the surface of the water, and, after whirling and swaying here and there, they at length ran out by the Hsin Fang lock. But, on his return under the tree, he found the ground again one mass of petals, and Pao-y was just hesitating what to do, when he heard some one behind his back inquire, “What are you up to here?” and as soon as Pao-y turned his head round, he discovered that it was Lin Tai-y, who had come over carrying on her shoulder a hoe for raking flowers, that on this hoe was suspended a gauze-bag, and that in her hand she held a broom.

“That’s right, well done!” Pao-y remarked smiling; “come and sweep these flowers, and throw them into the water yonder. I’ve just thrown a lot in there myself!”

“It isn’t right,” Lin Tai-y rejoined, “to throw them into the water. The water, which you see, is clean enough here, but as soon as it finds its way out, where are situated other people’s grounds, what isn’t there in it? so that you would be misusing these flowers just as much as if you left them here! But in that corner, I have dug a hole for flowers, and I’ll now sweep these and put them into this gauze-bag and bury them in there; and, in course of many days, they will also become converted into earth, and won’t this be a clean way (of disposing of them)?”

Pao-y, after listening to these words, felt inexpressibly delighted. "Wait!” he smiled, “until I put down my book, and I’ll help you to clear them up!”

“What’s the book?” Tai-y inquired.

Pao-y at this question was so taken aback that he had no time to conceal it. “It’s,” he replied hastily, “the Chung Yung and the Ta Hseh!”

“Are you going again to play the fool with me? Be quick and give it to me to see; and this will be ever so much better a way!”

“Cousin,” Pao-y replied, “as far as you yourself are concerned I don’t mind you, but after you’ve seen it, please don’t tell any one else. It’s really written in beautiful style; and were you to once begin reading it, why even for your very rice you wouldn’t have a thought?”

As he spoke, he handed it to her; and Tai-y deposited all the flowers on the ground, took over the book, and read it from the very first page; and the more she perused it, she got so much the more fascinated by it, that in no time she had finished reading sixteen whole chapters. But aroused as she was to a state of rapture by the diction, what remained even of the fascination was enough to overpower her senses; and though she had finished reading, she nevertheless continued in a state of abstraction, and still kept on gently recalling the text to mind, and humming it to herself.

“Cousin, tell me is it nice or not?” Pao-y grinned.

“It is indeed full of zest!” Lin Tai-y replied exultingly.

“I’m that very sad and very sickly person,” Pao-y explained laughing, "while you are that beauty who could subvert the empire and overthrow the city.”

Lin Tai-y became, at these words, unconsciously crimson all over her cheeks, even up to her very ears; and raising, at the same moment, her two eyebrows, which seemed to knit and yet not to knit, and opening wide those eyes, which seemed to stare and yet not to stare, while her peach-like cheeks bore an angry look and on her thin-skinned face lurked displeasure, she pointed at Pao-y and exclaimed: “You do deserve death, for the rubbish you talk! without any provocation you bring up these licentious expressions and wanton ballads to give vent to all this insolent rot, in order to insult me; but I’ll go and tell uncle and aunt.”

As soon as she pronounced the two words “insult me,” her eyeballs at once were suffused with purple, and turning herself round she there and then walked away; which filled Pao-y with so much distress that he jumped forward to impede her progress, as he pleaded: “My dear cousin, I earnestly entreat you to spare me this time! I’ve indeed said what I shouldn’t; but if I had any intention to insult you, I’ll throw myself to-morrow into the pond, and let the scabby-headed turtle eat me up, so that I become transformed into a large tortoise. And when you shall have by and by become the consort of an officer of the first degree, and you shall have fallen ill from old age and returned to the west, I’ll come to your tomb and bear your stone tablet for ever on my back!”

As he uttered these words, Lin Tai-y burst out laughing with a sound of "pu ch’ih,” and rubbing her eyes, she sneeringly remarked: “I too can come out with this same tune; but will you now still go on talking nonsense? Pshaw! you’re, in very truth, like a spear-head, (which looks) like silver, (but is really soft as) wax!”

“Go on, go on!” Pao-y smiled after this remark; “and what you’ve said, I too will go and tell!”

“You maintain,” Lin Tai-y rejoined sarcastically, “that after glancing at anything you’re able to recite it; and do you mean to say that I can’t even do so much as take in ten lines with one gaze?”

Pao-y smiled and put his book away, urging: “Let’s do what’s right and proper, and at once take the flowers and bury them; and don’t let us allude to these things!”

Forthwith the two of them gathered the fallen blossoms; but no sooner had they interred them properly than they espied Hsi Jen coming, who went on to observe: “Where haven’t I looked for you? What! have you found your way as far as this! But our senior master, Mr. Chia She, over there isn’t well; and the young ladies have all gone over to pay their respects, and our old lady has asked that you should be sent over; so go back at once and change your clothes!”

When Pao-y heard what she said, he hastily picked up his books, and saying good bye to Tai-y, he came along with Hsi Jen, back into his room, where we will leave him to effect the necessary change in his costume. But during this while, Lin Tai-y was, after having seen Pao-y walk away, and heard that all her cousins were likewise not in their rooms, wending her way back alone, in a dull and dejected mood, towards her apartment, when upon reaching the outside corner of the wall of the Pear Fragrance court, she caught, issuing from inside the walls, the harmonious strains of the fife and the melodious modulations of voices singing. Lin Tai-y readily knew that it was the twelve singing-girls rehearsing a play; and though she did not give her mind to go and listen, yet a couple of lines were of a sudden blown into her ears, and with such clearness, that even one word did not escape. Their burden was this:

  These troth are beauteous purple and fine carmine flowers, which in
      this way all round do bloom,
  And all together lie ensconced along the broken well, and the
      dilapidated wall!

But the moment Lin Tai-y heard these lines, she was, in fact, so intensely affected and agitated that she at once halted and lending an ear listened attentively to what they went on to sing, which ran thus:

  A glorious day this is, and pretty scene, but sad I feel at heart!
  Contentment and pleasure are to be found in whose family courts?

After overhearing these two lines, she unconsciously nodded her head, and sighed, and mused in her own mind. “Really,” she thought, “there is fine diction even in plays! but unfortunately what men in this world simply know is to see a play, and they don’t seem to be able to enjoy the beauties contained in them.”

At the conclusion of this train of thought, she experienced again a sting of regret, (as she fancied) she should not have given way to such idle thoughts and missed attending to the ballads; but when she once more came to listen, the song, by some coincidence, went on thus:

  It’s all because thy loveliness is like a flower and like the comely
      spring,
  That years roll swiftly by just like a running stream.

When this couplet struck Tai-yu’s ear, her heart felt suddenly a prey to excitement and her soul to emotion; and upon further hearing the words:

  Alone you sit in the secluded inner rooms to self-compassion giving
      way.

–and other such lines, she became still more as if inebriated, and like as if out of her head, and unable to stand on her feet, she speedily stooped her body, and, taking a seat on a block of stone, she minutely pondered over the rich beauty of the eight characters:

  It’s all because thy loveliness is like a flower and like the comely
      spring,
  That years roll swiftly by just like a running stream.

Of a sudden, she likewise bethought herself of the line:

Water flows away and flowers decay, for both no feelings have.

–which she had read some days back in a poem of an ancient writer, and also of the passage:

  When on the running stream the flowers do fall, spring then is past
      and gone;

–and of:

Heaven (differs from) the human race,

–which also appeared in that work; and besides these, the lines, which she had a short while back read in the Hsi Hiang Chi:

  The flowers, lo, fall, and on their course the waters red do flow!
  Petty misfortunes of ten thousand kinds (my heart assail!)

both simultaneously flashed through her memory; and, collating them all together, she meditated on them minutely, until suddenly her heart was stricken with pain and her soul fleeted away, while from her eyes trickled down drops of tears. But while nothing could dispel her present state of mind, she unexpectedly realised that some one from behind gave her a tap; and, turning her head round to look, she found that it was a young girl; but who it was, the next chapter will make known.

Chapter XXIV.

  The drunken Chin Kang makes light of lucre and shows a preference for
      generosity.
  The foolish girl mislays her handkerchief and arouses mutual thoughts.

But to return to our narrative. Lin Tai-y’s sentimental reflections were the while reeling and ravelling in an intricate maze, when unexpectedly some one from behind gave her a tap, saying: “What are you up to all alone here?” which took Lin Tai-yu so much by surprise that she gave a start, and turning her head round to look and noticing that it was Hsiang Ling and no one else; “You stupid girl!” Lin Tai-y replied, “you’ve given me such a fright! But where do you come from at this time?”

Hsiang Ling giggled and smirked. “I’ve come,” she added, “in search of our young lady, but I can’t find her anywhere. But your Tzu Chuan is also looking after you; and she says that lady Secunda has sent a present to you of some tea. But you had better go back home and sit down.”

As she spoke, she took Tai-y by the hand, and they came along back to the Hsiao Hsiang Kuan; where lady Feng had indeed sent her two small catties of a new season tea, of superior quality. But Lin Tai-y sat down, in company with Hsiang Ling, and began to converse on the merits of this tapestry and the fineness of that embroidery; and after they had also had a game at chess, and read a few sentences out of a book, Hsiang Ling took her departure. But we need not speak of either of them, but return now to Pao-y. Having been found, and brought back home, by Hsi Jen, he discovered Yuan Yang reclining on the bed, in the act of examining Hsi Jen’s needlework; but when she perceived Pao-y arrive, she forthwith remarked: “Where have you been? her venerable ladyship is waiting for you to tell you to go over and pay your obeisance to our Senior master, and don’t you still make haste to go and change your clothes and be off!”

Hsi Jen at once walked into the room to fetch his clothes, and Pao-y sat on the edge of the bed, and pushed his shoes off with his toes; and, while waiting for his boots to put them on, he turned round and perceiving that Yan Yang, who was clad in a light red silk jacket and a green satin waistcoat, and girdled with a white crepe sash, had her face turned the other way, and her head lowered giving her attention to the criticism of the needlework, while round her neck she wore a collar with embroidery, Pao-y readily pressed his face against the nape of her neck, and as he sniffed the perfume about it, he did not stay his hand from stroking her neck, which in whiteness and smoothness was not below that of Hsi Jen; and as he approached her, “My dear girl,” he said smiling and with a drivelling face, “do let me lick the cosmetic off your mouth!” clinging to her person, as he uttered these words, like twisted sweetmeat.

“Hsi Jen!” cried Yan Yang at once, “come out and see! You’ve been with him a whole lifetime, and don’t you give him any advice; but let him still behave in this fashion!” Whereupon, Hsi Jen walked out, clasping the clothes, and turning to Pao-y, she observed, “I advise you in this way and it’s no good, I advise you in that way and you don’t mend; and what do you mean to do after all? But if you again behave like this, it will then, in fact, be impossible for me to live any longer in this place!”

As she tendered these words of counsel, she urged him to put his clothes on, and, after he had changed, he betook himself, along with Yuan Yang, to the front part of the mansion, and bade good-bye to dowager lady Chia; after which he went outside, where the attendants and horses were all in readiness; but when he was about to mount his steed, he perceived Chia Lien back from his visit and in the act of dismounting; and as the two of them stood face to face, and mutually exchanged some inquiries, they saw some one come round from the side, and say: “My respects to you, uncle Pao-y!”

When Pao-y came to look at him, he noticed that this person had an oblong face, that his body was tall and lanky, that his age was only eighteen or nineteen, and that he possessed, in real truth, an air of refinement and elegance; but though his features were, after all, exceedingly familiar, he could not recall to mind to what branch of the family he belonged, and what his name was.

“What are you staring vacantly for?” Chia Lien inquired laughing.

“Don’t you even recognise him? He’s Yn Erh, the son of our fifth sister-in-law, who lives in the back court!”

“Of course!” Pao-y assented complacently. “How is it that I had forgotten just now!” And having gone on to ask how his mother was, and what work he had to do at present; “I’ve come in search of uncle Secundus, to tell him something,” Chia Yn replied, as he pointed at Chia Lien.

“You’ve really improved vastly from what you were before,” added Pao-y smiling; “you verily look just is if you were my son!”

“How very barefaced!” Chia Lien exclaimed as he burst out laughing; "here’s a person four or five years your senior to be made your son!”

“How far are you in your teens this year?” Pao-y inquired with a smile.

“Eighteen!” Chia Yn rejoined.

This Chia Yn was, in real deed, sharp and quick-witted; and when he heard Pao-y remark that he looked like his son, he readily gave a sarcastic smile and observed, “The proverb is true which says, ’the grandfather is rocked in the cradle while the grandson leans on a staff.’ But though old enough in years, I’m nevertheless like a mountain, which, in spite of its height, cannot screen the sun from view. Besides, since my father’s death, I’ve had no one to look after me, and were you, uncle Pao, not to disdain your doltish nephew, and to acknowledge me as your son, it would be your nephew’s good fortune!”

“Have you heard what he said?” Chia Lien interposed cynically. “But to acknowledge him as a son is no easy question to settle!” and with these words, he walked in; whereupon Pao-y smilingly said: “To-morrow when you have nothing to do, just come and look me up; but don’t go and play any devilish pranks with them! I’ve just now no leisure, so come to-morrow, into the library, where I’ll have a chat with you for a whole day, and take you into the garden for some fun!”

With this remark still on his lips, he laid hold of the saddle and mounted his horse; and, followed by the whole bevy of pages, he crossed over to Chia She’s on this side; where having discovered that Chia She had nothing more the matter with him than a chill which he had suddenly contracted, he commenced by delivering dowager lady Chia’s message, and next paid his own obeisance. Chia She, at first, stood up and made suitable answer to her venerable ladyship’s inquiries, and then calling a servant, “Take the gentleman,” he said, “into my lady’s apartment to sit down.”

Pao-y withdrew out of the room, and came by the back to the upper apartment; and as soon as madame Hsing caught sight of him, she, before everything else, rose to her feet and asked after old lady Chia’s health; after which, Pao-y made his own salutation, and madame Hsing drew him on to the stove-couch, where she induced him to take a seat, and eventually inquired after the other inmates, and also gave orders to serve the tea. But scarcely had they had tea, before they perceived Chia Tsung come in to pay his respects to Pao-y.

“Where could one find such a living monkey as this!” madame Hsing remarked; “is that nurse of yours dead and gone that she doesn’t even keep you clean and tidy, and that she lets you go about with those eyebrows of yours so black and that mouth so filthy! you scarcely look like the child of a great family of scholars.”

While she spoke, she perceived both Chia Huan and Chia Lan, one of whom was a young uncle and the other his nephew, also advance and present their compliments, and madame Hsing bade the two of them sit down on the chairs. But when Chia Huan noticed that Pao-y sat on the same rug with madame Hsing, and that her ladyship was further caressing and petting him in every possible manner, he soon felt so very unhappy at heart, that, after sitting for a short time, he forthwith made a sign to Chia Lan that he would like to go; and as Chia Lan could not but humour him, they both got up together to take their leave. But when Pao-y perceived them rise, he too felt a wish to go back along with them, but madame Hsing remarked smilingly, “You had better sit a while as I’ve something more to tell you,” so that Pao-y had no alternative but to stay. “When you get back,” madame Hsing added, addressing the other two, “present, each one of you, my regards to your respective mothers. The young ladies, your cousins, are all here making such a row that my head is dazed, so that I won’t to-day keep you to have your repast here.” To which Chia Huan and Chia Lan assented and quickly walked out.

“If it be really the case that all my cousins have come over,” Pao-y ventured with a smirk, “how is it that I don’t see them?”

“After sitting here for a while,” madame Hsing explained, “they all went at the back; but in what rooms they have gone, I don’t know.”

“My senior aunt, you said you had something to tell me, Pao-y observed; what’s it, I wonder?”

“What can there possibly be to tell you?” madame Hsing laughed; “it was simply to make you wait and have your repast with the young ladies and then go; but there’s also a fine plaything that I’ll give you to take back to amuse yourself with.”

These two, the aunt and her nephew, were going on with their colloquy when, much to their surprise, it was time for dinner and the young ladies were all invited to come. The tables and chairs were put in their places, and the cups and plates were arranged in proper order; and, after the mother, her daughter and the cousins had finished their meal, Pao-y bade good-bye to Chia She and returned home in company with all the young ladies; and when they had said good-night to dowager lady Chia, madame Wang and the others, they each went back into their rooms and retired to rest; where we shall leave them without any further comment and speak of Chia Yn’s visit to the mansion. As soon as he saw Chia Lien, he inquired what business it was that had turned up, and Chia Lien consequently explained: “The other day something did actually present itself, but as it happened that your aunt had again and again entreated me, I gave it to Chia Ch’in; as she promised me that there would be by and by in the garden several other spots where flowers and trees would be planted; and that when this job did occur, she would, for a certainty, give it to you and finish!”

Chia Yn, upon hearing these words, suggested after a short pause; “If that be so, there’s nothing for me to do than to wait; but, uncle, you too mustn’t make any allusion beforehand in the presence of aunt to my having come to-day to make any inquiries; for there will really be ample time to speak to her when the job turns up!”

“Why should I allude to it?” Chia Lien rejoined. “Have I forsooth got all this leisure to talk of irrelevant matters! But to-morrow, besides, I’ve got to go as far as Hsing Yi for a turn, and it’s absolutely necessary that I should hurriedly come back the very same day; so off with you now and go and wait; and the day after to-morrow, after the watch has been set, come and ask for news; but mind at any earlier hour, I shan’t have any leisure!” With these words, he hastily went at the back to change his clothes. And from the time Chia Yun put his foot out of the door of the Jung Kuo mansion, he was, the whole way homeward, plunged in deep thought; but having bethought himself of some expedient, he straightway wended his steps towards the house of his maternal uncle, Pu Shih-jen. This Pu Shih-jen, it must be explained, kept, at the present date, a shop for the sale of spices. He had just returned home from his shop, and as soon as he noticed Chia Yun, he inquired of him what business brought him there.

“There’s something,” Chia Yun replied, “in which I would like to crave your assistance, uncle; I’m in need of some baroos camphor and musk, so please, uncle, give me on credit four ounces of each kind, and on the festival of the eighth moon, I’ll bring you the amount in full.”

Pu Shih-jen gave a sardonic smile. “Don’t,” he said, “again allude to any such thing as selling on tick! Some time back a partner in our establishment got several ounces of goods for his relatives on credit, and up to this date the bill hasn’t as yet been settled; the result being that we’ve all had to make the amount good, so that we’ve entered into an agreement that we should no more allow any one to obtain on tick anything on behalf of either relative or friend, and that whoever acted contrary to this resolution should be, at once, fined twenty taels, with which to stand a treat. Besides, the stock of these articles is now short, and were you also to come, with ready money to this our mean shop to buy any, we wouldn’t even have as much to give you. The best way therefore is for you to go elsewhere. This is one side of the question; for on the other, you can’t have anything above-board in view; and were you to obtain what you want as a loan you would again go and play the giddy dog! But you’ll simply say that on every occasion your uncle sees you, he avails himself of it to find fault with you, but a young fellow like you doesn’t know what’s good and what is bad; and you should, besides, make up your mind to earn a few cash, wherewith to clothe and feed yourself, so that, when I see you, I too may rejoice!”

“What you, uncle, say,” Chia Yun rejoined smiling, “is perfectly right; the only thing is that at the time of my father’s death, I was likewise so young in years that I couldn’t understand anything; but later on, I heard my mother explain how that for everything, it was lucky that you, after all, my uncles, went over to our house and devised the ways and means, and managed the funeral; and is it likely you, uncle, aren’t aware of these things? Besides, have I forsooth had a single acre of land or a couple of houses, the value of which I’ve run through as soon as it came into my hands? An ingenious wife cannot make boiled rice without raw rice; and what would you have me do? It’s your good fortune however that you’ve got to deal with one such as I am, for had it been any one else barefaced and shameless, he would have come, twice every three days, to worry you, uncle, by asking for two pints of rice and two of beans, and you then, uncle, would have had no help for it.”

“My dear child,” Pu Shih-jen exclaimed, “had I anything that I could call my own, your uncle as I am, wouldn’t I feel bound to do something for you? I’ve day after day mentioned to your aunt that the misfortune was that you had no resources. But should you ever succeed in making up your mind, you should go into that mighty household of yours, and when the gentlemen aren’t looking, forthwith pocket your pride and hobnob with those managers, or possibly with the butlers, as you may, even through them, be able to get some charge or other! The other day, when I was out of town, I came across that old Quartus of the third branch of the family, astride of a tall donkey, at the head of four or five carriages, in which were about forty to fifty bonzes and Taoist priests on their way to the family fane, and that man can’t lack brains, for such a charge to have fallen to his share!”

Chia Yn, upon hearing these words, indulged in a long and revolting rigmarole, and then got up to take his leave.

“What are you in such a hurry for?” Pu Shih-jen remarked. “Have your meal and then go!”

But this remark was scarcely ended when they heard his wife say: “Are you again in the clouds? When I heard that there was no rice, I bought half a catty of dry rice paste, and brought it here for you to eat; and do you pray now still put on the airs of a well-to-do, and keep your nephew to feel the pangs of hunger?”

“Well, then, buy half a catty more, and add to what there is, that’s all,” Pu Shih-jen continued; whereupon her mother explained to her daughter, Yin Chieh, “Go over to Mrs. Wang’s opposite, and ask her if she has any cash, to lend us twenty or thirty of them; and to-morrow, when they’re brought over, we’ll repay her.”

But while the husband and wife were carrying on this conversation, Chia Yn had, at an early period, repeated several times: “There’s no need to go to this trouble,” and off he went, leaving no trace or shadow behind. But without passing any further remarks on the husband and wife of the Pu family, we will now confine ourselves to Chia Yn. Having gone in high dudgeon out of the door of his uncle’s house, he started straight on his way back home; but while distressed in mind, and preoccupied with his thoughts, he paced on with drooping head, he unexpectedly came into collision with a drunken fellow, who gripped Chia Yn, and began to abuse him, crying: “Are your eyes gone blind, that you come bang against me?”

The tone of voice, when it reached Chia Yn ears, sounded like that of some one with whom he was intimate; and, on careful scrutiny, he found, in fact, that it was his next-door neighbour, Ni Erh. This Ni Erh was a dissolute knave, whose only idea was to give out money at heavy rates of interest and to have his meals in the gambling dens. His sole delight was to drink and to fight.

He was, at this very moment, coming back home from the house of a creditor, whom he had dunned, and was already far gone with drink, so that when, at an unforeseen moment, Chia Yn ran against him, he meant there and then to start a scuffle with him.

“Old Erh!” Chia Yn shouted, “stay your hand; it’s I who have hustled against you.”

As soon as Ni Erh heard the tone of his voice, he opened wide his drunken eyes and gave him a look; and realising that it was Chia Yn, he hastened to loosen his grasp and to remark with a smile, as he staggered about, “Is it you indeed, master Chia Secundus? where were you off to now?”

“I couldn’t tell you!” Chia Yn rejoined; “I’ve again brought displeasure upon me, and all through no fault of mine.”

“Never mind!” urged Ni Erh, “if you’re in any trouble you just tell me, and I’ll give vent to your spite for you; for in these three streets, and six lanes, no matter who may give offence to any neighbours of mine, of me, Ni Erh, the drunken Chin Kang, I’ll wager that I compel that man’s family to disperse, and his home to break up!”

“Old Ni, don’t lose your temper,” Chia Yn protested, “but listen and let me tell you what happened!” After which, he went on to tell Ni Erh the whole affair with Pu Shih-jen. As soon as Ni Erh heard him, he got into a frightful rage; “Were he not,” he shouted, a “relative of yours, master Secundus, I would readily give him a bit of my mind! Really resentment will stifle my breath! but never mind! you needn’t however distress yourself. I’ve got here a few taels ready at hand, which, if you require, don’t scruple to take; and from such good neighbours as you are, I won’t ask any interest upon this money.”

With this remark still on his lips, he produced from his pouch a bundle of silver.

“Ni Erh has, it is true, ever been a rogue,” Chia Yn reflected in his own mind, “but as he is regulated in his dealings by a due regard to persons, he enjoys, to a great degree, the reputation of generosity; and were I to-day not to accept this favour of his, he’ll, I fear, be put to shame; and it won’t contrariwise be nice on my part! and isn’t it better that I should make use of his money, and by and by I can repay him double, and things will be all right!”

“Old Erh,” he therefore observed aloud with a smile, “you’re really a fine fellow, and as you’ve shown me such eminent consideration, how can I presume not to accept your offer! On my return home, I’ll write the customary I.O.U., and send it to you, and all will be in order.”

Ni Erh gave a broad grin. “It’s only fifteen taels and three mace,” he answered, “and if you insist upon writing an I.O.U., I won’t then lend it to you!”

Chia Yn at these words, took over the money, smiling the while. “I’ll readily,” he retorted, “comply with your wishes and have done; for what’s the use of exasperating you!”

“Well then that will be all right!” Ni Erh laughed; “but the day is getting dark; and I shan’t ask you to have a cup of tea or stand you a drink, for I’ve some small things more to settle. As for me, I’m going over there, but you, after all, should please wend your way homewards; and I shall also request you to take a message for me to my people. Tell them to close the doors and turn in, as I’m not returning home; and that in the event of anything occurring, to bid our daughter come over to-morrow, as soon as it is daylight, to short-legged Wang’s house, the horse-dealer’s, in search of me!” And as he uttered this remark he walked away, stumbling and hobbling along. But we will leave him without further notice and allude to Chia Yn.

He had, at quite an unexpected juncture, met this piece of luck, so that his heart was, of course, delighted to the utmost degree. “This Ni Erh," he mused, “is really a good enough sort of fellow, but what I dread is that he may have been open-handed in his fit of drunkenness, and that he mayn’t, by and by, ask for his money to be paid twice over; and what will I do then? Never mind,” he suddenly went on to ponder, “when that job has become an accomplished fact, I shall even have the means to pay him back double the original amount.”

Prompted by this resolution, he came over to a money-shop, and when he had the silver weighed, and no discrepancy was discovered in the weight, he was still more elated at heart; and on his way back, he first and foremost delivered Ni Erh’s message to his wife, and then returned to his own home, where he found his mother seated all alone on a stove-couch spinning thread. As soon as she saw him enter, she inquired where he had been the whole day long, in reply to which Chia Yn, fearing lest his parent should be angry, forthwith made no allusion to what transpired with Pu Shih-jen, but simply explained that he had been in the western mansion, waiting for his uncle Secundus, Lien. This over, he asked his mother whether she had had her meal or not, and his parent said by way of reply: “I’ve had it, but I’ve kept something for you in there,” and calling to the servant-maid, she bade her bring it round, and set it before him to eat. But as it was already dark, when the lamps had to be lit, Chia Yn, after partaking of his meal, got ready and turned in.

Nothing of any notice transpired the whole night; but the next day, as soon it was dawn, he got up, washed his face, and came to the main street, outside the south gate, and purchasing some musk from a perfumery shop, he, with rapid stride, entered the Jung Kuo mansion; and having, as a result of his inquiries, found out that Chia Lien had gone out of doors, Chia Yn readily betook himself to the back, in front of the door of Chia Lien’s court, where he saw several servant-lads, with immense brooms in their hands, engaged in that place in sweeping the court. But as he suddenly caught sight of Chou Jui’s wife appear outside the door, and call out to the young boys; “Don’t sweep now, our lady is coming out,” Chia Yn eagerly walked up to her and inquired, with a face beaming with smiles: “Where’s aunt Secunda going to?”

To this inquiry, Chou Jui’s wife explained: “Our old lady has sent for her, and I expect, it must be for her to cut some piece of cloth or other.” But while she yet spoke, they perceived a whole bevy of people, pressing round lady Feng, as she egressed from the apartment.

Chia Yn was perfectly aware that lady Feng took pleasure in flattery, and delighted in display, so that hastily dropping his arms, he with all reverence, thrust himself forward and paid his respects to her. But lady Feng did not even so much as turn to look at him with straight eyes; but continued, as hitherto, her way onwards, simply confining herself to ascertaining whether his mother was all right, and adding: “How is it that she doesn’t come to our house for a stroll?”

“The thing is,” Chia Yn replied, “that she’s not well: she, however, often thinks fondly of you, aunt, and longs to see you; but as for coming round, she’s quite unable to do so.”

“You have, indeed, the knack of telling lies!” lady Feng laughed with irony; “for hadn’t I alluded to her, she would never have thought of me!”

“Isn’t your nephew afraid,” Chia Yn protested smilingly, “of being blasted by lightning to have the audacity of telling lies in the presence of an elder! Even so late as yesterday evening, she alluded to you, aunt! ’Though naturally,’ she said, ’of a weak constitution, you had, however, plenty to attend to! that it’s thanks to your supremely eminent energies, aunt, that you’re, after all, able to manage everything in such a perfect manner; and that had you ever made the slightest slip, there would have long ago crept up, goodness knows, what troubles!’”

As soon as lady Feng heard these words, her whole face beamed with smiles, and she unconsciously halted her steps, while she proceeded to ask: “How is it that, both your mother and yourself, tattle about me behind my back, without rhyme or reason?”

“There’s a reason for it,” Chia Yn observed, “which is simply this. I’ve an excellent friend with considerable money of his own at home, who recently kept a perfumery shop; but as he obtained, by purchase, the rank of deputy sub-prefect, he was, the other day, selected for a post in Yunnan, in some prefecture or other unknown to me; whither he has gone together with his family. He even closed this shop of his, and forthwith collecting all his wares, he gave away, what he could give away, and what he had to sell at a discount, was sold at a loss; while such valuable articles, as these, were all presented to relatives or friends; and that’s why it is that I came in for some baroos camphor and musk. But I at the time, deliberated with my mother that to sell them below their price would be a pity, and that if we wished to give them as a present to any one, there was no one good enough to use such perfumes. But remembering how you, aunt, had all along in years gone by, even to this day, to spend large bundles of silver, in purchasing such articles, and how, not to speak of this year with an imperial consort in the Palace, what’s even required for this dragon boat festival, will also necessitate the addition of hundred times as much as the quantity of previous years, I therefore present them to you, aunt, as a token of my esteem!”

With these words still on his lips, he simultaneously produced an ornamented box, which he handed over to her. And as lady Feng was, at this time, making preparations for presents for the occasion of the dragon boat festival, for which perfumes were obligatory, she, with all promptitude, directed Feng Erh: “Receive Mr. Yn’s present and take it home and hand it over to P’ing Erh. To one,” she consequently added, "who seems to me so full of discrimination, it isn’t a wonder that your uncle is repeatedly alluding, and that he speaks highly of you; how that you talk with all intelligence and that you have experience stored up in your mind.”

Chia Yn upon hearing this propitious language, hastily drew near one step, and designedly asked: “Does really uncle often refer to me?”

The moment lady Feng caught this question, she was at once inclined to tell him all about the charge to be entrusted to him, but on second thought, she again felt apprehensive lest she should be looked lightly upon by him, by simply insinuating that she had promptly and needlessly promised him something to do, so soon as she got a little scented ware; and this consideration urged her to once more restrain her tongue, so that she never made the slightest reference even to so much as one word about his having been chosen to look after the works of planting the flowers and trees. And after confining herself to making the first few irrelevant remarks which came to her lips, she hastily betook herself into dowager lady Chia’s apartments.

Chia Yn himself did not feel as if he could very well advert to the subject, with the result that he had no alternative but to retrace his steps homewards. But as when he had seen Pao-y the previous day, he had asked him to go into the outer library and wait for him, he therefore finished his meal and then once again entered the mansion and came over into the I Hsia study, situated outside the ceremonial gate, over at old lady Chia’s part of the compound, where he discovered the two lads Ming Yen, whose name had been changed into Pei Ming, and Chu Yo playing at chess, and just arguing about the capture of a castle; and besides them, Yin Ch’uan, Sao Hua, T’iao Yn, Pan Ho, these four or five of them, up to larks, stealing the young birds from the nests under the eaves of the house.

As soon as Chia Yn entered the court, he stamped his foot and shouted, "The monkeys are up to mischief! Here I am, I’ve come;” and when the company of servant-boys perceived him, they one and all promptly dispersed; while Chia Yn walked into the library, and seating himself at once in a chair, he inquired, “Has your master Secundus, Mr. Pao, come down?”

“He hasn’t been down here at all to-day,” Pei Ming replied, “but if you, Mr. Secundus, have anything to tell him, I’ll go and see what he’s up to for you.”

Saying this he there and then left the room; and Chia Yn meanwhile gave himself to the inspection of the pictures and nicknacks. But some considerable time elapsed, and yet he did not see him arrive; and noticing besides that the other lads had all gone to romp, he was just plunged in a state of despondency, when he heard outside the door a voice cry out, with winning tone, and tender accents: “My elder brother!”

Chia Yn looked out, and saw that it was a servant-maid of fifteen or sixteen, who was indeed extremely winsome and spruce. As soon however as the maid caught a glimpse of Chia Yn, she speedily turned herself round and withdrew out of sight. But, as luck would have it, it happened that Pei Ming was coming along, and seeing the servant-maid in front of the door, he observed: “Welcome, welcome! I was quite at a loss how to get any news of Pao-y.” And as Chia Yn discerned Pei Ming, he hastily too, ran out in pursuit of him, and ascertained what was up; whereupon Pei Ming returned for answer: “I waited a whole day long, and not a single soul came over; but this girl is attached to master Secundus’ (Mr. Pao’s) rooms!” and, “My dear girl,” he consequently went on to say, “go in and take a message. Say that Mr. Secundus, who lives under the portico, has come!”

The servant-maid, upon hearing these words, knew at once that he was a young gentleman belonging to the family in which she served, and she did not skulk out of sight, as she had done in the first instance; but with a gaze sufficient to kill, she fixed her two eyes upon Chia Yn, when she heard Chia Yn interpose: “What about over the portico and under the portico; you just tell him that Yn Erh is come, that’s all.”

After a while this girl gave a sarcastic smile. “My idea is,” she ventured, “that you, master Secundus, should really, if it so please you, go back, and come again to-morrow; and to-night, if I find time, I’ll just put in a word with him!”

“What’s this that you’re driving at?” Pei Ming then shouted.

And the maid rejoined: “He’s not even had a siesta to-day, so that he’ll have his dinner at an early hour, and won’t come down again in the evening; and is it likely that you would have master Secundus wait here and suffer hunger? and isn’t it better than he should return home? The right thing is that he should come to-morrow; for were even by and by some one to turn up, who could take a message, that person would simply acquiesce with the lips, but would he be willing to deliver the message in for you?”

Chia Yn, upon finding how concise and yet how well expressed this girl’s remarks had been, was bent upon inquiring what her name was; but as she was a maid employed in Pao-y’s apartments, he did not therefore feel justified in asking the question, and he had no other course but to add, “What you say is quite right, I’ll come to-morrow!” and as he spoke, he there and then was making his way outside, when Pei Ming remarked: “I’ll go and pour a cup of tea; and master Secundus, have your tea and then go.”

Chia Yn turned his head round, as he kept on his way, and said by way of rejoinder: “I won’t have any tea; for I’ve besides something more to attend to!” and while with his lips he uttered these words, he, with his eyes, stared at the servant-girl, who was still standing in there.

Chia Yn wended his steps straightway home; and the next day, he came to the front entrance, where, by a strange coincidence, he met lady Feng on her way to the opposite side to pay her respects. She had just mounted her carriage, but perceiving Chia Yn arrive, she eagerly bade a servant stop him, and, with the window between them, she smiled and observed: "Yn Erh, you’re indeed bold in playing your pranks with me! I thought it strange that you should give me presents; but the fact is you had a favour to ask of me; and your uncle told me even yesterday that you had appealed to him!”

Chia Yn smiled. “Of my appeal to uncle, you needn’t, aunt, make any mention; for I’m at this moment full of regret at having made it. Had I known, at an early hour, that things would have come to this pass, I would, from the very first, have made my request to you, aunt; and by this time everything would have been settled long ago! But who would have anticipated that uncle was, after all, a man of no worth!”

“Strange enough,” lady Feng remarked sneeringly, “when you found that you didn’t succeed in that quarter, you came again yesterday in search of me!”

“Aunt, you do my filial heart an injustice,” Chia Yn protested; “I never had such a thought; had I entertained any such idea, wouldn’t I, aunt, have made my appeal to you yesterday? But as you are now aware of everything, I’ll really put uncle on one side, and prefer my request to you; for circumstances compel me to entreat you, aunt, to be so good as to show me some little consideration!”

Lady Feng laughed sardonically. “You people will choose the long road to follow and put me also in a dilemma! Had you told me just one word at an early hour, what couldn’t have been brought about? an affair of state indeed to be delayed up to this moment! In the garden, there are to be more trees planted and flowers laid down, and I couldn’t think of any person that I could have recommended, and had you spoken before this, wouldn’t the whole question have been settled soon enough?”

“Well, in that case, aunt,” ventured Chia Yn with a smile, “you had better depute me to-morrow, and have done!”

“This job,” continued lady Feng after a pause, “is not, my impression is, very profitable; and if you were to wait till the first moon of next year, when the fireworks, lanterns, and candles will have to be purveyed, I’ll depute you as soon as those extensive commissions turn up.”

“My dear aunt,” pleaded Chia Yn, “first appoint me to this one, and if I do really manage this satisfactorily, you can then commission me with that other!”

“You know in truth how to draw a long thread,” lady Feng observed laughing. “But hadn’t it been that your uncle had spoken to me on your account, I wouldn’t have concerned myself about you. But as I shall cross over here soon after the repast, you had better come at eleven a.m., and fetch the money, for you to enter into the garden the day after to-morrow, and have the flowers planted!”

As she said this, she gave orders to drive the “scented” carriage, and went on her way by the quickest cut; while Chia Yn, who was irrepressibly delighted, betook himself into the I Hsia study, and inquired after Pao-y. But, who would have thought it, Pao-y had, at an early hour, gone to the mansion of the Prince of Pei Ching, so that Chia Yn had to sit in a listless mood till noon; and when he found out that lady Feng had returned, he speedily wrote an acknowledgment and came to receive the warrant. On his arrival outside the court, he commissioned a servant to announce him, and Ts’ai Ming thereupon walked out, and merely asking for the receipt, went in, and, after filling in the amount, the year and moon, he handed it over to Chia Yn together with the warrant. Chia Yn received them from him, and as the entry consisted of two hundred taels, his heart was full of exultant joy; and turning round, he hurried to the treasury, where after he had taken over the amount in silver, he returned home and laid the case before his mother, and needless to say, that both the parent and her son were in high spirits. The next day, at the fifth watch, Chia Yun first came in search of Ni Erh, to whom he repaid the money, and then taking fifty taels along with him, he sped outside the western gate to the house of Fang Ch’un, a gardener, to purchase trees, where we will leave him without saying anything more about him.

We will now resume our story with Pao-y. The day on which he encountered Chia Yn, he asked him to come in on the morrow and have a chat with him, but this invitation was practically the mere formal talk of a rich and well-to-do young man, and was not likely to be so much as borne in mind; and so it was that it readily slipped from his memory. On the evening of the day, however, on which he returned home from the mansion of the Prince Pei Ching, he came, after paying his salutations to dowager lady Chia, madame Wang, and the other inmates, back into the garden; but upon divesting himself of all his fineries, he was just about to have his bath, when, as Hsi Jen had, at the invitation of Hseh Pao-ch’ai, crossed over to tie a few knotted buttons, as Ch’in Wen and Pi Hen had both gone to hurry the servants to bring the water, as T’an Yun had likewise been taken home, on account of her mother’s illness, and She Yueh, on the other hand, was at present ailing in her quarters, while the several waiting-maids, who were in there besides to attend to the dirty work, and answer the calls, had, surmising that he would not requisition their services, one and all gone out in search of their friends and in quest of their companions, it occurred, contrary to their calculations, that Pao-y remained this whole length of time quite alone in his apartments; and as it so happened that Pao-y wanted tea to drink, he had to call two or three times before he at last saw three old matrons walk in. But at the sight of them, Pao-y hastily waved his hand and exclaimed: “No matter, no matter; I don’t want you,” whereupon the matrons had no help but to withdraw out of the rooms; and as Pao-y perceived that there were no waiting-maids at hand, he had to come down and take a cup and go up to the teapot to pour the tea; when he heard some one from behind him observe: “Master Secundus, beware, you’ll scorch your hand; wait until I come to pour it!” And as she spoke, she walked up to him, and took the cup from his grasp, to the intense surprise, in fact, of Pao-y, who inquired: “Where were you that you have suddenly come to give me a start?”

The waiting-maid smiled as she handed him the tea. “I was in the back court,” she replied, “and just came in from the back door of the inner rooms; and is it likely that you didn’t, sir, hear the sound of my footsteps?”

Pao-y drank his tea, and as he simultaneously passed the servant-girl under a minute inspection, he found that though she wore several articles of clothing the worse for wear, she was, nevertheless, with that head of beautiful hair, as black as the plumage of a raven, done up in curls, her face so oblong, her figure so slim and elegant, indeed, supremely beautiful, sweet, and spruce, and Pao-y eagerly inquired: "Are you also a girl attached to this room of mine?”

“I am,” rejoined that waiting-maid.

“But since you belong to this room, how is it I don’t know you?” Pao-y added.

When the maid heard these words, she forced a laugh. “There are even many,” she explained, “that are strangers to you; and is it only myself? I’ve never, before this, served tea, or handed water, or brought in anything; nor have I attended to a single duty in your presence, so how could you know me?”

“But why don’t you attend to any of those duties that would bring you to my notice?” Pao-y questioned.

“I too,” answered the maid, “find it as difficult to answer such a question. There’s however one thing that I must report to you, master Secundus. Yesterday, some Mr. Yn Erh or other came to see you; but as I thought you, sir, had no leisure, I speedily bade Pei Ming tell him to come early to-day. But you unexpectedly went over again to the mansion of the Prince of Pei Ching.”

When she had spoken as far as this, she caught sight of Ch’iu Wen and Pi Hen enter the court, giggling and laughing; the two of them carrying between them a bucket of water; and while raising their skirts with one hand, they hobbled along, as the water spurted and plashed. The waiting-maid hastily come out to meet them so as to relieve them of their burden, but Ch’iu Wen and Pi Hen were in the act of standing face to face and finding fault with each other; one saying, “You’ve wetted my clothes,” the other adding, “You’ve trod on my shoes,” and upon, all of a sudden, espying some one walk out to receive the water, and discovering, when they came to see, that it was actually no one else than Hsiao Hung, they were at once both so taken aback that, putting down the bucket, they hurried into the room; and when they looked about and saw that there was no other person inside besides Pao-y they were at once displeased. But as they were meanwhile compelled to get ready the articles necessary for his bath, they waited until Pao-y was about to divest himself of his clothes, when the couple of them speedily pulled the door to behind them, as they went out, and walked as far as the room on the opposite side, in search of Hsiao Hung; of whom they inquired: “What were you doing in his room a short while back?”

“When was I ever in the room?” Hsiao Hung replied; “simply because I lost sight of my handkerchief, I went to the back to try and find it, when unexpectedly Mr. Secundus, who wanted tea, called for you sisters; and as there wasn’t one even of you there, I walked in and poured a cup for him, and just at that very moment you sisters came back.”

“You barefaced, low-bred thing!” cried Ch’iu Wen, turning towards her and spurting in her face. “It was our bounden duty to tell you to go and hurry them for the water, but you simply maintained that you were busy and made us go instead, in order to afford you an opportunity of performing these wily tricks! and isn’t this raising yourself up li by li? But don’t we forsooth, even so much as come up to you? and you just take that looking-glass and see for yourself, whether you be fit to serve tea and to hand water or not?”

“To-morrow,” continued Pi Hea, “I’ll tell them that whenever there’s anything to do connected with his wanting tea, or asking for water, or with fetching things for him, not one of us should budge, and that she alone should be allowed to go, and have done!”

“If this be your suggestion,” remarked Ch’iu Wen, “wouldn’t it be still better that we should all disperse, and let her reign supreme in this room!”

But while the two of them were up to this trouble, one saying one thing, and another, another, they caught sight of two old nurses walk in to deliver a message from lady Feng; who explained: “To-morrow, someone will bring in gardeners to plant trees, and she bids you keep under more rigorous restraint, and not sun your clothes and petticoats anywhere and everywhere; nor air them about heedlessly; that the artificial hill will, all along, be entirely shut in by screening curtains, and that you mustn’t he running about at random.”

“I wonder,” interposed Ch’iu Wen with alacrity, “who it is that will bring the workmen to-morrow, and supervise the works?”

“Some one or other called Mr. Yn, living at the back portico,” the old woman observed.

But Ch’iu Wen and Pi Hen were neither of them acquainted with him, and they went on promiscuously asking further questions on his account, but Hsiao Hung knew distinctly in her mind who it was, and was well aware that it was the person whom she had seen, the previous day, in the outer library.

The surname of this Hsiao Hung had, in fact, been originally Lin, while her infant name had been Hung Y; but as the word Y improperly corresponded with the names of Pao-y and Tai-y, she was, in due course, simply called Hsiao Hung. She was indeed an hereditary servant of the mansion; and her father had latterly taken over the charge of all matters connected with the farms and farmhouses in every locality. This Hung-y came, at the age of sixteen, into the mansion, to enter into service, and was attached to the Hung Yuan, where in point of fact she found both a quiet and pleasant home; and when contrary to all expectation, the young ladies as well as Pao-y, were subsequently permitted to move their quarters into the garden of Broad Vista, it so happened that this place was, moreover, fixed upon by Pao-y. This Hsiao Hung was, it is true, a girl without any experience, but as she could, to a certain degree, boast of a pretty face, and as, in her own heart, she recklessly fostered the idea of exalting herself to a higher standard, she was ever ready to thrust herself in Pao-y’s way, with a view to showing herself off. But attached to Pao-y’s personal service were a lot of servants, all of whom were glib and specious, so that how could she ever find an opportunity of thrusting herself forward? But contrary to her anticipations, there turned up, eventually on this day, some faint glimmer of hope, but as she again came in for a spell of spiteful abuse from Ch’iu Wen and her companion, her expectations were soon considerably frustrated, and she was just plunged in a melancholy mood, when suddenly she heard the old nurse begin the conversation about Chia Yn, which unconsciously so affected her heart that she hastily returned, quite disconsolate, into her room, and lay herself down on her bed, giving herself quietly to reflection. But while she was racking and torturing her brain and at a moment when she was at a loss what decision to grasp, her ear unexpectedly caught, emanating from outside the window, a faint voice say: “Hsiao Hung, I’ve picked up your pocket handkerchief in here!” and as soon as Hsiao Hung heard these words, she walked out with hurried step and found that it was no one else than Chia Yn in person; and as Hsiao Hung unwillingly felt her powdered face suffused with brushes: “Where did you pick it up, Mr. Secundus?” she asked.

“Come over,” Chia Yn smiled, “and I’ll tell you!” And as he uttered these words, he came up and drew her to him; but Hsiao Hung twisted herself round and ran away; but was however tripped over by the step of the door.

Now, reader, do you want to know the sequel? If so the next chapter will explain.