A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 17

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A Dream of Red Mansions017

Chapter 17

Literary Talent Is Tested by Composing

Inscriptions in Grand View Garden

Those Losing Their Way at Happy Red Court

Explore a Secluded Retreat

Baoyu wept over Qin Zhong’s death as if he would never stop; and it was some time before Li Gui and the rest could prevail on him to leave off. Even after his return he could not overcome his grief. The Lady Dowager gave the Qin family several dozen taels of silver in addition to funeral gifts; Baoyu went to offer his condolences and, seven days later, the funeral and burial took place. No need to record it in detail. Baoyu mourned for his friend and missed him every day, but there was no help for it.

Some time later Jia Zhen came to report to Jia Zheng that the work on the new garden had been completed and Jia She had inspected it.

“All is ready for you to look over, sir,” he announced. “If there is anything unsuitable, we can have it changed before the inscriptions for different places are chosen.”

Jia Zheng reflected for a while, then said, “The inscriptions do present a problem. By rights, we should ask the Imperial Consort to do us the honour of composing them, but she can hardly do this without having seen the place. On the other hand, if we leave the chief sights and pavil­ions without a single name or couplet until her visit, the garden, however lovely with its flowers and willows, rocks and streams, cannot fully re­veal its charm.”

“You are absolutely right, sir,” agreed his cultured companions.

“I have an idea,” said one. “The inscriptions for different places can’t be dispensed with, but neither can they be fixed in advance. Why not briefly prepare some tentative couplets and names to suit each place? We can have them painted on lanterns in the shape of plaques and scrolls for the time being. Then, when Her Highness favours us with a visit, we can ask her to decide on permanent names. Wouldn’t this be a way out of the dilemma?”

“A sound idea,” agreed Jia Zheng. “Let us have a look round then today and think up some inscriptions. If suitable, they can be used; if unsuitable, we can ask Jia Yucun over to help.”

“Your suggestions are bound to be excellent, sir,” they countered. “Why need we call in Yucun?”

“Frankly, I was never a good hand even in my young days at writing verse about nature — flowers, birds and scenery. Now that I’m old and burdened with official duties I’ve quite lost the light touch required for belles-lettres. Any efforts of mine would undoubtedly be so clumsy and pedantic that they would fail to bring out the garden’s beauty — they might even have the opposite effect.”

“Have no fears about that,” his secretaries assured him. “We can put our wits together. If each of us uses his ingenuity and we then choose the best suggestions, discarding the rest, we should be able to manage.”

“Very well. Luckily it’s a fine day for a stroll.”

Jia Zheng rose to his feet and set off at the head of the party, while Jia Zhen went on in advance to let everyone in the garden know they were coming.

It so happened that Baoyu had just arrived in the garden. For he was still grieving so much over Qin Zhong’s death that the Lady Dowager often told his servants to take him there to distract him.

Jia Zhen, coming upon him, warned him jokingly, “You’d better clear out! Lord Zheng is on his way here.”

Baoyu rushed out like a streak of smoke, with his nurse and pages behind him. But just round the corner he ran into Jia Zheng’s party. Since escape was impossible, Baoyu stepped to one side.

Now Jia Zheng had recently heard Baoyu’s tutor speak highly of his skill in composing couplets, remarking that the boy, though not studious, showed considerable originality. Having happened upon him like this, Jia Zheng ordered his son to accompany them. Baoyu had to comply, not knowing what his father wanted.

At the entrance to the garden, they found Jia Zhen with a group of stewards lined up in wait.

“Close the gate,” said Jia Zheng. “Let us see what it looks like from

outside before we go in.”

Jia Zhen had the gate closed and Jia Zheng inspected the gatehouse, a building in five sections with an arched roof of semi-circular tiles. The lintels and lattices, finely carved with ingenious designs, were neither painted nor gilded; the walls were of polished bricks of a uniform colour, and the white marble steps were carved with passion-flowers. The garden’s spotless whitewashed wall stretching to left and right had, at its base, a mosaic of striped “tiger-skin” stones. The absence of vulgar ostentation pleased him.

He had the gate opened then and they went in, only to find their view screened by a green hill. At this sight his secretaries cried out in approval.

“If not for this hill,” observed Jia Zheng, “one would see the whole garden as soon as one entered, and how tame that would be.”

“Exactly,” agreed the rest. “Only a bold landscape gardener could have conceived this.”

On the miniature mountain they saw rugged white rocks resembling monsters and beasts, some recumbent, some rampant, dappled with moss or hung about with creepers, a narrow zigzag path just discernible be­tween them.

“We’ll follow this path,” decided Jia Zheng. “Coming back we can find our way out at the other side. That should take us over the whole grounds.”

He made Jia Zhen lead the way and, leaning on Baoyu’s shoulder, followed him up through the boulders. Suddenly raising his head, he saw a white rock polished as smooth as a mirror, obviously intended for the first inscription.

“See, gentlemen!” he called over his shoulder, smiling. “What would be a suitable name for this spot?”

“Heaped Verdure,” said one.

“Embroidery Ridge,” said another.

“The Censer.”1

“A Miniature Zhongnan.”2

Dozens of different suggestions were made, all of them stereotyped cliches; for Jia Zheng’s secretaries were well aware that he meant to test his son’s ability. Baoyu understood this too.

Now his father called on him to propose a name.

Baoyu replied, “I’ve heard that the ancients said, ‘An old quotation beats an original saying; to recut an old text is better than to engrave a new one.’ As this is not the main prominence or one of the chief sights, it only needs an inscription because it is the first step leading to the rest. so why not use that line from an old poem:

A winding path leads to a secluded retreat.

A name like that would be more dignified.”

“Excellent!” cried the secretaries.

“Our young master is far more brilliant and talented than dull pedants like ourselves.”

“You mustn’t flatter the boy,” protested Jia Zheng with a smile. “He’s simply making a ridiculous parade of his very limited knowledge. We can think of a better name later.”

They walked on through a tunnel into a ravine green with magnificent trees and ablaze with rare flowers. A clear stream welling up where the trees were thickest wound its way through clefts in the rocks.

Some paces further north, on both sides of a level clearing, rose tow­ering pavilions whose carved rafters and splendid balustrades were half hidden by the trees on the slopes. Looking downwards, they saw a crys­tal stream cascading as white as snow and stone steps going down through the mist to a pool. This was enclosed by marble balustrades and spanned by a stone bridge ornamented with the heads of beasts with gaping jaws. On the bridge was a little pavilion in which the whole party sat down.

“What would you call this, gentlemen?” asked Jia Zheng.

One volunteered, “Ouyang Xiu’s3 Pavilion of the Old Drunkard has the line, ‘A winged pavilion hovers above.’ Why not call this Winged Pavilion?”

“A delightful name,” rejoined Jia Zheng. “But as this pavilion is built over the pool there should be some allusion to the water. Ouyang Xiu also speaks of a fountain ‘spilling between two peaks.’ Could we not use that word ‘spilling’?”

“Capital!” cried one gentleman. “‘Spilling Jade’ would be an excel­lent name.”

Jia Zheng tugging thoughtfully at his beard turned with a smile to ask Baoyu for his suggestion.

“I agree with what you just said, sir,” replied his son. “But if we go into this a little deeper, although ‘spilling’ was an apt epithet for Ouyang Xiu’s fountain, which was called the Brewer’s Spring, it would be unsuitable here. Then again, as this is designed as a residence for the Imperial Consort we should use more courtly language instead of coarse, inelegant expressions like this. Could you not think of some­thing more subtle?”

“Do you hear that, gentlemen?” Jia Zheng chuckled. “When we sug­gest something original he is all in favour of an old quotation; but now that we are using an old quotation he finds it too coarse. Well, what do you propose?”

“Wouldn’t ‘Seeping Fragrance’ be more original and tasteful than ‘Spilling Jade’?”

Jia Zheng stroked his beard again and nodded in silence while the others, eager to please him, hastened to commend Baoyu’s remarkable talent.

“The selection of two words for the tablet is easy,” said his father. “Go on and make a seven-character couplet.”

Baoyu rose to his feet and glanced round for inspiration. Then he declaimed:

“Willows on the dyke lend their verdancy to three punts; Flowers on the further shore spare a breath of fragrance.

His father nodded with a faint smile amid another chorus of approval. They left the pavilion then, crossed the bridge and strolled on, admir­ing each rock, each height, each flower and each tree on the way, until they found themselves before the whitewashed enclosing walls of a fine lodge nestling in a dense glade of fresh green bamboos. With cries of admiration they walked in.

From the gate porch a zigzag covered walk with a cobbled path below and parallel to it wound up to a little cottage of three rooms, with the cottage door in the middle one and furniture made to fit the measure­ments of the rooms. Another small door in the inner room opened on to the back garden with its large pear-tree, broad-leafed plantain and two tiny side courts. Through a foot-wide opening below the back wall flowed a brook which wound past the steps and the lodge to the front court before meandering out through the bamboos.

“This is pleasant. If one could study at this window on a moonlit night one would not have lived in vain,” observed Jia Zheng. He glanced at Baoyu, who hung his head in confusion while the others quickly changed the subject, one of them suggesting:

“We need a four-character inscription here.”

“What four characters?” asked Jia Zheng.

“Shades of the River Qi?”4 ‘‘Too commonplace.” “Traces of the Sui Garden?”5 “That is equally hackneyed.”

Jia Zhen proposed, “Let Cousin Bao make a suggestion.”

“Before he makes any suggestion,” objected Jia Zheng, “the impu­dent fellow criticizes other people’s.”

“But his comments are correct. How can you blame him?”

“Don’t pander to him like that.” He turned to his son. “We’re put­ting up with your wild talk today, so let’s have your criticisms first before we hear your own proposals. Were either of these gentlemen’s sugges­tions appropriate?”

“I didn’t think so, sir.”

His father smiled sardonically, “Why not?”

“Since this will be the first place where our Imperial visitor stops, we should pay some tribute to Her Highness here. If we want a four-charac­ter inscription there are plenty of old ones ready at hand, why need we compose anything new?”

“Aren’t ‘The River Qi’ and ‘The Sui Garden’ both classical allu­sions?”

“Yes, but they sound too stiff. I propose ‘Where the Phoenix Alights.’”

The rest were loud in their praise and Jia Zheng nodded. “You young rascal,” he said, “with your pitiful smattering of knowl­edge. All right, now let’s hear your couplet.”

Baoyu declaimed:

“Still green the smoke from tea brewed in a rare tripod;

Yet cold the fingers from chess played by quiet window.”

Jia Zheng shook his head. ”No better either!”

He was leading the party on when a thought struck him and turn­ing to Jia Zhen he said, “All these compounds and lodges are fur­nished with tables and chairs, but what about curtains, blinds, knick­knacks, curios and so forth? Have appropriate ones for each place been prepared?”

“We have got in a large stock of ornaments which will be properly set out in due course,” replied Jia Zhen. “As for the curtains and blinds, Cousin Lian told me yesterday that they are not all ready yet. We took exact measurements from the building plans for each place when the work started, and sent out our designs to be made up. By yesterday about half of them were finished.”

Since he was clearly ignorant of the details, Jia Zheng sent for Jia Lian and asked him, “What are the different items? How many are ready and how many are not?”

Jia Lian promptly pulled out a list from the leg of one boot. After referring to it he replied, “Of the one hundred and twenty satin curtains embroidered with dragons and brocade hangings large and small with different designs and colours, eighty were ready yesterday and forty are still to come. Two hundred blinds were delivered yesterday. Beside these, there are two hundred portières of crimson felt, two hundred of red lac­quered bamboo with gold flecks, two hundred of black lacquered bam­boo, and two hundred woven with coloured silks. Half of each kind is ready, the rest will be finished by the end of autumn. Then there are chair-covers, table-drapes, valances and stool-covers — one thousand two hundred of each which we already have.”

As they walked on talking, their eyes fell on some green hills bar­ring their way. Skirting these they caught sight of brown adobe walls with paddy-stalk copings and hundreds of apricot-trees, their blos­soms bright as spurting flames or sunlit clouds. Inside this enclosure stood several thatched cottages. Outside grew saplings of mulberry, elm, hibiscus and silkwormthorn trees, whose branches had been in­tertwined to form a double green hedge. Beyond this hedge, at the

foot of the slope, was a rustic well complete with windlass and well­sweep. Below, neat plots of fine vegetables and rape-flowers stretched as far as eye could see.

“I see the point of this place,” declared Jia Zheng. “Although artifi­cially made, the sight of it tempts one to retire to the country. Let us go in and rest a while.”

Just as they were on the point of entering the wicker gate they saw a stone by the pathway which was obviously intended for an inscription.

“That’s the finishing touch,” they cried, chuckling. “A plaque over the gate would have spoilt the rustic flavour, but this stone here adds to the charm. It would take one of Fan Chengda’s poems6 on country life to do justice to this place.

“What shall we call it then, gentlemen?”

“As your worthy son just remarked. ‘An old quotation beats an original saying.’ The ancients have already supplied the most fitting name — Apricot Village.”

Jia Zheng turned with a smile to Jia Zhen, saying, “That reminds me. This place is perfect in every other respect, but it still lacks a tavern-sign. You must have one made tomorrow. Nothing too grand. Just a tavern-sign of the sort used in country places. Let it be hung on a bamboo pole from a tree-top.”

Jia Zhen readily agreed to this, then suggested, “Other birds would be out of place here, but we ought to have some geese, ducks, hens and so on.”

When this proposal had met with general approval, Jia Zheng ob­served, “‘Apricot Village’ is first-rate, but since it is the name of a real place we should have to get official permission to use it.”

“True,” agreed the other. “We shall have to think of something else. What shall it be?”

Without giving them time to think or waiting to be asked by his father, Baoyu blurted out, “An old poem has the line, ‘Above flowering apricot hangs a tavern-sign.’ Why not call this ‘Approach to Apricot Tavern’?”

“‘Approach’ is superb,” they cried. “It suggests the idea of Apricot Village too.”

“‘Apricot Village’ would be too vulgar a name.” Baoyu smiled scornfully. “But an old poet wrote ‘A wicker gate by a stream sweet with paddy. ‘ How about ‘Paddy-Sweet Cottage’?”

Again the secretaries clapped in approbation but his father sternly silenced him. “Ignorant cub! How many ancient writers have you read and how many old poems have you memorized that you dare show off in front of your elders? I put up with your nonsense just now to test you in. fun — don’t take it seriously.”

With that he led the party into one of the cottages. It was quite free of ostentation, having papered windows and a wooden couch. Secretly pleased, he glanced at his son and asked, “Well, what do you think of this place?”

The secretaries nudged the boy to induce him to express approval. But ignoring them he answered, “It can’t compare with ‘Where the Phoenix Alights.”’

“Ignorant dolt!” Jia Zheng sighed. “All you care for are red pavilions and painted beams. With your perverse taste for luxury, how can you appreciate the natural beauty of such a quiet retreat? This comes of neglecting your studies.”

“Yes sir,” replied Baoyu promptly. “But the ancients were always using the term ‘natural.’ I wonder what they really meant by it?”

Afraid his pig-headedness would lead to trouble, the others hastily put in, “You understand everything else so well, why ask about the term ‘natural’? It means coming from nature, not due to human effort.”

“There you are! A farm here is obviously artificial and out of place with no villages in the distance, no fields near by, no mountain ranges behind, no source for the stream at hand, above, no pagoda from any half hidden temple, below, no bridge leading to a market. Perched here in isolation, it is nothing like as fine a sight as those other places which were less far-fetched. The bamboos and streams there didn’t look so artificial. What the ancients called ‘a natural picture’ means precisely that when you insist on an unsuitable site and hills where no hills should be, however skilfully you go about it the result is bound to jar….”

“Clear off!” thundered Jia Zheng. “Stop. Come back. Make up an­other couplet. If it’s no good I’ll slap your face on both accounts.”

Baoyu had to comply. He declaimed:

“The green tide fills the creek where clothes are washed;

Clouds of fragrance surround the girls plucking water-cress.”

“Worse and worse,” growled Jia Zheng, shaking his head as he led the company out.

The path now curved around a slope, past flowers and willows, rocks and springs, a trellis of yellow roses, an arbour of white ones, a tree-peony pavilion, a white peony plot, a court of rambler roses and a bank of plantains. Suddenly they heard the plash of a spring gushing from a cave overhung by vines, and saw fallen blossoms floating on the water below. As they cried out in delight, Jia Zheng asked them to suggest another inscription.

“What more apt than ‘The Spring of Wuling’?” said one.

“Too hackneyed. Besides, it’s also the name of a real place,” ob­jected Jia Zheng with a smile.

“Then how about ‘The Refuge of a Man of Qin’?”

“Even more impossible,” cried Baoyu. “How can we use something that implies taking refuge in time of trouble? I suggest ‘Smartweed Bank and Flowery Harbour.”

“That makes even less sense,” scoffed his father. He strolled to the water’s edge and asked Jia Zhen, “Do you have any boats here?”

“There will be four punts for lotus-gathering and one pleasure boat, but they aren’t ready yet.”

“What a pity we can’t cross.”

“We can make a detour by the path over the hills,” said Jia Zhen, and proceeded to lead the way.

The others followed, clinging to creepers and trees as they clam­bered up. There were more fallen blossoms now on the stream, which appeared more translucent than ever as it swirled down its circuitous course. It was flanked by weeping willows and peach and apricot trees which screened the sun, and there was not a mote of dust in the air.

Presently, in the shade of the willows, they glimpsed an arched wooden bridge with scarlet railings. Once over this a choice of paths lay before them; but their attention was caught by an airy house of smooth brick with spotless tiles and an ornamental wall on one of the lesser slopes of the main hill.

“That building seems very out of place here,” remarked Jia Zheng.

But stepping over the threshold he was confronted by tall weathered rocks of every description which hid the house from sight. In place of trees and flowers there was a profusion of rare creepers, vines and trail­ers, which festooned the artificial mountains, grew through the rocks, hung from the eaves, twined round the pillars and carpeted the steps. Some seemed like floating green belts or golden bands; others had ber­ries red as cinnabar and flowers like golden osmanthus which gave off a penetrating scent, unlike the scent of ordinary flowers.

“This is charming!” Jia Zheng could not help exclaiming. “But what are all these plants?”

“Climbing fig and wistaria?” someone suggested.

“But they don’t have such a strange fragrance, do they?”

“They certainly don’t,” interposed Baoyu. “There are climbing fig and wistaria here, but the fragrance comes from alpinia and snakeroot. That one over there is iris, I fancy, and here we have dolichos, dwarf-mallow and glyrcyrrhia. That crimson plant is purple rue, of course; the green, angelica. A lot of these rare plants are mentioned in the Li Sao and Wen Xuan, 8 plants with names like huona, Jiangtan, lunzu and ziang; shifan, shuisong and fuliu; luyi, danjiao, miwu and fenglian. But after all these centuries scholars can no longer identify these plants, for which new names have been found….”

“Who asked your opinion?” roared his father.

Baoyu stepped back nervously and said no more.

Covered corridors ran along both sides of this court and Jia Zheng led his party down one of these to a cool five-section gallery with roofed verandahs on four sides, green windows and painted walls, more elegant than any they had yet seen.

“One could brew tea here and play the lyre without having to burn rare incense.” He sighed appreciatively, “This is certainly unexpected. We need a good inscription, gentlemen, to do it justice.”

“What could be apter than ‘Wind in the Orchids and Dew on Angeli­cas’ ?“ one ventured.

“I suppose we have no other choice. Now what about a couplet?”

“I have thought of one,” said another. “The rest of you must correct it.

Fragrance of musk-orchids fills the court at dusk,

Scent of alpinia floats to the moonlit island.”

“Very good,” they commented. “Only the reference to ‘dusk’ seems inappropriate.”

He quoted the old poem then with the line, “The alpinia in the court weeps in the dusk.”

“Too sad, too sad,” they protested.

“Here’s one for your consideration,” said another.

“Along three paths white angelica scents the breeze, In the court a bright moon shines on golden orchids.”

Jia Zheng thoughtfully tugged at his beard and seemed about to pro­pose a couplet himself when, raising his head, he caught sight of Baoyu, now afraid to open his mouth.

“Well?” he said sternly. “When it’s time to speak you say nothing. Are you waiting to be begged for the favour of your instruction?”

“We have no musk, moon or islands here,” said Baoyu. “If you want allusive couplets of that kind, we can easily compose hundreds.”

“Who is putting pressure on you to use those words?”

“Well then, I suggest ‘Pure Scent of Alpinia and Iris.’ And for the couplet:

Singing on cardamons makes lovely poetry;

Sleeping beneath roses induces sweet dreams.”

Jia Zheng laughed. “You got that from the line ‘Write on plantain leaves and green is the writing.’ This is mere plagiarism.”

“There’s nothing wrong with plagiarism provided it’s well done,” countered the others. “Even Li Bai copied from Yellow Crane Pavilion ~ when he wrote his Phoenix Tower. If you consider this couplet carefully, sir, it is livelier and more poetical than the original. It even looks as if the other line plagiarizes this by our young master.”

“Preposterous!” Jia Zheng smiled.

From there they went on some way until ahead of them loomed tow­ering pavilions enclosed by magnificent buildings, all of them connected by winding passageways. Green pines brushed the eaves, white balus­trades skirted the steps, the animal designs glittered like gold and the dragon-heads blazed with colour.

“This must be the main reception palace,” observed Jia Zheng. “Its one fault is that it is too luxurious.”

“Unavoidably so,” they reasoned. “Although Her Royal Highness prizes frugality, this is no more than is due to her present exalted rank.”

They were now at the foot of a marble arch finely carved with ram­pant dragons and coiling serpents.

“What should be inscribed here?” asked Jia Zheng.

“‘The Fairy Land of Penglai’?”

He shook his head and said nothing.

As for Baoyu, he felt strangely stirred by this sight, as if he had seen a place of this kind before — though just when he could not remember. Called upon to compose an inscription, he was too preoccupied to think of anything else. The others, not knowing this, imagined that his wits were wandering and he was exhausted after his long ordeal. Fearing that if he were pressed too hard the consequences might be serious, they urged his father to give him a day’s grace.

Jia Zheng, aware that his mother might well be anxious, said with an ironic smile, “So sometimes you are at a loss too, you young rascal. Very well, I’ll give you until tomorrow. But if no inscription is ready then, so much the worse for you. This is the most important place, so mind you do your best.”

They continued with the tour of inspection and had covered little more than half the grounds when a servant reported that someone had arrived with a message from Yucun.

“We can’t see the rest of the places,” said Jia Zheng. “But by going out the other way we can at least get a general idea, even if we don’t see them all.”

He led the way to a large bridge above a crystal curtain of cascading water. This was the sluice admitting water from outside. Jia Zheng asked for a name for it.

“Since this is the source of the River of Seeping Fragrance it could be

called ‘Seeping Fragrance Lock,”’ Baoyu suggested.

“Rubbish,” said his father. “We just won’t have ‘Seeping Fragrance.

On they went past quiet lodges and thatched huts, stone walls and pergolas of flowers, a temple secluded in the hills and a convent half hidden among the trees, long covered walks, meandering grottoes, square mansions and round kiosks, none of which they had time to enter. How­ever, it was so long since their last rest that all were footsore and weary by the time they saw another lodge in front, and Jia Zheng said, “Here we must rest a little.”

He led the way in past some double-flowering peach in blossom and through a moon-gate made of bamboo over which climbed flowering plants. Whitewashed walls and green willows confronted them then. Along the walls ran covered corridors, and the rockery in the centre of the court­yard was flanked on one side by plantains, on the other by a red multi-petalled crab-apple tree, its branches trained in the shape of an umbrella, with green trailing tendrils and petals red as cinnabar.

“What superb blossoms!” they exclaimed. “We have never seen such a splendid one before.”

“This is a foreign variety called ‘Maiden Apple, “‘ Jia Zheng told them. “Tradition has it that it comes from the Land of Maidens, and that it blossoms profusely in that country; but that is nothing but an old wives’ tale.”

“If so, how did the name come to be handed down?” they wondered.

“Quite likely the name ‘Maiden’ was given by some poet,” said Baoyu, “because this flower is as red as rouged cheeks and as frail as a delicate girl. Then some vulgar character made up that story and ignorant people believed it.”

“A most plausible explanation,” said the others.

They sat down on some benches in the corridor and Jia Zheng at once asked for another inscription.

“Plantains and Storks’?” one proposed.

‘‘Or ‘Towering Splendour and Shimmering Radiance.’”

Jia Zheng and the rest approved, as indeed did Baoyu, adding, “It’s a pity, though….” Asked to explain himself, he said, “Plantain and crab­apple blossom suggest both red and green. It’s a pity to refer to one and not the other.”

“What do you suggest then?” demanded his father.

“Something like ‘Red Fragrance and Green Jade’ would bring out the charm of both, I think.”

“Too feeble!” Jia Zheng shook his head.

He led the way into the building. It was unusually set out with no clear-cut divisions between the different rooms. There were only parti­tions formed of shelves for books, bronze tripods, stationery, flower vases and miniature gardens, some round, some square, some shaped like sun­flowers, plantain leaves or intersecting arcs. They were beautifully carved with the motifs “clouds and a hundred bats” of the “three companions of winter” — pine, plum and bamboo — as well as landscapes and figures, birds and flowers, scrollwork, imitation curios and symbols of good fortune or long life. All executed by the finest craftsmen, they were brilliantly coloured and inlaid with gold or precious stones. The effect was splendid, the workmanship exquisite. Here a strip of coloured gauze concealed a small window, there a gorgeous curtain hid a door. There were also niches on the walls to fit antiques, lyres, swords, vases or other ornaments, which hung level with the surface of the wall. Their amaze­ment and admiration for the craftsmen’s ingenuity knew no bounds.

After passing two partitions Jia Zheng and his party lost their way. To their left they saw a door, to their right a window; but when they went forward their passage was blocked by a bookshelf. Turning back they glimpsed the way through another window; but on reaching the door they suddenly saw a party just like their own confronting them — they were looking at a big mirror. Passing round this they came to more doorways.

“Follow me, sir,” urged Jia Zhen with a smile. “Let me take you to the back courtyard and show you a short cut.”

He conducted them past two gauze screens out into a courtyard filled with rose trellises. Skirting round the fence, Baoyu saw a clear stream in front.

All exclaimed in astonishment, “Where does this water come from?”

Jia Zhen pointed to a spot in the distance.

“It flows from that lock we saw through the ravine, then from the northeast valley to the little farm, where some is diverted southwest.

Here both streams converge to flow out underneath the wall.”

“Miraculous!” they marvelled.

Now another hill barred their way and they no longer had any sense of direction; but Jia Zhen laughingly made them follow him, and as soon as they rounded the foot of the hill they found themselves on a smooth highway not far from the main entrance.

“How diverting,” they said. “Really most ingenious.”

And so they left the garden.

Baoyu was longing to get back to the girls, but receiving no dismissal from his father he had to follow him to the library. Now Jia Zheng sud­denly remembered his presence.

“Why are you still here?” he demanded. “Haven’t you had enough of wandering around? The old lady will be worrying about you. She’s wasting her love on you. Off you go, quick.”

Then at last Baoyu could withdraw. What followed is recorded in the next chapter.

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