A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 28

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Chapter 28

Jiang Yuhan Gives a New Friend

a Scarlet Perfumed Sash

Baochai Bashfully Shows Her Red Bracelet

Scented with Musk

As we saw, Daiyu held Baoyu to blame for her exclusion by Qingwen the previous night. As today happened to be the occasion for feasting the God of Flowers, her pent-up resentment merged with her grief at the transience of spring, and as she buried the fading petals she could not help weeping over her own fate and composing a lament.

Baoyu listened from the slope. At first he just nodded in sympathy, until she came, to the lines:

Men laugh at my folly in burying fallen flowers,

But who will bury mc when dead I lie?

The day that spring takes wing and beauty fades

Who will care for the fallen blossom or dead maid?

At this point he flung himself wretchedly down on the ground, scatter­ing his load of fallen flowers, heart-broken to think that Daiyu’s loveli­ness and beauty must one day vanish away. And it followed that the same fate awaited Baochai, Xiangling, Xiren and all the rest. When at last they were all gone, what would become of him? And if he had no idea where he would be by then, what would become of this place and all the flowers and willows in the Garden and who would take them over? One reflection led to another until, after repeated ruminations, he wished he were some insensible, stupid object, able to escape all earthy entangle­ments and be free from such wretchedness despite the —

Shadows of blossom all around,

Birdsong on every side.

Daiyu, giving way to her own grief heard weeping now on the slope.

“Everyone laughs at me for being foolish. Is there someone else equally foolish?” she asked herself.

Then, looking up, she saw Baoyu.

“So that’s who it is.” She snorted. “That heartless, wretched….”

But the moment the words “wretched” escaped her she covered her mouth and moved quickly away with a long sigh.

When Baoyu recovered sufficiently to look up she had gone, obvi­ously to avoid him. Getting up rather sheepishly, he dusted off his clothes and walked down the hill to make his way back again to Happy Red Court. Catching sight of Daiyu ahead, he overtook her.

“Do stop!” he begged. “I know you won’t look at me, but let me just say one word. After that we can part company for good.”

Daiyu glanced round and would have ignored him, but was curious to hear this “one word,” thinking there must be something in it. She came to a halt.

“Out with it.” Baoyu smiled.

“Would you listen if I said two words?” he asked. At once she walked away.

Baoyu, close behind her, sighed.

“Why are things so different now from in the past?” Against her will she stopped once more and turned her head. “What do you mean by ‘now’ and ‘the past’?” Baoyu heaved another sigh.

“Wasn’t I your playmate when you first came?” he demanded. “Any­thing that pleased me was yours, cousin, for the asking. If I knew you fancied a favourite dish of mine, I put it away in a clean place till you came. We ate at the same table and slept on the same bed. I took care that the maids did nothing to upset you; for I thought cousins growing up together as such good friends should be kinder to each other than anyone else. I never expected you to grow so proud that flow you have no use for me while you’re so fond of outsiders like Baochai and Xifeng. You ig­nore me or cut me for three of four days at a time. I’ve no brothers or sisters of my own — only two by a different mother, as well you know. So I’m an only child like you, and I thought that would make for an affinity between us. But apparently it was no use my hoping for that. There’s nobody I can tell how unhappy I am.” With that, he broke down again.

This appeal and his obvious wretchedness melted her heart. But though shedding tears of sympathy, she kept her head lowered and made no reply.

This encouraged Baoyu to go on.

“I know my own faults. But however bad I may be, I’d never dare do anything to hurt you. If I do something the least bit wrong, you can tick me oft warn me, scold me or even strike me, and I won’t mind. But when you just ignore me and I can’t tell why, I’m at my wits’ end and don’t know what to do. If I die now I can only become a ‘ghost hounded to death,’ and not even the masses of the best bonzes and Taoists will be able to save my soul. I can only be born again if you’ll tell me what’s wrong.”

By now Daiyu’s resentment over the previous evening was com­pletely forgotten.

“Then why did you tell your maids not to open the gate when I called last night?” she asked.

“Whatever do you mean?” he cried in amazement. “If I did such a thing, may I die on the spot.”

“Hush! Don’t talk about dying so early in the morning. Did you or didn’t you? There’s no need to swear.”

“I honestly knew nothing about your coming. Baochai did drop in for a chat, but she didn’t stay long.”

Daiyu thought this over.

“Yes,” she said more cheerfully, “I suppose your maids felt too lazy to stir and that made them answer rudely.”

“That’s it, for sure. I shall find out who it was when I get back and give them a good scolding.”

“Those maids of yours deserve one, although of course that’s not for me to say. It doesn’t matter their offending me, but think what trouble there’ll be if next time they offend your precious Baochai!”

She compressed her lips to smile, and Baoyu did not know whether to grind his teeth or laugh.

They were summoned now to a meal and went over to his mother’s apartment where, on seeing Daiyu, Lady Wang asked:

“Has Doctor Bao’s medicine done you any good, child?”

“Not much,” the girl answered. “The old lady wants me to try Doctor Wang’s medicine.”

“You don’t know, madam,” said Baoyu, “Cousin Lin suffers from an inherited weakness and has such a delicate constitution that she can’t stand the least little chill. All she needs is a couple of doses to clear this up. Some pills would be best for her.”

“The other day the doctor recommended some pills,” said his mother “I can’t quite recall the name.”

“I can guess,” said Baoyu. “Just ginseng tonic pills.”

“That wasn’t it.”

“Eight-treasure-leonurus pills then?” Left restorative? Right restor­ative? Or, failing that, six-flavour-digitalis pills?”

“No, it wasn’t any of those. All I can remember are the words ‘guardian angel.’”

Baoyu clapped his hands and laughed.

“I’ve never heard of guardian-angel pills. If there are guardian-angel pills there must be Bodhisattva powders too.”

Everyone in the room burst out laughing.

Trying to repress a smile Baochai suggested: “Were they heavenly­-king-fortifying-the-heart pills?”

“That’s it,” said Lady Wang. “Row muddle-headed I’ve grown. ”

“You’re not muddle-headed, madam,” her son assured her. “Those angels and Bodhisattvas have muddled you.”

“That’s enough from you,” she scolded. “It’s time your father gave you another beating.”

“My father wouldn’t beat me for that.”

“Since we know the name we’ll send out tomorrow to buy some.”

“Those remedies are useless,” protested Baoyu. “If you’ll give me three hundred and sixty taels of silver, I’ll make up some pills for my cousin and I guarantee she’ll be cured before they’re all taken.”

“Have some sense! What pills could be so expensive?”

Baoyu chuckled.

“It’s true. This is a unique prescription. I won’t go into all the strange ingredients now, but one’s the afterbirth of a firstborn child, another’s man-shaped ginseng roots with leaves on them — these alone would cost more than three hundred and sixty taels. Then there’s polygonum the size of a tortoise, pachyma from the root of a thousand-year-old pine, and other things of the same sort. These are nothing unusual, just ordi­nary herbs; but the chief ingredient would give you a shock. Cousin Xue Pan pestered me for more than a year to give him this prescription. Even then, it took him more than two years and about a thousand taels of silver to have it made up. If you don’t believe me, madam, ask Cousin Baochai.”

Baochai raised a protesting hand, smiling.

“I know nothing and never heard a word about it. So don’t refer auntie to me.”

“After all she’s good girl,” said Lady Wang. “Baochai wouldn’t tell a lie.”

Baoyu turned where he was standing and clapped his hands.

“What I said is in fact true. Yet you accuse me of lying.”

Whirling back he caught sight of Daiyu, who was seated behind Baochai, laughingly drawing one finger across her cheek to shame him.

Xifeng had been supervising the laying of the tables in the inner room but now she came out to join in the discussion.

“Baoyu isn’t fibbing,” she declared. “It’s true. The other day Xue Pan came to me for some pearls. ‘What for?’ I wanted to know.

“He said, ‘For a prescription.’ And he grumbled, ‘If I’d known all the trouble involved, I’d have left it alone.’

“I asked, ‘What prescription is it?’

“He said, ‘One of Baoyu’s.’

“I hadn’t time to listen to all the ingredients he listed. Then he said, ‘I could have bought some pearls, but pearls for this medicine must have been worn on the head. That’s why I’ve come to you. If you haven’t any loose ones, let me take the pearls from one of your trinkets and I’ll find you some good ones later to replace them.’

“So I had to give him a couple of my pearl trinkets. He wanted three feet of red gauze from the Palace too. Said he meant to grind the pearls into a fine powder to be mixed with other powdered ingredients.”

Baoyu had punctuated Xifeng’s speech with cries of “Buddha be praised! The sun shines at last in this room.” As soon as she had finished he put in:

“This is actually only a makeshift, madam. The real prescription calls for pearls and gems worn by wealthy ladies of old from ancient tombs. But we can hardly go and dig up graves, can we? So we have to make do with pearls worn by living people.”

“Amida Buddha!” cried Lady Wang. “The idea! Even if there are pearls in old tombs, how can you dig them up and disturb the bones of people dead for all those hundreds of years? No medicine made that way could be any good.”

Baoyu appealed to Daiyu.

“You heard what’s been said. Would my Cousin Xifeng back me up if I were lying?” Although facing Daiyu, he glanced at Baochai as he spoke.

Daiyu caught Lady Wang’s arm.

“Just listen to him, auntie. When Baochai won’t back up his fib, he appeals to me.”

“Yes, Baoyu is good at bullying you,” said Lady Wang.

“You don’t know the reason, madam.” Baoyu grinned. “Even when Cousin Baochai lived with her family she didn’t know her brother’s do­ings; so she knows even less now that she’s in the Garden. But just now cousin Daiyu, sitting at the back, drew a finger across her cheek to shame me because she thought I was fibbing.”

A maid came in then to summon Baoyu and Daiyu to dinner with the Lady Dowager Without a word to Baoyu, Daiyu rose and started leading the maid away.

“Won’t you wait for Master Bao?” asked the maid.

“He doesn’t want anything to eat,” replied Daiyu. “Come on, let’s go. I’m going.” She walked out.

“I’ll eat here with you, madam,” said Baoyu.

“No, no,” objected Lady Wang. “This is one of my meatless days, so run along and have a proper meal.”

“I’ll have vegetarian food with you.” He sent the maid away and took a seat at the table.

His mother told Baochai and the other girls to go ahead with their own meal and ignore him.

“You’d better go, ” Baochai urged him “Even it you don’t want anything to eat you should keep Daiyu company, she’s not feeling happy. ”

“Never mind her,” he answered. “She’ll be all right presently.”

But as soon as the meal was over he called for tea to rinse his mouth, suspecting that his grandmother might be worried by his absence, and worried himself about Daiyu.

Tanchun and Xichun smiled.

“Why are you always in such a hurry, brother?” they teased. “Even rushing through your meals and tea.”

“Let him finish quickly and join Cousin Lin,” said Baochai. “Why should he fool around here?”

Baoyu gulped down his tea then and left, making straight for the west court. On the way he found Xifeng standing in the gateway of her com­pound and picking her teeth with an earpick as she watched a dozen pages move some flower-pots.

“You’ve turned up just at the right time,” she called to him with a smile. “Come on in. Come in and write a few words for me.”

Baoyu had no option but to follow her in.

Once inside Xifeng called for a brush, inkstone and paper and started dictating to him:

“Forty rolls of red flowered satin; forty rolls of satin with serpent designs; a hundred rolls of Imperial gauze of different colours; four gold necklaces. ”

“What is all this?” asked Baoyu. “It sounds neither like an account nor a list of presents. How am I to write it?”

“Just put it down. So long as I know what it means that’ll do.”

Baoyu did as he was told. And when he had finished she put the list away.

“There’s something else I want, if you’re agreeable,” she then said with a smile. “I’d like that maid called Hongyu in your place to come and work for me. I’ll find you a few others instead later All right?”

“My place is swarming with people,” said Baoyu. “Take any of them you like. You don’t have to ask.”

“In that case, I’ll send someone to fetch her. ”

“Do.”

He was starting to leave when Xifeng called him back, saying that she had something else to tell him.

“The old lady is waiting for me,” he demurred. “You can tell me when I come back.”

By the time he reached the Lady Dowager’s quarters they had fin­ished their meal there.

“Well,” his grandmother asked, “what good things did your mother give you to eat?”

“Nothing special, but I had one bowl of rice more than usual. Where’s Cousin Lin?”

“In the inner room.

Baoyu went in and saw a maid blowing at the charcoal in an iron. Two others were chalking patterns on the kang where Daiyu, bending over, was cutting out some material. He walked forward with a smile.

“Why, what are you doing?” he asked. “Stooping like that just after a meal will bring your headache back.”

Daiyu paid no attention but went on with her work.

“That corner of the silk is still rather crumpled,” one of the maids remarked. “Better iron it again.”

“Never mind it.” Daiyu put down her scissors. “It’ll be all right pres­ently.”

Baoyu was digesting this snub when Baochai, Tanchun and the others arrived to chat with the old lady. Soon Baochai stepped into the inner room and asked Daiyu what she was doing, then watched her at work.

“How clever you’re getting,” she commented, “even able to cut out clothes. ”

“This is just another specious way of fooling people,” retorted Daiyu.

Baochai smiled.

“Let me tell you something funny,” she volunteered. “Cousin Bao’s annoyed with me because I denied knowing anything about that medi­cine.”

“Never mind him. He’ll be all right presently.”

Baoyu told Baochai, “The old lady wants to play cards and there aren’t enough people. Won’t you take a hand?”

Again Baochai smiled.

“Of course, that’s what I came for.”

As she went out Daiyu called after her, “You had better leave. There’s a tiger here who might eat you. ”

She went on with her cutting and ignored Baoyu, who suggested with a conciliatory smile: “Why don’t you take a stroll before doing any more?”

Daiyu remained silent.

“Who told her to do this?” he asked the maids.

“Whoever it was,” said Daiyu, “It’s none of Master Bao’s business.”

Before he could say any more a servant came in to announce that someone was waiting outside to see him. As he hurried out Daiyu called after him:

“Buddha be praised! I hope I’m dead before you come back.”

Outside he found Beiming, who told him that Feng Ziying had invited him oven. Remembering what had been said the previous day, Baoyu sent for his outdoor clothes and waited for them in the library.

Beiming went to the second gate, where he waited until an old woman appeared.

“Master Bao is in the library waiting for his outdoor clothes,” he an­nounced. “Do you mind going in to tell them?”

“You farting fool!” she cried. “Master Bao lives in the Garden now and so do all his attendants. Why bring the message here?”

“Of course.” Beiming laughed. “How idiotic of me!”

He hurried to the inner gate on the east and got one of the lads playing ball by the paved passageway to run in with the message. The youngster came back after a while with a bundle which Beiming carried to the library.

Baoyu, having changed, called for his horse and set off with only four pages: Beiming, Chuyao, Shuangrui and Shuangshou. When they reached Feng Ziying’s gate and were announced, Feng came out to welcome them. Xue Pan had already been there for some time with a number of singing-boys, Jiang Yuhan, an actor who played female roles, and Yuner, a courtesan from Brocade Fragrance Court. The introductions were made and tea was served.

Raising his cup Baoyu smiled at their host.

“Your remark the other day about good fortune and bad has been on my mind ever since,” he said. “So as soon as your summons arrived I hurried oven.”

“Row trusting you all are.” Feng Ziying chuckled. “That was just an excuse to get you over here, for otherwise I was afraid you might de­cline. Fancy your taking it so seriously.”

Amid laughter wine was brought in and they took seats in due order Feng made one of the boy singers pour the wine and asked Yuner to their table to toast the guests. After three cups Xue Pan grew rowdy and seized her hand.

“Sing a nice new song for me,” he begged, “and I’ll drink a whole jarful of wine. How about it? ”

Yuner had no choice but to take her pipa and sing:

Two lovers have I,

From both I’m loath to part,

For while I think of one

The other’s in my heart.

Both have so many charms

They’re hard to list;

Last night by the rose trellis

Was our tryst.

One came to make love, one to spy;

Caught in the act was I

And, challenged by the two of them,

Could think of no reply!

This sung, she said, “All fight, now drink ajar.”

“That wasn’t worth a whole jar,” protested Xue Pan. “Let’s hear something better.”

“Listen,” put in Baoyu. “If you drink so fast, you’ll soon be drunk and we shan’t have any fun. Suppose I empty a goblet first and we play a new game of forfeits? Anyone who doesn’t do as I say will have to drain ten goblets in succession and leave the table to wait on the others.”

When they all agreed to this, he picked up a goblet and drained it.

“Now,” he said, “you must all make four lines about a girl’s sorrow, her worry, her joy and her delight, explaining the reason for each. Then you must drink a cup of wine, sing a new popular song, and recite either a line from an old poem or couplet, or a saying from the Four Books or the Five Classics connected with some object on the table.”

Before he had finished Xue Pan was on his feet protesting.

“I’m not doing that. Count me out. You just want to make fun of me.

Yuner stood up to push him back on to his seat.

“What are you afraid of?” she teased. “Don’t you drink every day? Aren’t you even up to me? I’m going to join in. If you do all right, well and good; if not, it won’t kill you to drink a few cups. Or would you rather refuse and have to drink ten goblets and wait on the rest of us?”

All clapped their approval and Xue Pan had to subside.

Baoyu began:

“The girl’s sorrow: Youth is passing but she remains single.

“The girl’s worry: Her husband leaves home to make his fortune.

“The girl’s joy: Her good looks in the mirror in the morning.

“The girl’s delight: Swinging in a light spring gown.”

All cried “Good!” except Xue Pan, who shook his head.

“No good,” he growled. “He ought to pay a forfeit.”

“Why?” asked the others.

“Because I didn’t understand a word.” Yuner gave him a pinch.

“Be quiet and think out your lines. If you don’t, you’ll be the one to pay a forfeit.”

She accompanied Baoyu on the pipa as he sang:

Like drops of blood fall endless tears of longing,

By painted pavilion grow willows and flowers untold;

Sleepless at night when wind and rain lash gauze windows,

She cannot forget her sorrows new and old;

Choking on rice like jade and wine like gold,

She turns from her wan reflection in the glass;

Nothing can smooth away her frown,

It seems that the long night will never pass;

Like the shadow of peaks, her grief is never gone;

Like the green stream it flows for ever on.

The only one not to applaud this song was Xue Pan.

“You were off beat,” he objected.

Baoyu drained his cup and picked up a slice of pear from the table. “‘Rain buffets the pear blossom and the door is closed,”‘ he quoted. It was now Feng Ziying’s turn. He started off:

“The girl’s sorrow: Her husband falls mortally ill.

“The girl’s worry: Her boudoir in the tower is blown down.

“The girl’s joy: Twin sons at her first confinement.

“The girl’s delight: Catching crickets on the sly in the garden.”

Next, raising his cup, he sang:

You can bill and you can coo,

Be an imp of mischief too,

But a fairy? No, not you,

As my word you doubt.

Ask around and you’ll find out

I love you, yes, I do!

Then, having drunk up, he picked up a piece of chicken. “‘A cock crows at the moon by the rustic inn,”‘ was his quotation.

Yuner’s turn came next and she began:

“The girl’s sorrow: Will she find a husband to support her?”

Xue Pan sighed.

“Why child,” he said, “with Master Xue here, what have you to worry about?”

“Don’t muddle her,” cried the others. “Don’t muddle her.” Yuner went on:

“The girl’s worry: Will the bawd always beat and scold her?”

Xue Pan cut in, “The other day when I saw that bawd of yours, I told her not to beat you. ”

“If you interrupt again,” the others warned him, “you’ll have to drink ten cups.

At once he slapped his own cheek.

“You’ve been warned. Not another word now!”

Yuner continued:

“The girl’s joy: Her lover cannot bear to go home.

“The girl’s delight: The pipes hushed, she plays a stringed instru­ment.”

Then she sang:

On the third of the third moon blooms the cardamom;

Fain to creep into it an insect is come;

Failing to enter it clings

To the petals and there it swings.

Dear heart, if I don’t let you in,

Your chances are thin!

She drained her cup and picked up a peach saying, “The peach trees are in blossom.”‘

It was now Xue Pan’s turn.

“All right,” he said. “Here goes. The girl’s sorrow… ” A long pause followed.

“What is she sad about?” Feng Ziying prompted him. “Go on.”

Xue Pan’s eyes bulged, he was so frantic.

“The girl’s sorrow… ”

He cleared his throat twice and persevered:

“The girl’s sorrow: She marries a queer. ”

A roar of laughter went up.

“What’s so funny?” he demanded. “Is that wrong? Wouldn’t a girl be sad if the man she married insisted on being a bugger?”

Doubled up with laughter they gasped, “Quite right. Hurry up and go on.

His eyes bulging again he proceeded, “The girl’s worry…” Once more his voice trailed away.

“Well, what’s the worry?”

“The girl’s worry: A big gorilla springs out of her boudoir.”

Roaring with laughter they cried, “Make him pay the forfeit. The last could just pass but this is impossible.”

However, before they could fill the goblet Baoyu put in, “As long as he rhymes it, that’s good enough.”

“If the man in charge passes it,” blustered Xue Pan, “why should you lot kick up such a fuss?”

The others gave way.

“The next two lines are more difficult,” said Yuner “Suppose I do them for you?”

“Nonsense. You think I’ve nothing better coming? Listen.

“The girl’s joy: Rising late after her wedding night.”

“Row poetic he’s growing!” they exclaimed.

“The girl’s delight: A good fuck.”

All turned away crying, “For shame! Hurry up with your song. ”

Then he sang:

A mosquito buzzes, hum-hum.

“What sort of song do you call this?” they demanded.

He went on:

Two flies drone, buzz-buzz.

“That’s enough. Shut up!” they cried.

“All right, if you don’t want it. That’s a new song called Hum-hum. If you can’t be bothered to listen and want me to stop, you must let me off the drinking.

“We’ll let you off. You’re just holding up other people.”

Then Jiang Yuhan took over.

“The girl’s sorrow: Her husband leaves, never to return.

“The girl’s worry: She has no money to buy pomade.

“The girl’s joy: The wick forms two heads like a double flower.1

“The girl’s delight: Husband and wife in harmony.”

Next he sang:

So many charms has Heaven given you,

You seem a goddess come down from the blue;

And blooming youth, life’s springtide,

Is just the time to mate the lovebirds true.

The watch-tower drum is beating now,

The Milky Way gleams high above;

Make haste to trim the silver lamp

And draw the bridal curtains on our love.

This sung, he raised his cup and said, “I know very few poems, but luckily I remember a line of a couplet I read yesterday which happens to fit an object on the table.”

Raving drained his cup he picked up a sprig of fragrant osmanthus and quoted:

“‘When the fragrance of flowers assails men we know the day is warm. ‘”

Everyone passed this, and so the game ended. But Xue Pan leapt to his feet.

“You’ve gone too far!” he shouted. “You must pay a forfeit. How can you mention a treasure that isn’t here?”

Jiang Yuhan was puzzled.

“What treasure?”

“Don’t try to deny it. Repeat that line again.” The actor complied.

“Isn’t Xiren a treasure?” demanded Xue Pan. If you don’t believe me, ask him.” He pointed at Baoyu.

In some embarrassment Baoyu stood up.

“How many cups should we fine you, cousin, for this?” he asked.

“All right. I’ll pay the penalty.”

Xue Pan picked up his cup and tossed it off.

Feng Ziying and Jiang Yuhan asked for an explanation; and when Yuner told them who Xiren was, the actor rose to his feet to apologize.

“You’re not to blame,” said the others. “You didn’t know.” Presently Baoyu left the room to relieve himself, and Jiang Yuhan followed him out to apologize once more in the corridor. Baoyu was much taken by his charming appearance. Clasping his hand tightly he said:

“When you’ve time, do come and see me. By the way, I’ve some­thing to ask you. In your honourable company there’s an actor called Qiguan who’s known all over the country, but I’ve never had a chance to see him.”

Jiang Yuhan smiled. “That’s my professional name.” Baoyu stamped one foot in delight.

“What luck!” he cried. “You certainly live up to your reputation. How can I mark this first meeting?”

After a second’s thought he drew the fan from his sleeve, unfastened the jade pendant on it and gave this to the actor

“Please accept this trifle as a mark of my friendship.

“What have I done to deserve this?” Qiguan smiled. “All right, I’ve something unusual here which I only put on for the first time this morning. It’s still quite new. A small token of my devotion.”

He raised his gown to undo the scarlet sash round his trousers and handed it to Baoyu.

“This was part of the tribute from the Queen of Qianxiang,” he ex­plained. “Worn in summer, it will perfume your skin and stop you from perspiring. I was given it by the Prince of Beijing yesterday, and I put it on for the first time this morning. I wouldn’t dream of giving it to any­body else. Would you mind letting me have your own in exchange, sir?”

Baoyu took the scarlet sash with the greatest of pleasure, then untied his own pale green one and handed it to the actor They were both fas­tening their new sashes when they heard a loud shout.

“Caught in the act!”

It was Xue Pan, who bounded over to seize them.

“What are you up to?” he cried. “Leaving your wine and slipping away from the feast! Come on, let’s see what you’ve got there.”

When they told him “Nothing,” he refused to believe them. Not until Feng Ziying came out did he let them go. Then they went back to their seats and drank until the evening, when the party broke up.

On Baoyu’s return to the Garden he took off his outer garments to drink tea and Xiren, noticing that his fan-pendant was missing, asked what had become of it.

“I must have lost it out riding,” said Baoyu.

But when he went to bed and she saw the blood-red sash round his waist, she knew more or less what had happened.

“Now that you’ve got a better sash, will you return mine?” she asked. Only then did he remember that the green sash belonged to Xiren and he should never have given it away. He was sorry but could hardly ex­plain to her what had happened.

“I’ll get you another,” he promised.

“I know what you’ve been up to again.” She nodded and sighed. “You’ve no right to give my things to those low creatures. You should know better.”

She let it go at that and went to bed too, afraid to provoke him after he had been drinking.

As soon as she woke the next morning, Baoyu confronted her with a smile.

“You wouldn’t know if a thief came in the night,” he said. “Look at your pants.”

Xiren looked down and saw that the sash he had worn the previous day was now round her own waist. Aware that he had changed it during the night, she immediately took it off.

“I’m not interested in such trash. Take it away. ”

He pleaded with her until she consented to wear it. But as soon as he left the room she took it oft threw it into an empty case and put on another Baoyu did not notice this on his return.

“Did anything happen yesterday?” he asked.

“Madam Lian sent over for Xiaohong. The girl wanted to wait for your return but 1 didn’t think that necessary, so I took it upon myself to send her away.”

“Quite right. I knew. There was no need for her to wait.”

“And yesterday the Imperial Consort sent the eunuch Xia here with a hundred and twenty taels to be spent on masses, theatricals and sacri­fices on the first three days of the month at Ethereal Abbey. She wants Lord Zhen to take all the gentlemen there to burn incense and worship Buddha. She also sent over presents for the Dragon-Boat Festival.”

Xiren told a young maid to fetch his gifts: two fine Palace fans, two strings of red beads scented with musk, two lengths of phoenix-tail silk, and a bamboo mat woven in a lotus pattern.

Baoyu, delighted with these things, asked if the others had received the same gifts.

“The old lady had an extra sandalwood Ruyi sceptre and agate pil­low. Lord Zheng, Lady Wang and Madam Xue each had an extra sandal­wood sceptre. You got the same as Miss Xue, while Miss Lin and the three other young ladies were given fans and beads, nothing else. Madam Li Wan and Madam Xifeng each had two rolls of gauze, two rolls of silk, two aromatic pouches and two pills from the Palace.”

“How can that be?” asked Baoyu. “Why did Miss Xue get the same as me and not Miss Lin? There must be some mistake.”

“Impossible. Each share was labelled when they were brought yes­terday. Yours went to the old lady’s apartments, and when I fetched it she said you must go to the Palace at the fifth watch tomorrow to ex­press your thanks.”

“Yes, of course.

He called for Zixiao.

“Take these things to Miss Lin,” he instructed her. “Tell her this is what I got yesterday and she can keep anything she fancies.”

The maid did as she was told, coming back to report, “Miss Lin says she received presents too; she wants you to keep yours. ”

He had the things put away then and washed his face before setting off to pay his respects to his grandmother. Meeting Daiyu on the way, he hurried up to her with a smile.

“Why didn’t you pick any of my things, as I asked?”

Daiyu had forgotten her earlier grievance in her preoccupation with this new incident.

“I’m not cut out for such good fortune,” she said. “I can’t compare with Cousin Baochai and her gold and jade. I’m just as common as any plant or tree.”

Baoyu caught this innuendo.

“Other people may talk about gold and jade,” he protested, “but if such an idea ever crossed my mind, may Heaven and Earth destroy me! May I never again be reborn in human form!”

Daiyu knew from this how hurt he felt.

“What nonsense,” she scoffed. “Why make such oaths for no rea­son? Who cares about your gold and jade anyway?”

“It’s hard to tell you all that’s in my heart, but you’ll understand some day. You’re the closest person in the world to me after my grand­mother and my own parents. I sweart there’s no one else.”

“There’s no need to swear I know I have a place in your heart. But whenever you see her; you forget all about me.”

“That’s your imagination. I’m not like that.”

“Why did you appeal to me when Baochai refused to backup your fib yesterday? If I’d refused, goodness knows what you’d have done.”

Seeing Baochai approaching just then, they moved on. And pretend­ing not to have seen them — although she had — she walked on with lowered head to chat with Lady Wang before going on to the Lady Dowager’s apartments. She found Baoyu already there.

Now ever since her mother had told Lady Wang about the gold locket given to Baochai by a monk and his prediction that she would only marry a man with jade, Baochai had been rather distant to Baoyu. Yuanchun’s gift of identical presents to them the previous day had made her even more sensitive on this score. Fortunately Baoyu was so wrapped up in Daiyu, so utterly engrossed in her, that he paid no attention to this coinci­dence.

Without warning now he asked Baochai to let him have a look at the red bead bracelet scented with musk on her left wrist. She had no alter­native but to take it off. She was so plump, however, that this was by no means easy. And while he stood admiring her soft white arm it occurred to him. If she were Daiyu, I might have a chance to stroke her arm. Too bad for me that it’s hers!

Suddenly remembering the talk about gold and jade, he looked at Baochai more closely. Her face seemed a silver disc, her eyes were lustrous and almond-shaped, her lips red without rouge, her eyebrows dark without being pencilled. She was charming in quite a different way from Daiyu. He was so fascinated that when she pulled off the bracelet and offered it to him, he did not even take it.

Embarrassed by the way he was staring, Baochai put the bracelet down and turned to go. She saw Daiyu then in the doorway, biting her handkerchief with a mocking smile.

“Why are you standing there in a draught?” asked Baochai. “You know how easily you catch cold.”

“I was indoors until I heard a strange bird-cry. When I came out to look, it was only a silly goose.

“Where is this silly goose? I’d like to see it.”

“As soon as I came out it flapped away.

With these words she flicked Baoyu’s face with her handkerchief catching him right on the eyes. He uttered an exclamation of surprise.

To know what came of this, read the next chapter.

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