A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 3

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A Dream of Red Mansions003

Chapter 3


Lin Ruhai Recommends a Tutor to His

Brother-in-Law

The Lady Dowager Sends for Her Motherless

Grand-Daughter

To continue. Yucun turned and saw that it was Zhang Rugui, a native of this place and his former colleague who had also been dismissed from his post for the same reason as himself, and had returned home to Yangzhou. Now there was word from the capital that a request for the reinstatement of former officials had been sanctioned, and he was busily pulling strings to find some opening. Re congratulated Yucun the instant he saw him and lost no time, once greetings had been exchanged, in telling him the good news. Yucun was naturally overjoyed, but after some hurried remarks each went his own way.

Leng Zixing, who had heard everything, at once proposed asking Lin Ruhai to enlist the support of Jia Zheng in the capital. Accepting his advice, Yucun went back alone to verify the report from the Court Ga­zette.

The next day he laid his case before Lin Ruhai.

“What a lucky coincidence!” exclaimed Ruhai. “Since my wife’s death my mother-in-law in the capital has been worried because my daugh­ter has no one to bring her up. She has sent two boats with male and female attendants to fetch the child, but I delayed her departure while she was unwell. I was wondering how to repay you for your goodness in teaching her: now this gives me a chance to show my appreciation. Set your mind at rest. I foresaw this possibility and have written a letter to my brother-in-law urging him to do all he can for you as a small return for what I owe you. You mustn’t worry either about any expenses that may be incurred — I’ve made that point clear to my brother-in-law.”

Yucun bowed with profuse thanks and asked: “May I know your re­spected brother-in-law’s position? I fear I am too uncouth to intrude on him.”

Ruhai smiled. “My humble kinsmen belong to your honourable clan.

They’re the grandsons of the Duke of Rongguo. My elder brother-in-law Jia She, whose courtesy name is Enhou, is a hereditary general of the first rank. My second, Jia Zheng, whose courtesy name is Cunzhou, is an under-secretary in the Board of Works. He is an unassuming, generous man who takes after his grandfather. That is why I am writing to him on your behalf. If he were some purse-proud, fivolous official I’d be dishonouring your high principles, brother, and I myself would disdain to do such a thing.”

This confirmed what Zixing had said the previous day, and once more Yucun expressed his thanks.

“I’ve chosen the second day of next month for my daughter’s de­parture for the capital,” continued Ruhai. “It would suit both parties, surely, if you were to travel together?”

Yucun promptly agreed with the greatest satisfaction, and took the gifts and travelling expenses which Ruhai had prepared.

His pupil Daiyu, who had just got over her illness, could hardly bear to leave her father, but she had to comply with the wishes of her grand­mother.

“I am nearly fifty and don’t intend to marry again,” Ruhai told her, “You’re young and delicate, with no mother to take care of you, no sister or brothers to look after you. If you go to stay with your grandmother and uncles’ girls, that will take a great load off my mind. How can you refuse?”

So parting from him in a flood of tears, she embarked with her nurse and some elderly maid-servants from the Rong Mansion, followed by Yucun and two pages in another junk.

In due course they reached the capital and entered the city. Yucun spruced himself up and went with his pages to the gate of the Rong Mansion, where he handed in his visiting-card on which he had styled himself Jia Zheng’s “nephew.”

Jia Zheng, who had received his brother-in-law’s letter, lost no time in asking him in. Yucun cut an impressive figure and was by no means vulgar in his conversation. Since Jia Zheng was well-disposed to scholars and, like his grandfather before him, delighted in honouring worthy men of letters and helping those in distress, and since moreover his brother-in-law had recommended Yucun, he treated him uncommonly well and did all in his power to help him. The same day that he presented a petition to the throne Yucun was rehabilitated and ordered to await an appointment. In less than two months he was sent to Jinling to fill the vacated post of prefect of Yingtian. Taking leave of Jia Zheng he chose a day to pro­ceed to his new post. But no more of this.

To return to Daiyu. When she disembarked, a sedan-chair from the Rong Mansion and carts for her luggage were waiting in readiness. She had heard a great deal from her mother about the magnificence of her grandmother’s home; and during the last few days she had been impressed by the food, costumes and behaviour of the relatively low-ranking attendants escorting her. She must watch her step in her new home, she decided, be on guard every moment and weigh every word, so as not to be laughed at for any foolish blunder. As she was carried into the city she peeped out through the gauze window of the chair at the bustle in the streets and the crowds of people, the like of which she had never seen before.

After what seemed a long time they came to a street with two huge stone lions crouching on the north side, flanking a great triple gate with beast-head knockers, in front of which ten or more men in smart livery were sitting. The central gate was shut, but people were passing in and out of the smaller side gates. On a board above the main gate was writ­ten in large characters: Ningguo Mansion Built at Imperial Command.

Daiyu realized that this must be where the elder branch of her grandmother’s family lived.

A little further to the west they came to another imposing triple gate. This was the Rong Mansion. Instead of going through the main gate, they entered by the smaller one on the west. The bearers carried the chair a bow-shot further, then set it down at a turning and withdrew. The maid­servants behind Daiyu had now alighted and were proceeding on foot. Three or four smartly dressed lads of seventeen or eighteen picked up the chair and, followed by the maids, carried it to a gate decorated with overhanging flowery patterns carved in wood. There the bearers with­drew, the maids raised the curtain of the chair, helped Daiyu out and supported her through the gate.

Inside, verandahs on both sides led to a three-roomed entrance hall in the middle of which stood a screen of marble in a red sandalwood frame. The hall gave access to the large court of the main building. In front were five rooms with carved beams and painted pillars, and on either side were rooms with covered passageways. Cages of brilliantly coloured parrots, thrushes and other birds hung under the eaves of the verandahs.

Several maids dressed in red and green rose from the terrace and hurried to greet them with smiles.

“The old lady was just talking about you,” they cried. “And here you are.”

Three or four of them ran to raise the door curtain, and a voice could be heard announcing, “Miss Lin is here.”

As Daiyu entered, a silver-haired old lady supported by two maids advanced to meet her. She knew that this must be her grandmother, but before she could kowtow the old lady threw both arms around her.

“Dear heart! Flesh of my child!” she cried, and burst out sobbing.

All the attendants covered their faces and wept, and Daiyu herself could not keep back her tears. When at last the others prevailed on her to stop, Daiyu made her kowtow to her grandmother. This was the Lady Dowager from the Shi family mentioned by Leng Zixing, the mother of Jia She and Jia Zheng, who now introduced the family one by one.

“This,” she said, “is your elder uncle’s wife. This is your second uncle’s wife. This is the wife of your late Cousin Zhu.”

Daiyu greeted each in turn.

“Fetch the girls,” her grandmother said. “They can be excused their lessons today in honour of our guest from far away.”

Two maids went to carry out her orders. And presently the three young ladies appeared, escorted by three nurses and five or six maids.

The first was somewhat plump and of medium height. Her cheeks were the texture of newly ripened lichees, her nose as sleek as goose fat. Gentle and demure, she looked very approachable.

The second had sloping shoulders and a slender waist. She was tall and slim, with an oval face, well-defined eyebrows and lovely dancing eyes. She seemed elegant and quick-witted with an air of distinction. To look at her was to forget everything vulgar.

The third was not yet fully grown and still had the face of a child.

All three were dressed in similar tunics and skirts with the same brace­lets and head ornaments.

Daiyu hastily rose to greet these cousins, and after the introductions they took seats while the maids served tea. All the talk now was of Daiyu’s mother. How had she fallen ill? What medicine had the doctors prescribed? How had the funeral and mourning ceremonies been con­ducted? Inevitably, the Lady Dowager was most painfully affected.

“Of all my children I loved your mother best,” she told Daiyu. “Now she has gone before me, and I didn’t even have one last glimpse of her face. The sight of you makes me feel my heart will break!” Again she took Daiyu in her arms and wept. The others were hard put to it to com­fort her.

All present had been struck by Daiyu’s good breeding. For in spite of her tender years and evident delicate health, she had an air of natural distinction. Observing how frail she looked they asked what medicine or treatment she had been having.

“I’ve always been like this,” Daiyu said with a smile. “I’ve been taking medicine ever since I was weaned. Many well-known doctors have examined me, but none of their prescriptions was any use. The year I was three, I remember being told, a scabby monk came to our house and wanted to take me away to be a nun. My parents wouldn’t hear of it. The monk said, ‘If you can’t bear to part with her she’ll probably never get well. The only other remedy is to keep her from hearing weeping and from seeing any relatives apart from her father and mother. That’s her only hope of having a quiet life.’ No one paid any attention, of course, to such crazy talk. Now I’m still taking ginseng pills.”

“That’s good,” approved the Lady Dowager. “We’re having pills made, and I’ll see they make some for you.”

Just then they heard peals of laughter from the back courtyard and a voice cried:

“I’m late in greeting our guest from afar!”

Daiyu thought with surprise, “The people here are so respectful and solemn, they all seem to be holding their breath. Who can this be, so boisterous and pert?”

While she was still wondering, through the back door trooped some matrons and maids surrounding a young woman. Unlike the girls, she was richly dressed and resplendent as a fairy.

Her gold-filigree tiara was set with jewels and pearls. Her hair-clasps, in the form of five phoenixes facing the sun, had pendants of pearls. Her necklet, of red gold, was in the form of a coiled dragon studded with gems. She had double red jade pendants with pea-green tassels attached to her skirt.

Her close-fitting red satin jacket was embroidered with gold butter­flies and flowers. Her turquoise cape, lined with white squirrel, was inset with designs in coloured silk. Her skirt of kingfisher-blue crepe was pat­terned with flowers.

She had the almond-shaped eyes of a phoenix, slanting eyebrows as long and drooping as willow leaves. Her figure was slender and her man­ner vivacious. The springtime charm of her powdered face gave no hint of her latent formidability. And before her crimson lips parted, her laugh­ter rang out.

Daiyu rose quickly to greet her.

“You don’t know her yet.” The Lady Dowager chuckled. “She’s the terror of this house. In the south they’d call her Hot Pepper. Just call her Fiery Phoenix.”

Daiyu was at a loss how to address her when her cousins came to her rescue. “This is Cousin Lian’s wife,” they told her.

Though Daiyu had never met her, she knew from her mother that Jia Lian, the son of her first uncle Jia She, had married the niece of Lady Wang, her second uncle’s wife. She had been educated like a boy and given the school-room name Xifeng.2 Daiyu lost no time in greeting her with a smile as “cousin.”

Xifeng took her hand and carefully inspected her from head to foot, then led her back to her seat by the Lady Dowager.

“Well,” she cried with a laugh, “this is the first time I’ve set eyes on such a ravishing beauty. Her whole air is so distinguished! She doesn’t take after her father, son-in-law of our Old Ancestress, but looks more like a Jia. No wonder our Old Ancestress couldn’t put you out of her mind and was for ever talking or thinking about you. But poor ill-fated little cousin, losing your mother so young!” With that she dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.

“I’ve only just dried my tears. Do you want to start me off again?” said the old lady playfully. “Your young cousin’s had a long journey and she’s delicate. We’ve just got her to stop crying. So don’t reopen that subject.”

Xifeng switched at once from grief to merriment. “Of course,” she cried. “I was so carried away by joy and sorrow at sight of my little cousin, I forgot our Old Ancestress. I deserve to be caned.” Taking Daiyu’s hand again, she asked, “How old are you, cousin? Have you started your schooling yet? What medicine are you taking? You mustn’t be home sick here. If you fancy anything special to eat or play with, don’t hesitate to tell me. If the maids or old nurses aren’t good to you, just let me know.”

She turned then to the servants. “Have Miss Lin’s luggage and things been brought in? How many attendants did she bring? Hurry up and clear out a couple of rooms where they can rest.”

Meanwhile refreshments had been served. And as Xifeng handed round the tea and sweetmeats, Lady Wang asked whether she had dis­tributed the monthly allowance.

“It’s finished,” was Xifeng’s answer. “Just now I took some people to the upstairs storeroom at the back to look for some brocade. But though we searched for a long time we couldn’t find any of the sort you de­scribed to us yesterday, madam. Could your memory have played you a trick?”

“It doesn’t matter if there’s none of that sort,” said Lady Wang. “Just choose two lengths to make your little cousin some clothes. This evening don’t forget to send for them.”

“I’ve already done that,” replied Xifeng. “Knowing my cousin would be here any day, I got everything ready. The material’s waiting in your place for your inspection. If you pass it, madam, it can be sent over.”

Lady Wang smiled and nodded her approval.

Now the refreshments were cleared away and the Lady Dowager ordered two nurses to take Daiyu to see her two uncles.

At once Jia She’s wife, Lady Xing, rose to her feet and suggested, “Won’t it be simpler if I take my niece?”

“Very well,” agreed the Lady Dowager, “And there’s no need for you to come back afterwards.”

Lady Xing assented and then told Daiyu to take her leave of Lady Wang, after which the rest saw them to the entrance hall. Outside the ornamental gate pages were waiting beside a blue lacquered carriage with kingfisher-blue curtains, into which Lady Xing and her niece en­tered. Maids let down the curtains and told the bearers to start. They bore the carriage to an open space and harnessed a docile mule to it. They left by the west side gate, proceeded east past the main entrance of the Rong Mansion, entered a large black-lacquered gate and drew up in front of a ceremonial gate.

When the pages had withdrawn, the curtains were raised, and Lady Xing led Daiyu into the courtyard. It seemed to her that these buildings and grounds must be part of the Rong Mansion garden; for when they had passed three ceremonial gates she saw that the halls, side chambers and covered corridors although on a smaller scale were finely constructed. They had not the stately splendour of the other mansion, yet nothing was lacking in the way of trees, plants or artificial rockeries.

As they entered the central hall they were greeted by a crowd of heavily made-up and richly dressed concubines and maids. Lady Xing invited Daiyu to be seated while she sent a servant to the library to ask her husband to join them.

After a while the servant came back to report, “The master says he hasn’t been feeling too well the last few days, and meeting the young lady would only upset them both. He isn’t up to it for the time being. Miss Lin mustn’t mope or be homesick here but feel at home with the old lady and her aunts. Her cousins may be silly creatures, but they’ll be com­pany for her and help to amuse her. If anyone is unkind to her, she must say so and not treat us as strangers.”

Daiyu had risen to her feet to listen to this message. Shortly after this she rose again to take her leave. Lady Xing insisted that she stay for the evening meal.

“Thank you very much, aunt, you’re too kind,” said Daiyu. “Really I shouldn’t decline. But it might look rude if I delayed in calling on my second uncle. Please excuse me and let me stay another time.”

“You’re quite right,” said Lady Xing. She told a few elderly maids to escort her niece back in the same carriage, whereupon Daiyu took her leave. Her aunt saw her to the ceremonial gate and after giving the maids some further instructions waited to see them off.

Back in the Rong Mansion, Daiyu alighted again. The nurses led her eastwards, round a corner, through an entrance hall into a hall facing south, then passed through a ceremonial gate into a large courtyard. The northern building had five large apartments and wings on either side. This was the hub of the whole estate, more imposing by far than the Lady Dowager’s quarters.

Daiyu realized that this was the main inner suite, for a broad raised avenue led straight to its gate. Once inside the hall she looked up and her eye was caught by a great blue tablet with nine gold dragons on it, on which was written in characters large as peck measures:

Hall of Glorious Felicity.

Smaller characters at the end recorded the date on which the Em­peror had conferred this tablet upon Jia Yuan, the Duke of Rongguo, and it bore the Imperial seal.

On the large red sandalwood table carved with dragons an old bronze tripod, green with patina, stood about three feet high. On the wall hung a large scroll-picture of black dragons riding the waves. This was flanked by a bronze wine vessel inlaid with gold and a crystal bowl. By the walls were a row of sixteen cedar-wood armchairs; and above these hung two panels of ebony with the following couplet inset in silver:

Pearls on the dais outshine the sun and moon;

Insignia of honour in the hall blaze like iridescent clouds.

Small characters below recorded that this had been written by the Prince of Dungan, who signed his name Mu Shi and styled himself a fellow provincial and old family friend.

Since Lady Wang seldom sat in this main hall but used three rooms on the east side for relaxation, the nurses led Daiyu there.

The large kang by the window was covered with a scarlet foreign rug. In the middle were red back-rests and turquoise bolsters, both with dragon-design medallions, and a long greenish yellow mattress also with

dragon medallions. At each side stood a low table of foreign lacquer in the shape of plum-blossom. On the left-hand table were a tripod, spoons, chopsticks and an incense container; on the right one, a slender-waisted porcelain vase from the Ruzhou Kiln containing flowers then in season, as well as tea-bowls and a spittoon. Below the kang facing the west wall were four armchairs, their covers of bright red dotted with pink flowers, and with four footstools beneath them. On either side were two tables set out with teacups and vases of flowers. The rest of the room need not be described in detail.

The nurses urged Daiyu to sit on the kang, on the edge of which were two brocade cushions. But feeling that this would be presumptuous, she sat instead on one of the chairs on the east side. The maids in attendance served tea, and as she sipped it she studied them, observing that their make-up, clothes and deportment were quite different from those in other families. Before she had finished her tea in came a maid wearing a red silk coat and a blue satin sleeveless jacket with silk borders. With a smile this girl announced:

“Her Ladyship asks Miss Lin to go in and take a seat over there.”

At once the nurses conducted Daiyu along the eastern corridor to a small three-roomed suite facing south. On the kang under the window was a low table laden with books and a tea-service. Against the east wall were a none too new blue satin back-rest and a bolster.

Lady Wang was sitting in the lower place by the west wall on a none too new blue satin cover with a back-rest and a bolster. She invited her niece to take the seat on the east. But guessing that this was Jia Zheng’s place, Daiyu chose one of the three chairs next to the kang, which had black-dotted antimacassars, looking none too new. Not until she had been pressed several times did she take a seat by her aunt.

“Your uncle’s observing a fast today,” said Lady Wang. “You’ll see him some other time. But there’s one thing I want to tell you. Your three cousins are excellent girls, and I’m sure you’ll find them easy to get on with during lessons, or when you’re learning embroidery or playing to­gether. Just one thing worries me: that’s my dreadful son, the bane of my life, who torments us all in this house like a real devil. He’s gone to a temple today in fulfilment of a vow, but you’ll see what he’s like when he comes back this evening. Just pay no attention to him. None of your cousins dare to provoke him.”

Daiyu’s mother had often spoken of this nephew born with a piece of jade in his mouth, his wild ways, aversion to study and delight in playing about in the women’s apartments. Apparently he was so spoiled by his grandmother that no one could control him. She knew Lady Wang must be referring to him.

“Does aunt mean my elder cousin with the jade in his mouth?” she asked with a smile. “Mother often spoke of him. I know he’s a year older than me, his name is Baoyu, and for all his pranks he’s very good to his girl cousins. But how can I provoke him? I’ll be spending all my time with the other girls in a different part of the house while our boy cousins are in the outer courtyards.”

“You don’t understand,” replied Lady Wang with a laugh. “He’s not like other boys. Because the old lady’s always doted on him, he’s used to being spoilt with the girls. If they ignore him he keeps fairly quiet though he feels bored. He can always work off his temper by scolding some of his pages. But if the girls give him the least encouragement, he’s so elated he gets up to all kinds of mischief. That’s why you mustn’t pay any attention to him. One moment he’s all honey-sweet; the next, he’s rude and recalcitrant; and in another minute he’s raving like a lunatic. You can’t take him seriously.”

As Daiyu promised to remember this, a maid announced that dinner was to be served in the Lady Dowager’s apartments. Lady Wang at once led her niece out of the back door, going west along a corridor and through a side gate to a broad road running from north to south. On the south side was a dainty three-roomed annex facing north; on the north a big screen wall painted white, behind which was a small door leading to an apartment.

“That’s where your cousin Xifeng lives.” Lady Wang pointed out the place. “So next time you know where to find her. If you want anything just let her know.”

By the gate several young pages, their hair in tufts, stood at attention. Lady Wang led Daiyu through an entrance hall running from east to west into the Lady Dowager’s back courtyard. Stepping through the back door, they found quite a crowd assembled who, as soon as they saw Lady Wang, set tables and chairs ready. Jia Zhu’s widow, Li Wan, served the rice while Xifeng put out the chopsticks and Lady Wang served the soup.

The Lady Dowager was seated alone on a couch at the head of the table with two empty chairs on each side. Xifeng took Daiyu by the hand to make her sit in the first place on the left, but she persistently declined the honour.

“Your aunt and sisters-in-law don’t dine here,” said her grandmother with a smile. “Besides, you’re a guest today. So do take that seat.”

With a murmured apology, Daiyu obeyed. The Lady Dowager told Lady Wang to sit down; then Yingchun and the two other girls asked leave to be seated, Yingchun first on the right, Tanchun second on the left, and Xichun second on the right. Maids held ready dusters, bowls for rinsing the mouth and napkins, while Li Wan and Xifeng standing behind the diners plied them with food.

Although the outer room swarmed with nurses and maids, not so much as a cough was heard. The meal was eaten in silence. And immediately after, tea was brought in on small trays. Now Lin Ruhai had taught his daughter the virtue of moderation and the harm caused to the digestive system by drinking tea directly after a meal. But many customs here were different from those in her home. She would have to adapt herself to these new ways. As she took the tea, however, the rinse-bowls were proffered again, and seeing the others rinse their mouths she followed suit. After they had washed their hands tea was served once more, this time for drinking.

“You others may go,” said the Lady Dowager now. “I want to have a chat with my grand-daughter.”

Lady Wang promptly rose and after a few remarks led the way out, followed by Li Wan and Xifeng. Then her grandmother asked Daiyu what books she had studied.

“I’ve just finished the Four Books,” said Daiyu. “But I’m very ig­norant.” Then she inquired what the other girls were reading.

“They only know a very few characters, not enough to read any books.”

The words were hardly out of her mouth when they heard footsteps in the courtyard and a maid came in to announce, “Baoyu is here.”

Daiyu was wondering what sort of graceless scamp or little dunce Baoyu was and feeling reluctant to meet such a stupid creature when, even as the maid announced him, in he walked.

He had on a golden coronet studded with jewels and a golden chaplet in the form of two dragons fighting for a pearl. His red archer’s jacket, embroidered with golden butterflies and flowers, was tied with a coloured tasselled palace sash. Over this he wore a turquoise fringed coat of Japa­nese satin with a raised pattern of flowers in eight bunches. His court boots were of black satin with white soles.

His face was as radiant as the mid-autumn moon, his complexion fresh as spring flowers at down. The hair above his temples was as sharply outlined as if cut with a knife. His eyebrows were as black as if painted with ink, his cheeks as red as peach-blossom, his eyes bright as autumn ripples. Even when angry he seemed to smile, and there was warmth in his glance even when he frowned.

Round his neck he had a golden torque in the likeness of a dragon, and a silk cord of five colours, on which hung a beautiful piece of jade.

His appearance took Daiyu by surprise. “How very strange!” she thought. “It’s as if I’d seen him somewhere before. He looks so famil­iar.”

Baoyu paid his respects to the Lady Dowager and upon her instruc­tions went to see his mother.

He returned before long, having changed his clothes. His short hair in small plaits tied with red silk was drawn up on the crown of his head and braided into one thick queue as black and glossy as lacquer, sporting four large pearls attached to golden pendants in the form of the eight precious things. His coat of a flower pattern on a bright red ground was not new, and he still wore the torque, the precious jade, a lock-shaped amulet con­taining his Buddhistic name, and a lucky charm. Below could be glimpsed light green flowered satin trousers, black-dotted stockings with brocade borders, and thick-soled scarlet shoes.

His face looked as fair as if powdered, his lips red as rouge. His glance was full of affection, his speech interspersed with smiles. But his natural charm appeared most in his brows, for his eyes sparkled with a world of feeling. However, winning as his appearance was, it was diffi­cult to tell what lay beneath.

Someone subsequently gave an admirable picture of Baoyu in these two verses written to the melody of The Moon over the West River:

Absurdly he courts care and melancholy

And raves like any madman in his folly;

For though endowed with handsome looks is he,

His heart is lawless and refractory.

Too dense by far to understand his duty,

Too stubborn to apply himself to study,

Foolhardy in his eccentricity,

He’s deaf to all reproach and obloquy.

Left cold by riches and nobility,

Unfit to bear the stings of poverty,

He wastes his time and his ability,

Failing his country and his family.

First in this world for uselessness is he,

Second to none in his deficiency.

Young fops and lordlings all, be warned by me:

Don’t imitate this youth’s perversity!

With a smile at Baoyu, the Lady Dowager scolded, “Fancy changing your clothes before greeting our visitor. Hurry up now and pay your re­spects to your cousin.”

Of course, Baoyu had seen this new cousin earlier on and guessed that she was the daughter of his Aunt Lin. He made haste to bow and, having greeted her, took a seat. Looking at Daiyu closely, he found her different from other girls.

Her dusky arched eyebrows were knitted and yet not frowning, her speaking eyes held both merriment and sorrow; her very frailty had charm. Her eyes sparkled with tears, her breath was soft and faint. In repose she was like a lovely flower mirrored in the water; in motion, a pliant willow swaying in the wind. She looked more sensitive than Bi Gan4, more delicate than Xi Shi.

“I’ve met this cousin before,” he declared at the end of his scrutiny.

“You’re talking nonsense again,” said his grandmother, laughing.

“How could you possibly have met her?”

“Well, even if I haven’t, her face looks familiar. I feel we’re old friends meeting again after a long separation.”

“So much the better.” The Lady Dowager laughed. “That means you’re bound to be good friends.”

Baoyu went over to sit beside Daiyu and once more gazed fixedly at her.

“Have you done much reading, cousin?” he asked.

“No,” said Daiyu. “I’ve only studied for a couple of years and learned a few characters.”

“What’s your name?”

She told him.

“And your courtesy name?”

“I have none.

“I’ll give you one then,” he proposed with a chuckle. “What could be better than Pinpin?”

“Where’s that from?” put in Tanchun.

“The Compendium of Men and Objects Old and New says that in the west is a stone called dai which can be used instead of graphite for painting eyebrows. As Cousin Lin’s eyebrows look half knit, what could be more apt than these two characters?”

“You’re making that up, I’m afraid,” teased Tanchun.

“Most works, apart from the Four Books, are made up; am I the only one who makes things up?” he retorted with a grin. Then, to the mystifi­cation of them all, he asked Daiyu if she had any jade.

Imagining that he had his own jade in mind, she answered, “No, I haven’t. I suppose it’s too rare for everybody to have.”

This instantly threw Baoyu into one of his frenzies. Tearing off the jade he flung it on the ground.

“What’s rare about it?” he stormed. “It can’t even tell good people from bad. What spiritual understanding has it got? I don’t want this nui­sance either.”

In consternation all the maids rushed forward to pick up the jade while the Lady Dowager in desperation took Baoyu in her arms.

“You wicked monster!” she scolded. “Storm at people if you’re in a passion. But why should you throw away that precious thing your life depends on?”

His face stained with tears, Baoyu sobbed, “None of the girls here has one, only me. What’s the fun of that? Even this newly arrived cousin who’s lovely as a fairy hasn’t got one either. That shows it’s no good.”

“She did have one once,” said the old lady to soothe him. “But when your aunt was dying and was unwilling to leave her, the best she could do was to take the jade with her instead. That was like burying the living with the dead and showed your cousin’s filial piety. It meant, too, that now your aunt’s spirit can still see your cousin. That’s why she said she had none, not wanting to boast about it. How can you compare with her? Now put it carefully on again lest your mother hears about this.”

She took the jade from one of the maids and put it on him herself. And Baoyu, convinced by her tale, let the matter drop.

Just then a nurse came in to ask about Daiyu’s quarters.

“Move Baoyu into the inner apartment of my suite,” said his grand­mother. “Miss Lin can stay for the time being in his Green Gauze Lodge. Once spring comes, we’ll make different arrangements.”

“Dear Ancestress!” coaxed Baoyu. “Let me stay outside Green Gauze Lodge. I’ll do very well on that bed in the outer room. Why should I move over and disturb you?”

After a moment’s reflection the Lady Dowager agreed to this. Each would be attended by a nurse and a maid, while other attendants were on night duty outside. Xifeng had already sent round a flowered lavender curtain, satin quilts and embroidered mattresses.

Daiyu had brought with her only Nanny Wang, her old wet-nurse, and ten-year-old Xueyan, who had also attended her since she was a child. Since the Lady Dowager considered Xueyan too young and childish and Nanny Wang too old to be of much service, she gave Daiyu one of her own personal attendants, a maid of the second grade called Yingge. Like Yingchun and the other young ladies, in addition to her own wet-nurse Daiyu was given four other nurses as chaperones, two personal maids to attend to her toilet and five or six girls to sweep the rooms and run er­rands.

Nanny Wang and Yingge accompanied Daiyu now to Green Gauze Lodge, while Baoyu’s wet-nurse, Nanny Li, and his chief maid Xiren made ready the big bed for him in its outer room.

Xiren, whose original name was Zhenzhu, had been one of the Lady Dowager’s maids. The old lady so doted on her grandson that she wanted to make sure he was well looked after and for this reason she gave him her favourite, Xiren, a good, conscientious girl. Baoyu knew that her sur­name was Hua7 and remembered a line of poetry which ran, “the fra­grance of flowers assails men.” So he asked his grandmother’s permis­sion to change her name to Xiren.

Xiren’s strong point was devotion. Looking after the Lady Dowager she thought of no one but the Lady Dowager, and after being assigned to Baoyu she thought only of Baoyu. What worried her, though, was that he was too headstrong to listen to her advice.

That night after Baoyu and Nanny Li were asleep, Xiren noticed that Daiyu and Yingge were still up in the inner room. She tiptoed in there in her night clothes and asked:

“Why aren’t you sleeping yet, miss?”

“Please sit down, sister,” invited Daiyu with a smile.

Xiren sat on the edge of the bed.

“Miss Lin has been in tears all this time, she’s so upset,” said Yingge. “The very day of her arrival, she says, she’s made our young master fly into a tantrum. If he’d smashed his jade she would have felt to blame. I’ve been trying to comfort her.”

“Don’t take it to heart,” said Xiren. “I’m afraid you’ll see him car­rying on even more absurdly later. If you let yourself be upset by his behaviour you’ll never have a moment’s peace. Don’t be so sensi­tive.”

“I’ll remember what you’ve said,” promised Daiyu. “But can you tell me where that jade of his came from, and what the inscription on it is?”

Xiren told her, “Not a soul in the whole family knows where it comes from. It was found in his mouth, so we hear, when he was born, with a hole for a cord already made in it. Let me fetch it here to show you.”

But Daiyu would not hear of this as it was now late. “I can look at it tomorrow,” she said.

After a little more chat they went to bed.

The next morning, after paying her respects to the Lady Dowager, Daiyu went to Lady Wang’s apartments. She found her and Xifeng dis­cussing a letter from Jinling. With them were two maid-servants who had brought a message from the house of Lady Wang’s brother.

Daiyu did not understand what was going on, but Tanchun and the others knew that they were discussing Xue Pan, the son of Aunt Xue in Jinling. Presuming on his powerful connections, he had had a man beaten to death and was now to be tried in the Yingtian prefectural court. Lady Wang’s brother Wang Ziteng, having been informed of this, had sent these messengers to the Rong Mansion to urge them to invite the Xue family to the capital. But more of this in the next chapter.

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