A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 56

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Chapter 56


Clever Tanchun Devises a Scheme to Make

a Profit and End Abuses

Understanding Baochai Rounds It Out with

a Small Act of Kindness

After eating with Xifeng and waiting on her while she washed and then rinsed her mouth, Pinger went back to Tanchun. She found the Coun­cil Hall quiet, with a few maids and matrons waiting outside the windows. As she walked in, the three cousins were discussing family affairs and had just brought up the subject of Lai Da’s garden, where they had feasted shortly before New Year.

Tanchun offered Pinger a foot-stool.

‘Here’s what I was thinking,’ she told her. ‘In addition to our monthly allowance of two taels, our maids have separate allowances; but a few days ago someone reported that each of us gets an extra two taels a month for hair-oil, rouge and powder. This is like that extra allowance of eight taels for the school just now another duplication. Admittedly it’s a small matter, involving very little money, but it doesn’t seem right. Why hasn’t this occurred to your mistress?’

‘There’s a reason,’ answered Pinger. ‘Of course the young ladies should be provided with cosmetics every month, and they’re bought by the stewards in charge, then delivered by the matrons to us in the differ­ent apartments to be kept ready for when the young ladies need them. That’s to save us the trouble of having to send out all the time to buy them. So the stewards get the lump sum for this item, and distribute the cosmetics each month to the different apartments.

‘As for the monthly allowance of two taels, that was never meant for this purpose. It was so that you don’t have to search for the mistresses in charge, if they’re away or too busy to be bothered when you happen to need a little money. In other words, to see that you don’t go short. That money obviously isn’t meant for cosmetics. But I’ve noticed that at least half our sisters attending in the different apartments make these purchases with their own money. I suspect it’s because the stewards aren’t supplying them on time, or because what they buy is of a poor quality.’

‘So you’ve noticed that too.’ Tanchun and Li Wan smiled. ‘The stewards supply us all right, they wouldn’t dare stop, but always a few days late. When we hurry them they produce something inferior, good­ness knows from where, which we can never use. We still have to buy our own with those two taels. We have to ask the sons of other people’s nurses or brothers to do this they get us what we want. But if we send those servants in charge, they buy the same kind, we can’t imagine why. Could it be that they just buy us shop-soiled rejects?’

Pinger smiled.

‘If the stewards get you that kind and they were to buy something better, of course the stewards would be annoyed and accuse them of trying to do them out of a job,’ she explained. ‘That’s why they have to do this. They’d rather offend you ladies than the stewards. But when you send your nurses, no one can complain.’

‘It’s been worrying me,’ put in Tanchun, ‘because we spend two lots of money but half the purchases are wasted. That means we’re spending twice as much as we should. So my first proposal is to stop that monthly allowance to the stewards. I’ve another idea too. You went with us to Lai Da’s house before New Year. How did you think his small garden compared with ours?’

‘It’s less than half the size and has far fewer trees and flowers.’

‘I had a chat with one of their grils,’ continued Tanchun. ‘I learned to my surprise that its annual produce ‘ apart from the flowers they wear and the bamboo shoots, vegetables, fish and prawns they eat ‘ has been contracted for by people who pay them at least two hundred taels a year. That was how I first learned that even a snapped lotus leaf or a blade of withered grass is worth money.’

‘Truly spoken like a rich young dandy!’ laughed Baochai. ‘Though sheltered young ladies know nothing about such things, in the course of your studies you’ve surely read Zhu Xi’s essay On Not Debasing One­self?’

‘Of course I have. Just a lot of exhortations and empty talk, I call it. Such things can’t really happen.’

‘So even Zhu Xi’s writings are empty talk, are they?’ retorted Baochai. ‘No, every word there is true. After just two days of managing affairs you’ve become so mercenary that you accuse Zhu Xi of empty talk! I suppose if you worked outside, where you’d profit more by cutting down bigger expenses, you’d bring the same accusation against even Confucius!’

‘Well-read as you are,’ countered Tanchun, ‘haven’t you read Jizi?2 Jizi said, ‘Those in a position to seek profit and emolument, or respon­sible for planning and calculating, may talk like Yao and Shun but disobey the precepts of Confucius and Mencius.

Baochai smiled as Tanchun broke off and urged, ‘Go on.’

‘That’s all I want to quote. Why should I go on to make fun of my­self?’

‘There’s nothing useless in this world, and when something has a use it’s worth money. I’d have thought, where a serious matter like this is concerned, you had sense enough to grasp such a self-evident truth.’

‘You call us here,’ put in Li Wan, ‘but instead of talking business the two of you just carry on an academic discussion.’

‘This academic discussion has a bearing on our business,’ replied Baochai. ‘If our small tasks aren’t guided by principles, they’ll get out of hand and sink to the vulgar level of the market-place.’

After this joking they got down to business.

Tanchun reverting to her earlier question said, ‘If we consider our Garden just twice the size of theirs, it should bring in double the profit’ four hundred taels a year. Of course, it would be petty and unworthy of our family to concentrate solely now on making money. But if a couple of women are assigned to take charge, all the valuable things here won’t be squandered it’s a shame to let them go to waste. Better choose a few of the most reliable old women here who know something about garden­ing, and let them see to things. We needn’t charge them or ask for any rent if they send in some presents every year.

‘In the first place, with people in charge of the flowers and trees, the Garden will naturally improve as time goes on and we shan’t be called on for sudden emergency measures. In the second place, there’ll be no waste either. In the third, the old women won’t be working hard all year for nothing, but will have a few perks. In the fourth, what we save on the gardeners’ and cleaners’ pay can be spent on improvements and re­pairs. How’s that?’

‘Very good!’ Baochai, who was standing looking at the scrolls on the walls, nodded approvingly. ‘‘Within three years an end will be put to famine.’

‘That’s an excellent idea.’ approved Li Wan too. ‘If we do this the mistress is sure to be pleased. Saving money isn’t the main thing, but we shall need fewer cleaners too. If there are people in charge of the Garden’s upkeep who are allowed to make something on the side, given the author­ity and a profit incentive they’re bound to do their best.’

‘This proposal had to come from you, miss,’ remarked Pinger. ‘My mistress had the same idea, but she could hardly suggest it with all you young ladies living in the Garden. Instead of improving the place, how could she propose putting people in charge to save money?’

Baochai stepped up to her and patted her cheek.

‘Open your mouth and let me see what your teeth and tongue are made of!’ she cried. ‘From first thing this morning till now you’ve done so much talking, and you’ve a different argument each time. You neither praise Miss Tanchun to her face nor admit that your mistress ever over­looks anything, not do you agree to whatever Miss Tanchun says; but each time she makes some proposal you have your answer pat the same idea occurred to your mistress, too, but there was always some reason why she couldn’t suggest it.’

‘Now you’re saying that because we live here she couldn’t put people in charge so as to save money. Can’t you two see what that means? If we really let people make money out of the Garden, they naturally won’t want anyone to pick a single flower or fruit. Of course they won’t dare deny us, but they’ll be quarrelling all the time with our maids. How far­sighted and circumspect Pinger is! She neither argues back nor flatters you. If her mistress weren’t good to us, as in fact she is, hearing Pinger talk like this would surely make her repent and mend her ways.’

‘I was in a bad temper this morning,’ said Tanchun. ‘When I heard she ‘d come I suddenly thought of her mistress and of how insubordinate all the servants have grown under her management. So the sight of Pinger made me even angrier. But she came in like a mouse shrinking from a cat, and looked so pathetic all the time she stood there; and then the way she talked! Instead of reminding me how good her mistress is to me, she spoke of my consideration for her mistress. That not only stopped me being angry but made me so ashamed I felt like crying. I thought: a girl like myself, who’s reduced to such a state that nobody cares for me ‘what can I do for anyone else?’ At this point she broke down again and wept.

Her distress reminded Li Wan and the others of all the instances of Concubine Zhao’s outrageous behaviour, which had involved Tanchun, making her embarrassed to face Lady Wang. They could not help shed­ding tears of sympathy.

‘Don’t talk like that,’ they urged. ‘What does it matter? Now that we’re free, let’s work out a couple of ways to make a profit and get rid of past abuses, so as to prove ourselves worthy of the mistress’ trust.’

‘I understand,’ put in Pinger hastily. ‘Just trust this business to some reliable people of your own choosing, miss, and that will be that.’

‘That’s all very well, but we must consult your mistress first,’ in­sisted Tanchun. ‘We’ve already overstepped our authority, scrimping and scraping, right and left, and I wouldn’t suggest this if she weren’t so understanding. If she were officious or spiteful, I’d never have dreamed of it either it would look as if I were trying to show her up. We cer­tainly must consult her.’

‘In that case I’ll go and tell her,’ said Pinger, and with that she went off.

After a while she came back to tell them gaily, ‘I said there was no need to go. It’s such a good idea, of course my mistress approves.’

Then Tanchun and Li Wan asked for a list of the names of all the elderly women in the Garden, and after some discussion made a tentative choice of a few. These women; summoned and told the plan in outline by Li Wan, agreed to it readily.

‘Just leave that bamboo plot to me,’ said one. ‘In a year’s time there’ll be another plot. Then, apart from supplying the household with bamboo shoots, I can hand in some money too.’

Another said, ‘Let me have the paddy fields. I can keep all the pet birds, big and small, supplied with grain the whole year round without asking the stewards for any, and pay something over and above that too.’

Before Tanchun could reply, it was announced that a doctor had come to the Garden to see a young lady, and the matrons should go to escort him in.

‘Even if a hundred of you were to go to meet the doctor it wouldn’t look proper,’ objected Pinger. ‘Surely there are chief stewards’ wives to take him in?’

‘Yes, Mrs. Wu and Mrs. Shan,’ the messenger answered. ‘They’re waiting in the southwest corner by the Gate of Embroidery.’

Then Pinger let the matter drop. And as soon as the women had gone Tanchun asked Baochai her opinion.

‘One who is zealous at the start may grow lax before the finish,’’ quoted Baochai smiling. ‘Fine speech may hide a hankering after profit.’

Tanchun nodded her agreement, then selected a few more names from the list for the other three’s consideration, whereupon Pinger fetched a brush and inkstone.

‘Mrs. Zhu is a reliable old soul,’ they said. ‘Besides, her husband and son have always looked after bamboos, so we may as well put all the bamboos here in her care. And then there’s old Mrs. Tian who comes from a farming family. The paddy fields and vegetable plots in Paddy-Sweet Cottage are only for fun and don’t need to be cultivated seriously; still, it would be better to have her there in charge during the different seasons.’

‘What a pity there’s nothing we can turn to profit in Happy Red Court and Alpinia Park, large as they both are.’ remarked Tanchun.

‘Why, Alpinia Park’s even better,’ declared Li Wan. ‘Isn’t it full of the spices and herbs you find sold by perfumers, as well as at all the big markets and temple fairs? I reckon those will bring in the biggest profit of the lot. As for Happy Red Court, not to mention anything else, just think how many roses it has all spring and summer. That fence there is cov­ered with rambler roses and monthly-roses, as well as honeysuckle and other flowers, all of which fetch a good price in tea-shops and pharma­cies when they’re dried.’

‘Is that so?’ asked Tanchun with a smile. ‘We’re no one, though, who understands such things.

‘The mother of Yinger who works for Miss Baochai does.’ Pinger informed them. ‘Have you forgotten that time she gathered and dried some sprigs to make me baskets?’

‘I’ve just been singing your praises, yet now you’re laying a trap for me, ‘protested Baochai jokingly.

‘What do you mean?’ asked the other three in surprise.

‘This is out of the question,’ she answered. ‘All your attendants here with nothing to do will certainly think badly of me if I bring in some­one else. Let me suggest another woman instead: Mingyan’s mother, old Mrs. Ye, in Happy Red Court. She’s an honest old soul and on good terms with Yinger’s mother. You may as well entrust this to her. If there’s something she doesn’t understand, we shan’t have to tell her to consult Yinger’s mother, she may even leave the whole job to her that’s up to them. But if anyone gossips it won’t be our concern. Handled this way it will look fair and the work will be properly done.’

Pinger and Li Wan approved but Tanchun teased, ‘I’m only afraid they may forget friendship for profit!’

‘Not they,’ Pinger assured her. ‘Only the other day Yinger became Mrs. Ye’s god-daughter and they had a feast to celebrate. Those two families are on the best of terms.’

Then Tanchun made no further objection.

By the time they had settled on a few other women who had won their approval, and marked their names on the list, the matrons returned to report that the doctor had gone and showed them his prescription. Having examined it, the three young ladies sent for the ingredients and ordered them to be prepared. Tanchun and Li Wan then informed the women of the places entrusted to them.

‘Apart from what it’s decided the household requires, all the rest of the year’s produce will be yours,’ announced Li Wan. ‘And you must present an account at the end of the year.’

‘I’ve thought of something else,’ put in Tanchun. ‘If the accounts are made up at the end of the year and you take the money to the ac­countants’ office in the usual way, there’ll be someone again in control

of you. You’ll still be in their clutches, and they’ll be able to fleece you. As this is our idea and we’ve bypassed them by entrusting the work to you, they’ll resent it even if they don’t say so outright; thus they’re bound to squeeze you if you go to them to settle your annual accounts. Why, every year the steward managing each property or estate gets one-third of the proceeds. That’s how it’s always been; it’s an open secret. That’s apart from what else they filch. Our new management of the Garden shouldn’t go through their hands at all. So come to us at the end of the year to settle your accounts.’

‘I don’t think accounts need be turned in at all,’ said Baochai. ‘Com­parisons are so invidious. Better let the woman entrusted with one job be responsible for the expenses of that place. I’ve worked it out and it doesn’t come to much, just what’s needed for hair-oil, rouge, powder, scent and toilet-paper for the young mistresses and their maids, as well as for brooms, dustpans, dusters and whisks and food for the poultry, pet birds, deer and rabbits. If they take care of these few items, we needn’t draw anything from the accountants’ office. Think how much we can save that way.’

‘These items may be small,’ agreed Pinger, ‘yet the total saving in a year will amount to more than four hundred taels of silver.’

‘There you are!’ rejoined Baochai. ‘Four hundred a year, eight hun­dred in two years: enough to buy a few more houses to rent and a few mu of not too good land. There’ll be more than that, of course; but after working hard for a whole year they should keep some back for them­selves. Although our aim is to economize and make a profit, we mustn’t be too stingy either. If we saved an extra two or three hundred taels but spoiled our reputation, that wouldn’t do.

‘In this way, though, the accountants’ office can spend four or five hundred less on us each year without anyone feeling the pinch; the people here will benefit, as these women with no special means of livelihood will manage more comfortably; the plants in the Garden will do better from year to year; you’ll be more adequately supplied with what you need; and no loss of dignity will be involved. If all we wanted was to econo­mize, of course we could save money and stash all our profits away; but then everyone would start complaining, and that would impair the dignity of a family such as yours.

‘Now there are several dozen old married women in the Garden. If we just give jobs to these few, the rest are bound to feel it unfair. For them simply to supply those few items, as I suggested, is letting them off too lightly. On top of that I think they should also give a few strings of cash each every year, regardless of how much they have left; and this combined sum can be distributed to the other nannies in the Garden. After all, even if they have no special assignments they work here day and night from early to late, running errands and locking or unlocking gates, no matter how bad the weather. They carry the young ladies’ sedan-chairs, punt boats, and draw sleighs in winter in fact, they do all the hard work the whole year round in the Garden. So they should have a small share in the profits too.

‘There’s another small thing, and I’ll put it more bluntly. If you just better yourselves without letting the others share in your good fortune, even if they don’t complain openly they’re bound to feel resentful; and then if they pick more fruit or flowers ostensibly for their mistresses but actually for themselves, there’ll be nobody to whom you can complain. But if they benefit too, they can keep an eye on things for you when you’re busy.’

The women were delighted with this proposal, which meant they would neither be controlled by the stewards nor have to settle accounts with Xifeng ‘ all they needed to do was to pay a few extra strings of cash every year.

‘That suits us!’ they cried. ‘This is better than being squeezed by those stewards outside and having to pay them.’

Those with no special assignments were also pleased to learn that they would be getting something for nothing.

‘If they do the hard work they deserve to make a little money,’ they said. ‘How can we sit idle and rake in a profit too?’

‘You nannies needn’t decline,’ replied Baochai with a smile. ‘This is as it should be. Just work hard and don’t slack or allow any gambling or drinking. This is really none of my business but, as you know, my aunt has urged me repeatedly to help out now that Madam Zhu’s so busy and my other cousins are still young. I don’t like to add to her worries by refusing. Besides, your Second Mistress has poor health and is busy with fam­ily affairs, while I’ve nothing to do. Why, even a neighbour should help out, not to say a niece like myself when specially asked. So I have to overcome my scruples and not mind if everyone thinks me a nuisance. If all I cared about was my own reputation while other people made trouble drinking or gambling, how could I face my aunt? You’d be sorry too, then, and lose face yourselves.

‘You’re looking after all these young ladies and this big Garden be­cause it’s acknowledged that you’re the steadiest, most reliable old nan­nies whose families have served here for three or four generations. So you should behave in a fit and proper way. If my aunt hears you’ve been giving people a free hand to drink and gamble, she may take you to task; whereas if those stewards’ wives learn of it they may lecture you with­out telling my aunt, and you’ll find yourselves being scolded by your juniors! Though they’re stewards and in charge, how much better to stand on your dignity and not give them a chance to sneer. That’s why I’ve suggested this bonus for you, so that all of you will work together to take good care of this Garden. When those in charge see you behaving in a serious, responsible way, they won’t have to worry about things and will respect you. It’s gratifying for us, too, having thought of a way for you to earn a bonus. While you seize power from them and profit your­selves, you’ll also be helping to do away with waste and spare them worry. Think it over carefully.’

‘You’re quite right, miss,’ cried the women jubilantly. ‘Set your minds at rest, young ladies and madam. If we don’t show our gratitude for your goodness, may Heaven and Earth condemn us!’

They were interrupted by the arrival of Lin Zhixiao’s wife.

‘The ladies of the Zhen family from south of the Yangzi arrived in the capital yesterday,’ she announced. ‘They’ve gone to the Palace today to pay homage, sending some servants here with gifts and their respects.’

Tanchun took the list of presents from her and read:

twelve rolls of first-grade Imperial brocade with the serpent design twelve rolls of different colours for the Imperial use

twelve rolls of Imperial gauze in different colours

twelve rolls of Imperial silk

twenty-four rolls of satin, gauze and silk in different colours for official use.

Li Wan also looked at the list, then ordered the bringers of these gifts to be rewarded with the first-grade tip, and sent to inform the Lady Dowa­ger. The latter summoned Li Wan, Tanchun and Baochai to her quarters to examine the presents, which Li Wan then had put aside, telling the servant in charge of the storeroom not to store them away until Lady Wang had seen them.

‘The Zhens are different from other families,’ observed the Lady Dowager. ‘It was right to give their men-servants the first-grade tip. I expect they will lose no time in sending some women to pay their re­spects as well. We must have some dress materials ready for them.’

That same instant, sure enough, it was announced that four serving­-women from the Zhen family had come to pay their respects. The old lady ordered them to be admitted. These women were all over forty and dressed not very differently from their mistresses. As soon as they had paid their respects the Lady Dowager had four foot-stools brought, and with murmured thanks they seated themselves after Baochai and the rest had resumed their seats.

‘When did you come to the capital?’ asked the old lady.

‘We arrived yesterday,’ the women stood up to reply. ‘Today our mistress has taken our young lady to the Palace to pay homage. She first told us to come and pay our respects to you, madam, and to ask after the young ladies.’

‘It’s so long since your last visit, we weren’t expecting you this year.’

‘‘Yes, this year we were sent for by the Emperor.’

‘Has the whole family come?’

‘Not the old lady, the young master, the two other young ladies or the other mistresses. Only our mistress and our third young lady.’

‘Is she engaged yet?’

‘Not yet.’

‘Your first and second young ladies’ families are on close terms with ours.’

‘Yes, every year when they write home they say how exceedingly good you are to them, madam.’

‘Not a bit of it!’ The Lady Dowager smiled. ‘That’s how it should be with old family friends and relatives. We see most of your second young lady, who’s so very good and modest.’

‘You’re too kind, madam,’ they replied.

Then she asked, ‘Does your young master stay with your old lady?’

‘Yes, madam, he does.’

‘How old is he? Has he started school yet?’

‘He’s thirteen this year’ was the answer. ‘Such a handsome boy that our old lady dotes on him. He’s always been very naughty and plays truant every day, but the master and the mistress couldn’t be too strict with him.’

‘It’s just the same in our family. What’s your young master’s name?’

‘Because the old lady treasures him so, and he has a fair complexion, she calls him Baoyu.’

The Lady Dowager exclaimed to Li Wan, ‘Another Baoyu fancy that!’

Li Wan half rose to reply, ‘There have been many people with the same names since ancient times, some living in the same, some in differ­ent ages.’

‘After he was given this pet-name we did all of us, high and low, wonder whether some friend or relative didn’t have the same name,’ volunteered one of the women. ‘But after some ten years away from the capital, we could none of us remember.’

‘That’s my worthless grandson’s name,’ chuckled the Lady Dowa­ger. She called in her attendants and ordered them, ‘Go and fetch our Baoyu from the Garden, so that these good women can have a look at him and see how he compares with their Baoyu.’

The maids went off at once, returning presently with Baoyu, at sight of whom the four women rose to their feet.

‘Well, this is a surprise!’ they exclaimed. ‘If we’d met him any­where else but here, we’d have thought our Baoyu had followed us to the capital.’

They went up to Baoyu, who greeted them with a smile, and taking his hand they asked him a number of questions.

‘How does he compare with your boy?’ inquired the old lady.

‘Judging by what these four nannies just said, the two must look rather alike,’ put in Li Wan.

‘That’s no coincidence.’ rejoined the old lady. ‘If their faces aren’t disfigured in some way, the pampered sons of great houses all look rather handsome. There’s nothing strange about that.’

‘They’re the image of each other,’ declared the four women. ‘And judging by what you say, madam, both of them have been rather spoilt; but your young master seems to us the better-tempered of the two.’

‘Why do you say that?’

‘We found out by holding his hands just now. Ours would have thought us silly. We ‘re not allowed even to touch his things, let alone hold his hands. So all his maids are young ones.

This evoked a peal of laughter from Li Wan and the girls.

‘If we sent people to see your Baoyu, and they took his hand, he’d have to put up with it too,’ chuckled the old lady. ‘The thing about boys from families like ours is that, no matter how perverse they may be, they always behave correctly to visitors ‘ otherwise we would never let them be so naughty. We spoil our boy because he looks so engaging, and because his manners to visitors are even better than those of many grown­ups. That’s why nobody can help being fond of him and why he has his own way so often at home. If he behaved badly to outsiders too, making us lose face, then no matter how handsome he was he’d deserve to be beaten to death.’

‘You are quite right, madam,’ they replied cheerfully. ‘Thought our Baoyu is so naughty and so wayward, his manners to guests are better than most grown-ups’. So everybody takes a fancy to him and can’t understand why he should sometimes be beaten. They don’t know the way he runs wild at home, saying and doing the most outrageous things which make our master and mistress very angry. It’s natural for boys of noble families to be wilful, extravagant and lazy such faults can be corrected. But what can we do when he was born with such a strange cranky temper?’

As they were talking Lady Wang was announced. She came in to inquire after her mother-in-law, and when the four visitors had paid their respects to her and said a few words the old lady told her to go and rest. This Lady Wang did, having first served her with tea. She was followed by the four women when they had taken their leave of the old lady, and they chatted together for a while about family affairs before she sent them away. But enough of this.

Meanwhile the Lady Dowager was gleefully telling everyone who came in that another family had a Baoyu just like their own. The others thought little of it, supposing that many official families must use the same names and that it was the general rule, rather than the exception, for a grandmother to spoil her grandson. Only Baoyu, being a prejudiced simple­ton, imagined that the four women had made this up to please his grand­mother. He went back to the Garden to see how Xiangyun was.

‘Now you can be as naughty as you like,’ she teased. ‘Before this it was a case of ‘A single thread can’t make a cord nor a single tree a forest.’ But now that there are two of you, next time you’re beaten for raising a rumpus you can run away to Nanjing to find your double.’

‘Don’t believe such nonsense,’ he said. ‘How could there be an­other Baoyu?’

‘Wasn’t there a Lin Xiangru in the Warring States Period and a Sima Xiangru in the Han Dynasty?’ she retorted.

‘All right, I’ll grant you that. But two people can’t possibly look just alike.’

‘Didn’t the men of Kuang take Confucius for Yang Hu?’

‘Confucius and Yang Hu looked alike but had different names; Lin Xiangru and Sima Xiangru had the same name but looked different. How can I look the same and have the same name as someone else?’

Unable to refute him Xiangyun said, ‘You’re just quibbling, I refuse to argue with you. Whether it’s so or not, this has nothing to do with me.’ Then she lay down to sleep.

Baoyu stared reflecting dubiously, ‘I may say this can’t be, yet I feel all the same it’s true. Yet how can I be sure, when I haven’t seen my double with my own eyes?’

Feeling at a loss, he went back to his room and lay down on the couch to think. Soon he dozed off and dreamed he was in a garden.

‘Is there another garden like this apart from our Grand View Gar­den?’ he exclaimed in surprise.

As he was puzzling over this some girls all serving-maids ap­proached.

Again he exclaimed in surprise, ‘So Yuanyang, Xiren and Pinger aren’t the only fine girls!’

‘What is Baoyu doing here?’ the girls asked each other.

Assuming that they were talking about him he answered with a smile, ‘I happened to stroll in here, not that I know which of my family’s friends this garden belongs to. Will you show me round it, sisters?’

‘Why, this isn’t our Baoyu,’ cried the girls. ‘He’s not bad-looking though, and soft-spoken too.’

‘Do you have another Baoyu here, sisters?’ he asked.

‘It was the old lady and mistress who told us to call him Baoyu, so as to make him live longer and keep him out of danger,’ they said. ‘He likes it when we call him by his name. But how can a stinking young upstart from far away like you start using it at random? You’d better watch out or we’ll beat you to a pulp, you filthy lout!’

‘Let’s go before Baoyu sees him,’ urged another.

‘He’d think talking to this stinking wretch had made us stink too.’

With that they left.

‘Why should they insult me like this?’ wondered Baoyu. ‘I’ve never been treated in such a way before. Can I really have a double?’

Occupied with these thoughts he had wandered into a courtyard.

‘Why, this is another Happy Red Court!’ he marvelled.

He ascended the steps and walked in. There was someone lying on a couch inside, with a few girls by him sewing or amusing themselves. The young man on the couch sighed.

‘Why don’t you sleep, Baoyu, instead of sighing?’ asked one of the girls. ‘I suppose it’s your cousin’s illness that’s worrying you?’

As Baoyu marvelled at this the young man replied, ‘I didn’t believe the old lady when she told me that in the capital there’s another Baoyu whose character’s just like mine. Just now, though, I had a dream. I dreamed I was in a big garden in the capital, where I met some girls who called me a stinking wretch and refused to talk to me. When at last I found his rooms he was asleep. Only his empty form was there his real self had gone, I don’t know where.’

Baoyu hearing this interjected hastily, ‘I came here to find Baoyu. So you’re Baoyu!’

The other stepped down from the couch and caught hold of him. ‘So you’re Baoyu!’ he cried. ‘This isn’t a dream then.’

‘Of course not. It’s absolutely true.’

As he said this someone announced, ‘The master wants Baoyu.’

That threw both of them into a panic. One started out while the other called:

‘Baoyu, come back! Come back!’

Xiren nearby heard him calling out in his sleep and shook him to wake him up.

‘Where’s Baoyu?’ she asked.

Baoyu, although awake now, was still confused.

Pointing outside the door he answered, ‘He’s just left.’

‘You’ve been dreaming,’ Xiren told him with a smile. ‘Rub your eyes and look that’s your own reflection in the mirror.

When Baoyu saw that he was indeed looking at himself in the big mirror, he also smiled. By now some maids had brought him a rinse-bowl and some strong tea to rinse his mouth.

Sheyue remarked, ‘No wonder the old lady keeps warning us, ‘There mustn’t be too many mirrors in children’s rooms. A young person’s spirit is weak, and if he looks at himself too much in the glass he may be frightened in his sleep and have nightmares.’ Yet we’ve put his couch in front of this big mirror. It’s all right when the cover’s down, but now that the hot weather’s made us sleepy we keep forgetting to lower it. Just now, for instance, we forgot again. He must have been lying there amusing himself by looking at his own reflection; then as soon as he closed his eyes he started dreaming foolish dreams. Otherwise he wouldn’t have called out his own name. Tomorrow we’d better move the couch inside.’

She was interrupted by the arrival of a messenger from Lady Wang to fetch Baoyu. To know why she wanted him, read the next chapter.

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