A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 76

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Chapter 76


By Convex Emerald Hail Fluting

Fills an Old Lady with Grief

In Concave Crystal Lodge Girls Composing

a Poem Lament Their Loneliness

When ha She and Jia Zheng had led Jia Zhen and the other men away, the Lady Dowager ordered serving-women to remove the screen and turn the two feasts into one. This they did by clearing the tables, replenishing the refreshments and bringing clean cups and chopsticks while the ladies put on warmer clothes, washed their faces and sipped tea. As they took seats again around one table the old lady noticed that Baochai and Baoqin were missing ‘ they were celebrating the festival at home. In addition, Li Wan and Xifeng were unwell and the absence of these four made things seem rather quiet.

‘In the past,’ she remarked, ‘When the master was away we used to invite Aunt Xue over to enjoy the moon with us and had great fun, until suddenly the thought of his absence, parting husband from wife, mother from son and father from children took away a bit from our pleasure.

‘This year with the master back our family’s reunited, but that means we couldn’t ask Aunt Xue and her children over to have a good time with us. Besides, they’ve two relatives staying there this year and couldn’t leave them to come over here. And on top of that, Xifeng’s unwell. If she were here joking and laughing, she’d make up for ten other people. This shows nothing can ever be perfect in this world.’ She sighed and called for a big cup of heated wine.

‘This year you and your son are together,’ said Lady Wang. ‘That’s an improvement on the past. Though you had more young people around you then, it still wasn’t as good as having your own son back.’

‘True,’ agreed the old lady. ‘That’s why I’m in such good spirits that I want to drink from a big cup. You should switch to big cups too.’

Lady Xing and the others had to comply. It was late now, they were tired, and as none of them were good drinkers they were flagging; but since the old lady was still in the mood for fun they had no choice but to keep her company. She ordered rugs to be spread on the steps and mooncakes, water-melons and other refreshments set out there so that the maids could sit down in a circle and enjoy the moon as well.

The moon, now in mid sky, was more dazzlingly lovely than ever.

‘With such a fine moon we must listen to some fluting,’ decided the Lady Dowager. She sent for the girl musicians, telling them, ‘Too many instruments would break the spell. One flute played in the distance will be enough.’

The flutist was just going off when one of Lady Xing’s matrons brought her a message. The old lady asked what it was, and the matron answered:

‘Just now, on his way home, the Elder Master tripped over a stone and sprained his ankle.’

At once the Lady Dowager sent two women to see how he was and urged Lady Xing to hurry back. As she was taking her leave the old lady added, ‘Zhen’s wife may as well go with you. I’ll soon be turning in.’

Madam You countered gaily, ‘I’m not going back today. I mean to sit up drinking the whole night with our Old Ancestress.’

‘No, that won’t do. A young couple like you ought to be united to­night. How can you desert your husband for my sake?’

Madam You flushed crimson and tittered, ‘What do you take us for, Old Ancestress? We aren’t as young as all that ‘ we’ve been married for over a dozen years and are getting on for forty. Besides, we’re still in mourning. There’s no harm in my keeping you company tonight. How can you ask me to spend it with my husband?’

‘Quite right,’ chuckled the old lady. ‘I’d forgotten you were still in mourning. Yes, your poor father-in-law has been dead two years and more ‘ how time does fly! I must drink a big cup as a forfeit for forget­ting. Well, don’t go then but stay and keep me company. Rong’s wife can go back with her great-aunt.’

So Madan You told her daughter-in-law to accompany Lady Xing, and they mounted their carriages at the gate, then left.

In the Garden, the Lady Dowager led her party to enjoy the osmanthus in bloom, after which they returned to the feast and fresh wine was heated. They were chatting when, all of a sudden, from under the osmanthus came wafting the sweet, dulcet, mellifluous sound of fluting. In the bright moonlight and fresh breeze, with the sky above a void, the earth utterly still, this music dispelled all care and anxiety. Every voice hushed, they sat appreciating it in silence.

The fluting went on for the time it takes to drink two cups of tea. When it stopped, everyone exclaimed in admiration. Then warm wine was poured again.

‘Wasn’t that delightful?’ asked the old lady, beaming.

‘Really lovely, madam!’ they replied. ‘We’d never have thought of such a thing. We need you to show us how to enjoy ourselves.’

‘This still isn’t good enough. What’s needed is slow music, the slower the better.’

They had been eating melon-seed oil mooncakes stuffed with pine ­kernels from the Palace, and the old lady now ordered one of these to be sent with a big cup of warm wine to the flutist, with instructions to drink it slowly then play another melody to the very best of her ability. Some serving-women had just gone off on this errand when back came the two matrons sent to ask after Jia She.

‘We saw His Lordship,’ they reported. ‘His right instep is a bit swollen, but he’s taken some medicine and the pain is less now. It’s nothing serious.’

The Lady Dowager nodded.

‘I worry too much about my children,’ she sighed. ‘He calls me biased, yet I feel such concern for him.’ She repeated Jia She’s joke to Lady Wang and Madam You.

‘It was only a joke after drinking,’ said Lady Wang soothingly. ‘Anyone can make a slip. He can’t possibly have had you in mind, madam. Why take it to heart?’

Yuanyang had now brought a soft hood and a cape. ‘It’s late,’ she said. ‘There’ll be dew, and you may catch cold in the wind unless you put more on. After a little while you should go and rest.’

‘Why hurry me when I’m in high spirits?’ asked the old lady. ‘I’m not drunk, am I? I’m going to sit up till dawn.’

She called for more wine, put on the hood and the cape, and went on drinking and joking with the rest.

Now from the shade of the osmanthus trees they heard the melodi­OUS strains of fluting again, sadder this time than before, and all kept silent. The old lady was under the influence of wine, and in the still night, under the bright moon, the plaintive music touched her heart and she could not hold hack her tears. The others were painfully affected too; but after some time, noticing her distress, they began to talk gaily to cheer her up and called for more wine, directing the flutist to stop.

‘I’ve learned one joke,’ announced Madam You. ‘Let me tell it to amuse our Old Ancestress.’

The old lady forced a smile.

‘So much the better.’

‘A family had four sons. The eldest had only one eye, the second only one ear, the third only one nostril, the fourth had all his organs but was dumb….’

Seeing that the Lady Dowager had closed her eyes, she broke off and with Lady Wang softly asked if she was awake. The old lady opened her eyes.

‘I’m not sleepy, just closing my eyes to rest them a hit. Go on with your joke, I’m listening.’

Lady Wang demurred, ‘It’s already the fourth watch, madam, windy and with heavy dew. Won’t you go and rest? You can enjoy the moon again tomorrow; it’s still bright on the sixteenth.’

‘How can it he so late?’

‘It really is. The girls couldn’t stay up any longer; they’ve all gone off to sleep.’

The Lady Dowager looked around and found only Tanchun there ‘the rest had slipped away.

‘All right,’ she said with a smile. ‘You’re not used to staying up all night either. And we shouldn’t tire the girls, weak and delicate as they are. So poor Tanchun’s the only one still here. You’d better go too. It’s time the party broke up.’

She rose, took a sip of tea, then wrapped the cape around her and was carried off by two women in a small bamboo sedan-chair which they had ready. The others followed her out of the Garden.

The serving-women clearing up discovered that one fine porcelain cup was missing.

They asked the others, ‘Did one of you break a cup? If so, bring us the pieces to hand in as evidence. Otherwise we may be accused of stealing it.’

The others denied having broken anything.

‘But one of the maids attending the young ladies may have dropped a cup,’ they suggested. ‘Try to remember, or just go and ask them.’

‘That’s right,’ cried the woman in charge of the tea-services. ‘I remember Cuilu taking a cup. I’ll ask her.’

She went to look for Cuilu, who happened to come towards her along the covered walk accompanied by Zijuan.

Cuilu called out, ‘Has the old lady left? And do you know where our young ladies are?’

‘I’ve come to ask you for a cup, but you ask me for your mistresses instead.’

‘I’d just taken Miss Xiangyun some tea when she suddenly disap­peared.’

‘Her Ladyship said just now they’d all gone to bed. You must have been playing about somewhere not to notice.’

‘They can’t have slipped off quietly to bed. They must be strolling about. Maybe, seeing the old lady leave, they went ahead to see her off. Let’s go to her place to look for them. Once we find them your teacup will turn up too. You can fetch it first thing tomorrow. What’s the hurry?’

‘Provided I know where it is, there’s no hurry. I’ll come for it to­morrow.

The woman went back then to clear away while Zijuan and Cuilu made for the old lady’s quarters.

Daiyu and Xiangyun had not gone to bed. This big family reunion in the ha mansion, which the Lady Dowager still complained was less lively than in the old days, as well as her reference to Baochai and Baoqin celebrating at home with their own family, had made Daiyu feel so dis­consolate that she had slipped out to the corridor to shed tears. As Baoyu was listless and distraught these days because Qingwen’s illness had taken a turn for the worse, when his mother urged him to go to bed off he went. Tanchun was in no mood for enjoyment either, with family troubles weighing on her mind. And as neither Yingchun nor Xichun was too inti­mate with Daiyu, that left only Xiangyun to comfort her.

‘‘You should have more sense,’ Xiangyun told her, ‘than to let this scene upset you. I have no family either, but 71 don’t take it to heart the way you do. With your poor health you ought to look after yourself. It’s too bad of Baochai and Baoqin. They kept saying our club must meet to celebrate the Moon Festival this year by writing a poem together, but now they’ve abandoned us and gone off to celebrate it on their own. Instead of our meeting to write a poem, the men and boys of the house have had things all their own way. As the old saying goes: How can an outsider be allowed to sleep beside one’s bed?’ Well, if they won’t join in, why don’t the two of us write a poem together? Tomorrow we can shame them with it.’

As Xiangyun was trying to cheer her up, not wanting to spoil her fun Daiyu replied, ‘All right, But it’s too noisy here to have any poetic inspi­ration.’

‘Enjoying the moonlight on this hill is good. hut it’s better still by the water. You know that lake at the foot of this hill and Concave Crystal Lodge by the inlet there? A lot of thought went into designing this Gar­den. The crest of the hill is called Convex Emerald, and the creek in the lake below Concave Crystal. ‘Convex’ and ‘concave, ‘ so seldom used before, make fresh, original names. And these two places – one above, one below; one bright, one dark; one hill, one water seem specially designed for enjoying the moonlight. Those who like to look at the moon from a height can come here; those who prefer to see its reflection in water can go there. But as these two words are usually pronounced wa and tu’ they’re considered rather uncouth. That’s why Lu You’s line ‘The old inkstone, slightly concave, brims with ink’ was scoffed at as vulgar. Ridiculous, isn’t it?’

‘Lu You wasn’t the only one to use this word. so did many other writers of old ‘- Jiang Yan in his poetic essay On Green Moss, Dongfang Shuo in his Miraculous and Strange Records, and Zhang Yanyuan in

his Anecdotes on Painting when he described the frescoes Zhang Sengyou2 painted in a monastery. Why, there are too many instances to quote. But nowadays people not knowing this think these vulgar words.

‘To tell you the truth,’ Daiyu continued, ‘I’m the one who sug­gested both names. It was when we proposed names for places which hadn’t yet been given any and marked their localities. They were taken to the Palace and shown to Elder Sister who sent them to uncle, and he was delighted. He said if only he’d known he’d have asked us girls to help with the names, and he accepted them all without changing a word. Well, let’s go to concave Crystal Lodge.’

They walked down the hill, round a bend, and reached the lake. A path by the bamboo railings along its bank led to Lotus Fragrance Pavil­ion. The little building here, nestling at the foot of the hill on which stood Convex Emerald Hall, had been given the name Concave Crystal be­cause it was on low ground close to the water. As it was so small, with few rooms, there were only two serving-women on night duty; and knowing that the ladies at Convex Emerald Hall would not be requiring their ser­vices, after enjoying their share of mooncakes, sweetmeats, wine and dishes, they had put out the lights and gone to bed.

‘So they’re asleep ‘ good,’ said Xiangyun when they saw that the place was dark. ‘Let’s enjoy the water and moonlight under this aw­ning.’

Sitting on two bamboo stools they gazed at the bright moon in the sky and then at its reflection in the lake, the moon above and its reflection below rivalling each other in magnificence. It was like being in some mermaids’ crystal palace. As a breeze ruffled the green water of the lake they felt thoroughly refreshed.

‘What fun it would be to drink now in a boat on the lake!’ exclaimed Xiangyun. ‘If we were at my home I’d take a boat out.’

‘As the ancients often said: ‘What enjoyment can there be if every­thing is perfect?’’ remarked Daiyu. ‘To my mind this is quite good enough.’

‘It’s only natural for men to hanker for more. Didn’t the old people often say: The poor think the rich have all their hearts’ desire. Try to disabuse them and they won’t believe you ‘ not unless they grow rich

themselves. Take the two of us for instance. Although we’ve lost our parents we’re living in luxury, yet we have a lot to upset us.

‘We aren’t the only ones. Even their Ladyships, Baoyu, Tanchun and the others can’t have their way in everything big and small, even if they have good reason for wanting something. That applies to everyone. Especially girls like us who are living with other families, not our own….

Afraid Daiyu would start grieving again, Xiangyun interposed, ‘Well, enough of this idle talk. Let’s get on with our poem.’

As she was talking they heard melodious fluting.

‘Their Ladyships are in high spirits today,’ Daiyu remarked. ‘This fluting is pleasant and should give us inspiration. As we both like five-character lines, let’s make regulated couplets in that metre.’

‘What rhymes shall we use?’

‘Suppose we count the bars from this end of the railing to the other to decide which category of rhymes to choose. For example, if it’s six­teen we’ll use the Xian rhymes. Wouldn’t that make a change?’

‘That’s certainly original.’

So they got up to count the bars and found there were thirteen in all.

Xiangyun chuckled, ‘It would be thirteen! That means the yuan group of rhymes. There aren’t too many for a long poem of couplets, so it may be awkward. Still, you must make a start.’

‘We’ll see which of us does better. But we ought to have paper and a brush to write it down.’

‘We can copy it out tomorrow. There’s no danger of forgetting it before then.’

‘All right then. I’ll start with a pat phrase.’ Daiyu declaimed:

‘Mid-autumn’s fifteenth night is here again….’ Xiangyun reflected, then said:

‘As on the Feast of Lanterns we stroll round.

The sky above is sprinkled with bright stars

Daiyu continued:

‘And everywhere sweet strings and pipes resound.

Goblets fly here and there as men carouse….

‘I like that last line,’ Xiangyun approved. ‘I must find something good to match it.’ After a moment’s thought she said:

‘No house but has its windows opened wide.

The breeze that softly fans the air is chill

‘You’ve capped my attempt,’ admitted Daiyu. ‘But your second line is trite. You should go from strength to strength.’

‘A long poem with tricky rhymes had to be padded out a bit. We can use some good lines later.’

‘If you don’t, you should be ashamed!’ Daiyu went on:

‘But bright as day the fine night scene outside.

The greybeard grabbing for a cake is mocked

‘That’s no good,’ laughed Xiangyun. ‘It’s not classical. You’re put­ting me on the spot by using an everyday incident like that.’

‘I’d say you hadn’t read many books. This reference to cakes is a classical allusion. You should read the Tang dynasty records before you talk.’

‘Well, you haven’t foxed me. I’ve got it.’ Xiangyun capped the verse:

‘Green girls share melons laughing themselves silly.

How fresh the scent of jade osmanthus bloom….’

‘That really had no classical source,’ protested Daiyu.

‘Tomorrow we’ll look it up for everyone to see. Let’s not waste time now.’

‘Anyway your second line is no good, padded out with expressions like ‘jade osmanthus.’’ She continued:

‘How bright the regal gold of the day-lily.3

Wax candles set the sumptuous feast aglow

‘You got off cheap with ‘day-lily,’’ observed Xiangyun. ‘That ready-made rhyme saved you a lot of trouble. But there was no need to drag in praise of the sovereign on their behalf. Besides, the line after that is mediocre.’

‘If you hadn’t used jade osmanthus. I wouldn’t have had to match it with day-lily, would I ? And we have to bring in some opulent images to make it true to life.’

Then Xiangyun continued:

‘1

‘Wild drinking games the splendid park confuse.

Opposing sides obey the self-same rule

‘That last line’s good but rather hard to match.’ Daiyu thought for a little then said:

‘Those guessing riddles hear three different clues.

The dice is thrown and wins ‘ the dots are red….’

Xiangyun said, ‘I like your ‘three clues,’ making something collo­quial poetic. But you shouldn’t have brought in dice again in the next line.’ She continued:

‘Drums speed the blossom passed from hand to hand.

The courtyard scintillates with limpid light

Daiyu commented, ‘You capped my line all right but fell down again on the next. Why keep padding it out with the’breeze’ and the ‘moon’ all the time?’

‘I haven’t brought in the moon yet. And anyway a subject like this can do with some purple patches.’

‘Well, we’ll let it go for the time being. We can consider it again tomorrow.’ Daiyu went on:

‘A silver splendour merges sky and land.

For hosts and guests alike the same requital

‘Why go on referring to others? Why not speak about us?’ Xiangyun resumed:

‘Verses are written turn and turn about.

One leaning on the barricade to think

‘Yes, this is where we come in,’ Daiyu remarked, then continued:

‘One ‘tapping the door’4 to make the scene stand out.

Engrossed as ever, though the wine is drunk

‘Now we’re getting somewhere!’ Xiangyun went on:

‘They savour the last watches of the night.

Then comes a gradual end to talk and laughter….’

‘Here’s where each line gets more difficult,’ observed Daiyu, con­tinuing:

‘Nought’s left now but the waning frosty light.

By the steps, dew-drenched hibiscus blooms at dawn

Xiangyun exclaimed, ‘Now what paroled shall I choose? Let me see.’ She stood up to think, her hands clasped behind her back, then said with a smile, ‘All right. Luckily I’ve hit on a word. I was nearly floored.’ She resumed:

‘In the courtyard, mist the albizzia shrouds.

Autumn rapids pour forth through the core of rocks

Daiyu sprang up with a cry of admiration.

‘This clever imp had really kept some good lines up her sleeve. Fancy coming out with ‘albizzia’ ‘ how did you think of that?’

‘Luckily for me, yesterday I dipped into the Selected Writings of Different Dynasties and found this name. I didn’t know what tree it was and wanted to look it up, but Cousin Baochai said, ‘There’s no need for that. This is the tree whose leaves open out in the daytime and fold up at night.’ Not trusting her, I checked up and found she was right. So it seems Cousin Baochai really knows a lot.’

‘It’s just the word to use here, and your line about ‘autumn rapids’ is even more felicitous, better than all the other lines. I shall have to cudgel my brains to match it, but I can’t possibly think of anything as good.’ After a little reflection she went on:

‘Wind-swept leaves gather at the root of clouds.

Lonely and pure the Lady of the Star

‘The parallel will pass but the second line is a comedown,’ was Xiangyun’s verdict. ‘Still, at least the sentiment suits the scene. You haven’t just used an allusion for padding.’ She continued:

‘The Silver Toad5 puffs and deflates the moon.

Elixirs are prepared by the Jade Hare

Daiyu simply nodded, then capped this:

‘The goddess flies towards the Palace of Cold Void.

One soars on high to greet Weaving Maid and Cowherd

Xiangyun looking up at the moon nodded and continued:

‘One sails a barque to the heavenly maiden fair.

The orb, for ever changing, wanes and waxes

‘You’re using the same image again,’ objected Daiyu, but went on:

‘At each month’s start and end but its ghost is there. Clepsydra’s water had wellnigh run dry

Before Xiangyun could continue, Daiyu pointed at a dark shadow in the pool and exclaimed, ‘Look there! That looks like a man in the dark. Could it be a ghost?’

‘You’re imagining things again. I’m not afraid of ghosts. I’ll hit it.’

Xiangyun bent to pick up a stone and threw it into the pool. Splash! Ripples radiated out to shatter the moon’s reflection, which then rounded out again. When this had happened several times, they heard a cry in the dark shadows and a white stork took wing straight towards Lotus Fra­grance Pavilion.

‘So that’s all it was,’ chuckled Daiyu. ‘I didn’t think it could be a stork. It gave me quite a fright.’

‘How amusing ‘ it’s given me an idea.’ And Xiangyun declaimed:

‘The lamp by the window is no longer bright.

A stork’s shadow flit across the chilly pool

Daiyu exclaimed in admiration again, stamping her foot.

‘This confounded stork had helped her! This line is even more origi­nal than the one about ‘autumn rapids.’ How am I going to match it? The only parallel for ‘shadow’ is ‘spirit.’ A stork flitting across the chilly pool sounds so natural, apt, vivid and original too! I shall have to give up.’

‘We can find something if we both think hard, or else leave it till tomorrow.’

Daiyu still looking up at the sky ignored her.

After a while she suddenly laughed and said, ‘You needn’t gloat. I’ve got it. Listen.

‘The poet’s spirit is buried in cold moonlight.’

Xiangyun clapped her hands.

‘Very good indeed! The only possible parallel. Burying the poet’s spirit ‘ wonderful.’ She added with a sigh, ‘Of course that line’s distinctive, but it’s rather too melancholy. Now that you’re unwell you shouldn’t make such strangely sad and depressing lines which sound ill-omened.’

Daiyu chuckled, ‘If I hadn’t, how was Ito beat you? But I worked so hard on it, I haven’t got the next line yet….’

Just then someone stepped out from behind the rocks on the other side of the balustrade and laughed.

‘A fine poem, a fine poem!’ she cried. ‘But it is too melancholy. You’d better not go on. If you continue in this way, these two lines won’t stand out so well and the poem may seem padded and forced.’

Daiyu and Xiangyun, caught unawares, were startled to see Miaoyu.

‘Where did you spring from?’ they asked.

‘Knowing you were all enjoying the moon and listening to fine flut­ing, I came out to admire this clear lake and bright moonlight too and on my way here suddenly heard the two of you poeticizing, which seemed the height of refinement. So I stopped to listen. You’ve made some good lines but as a whole it’s too mournful ‘ or was that fated? That’s why I stepped out to stop you.

‘The party broke up long ago and the old lady’s left the Garden. Most of the others here must be asleep, and your maids will be wonder­ing what’s become of you. Aren’t you afraid of catching cold? Come back to my place now for a cup of tea. The day will break any minute.’

‘I’d no idea it was so late,’ said Daiyu.

The three girls went to Green Lattice Nunnery. They found the lamp before the shrine still lit and the incense in the censer not yet burnt out, but the few old nuns there had gone to bed leaving only one young maid dozing on a hassock. Miaoyu roused her to brew tea. Then came a sud­den knocking on the gate, and the maid opened it to admit Zijuan and Cuilu with some old nurses come to look for Daiyu and Xiangyun.

Seeing them drinking tea they said laughingly, ‘You had us searching the whole Garden ‘ even Madam Xue’s place ‘ for you. We were looking just now in that small pavilion at the foot of the hill, and luckily the night-watchers were awake. They told us two people had been talking under the awning outside. Someone else joined them and they spoke of going to the nunnery. That’s how we’ve tracked you down.’

Miaoyu told the maid to take them to another room to have a rest and some tea. She herself brought out a brush, inkstone, paper and ink and asked the girls to recite their composition, which she wrote down from start to finish.

Finding her in such a good mood Daiyu said, ‘I’ve never seen you before in such high spirits. If not for that I wouldn’t presume to ask for your opinion. Is this poem worth polishing? If you think not, we’ll burn it; but if it is, will you please make some corrections?’

‘I won’t venture to make rash comments, but as you’ve already used twenty-two rhymes I expect you ye produced your most striking images and if you go on you may tire yourselves out. I’d like to round it off, only I’m afraid I may spoil it.’

Daiyu had never read any poems by Miaoyu, and as the young nun was so eager she urged her, ‘Please do! That may make out feeble attempts seem passable.’

‘We must wind up the poem by reverting to the present situation. If we pass over true feelings and incidents and simply search for striking images and expressions, we’ll be losing our identity and departing from the main theme.’

‘Quite right,’ they concurred.

Miaoyu picked up her brush and wrote her addition straight off, then showed it to the other two, saying:

‘Don’t laugh at me! I feel this is the only way to get back to the theme. Then a few sad lines earlier on won’t matter.’

They took what she had written and read:

The incense in gold tripods has burnt out,

And ice-white oil in the jade basin forms;

Fluting recalls a widow’s lamentations

As a small serving-maid the silk quilt warms.

On empty curtains a bright phoenix hangs.

The idle screens gay ducks and drakes enfold;

Thick dew has made the moss more slippery,

And heavy frost makes bamboo hard to hold.

Strolling again beside the winding lake,

Climbing once more the solitary hill,

The rugged boulders seem contending ghosts.

The gnarled trees wolves and tigers crouching still.

Dawn lights the tortoise pedestal of stone,

On outer trellis now the thick dew falls.

A thousand woodland birds begin to stir,

In vales below a single gibbon calls.

How can we stray on a familiar road?

Why ask the way to fountain-heads we know?

The bells chime in Green Lattice Nunnery,

The cocks in Paddy-Sweet Cottage start to crow.

With cause for joy why grieve excessively,

Or needlessly display anxiety?

A maiden’s feelings none but she can vent ‘To whom can she confide her nicety?

Speak not of weariness though night is done,

Over fresh tea let us talk on and on.

She then appended the title ‘A Poem Written Collectively with Thirty-five Rhymes While Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival in Grand View Garden.’

Daiyu and Xiangyun heaped praise on this ending.

‘We’ve been ignoring a talent right under our eyes, yet trying to seek what is far away!’ they exclaimed. ‘We have such a superior po­etess here, yet every day we pretend to be able to write.’

‘We can polish it tomorrow,’ suggested Miaoyu. ‘It’ll soon be light, and after all we must get some rest.’ Then the other two took their leave and went off with their maids. Miaoyu saw them out of the gate and watched until they were out of sight before closing the gate and returning to her room.

Meanwhile Cuilu had told Xiangyun, ‘They’re sitting up waiting for us in Madam Zhu’s place. Let’s go back now.’

‘You can call in there on the way and tell them to go to bed,’ replied Xiangyun. ‘If I go, I’ll only disturb them. I’d better raise a rumpus in Miss Lin’s place instead.’

In Bamboo Lodge half the maids were already asleep. Having un­dressed and washed, Daiyu and Xiangyun went to bed; Zijuan put down the gauze bed-curtain and took away the lamp, closing the door behind her. However, Xiangyun could not sleep in a strange bed. As for Daiyu, being anaemic she often suffered from insomnia too, and having stayed up past her usual hour she now felt wide-awake. So the two of them tossed and turned.

Daiyu asked, ‘Why aren’t you asleep yet?’

‘I can’t sleep well in a strange bed ‘ that’s my trouble. And I’m no longer sleepy, so I’m just resting. What about you?’

‘I’ve had insomnia a long time now,’ Daiyu sighed. ‘In a whole year I probably have only ten nights of good sleep.’

‘No wonder you’re unwell then!’

If you want to know what followed, read the next chapter.

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