A Dream of Red Mansions – Chatper 5

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A Dream of Red Mansions005

Chatper 5

The Spiritual Stone Is Too Bemused to Grasp

the Fairy’ s Riddles

The Goddess of Disenchantment in Her Kindness

Secretly Expounds on Love

Drowsy in spring beneath embroidered quilts,

In a trance with a goddess he leaves the world of men.

Who is this now entering the Land of Dreams?

The most unregenerate lover since time began.

The fourth chapter told briefly how the Xues came to stay in the Rong Mansion, but now let us return to Daiyu.

Since her coming to the Rong Mansion, the Lady Dowager had been lavishing affection on her, treating her in every respect just like Baoyu so that Yingehun, Tanehun and Xichun, the Jia girls, all had to take a back seat. And Baoyu and Daiyu had drawn closer to each other than all the others. By day they strolled or sat together; at night they went to bed in the same apartment. On all matters, indeed, they were in complete accord.

But now Baochai had suddenly appeared on the scene. Although only slightly older, she was such a proper young lady and so charming that most people considered Daiyu inferior to her. In the eyes of the world, of course, everyone has some merits. In the case of Daiyu and Baochai, one was lovely as a flower, the other graceful as a willow, but each charming in her own way, according to her distinctive tem­perament.

Besides, Baochai’s generous, tactful, and accommodating ways con­trasted strongly with Daiyu’s stand-offish reserve and won the hearts of her subordinates, so that nearly all the maids like to chat with her. Be­cause of this, Daiyu began to feel some twinges of jealousy. But of this Baochai was completely unaware.

Baoyu was still only a boy and a very absurd and wilful one at that, who treated his brothers, sisters and cousins alike, making no difference between close and distant kinsmen. Because he and Daiyu both lived in the Lady Dowager’s quarters he was closer to her than to the other girls, and being closer had grown more intimate; but precisely because of this he sometimes offended her by being too demanding and thoughtless.

Today the two of them had fallen out for some reason and Daiyu, alone in her room, was again shedding tears. Sorry for his tactlessness, Baoyu went in to make it up and little by little contrived to comfort her.

As the plum blossom was now in full bloom in the Ning Mansion’s gar­den, Jia Zhen’s wife Madam You invited the Lady Dowager, Lady Xing, Lady Wang and the others to a party to enjoy the flowers. She brought Jia Rong and his wife with her to deliver the invitations in person, and so the Lady Dowager and the rest went over after breakfast. They strolled round the Garden of Concentrated Fragrance and were served first with tea then wine; but it was simply an informal gathering of the womenfolk of both houses for a family feast, with nothing of special interest to record.

Soon Baoyu was tired and wanted to have a nap. The Lady Dowager ordered his attendants to take good care of him and bring him back after a rest.

At once Jia Rong’s wife Qin Keqing said with a smile: “We have a room ready here for Uncle Baoyu. The Old Ancestress can set her mind at rest and leave him safely to me.” She told his nurses and maids to follow her with their young master.

The Lady Dowager had every confidence in this lovely slender young woman who with her gentle, amiable behaviour was her favourite of all the great-grandsons’ wives of the Rong and Ning branches. She was therefore sure Baoyu would be in good hands.

Keqing led the party to an inner room, where Baoyu noticed a fine painting of “The Scholar Working by Torchlight.”1 Without even seeing who the artist was, he took a dislike to the picture. Then he read the couplet flanking it:

A grasp of mundane affairs is genuine knowledge,

Understanding of worldly wisdom is true learning.

These two lines disgusted him with the place for all its refinement and luxury, and he begged to go somewhere else.

“If this isn’t good enough, where can we take you?” asked his host­ess with a laugh. “Well, come along to my room.”

Baoyu nodded and smiled but one of his nurses protested:

‘‘It’s not proper for an uncle to sleep in his nephew’s room.”

“Good gracious!” Keqing smiled. “I won’t mind his being offended if I say he’s still a baby. At his age such taboos don’t apply. Didn’t you see my brother who came last month? He’s the same age as Uncle Baoyu, but if they stood side by side I’m sure he’d be the taller.”

“Why haven’t I met him?” asked Baoyu. “Do bring him in and let me have a look at him.”

The women burst out laughi . “He’s miles away, how can we bring him? You’ll meet him some other time.”

Now, having reached the young matron’s room, they were meet at the threshold by a subtle perfume which misted over Baoyu’s eyes and melted his bones.

“How good it smells here!” he cried.

Entering, he saw on the wall a picture by Tang Yin2 of a lady sleeping under the blossom of a crab-apple tree in spring. On the two scrolls flanking it, Qin Guan3 the Song scholar had written:

Coolness wraps her dream, for spring is chill;

A fragrance assails men, the aroma of wine.

On the dressing-table was a rare mirror from Wu Zetian’s4 Hall of Mirrors. In the gold tray by it, on which Zhao Feiyan5 once danced, was the quince thrown in fun by An Lushan6 at Lady Yang,7 which had wounded her breast. At one end of the room stood the couch on which Princess Shouyang8 had slept in the Hanzhang Palace, and over it hung the cur­tains strung from pearls by Princess Tongchang9.

“It’s nice in here,” exclaimed Baoyu repeatedly in his delight.

“This room of mine is probably fit for a god,” rejoined Keqing with a smile.

With her own hands she spread a gauze coverlet washed by Xi Shi’0 and arranged the bridal pillow carried by Hongniang11. Then the nurses and attendants made Baoyu lie down and slipped out leaving only four maids Xiren, Meiren, Qingwen and Sheyue to keep him company. Keqing told them to wait on the verandah and watch the kittens and puppies playing there.

Baoyu fell asleep as soon as he closed his eyes and dreamed that Keqing was before him. Absent-mindedly he followed her a long way to some crimson balustrades and white marble steps among green trees and clear streams, in a place seldom trodden by the foot of man, unreached by swirling dust.

In his dream he thought happily, “This is a pleasant spot. If only I could spend my whole life here! For that I’d gladly give up my home where my parents and teachers kee caning me every day.”

His fancy was running away ith him when he heard someone sing­ing a song on the other side of a hill:

Gone with the clouds spring’s dream.

Flowers drift away on the stream.

Young lovers all, be warned by me,

Cease courting needless misery.

Baoyu realized that the voice was a girl’s and before the song had ended he saw the singer come round the hill and approach him. With her graceful gait and air she was truly no mortal being. Here is as proof her description:

Leaving the willow bank, she comes just now through the flowers. Her approach startles birds in the trees in the court, and soon her shadow falls across the verandah. Her fairy sleeves, fluttering, give off a heady fragrance of musk and orchid. With each rustle of her lotus garments, her jade pendants tinkle.

Her dimpled smile is peach-blossom in spring, her blue-black hair a cluster of clouds. Her lips are cherries and sweet the breath from her pomegranate teeth.

The curve of her slender waist is snow whirled by the wind. Dazzling her pearls and emeralds and gosling-gold the painted design on her fore­head.

She slips in and out of the flowers, now vexed, now radiant, and floats over the lake as if on wings.

Her mothlike eyebrows are knit yet there lurks a smile, and no sound issues from her lips parted as if to speak as she glides swiftly on lotus feet and, pausing, seems poised for flight.

Her flawless complexion is pure as ice, smooth as jade. Magnificent her costume with splendid designs. Sweet her face, compact of fragrance, carved in jade; and she bears herself like a phoenix or dragon in flight.

Her whiteness? Spring plum-blossom glimpsed through snow. Her purity? Autumn orchids coated with frost. Her tranquility? A pine in a lonely valley. Her beauty? Sunset mirrored in a limpid pool. Her grace? A dragon breasting a winding stream. Her spirit? Moonlight on a frosty flyer.

She would put Xi Shi to shame and make Wang Qiang’2 blush. Where was this wonder born, whence does she come?

Verily she has no peer in fairyland, no equal in the purple courts of heaven.

Who can she be, this beauty?

Overjoyed by the apparition of this fairy, Baoyu made haste to greet her with a bow.

“Sister Fairy,” he begged with a smile, “do tell me where you are from and whither you are going. I have lost my way. May I beg you to be my guide?”

“My home is above the Sphere of Parting Sorrow in the Sea of Brim­ming Grief,” she answered with a smile. “I am the Goddess of Disen­chantment from the Grotto of Emanating Fragrance on the Mountain of Expanding Spring in the Illusory Land of Great Void. I preside over ro­mances and unrequited love on earth, the grief of women and the passion of men in the mundane world. The reincarnations of some former lovers have recently gathered here, and so I have come to look for a chance to mete out love and longing. It is no accident that we have met.

“My realm is not far from here. All I can offer you is a cup of fairy tea plucked by my own hands, a pitcher of fine wine of my own brewing, some accomplished singers and dancers, and twelve new fairy songs called ‘A Dream of Red Mansions.’ But won’t you come with me?” Forgetting Keqing in his delight, Baoyu followed the goddess to a stone archway inscribed: Illusory Land of Great Void. On either pillar was this couplet:

When false is taken for true, true becomes false;

If non-being turns into being, being becomes non-being.

Beyond this archway was a palace gateway with the inscription in large characters: Sea of Grief and Heaven of Love. The bold couplet flanking this read:

Firm as earth and lofty as heaven, passion from

time immemorial knows no end;

Pity silly lads and plaintive maids hard put to

it to requite debts of breeze and moonlight.

“Well, we ,“ thought Baoyu, “I wonder what’s meant by ‘passion from time immemorial’ and ‘debts of breeze and moonlight.’ From now on I’d like to have a taste of these things.”

Little did he know that by thinking in this way he had summoned an evil spirit into his inmost heart.

He followed the goddess through the second gate past two matching halls on both sides, each with its tablet and couplet. He had no time to read them all but noticed the names: Board of Infatuation, Board of Jealousy, Board of Morning Tears, Board of Night Sighs, Board of Spring Longing and Board of Autumn Sorrows.

“May I trouble you, goddess, to show me over these different boards?” he asked.

“They contain the records of the past and future of girls from all over the world,” she told him. “These may not be divulged in advance to you with your human eyes and mortal frame.”

But Baoyu would not take no for an answer and at last she yielded to his importunity.

“Very well then,” she conceded. “You may go in here and have a look round.”

Baoyu was overjoyed. He looked up and saw on the tablet the name Board of the Ill-Fated. This was flanked by the couplet:

They brought on themselves spring grief and

autumn anguish;

Wasted, their beauty fair as flowers and moon.

Grasping the meaning of this and strangely stirred, Baoyu entered and saw more than ten large cabinets, sealed and labelled with the names of different localities. Having no interest in other provinces, he was eager to find his native place and soon discovered one cabinet labelled First Reg­ister of Twelve Beauties of Jinling. When he asked what this meant, Disenchantment told him:

“That is a record of the twelve foremost beauties in your honourable province. That’s why it’s called the First Register.”

“I’ve always heard that Jinling’s a very large place,” replied Baoyu. “Why are there only twelve girls? In our family alone just now, if you count the servants, we must have several hundreds.”

“True, there are many girls in your honourable province. Only those of the first grade are registered here. The next two cabinets contain records of those in the second and third grade. As for the rest, they are too mediocre for their lives to be worth recording.”

Baoyu looked at the next two cabinets and saw written on them: Sec­ond Register of Twelve Beauties of Jinhing and Third Register of Twelve Beauties of Jinling. He opened the door of this last, took out the register and turned to the first page. This was covered by a painting in ink, not of any figures of landscape but of black clouds and heavy mist. Beside this were the lines:

A clear moon is rarely met with,

Bright clouds are easily scattered;

Her heart is loftier than the sky,

But her person is of low degree.

Her charm and wit give rise to jealousy,

Her early death is caused by calumny,

In vain her loving master’s grief must be.

On the next page Baoyu saw painted a bunch of flowers and a tat­tered mat, with the legend:

Nothing avail her gentleness and compliance,

Osmanthus and orchid with her fragrance vie;

But this prize is borne off by an actor,

And luck passes the young master by.

Unable to make anything of this, he put the album down, opened the door of another cabinet and took out the Second Register. This opened at a picture of fragrant osmanthus above withered lotus in a dried-up pond. By this was written:

Sweet is she as the lotus in flower,

Yet none so sorely oppressed;

After the growth of a lonely tree in two soils

Her sweet soul will be dispatched to its final rest.

Still baffled, Baoyu put this volume aside and took out the First Regis­ter. The first page had a painting of two withered trees on which hung a jade belt, while at the foot of a snowdrift lay a broken golden hairpin. Four lines of verse read:

Alas for her wifely virtue,

Her wit to sing of willow-down, poor maild!

Buried in snow the broken golden hairpin

And hanging in the wood the belt of jade.

Baoyu could make nothing of this either. He knew the goddess would not enlighten him, yet he could not bring himself to put the book down. So he turned to a painting of a bow from which was suspended a citron. This bore the legend:

For twenty years she arbitrates

Where pomegranates blaze by palace gates.

How can the late spring equal the spring’s start?

When Hare and Tiger meet,’3

From this Great Dream of life she must depart.

On the next page was a picture of two people flying a kite, while in a large boat out at sea sat a girl, weeping, covering her face with her hands. With this were the lines:

So talented and high-minded,

She is born too late for luck to come her way.

Through tears she watches the stream

On the Clear and Bright Day; “‘

A thousand lithe east wind blows,

But her home in her dreams is far away.

Next came a painting of drifting clouds and flowing water with the legend:

Nought avail her rank and riches,

While yet in swaddling clothes an orphan lone;

In a flash she mourns the setting sun,

The river Xiang runs dry, the clouds over Chu have flown.

Next was depicted a fine piece of jade dropped in the mud, with the verse:

Chastity is her wish,

Seclusion her desire;

Alas, though fine as gold or jade

She sinks at last in the mire.

There followed a sketch of a savage wolf pursuing a lovely girl to devour her. The verdict read:

For husband she will have a mountain wolf,

His object gained he ruthlessly berates her;

Fair bloom, sweet willow in a golden bower,

Too soon a rude awakening awaits her.

Next was depicted a seated girl reading a sutra alone in an old temple. This had the legend:

She sees through the transience of spring,

Dark Buddhist robes replace her garments fine;

Pity this child of a wealthy noble house

Who now sleeps alone by the dimly lit old shrine.

Next came a female phoenix perched on an iceberg, with the verdict:

This bird appears when the world falls on evil times;

None but admires her talents and her skill;

First she complies, then commands, then is dismissed,

Departing in tears to Jinling more wretched still.

After this was a lonely village with a pretty girl spinning in a humble cottage. The inscription read:

When fortune frowns, nobility means nothing;

When a house is ruined, kinsmen turn unkind.

Becuase of help given by chance to Granny Liu,

In time of need she is lucky a friend to find.

After this was painted a pot of orchids in bloom beside a beauty in ceremonial dress. The legend ran:

Peach and plum in spring winds finish seeding,

Who can bloom like the orchid at last?

Pure as ice and water she arouses envy,

Vain the groundless taunts that are cast.

Next came a picture on a beautiful woman hanging herself of a tower, with the verdict:

Love boundless as sea and sky is but illusion;

When lovers meet, lust must be king.

Say not all evil comes from the Rong Mansion,

Truly, disaster originates from the Ning.

Baoyu would have read on, but the goddess knowing his high natural endowments and quick intelligence feared the secrets of Heaven might be divulged. She closed the book therefore and said to him with a smile:

“Why not come with me to enjoy the strange sights here instead of puzzling your head over these silly riddles?”

As if in a daze he left the registers and followed her past pearl porti­ères and embroidered curtains, painted pillars and carved beams. Words fail to describe those brilliant vermilion rooms, floors paved with gold, windows bright as snow and palaces of jade, to say nothing of the delec­table fairy flowers, rare plants and fragrant herbs.

As Baoyu was feasting his eyes on these marvellous sights Disen­chantment called with a laugh: “Come out quickly and welcome our honoured guest.”

At once out came several fairies, lotus sleeves swaying, feathery gar­ments fluttering, lovely as spring blossom, entrancing as the autumn moon. At sight of Baoyu they reproached the goddess:

“So this is your guest! Why should we hurry out to meet him? You told us that today, at this hour, the spirit of Sister Vermilion Pearl would be coming to revisit her old haunts. That’s why we’ve been waiting all this time. Why bring this filthy creature here instead to pollute this domain of immaculate maidens?”

Baoyu started at that and wished he could slip away, feeling intoler­ably gross and filthy, but Disenchantment took him by the hand.

“You don’t understand,” she explained to the fairies. “I did set off to the Rong Mansion today to fetch Vermilion Pearl, but as I was passing the Ning Mansion I met the spirits of the Duke of Ningguo and the Duke of Rongguo who told me, ‘Since the start of this dynasty, for some gen­erations, our family has enjoyed a fine reputation as well as riches and rank. But after a hundred years our good fortune is at an end, gone be­yond recall. Although we have many descendants, the only one fit to continue our work is our great-grandson Baoyu. Even though his is head­strong and eccentric, lacking in intelligence, we nonetheless had certain hopes of him. However, our family’s luck has run out and there seemed to be no one to show him the right way. How fortunate we are to have met you, goddess. We beg you to warn him of the dangers of lusting after women, so that he may escape from their snares and set his feet on the right path. Then we two brothers will be happy.’

“Sympathizing with their request, I fetched him here. To begin with I made him look at the three registers of the girls in his own household. When he failed to understand, I brought him here to taste the illusion of carnal delight so that later he may perchance awaken to the truth.”

With that she led Baoyu inside. A subtle perfume hung in the air and he could not help asking what incense was being burned.

“You don’t have this scent in the dusty world so you wouldn’t know it,” Disenchantment told him, smiling. “This is made from the essences of the different exotic young plants which grow in all famous mountain resorts. Distilled with the resin of every precious tree, its name is Mar­row of Manifold Fragrance.”

As Baoyu marvelled at this they took seats and young maids served tea with such a pure scent, exquisite flavour and refreshing quality that again he asked its name.

“This tea grows in the Grotto of Emanating Fragrance on the Moun­tain of Expanding Spring,” Disenchantment told him. “Infused with the night dew from fairy flowers and spiritual leaves, its name is Thousand Red Flowers in One Cavern.”

Nodding in appreciation Baoyu looked round him. He saw jasper lutes, rare bronze tripods, ancient paintings, new volumes of verse nothing was lacking. But what delighted him most was the rouge by the window and the spilt powder left from a lady’s toilet. On the wall hung this couplet:

Spiritual, secluded retreat,

Celestial world of sweet longing.

Lost in admiration of everything about him, he asked the fairies’ names.

They were introduced by their different appellations as Fairy of Amorous

Dreams, Great Mistress of Passion, Golden Maid Bringing Grief, and

Saint of Transmitted Sorrow.

Presently little maids brought in tables and chairs and set out wine and refreshments. Verily, glass vessels overflowed with nectar and amber cups brimmed with ambrosia. No need to dwell on the sumptuousness of that feast. He could not resist inquiring, though, what gave the wine its remarkably pure bouquet.

“This wine is made from the stamens of a hundred flowers and the sap of ten thousand trees mixed with the marrow of unicorns and fer­mented with phoenix milk,” the goddess told him. “We call it Ten Thou­sand Beauties in One Cup.”

As Baoyu sipped it, twelve dancing girls stepped forward to ask what they should perform.

“The twelve new songs called ‘A Dream of Red Mansions’,” or­dered Disenchantment.

The dancers assented. Lightly striking their sandalwood castanets and softly plucking their silver lyres, they began:

At the dawn of creation….

But the goddess interrupted them to tell Baoyu, “This is not like your romantic dramas in the dusty world in which there are always the fixed parts of scholars, girls, warriors, old men and clowns, and the set nine tunes of the south or north. These songs of ours lament one person or event in an impromptu fashion and are easily set to wind or stringed accompaniments. But no outsider can appreciate their subtle qualities, and I doubt whether you will really understand their meaning. Unless you first read the text, they will seem to you as tasteless as chewed wax.”

With that she turned and ordered a maid to bring the words of the “Dream of Red Mansions” songs. She handed the manuscript to Baoyu, who followed the text as he listened.

FIRST SONG:

PROLOGUE TO THE DREAM OF RED MANSIONS

At the dawn of creation

Who sowed the seeds of love?

From the strong passion of breeze and moonlight they came.

So in this world of sweet longing

On a day of distress, in an hour of loneliness,

Fain would I impart my senseless grief

By singing this Dream of Red Mansions

To mourn the Gold and the Jade.

SECOND SONG:

A LIFE MISSPENT

Well-matched, all say, the gold and the jade;

I alone recall the pledge between plant and stone.

Vainly facing the hermit in sparkling snow-clad hills

I forget not the fairy in lone woods beyond the world.

I sigh, learning that no man’s happiness is complete:

Even a pair thought well-matched

May find disappointment.

THIRD SONG:

VAIN LONGING

One is an immortal flower of fairyland,

The other fair flawless jade,

And were it not predestined

Why should they meet again in this existence?

Yet, if predestined,

Why does their love come to nothing?

One sighs to no purpose,

The other yearns in vain;

One is the moon reflected in the water,

The other but a flower in the mirror.

How many tears can well from her eyes?

Can they flow on from autumn till winter,

From spring till summer?

Baoyu could see no merit in these disjointed and cryptic songs, but the plaintive music intoxicated his senses. So without probing into the mean­ing or asking where the songs came from, he listened for a while to pass the time. The singers went on:

FOURTH SONG:

THE TRANSIENCE OF LIFE

At the height of honour and splendour

Death comes for her;

Open-eyed, she has to leave everything behind

As her gentle soul passes away.

So far her home beyond the distant mountains

That in a dream she finds and tells her parents:

“Your child has gone now to the Yellow Spring;

You must find a retreat before it is too late.”

FIFTH SONG:

SEPARATION FROM DEAR ONES

Three thousand li she must sail through wind and rain,

Giving up her home and her own flesh and blood;

But afraid to distress their declining years with tears

She tells her parents: “Don’t grieve for your child.

From of old good luck and bad have been predestined,

Partings and reunions are decreed by fate;

Although from now on we shall dwell far apart,

Let us still live at peace;

Don’t worry over your unworthy daughter.”

SIXTH SONG:

SORROW AMIDST JOY

She is still in her cradle when her parents die,

Although living in luxury who will dote on her?

Happily she is born too courageous and open-hearted

Ever to take a love affair to heart.

Like bright moon and fresh breeze in a hall of jade

She is matched with a talented and handsome husband;

May she live with him for long years

To make up for her wretched childhood!

But over the Gaotang Tower the clouds disperse,

The river Xiang runs dry.

This is the common fate of mortal men,

Useless it is to repine.

SEVENTH SONG:

SPURNED BY THE WORLD

By nature fair as an orchid,

With talents to match an immortal,

Yet so eccentric that all marvel at her.

To her, rich food stinks,

Silken raiment is vulgar and loathsome;

She knows not that superiority fosters hatred,

For the world despises too much purity.

By the dim light of an old shrine she will fade away,

Her powder and red chamber, her youth and beauty wasted,

To end, despite herself, defiled on the dusty road

Even as flawless white jade dropped in the mud.

In vain young scions of noble houses will sigh for her.

EIGHTH SONG:

UNION OF ENEMIES

A mountain wolf, a savage ruthless beast,

Mindless of past obligations

Gives himself up to pride, luxury and license,

Holding cheap the charms of a noble family’s daughter,

Trampling on the precious child of a ducal mansion. Alas, in less than a year her sweet soul fades away.

NINTH SONG:

PERCEPTION OF THE TRANSIENCE OF FLOWERS

She will see through the three Springs15

And set no store

By the red of peach-blossom, the green of willows,

Stamping out the fire of youthful splendour

To savour the limpid peace of a clear sky.

Though the peach runs riot against the sky,

Though the clouds teem with apricot blossom,

Who has seen any flower that can win safely through autumn?

Even now mourners are lamenting by groves of poplars,

Ghosts are wailing below green maples,

And the weeds above their graves stretch to the skyline.

Truly, changes in fortune are the cause of men’s toil,

Spring blooming and autumn withering the fate of flowers.

Who can escape the gate of birth, the fate of death?

Yet in the west, they say, grows the sal tree16

Which bears the fruit of immortality.

TENTH SONG:

RUINED BY CUNNING

Too much cunning in plotting and scheming

Is the cause of her own undoing;

While yet living her heart is broken

And after death all her subtlety comes to nothing.

A rich house, all its members at peace,

Is ruined at last and scattered;

In vain her anxious thought for half a lifetime,

For like a disturbing dream at dead of night,

Like the thunderous collapse of a great mansion,

Or the flickering of a lamp that gutters out,

Mirth is suddenly changed to sorrow.

Ah, nothing is certain in the world of men.

ELEVENTH SONG:

A LITTLE ACT OF KINDNESS

Thanks to one small act of kindness

She meets by chance a grateful friend;

Fortunate that her mother

Has done some unnoticed good.

Men should rescue the distressed and aid the poor,

Be not like her heartless uncle or treacherous cousin

Who for love of money forget their own flesh and blood.

Truly, rewards and punishments

Are meted out by Heaven.

TWELFTH SONG:

SPLENDOUR COMES TOO LATE

Love is only a reflection in a mirror,

Worse still, rank and fame are nothing but a dream,

So quickly youth and beauty fade away.

Say no more of embroidered curtains and love-bird quilts,

Nor can a pearl tiara and phoenix jacket

Stave off for long Death’s summons.

Though it is said that old age should be free from want,

This depends on the unknown merits laid by for one’s children.

Jubilant in official headdress

And glittering with a gold seal of high office,

A man may be awe-inspiring and exalted,

But the gloomy way to the Yellow Spring is near.

What remains of the generals and statesmen of old?

Nothing but an empty name admired by posterity.

THIRTEENTH SONG:

GOOD THINGS COME TO AN END

Fragrant dust falls from painted beams at the close of spring;

By nature passionate and fair as the moon,

The true root is she of the family’s destruction.

The decline of the old tradition starts with Jing,

The chief blame for the House’s ruin rests with Ning.

All their sins come about through Love.

EPILOGUE:

THE BIRDS SCATFER TO THE WOOD

An official household declines,

Rich nobles’ wealth is spent.

She who did god escapes the jaws of death,

The heartless meet with certain retribution.

Those who took a life have paid with their own lives,

The tears one owed have all been requited in kind.

Not light the retribution for sins against others;

All are predestined, partings and reunions.

Seek the cause of untimely death in a part existence,

Lucky she who enjoys rank and riches in old age;

Those who see through the world escape from the world,

While foolish lovers forfeit their lives for nothing.

When the food is gone the birds return to the wood;

All that’s left is emptiness and a great void.

After this they would have gone on to sing the second series, but the Goddess of Disenchantment saw that Baoyu was utterly bored.

“Silly boy!” she sighed. “You still don’t understand.”

Baoyu asked the faires then not to sing any more, explaining that he was drunk and would like to sleep off the effects of the wine.

Disenchantment ordered the feast to be cleared away and escorted him into a scented chamber hung with silk, more luxuriously furnished than any he had seen in his life. More amazing still, he saw there a girl whose charm reminded him of Baochai, her grace of Daiyu. He was puzzling over this when Disenchantment said:

“In your dusty world, countless green-windowed chambers and em­broidered boudoirs of rich and noble families are desecrated by amorous men and loose women. Worse still, all dissolute wretches since ancient times have drawn a distinction between love of beauty and carnal desire, between love and lust, so as to gloss over their immorality. Love of beauty leads to lust, and desire even more so. Thus every sexual transport of cloud and rain is the inevitable climax of love of beauty and desire.

“And what I like about you is that you are the most lustful man ever to have lived in this world since time immemorial.”

“You must be mistaken, goddess,” protested the frightened Baoyu. “My parents are always scolding me because I’m too lazy to study. How dare I risk being called ‘lustful’ as well? Besides, I’m still young and hardly know what that word means.

“Don’t worry,” said Disenchantment. “In principle all lust is the same, but it has different connotations. For instance, there are profligates in the world who delight only in physical beauty, singing, dancing, endless mer­riment and constant rain-and-cloud games. They would like to possess all the beauties in the world to gratify their momentary desires. These are coarse creatures steeped in fleshly lust.

“In your case, you were born with a passionate nature which we call ‘lust of the mind.’ This can be grasped by the mind but not expressed, apprehended intuitively but not described in words. Whereas this makes you a welcome companion to women, in the eyes of the world it is bound to make you appear strange and unnatural, an object of mockery and scorn.

“After meeting your worthy ancestors the Duke of Ningguo and the Duke of Rongguo today and hearing their heartfelt request, I could not bear to let you be condemned by the world for the greater glory of women. So I brought you here to entertain you with divine wine and fairy tea, then tried to awaken you with subtle songs. And now I am going to match you with my younger sister Jianmei,’7 whose childhood name is Keqing, and this very night at the auspicious hour you must consummate your union. This is simply to let you know that after you have proved for yourself the illusory nature of pleasures in fairyland you should realize the vanity of love in your dusty world. From this day on you must understand this and mend your ways, giving your minds to the teachings of Confucius and Meneius and devoting yourself to the betterment of society.”

With that she initiated him into the secrets of sex. Then, pushing him forward, she closed the door and left.

Baoyu in a daze did all the goddess had told him. We can draw a veil over his first act of love.

The next day, he and Keqing had become so attached and exchanged so many endearments that they could not bear to part. Hand in hand they walked out for a stroll.

Suddenly they found themselves in a thorny thicker infested with wolves and tigers. In front a black torrent barred their way and there was no bridge across. They were in a quandary when Disenchantment over­took them.

“Stop! Stop!” she cried. “Turn back before it’s too late.”

Standing petrified Baoyu asked, “What is this place?”

“The Ford of Infatuation,” Disenchantment told him. “It’s a hundred thousand feet deep and a thousand ii wide, and there is no boat to ferry you across. Nothing but a wooden raft steered by Master Wood and punted by Acolyte Ashes, who accept no payment in silver or gold but ferry over those who are fated to cross. You strolled here by accident. If you had fallen in, then all my well-meant advice to you would have been wasted.”

Even as she spoke there came a crash like thunder from the Ford of Infatuation as hordes of monsters and river devils rushed towards Baoyu to drag him in. Cold sweat poured off him like rain. And in his terror he shouted:

“Keqing! Save me!”

Xichun hurried in with the other maids in dismay to take him in her arms.

“Don’t be afraid, Baoyu,” cried the girls. “We’re here.”

Qin Keqing was on the verandah telling the maids to watch the kittens and puppies at their play, when she heard Baoyu call her childhood name in his dream.

“No one here knows my childhood name,” she thought in surprise. “How is it that he called it out in his dream?”

Truly:

Strange encounters take place in a secret dream,

For he is the most passionate lover of all time.

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