The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 17

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CHAPTER 17


The inspection of the new garden becomes
a test of talent
And Rong-guo House makes itself ready for
an important visitor

Now that Qin Zhong was indisputably dead, Bao-yu wept long and bitterly, and it was some time before Li Gui and the rest could calm him. Even after their return he continued tearful and distressed. Grandmother Jia contributed thirty or forty taels towards Qin Zhong’s funeral expenses and made addi?tional provision for offerings to the dead. Bao-yu condoled and sacrificed, and on the seventh day followed his friend’s coffin to the grave. He continued in daily grief for Qin Zhong for a very long time afterwards. But grief cannot mend our losses, and a day did at last arrive when he hid ceased to mourn.

*

One day Cousin Zhen came to Jia Zheng with his team of helpers to report that work on the new garden had been completed.
‘Uncle She has already had a look,’ said Cousin Zhen. ‘Now we are only waiting for you to look round it to tell us if there is anything you think will need altering and also to decide what inscriptions ought to be used on the boards everywhere.’
Jia Zheng reflected a while in silence.
‘These inscriptions are going to be difficult,’ he said eventually. ‘By rights, of course, Her Grace should have the privilege of doing them herself; but she can scarcely be expected to make them up out of her head without having seen any of the views which they are to describe. On the other hand, if we wait until she has already visited the garden before asking her, half the pleasure of the visit will be lost. All those prospects and pavilions—even the rocks and trees and flowers will seem somehow incomplete without that touch of poetry which only the written word can lend a scene.’
‘My dear patron, you are so right,’ said one of the literary gentlemen who sat with him. ‘But we have had an idea. The inscriptions for the various parts of the garden obviously cannot be dispensed with; nor, equally obviously, can they be decided in advance. Our suggestion is that we should compose provisional names and couplets to suit the places where inscriptions are required, and have them painted on rectangu?lar paper lanterns which can be hung up temporarily –either horizontally or vertically as the case may be—when Her Grace comes to visit. We can ask her to decide on the permanent names after she has inspected the garden. Is not this a solution of the dilemma?’
‘It is indeed,’ said Jia Zheng. ‘when we look round the garden presently, we must all try to think of words that can be used. If they seem suitable, we can keep them for the lanterns. If not, we can call for Yu-cun to come and help us out.’
‘Your own suggestions are sure to be admirable, Sir Zheng,’ said the literary gentlemen ingratiatingly. ‘There will be no need to call in Yu-cun.’
Jia Zheng smiled deprecatingly.
‘I am afraid it is not as you imagine. In my youth I had at best only indifferent skill in the art of writing verses about natural objects — birds and flowers and scenery and the like; and now that I’m older and have to devote all my energies to official documents and government papers, I am even more out of touch with this sort of thing than I was then; so that even if I were to try my hand at it, I fear that my efforts would be rather dull and pedantic ones. Instead of enhancing the interest and beauty of the garden, they would probably have a deadening effect upon both.’
‘That doesn’t matter,’ the literary gentlemen replied. ‘We can all try our hands at composing. If each of us contributes what he is best at, and if we then select the better attempts and reject the ones that are not so good, we should be able to manage all right.’
‘That seems to me a very good suggestion,’ said Jia Zheng. ‘As the weather today is so warm and pleasant, let us all go and take a turn round the garden now!’
So saying he rose to his feet and conducted his little retinue of literary luminaries towards the garden. Cousin Zhen hurried on ahead to warn those in charge that they were coming.
As Bao-yu was still in very low spirits these days because of his grief for Qin Zhong, Grandmother Jia had hit on the idea of sending him into the newly made garden to play. By un?lucky chance she had selected this very day on which to try out her antidote. He had in fact only just entered the garden when Cousin Zhen came hurrying towards him.
‘Better get out of here!’ said Cousin Zhen with an amused smile. ‘Your father will be here directly!’
Bao-ya streaked back towards the gate, a string of nurses and pages hurrying at his heels. But he had only just turned the corner on coming out of it when he almost ran into the arms of Jia Zheng and his party coming from the opposite direction. Escape was impossible. He simply had to stand meekly to one side and await instructions.
Jia Zheng had recently received a favourable report on Bao-yu from his teacher Jia Dai-ru in which mention had been made of his skill in composing couplets. Although the boy showed no aptitude for serious study, Dai-ru had said, he nevertheless possessed a certain meretricious talent for versi?fication not undeserving of commendation. Because of this report, Jia Zheng ordered Bao-yu to accompany him into the garden, intending to put his aptitude to the test. Bao-yu, who knew nothing either of Dai-ru’s report or of his father’s in?tentions, followed with trepidation.
As soon as they reached the gate they found Cousin Zhen at the head of a group of overseers waiting to learn Jia Zheng’s wishes.
‘I want you to close the gate,’ said Jia Zheng, ‘so that we can see what it looks like from outside before we go in.’
Cousin Zhen ordered the gate to be closed, and Jia Zheng stood back and studied it gravely.
It was a five-frame gate-building with a hump-backed roof of half-cylinder tiles. The wooden lattice-work of the doors and windows was finely carved and ingeniously patterned. The whole gatehouse was quite unadorned by colour or gild?ing, yet all was of the most exquisite workmanship. Its walls stood on a terrace of white marble carved with a pattern of passion-flowers in relief, and the garden’s whitewashed circumference wall to left and right of it had a footing made of black-and-white striped stone blocks arranged so that the stripes formed a simple pattern. Jia Zheng found the unosten?tatious simplicity of this entrance greatly to his liking, and after ordering the gates to be opened, passed on inside.
A cry of admiration escaped them as they entered, for there, immediately in front of them, screening everything else from their view, rose a steep, verdure-clad hill.
‘Without this hill,’ Jia Zheng somewhat otiosely observed, ‘the whole garden would be visible as one entered, and all its mystery would be lost.’
The literary gentlemen concurred. ‘Only a master of the art of landscape could have conceived so bold a stroke,’ said one of them.
As they gazed at this miniature mountain, they observed a great number of large white rocks in all kinds of grotesque and monstrous shapes, rising course above course up one of its sides, some recumbent, some upright or leaning at angles, their surfaces streaked and spotted with moss and lichen or half concealed by creepers, and with a narrow, zigzag path only barely discernible to the eye winding up between them.
‘Let us begin our tour by following this path,’ said Jia Zheng. ‘If we work our way round towards the other side of the hill on our way back, we shall have made a complete circuit of the garden.’
He ordered Cousin Zhen to lead the way, and leaning on Bao-yu’s shoulder, began the winding ascent of the little mountain. Suddenly on the mountainside above his head, he noticed a white rock whose surface had been polished to mirror smoothness and realized that this must be one of the places which had been prepared for an inscription.
‘Aha, gentlemen!’ said Jia Zheng turning back to address the others who were climbing up behind him. ‘What name are we going to choose for this mountain?’
‘Emerald Heights,’ said one.
‘Embroidery Hill,’ said another.
Another proposed that they should call it ‘Little Censer’ after the famous Censer Peak in Kiangsi. Another proposed ‘Little Zhong-nan’. Altogether some twenty or thirty names were suggested — none of them very seriously, since the literary gentlemen were aware that Jia Zheng intended to test Bao-yu and were anxious not to make the boy’s task too difficult. Bao-yu understood and was duly grateful.
When no more names were forthcoming Jia Zheng turned to Bao-yu and asked him to propose something himself.
‘I remember reading in some old book,’ said Bao-yu, ‘that “to recall old things is better than to invent new ones; and to re-cut an ancient text is better than to engrave a modern”. We ought, then, to choose something old. But as this is not the garden’s principal “mountain” or its chief vista, strictly speak?ing there is no justification for having an inscription here at all—unless it is to be something which implies that this is merely a first step towards more important things ahead. I suggest we should call it “Pathway to Mysteries” after the line in Chang Jian’s poem about the mountain temple:

A path winds upwards to mysterious places.

A name like that would be more distinguished.’
There was a chorus of praise from the literary gentlemen:
‘Exactly right! Wonderful! Our young friend with his natural talent and youthful imagination succeeds immediately where we old pedants fail!’
Jia Zheng gave a deprecatory laugh:
‘You mustn’t flatter the boy! People of his age are adept at making a little knowledge go a long way. I only asked him as a joke, to see what he would say. We shall have to think of a better name later on.’
As he spoke, they passed through a tunnel of rock in the mountain’s shoulder into an artificial ravine ablaze with the vari-coloured flowers and foliage of many varieties of tree and shrub which grew there in great profusion. Down below, where the trees were thickest, a clear stream gushed between the rocks. After they had advanced a few paces in a somewhat northerly direction, the ravine broadened into a little flat-bottomed valley and the stream widened out to form a pool. Gaily painted and carved pavilions rose from the slopes on either side, their lower halves concealed amidst the trees, their tops reaching into the blue. In the midst of the prospect below them was a handsome bridge:
In a green ravine
A jade stream sped.
A stair of stone
Plunged to the brink.
where the water widened
To a placid pool,
A marble baluster
Ran round about.
A marble bridge crossed it
With triple span,
And a marble lion’s maw
Crowned each of the arches.
Over the centre of the bridge there was a little pavilion, which Jia Zheng and the others entered and sat down in.
‘Well, gentlemen!’ said Jia Zheng. ‘What are we going to call it?’
‘Ou-yang Xiu in his Pavilion of the Old Drunkard speaks of “a pavilion poised above the water”,’ said one of them. ‘what about “Poised Pavilion”?’
‘“Poised Pavilion” is good,’ said Jia Zheng, ‘but this pavilion was put here in order to dominate the water it stands over, and I think there ought to be some reference to water in its name. I seem to recollect that in that same essay you men?tion Ou-yang Xiu speaks of the water “gushing between twin peaks”. Could we not use the word “gushing” in some way?’
‘Yes, yes!’ said one of the literary gentlemen. ‘“Gushing Jade” would do splendidly.’
Jia Zheng fondled his beard meditatively, then turned to Bao-yu and asked him for his suggestion.
‘I agreed with what you said just now, Father,’ said Bao-yu, ‘but on second thoughts it seems to me that though it may have been all right for Ou-yang Xiu to use the word “gush?ing” in describing the source of the river Rang, it doesn’t really suit the water round this pavilion. Then again, as this is a Separate Residence specially designed for the reception of a royal personage, it seems to me that something rather formal is called for, and that an expression taken from the Drunkard’s Pavilion might seem a bit improper. I think we should try to find a rather more imaginative, less obvious sort of name.’
‘I hope you gentlemen are all taking this in!’ said Jia Zheng sarcastically, ‘You will observe that when we suggest something original we are recommended to prefer the old to the new, but that when we do make use of an old text we are “improper” and “unimaginative”! — Well, carry on then! Let’s have your suggestion!’
‘I think “Drenched Blossoms” would be more original and more tasteful than “Gushing Jade”.’
Jia Zheng stroked his beard and nodded silently. The literary gentlemen could see that he was pleased and hastened to commend Bao-yu’s remarkable ability.
‘That’s the two words for the framed board on top,’ said Jia Zheng. ‘Not a very difficult task. But what about the seven-word lines for the sides?’
Bao-yu glanced quickly round, seeking inspiration from the scene, and presently came up with the following couplet:

‘Three pole-thrust lengths of bankside willows green,
One fragrant breath of bankside flowers sweet.’

Jia Zheng nodded and a barely perceptible smile played over his features. The literary gentlemen redoubled their praises.
They now left the pavilion and crossed to the other side of the pool. For a while they walked on, stopping from time to time to admire the various rocks and flowers and trees which they passed on their way, until suddenly they found them?selves at the foot of a range of whitewashed walls enclosing a small retreat almost hidden among the hundreds and hundreds of green bamboos which grew in a dense thicket behind them. With cries of admiration they went inside. A cloister-like covered walk ran round the walls from the entrance to the back of the forecourt and a cobbled pathway up to the steps of the terrace. The house was a tiny three-frame one, two parts latticed, the third part windowless. The tables, chairs and couches which furnished it seemed to have been specially made to fit the interior. A door in the rear wall opened onto a garden of broad-leaved plantains dominated by a large flowering pear-tree and overlooked on either side by two diminutive lodges built at right angles to the back of the house. A stream gushed through an opening at the foot of the garden wall into a channel barely a foot wide which ran to the foot of the rear terrace and thence round the side of the house to the front, where it meandered through the bamboos of the forecourt before finally disappearing through another opening in the surrounding wall.
‘This must be a pleasant enough place at any time,’ said Jia Zheng with a smile. ‘But just imagine what it would be like to sit studying beside the window here on a moonlight night! It is pleasures like that which make a man feel he has not lived in vain!’
As he spoke, his glance happened to fall on Bao-yu, who instantly became so embarrassed that he hung his head in shame. He was rescued by the timely intervention of the literary gentlemen who changed the subject from that of study to a less dangerous topic. Two of them suggested that the name given to this retreat should be a four-word one. Jia Zheng asked them what four words they proposed.
‘“Where Bends the Qi”’ said one of them, no doubt hav?ing in mind the song in the Poetry Classic which begins with the words

See in that nook where bends the Qi,
The green bamboos, how graceful grown!
‘No,’ said Jia Zheng. ‘Too obvious!’
‘“North of the Sui”,’ said the other, evidently thinking of the ancient Rabbit Garden of the Prince of Liang in Suiyang—also famous for its bamboos and running water.
‘No,’ said jia Zheng. ‘Still too obvious!’
‘You’d better ask Cousin Bao again,’ said Cousin Zhen, who stood by listening.
‘He always insists on criticizing everyone else’s suggestions before he will deign to make one of his own,’ said Jia Zheng.
‘He is a worthless creature.’
‘That’s all right,’ said the others. ‘His criticisms are very good ones. He is in no way to blame for making them.’
‘You shouldn’t let him get away with it!’ said Jia Zheng. ‘All right!’ he went on, turning to Bao-yu. ‘Today we will indulge you up to the hilt. Let’s have your criticisms, and after that we’ll hear your own proposal. What about the two suggestions that have just been made? Do you think either of them could be used?’
‘Neither of them seems quite right to me,’ said Bao-yu in answer to the question.
‘In what way “not quite right”?’ said Jia Zheng with a scornful smile.
‘Well,’ said Bao-yu, ‘This is the first building our visitor will enter when she looks over the garden, so there ought to be some word of praise for the Emperor at this point. If we want a classical reference with imperial symbolism, I suggest “The Phoenix Dance”, alluding to that passage in the History Classic about the male and female phoenixes alighting “with measured gambollings” in the Emperor’s courtyard.’
‘What about “Bend of the Qi” and “North of the Sui”?’ said Jia Zheng. ‘Aren’t they classical allusions? If not, I should like to know what they are!’
‘Yes,’ said Bao-yu, ‘but they are too contrived. “The Phoenix Dance” is more fitting.’
There was a loud murmur of assent from the literary gentlemen. Jia Zhong nodded and tried not to look pleased.
‘Young idiot!— A “small capacity but a great self-con?ceit”, gentlemen— All right!’ he ordered: ‘now the couplet!’
So Bao-yu recited the following couplet:

‘From the empty cauldron the steam still rises after the brewing of tea.
By the darkening window the fingers are still cold after the game of Go.’

Jia Zheng shook his head:
‘Nothing very remarkable about that!’
With this remark he began to move on, but thought of something just as they were leaving, and stopped to ask Cousin Zhen:
‘I see that the buildings in this garden have their proper complement of chairs and tables and so forth. What about blinds and curtains and flower-vases and all that sort of thing? Have they been selected to suit the individual rooms?’
‘As regards ornaments,’ Cousin Zhen replied, ‘we have already got in quite a large stock, and when the time comes we shall naturally select from it what is suitable for each individual room. As regards drapes and hangings, Cousin Lian told me yesterday that there are quite a lot yet to come. what we did was to take the measurements from the plans drawn up for the carpenters and put the work in hand straight away, even before the buildings were finished. As far as I know, up to yesterday we had received about half of what was ordered.’
From the way Cousin Zhen spoke, Jia Zheng gathered that this was not his responsibility and sent someone to summon Jia Lian. He arrived within moments, and Jia Zheng ques?tioned him about the types and quantities ordered and the figures for what had already been received and what was still to come.
In response to his inquiry Jia Lian extracted a wallet from the leg of his boot, and glancing at a folded schedule inside it summarized its contents as follows:
‘Curtains, large and small, in various silks and satins—flowered, dragon-spot, sprigged, tapestry, panelled, ink-splash: one hundred and twenty. —Eighty of those were delivered yesterday. That leaves forty to come. —Blinds: two hundred. —Yes. They all arrived yesterday. But then there are the special ones. —Blinds, scarlet felt: two hundred. Speckled bamboo: one hundred. Red lacquered bamboo with gold fleck: one hundred. Black lacquered bamboo: one hundred. Coloured net: two hundred. —We now have half of each of those four kinds. The other half is promised by the end of autumn. —Chair-covers, table-drapes, valances, tablecloths: one thousand two hundred of each. —Those we already have.’
They had been moving on as he spoke, but were presently brought to a halt by a steeply sloping hill which rose up in front of them. Having negotiated its foot, they could see, almost concealed in a fold half-way up the other side of it, a dim-coloured adobe wall crowned with a coping of rice-straw thatch. Inside it were several hundred apricot trees, whose flowering tops resembled the billowing rosy clouds of some vegetable volcano. In their midst stood a little group of reed?-thatched cottages. Beyond the wall, with a barred gate divid?ing it in the middle, a loose hedge of irregular shape had been made by weaving together the pliant young shoots of the mulberry, elm, hibiscus, and silkworm thorn trees which grew outside it. Between this hedge of trees and the lower slope of the hill was a rustic well, furnished with both well-sweep and windlass. Below the well, row upon row of miniature fields full of healthy-looking vegetables and flowers ran down in variegated strips to the bottom.
‘Ah, now here is a place with a purpose!’ said Jia Zheng with a pleased smile. It may have been made by human arti?fice, but the sight of it is none the less moving. In me it awakens the desire to get back to the land, to a life of rural simplicity. Let us go in and rest a while!’
They were just on the point of entering the gate in the hedge when they observed a stone at the side of the pathway leading up to it which had evidently been put there in order that the name of the place might be inscribed upon it.
‘What a brilliant idea!’ the literary gentlemen exclaimed. ‘If they had put a board up over the gate, the rustic atmosphere would have been completely destroyed, whereas this stone actually enhances it. This is a place which calls for the bucolic talent of a Fan Cheng-da to do it justice!’
‘What shall we call it, then?’ asked Jia Zheng.
‘Just now our young friend was saying that to “recall an bid thing is better than to invent a new one”,’ said one of the literary gentlemen. ‘In this case the ancients have already provided the perfect name: “Apricot Village”.’
Jia Zheng knew that he was referring to the words of the fainting traveller in Du Mu’s poem:

‘Where’s the tavern?’ I cry, and a lad points the way
To a village far off in the apricot trees.

He turned to Cousin Zhen with a smile:
‘Yes. That reminds me. There’s just one thing missing here: an inn-sign. Tomorrow you must have one made. Nothing fancy. Just an ordinary inn-sign like the ones you see in country villages outside. And it should hang from a bamboo pole above the tree-tops.’
Cousin Zhen promised to see this done and added a sugges?tion of his own:
‘The birds here, too, ought to be ordinary farmyard ones—hens, ducks, geese, and so on—to be in keeping with the surroundings.’
Jia Zheng and the rest agreed enthusiastically.
‘The only trouble with “Apricot Village”,’ said Jia Zheng, ‘—though it would suit the place very well—is that it is the name of a real village; so we should have to get official permission first before we could use it.’
‘Ah, yes,’ said the others. ‘That means we still have to think of something for a temporary name. Now what shall it be?’
While they were all still thinking, Bao-yu who had already had an idea, was so bursting with eagerness that he broke in, without waiting to be invited by his father:
‘There is an old poem which has the lines

Above the flowering apricot
A hopeful inn-sign hangs.

For the inscription on the stone we ought to have “The Hopeful Sign”.’
‘“The Hopeful Sign”,’ echoed the literary gentlemen admiringly. ‘Very good! The hidden allusion to “Apricot Village” is most ingenious!’
‘Oh, as for the name of the village,’ said Bao-yu scornfully, ‘“Apricot Village” is much too obvious! why not “Sweet-rice Village” from the words of the old poem:

A cottage by the water stands
Where Sweet the young rice smells?’

The literary gentlemen clapped their hands delightedly; but their cries of admiration were cut short by an angry shout from Jia Zheng:
‘Ignorant young puppy! Just how many “old poets” and “old poems” do you think you know, that you should pre?sume to show off in front of your elders in this impertinent manner? We let you have your little say just now in order to test your intelligence. It was no more than a joke. Do you suppose we are seriously interested in your opinions?’
They had been moving on meanwhile, and he now led them into the largest of the little thatched buildings, from whose simple interior with its paper windows and plain deal furniture all hint of urban refinement had been banished. Jia Zheng was inwardly pleased. He stared hard at Bao-yu:
‘How do you like this place, then?’
With secret winks and nods the literary gentlemen urged Bao-yu to make a favourable reply, but he willfully ignored their promptings.
‘Not nearly as much as “The Phoenix Dance”.’
His father snorted disgustedly.
‘Ignoramus! You have eyes only for painted halls and gaudy pavilions—the rubbishy trappings of wealth. What can you know of the beauty that lies in quietness and natural simplicity? This is a consequence of your refusal to study properly.’
‘Your rebuke is, of course, justified, Father,’ Bao-yu replied promptly, ‘but then I have never really understood what it was the ancients meant by “natural”.’
The literary gentlemen, who had observed a vein of mulish?ness in Bao-yu which boded trouble, were surprised by the seeming na?veté of this reply.
‘Why, fancy not knowing what “natural” means — you who have such a good understanding of so much else! “Natural” is that which is of nature, that is to say, that which is produced by nature as opposed to that which is produced by human artifice.’
‘There you are, you see!’ said Bao-yu. ‘A farm set down in the middle of a place like this is obviously the product of human artifice. There are no neighbouring villages, no distant prospects of city walls; the mountain at the back doesn’t belong to any system; there is no pagoda rising from some tree-hid monastery in the hills above; there is no bridge below leading to a near-by market town. It sticks up out of nowhere, in total isolation from everything else. It isn’t even a par?ticularly remarkable view—not nearly so “natural” in either form or spirit as those other places we have seen. The bam?boos in those other places may have been planted by human hand and the streams diverted out of their natural courses, but there was no appearance of artifice. That’s why, when the ancients use the term “natural” I have my doubts about what they really meant. For example, when they speak of a “natural painting”, I can’t help wondering if they are not referring to precisely that forcible interference with the landscape to which I object: putting hills where they are not meant to be, and that sort of thing. However great the skill with which this is done, the results are never quite …”
His discourse was cut short by an outburst of rage from Jia Zheng.
‘Take that boy out of here!’
Bao-yu fled.
‘Come back!’
He returned.
‘You still have to make a couplet on this place. If it isn’t satisfactory, you will find yourself reciting it to the tune of a slapped face!’
Bao-yu stood quivering with fright and for some moments was unable to say anything. At last he recited the following couplet:

‘Emergent buds swell where the washerwoman soaks her cloth.
A fresh tang rises where the cress-gatherer fills his pannier.’

Jia Zheng shook his head:
‘Worse and worse.’
He led them out of the ‘village’ and round the foot of the hill:
through flowers and foliage,
by rock and rivulet,
past rose-crowned pergolas
and rose-twined trellises,
through small pavilions
embowered in peonies,
where scent of sweet-briers stole,
or pliant plantains waved –
until they came to a place where a musical murmur of water issued from a cave in the rock. The cave was half-veiled by a green curtain of creeper, and the water below was starred with bobbing blossoms.
‘What a delightful spot!’ the literary gentlemen exclaimed. ‘Very well, gentlemen. What are you going to call it?’ said Jia Zheng.
Inevitably the literary gentlemen thought of Tao Yuan-?ming’s fisherman of Wu-ling and his Peach-blossom Stream.
‘“The Wu-ling Stream”,’ said one of them. ‘The name is ready-made for this place. No need to look further than that.’
Jia Zheng laughed:
‘The same trouble again, I am afraid. It is the name of a real place. In any case, it is too hackneyed.’
‘All right,’ said the others good-humouredly. ‘In that case simply call it “Refuge of the Qins”.’ Their minds still ran on the Peach-blossom Stream and its hidden paradise.
‘That’s even more inappropriate!’ said Bao-yu. ‘“Refuge of the Qins” would imply that the people here were fugitives from tyranny. How can we possibly call it that? I suggest “Smartweed Bank and Flowery Harbour”.’
‘Rubbish!’ said Jia Zheng. He looked inside the grotto and asked Cousin Zhen if there were any boats.
‘Four punts for lotus-gathering and one for pleasure are on order,’ said Cousin Zhen, ‘but they haven’t finished making them yet.’
‘What a pity we cannot go through!’ said Jia Zheng.
‘There is a very steep path over the top which would take us there,’ said Cousin Zhen, and proceeded to lead the way.
The others scrambled up after him, clinging to creepers and leaning on tree-trunks as they went. When, having descended more, they had regained the stream it was wide and deep once and distorted by many anfractuosities. The fallen blossoms seemed to be even more numerous and the waters on whose surface they floated even more limpid than they had been on the side they had just come from. The weeping willows which lined both banks were here and there diversified with peach and apricot trees whose interlacing branches made little worlds of stillness and serenity beneath them.
Suddenly, through the green of the willows, they glimpsed the scarlet balustrade of a wooden bridge whose sloping ramps led to a flat central span high above the water. When they had crossed it, they found a choice of paths leading to different parts of the garden. Ahead was an airy building with roofs of tile, whose elegant surrounding wall was of grey-plastered brick pierced by ornamental grilles made of semi-circular tiles laid together in openwork patterns. The wall was so constructed that outcrops of rock from the garden’s ‘master mountain’ appeared to run through it in several places into the courtyard inside.
‘This building seems rather out of place here,’ said Jia Zheng.
But as he entered the gate the source of his annoyance dis?appeared; for a miniature mountain of rock, whose many holes and fissures, worn through it by weathering or the wash of waters, bestowed on it a misleading appearance of fragile delicacy, towered up in front of him and combined with the many smaller rocks of various shapes and sizes which sur?rounded it to efface from their view every vestige of the build?ing they had just been looking at.
Not a single tree grew in this enclosure, only plants and herbs:
some aspired as vines,
some crept humbly on the ground;
some grew down from the tops of rocks,
some upwards from their feet;
some hung from the eaves in waving trails of green,
some clung to pillars in circling bands of gold;
some had blood-red berries,
some had golden flowers.
And from every flower and every plant and every herb wafted the most exquisite and incomparable fragrances.
Jia Zheng could not help but admire:
‘Charming! But what are they all?’
‘Wild-fig’ and ‘wistaria’ was all the literary gentlemen would venture.
‘But surely,’ Jia Zheng objected, ‘wild-fig and wisteria do not have this delectable fragrance?’
‘They certainly don’t,’ said Bao-yu. ‘There are wild-fig and wisteria among the plants growing here, but the ones with the fragrance are pollia and birthwort and — yes, I think those are orchids of some kind. That one over there is probably actinidia. The red flowers are, of course, rue, the “herb of grace”, and the green ones must be green-flag. A lot of these rare plants are mentioned in Li sao and Wen xuan, particularly in the Poetical Descriptions of the Three Capitals by Zuo Si. For example, in his Description of the Wu Capital he has

agastache, eulalia,
and harsh-smelling ginger-bush,
cord-flower, cable-flower,
centaury and purplestrife,
stone-sail and water-pine
and sweet-scented eglantine…

And then there are

amaranth, xanthoxylon,
anemone, phellopteron…

They come in the Description of the Shu Capital. Of course, after all these centuries nobody really knows what all those names stand for. They apply them quite arbitrarily to whatever seem to fit the description, and gradually all of them—’
Once more an angry shout from his father cut him short:
‘Who asked for your opinion?’
Bao-yu shrank back and said no more.
Observing that there were balustraded loggias on either side of the court, Jia Zheng led his party through one of them towards the building at the rear. It was a cool, five-frame gallery with a low, roofed verandah running round it on all sides. The window-lattices were green and tile walls freshly painted. It was a building of quite another order of elegance from the ones they had so far visited.
‘Anyone who sat sipping tea and playing the qin to himself on this verandah would have no need to burn incense if he wanted sweet smells for his inspiration,’ said Jia Zheng dreamily. ‘So unexpectedly beautiful a place calls for a specially beautiful name to adorn it.’
‘What could be better than “Dewy Orchids”?’ said the literary gentleman.
‘Yes,’ said Jia Zheng. ‘That would do for the name. Now what about the couplet?’
‘I have thought of a couplet,’ said one of the gentlemen. ‘Tell me all of you what you think of it:

A musky perfume of orchids hangs in the sunset courtyard.
A sweet aroma of galingale floats over the moonlit island.’

‘Not bad,’ said the others. ‘But why “sunset courtyard”?’
‘I was thinking of that line in the old poem,’ said the man:

‘The garden’s gillyflowers at sunset weep.

After all, you have already got “dewy” in the name. I thought the “sunset weeping” would go with it rather well.’
‘Feeble! Feeble!’ cried the rest.
‘I’ve thought of a couplet, too,’ said one of the others. ‘Let me have your opinion of it:

Down garden walks a fragrant breeze caresses beds of melilot.
By courtyard walls a brilliant moon illumines golden orchises.’

Jia Zheng stroked his beard, and his lips were observed to move as though he was on the point of proposing a couplet of his own. Suddenly, looking up, he caught sight of Bao-yu skulking behind the others, too scared to speak.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ he bellowed at the unfortu?nate boy. ‘You are ready enough with your opinions when they are not wanted. Speak up! —Or are you waiting for a written invitation?’
‘I can see no “musk” or “moonlight” or “islands” in this place,’ said Bao-yu, ‘If we are to make couplets in this follow-my-leader fashion, we could turn out a couple of hundred of them and still have more to come.’
‘No one’s twisting your arm,’ said Jia Zheng. ‘You don’t have to use those words if you don’t want to.’
‘In that case,’ said Bao-yu, ‘I suggest “The Garden of Spices” for the name; and for the couplet:

Composing amidst cardamoms, you shall make verses like flowers.
Slumbering amidst the roses, you shall dream fragrant dreams.’

‘We all know where you got that from,’ said Jia zheng:

‘Composing midst the plantains
Green shall my verses be.

We can’t give you much credit for an imitation.’
‘Not at all!’ said the literary gentlemen. ‘There is nothing wrong with imitation provided it is done well. After all, Li Bo’s poem “On Phoenix Terrace” is entirely based on Cui Hao’s “Yellow Crane Tower”, yet it is a much better poem. On reflection our young friend’s couplet seems more poetical and imaginative than the original.’
‘Oh, come now!’ said Jia Zheng. But they could see he was not displeased.
Leaving the place of many fragrances behind them, they had not advanced much further when they could see ahead of them a building of great magnificence which Jia Zheng at once identified as the main reception hall of the Residence.
Roof above roof soared,
Eye up-compelling,
Of richly-wrought chambers
And high winding galleries.
Green rafts of dark pine
Brushed the eaves’ edges.
Milky magnolias
Bordered the buildings.
Gold-glinting cat-faces,
Rainbow-hued serpents’ snouts
Peered out or snarled down
From cornice and finial.
‘It is rather a showy building,’ said Jia Zheng. But the literary gentlemen reassured him:
‘Although Her Grace is a person of simple and abstemious tastes, the exalted position she now occupies makes it only right and proper that there should be a certain amount of pomp in her reception. This building is in no way excessive.’
Still advancing in the same direction, they presently found themselves at the foot of the white marble memorial arch which framed the approach to the hall. The pattern of writhing dragons protectively crouched over its uppermost horizontal was so pierced and fretted by the sculptor’s artistry as to resemble lacework rather than solid stone.
‘What inscription do we want on this arch?’ Jia Zheng inquired.
‘“Peng-lai’s Fairy Precincts” is the only name that would do it justice,’ said the literary gentlemen.
Jia Zheng shook his head and said nothing.
The sight of this building and its arch had inspired a strange and unaccountable stir of emotion in Bao-yu which on reflec?tion he interpreted as a sign that he must have known a build?ing somewhat like this before — though where or when he could not for the life of him remember. He was still racking his brains to recall what it reminded him of; when Jia Zheng ordered him to produce a name and couplet for the arch, and he was quite unable to give his mind to the task of composi?tion. The literary gentlemen, not knowing the nature of his preoccupation, supposed that his father’s incessant bullying had worn him out and that he had finally come to the end of his inspiration. They feared that further bullying might once more bring out the mulish streak in him, thereby provoking an explosion which would be distasteful for everybody. Accordingly they urged Jia Zheng to allow him a day’s grace in which to produce something suitable. Jia Zheng, who was secretly beginning to be apprehensive about the possible consequences of Grandmother Jia’s anxiety for her darling grand?son, yielded, albeit with a bad grace:
‘Jackanapes! So even you have your off moments it seems. Well, I’ll give you a day to do it in. But woe betide you if you can’t produce something tomorrow! And it had better be something good, too, because this is the most important building in the garden.’
After they had seen over the building and come out again, they stopped for a while on the terrace to look at a general view of the whole garden and attempted to make out the places they had already visited. They were surprised to find that even now they had covered little more than half of the whole area. Just at that moment a servant came up to report that someone had arrived with a message from Yu-cun.
‘I can see that we shan’t be able to finish today,’ said Jia Zheng. However, if we go out by the way I said, we should at least be able to get some idea of the general layout.’
He conducted them to a large bridge above a crystal curtain of rushing water. It was the weir through which the water from the little river which fed all the pools and watercourses of the garden ran into it from outside. Jia Zheng invited them to name it.
‘This is the source of the “Drenched Blossoms” stream we looked at earlier on,’ said Bao-yu. ‘We should call it “Drenched Blossoms Weir”.’
‘Rubbish!’ said Jia Zheng. ‘You may as well forget about your “Drenched Blossoms”, because we are not going to use that name!’
Their progress continued past many unexplored features of the garden, viz:
a summer lodge
a straw-thatched cot
a dry-stone wall
a flowering arch
a tiny temple nestling beneath a hill
a nun’s retreat hidden in a little wood
a straight gallery
a crooked cave
a square pavilion
and a round belvedere.
But Jia Zheng hurried past every one of them without enter?ing. However, he had now been walking for a very long time without a rest and was beginning to feel somewhat footsore; and so, when the next building appeared through the trees ahead, he proposed that they should go in and sit down, and led his party towards it by the quickest route possible. They had to walk round a stand of double-flowering ornamental peach-trees and through a circular opening in a flower-covered bamboo trellis. This brought them in sight of the building’s whitewashed enclosing wall and the contrasting green of the weeping willows which surrounded it. A roofed gallery ran from each side of the gate round the inner wall of the fore?court, in which a few rocks were scattered. On one side of it some green plantains were growing and on the other a weeping variety of Szechwan crab, whose pendant clusters of double-flowering carmine blossoms hung by stems as delicate as golden wires on the umbrella-shaped canopy of its boughs.
‘What magnificent blossom!’ exclaimed the literary gentle?men. ‘One has seen plenty of crab-apple blossom before, but never anything as beautiful as this.’
‘This kind is called “maiden crab”,’ said Jia Zheng. ‘It comes from abroad. According to vulgar belief it originally came from the Land of Maidens, and that is supposed to be the reason why it blooms so profusely. Needless to say, it is only the ignorant sort of persons who hold this ridiculous belief.’
‘It certainly has most unusual blossoms,’ said the literary gentlemen. ‘Who knows, perhaps there is something in the popular belief.’
‘Surely,’ said Bao-yu, ‘it is much more probable that poets and painters gave it the name of “maiden crab” because of its rouge-like colour and delicate, drooping shape, and that the name was misunderstood by ignorant, literal-minded people, who made up this silly story to account for it.’
‘That must be it!’ said the literary gentlemen. ‘Most grate?ful for the explanation!’
While they were speaking they were at the same time arranging themselves on some benches in the gallery.
‘Has anyone an original idea for a name?’ said Jia Zheng when they were all seated.
One of them proposed ‘Storks in the Plantains’. Another suggested ‘Shimmering Splendour’.
“‘Shimmering Splendour”,’ Jia Zheng and the others repeated, trying out the words. ‘That’s good!’
‘A lovely name!’ said Bao-yu. But a moment later he added: ‘Rather a pity, though.’
‘Why “rather a pity”?’ they asked.
‘Well,’ said Bao-yu, ‘there are both plantains and crab-apple blossom in this courtyard. Whoever planted them must have been thinking of “the red and the green”. If our name men?tions only one and leaves out the other, it will seem somehow inadequate.’
‘What do you suggest, then?’ said Jia Zheng.
‘I suggest “Fragrant Red and Lucent Green”,’ said Bao-yu. ‘That takes account of both of them.’
Jia zheng shook his head:
‘No, that’s no good!’
He led them inside the building. Its interior turned out to be all corridors and alcoves and galleries, so that properly speaking it could hardly have been said to have rooms at all. The partition walls which made these divisions were of wooden panelling exquisitely carved in a wide variety of motifs: bats in clouds, the ‘three friends of winter’—pine, plum and bamboo, little figures in landscapes, birds and flowers, scrollwork, antique bronze shapes, ‘good luck’ and ‘long life’ characters, and many others. The carvings, all of them the work of master craftsmen, were beautified with inlays of gold, mother-o’-pearl and semi-precious stones. In addition to being panelled, the partitions were pierced by numerous apertures, some round, some square, some sun-flower-shaped, some shaped like a fleur-de-lis, some cusped, some fan-shaped. Shelving was concealed in the double thick?ness of the partition at the base of these apertures, making it possible to use them for storing books and writing materials and for the display of antique bronzes, vases of flowers, miniature tray-gardens and the like. The overall effect was at once richly colourful and, because of the many apertures, airy and graceful.
The trompe-l’ail effect of these ingenious partitions had been further enhanced by inserting false windows and doors in them, the former covered in various pastel shades of gauze, the latter hung with richly-patterned damask portieres. The main walls were pierced with window-like perforations in the shape of zithers, swords, vases and other objects of virtù.
The literary gentlemen were rapturous:
‘Exquisite!’ they cried. ‘what marvellous workmanship!’
Jia Zheng, after taking no more than a couple of turns inside this confusing interior, was already lost. To the left of him was what appeared to be a door. To the right was a wall with a window in it. But on raising its portiere he discovered the door to be a bookcase; and when, looking back, he observed— what he had not noticed before— that the light coming in through the silk gauze of the window illuminated a passage-way lead?ing to an open doorway, and began walking towards it, a party of gentlemen similar to his own came advancing to meet him, and he realized that he was walking towards a large mirror. They were able to circumvent the mirror, but only to find an even more bewildering choice of doorways on the other side.
‘Come!’ said Cousin Zhen with a laugh. ‘Let me show you the way! If we go out here we shall be in the back courtyard. We can reach the gate of the garden much more easily from the back courtyard than from the front.’
He led them round the gauze hangings of a summer-bed, then through a door into a garden full of rambler roses. Behind the rose-trellis was a stream running between green banks. The literary gentlemen were intrigued to know where the water came from. Cousin Zhen pointed in the direction of the weir they had visited earlier:
‘The water comes in over that weir, then through the grotto, then under the lea of the north-east “mountain” to the little farm. There a channel is led off it which runs into the south-east corner of the garden. Then it runs round and rejoins the main stream here. And from here the water flows out again underneath that wall.’
‘How very ingenious!’
They moved on again, but soon found themselves at the foot of a tall ‘mountain’.
‘Follow me!’ said Cousin Zhen, amused at the bewilder?ment of the others, who were now completely at sea as to their whereabouts. He led them round the foot of the ‘mountain’—and there, miraculously, was a broad, flat path and the gate by which they had entered, rising majestically in front of them.
‘Well!’ exclaimed the literary gentlemen. ‘This beats everything! The skill with which this has all been designed is quite out of this world!’
Whereupon they all went out of the garden.

*

Bao-yu was now longing to get back to the girls, but as no dis?missal was forthcoming from his father, he followed him along with the others into his study. Fortunately Jia Zheng suddenly recollected that Bao-yu was still with him:
‘Well, run along then! Your grandmother will be worrying about you. I take it you’re not still waiting for more?’
At last Bao-yu could withdraw. But as soon as he was in the courtyard outside, he was waylaid by a group of Jia Zheng’s pages who laid hands on him and prevented him from going.
‘You’ve done well today, haven’t you, coming out top with all those poems? You have us to thank for that! Her Old Ladyship sent round several times asking about you, but because the Master was so pleased with you, we told her not to worry. If we hadn’t done that, you wouldn’t have had the chance to show off your poems! Everyone says they were better than all the others. What about sharing your good luck with us?’
Bao-yu laughed good-naturedly.
‘All right. A string of cash each.’
‘Who wants a measly string of cash? Give us that little purse you’re wearing!’ And without a ‘by your leave’ they began to despoil him, beginning with the purse and his fan-case, of all his trinkets, until every one of the objects he carried about him had been taken from him.
‘Now,’ they said, ‘we’ll see you back in style!’
And closing round him, they marched him back to Grandmother Jia’s apartment in triumphal procession.
Grandmother Jia had been waiting for him with some anxiety, and was naturally delighted to see him come in apparently none the worse for his experience.
Soon after, when he was back in his own room, Aroma came in to pour him some tea and noticed that all the little objects he usually carried about his waist had disappeared.
‘Where have the things from your belt gone?’ she said. ‘I suppose those worthless pages have taken them again.’
Dai-yu overheard her and came up to inspect. Sure enough, not one of the things was there.
‘So you’ve given away that little purse I gave you? Very well, then. You needn’t expect me to give you anything in future, however much you want it!’
With these words she went off to her own room in a temper, and taking up a still unfinished perfume sachet which she was making for him at his own request, she began to cut it up with her embroidery scissors. Bao-yu, observing that she was angry, had hurried after her—but it was too late. The sachet was already cut to pieces.
Although it had not been finished, Bao-yu could see that the embroidery was very fine, and it made him angry to think of the hours and hours of work so wantonly destroyed. Tearing open his collar he took out the little embroidered purse which had all along been hanging round his neck and held it out for her to see.
‘Look! What’s that? When have I ever given anything of yours to someone else?’
Dai-yu knew that he must have treasured her gift to have worn it inside his clothing where there was no risk of its being taken from him. She regretted her over-hasty destruction of the sachet and hung her head in silence.
‘You needn’t have cut it up,’ said Bao-yu. ‘I know it’s only because you hate giving things away. Here, you can have this back too since you’re so stingy!’
He tossed the purse into her lap and turned to go. Dai-yu burst into tears of rage, and picking up the little purse, attacked that too with her scissors. Bao-yu hurried back and caught her by the wrist.
‘Come, cuzzy dear!’ he said with a laugh. ‘Have mercy on it!’
Dai-yu threw down the scissors and wiped her streaming eyes.
‘You shouldn’t blow hot and cold by turns. If you want to quarrel, let’s quarrel properly and have nothing to do with each other!’
She got up on the kang in a great huff, and turning her back on him, sobbed into her handkerchief and affected to ignore his presence. But Bao-yu got up beside her, and with many soothing words and affectionate endearments humbly en?treated her forgiveness.
Meanwhile in the front room Grandmother Jia was calling loudly for her beloved grandson.
‘Master Bao is in the back with Miss Lin,’ they told her.
‘Ah, good!’ said the old lady. ‘Let us leave them alone together, then. it will be a nice relaxation for him after the strain of being so long with his father — as long as they don’t argue.’
‘Yes, milady.’
Finding herself unable to shake off Bao-yu’s attentions, Dai-yu got up from the kang:
‘I can see you are determined not to let me live in peace. I shall just have to go elsewhere.’ And off she went.
‘Wherever you go, I shall go with you,’ said Bao-yu, taking up the purse and beginning to fasten it on again. But Dai-yu snatched it away from him.
‘First you say you don’t want it, and now you are trying to put it on again. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!’
Her anger dissolved in a little explosion of laughter.
‘Dearest cuzzy!’ said Bao-yu. ‘Won’t you please make me another sachet?’
‘That depends on whether I feel in the mood or not,’ said Dai-yu.
Chatting together they went out of the room and round to Lady Wang’s apartment. Bao-chai was there already. They found everyone there in a state of great excitement owing to the fact that Jia Qiang had lust arrived back from Soochow with the twelve child-actresses he had purchased there, to?gether with their instructors and all the costumes and proper?ties they would use in performing their plays.
Aunt Xue had now moved to a quiet, secluded apartment m the north-east corner of the mansion, and Pear-tree Court was undergoing alterations for use as a drama school where the instructors could train and rehearse their little charges. A number of female members of the Rong-guo staff who had some previous training in singing and acting—they were all grey-haired old women by now—were put in charge of the domestic arrangements. Pay and expenses and the provision of whatever was needed for the maintenance of the troupe was to remain in the hands of Jia Qiang, who was also to keep the accounts.
Simultaneously with this arrival, Lin Zhi-xiao’s wife had come to announce that the selection and purchase of twenty-four little nuns—twelve Buddhist and twelve Taoist—had been successfully accomplished. Even the twenty-four little habits they would wear had now arrived brand-new from the tailor. But that was not all. It appeared that a young lady who had entered the church under half vows as an ‘unshaved nun’ might be persuaded to loin them.
‘She comes of a highly educated official family from Soo?chow,’ Lin Zhi-xiao’s wife told them. ‘As a child she was always ailing and her parents paid for any number of “proxy novices” in the hope that she would get better; but all was of no avail. In the end there was nothing for it but for the young lady to take the great step herself — though as a lay sister, without the shaving of hair. And sure enough her illness got better immediately. She is now eighteen years of age. Her name in religion is “Adamantina”. She lost both her parents some time ago and has only two old nurses and a little maid to look after her. She’s said to be a great clerk and knows all the classics by heart. What’s more, she is a very handsome young woman. She moved into this area with her teacher a year ago because of some relic of Guanyin she had heard about and because there are some old Sanskrit texts here that she wanted to look at. She has been living ever since in the Sakyamuni Convent outside the west gate. Her teacher was a great authority on the “Primordial” branch of the Tantra. She died last winter. As she lay dying she told Adamantina that she was not to go back home, but to wait here quietly for a call. That is why she stays on here and has never taken her teacher’s coffin back.’
‘We should certainly take advantage of this to invite her here,’ said Lady Wang.
‘We have tried asking her,’ said Lin Zhi-xiao’s wife, ‘but the reply she gives is that noble households are given to trampling on other people’s feelings, and she is not disposed to be trampled on.’
‘She is bound to be rather a ‘proud young woman, coming from a family of officials,’ said Lady Wang. ‘I don’t see why we shouldn’t make out a written invitation and request her formally.’
Lin Zhi-xiao’s wife promised to see this done and hurried off to ask one of the professional letter-writers in the family’s employment to make out a formal invitation. Next day a carriage was sent round to fetch Adamantina to the mansion in a style befitting a young gentlewoman of tender suscepti?bilities.
But as to what happened thereafter: that will be disclosed in the ensuing chapter.

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