The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 26

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CHAPTER 26

A conversation on Wasp Waist Bridge is a cover for
communication of a different kind
And a soliloquy overhead in the Naiad’s House reveals
unsuspected depths of feeling

By the time the thirty-three days’ convalescence had ended, not only were Bao-yu’s health and strength completely restored, but even the burn-marks on his face had vanished, and he was allowed to move back into the Garden.
It may be recalled that when Bao-yu’s sickness was at its height, it had been found necessary to call in Jia Yun with a number of pages under his command to take turns in watch?ing over him. Crimson was there too at that time, having been brought in with the other maids from his apartment. During those few days she and Jia Yun therefore had ample opportunity of seeing each other, and a certain familiarity began to grow up between them.
Crimson noticed that Jia Yun was often to be seen sporting a handkerchief very much like the one she had lost. She nearly asked him about it, but in the end was too shy. Then, after the monk’s visit, the presence of the menfolk was no longer required and Jia Yun went back to his tree-planting. Though Crimson could still not dismiss the matter entirely from her mind, she did not ask anyone about it for fear of arousing their suspicions.
A day or two after their return to Green Delights, Crimson was sitting in her room, still brooding over this handkerchief business, when a voice outside the window inquired whether she was in. Peeping through an eyelet in the casement she recognized Melilot, a little maid who belonged to the same apartment as herself.
‘Yes, I’m in,’ she said. ‘Come inside!’
Little Melilot came bounding in and sat down on the bed with a giggle.
‘I’m in luck!’ she said. ‘I was washing some things in the yard when Bao-yu asked for some tea to be taken round to Miss Lin’s for him and Miss Aroma gave me the job of taking it. When I got there, Miss Lin had just been given some money by Her Old Ladyship and was sharing it out among her maids, so when she saw me she just said “Here you are!” and gave me two big handfuls of it. I’ve no idea how much it is. Will you look after it for me, please?’
She undid her handkerchief and poured out a shower of coins. Crimson carefully counted them for her and put them away in a safe place.
‘What’s been the matter with you lately?’ said Melilot. ‘If you ask me, I think you ought to go home for a day or two and call in a doctor. I expect you need some medicine.’
‘Silly!’ said Crimson. ‘I’m perfectly all right. What should I want to go home for?’
‘I know what, then,’ said Melilot. ‘Miss Lin’s very weakly. She’s always taking medicine. Why don’t you ask her to give you some of hers? It would probably do just as well.’
‘Oh, nonsense!’ said Crimson. ‘You can’t take other peo?ple’s medicines just like that!’
‘Well, you can’t go on in this way,’ said Melilot, ‘never eating or drinking properly. What will become of you?
‘Who cares?’ said Crimson. ‘The sooner I’m dead the better!’
‘You shouldn’t say such things,’ said Melilot, ‘It isn’t right.’
‘Why not?’ said Crimson. ‘How do you know what is on my mind?
Melilot shook her head sympathetically.
‘I can’t say I really blame you,’ she said. ‘Things are very difficult here at times. Take yesterday, for example. Her Old Ladyship said that as Bao-yu was better now and there was to be a thanksgiving for his recovery, all those who had the trouble of nursing him during his illness were to be rewarded according to their grades. Well now, I can understand the very young ones like me not being included, but why should they leave you out? I felt really sorry for you when I heard that they’d left you out. Aroma, of course, you’d expect to get more than anyone else. I don’t blame her at all. In fact, I think it’s owing to her. Let’s be honest: none of us can compare with Aroma. I mean, even if she didn’t always take so much trouble over everything, no one would want to quarrel about her having a bigger share. What makes me so angry is that people like Skybright and Mackerel should count as top grade when every?one knows they’re only put there to curry favour with Bao-yu. Doesn’t it make you angry?’
‘I don’t see much point in getting angry,’ said Crimson. ‘You know what they said about the mile-wide marquee: “Even the longest party must have an end”? Well, none of us is here for ever, you know. Another four or five years from now when we’ve each gone our different ways it won’t matter any longer what all the rest of us are doing.’
Little Melilot found this talk of parting and impermanence vaguely affecting and a slight moisture was to be observed about her eyes. She thought shame to cry without good cause, however, and masked her emotion with a smile:
‘That’s perfectly true. Only yesterday Bao-yu was going on about all the things he’s going to do to his rooms and the clothes he’s going to have made and everything, just as if he had a hundred or two years ahead of him with nothing to do but kill time in.’
Crimson laughed scornfully, though whether at Melilot’s simplicity or at Bao-yu’s improvidence is unclear, since just as she was about to comment, a little maid came running in, so young that her hair was still done up in two little girl’s horns. She was carrying some patterns and sheets of paper.
‘You’re to copy out these two patterns.’
She threw them in Crimson’s direction and straightway darted out again. Crimson shouted after her:
‘Who are they for, then? You might at least finish your message before rushing off. What are you in such a tearing hurry about? Is someone steaming wheatcakes for you and you’re afraid they’ll get cold?’
‘They’re for Mackerel.’ The little maid paused long enough to bawl an answer through the window, then picking up her heels, went pounding off, plim-plam, plim-plam, plim-plam, as fast as she had come.
Crimson threw the patterns crossly to one side and went to hunt in her drawer for a brush to trace them with. After rummaging for several minutes she had only succeeded in finding a few worn-out ones, too moulted for use.
‘Funny!’ she said. ‘I could have sworn I put a new one in there the other day …’
She thought a bit, then laughed at herself as she remembered:
‘Of course. Oriole took it, the evening before last.’ She turned to Melilot. ‘Would you go and get it for me, then?’
‘I’m afraid I can’t,’ said Melilot. ‘Miss Aroma’s waiting for me to fetch some boxes for her. You’ll have to get it yourself.’
‘If Aroma’s waiting for you, why have you been sitting here gossiping all this time?’ said Crimson. ‘If I hadn’t asked you to go and get it, she wouldn’t have been waiting, would she? Lazy little beast!’
She left the room and walked out of the gate of Green Delights and in the direction of Bao-chai’s courtyard. She was just passing by Drenched Blossoms Pavilion when she caught sight of Bao-yu’s old wet-nurse, Nannie Li, coming from the opposite direction and stood respectfully aside to wait for her.
‘Where have you been, Mrs Li?’ she asked her. ‘I didn’t expect to see you here.’
Nannie Li made a flapping gesture with her hand:
‘What do you think, my dear: His Nibs has taken a fancy to the young fellow who does the tree-planting — “Yin” or “Yun” or whatever his name is — so Nannie has to go and ask him in. Let’s hope Their Ladyships don’t find out about it. There’ll be trouble if they do.’
‘Are you really going to ask him in?’
‘Yes. Why?’
Crimson laughed:
‘If your Mr Yun knows what’s good for him, he won’t agree to come.’
‘He’s no fool,’ said Nannie Li. ‘Why shouldn’t he?’
‘Any way, if he does come in,’ said Crimson, ignoring her question, ‘you can’t just bring him in and then leave him, Mrs Li. You’ll have to take him back again yourself afterwards. You don’t want him wandering off on his own. There’s no knowing who he might bump into.’
(Crimson herself, was the secret hope.)
‘Gracious me! I haven’t got that much spare time,’ said Nannie Li. ‘All I’ve done is just to tell him that he’s got to come. I’ll send someone else to fetch him in when I get back presently – one of the girls, or one of the older women, maybe.’
She hobbled off on her stick, leaving Crimson standing there in a muse, her mission to fetch the tracing-brush mo?mentarily forgotten. She was still standing there a minute or two later when a little maid came along, who, seeing that it was Crimson, asked her what she was doing there. Crimson looked up. It was Trinket, another of the maids from Green Delights.
‘Where are you going?’ Crimson asked her.
‘I’ve been sent to fetch Mr Yun,’ said Trinket. ‘I have to bring him inside to meet Master Bao.’
She ran off on her way.
At the gate to Wasp Waist Bridge Crimson ran into Trinket again, this time with Jia Yun in tow. His eyes sought Crim?son’s; and hers, as she made pretence of conversing with Trinket, sought his. Their two pairs of eyes met and briefly skirmished; then Crimson felt herself blushing, and turning away abruptly, she made off for Allspice Court.

*

Our narrative now follows Jia Yun and Trinket along the winding pathway to the House of Green Delights. Soon they were at the courtyard gate and Jia Yun waited outside while she went in to announce his arrival. She returned presently to lead him inside.
There were a few scattered rocks in the courtyard and some clumps of jade-green plantain. Two storks stood in the shadow of a pine-tree, preening themselves with their long bills. The gallery surrounding the courtyard was hung with cages of unusual design in which perched or fluttered a wide variety of birds, some of them gay-plumaged exotic ones. Above the steps was a little five-frame penthouse building with a glimpse of delicately-carved partitions visible through the open doorway, above which a horizontal board hung, inscribed with the words

CRIMSON JOYS AND GREEN DELIGHTS

‘So that’s why it’s called “The House of Green Delights”’ Jia Yun told himself. ‘The name is taken from the inscription.’
A laughing voice addressed him from behind one of the silk gauze casements:
‘Come on in! It must be two or three months since I first forgot our appointment!’
Jia Yun recognized the voice as Bao-yu’s and hurried up the steps inside. He looked about him, dazzled by the bril?liance of gold and semi-precious inlay-work and the richness of the ornaments and furnishings, but unable to see Bao-yu in the midst of it all. To the left of him was a full-length mirror from behind which two girls now emerged, both about fifteen or sixteen years old and of much the same build and height. They addressed him by name and asked him to come inside. Slightly overawed, he muttered something in reply and hurried after them, not daring to take more than a furtive glance at them from the corner of his eye. They ushered him into a tent-like summer ‘cabinet’ of green net, whose principal furniture was a tiny lacquered bed with crimson hangings heavily patterned in gold. On this Bao-yu, wearing everyday clothes and a pair of bedroom slippers, was reclining, book in hand. He threw the book down as Jia Yun entered and rose to his feet with a welcoming smile. Jia Yun swiftly dropped knee and hand to floor in greeting. Bidden to sit, he modestly placed himself on a bedside chair.
‘After I invited you round to my study that day,’ said Bao-yu, ‘a whole lot of things seemed to happen one after the other, and I’m afraid I quite forgot about your visit.’
Jia Yun returned his smile:
‘Let’s just say that it wasn’t my luck to see you then. But you have been ill since then, Uncle Bao. Are you quite better now?’
‘Quite better, thank you. I hear you’ve been very busy these last few days.’
‘That’s as it should be,’ said Jia Yun. ‘But I’m glad you are better, Uncle. That’s a piece of good fortune for all of us.’
As they chatted, a maid came in with some tea. Jia Yun was talking to Bao-yu as she approached, but his eyes were on her. She was tall and rather thin with a long oval face, and she was wearing a rose-pink dress over a closely pleated white satin skirt and a black satin sleeveless jacket over the dress.
In the course of his brief sojourn among them in the early days of Bao-yu’s illness, Jia Yun had got by heart the names of most of the principal females of Bao-yu’s establishment. He knew at a glance that the maid now serving him tea was Aroma. He was also aware that she was in some way more important than the other maids and that to be waited on by her in the seated presence of her master was an honour. Jumping hastily to his feet he addressed her with a modest smile:
‘You shouldn’t pour tea for me, Miss! I’m not like a visitor here. You should let me pour for myself!’
‘Oh do sit down!’ said Bao-yu. ‘You don’t have to be like that in front of the maids!’
‘I know,’ said Jia Yun. ‘But a body-servant! I don’t like to presume.’
He sat down, nevertheless, and sipped his tea while Bao-yu made conversation on a number of unimportant topics. He told him which household kept the best troupe of players, which had the finest gardens, whose maids were the prettiest, who gave the best parties, and who had the best collection of curiosities or the strangest pets. Jia Yun did his best to keep up with him. After a while Bao-yu showed signs of flagging, and when Jia Yun, observing what appeared to be fatigue, rose to take his leave, he did not very strongly press him to stay.
‘You must come again when you can spare the time,’ said Bao-yu, and ordered Trinket to see him out of the Garden.
Once outside the gateway of Green Delights, Jia Yun looked around him on all sides, and having ascertained that there was no one else about, slowed down to a more dawdling pace so that he could ask Trinket a few questions. Indeed, the little maid was subjected to quite a catechism: How old was she? What was her name? What did her father and mother do? How many years had she been working for his Uncle Bao? How much pay did she get a month? How many girls were there working for him altogether? Trinket seemed to have no objection, however, and answered each question as it came.
‘That girl you were talking to on the way in,’ he said, ‘isn’t her name “Crimson”?’
Trinket laughed:
‘Yes. Why do you ask?’
‘I heard her asking you about a handkerchief. Only it just so happens that I picked one up.’
Trinket showed interest.
‘She’s asked me about that handkerchief of hers a number of times. I told her, I’ve got better things to do with my time than go looking for people’s handkerchiefs. But when she asked me about it again today, she said that if I could find it for her, she’d give me a reward. Come to think of it, you were there when she said that, weren’t you? It was when we were outside the gate of Allspice Court. So you can bear me out. Oh Mr Jia, please let me have it if you’ve picked it up and I’ll be able to see what she will give me for it!’
Jia Yun had picked up a silk handkerchief a month pre?viously at the time when his tree-planting activities had just started. He knew that it must have been dropped by one or another of the female inmates of the Garden, but not knowing which, had not so far ventured to do anything about his dis?covery. When earlier on he had heard Crimson question Trinket about her loss, he had realized, with a thrill of pleasure, that the handkerchief he had picked up must have been hers. Trinket’s request now gave him just the opening he required. He drew a handkerchief of his own from inside his sleeve and held it up in front of her with a smile:
‘I’ll give it to you on one condition. If she lets you have this reward you were speaking of; you’ve got to let me know. No cheating, mind!’
Trinket received the handkerchief with eager assurances that he would be informed of the outcome, and having seen him out of the Garden, went back again to look for Crimson.

*

Our narrative returns now to Bao-yu.
After disposing of Jia Yun, Bao-yu continued to feel ex?tremely lethargic and lay back on the bed with every appear?ance of being about to doze off to sleep. Aroma hurried over to him and, sitting on the edge of the bed, roused him with a shake:
‘Come on! Surely you are not going to sleep again? You need some fresh air. Why don’t you go outside and walk around for a bit?’
Bao-yu took her by the hand and smiled at her.
‘I’d like to go,’ he said, ‘but I don’t want to leave you.’
‘Silly!’ said Aroma with a laugh. ‘Don’t say what you don’t mean!’
She hoicked him to his feet.
‘Well, where am I going to go then?’ said Bao-yu. ‘I just feel so bored.’
‘Never mind where, just go out!’ said Aroma. ‘If you stay moping indoors like this, you’ll get even more bored.’
Bao-yu followed her advice, albeit half-heartedly, and went out into the courtyard. After visiting the cages in the gallery and playing for a bit with the birds, he ambled out of the courtyard into the Garden and along the batik of Drenched Blossoms Stream, pausing for a while to look at the goldfish in the water. As he did so, a pair of fawns came running like the wind from the hillside opposite. Bao-yu was puzzled. There seemed to be no reason for their mysterious terror. But just then little Jia Lan came running down the same slope after them, a tiny bow clutched in his hand. Seeing his uncle ahead of him, he stood politely to attention and greeted him cheerfully:
‘Hello, Uncle. I didn’t know you were at home. I thought you’d gone out.’
‘Mischievous little blighter, aren’t you?’ said Bao-yu. ‘What do you want to go shooting them for, poor little things?’
‘I’ve got no reading to do today,’ said Jia Lan, ‘and I don’t like to hang about doing nothing, so I thought I’d practise my archery and equitation.’
‘Goodness! You’d better not waste time jawing, then,’ said Bao-yu, and left the young toxophilite to his pursuits.
Moving on, without much thinking where he was going, he came presently to the gate of a courtyard.
Denser than feathers on the phoenix’ tail
The stirred leaves murmured with a pent dragon’s moan.
The multitudinous bamboos and the board above the gate confirmed that his feet had, without conscious direction, carried him to the Naiad’s House. Of their own accord they now carried him through the gateway and into the courtyard.
The House seemed silent and deserted, its bamboo door-blind hanging unrolled to the ground; but as he approached the window, he detected a faint sweetness in the air, traceable to a thin curl of incense smoke which drifted out through the green gauze of the casement. He pressed his face to the gauze; but before his eyes could distinguish anything, his ear became aware of a long, languorous sigh and the sound of a voice speaking:
‘Each day in a drowsy waking dream of love.’
Bao-yu felt a sudden yearning for the speaker. He could see her now. It was Dai-yu, of course, lying on her bed, stretching herself and yawning luxuriously.
He laughed:
‘Why “each day in a drowsy waking dream of love”?’ he asked through the window (the words were from his beloved Western Chamber); then going to the doorway he lifted up the door-blind and walked into the room.
Dai-yu realized that she had been caught off her guard. She covered her burning face with her sleeve, and turning over towards the wall, pretended to be asleep. Bao-yu went over intending to turn her back again, but just at that moment Dai-yu’s old wet-nurse came hurrying in with two other old women at her heels:
‘Miss Lin’s asleep, sir. Would you mind coming back again after she’s woken up?’
Dai-yu at once turned over and sat up with a laugh:
‘Who’s asleep?’
The three old women laughed apologetically.
‘Sorry, miss. We thought you were asleep. Nightingale! Come inside now! Your mistress is awake.’
Having shouted for Nightingale, the three guardians of morality retired.
‘What do you mean by coming into people’s rooms when they’re asleep?’ said Dai-yu, smiling up at Bao-yu as she sat on the bed’s edge patting her hair into shape.
At the sight of those soft cheeks so adorably flushed and the starry eyes a little misted with sleep a wave of emotion passed over him. He sank into a chair and smiled back at her:
‘What was that you were saying just now before I came in?’
‘I didn’t say anything,’ said Dai-yu.
Bao-yu laughed and snapped his fingers at her:
‘Put that on your tongue, girl! I heard you say it.’ While they were talking to one another, Nightingale came in.
‘Nightingale,’ said Bao-yu, ‘what about a cup of that excellent tea of yours?’
‘Excellent tea?’ said Nightingale. ‘There’s nothing very special about the tea we drink here. If nothing but the best will do, you’d better wait for Aroma to come.’
‘Never mind about him!’ said Dai-yu. ‘First go and get me some water!’
‘He is our guest,’ said Nightingale. ‘I can’t fetch you any water until I’ve given him his tea.’ And she went to pour him a cup.
‘Good girl!’ said Bao-yu.

‘If with your amorous mistress I should wed,
‘Tis you, sweet maid, must make our bridal bed.’

The words, like Dai-yu’s languorous line, were from Western Chamber, but in somewhat dubious taste. Dai-yu was dreadfully offended by them. In an instant the smile had vanished from her face.
‘What was that you said?’ He laughed:
‘I didn’t say anything.’ Dai-yu began to cry.
‘This is your latest amusement, I suppose. Every time you hear some coarse expression outside or read some crude, disgusting book, you have to come back here and give me the benefit of it. I am to become a source of entertainment for the menfolk now, it seems.’
She rose, weeping, from the bed and went outside. Bao-yu followed her in alarm.
‘Dearest coz, it was very wrong of me to say that, but it just slipped out without thinking. Please don’t go and tell! I promise never to say anything like that again. May my mouth rot and my tongue decay if I do!’
Just at that moment Aroma came hurrying up:
‘Quick!’ she said. ‘You must come back and change. The Master wants to see you.’
The descent of this thunderbolt drove all else from his mind and he rushed off in a panic. As soon as he had changed, he hurried out of the Garden. Tealeaf was waiting for him outside the inner gate.
‘I suppose you don’t know what he wants to see me about?’ Bao-yu asked him.
‘I should hurry up, if I were you,’ said Tealeaf. ‘All I know is that he wants to see you. You’ll find out why soon enough when you get there.’
He hustled him along as he spoke.
They had passed round the main hall, Bao-yu still in a state of fluttering apprehensiveness when there was a loud guffaw from a corner of the wall. It was Xue Pan, clapping his hands and stamping his feet in mirth.
‘Ho! Ho! Ho! You’d never have come this quickly if you hadn’t been told that Uncle wanted you!’
Tealeaf, also laughing, fell on his knees. Bao-yu stood there looking puzzled. It was some moments before it dawned on him that he had been hoaxed. Xue Pan was by this time being apologetic — bowing repeatedly and pumping his hands to show how sorry he was:
‘Don’t blame the lad!’ he said. ‘It wasn’t his fault. I talked him into it.’
Bao-yu saw that he could do nothing, and might as well accept with a good grace.
‘I don’t mind being made a fool of,’ he said, ‘but I think it was going a bit far to bring my father into it. I think perhaps I’d better tell Aunt Xue and see what she thinks about it all.’
‘Now look here, old chap,’ said Xue Pan, getting agitated, ‘it was only because I wanted to fetch you out a bit quicker. I admit it was very wrong of me to make free with your Parent, but after all, you’ve only got to mention my father next time you want to fool me and we’ll be quits!’
‘Aiyo!’ said Bao-yu. ‘Worse and worse!’ He turned to Tealeaf: ‘Treacherous little beast! What are you still kneeling for?’
Tealeaf kotowed and rose to his feet.
‘Look,’ said Xue Pan. ‘I wouldn’t have troubled you other?wise, only it’s my birthday on the third of next month and old Hu and old Cheng and a couple of the others, I don’t know where they got them from but they’ve given me:
a piece of fresh lotus root, ever so crisp and crunchy, as thick as that, look, and as long as that;
a huge great melon, look, as big as that;
a freshly-caught sturgeon as big as that;
and a cypress-smoked Siamese sucking-pig as big as that that came in the tribute from Siam.
Don’t you think it was clever of them to get me those things? Maybe not so much the sturgeon and the sucking-pig. They’re just expensive. But where would you go to get a piece of lotus root or a melon like that? However did they get them to grow so big? I’ve given some of the stuff to Mother, and while I was about it I sent some round to your grandmother and Auntie Wang, but I’ve still got a lot left over. I can’t eat it all myself: it would be unlucky. But apart from me, the only person I can think of who is worthy to eat a present like this is you. That’s why I came over specially to invite you. And we’re lucky, because we’ve got a little chap who sings coming round as well. So you and I will be able to sit down and make a day of it, eh? Really enjoy ourselves.’
Xue Pan, still talking, conducted Bao-yu to his ‘study’, where Zhan Guang, Cheng Ri-xing, Hu Si-lai and Dan Ping-ren (the four donors of the feast) and the young singer he had mentioned were already waiting. They rose to welcome Bao-yu as he entered. When the bowings and courtesies were over and tea had been taken, Xue Pan called for his servants to lay. A tremendous bustle ensued, which seemed to go on for quite a long time before everything was finally ready and the diners were able to take their places at the table.
Bao-yu noticed sliced melon and lotus root among the dishes, both of unusual quality and size.
‘It seems wrong to be sharing your presents with you before I have given you anything myself,’ he said jokingly.
‘Yes,’ said Xue Pan. ‘What are you planning to give me for my birthday next month? Something new and out of the ordinary, I hope.’
‘I haven’t really got anything much to give you,’ said Bao-yu. ‘Things like money and food and clothing I don’t want for, but they’re not really mine to give. The only way I could give you something that would really be mine would be by doing some calligraphy or painting a picture for you.’
‘Talking of pictures,’ said Xue Pan genially, ‘that’s reminded me. I saw a set of dirty pictures in someone’s house the other day. They were real beauties. There was a lot of writing on top that I didn’t pay much attention to, but I did notice the signature. I think it was “Geng Huang”, the man who painted them. They were really good!’
Bao-yu was puzzled. His knowledge of the masters of painting and calligraphy both past and present was not inconsiderable, but he had never in all his experience come across a ‘Geng Huang’. After racking his brains for some moments he suddenly began to chuckle and called for a writing-brush. A writing-brush having been produced by one of the servants, he wrote two characters with it in the palm of his hand.
‘Are you quite sure the signature you saw was “Geng Huang”?’ he asked Xue Pan.
‘What do you mean?’ said Xue Pan. ‘Of course I’m sure.’
Bao-yu opened his hand and held it up for Xue Pan to see:
‘You sure it wasn’t these two characters? They are quite similar.’
The others crowded round to look. They all laughed when they saw what he had written:
‘Yes, it must have been “Tang Yin”. Mr Xue couldn’t have been seeing straight that day. Ha! Ha! Ha!’
Xue Pan realized that he had made a fool of himself, but passed it off with an embarrassed laugh:
‘Oh, Tankin’ or wankin’,’ he said, ‘what difference does it make, anyway?’
Just then ‘Mr Feng’ was announced by one of the servants, which Bao-yu knew could only mean General Feng Tang’s son, Feng Zi-ying. Xue Pan and the rest told the boy to bring him in immediately, but Feng Zi-ying was already striding in, talking and laughing as he went. The others hurriedly rose and invited him to take a seat.
‘Ha!’ said Feng Zi-ying. ‘No need to go out then. Enjoyin’ yourselves at home, eh? Very nice too!’
‘It’s a long time since we’ve seen you around,’ said Bao-yu. ‘How’s the General?’
‘Fahver’s in good health, thank you very much,’ said Feng Zi-ying, ‘but Muvver hasn’t been too well lately. Caught a chill or somethin’.’
Observing with glee that Feng Zi-ying was sporting a black eye, Xue Pan asked him how he had come by it:
‘Been having a dust-up, then? Who was it this time? Looks as if he left his signature!’
Feng Zi-ying laughed:
‘Don’t use the mitts any more nowadays — not since that time I laid into Colonel Chou’s son and did him an injury. That was a lesson to me. I’ve learned to keep my temper since then. No, this happened the other day durin’ a huntin’ ex?pedition in the Iron Net Mountains. I got flicked by a gos?hawk’s wing.’
‘When was this?’ Bao-yu asked him.
‘We left on the twenty-eighth of last month,’ said Feng Zi-ying. ‘Didn’t get back till a few days ago.’
‘Ah, that explains why I didn’t see you at Shen’s party earlier this month,’ said Bao-yu. ‘I meant at the time to ask why you weren’t there, but I forgot. Did you go alone on this expedition or was the General there with you?’
‘Fahver most certainly was there,’ said Feng Zi-ying. ‘I was practically dragged along in tow. Do you think I’m mad enough to go rushin’ off in pursuit of hideous hardships when I could be sittin’ comfortably at home eatin’ good food and drinkin’ good wine and listenin’ to the odd song or two? Still, some good came of it. It was a lucky accident.’
As he had now finished his tea, Xue Pan urged him to join them at table and tell them his story at leisure, but Feng Zi-?ying rose to his feet again and declined.
‘I ought by rights to stay and drink a few cups with you,’ he said, ‘but there’s somethin’ very important I’ve got to see Fahver about now, so I’m afraid I really must refuse.’
But Xue Pan, Bao-yu and the rest were by no means content to let him get away with this excuse and propelled him insistently towards the table.
‘Now look here, this is too bad!’ Feng Zi-ying good-hum?ouredly protested. ‘All the years we’ve been knockin’ around togevver we’ve never before insisted that a fellow should have to stay if he don’t want to. The fact is, I really can’t. Oh well, if I must have a drink, fetch some decent-sized cups and I’ll just put down a couple of quick ones!’
This was dearly the most he would concede and the others perforce acquiesced. Two sconce-cups were brought and ceremoniously filled, Bao-yu holding the cups and Xue Pan pouring from the wine-kettle. Feng Zi-ying drank them standing, one after the other, each in a single breath.
‘Now come on,’ said Bao-yu, ‘let’s hear about this “lucky accident” before you go!’
Feng Zi-ying laughed:
‘Couldn’t tell it properly just now,’ he said. ‘It’s somethin’ that needs a special party all to itself. I’ll invite you all round to my place another day and you shall have the details then. There’s a favour I want to ask too, by the bye, so we’ll be able to talk about that then as well.’
He made a determined movement towards the door.
‘Now you’ve got us all peeing ourselves with curiosity!’ said Xue Pan. ‘You might at least tell us when this party is going to be, to put us out of our suspense.’
‘Not more than ten days’ time and not less than eight,’ said Feng Zi-ying; and going out into the courtyard, he jumped on his horse and clattered away.
Having seen him off, the others went in again, reseated themselves at table, and resumed their potations. When the party finally broke up, Bao-yu returned to the Garden in a state of cheerful inebriation. Aroma, who had had no idea what the summons from Jia Zheng might portend and was still wondering anxiously what had become of him, at once demanded to know the cause of his condition. He gave her a full account of what had happened.
‘Well really!’ said Aroma. ‘Here were we practically beside ourselves with anxiety, and all the time you were there enjoying yourself! You might at least have sent word to let us know you were all right.’
‘I was going to send word,’ said Bao-yu. ‘Of course I was. But then old Feng arrived and it put it out of my mind,’
At that moment Bao-chai walked in, all smiles.
‘I hear you’ve made a start on the famous present,’ she said.
‘But surely you and your family must have had some al?ready ?’ said Bao-yu.
Bao-chai shook her head:
‘Pan was very pressing that I should have some, but I refused. I told him to save it for other people. I know I’m not really the right sort of person for such superior delicacies. If I were to eat any, I should be afraid of some frightful nemesis overtaking me.’
A maid poured tea for her as she spoke, and conversation of a desultory kind proceeded between sips.

*
Our narrative returns now to Dai-yu.
Having been present when Bao-yu received his summons, Dai-yu, too, was greatly worried about him – the more so as the day advanced and he had still not returned. Then in the evening, some time after dinner, she heard that he had just got back and resolved to go over and ask him exactly what had happened. She was sauntering along on the way there when she caught sight of Bao-chai some distance ahead of her, just entering Bao-yu’s courtyard. Continuing to amble on, she came presently to Drenched Blossoms Bridge, from which a large number of different kinds of fish were to be seen swimming about in the water below. Dai-yu did not know what kinds of fish they were, but they were so beautiful that she had to stop and admire them, and by the time she reached the House of Green Delights, the courtyard gate had been shut for the night and she was obliged to knock for ad?mittance.
Now it so happened that Skybright had just been having a quarrel with Emerald, and being thoroughly out of temper, was venting some of her ill-humour on the lately arrived Bao-chai, complaining sotto voce behind her back about ‘people who were always inventing excuses to come dropping in and who kept other people staying up half the night when they would like to be in bed’. A knock at the gate coming in the midst of these resentful mutterings was enough to make her really angry.
‘They’ve all gone to bed,’ she shouted, not even bothering to inquire who the caller was. ‘Come again tomorrow!’
Dai-yu was aware that Bao-yu’s maids often played tricks on one another, and it occurred to her that the girl in the courtyard, not recognizing her voice, might have mistaken her for another maid and be keeping her locked out for a joke. She therefore called out again, this time somewhat louder than before:
‘Come on! Open up, please! It’s me.’
Unfortunately Skybright had still not recognized the voice.
‘I don’t care who you are,’ she replied bad-temperedly. ‘Master Bao’s orders are that I’m not to let anyone in.’
Dumbfounded by her insolence, Dai-yu stood outside the gate in silence. She could not, however much she felt like it, give vent to her anger in noisy expostulation. ‘Although they are always telling me to treat my Uncle’s house as my own,’ she reflected, ‘I am still really an outsider. And now that Mother and Father are both dead and I am on my own, to make a fuss about a thing like this when I am living in some?one else’s house could only lead to further unpleasantness.’
A big tear coursed, unregarded, down her cheek.
She was still standing there irresolute, unable to decide whether to go or stay, when a sudden volley of talk and laughter reached her from inside. It resolved itself, as she listened attentively, into the voices of Bao-yu and Bao-chai. An even bitterer sense of chagrin took possession of her. Suddenly, as she hunted in her mind for some possible reason for her exclusion, she remembered the events of the morning and concluded that Bao-yu must think she had told on him to his parents and was punishing her for her betrayal.
‘But I would never betray you!’ she expostulated with him in her mind. ‘Why couldn’t you have asked first, before letting your resentment carry you to such lengths? If you won’t see me today, does that mean that from now on we are going to stop seeing each other altogether?’
The more she thought about it the more distressed she became.

Chill was the green moss pearled with dew
And chill was the wind in the avenue;

but Dai-yu, all unmindful of the unwholesome damp, had withdrawn into the shadow of a flowering fruit-tree by the corner of the wall, and grieving now in real earnest, began to cry as though her heart would break. And as if Nature herself were affected by the grief of so beautiful a creature, the crows who had been roosting in the trees round about flew up with a great commotion and removed themselves to another part of the Garden, unable to endure the sorrow of her weeping.

Teats filled each flower and grief their hearts perturbed,
And silly birds were from their nests disturbed.

The author of the preceding couplet has given us a quatrain in much the same vein:

Few in this world fair Frowner’s looks surpassed,
None matched her store of sweetness unexpressed.
The first sob scarcely from her lips had passed
When blossoms fell and birds flew off distressed.

As Dai-yu continued weeping there alone, the courtyard door suddenly opened with a loud creak and someone came out.
But in order to find out who it was, you will have to wait for the next volume.

EXPLICIT PRIMA PARS LAIDIS HISTORIAE

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