The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 28



A crimson cummerbund becomes a pledge of friendship
And a chaplet of medicine-beads becomes a source of

ON the night before the festival, it may be remembered, Lin Dai-yu had mistakenly supposed Bao-yu responsible for Sky-bright’s refusal to open the gate for her. The ceremonial fare?well to the flowers of the following morning had transformed her pent-up and still smouldering resentment into a more generalized and seasonable sorrow. This had finally found its expression in a violent outburst of grief as she was burying the latest collection of fallen blossoms in her flower-grave. Meditation on the fate of flowers had led her to a contempla?tion of her own sad and orphaned lot; she had burst into tears, and soon. after had begun a recitation of the poem whose words we recorded in the preceding chapter.
Unknown to her, Bao-yu was listening to this recitation from the slope of the near-by rockery. At first he merely nod?ded and sighed sympathetically; but when he heard the words

‘Can I, that these flowers’ obsequies attend,
Divine how soon or late my life will end?’

and, a little later,

‘One day when spring has gone and youth has fled,
The Maiden and the flowers will both be dead.’

he flung himself on the ground in a fit of weeping, scattering the earth all about him with the flowers he had been carrying in the skirt of his gown.
Lin Dai-yu dead! A world from which that delicate, flower?like countenance had irrevocably departed! It was unutterable anguish to think of it. Yet his sensitized imagination did now consider it — went on, indeed, to consider a world from which the others, too — Bao-chai, Caltrop, Aroma and the rest — had also irrevocably departed. Where would he be then? What would have become of him? And what of the Garden, the rocks, the flowers, the trees? To whom would they belong when he and the girls were no longer there to enjoy them? Passing from loss to loss in his imagination, he plunged deeper and deeper into a grief that seemed inconsolable. As the poet says:

Flowers in my eyes and bird-song in my ears
Augment my loss and mock my bitter tears.

Dai-yu, then, as she stood plunged in her own private sor?rowing, suddenly heard the sound of another person crying bitterly on the rocks above her.
‘The others are always telling me I’m a “case”,’ she thought. Surely there can’t be another “case” up there?’
But on looking up she saw that it was Bao-yu.
‘Pshaw!’ she said crossly to herself. ‘I thought it was another girl, but all the time it was that cruel, hate—’
‘Hateful’ she had been going to say, but clapped her mouth shut before uttering it. She sighed instead and began to walk away.
By the time Bao-yu’s weeping was over, Dai-yu was no longer there. He realized that she must have seen him and have gone away in order to avoid him. Feeling suddenly rather foolish, he rose to his feet and brushed the earth from his clothes. Then he descended from the rockery and began to retrace his steps in the direction of Green Delights. Quite by coincidence Dai-yu was walking along the same path a little way ahead.
‘Stop a minute!’ he cried, hurrying forward to catch up with her. ‘I know you are not taking any notice of me, but I only want to ask you one simple question, and then you need never have anything more to do with me.’
Dai-yu had turned back to see who it was. When she saw that it was Bao-yu still, she was going to ignore him again; but hearing him say that he only wanted to ask her one ques?tion, she told him that he might do so.
Bao-yu could not resist teasing her a little.
‘How about two questions? Would you wait for two?’
Dai-yu set her face forwards and began walking on again.
Bao-yu sighed.
‘If it has to be like this now,’ he said, as if to himself; ‘it’s a pity it was ever like it was in the beginning.’
Dai-yu’s curiosity got the better of her. She stopped walk?ing and turned once more towards him.
‘Like what in the beginning?’ she asked. ‘And like what now?’
‘Oh, the beginning!’ said Bao-yu. ‘In the beginning, when you first came here, I was your faithful companion in all your games. Anything I had, even the thing most dear to me, was yours for the asking. If there was something to eat that I specially liked, I had only to hear that you were fond of it too and I would religiously hoard it away to share with you when you got back, not daring even to touch it until you came. We ate at the same table. We slept in the same bed. I used to think that because we were so close then, there would be something special about our relationship when we grew up — that even if we weren’t particularly affectionate, we should at least have more understanding and forbearance for each other than the rest. But how wrong I was! Now that you have grown up, you seem only to have grown more touchy. You don’t seem to care about me any more at all. You spend all your time brood?ing about outsiders like Peng and Chai. I haven’t got any real brothers and sisters left here now. There are Huan and Tan, of course; but as you know, they’re only my half-brother and half-sister: they aren’t my mother’s children. I’m on my own, like you. I should have thought we had so much in common – But what’s the use? I try and try, but it gets me nowhere; and nobody knows or cares.’
At this point — in spite of himself — he burst into tears.
The palpable evidence of her own eyes and ears had by now wrought a considerable softening on Dai-yu’s heart. A sym?pathetic tear stole down her own cheek, and she hung her head and said nothing. Bao-yu could see that he had moved her.
‘I know I’m not much use nowadays,’ he continued, ‘but however bad you may think me, I would never wittingly do anything in your presence to offend you. If I do ever slip up in some way, you ought to tell me off about it and warn me not to do it again, or shout at me — hit me, even, if you feel like it; I shouldn’t mind. But you don’t do that. You just ignore me. You leave me utterly at a loss to know what I’m supposed to have done wrong, so that I’m driven half frantic wondering what I ought to do to make up for it. If I were to die now, I should die with a grievance, and all the masses and exorcisms in the world wouldn’t lay my ghost. Only when you explained what your reason was for ignoring me should I cease from haunting you and be reborn into another life.’
Dai-yu’s resentment for the gate incident had by now com?pletely evaporated. She merely said:
‘Oh well, in that case why did you tell your maids not to let me in when I came to call on you?’
‘I honestly don’t know what you are referring to,’ said Bao-yu in surprise. ‘Strike me dead if I ever did any such thing!’
‘Hush!’ said Dai-yu. ‘Talking about death at this time of the morning! You should be more careful what you say. If you did, you did. If you didn’t, you didn’t. There’s no need for these horrible oaths.’
‘I really and truly didn’t know you had called,’ said Bao-yu. Cousin Bao came and sat with me a few minutes last night and then went away again. That’s the only call I know about.’
Dai-yu reflected for a moment or two, then smiled.
‘Yes, it must have been the maids being lazy. Certainly they can be very disagreeable at such times.’
‘Yes, I’m sure that’s what it was,’ said Bao-yu. ‘When I get back, I’ll find out who it was and give her a good talking-to.’
‘I think some of your young ladies could do with a good talking-to,’ said Dai-yu, ‘— though it’s not really for me to say so. It’s a good job it was only me they were rude to. If Miss Bao or Miss Cow were to call and they behaved like that to her, that would be really serious.’
She giggled mischievously. Bao-yu didn’t know whether to laugh with her or grind his teeth. But just at that moment a maid came up to ask them both to lunch and the two of them went together out of the Garden and through into the front part of the mansion, calling in at Lady Wang’s on the way.
‘How did you get on with that medicine of Dr Bao’s,’ Lady Wang asked Dai-yu as soon as she saw her, ‘— the Court Physician? Do you think you are any better for it?’
‘It didn’t seem to make very much difference,’ said Dai-yu. ‘Grandmother has put me back on Dr Wang’s prescription.’
‘Cousin Lin has got a naturally weak constitution, Mother,’ said Bao-yu. ‘She takes cold very easily. These strong decoc?tions are all very well provided she only takes one or two to dispel the cold. For regular treatment it’s probably best if she sticks to pills.’
‘The doctor was telling me about some pills for her the other day,’ said Lady Wang, ‘but I just can’t remember the name.’
‘I know the names of most of those pills,’ said Bao-yu. ‘I expect he wanted her to take Ginseng Tonic Pills.’
‘No, that wasn’t it,’ said Lady Wang.
‘Eight Gem Motherwort Pills?’ said Bao-yu. ‘Zhang’s Dextrals? Zhang’s Sinistrals? If it wasn’t any of them, it was probably Dr Cui’s Adenophora Kidney Pills.’
‘No,’ said Lady Wang, ‘it was none of those. All I can remember is that there was a “Vajra” in it.
Bao-yu gave a hoot and clapped his hands:
‘I’ve never heard of “Vajra Pills”. If there are “Vajra Pills”, I suppose there must be “Buddha Boluses ”!’
The others all laughed. Bao-chai looked at him mockingly. ‘I should think it was probably “The Deva-king Cardiac Elixir Pills”,’ she said.
‘Yes, yes, that’s it!’ said Lady Wang. ‘Of course! How stupid of me!’
‘No, Mother, not stupid,’ said Bao-yu. ‘It’s the strain. All those Vajra-kings and Bodhisattvas have been overworking you!’
‘You’re a naughty boy to make fun of your poor mother,’ said Lady Wang. ‘A good whipping from your Pa is what you need.’
‘Oh, Father doesn’t whip me for that sort of thing now?adays,’ said Bao-yu.
Now that we know the name of the pills, we must get them to buy some for your Cousin Lin,’ said Lady Wang.
‘None of those things are any good,’ said Bao-yu. ‘You give me three hundred and sixty taels of silver and I’ll make up some pills for Cousin Lin that I guarantee will have her com?pletely cured before she has finished the first boxful.’
‘Stuff!’ said Lady Wang. ‘Whoever heard of a medicine that cost so much?’
‘No, honestly!’ said Bao-yu. ‘This prescription is a very unusual one with very special ingredients. I can’t remember all of them, but I know they include

the caul of a first-born child;
a ginseng root shaped like a man, with the leaves still on it;
a turtle-sized polygonum root;
lycoperdon from the stump of a thousand-year-old pine-tree.

— Actually, though, there’s nothing so very special about those ingredients. They’re all in the standard pharmacopoeia. For “sovereign remedies” they use ingredients that would really make you jump. I once gave the prescription for one to Cousin Xue. He was more than a year begging me for it before I would give it to him, and it took him another two or three years and nearly a thousand taels of silver to get all the ingredients to?gether. Ask Bao-chai if you don’t believe me, Mother.’
‘I know nothing about it,’ said Bao-chai. ‘I’ve never heard it mentioned. It’s no good telling Aunt to ask me.’
‘You see! Bao-chai is a good girl. She doesn’t tell lies,’ said Lady Wang.
Bao-yu was standing in the middle of the floor below the kang. He clapped his hands at this and turned to the others appealingly.
‘But it’s the truth I’m telling you. This is no lie.’
As he turned, he happened to catch sight of Dai-yu, who was sitting behind Bao-chai, smiling mockingly and stroking her cheek with her finger — which in sign-language means, ‘You are a great big liar and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.’
But Xi-feng, who happened to be in the inner room super?vising the laying of the table and had overheard the preceding remarks, now emerged into the outer room to corroborate:
‘It’s quite true, what Bao says. I don’t think he is making it up,’ she said. ‘Not so long ago Cousin Xue came to me asking for some pearls, and when I asked him what he wanted them for, he said, “To make medicine with.” Then he started grumbling about the trouble he was having in getting the right ingredients and how he had half a mind not to make this medicine up after all. I said, “What medicine?” and he told me that it was a prescription that Cousin Bao had given him and reeled off a lot of ingredients — I can’t remember them now. “Of course,” he said, “I could easily enough buy a few pearls; only these have to be ones that have been worn. That’s why I’m asking you for them. If you haven’t got any loose ones, he said, “a few pearls broken off a bit of jewellery would do. I’d get you something nice to replace it with.” He was so insistent that in the end I had to break up two of my ornaments for him. Then he wanted a yard of Imperial red gauze. That was to put over the mortar to pound the pearls through. He said they had to be ground until they were as fine as flour.’
‘You see!’ ‘You see!’ Bao-yu kept interjecting throughout this recital.
‘Incidentally, Mother,’ he said, when it was ended, ‘even that was only a substitute. According to the prescription, the pearls ought really to have come from an ancient grave. They should really have been pearls taken from jewellery on the corpse of a long-buried noblewoman. But as one can’t very well go digging up graves and riding tombs every time one wants to make this medicine, the prescription allows pearls worn by the living as a second-best.’
‘Blessed name of the Lord!’ said Lady Wang. ‘What a dread?ful idea! Even if you did get them from a grave, I can’t believe that a medicine made from pearls that had been come by so wickedly — desecrating people’s bones that had been lying peacefully in the ground all those hundreds of years — could possibly do you any good.’
Bao-yu turned to Dai-yu.
‘Did you hear what Feng said?’ he asked her. ‘I hope you’re not going to say that she was lying.’
Although the remark was addressed to Dai-yu, he winked at Bao-chai as he made it.
Dai-yu clung to Lady Wang.
‘Listen to him, Aunt!’ she wailed. ‘Bao-chai won’t be a party to his lies, but he still expects me to be.’
‘Bao-yu, you are very unkind to your cousin,’ said Lady Wang.
Bao-yu only laughed.
‘You don’t know the reason, Mother. Bao-chai didn’t know a half of what Cousin Xue got up to, even when she was living with her mother outside; and now that she’s moved into the Garden, she knows even less. When she said she didn’t know, she really didn’t know: she wasn’t giving me the lie. What you don’t realize is that Cousin Lin was all the time sitting behind her making signs to show that she didn’t believe me.’
Just then a maid came from Grandmother Jia’s apartment to fetch Bao-yu and Dai-yu to lunch.
Without saying a word to Bao-yu, Dai-yu got up and, tak?ing the maid’s hand, began to go. But the maid was reluctant.
‘Let’s wait for Master Bao and we can go together.’
‘He’s not eating lunch today,’ said Dai-yu. ‘Come on, let’s go!’
‘Whether he’s eating lunch or not,’ said the maid, ‘he’d better come with us, so that he can explain to Her Old Lady?ship about it when she asks.’
‘All right, you wait for him then,’ said Dai-yu. ‘I’m going on ahead.’
And off she went.
‘I think I’d rather eat with you today, Mother,’ said Bao-yu.
‘No, no, you can’t,’ said Lady Wang. ‘Today is one of my fast-days: I shall only be eating vegetables. You go and have a proper meal with your Grandma.’
‘I shall share your vegetables,’ said Bao-yu. Go on, you can go,’ he said, dismissing the maid; and rushing up to the table, he sat himself down at it in readiness.
‘You others had better get on with your own lunch,’ Lady Wang said to Bao-chai and the girls. ‘Let him do as he likes.’
‘You really ought to go,’ Bao-chai said to Bao-yu. ‘Whether you have lunch there or not, you ought to keep Cousin Lin company. She is very upset, you know. Why don’t you?’
‘Oh, leave her alone!’ said Bao-yu. ‘She’ll be all right presently.’
Soon they had finished eating, and Bao-yu, afraid that Grandmother Jia might be worrying and at the same time anxious to rejoin Dai-yu, hurriedly demanded tea to rinse his mouth with. Tan-chun and Xi-chun were much amused.
‘Why are you always in such a hurry, Bao?’ they asked him. ‘Even your eating and drinking all seems to be done in a rush.’
‘You should let him finish quickly, so that he can get back to his Dai-yu,’ said Bao-chai blandly. ‘Don’t make him waste time here with us.’
Bao-yu left as soon as he had drunk his tea, and made straight for the west courtyard where his Grandmother Jia’s apartment was. But as he was passing by the gateway of Xi?-feng’s courtyard, it happened that Xi-feng herself was stand?ing in her doorway with one foot on the threshold, grooming her teeth with an ear-cleaner and keeping a watchful eye on nine or ten pages who were moving potted plants about under her direction.
‘Ah, just the person I wanted to see!’ she said, as soon as she caught sight of Bao-yu. ‘Come inside. I want you to write something down for me.’
Bao-yu was obliged to follow her indoors. Xi-feng called for some paper, an inkstone and a brush, and at once began dictating:
‘Crimson lining-damask forty lengths, dragonet figured satin forty lengths, miscellaneous
Imperial gauze one hundred lengths, gold necklets four, —’
‘Here, what is this?’ said Bao-yu. ‘It isn’t an invoice and it isn’t a presentation list. How am I supposed to write it?’
‘Never you mind about that,’ said Xi-feng. ‘As long as I know what it is, that’s all that matters. Just put it down any?how.’
Bao-yu wrote down the four items. As soon as he had done so, Xi-feng took up the paper and folded it away.
‘Now,’ she said, smiling pleasantly, ‘there’s something I want to talk to you about. I don’t know whether you’ll agree to this or not, but there’s a girl in your room called “Crimson” whom I’d like to work for me. If I find you someone to re?place her with, will you let me have her?’
‘There are so many girls in my room,’ said Bao-yu. ‘Please take any you have a fancy to. You really don’t need to ask me about it.’
‘In that case,’ said Xi-feng, ‘I’ll send for her straight away.’
‘Please do,’ said Bao-yu, and started to go.
‘Hey, come back!’ said Xi-feng. ‘I haven’t finished with you yet.’
‘I’ve got to see Grandma now,’ said Bao-yu. ‘If you’ve got anything else to say, you can tell me on my way back.’
When he got to Grandmother Jia’s apartment, they had all just finished lunch. Grandmother Jia asked him if he bad had anything nice to eat with his mother.
‘There wasn’t anything nice,’ he said. ‘But I had an extra bowl of rice.’
Then, after the briefest pause:
‘Where’s Cousin Lin?’
‘In the inner room,’ said Grandmother Jia.
In the inner room a maid stood below the kang blowing on a flat-iron. Up on the kang two maids were marking some material with a chalked string, while Dai-yu, her head bent low over her work, was engaged in cutting something from it with her shears.
‘What are you making?’ he asked her. ‘You’ll give yourself a headache, stooping down like that immediately after your lunch.’
Dai-yu took no notice and went on cutting.
‘That corner looks a bit creased still,’ said one of the maids. ‘it will have to be ironed again.’
‘Leave it alone!’ said Dai-yu, laying down her shears. ‘It will be all right presently.’
Bao-yu found her reply puzzling.
Bao-chai, Tan-chun and the rest had now arrived in the outer room and were talking to Grandmother Jia. Presently Bao-chai drifted inside and asked Dai-yu what she was doing; then, when she saw that she was cutting material, she ex?claimed admiringly.
‘What a lot of things you can do, Dai! Fancy, even dress-making now!’
Dai-yu smiled malignantly.
‘Oh, it’s all lies, really. I just do it to fool people.’
‘I’ve got something to tell you that I think will amuse you, Dai,’ said Bao-chai pleasantly. ‘When our cousin was holding forth about that medicine just now and I said I didn’t know about it, I believe actually he was rather wounded.’
‘Oh, leave him alone!’ said Dai-yu. ‘He will be all right presently.’
‘Grandma wants someone to play dominoes with,’ said Bao-yu to Bao-chai. ‘Why don’t you go and play dominoes?’
‘Oh, is that what I came for?’ said Bao-chai; but she went, notwithstanding.
‘Why don’t you go?’ said Dai-yu. ‘There’s a tiger in this room. You might get eaten.’
She said this still bending over her cutting, which she con?tinued to work away at without looking up at him.
Finding himself once more ignored, Bao-yu nevertheless attempted to remain jovial.
‘Why don’t you come out for a bit too? You can do this cutting later.’
Dai-yu continued to take no notice.
Failing to get a response from her, he tried the maids:
‘Who told her to do this dress-making?’
‘Whoever told her to do it,’ said Dai-yu, ‘it has nothing whatever to do with Master Bao.’
Bao-yu was about to retort, but just at that moment someone came in to say that he was wanted outside, and he was obliged to hurry off.
Dai-yu leaned forward and shouted after him:
‘Holy Name! By the time you get back, I shall be dead.’


Outside the gateway to the inner quartets Bao-yu found Tea-leaf waiting.
‘Mr Feng invites you round to his house,’ said Tealeaf.
Bao-yu realized that this must be in connection with the matter Feng Zi-ying had spoken of on the previous day. He told Tealeaf to send for his going-out clothes, and went into his outer study to wait for them.
Tealeaf went back to the west inner gate to wait for someone who would carry a message inside to the maids. Presently an old woman came out:
‘Excuse me, missus,’ said Tealeaf. ‘Master Bao is waiting in the outer study for his going-out clothes. Could you take a message inside to say that he wants them?’
‘— your mother’s twat!’ said the old woman. ‘Master Bao lives in the Garden now. All his maids are in the Garden. What do you want to come running round here for?’
Tealeaf laughed at his own mistake.
‘You’re quite right. I’m going cuckoo.’
He ran round to the gate of the Garden. As luck would have it, the boys on that gate were playing football in the open space below the terraced walk, and when Tealeaf had explained his errand, one of them ran off inside for him. He returned after a very long wait, carrying a large bundle, which he handed to Tealeaf, and which Tealeaf carried back to the outer study.
While he was changing, Bao-yu asked for his horse to be saddled, and presently set off, taking only Tealeaf, Ploughboy, Two-times and Oldie as his attendants. When they reached Feng Zi-ying’s gate, someone ran in to announce his arrival, and Feng Zi-ying came out in person to greet him and led him inside to meet the company.
This comprised Xue Pan, who had evidently been waiting there for some time, a number of boy singers, a female imper?sonator called Jiang Yu-han and a girl called Nuageuse from the Budding Grove, a high-class establishment specializing in female entertainers. When everyone had been introduced, tea was served.
‘Now come on!’ said Bao-yu, as he picked up the proffered cup of tea. ‘What about this “lucky accident” you mentioned yesterday? I’ve been waiting anxiously to hear about it ever since I saw you. That’s why I came so promptly when I got your invitation.’
Feng Zi-ying laughed.
‘You and your cousin are such simple souls — I find it rahver touchin’! Afraid it was pure invention, what I said yesterday. I said it to make you come, because I fought that if I asked you outright to come and drink wiv me, you’d make excuses. Anyway, it worked.’
The company joined in his merriment.
Wine was now brought in and everyone sat down in the places assigned to them. Feng Zi-ying first got one of the singing-boys to pour for them; then he called on Nuageuse to drink with each of the guests in turn.
Xue Pan, by the time he had three little cupfuls of wine inside him, was already beginning to be obstreperous. He seized Nuageuse by the hand and drew her towards him:
‘If you’d sing me a nice new song – one of your specials, I’d drink a whole jarful for you. How about it, eh?’
Nuageuse had to oblige him by taking up her lute and sing?ing the following song for him to her own accompaniment:

Two lovely boys
Are both in love with me
And I can’t get either from my mind.
Both are so beautiful
So wonderful
So marvellous
To give up either one would be unkind.
Last night I promised I would go
To meet one of them in the garden where the roses grow;
The other came to see what he could find.
And now that we three are all
Here in this tribunal,
There are no words that come into my mind.

‘There you are!’ she said. ‘Now drink your jarful!’
‘That one’s not worth a jarful,’ said Xue Pan. ‘Sing us a better one.’
‘Now just a minute,’ said Bao-yu. ‘Just guzzling like this will make us drunk in no time without giving us any real enjoyment. I’ve got a good new drinking-game for you. Let me first drink the M.C.’s starting-cup, and I’ll tell you the rules. After that, anyone who doesn’t toe the line will be made to drink ten Sconce-cups straight off as a forfeit, give up his seat at the party, and spend the rest of the time pouring out drinks for the rest of us.’
Feng Zi-ying and Jiang Yu-han agreed enthusiastically, and Bao-yu picked up one of the extra large cups that had now been provided and drained its contents at a single draught.
‘Now,’ he said. ‘We’re going to take four words — let’s say “upset”, “glum”, “blest” and “content”. You have to begin by saying “The girl is —”, and then you say one of the four words. That’s your first line. The next line has to rhyme with the first line and it has to give the reason why the girl is whatever it says — “upset or glum” or “blest” or content. When you’ve done all four, you’re entitled to drink the wine in front of you. Only, before drinking it, you’ve first got to sing some new popular song; and after you’ve drunk it, you’ve got to choose some animal or vegetable object from the things in front of us and recite a line from a well-known poem, or an old couplet, or a quotation from the classics—’
Before he could finish, Xue Pan was on his feet, protesting vigorously:
‘You can count me out of this. I’m taking no part in this. This is just to make a fool of me, isn’t it?’
Nuageuse, too, stood up and attempted to push him back into his seat:
‘What are you so afraid of, a practiced drinker like you? You can’t be any worse at this sort of thing than I am, and I’m going to have a go when my turn comes. If you do it all right, you’ve got nothing to worry about, and even if you can’t, you’ll only be made to drink a few cups of wine; whereas if you refuse to follow the rules at the very outset, you’ll have to drink ten sconces straight off in a row and then be thrown out of the party and made to pour drinks for the rest of us.’
‘Bravo!’ cried the others, clapping; and Xue Pan, seeing them united against him, subsided.
Bao-yu now began his own turn:

‘The girl’s upset:
The years pass by, but no one’s claimed her yet.
The girl looks glum:
Her true-love’s gone to follow ambition’s drum.
The girl feels blest:
The mirror shows her looks are at their best.
The girl’s content:
Long summer days in pleasant pastimes spent.’

The others all applauded, except Xue Pan, who shook his head disapprovingly:
‘No good, no good!’ he said. ‘Pay the forfeit.’
‘Why, what’s wrong with it?’ they asked him.
‘I couldn’t understand a word of it.’
Nuageuse gave him a pinch:
‘Keep quiet and try to think what you’re going to say,’ she advised him; ‘otherwise you’ll have nothing ready when your own turn comes and you’ll have to pay the forfeit yourself.’
Thereupon she picked up her lute and accompanied Bao-yu as he sang the following song:

‘Still weeping tears of blood about our separation:
Little red love-beans of my desolation.
Still blooming flowers I see outside my window growing.
Still awake in the dark I hear the wind a-blowing.
Still oh still I can’t forget those old hopes and fears.
Still can’t swallow food and drink, ’cos I’m choked with tears.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, tell me it’s not true:
Do I look so thin and pale, do I look so blue?
Mirror, mirror, this long night bow shall I get through?
Blue as the mist upon the distant mountains,
Blue as the water in the ever-flowing fountains.’

General applause — except from Xue Pan, who objected that there was ‘no rhythm’.
Bao-yu now drank his well-earned cup — the ‘pass cup’ as they call it — and, picking up a slice of pear from the table, concluded his turn with the following quotation:

‘Rain whips the pear-tree, shut fast the door.’
Now it was Feng Zi-ying’s turn:
‘The girl’s upset:
Her husband’s ill and she’s in debt.
The girl looks glum:
The gale has turned her room into a slum.
The girl feels blest:
She’s got twin babies at the breast.
The girl’s content:
Waiting a certain pleasurable event.’
Next, holding up his cupful of wine in readiness to drink, he sang this song:
‘You’re so exciting,
And so inviting;
You’re my Mary Contrary;
You’re a crazy, mad thing.
You’re my goddess, but oh I you’re deaf to my praying:
Why won’t you listen to what I am saying?
If you don’t believe me, make a small investigation:
You will soon find out the true depth of my admiration.’

Then he drained his bumper and, picking up a piece of chicken from one of the dishes, ended the performance, prior to popping it into his mouth, with a line from Wen Ting-yun:

‘From moonlit cot the cry of chanticleer.’
Next it was the turn of Nuageuse:
‘The girl’s upset:’
she began,
‘Not knowing how the future’s to be met—’

Xue Pan laughed noisily.
‘That’s all right, my darling, don’t you worry! Your Uncle Xue will take care of you.’
‘Shush!’ said the others. ‘Don’t confuse her.’
She continued:

‘The girl looks glum:
Nothing but blows and hard words from her Mum— ’

‘I saw that Mum of yours the other day,’ said Xue Pan, ‘and I particularly told her that she wasn’t to beat you.’
‘Another word from you,’ said the others, ‘and you’ll be made to drink ten cups as a punishment.’
Xue Pan gave his own face a slap.
‘Sorry! I forgot. Won’t do it again.’

‘The girl feels blest:’
said Nuageuse,
‘Her young man’s rich and beautifully dressed.
The girl’s content:
She’s been performing in a big event.’

Next Nuageuse sang her song:

‘A flower began to open in the month of May.
Along came a honey-bee to sport and play.
He pushed and he squeezed to get inside,
But he couldn’t get in however hard he tried.
So on the flower’s lip he just hung around,
A-playing the see-saw up and down.
Oh my honey-sweet,
Oh my sweets of sin,
If I don’t open up,
How will you get in?’

After drinking her ‘pass cup’; she picked up a peach:

‘So bonny blooms the peach-tree-o?’

It was now Xue Pan’s turn.
‘Ah yes, now, let’s see! I have to say something now, don’t I?’
‘The girl’s upset—’
But nothing followed.
‘All night, what’s she upset about then?’ said Feng Zi-ying with a laugh. ‘Buck up!’
Xue Pan appeared to be engaged in a species of mental effort so frightful that his eyes seemed about to pop out of his head. After glaring fixedly for an unconscionable time, he said:
‘The girl’s upset—’
He coughed a couple of times. Then at last it came:

‘The girl’s upset:
She’s married to a marmoset.’

The others greeted this with a roar of laughter.
‘What are you laughing at?’ said Xue Pan. ‘That’s perfectly reasonable, isn’t it? If a girl was expecting a proper husband and he turned out to be one of them, she’d have cause to be upset, wouldn’t she?’
His audience were by now doubled up.
‘That’s perfectly true,’ they conceded. ‘Very good. Now what about the next bit?’
Xue Pan glared a while very concentratedly, then:

‘The girl looks glum—’

But after that was silence.
‘Come on!’ said the others. ‘Why was she glum?’

‘His dad’s a baboon with a big red bum.’

‘Ho! Ho! Ho! Pay the forfeit,’ they cried. ‘The first one was bad enough. We really can’t let this one go.’
The more officious of them even began filling the sconce-cups for him. But Bao-yu allowed the line.
‘As long as it rhymes,’ he said, ‘we’ll let it pass.’
‘There you are! ‘ said Xue Pan. ‘The M.C. says it’s all right. What are the rest of you making such a fuss about?’
At this the others desisted.
‘The next two are even harder,’ said Nuageuse. ‘Shall I do them for you, dear?’
‘Piss off!’ said Xue Pan. ‘D’you think I haven’t got any good lines of my own? Listen to this:

The girl feels blest:
In bridal bower she takes her rest.’

The others stared at him in amazement:
‘I say, old chap, that’s a bit poetical for you, isn’t it?’ Xue Pan continued unconcernedly:

‘The girls content:
She’s got a big prick up her vent.’

The others looked away with expressions of disgust.
‘Oh dear, oh dear! Hurry up and get on with the song, then.’

‘One little gnat went hum hum hum,’

Xue Pan began tunelessly. The others looked at him open-mouthed:
‘What sort of song is that?’
Xue Pan droned on, ignoring the question:

‘Two little flies went bum bum bum,
Three little —’

Stop!’ shouted the others.
‘Sod you lot!’ said Xue Pan. ‘This is the very latest new hit. It’s called the Hum-bum Song. If you can’t be bothered to listen to it, you’ll have to let me off the other thing. I’ll agree not to sing the rest of the song on that condition.’
‘Yes, yes, we’ll let you off,’ they said. ‘Just don’t interfere with the rest of us, that’s all we ask.’
This meant that it was now Jiang Yu-han’s turn to perform. This is what he said:
‘The girl’s upset:
Her man’s away, she fears he will forget.
The girl looks glum:
So short of cash she can’t afford a crumb.
The girl feels blest:
Her lampwick’s got a lucky crest.
The girl’s content:
She’s married to a perfect gent.’

Then he sang this song:

‘A mischievous bundle of charm and love,
Or an angel come down from the skies above?
Sweet sixteen
And so very green,
Yet eager to see all there is to be seen.
Aie aie aie
The galaxy’s high
In the roof of the sky,
And the drum from the tower
Sounds the midnight hour,
So trim the lamp, love, and come with me
Inside the bed-curtains, and you shall see!’

He raised the pass cup to his lips, but before drinking it, smiled round at his auditors and made this little speech:
‘I’m afraid my knowledge of poetry is strictly limited. However, I happened to see a couplet on someone’s wall yesterday which has stuck in my mind; and as one line in it is about something I can see here, I shall use it to finish my turn with.’
So saying, he drained the cup and then, picking up a spray of cassia, recited the following line:

‘The flowers’ aroma breathes of hotter days.’

The others all accepted this as a satisfactory conclusion of the performance. Not so Xue Pan, however, who leaped to his feet and began protesting noisily:
‘Terrible! Pay the forfeit. Where’s the little doll? I can’t see any doll on the table.’
‘I didn’t say anything about a doll,’ said Jiang Yu-han.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Come on, don’t try to wriggle out of it!’ said Xue Pan. ‘Say what you said just now again.’

‘The flowers’ aroma breathes of hotter days.’

‘There you are!’ said Xue Pan.’ “Aroma”. That’s the name of a little doll. Ask him if you don’t believe me.’ He pointed to Bao-yu.
Bao-yu looked embarrassed.
‘Cousin Xue, this time I think you do have to pay the forfeit.’
‘All right, all right!’ said Xue Pan. ‘I’ll drink.’
And he picked up the wine in front of him and drained it at a gulp.
Feng Zi-ying and Jiang Yu-han were still puzzled and asked him what this was all about. But it was Nuageuse who explained. Immediately Jiang Yu-han was on his feet apologiz?ing. The others reassured him.
‘It’s not your fault. “Ignorance excuses all”,’ they said.
Shortly after this Bao-yu had to take temporary leave of the company to ease his bladder and Jiang Yu-han followed him outside. As the two of them stood side by side under the eaves, Jiang Yu-han once more offered Bao-yu his apologies. Much taken with the actor’s winsome looks and gentleness of man?ner, Bao-yu impulsively took his hand and gave it a squeeze.
‘Do come round to our place some time when you are free,’ he said. ‘There’s something I want to ask you about. You have an actor in your company called “Bijou” whom everyone is talking about lately. I should so much like to meet him, but so far I haven’t had an opportunity.’
‘That’s me!’ said Jiang Yu-han. “Bijou” is my stage name.’
Bao-yu stamped with delight.
‘But this is wonderful! I must say, you fully deserve your reputation. Oh dear! What am I going to do about a First Meeting present?’
He thought for a bit, then took a fan from his sleeve and broke off its jade pendant.
‘Here you are,’ he said, handing it to Bijou. ‘It’s not much of a present, I’m afraid, but it will do to remind you of our meeting.’
Bijou smiled and accepted it ceremoniously:
‘I have done nothing to deserve this favour. It is too great an honour. Well, thank you. There’s rather an unusual thing I’m wearing I put it on today for the first time, so it’s still fairly new: I wonder if you will allow me to give it to you as a token of my warm feelings towards you?’
He opened up his gown, undid the crimson cummerbund with which his trousers were fastened, and handed it to Bao?-yu.
‘It comes from the tribute sent by the Queen of the Madder Islands. It’s for wearing in summer. It makes you smell nice and it doesn’t show perspiration stains. I was given it yester?day by the Prince of Beijing, and today is the first time it s ever been worn. I wouldn’t give a thing like this to anyone else, but I’d like you to have it. Will you take your own sash off, please, so that I can put it on instead?’
Bao-yu received the crimson cummerbund with delight and quickly took off his own viridian-coloured sash to give to Bijou in exchange. They had just finished fastening the sashes on again when Xue Pan jumped out from behind and seized hold of them both.
‘What are you two up to, leaving the party and sneaking off like this?’ he said. ‘Come on, take ‘em out again and let’s have a look!’
It was useless for them to protest that the situation was not what he imagined. Xue Pan continued to force his unwelcome attentions upon them until Feng Zi-ying came out and rescued them. After that they returned to the party and continued drinking until the evening.
Back in his own apartment in the Garden, Bao-yu took off his outer clothes and relaxed with a cup of tea. While he did so, Aroma noticed that the pendant of his fan was missing and asked him what had become of it. Bao-yu told her that it had come off while he was riding, and she gave the matter no more thought. But later, when he was going to bed, she saw the magnificent blood-red sash round his waist and began to put two and two together.
‘Since you’ve got a better sash now,’ she said, ‘do you think I could have mine back, please?’
Bao-yu remembered, too late, that the viridian sash had been Aroma’s and that he ought never to have given it away. He now very much regretted having done so, but instead of apologizing, attempted to pass it off with a laugh.
‘I’ll get you another,’ he told her lightly.
Aroma shook her head and sighed.
‘I knew you still got up to these tricks,’ she said, ‘but at least you might refrain from giving my things to those disgusting creatures. I’m surprised you haven’t got more sense.’
She was going to say more, but checked herself for fear of provoking an explosion while he was in his cups. And since there was nothing else she could do, she went to bed.
She awoke at first daylight next morning to find Bao-yu smiling down at her:
‘We might have been burgled last night for all you’d have known about it — Look at your trousers!’
Looking down, Aroma saw the sash that Bao-yu had been wearing yesterday tied round her own waist, and knew that he must have exchanged it for hers during the night. She tore it off impatiently.
‘I don’t want the horrible thing. The sooner you take it away the better.’
Bao-yu was anxious that she should keep it, and after a great deal of coaxing she consented, very reluctantly, to tie it on again. But she took it off once and for all as soon as he was out of the room and threw it into an empty chest, having first found another one of her own to put on in its place.
Bao-yu made no comment on the change when they were together again. He merely inquired whether anything had happened the day before, while he was out.
‘Mrs Lian sent someone round to fetch Crimson,’ said Aroma. ‘She wanted to wait for you; but it seemed to me that it wasn’t all that important, so I took it on myself to send her off straight away.’
‘Quite right,’ said Bao-yu. ‘I already knew about it. There was no need to wait till I got back.’
Aroma continued:
‘Her Grace sent that Mr Xia of the Imperial Bedchamber yesterday with a hundred and twenty taels of silver to pay for a three-day Pro Viventibus by the Taoists of the Lunar Queen temple starting on the first of next month. There are to be plays performed as part of the Offering; and Mr Zhen and all the other gentlemen are to go there to burn incense. Oh, and Her Grace’s presents for the Double Fifth have arrived.’
She ordered a little maid to get out Bao-yu’s share of the things sent. There were two Palace fans of exquisite workmanship, two strings of red musk-scented medicine-beads, two lengths of maidenhair chiffon and a grass-woven ‘lotus’ mat to lie on in the hot weather.
‘Did the others all get the same?’ he asked.
‘Her Old Ladyship’s presents were the same as yours with the addition of a perfume-sceptre and an agate head-rest, and Sir Zheng’s, Lady Wang’s and Mrs Xue’s were the same as Her Old Ladyship’s but without the head-rest; Miss Bao’s were exactly the same as yours; Miss Lin, Miss Ying-chun, Miss Tan-chun and Miss Xi-chun got only the fans and the beads; and Mrs Zhu and Mrs Lian both got two lengths of gauze, two lengths of chiffon, two perfume sachets and two moulded medicine-cakes.’
‘Funny!’ said Bao-yu. ‘I wonder why Miss Lin didn’t get the same as me and why only Miss Bao’s and mine were the same. There must have been some mistake, surely?’
‘When they unpacked them yesterday, the separate lots were all labelled,’ said Aroma. ‘I don’t see how there could have been any mistake. Your share was in Her Old Ladyship’s room and I went round there to get it for you. Her Old Lady?ship says she wants you to go to Court at four o’clock tomor?row morning to give thanks.’
‘Yes, of course,’ said Bao-yu inattentively, and gave Ripple instructions to take his presents round to Dai-yu:
‘Tell Miss Lin that I got these things yesterday and that if there’s anything there she fancies, I should like her to keep it.’
Ripple went off with the presents. She was back in a very short time, however.
‘Miss Lin says she got some yesterday too, and will you please keep these for yourself.’
Bao-yu told her to put them away. As soon as he had washed, he left to pay his morning call on Grandmother Jia; but just as he was going out he saw Dai-yu coming towards him and hurried forward to meet her.
‘Why didn’t you choose anything from the things I sent you?’
Yesterday’s resentments were now quite forgotten; today Dai-yu had fresh matter to occupy her mind.
‘I’m not equal to the honour,’ she said. ‘You forget, I’m not in the gold and jade class like you and your Cousin Bao. I’m only a common little wall-flower!’
The reference to gold and jade immediately aroused Bao?-yu’s suspicions.
‘I don’t know what anyone else may have been saying on the subject,’ he said, ‘but if any such thought ever so much as crossed my mind, may Heaven strike me dead, and may I never be reborn as a human being!’
Seeing him genuinely bewildered, Dai-yu smiled in what was meant to be a reassuring manner.
‘I wish you wouldn’t make these horrible oaths. It’s so dis?agreeable. Who cares about your silly old “gold and jade”, anyway?’
‘It’s hard to make you see what is in my heart,’ said Bao-yu. ‘One day perhaps you will know. But I can tell you this. My heart has room for four people only. Grannie and my parents are three of them and Cousin Dai is the fourth. I swear to you there isn’t a fifth.’
‘There’s no need for you to swear,’ said Dai-yu. ‘I know very well that Cousin Dai has a place in your heart. The trouble is that as soon as Cousin Chai comes along, Cousin Dai gets forgotten.’
‘You imagine these things,’ said Bao-yu. ‘It really isn’t as you say.’
‘Yesterday when Little Miss Bao wouldn’t tell lies for you, why did you turn to me and expect me to? How would you like it if I did that sort of thing to you?’
Bao-chai happened to come along while they were still talk?ing and the two of them moved aside to avoid her. Bao-chai saw this clearly, but pretended not to notice and hurried by with lowered eyes. She went and sat with Lady Wang for a while and from there went on to Grandmother Jia’s. Bao-yu was already at his grandmother’s when she got there.
Bao-chai had on more than one occasion heard her mother telling Lady Wang and other people that the golden locket she wore had been given her by a monk, who had insisted that when she grew up the person she married must be someone who had ‘a jade to match the gold’. This was one of the reasons why she tended to keep aloof from Bao-yu. The slight embarrassment she always felt as a result of her mother’s chat?ter had yesterday been greatly intensified when Yuan-chun singled her out as the only girl to receive the same selection of presents as Bao-yu. She was relieved to think that Bao-yu, so wrapped up in Dai-yu that his thoughts were only of her, was unaware of her embarrassment.
But now here was Bao-yu smiling at her with sudden interest.
‘Cousin Bao, may I have a look at your medicine-beads?’
She happened to be wearing one of the little chaplets on her left wrist and began to pull it off now in obedience to his re?quest. But Bao-chai was inclined to plumpness and perspired easily, and for a moment or two it would not come off. While she was struggling with it, Bao-yu had ample opportunity to observe her snow-white arm, and a feeling rather warmer than admiration was kindled inside him.
‘If that arm were growing on Cousin Lin’s body,’ he specu?lated, ‘I might hope one day to touch it. What a pity it’s hers! Now I shall never have that good fortune.’
Suddenly he thought of the curious coincidence of the gold and jade talismans and their matching inscriptions, which Dai-yu’s remark had reminded him of. He looked again at Bao-chai—

that face like the full moon’s argent bowl;
those eyes like sloes;
those lips whose carmine hue no Art contrived;
and brows by none but Nature’s pencil lined.

This was beauty of quite a different order from Dai-yu’s. Fas?cinated by it, he continued to stare at her with a somewhat dazed expression, so that when she handed him the chaplet, which she had now succeeded in getting off her wrist, he failed to take it from her.
Seeing that he had gone off into one of his trances, Bao-chai threw down the chaplet in embarrassment and turned to go. But Dai-yu was standing on the threshold, biting a corner of her handkerchief, convulsed with silent laughter.
‘I thought you were so delicate,’ said Bao-chai. ‘What are you standing there in the draught for?’
‘I’ve been in the room all the time,’ said Dai-yu. ‘I just this moment went to have a look outside because I heard the sound of something in the sky. It was a gawping goose.’
‘Where?’ said Bao-chai. ‘Let me have a look.’
‘Oh,’ said Dai-yu, ‘as soon as I went outside he flew away with a whir-r-r-’
She flicked her long handkerchief as she said this in the direction of Bao-yu’s face.
‘Ow!’ he exclaimed — She had flicked him in the eye.
The extent of the damage will be examined in the following chapter.

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