The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 29

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CHAPTER 29

In which the greatly blessed pray for yet greater blessings
And the highly strung rise to new heights of passion

WE told in the last chapter how, as Bao-yu was standing lost in one of his trances, Dai-yu flicked her handkerchief at him and made him jump by inadvertently catching him in the eye with it.
‘Who did that?’ he asked.
Dai-yu laughingly shook her head.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. Bao-chai wanted to look at a gawping goose, and I accidentally flicked you while I was showing her how it went.’
Bao-yu rubbed his eye. He appeared to be about to say something, but then thought better of it.
And so the matter passed.

*

Shortly after this incident Xi-feng arrived and began talking about the arrangements that had been made for the purification ceremonies, due to begin on the first of next month at the Taoist temple of the Lunar Goddess. She invited Bao-?chai, Bao-yu and Dai-yu to go with her there to watch the plays.
‘Oh no!’ said Bao-chai. ‘It’s too hot. Even if they were to do something we haven’t seen before — which isn’t likely — I think I should still not want to go.’
‘But it’s cool there,’ said Xi-feng. ‘There are upstairs gal?leries on all three sides that you can watch from in the shade. And if we go, I shall send someone a day or two in advance to turn the Taoists out of that part of the temple and make it nice and clean for us and get them to put up blinds. And I’ll ask them not to let any other visitors in on that day. I’ve already told Lady Wang I’m going, so if you others won’t come with me, I shall go by myself. I’m so bored lately. And it’s such a business when we put on our own plays at home, that I can never enjoy them properly.’
‘All right then, I’ll come,’ said Grandmother Jia, who had been listening.
‘You’ll come, Grannie? Well that’s splendid, isn’t it! That means it will be just as bad for me as it would be if I were watching here at home.’
‘Now look here,’ said Grandmother Jia, ‘I shan’t want you to stand and wait on me. Let me take the gallery facing the stage and you can have one of the side galleries all to yourself; then you can sit down and enjoy yourself in comfort.’
Xi-feng was touched.
‘Do come!’ Grandmother Jia said to Bao-chai. ‘I’ll see that your mother comes too. The days are so long now, and there’s nothing to do at home except go to sleep.’
Bao-chai had to promise that she would go.
Grandmother Jia now sent someone to invite Aunt Xue. The messenger was to call in on the way at Lady Wang’s and ask her if the girls might go as well.
Lady Wang had already made it clear that she would not be going herself, partly because she was not feeling very well, and partly because she wanted to be at home in case any further messages arrived from Yuan-chun; but when she learned of Grandmother Jia’s enthusiasm, she had word carried into the Garden that not just the girls but anyone else who wanted to might go along with Grandmother Jia’s party on the first.
When this exciting news had been transmitted throughout the Garden, the maids some of whom hardly set foot outside their own courtyards from one year’s end to the next were all dying to go, and those whose mistresses showed a lethargic disinclination to accept employed a hundred different wiles to make sure that they did so. The result was that in the end all the Garden’s inhabitants said that they would be going. Grandmother Jia was quite elated and at once issued orders for the cleaning and preparation of the temple theatre.
But these are details with which we need not concern our?selves.
On the morning of the first sedans, carriages, horses and people filled all the roadway outside Rong-guo House. The stewards in charge knew that the occasion of this outing was a Pro Viventibus ordered by Her Grace the Imperial Concubine and that Her Old Ladyship was going in person to burn incense — quite apart from the fact that this was the first day of the month and the first day of the Summer Festival; con?sequently the turnout was as splendid as they could make it and far exceeded anything that had been seen on previous occasions.
Presently Grandmother Jia appeared, seated, in solitary splendour, in a large palanquin carried by eight bearers. Li Wan, Xi-feng and Aunt Xue followed, each in a palanquin with four bearers. After them came Bao-chai and Dai-yu sharing a carriage with a splendid turquoise-coloured canopy trimmed with pearls. The carriage after them, in which Ying-chun, Tan-chun and Xi-chun sat, had vermilion-painted wheels and was shaded with a large embroidered umbrella. After them rode Grandmother Jia’s maids, Faithful, Parrot, Amber and Pearl; after them Lin Dai-yu’s maids, Nightingale, Snowgoose and Delicate; then Bao-chai’s maids, Oriole and Apricot; then Ying-chun’s maids, Chess and Tangerine; then Tan-chun’s maids, Scribe and Ebony; then Xi-chun’s maids, Picture and Landscape; then Aunt Xue’s maids, Providence and Prosper, sharing a carriage with Caltrop and Caltrop’s own maid, Advent; then Li Wan’s maids, Candida and Casta; then Xi-feng’s own maids, Patience, Felicity and Crimson, with two of Lady Wang’s maids, Golden and Suncloud, whom Xi-feng had agreed to take with her, in the carriage behind. In the carriage after them sat another couple of maids and a nurse holding Xi-feng’s little girl. Yet more carriages followed carrying the nannies and old women from the various apart?ments and the women whose duty it was to act as duennas when the ladies of the household went out of doors. The street was packed with carriages as far as the eye could see in either direction, and Grandmother Jia’s palanquin was well on the way to the temple before the last passengers in the rear had finished taking their places. A confused hubbub of laughter and chatter rose from the line of carriages while they were doing so, punctuated by an occasional louder and more dis?tinctly audible protest, such as:
‘I’m not sitting next to you!’
or,
‘You’re squashing the Mistress’s bundle!’
or,
‘Look, you’ve trodden on my spray!’
or,
‘You’ve ruined my fan, clumsy!’
Zhou Rui’s wife walked up and down calling for some order:
‘Girls! Girls! You’re out in the street now, where people can see you. A little behaviour, please!’
She had to do this several times before the clamour sub?sided somewhat.
The footmen and insignia-bearers at the front of the proces?sion had now reached the temple, and as the files of their column opened out to range themselves on either side of the gateway, the onlookers lining the sides of the street were able to see Bao-yu on a splendidly caparisoned white horse riding at the head of the procession immediately in front of his grandmother’s great palanquin with its eight bearers. As Grandmother Jia and her party approached the temple, there was a crash of drums and cymbals from the roadside. It was the Taoists of the temple come out to welcome them, with old Abbot Zhang at their head, resplendent in cope and vestments and with a burning joss-stick in his hand.
The palanquin passed through the gateway and into the first courtyard. From her seat inside it Grandmother Jia could see the terrifying painted images of the temple guardians, one on each side of the inner gate, flanked by that equally ferocious pair, Thousand League Eye with his blue face and Favourable Wind Ear with his green one, and farther on, the benigner forms of the City God and the little Local Gods. She ordered the bearers to halt, and Cousin Zhen at the head of the younger male members of the clan came forward from the inner court?yard to meet her.
Xi-feng, whose palanquin was nearest to Grandmother Jia’s, realized that Faithful and the other maids were too far back in the procession to be able to reach the old lady in time to help her out, and hurried forward to perform this service herself. Unfortunately a little eleven- or twelve-year-old acolyte, who had been going round with a pair of snuffers trimming the wicks of the numerous candles that were burning everywhere and whom the arrival of the procession had caught unawares, chose this very moment to attempt a getaway and ran head-on into her. Out flew Xi-feng’s hand and dealt him a resounding smack on the face that sent him flying.
‘Clumsy brat!’ she shouted. ‘Look where you’re going!’
The little acolyte picked himself up and, leaving his snuffers where they had fallen, darted off in the direction of the gate. But by now Bao-chai and the other young ladies were getting down from their carriages and a phalanx of women-servants clustered all round them, making egress impossible. Seeing a little Taoist running towards them, the women began to scream and shout:
‘Catch him! Catch him! Hit him! Hit him!’
‘What is it?’ asked Grandmother Jia in alarm, hearing this hubbub behind her, and Cousin Zhen went forward to inves?tigate.
‘It’s one of the young acolytes,’ said Xi-feng as she helped the old lady from her conveyance. ‘He was snuffing the candles and didn’t get away in time and now he’s rushing around trying to find a way out.’
‘Bring him to me, poor little thing!’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘And don’t frighten him. These children from poorer families have generally been rather spoiled. You can’t expect them to stand up to great occasions like this. It would be a shame to frighten the poor little thing out of his wits. Think how upset his mother and father would be. Go on!’ she said to Cousin Zhen. ‘Go and fetch him yourself.’
Cousin Zhen was obliged to retrieve the little Taoist in per?son and led him by the hand to Grandmother Jia. The boy knelt down in front of her, the snuffers — now restored to him – clutched in one hand, trembling like a leaf. Grandmother Jia asked Cousin Zhen to raise him to his feet.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ she told the boy. ‘How old are you?’
But the little boy’s mouth was hurting him too badly to speak.
‘Poor little thing!’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘You’d better take him away, Zhen. Give him some money to buy sweeties with and tell the others that they are not to grumble at him.’
Cousin Zhen had to promise, and led the boy away, while the old lady led her party inside to begin a systematic tour of the shrines.
The pages in the outer courtyard, who had a moment before witnessed Grandmother Jia and her train trooping through the gateway that led into the inner courtyard, were surprised to see Cousin Zhen now emerging from it again with a little Taoist in tow. They heard him say that the boy was to be taken out and given a few hundred cash and that he was to be treated kindly. A few of them came forward and led the child away in obedience to his instructions.
Still standing at the top of the steps to the inner gate, Cousin Zhen inquired what had become of the stewards.
‘Steward! Steward!’ shouted the pages in unison, and al?most immediately Lin Zhi-xiao came running out from heaven knows where, adjusting his hat with one hand as he ran.
‘This is a big place,’ said Cousin Zhen when Lin Zhi-xiao was standing in front of him, ‘and we weren’t expecting so many here today. I want you to take all the people you need and stay here in this courtyard with them. Those you don’t need here can wait in the second courtyard. And pick some reliable boys to go on this gate and the two posterns to pass word through to those outside if those inside need anything. Do you understand? All the ladies are here today and I don’t want any outsiders to get in. Is that understood?’
‘Yes sir!’ said Lin Zhi-xiao. ‘Sir!’
‘Well get on with it!’ said Cousin Zhen. ‘Where’s Rong got to?’
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when Jia Rong came bounding out of the bell-tower, buttoning his jacket as he ran.
‘Look at him!’ said Cousin Zhen irately. ‘Enjoying him-self in the cool while I am roasting down here! Spit at him, someone.’
Long familiarity with Cousin Zhen’s temper had taught the boys that he would brook no opposition when roused. One of them obediently stepped forward and spat in Jia Rong’s face; then, as Cousin. Zhen continued to glare at him, he rebuked Jia Rong for presuming to be cool while his father was still sweating outside in the sun. Jia Rong was obliged to stand with his arms hanging submissively at his sides through?out this public humiliation, not daring to utter a word.
The other members of Jia Rong’s generation who were present — Jia Yun, Jia Ping, Jia Qin and the rest — were greatly alarmed by this outburst; indeed, even the clansmen of Cousin Zhen’s own generation — the Jia Bins and Jia Huangs and Jia Qiongs — were to be seen putting their hats on and slinking out, one by one, from the shadow of the walls.
‘What are you standing here for?’ said Cousin Zhen to Jia Rong. ‘Why don’t you get on your horse and go back home and tell your mother and that new wife of yours that Her Old Ladyship is here with all the Rong-guo girls. Tell them they must come here at once to wait on her.’
Jia Rong ran outside and began bawling impatiently for his horse. ‘What on earth can have got into him that he should suddenly have picked on me like that?’ he muttered to him?self resentfully; then, as his horse had still not arrived, he shouted angrily at the grooms:
‘Come on, bring that horse, damn you! Are your hands tied or something?’
He would have liked to send a boy in his place, but was afraid that if he did, his father would find out when he went back later to report; and so, when the horse arrived, he mounted and rode off home.
Cousin Zhen was about to turn and go in again when he discovered old Abbot Zhang at his elbow, smiling somewhat unnaturally.
‘Perhaps I don’t come in quite the same category as the others,’ said the old Taoist. ‘Perhaps I should be allowed in?side to wait on Her Old Ladyship. However. In this inclement heat, and with so many young ladies about, I shouldn’t like to presume. I will do whatever you say. I did just wonder whether Her Old Ladyship might ask for me, or whether she might require a guide to take her round the shrines…How?ever. Perhaps it would be best if I waited here.’
Cousin Zhen was aware that, though Abbot Zhang had started life a poor boy and entered the Taoist church as ‘proxy novice of Grandmother Jia’s late husband, a former Emperor had with his own Imperial lips conferred on him the title ‘Doctor Mysticus’, and he now held the seals of the Board of Commissioners of the Taoist Church, had been awarded the title ‘Doctor Serenissimus’ by the reigning sovereign, and was addressed as ‘Holiness’ by princes, dukes and governors of provinces. He was therefore not a man to be trifled with. Moreover he was constantly in and out of the two mansions and on familiar terms with most of the Jia ladies. Cousin Zhen at once became affable.
‘Oh, you’re one of the family, Papa Zhang, so let’s have no more of that kind of talk, or I’ll take you by that old beard of yours and give it a good pull. Come on, follow me!’
Abbot Zhang followed him inside, laughing delightedly.
Having found Grandmother Jia, Cousin Zhen ducked and smiled deferentially.
‘Papa Zhang has come to pay his respects, Grannie.’
‘Help him, then!’ said Grandmother Jia; and Cousin Zhen hurried back to where Abbot Zhang was waiting a few yards behind him and supported him by an elbow into her presence. The abbot prefaced his greeting with a good deal of jovial laughter.
‘Blessed Buddha of Boundless Life! And how has Your Old Ladyship been all this while? In rude good health, I trust? And Their Ladyships, and all the younger ladies? — also flourishing? It’s quite a while since I was at the mansion to call on Your Old Ladyship, but I declare you look more blooming than ever!’
‘And how are you, old Holy One?’ Grandmother Jia asked him with a pleased smile.
‘Thank Your Old Ladyship for asking. I still keep pretty fit. But never mind about that. What I want to know is, how’s our young hero been keeping, eh? We were celebrating the blessed Nativity of the Veiled King here on the twenty-sixth. Very select little gathering. Tasteful offerings. I thought our young friend might have enjoyed it; but when I sent round to invite him, they told me he was out.’
‘He really was out,’ said Grandmother Jia, and turned aside to summon the ‘young hero’; but Bao-yu had gone to the lavatory. He came hurrying forward presently.
‘Hallo, Papa Zhang! How are you?’
The old Taoist embraced him affectionately and returned his greeting.
‘He’s beginning to fill out,’ he said, addressing Grand?mother Jia.
‘He looks well enough on the outside,’ said Grandmother Jia, ‘but underneath he’s delicate. And his Pa doesn’t improve matters by forcing him to study all the time. I’m afraid he’ll end up by making the child ill.’
‘Lately I’ve been seeing calligraphy and poems of his in all kinds of places,’ said Abbot Zhang, ‘— all quite remarkably good. I really can’t understand why Sir Zheng is concerned that the boy doesn’t study enough. If you ask me, I think he’s all right as he is.’ He sighed. ‘Of course, you know who this young man reminds me of, don’t you? Whether it’s his looks or the way he talks or the way he moves, to me he’s the spit and image of Old Sir Jia.’
The old man’s eyes grew moist, and Grandmother Jia her?self showed a disposition to be tearful.
‘It’s quite true,’ she said. ‘None of our children or our children’s children turned out like him, except my Bao. Only my little Jade Boy is like his grandfather.’
‘Of course, your generation wouldn’t remember Old Sir Jia,’ Abbot Zhang said, turning to Cousin Zhen. ‘It’s before your time. In fact, I don’t suppose even Sir She and Sir Zheng can have a very clear recollection of what their father was like in his prime.’
He brightened as another topic occurred to him and once more quaked with laughter.
‘I saw a most attractive young lady when I was out visiting the other day. Fourteen this year. Seeing her put me in mind of our young friend here. It must be about time we started thinking about a match for him, surely? In looks, intelligence, breeding, background this girl was ideally suited. What does Your Old Ladyship feel? I didn’t want to rush matters. I thought I’d better first wait and see what Your Old Ladyship thought before saying anything to the family.’
‘A monk who once told the boy’s fortune said that he was not to marry young,’ said Grandmother Jia; ‘so I think we had better wait until he is a little older before we arrange any?thing definite. But do by all means go on inquiring for us. It doesn’t matter whether the family is wealthy or not; as long as the girl looks all right, you can let me know. Even if it’s a poor family, we can always help out over the expenses. Money is no problem. It’s looks and character that count.’
‘Now come on, Papa Zhang!’ said Xi-feng when this exchange had ended. Where’s that new amulet for my little girl? You had the nerve to send someone round the other day for gosling satin, and of course, as we didn’t want to embar?rass the old man by refusing, we had to send you some. So now what about that amulet?’
Abbot Zhang once more quaked with laughter.
‘Ho! ho! ho! You can tell how bad my eyes are getting; I didn’t even see you there, dear lady, or I should have thanked you for the satin. Yes, the amulet has been ready for some time. I was going to send it to you two days ago, but then Her Grace unexpectedly asked us for this Pro Viventibus and I stupidly forgot all about it. It’s still on the high altar being sanctified. I’ll go and get it for you.’
He went off, surprisingly nimbly, to the main hall of the temple and returned after a short while carrying the amulet on a little tea-tray, using a red satin book-wrap as a tray-cloth. Baby’s nurse took the amulet from him, and he was just about to receive the little girl from her arms when he caught sight of Xi-feng laughing at him mockingly.
‘Why didn’t you bring it in your hand?’ she asked him.
‘The hands get so sweaty in this weather,’ he said. ‘I thought a tray would be more hygienic.’
‘You gave me quite a fright when I saw you coming in with that tray,’ said Xi-feng. ‘I thought for one moment you were going to take up a collection!’
There was a loud burst of laughter from the assembled company. Even Cousin Zhen was unable to restrain himself.
‘Monkey! Monkey!’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘Aren’t you afraid of going to the Hell of Scoffers when you die and hav?ing your tongue cut out?’
‘Oh, Papa and I say what we like to each other,’ said Xi-feng. ‘He’s always telling me I must “acquire merit” and threatening me with a short life if I don’t pay up quickly. That’s right, isn’t it Papa?’
‘As a matter of fact I did have an ulterior motive in bringing this tray,’ said Abbot Zhang, laughing, ‘but it wasn’t in order to make a collection, I assure you. I wanted to ask this young gentleman here if he would be so very kind as to lend me the famous jade for a few minutes. The tray is for carrying it out?side on, so that my Taoist friends, some of whom have travelled long distances to be here, and my old students, and their students, all of whom are gathered here today, may have the privilege of examining it.’
‘My dear good man, in that case let the boy go with it round his neck and show it to them himself!’ said Grand?mother Jia. ‘No need for all this running to and fro with trays — at your age, too!’
‘Most kind! Most considerate! — But Your Old Ladyship is deceived,’ said the abbot. ‘I may look my eighty years, but I’m still hale and hearty. No, the point is that with so many of them here today and the weather so hot, the smell is sure to be somewhat overpowering. Our young friend here is cer?tainly not used to it. We shouldn’t want him to be overcome by the – ah – effluvia, should we?’
Hearing this, Grandmother Jia told Bao-yu to take off the Magic Jade and put it on the tray. Abbot Zhang draped the crimson cloth over his hands, grasped the tray between satin-covered thumbs and fingers, and, holding it like a sacred relic at eye level in front of him, conveyed it reverently from the courtyard.
Grandmother Jia and the others now continued their sight?seeing. They had finished with everything at ground level and were about to mount the stairs into the galleries when Cousin Zhen came up to report that Abbot Zhang had re?turned with the jade. He was followed by the smiling figure of the abbot, holding the tray in the same reverential manner as before.
‘Well, they’ve all seen the jade now,’ he said, ‘— and very grateful they were. They agreed that it really is a most remark?able object, and they regretted that they had nothing of value to show their appreciation with. Here you are! — this is the best they could do. These are all little Taoist trinkets they happened to have about them. Nothing very special, I’m afraid; but they’d like our young friend to keep them, either to amuse himself with or to give away to his friends.’
Grandmother Jia looked at the tray. It was covered with jewellery. There were golden crescents, jade thumb-rings and a lot of ‘motto’ jewellery — a tiny sceptre and persimmons with the rebus-meaning ‘success in all things’, a little quail and a vase with corn-stalks meaning ‘peace throughout the years’, and many other designs — all in gold — or jade — work, and much of it inlaid with pearls and precious stones. Altogether there must have been about forty pieces.
‘What have you been up to, you naughty old man?’ she said. ‘Those men are all poor priests – they can’t afford to give things like this away. You really shouldn’t have done this. We can’t possibly accept them.’
‘It was their own idea, I do assure you,’ said the abbot. ‘There was nothing I could do to stop them. If you refuse to take these things, I am afraid you will destroy my credit with these people. They will say that I cannot really have the connection with your honoured family that I have always claimed to have.’
After this Grandmother Jia could no longer decline. She told one of the servants to receive the tray.
‘We obviously can’t refuse, Grannie, after what Papa Zhang has just said,’ said Bao-yu; ‘but I really have no use for this stuff. Why not let one of the boys carry it outside for me and I’ll distribute it to the poor?’
‘I think that’s a very good idea,’ said Grandmother Jia.
But Abbot Zhang thought otherwise and hastily inter?vened:
‘I’m sure it does our young friend credit, this charitable impulse. However. Although these things are, as I said, of no especial value, they are — what shall I say — objects of virtù, and if you give them to the poor, in the first place the poor won’t have much use for them, and in the second place the objects themselves will get spoiled. If you want to give something to the poor, a largesse of money would, I suggest, be far more appropriate.’
‘Very well, look after this stuff for me, then,’ said Bao-yu to the servant, ‘and this evening you will distribute a largesse.’
This being now settled, Abbot Zhang withdrew, and Grandmother Jia and her party went up to the galleries. Grandmother Jia sat with Bao-yu and the girls in the gallery facing the stage and Xi-feng and Li Wan sat in the east gallery. The maids all sat in the west gallery and took it in turns to go off and wait on their mistresses.
Not long after they were all seated, Cousin Zhen came up?stairs to say that the gods had now chosen which plays were to be performed — by which was meant, of course, that the names had been shaken from a pot in front of the altar, since this was the only way in which the will of the gods could be known. The first play selected was The White Serpent.
‘What’s the story?’ said Grandmother Jia.
Cousin Zhen explained that it was about the emperor Gao-?zu, founder of the Han dynasty, who began his rise to great?ness by decapitating a monstrous white snake.
The second choice was A Heap of Honours, which shows the sixtieth birthday party of the great Tang general Guo Zi-yi, attended by his seven sons and eight sons-in-law, all of whom held high office, the ‘heap of honours’ of the title being a reference to the table in his reception-hall piled high with their insignia.
‘It seems a bit conceited to have this second one played,’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘Still, if that’s what the gods chose, I suppose we’d better have it. What’s the third one going to be?’
‘The South Branch,’ said Cousin Zhen.
Grandmother Jia was silent. She knew that The South Branch likens the world to an ant-heap and tells a tale of power and glory which turns out in the end to have been a dream.
Hearing no reply, Cousin Zhen went off downstairs again to see about the Offertory Scroll, which had to be ceremonially burnt in front of the holy images along with paper money and paper ingots before the theatrical performance could begin.
Our record omits any description of that ceremony and moves back to Bao-yu, who was sitting in the central gallery beside his grandmother, and who now called for a maid to bring the tray up so that he could put on his Magic Jade again. When he had done so, he began to pick over the other trinkets with which the tray was covered and to hand them one by one to Grandmother Jia for her inspection. Her atten?tion was taken by a little red-gold kylin with kingfisher-feather inlay. She stretched out her hand to take it.
‘Now where have I seen something like this before?’ she said. ‘I feel certain I’ve seen some girl wearing an ornament like this.’
‘Cousin Shi’s got one,’ said Bao-chai. ‘It’s the same as this one only a little smaller.’
‘Funny!’ said Bao-yu. ‘All the times she’s been to our house, I don’t remember ever having seen it.’
‘Cousin Ban is observant,’ said Tan-chun. ‘No matter what it is, she remembers everything.’
‘Well, perhaps not quite everything,’ said Dai-yu wryly. ‘But she’s certainly very observant where things like this are con?cerned.’
Bao-chai turned her head away and pretended not to have heard.
Now that he knew the kylin on the tray was like one that Shi Xiang-yun wore, Bao-yu hurriedly picked it up and thrust it inside his jacket. But no sooner had he done so than it occurred to him that his action might be misconstrued; so instead of dropping it into his inside pocket, he continued to hold it there, at the same time glancing about him furtively to see if he had been observed. None of the others seemed to have noticed except Dai-yu, who was staring at him fixedly and nodding her head in mock approval.
Bao-yu felt suddenly embarrassed. Drawing his hand out again with the ornament still in it, he returned her look and laughed sheepishly:
‘It’s rather nice, isn’t it? I thought I’d keep it for you,’ he said. ‘When we get home we can thread it on a ribbon and you’ll be able to wear it.’
Dai-yu tossed her head.
‘I don’t want it!’
‘If you don’t want it, I’ll keep it for myself, then,’ said Bao?-yu, and popped it once more inside his jacket.
He was about to add something, but just at that moment Cousin Zhen’s wife, You-shi, and his new daughter-in-law, Hu-shi, arrived and came upstairs to pay their respects to Grandmother Jia.
‘Now why have you come here? You really shouldn’t have bothered,’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘We only came to amuse ourselves. It isn’t a formal visit.’
No sooner had she said this than it was announced that representatives from General Feng’s household had arrived. It appeared that Feng Zi-ying’s mother, hearing that the Jia ladies were having a Pro Viventibus performed at the Taoist temple, had immediately prepared an offering of pork, mutton, incense, tea and cakes and sent it post-haste to the temple with her compliments. Xi-feng, hearing the announcement, came hurrying round to the central gallery. She clapped her hands and laughed.
‘Dear oh dear! This is something I hadn’t bargained for. My idea was a quiet little outing for us girls; but here is everyone sending offerings and behaving as if we’d come here for a high mass or something. It’s all your fault, Grannie! And we haven’t even got any vails ready to give to the beaters.’
Even as she said this, two stewardesses from the Feng house?hold were already mounting the stairs. And before ‘hey had gone, other messengers arrived with offerings from Vice-president Zhao’s lady. From then on it was a steady stream: friends, kinsmen, family connections, business associates – all who had heard that the Jia ladies were holding a Pro Viven?tibus sent their representatives along with offerings and com?plimentary messages. Grandmother Jia began to regret that she had ever come.
‘It isn’t as if we’d come here for the ceremony,’ she grumb?led. ‘We only wanted to enjoy ourselves. But all we seem to have done is to have stirred up a lot of fuss.’
Consequently, although she stayed and watched the plays for that day, she returned home fairly early in the afternoon and next day professed herself too lacking in energy to go again. Xi-feng reacted differently. ‘In for a penny, in for a pound’ was her motto. They had already had the fuss; and since the players were there anyway, they might as well go again today and enjoy themselves in peace.
For Bao-yu the whole of the previous day had been spoilt by Abbot Zhang’s proposal to Grandmother Jia to arrange a match for him. He came home in a thoroughly bad temper and kept telling everyone that he would ‘never see Abbot Zhang again as long as he lived’. Not associating his ill-humour with the abbot’s proposal, the others were mystified.
Grandmother Jia’s unwillingness was further reinforced by the fact that Dai-yu, since her return home yesterday, had been suffering from mild sunstroke. What with one thing and another, the old lady declined absolutely to go again, and Xi-?feng had to make up her own party and go by herself.
But Xi-feng’s play-going does not concern us.

*
Bao-yu, believing that Dai-yu’s sunstroke was serious and that she might even be in danger of her life, was so worried that he could not eat, and rushed round in the middle of the lunch-hour to see how she was. He found her neither as ill as he had feared nor as responsive as he might have hoped.
‘Why don’t you go and watch your plays?’ she asked him. ‘What are you mooning about at home for?’
Abbot Zhang’s recent attempt at match-making had profoundly distressed Bao-yu and he was shocked by her seeming indifference.
‘I can forgive the others for not understanding what has upset me,’ he thought; ‘but that she should want to trifle with me at a time like this…!’
The sense that she had failed him made the annoyance he now felt with her a hundred times greater than it had been on any previous occasion. Never could any other person have stirred him to such depths of atrabilious rage. Coming from other lips, her words would scarcely have touched him. Com?ing from hers, they put him in a passion. His face darkened.
‘It’s all along been a mistake, then,’ he said. ‘You’re not what I took you for.’
Dai-yu gave an unnatural little laugh.
‘Not what you took me for? That’s hardly surprising, is it? I haven’t got that little something which would have made me worthy of you.’
Bao-yu came tight up to her and held his face close to hers:
‘You do realize, don’t you, that you are deliberately willing my death?’
Dai-yu could not for the moment understand what he was talking about.
‘I swore an oath to you yesterday,’ he went on. ‘I said that I hoped Heaven might strike me dead if this “gold and jade” business meant anything to me. Since you have now brought it up again, it’s clear to me that you want me to die. Though what you hope to gain by my death I find it hard to imagine.’
Dai-yu now remembered what had passed between them on the previous day. She knew that she was wrong to have spoken as she did, and felt both ashamed and a little frightened. Her shoulders started shaking and she began to cry.
‘May Heaven strike me dead if I ever willed your death!’ she said. ‘But I don’t see what you have to get so worked up about. It’s only because of what Abbot Zhang said about arranging a match for you. You’re afraid he might interfere with your precious “gold and jade” plans; and because you’re angry about that, you have to come along and take it out on me — That’s all it is, isn’t it?’
Bao-yu had from early childhood manifested a streak of morbid sensibility, which being brought up in close proximity with a nature so closely in harmony with his own had done little to improve. Now that he had reached an age when both his experience and the reading of forbidden books had taught him something about ‘worldly matters’, he had begun to take a rather more grown-up interest in girls. But although there were plenty of young ladies of outstanding beauty and breed?ing among the Jia family’s numerous acquaintance, none of them, in his view, could remotely compare with Dai-yu. For some time now his feeling for her had been a very special one; but precisely because of this same morbid sensibility, he had shrunk from telling her about it. Instead, whenever he was feeling particularly happy or particularly cross, he would in?vent all sorts of ways of probing her to find out if this feeling for her was reciprocated. It was unfortunate for him that Dai-yu herself possessed a similar streak of morbid sensibility and disguised her real feelings, as he did his, while attempting to discover what he felt about her.
Here was a situation, then, in which both parties concealed their real emotions and assumed counterfeit ones in an en?deavour to find out what the real feelings of the other party were. And because when false meets false the truth will oft-times out, there was the constant possibility that the innumerable little frustrations that were engendered by all this concealment would eventually erupt into a quarrel.
Take the present instance. What Bao-yu was actually think?ing at this moment was something like this:
‘In my eyes and in my thoughts there is no one else but you. I can forgive the others for not knowing this, but surely you ought to realize? If at a time like this you can’t share my anxiety — if you can think of nothing better to do than provoke me with that sort of silly talk, it shows that the concern I feel for you every waking minute of the day is wasted: that you just don’t care about me at all.’
This was what he thought; but of course be didn’t say it. On her side Dai-yu’s thoughts were somewhat as follows:
‘I know you must care for me a little bit, and I’m sure you don’t take this ridiculous “gold and jade” talk seriously. But if you cared only for me and had absolutely no inclination at all in another direction, then every time I mentioned “gold and jade” you would behave quite naturally and let it pass almost as if you hadn’t noticed. How is it, then, that when I do refer to it you get so excited? It shows that it must be on your mind. You pretend to be upset in order to allay my suspicions.’
Meanwhile a quite different thought was running through Bao-yu’s mind.
‘I would do anything — absolutely anything,’ he was think?ing, ‘if only you would be nice to me. If you would be nice to me, I would gladly die for you this moment. It doesn’t really matter whether you know what I feel for you or not. Just be nice to me, then at least we shall be a little closer to each other, instead of so horribly far apart.’
At the same time Dai-yu was thinking:
‘Never mind me. Just be your own natural self. If yon were all right, I should be all right too. All these manoeuvrings to try and anticipate my feelings don’t bring us any closer to?gether; they merely draw us farther apart.’
The percipient reader will no doubt observe that these two young people were already of one mind, but that the com?plicated procedures by which they sought to draw together were in fact having precisely the opposite effect. Complacent reader! Permit us to remind you that your correct under?standing of the situation is due solely to the fact that we have been revealing to you the secret, innermost thoughts of those two young persons, which neither of them had so far ever felt able to express.
Let us now return from the contemplation of inner thoughts to the recording of outward appearances.
When Dai-yu, far from saying something nice to him, once more made reference to the ‘gold and jade’, Bao-yu became so choked with rage that for a moment he was quite literally bereft of speech. Frenziedly snatching the ‘Magic Jade’ from his neck and holding it by the end of its silken cord he gritted his teeth and dashed it against the floor with all the strength in his body.
‘Beastly thing!’ he shouted. ‘I’ll smash you to pieces and put an end to this once and for all.’
But the jade, being exceptionally hard and resistant, was not the tiniest bit damaged. Seeing that he had not broken it, Bao-yu began to look around for something to smash it with. Dai-yu, still crying, saw what he was going to do.
‘Why smash a dumb, lifeless object?’ she said. ‘If you want to smash something, let it be me.’
The sound of their quarrelling brought Nightingale and Snowgoose hurrying in to keep the peace. They found Bao-yu apparently bent on destroying his jade and tried to wrest it from him. Failing to do so, and sensing that the quarrel was of more than usual dimensions, they went off to fetch Aroma. Aroma came back with them as fast as she could run and eventually succeeded in prising the jade from his hand. He glared at her scornfully.
‘It’s my own thing I’m smashing,’ he said. ‘What business is it of yours to interfere?’
Aroma saw that his face was white with anger and his eyes wild and dangerous. Never had she seen him in so terrible a rage. She took him gently by the hand:
‘You shouldn’t smash the jade just because of a disagree?ment with your cousin,’ she said. ‘What do you think she would feel like and what sort of position would it put her in if you really were to break it?’
Dai-yu heard these words through her sobs. They struck a responsive chord in her breast, and she wept all the harder to think that even Aroma seemed to understand her better than Bao-yu did. So much emotion was too much for her weak stomach. Suddenly there was a horrible retching noise and up came the tisane of elsholtzia leaves she had taken only a short while before. Nightingale quickly held out her handkerchief to receive it and, while Snowgoose rubbed and pounded her back, Dai-yu continued to retch up wave upon wave of watery vomit, until the whole handkerchief was soaked with it.
‘However cross you may be, Miss, you ought to have more regard for your health,’ said Nightingale. ‘You’d only just taken that medicine and you were beginning to feel a little bit better for it, and now because of your argument with Master Bao you’ve gone and brought it all up again. Suppose you were to be really ill as a consequence. How do you think Master Bao would feel?’
When Bao-yu heard these words they struck a responsive chord in his breast, and he reflected bitterly that even Nightin?gale seemed to understand him better than Dai-yu But then he looked again at Dai-yu, who was sobbing and panting by turns, and whose red and swollen face was wet with perspira?tion and tears, and seeing how pitiably frail and ill she looked, his heart misgave him.
‘I shouldn’t have taken her up on that “gold and jade” business,’ he thought. ‘I’ve got her into this state and now there’s no way in which I can relieve her by sharing what she suffers.’ As he thought this, he, too, began to cry.
Now that Bao-yu and Dai-yu were both crying, Aroma instinctively drew towards her master to comfort him. A pang of pity for him passed through her and she squeezed his hand sympathetically. It was as cold as ice. She would have liked to tell him not to cry but hesitated, partly from the consideration that he might be suffering from some deep-concealed hurt which crying would do something to relieve, and partly from the fear that to do so in Dai-yu’s presence might seem pre?sumptuous. Torn between a desire to speak and fear of the possible consequences of speaking, she did what girls of her type often do when faced with a difficult decision: she avoided the necessity of making one by bursting into tears.
As for Nightingale, who had disposed of the handkerchief of vomited tisane and was now gently fanning her mistress with her fan, seeing the other three all standing there as quiet as mice with the tears streaming down their faces, she was so affected by the sight that she too started crying and was obliged to have recourse to a second handkerchief.
There the four of them stood, then, facing each other; all of them crying; none of them saying a word. It was Aroma who broke the silence with a strained and nervous laugh.
‘You ought not to quarrel with Miss Lin,’ she said to Bao-yu, ‘if only for the sake of this pretty cord she made you.’
At these words Dai-yu, ill as she was, darted forward, grabbed the jade from Aroma’s hand, and snatching up a pair of scissors that were lying nearby, began feverishly cutting at its silken cord with them. Before Aroma and Nightingale could stop her, she had already cut it into several pieces.
‘It was a waste of time making it,’ she sobbed. ‘He doesn’t really care for it. And there’s someone else who’ll no doubt make him a better one!’
‘What a shame!’ said Aroma, retrieving the jade. ‘It’s all my silly fault. I should have kept my mouth shut.’
‘Go on! Cut away!’ said Bao-yu. ‘I shan’t be wearing the wretched thing again anyway, so it doesn’t matter.’
Preoccupied with the quarrel, the four of them had failed to notice several old women, who had been drawn by the sound of it to investigate. Apprehensive, when they saw Dai?-yu hysterically weeping and vomiting and Bao-yu trying to smash his jade, of the dire consequences to be expected from a scene of such desperate passion, they had hurried off in a body to the front of the mansion to report the matter to Grandmother Jia and Lady Wang, hoping in this way to establish in advance that whatever the consequences might be, they were not responsible for them. From their precipitate entry and the grave tone of their announcement Grandmother Jia and Lady Wang assumed that some major catastrophe had befallen and hurried with them into the Garden to find out what it was.
Their arrival filled Aroma with alarm. ‘What did Nightin?gale want to go troubling Their Ladyships for?’ she thought crossly, supposing that the talebearer had been sent to them by Nightingale; while Nightingale for her part was angry with Aroma, thinking that the talebearer must have been one of Aroma’s minions.
Grandmother Jia and Lady Wang entered the room to find a silent Bao-yu and a silent Dai-yu, neither of whom, when questioned, would admit that anything at all was the matter. They therefore visited their wrath on the beads of the two unfortunate maids, insisting that it was entirely owing to their negligence that matters had got so much out of hand. Unable to defend themselves, the girls were obliged to endure a long and abusive dressing-down, after which Grandmother Jia concluded the affair by carrying Bao-yu off to her own apart?ment.
Next day, the third of the fifth month, was Xue Pan’s birthday and there was a family party with plays, to which the Jias were all invited. Bao-yu, who had still not seen Dai-yu since his outburst — which he now deeply regretted — was feeling far too dispirited to care about seeing plays, and declined to go on the ground that he was feeling unwell.
Dai-yu, though somewhat overcome on the day previous to this by the sultry weather, had by no means been seriously ill. Arguing that if she was not ill, it was impossible that he should be, she felt sure, when she heard of Bao-yu’s excuse, that it must be a false one.
‘He usually enjoys drinking and watching plays,’ she thought. ‘If he’s not going, it must be because he is still angry about yesterday; or if it isn’t that, it must be because he’s heard that I’m not going and doesn’t want to go without me. Oh! I should never have cut that cord! Now he won’t ever wear his jade again – unless I make him another cord to wear it on.’
So she, too, regretted the quarrel.
Grandmother Jia knew that Bao-yu and Dai-yu were angry with each other, but she had been assuming that they would see each other at the Xues’ party and make it up there. When neither of them turned up at it, she became seriously upset.
‘I’m a miserable old sinner,’ she grumbled. It must be my punishment for something I did wrong in a past life to have to live with a pair of such obstinate, addle-headed little geese! I’m sure there isn’t a day goes by without their giving me some fresh cause for anxiety. It must he fate. That’s what it says in the proverb, after all:
’Tis Fate brings foes and lo’es tegither.
I’ll be glad when I’ve drawn my last breath and closed my old eyes for the last time; then the two of them can snap and snarl at each other to their hearts’ content, for I shan’t be there to see it, and “what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve”. The Lord knows, it’s not my wish to drag on this wearisome life any longer!’
Amidst these muttered grumblings the old lady began to cry.
In due course her words were transmitted to Bao-yu and Dai-yu. It happened that neither of them had ever heard the saying
’Tis Fate brings foes and lo’es tegither,

and its impact on them, hearing it for the first time, was like that of a Zen ‘perception’ something to be meditated on with bowed head and savoured with a gush of tears. Though they had still not made it up since their quarrel, the difference between them had now vanished completely:

In Naiad’s House one to the wind made moan,
In Green Delights one to the moon complained,
to parody the well-known lines. Or, in homelier verses:

Though each was in a different place,
Their hearts in friendship beat as one.

On the second day after their quarrel Aroma deemed that the time was now ripe for urging a settlement.
‘Whatever the rights and wrongs of all this may be,’ she said to Bao-yu, ‘you are certainly the one who is most to blame. Whenever in the past you’ve heard about a quarrel between one of the pages and one of the girls, you’ve always said that the boy was a brute for not understanding the girl’s feelings better — yet here you are behaving in exactly the same way yourself! Tomorrow will be the Double Fifth. Her Old Ladyship will be really angry if the two of you are still at daggers drawn on the day of the festival, and that will make life difficult for all of us. Why not put your pride in your pocket and go and say you are sorry, so that we can all get back to normal again?’
But as to whether or not Bao-yu followed her advice, or, if he did so, what the effect of following it was – those ques?tions will be dealt with in the following chapter.

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