The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 31

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CHAPTER 31

A torn fan is the price of silver laughter
And a lost kylin is the clue to a happy marriage

A cold feat came over Aroma when she saw the fresh blood on the floor. She had often heard people say that if you spat blood when you were young, you would die early, or at the very least be an invalid all your life; and remembering this now, she felt all her bright, ambitious hopes for the future turn into dust and ashes. Tears of misery ran down her cheeks. The sight of them made Bao-yu, too, distressed.
‘What is it?’ he asked her.
‘It’s nothing.’ She forced herself to smile. ‘I’m all right.’
Bao-yu was all for calling one of the maids and getting her to heat some rice wine, so that Aroma could be given hot wine and Hainan kid’s-blood pills; but Aroma, smiling through her tears, caught at his hand to restrain him.
‘It’s all right for you to make a fuss,’ she said; ‘but if you go involving the others, they are sure to accuse me of putting on airs. And besides, it will do neither of us any good to draw attention to ourselves — especially when so far no one seems to have noticed anything. The sensible thing would be for you to send one of the boys round tomorrow to Dr Wang’s and get me some medicine to take. I shall probably be all right again after a few doses, without a single soul knowing anything about it. Surely that’s best, isn’t it?’
Bao-yu knew that she was right and abandoned his inten?tion of rousing the others. Instead he poured her a cup of tea from a pot on the table and gave it to her to rinse her mouth with. Aroma was uneasy about being waited on by her master; but fearing that if she refused his services he would insist on disturbing everybody, she lay back and allowed him to fuss over her.
As soon as it was daylight, Bao-yu threw on his clothes and, without even waiting to wash or comb, went out of the Gar?den to his study in the front part of the mansion, whither he summoned the doctor Wang Ji-ren for detailed questioning. When this worthy had elicited the information that the hae?morrhage inquired about had been caused by a blow, he seemed less disposed to take a serious view of the case, merely naming some pills and giving perfunctory instructions for taking them internally and for applying them in solution as a poultice. Bao-yu made a note of these instructions and went back into the Garden to carry them out.
But that is no part of our story.

*

It was now the festival of the Double Fifth. Sprays of calamus and artemisia crowned the doorways and everyone wore tiger amulets fastened on their clothing at the back. At noon Lady Wang gave a little party at which Aunt Xue and Bao-chai were the guests.
Bao-yu, finding Bao-chai somewhat glacial in her manner and evidently unwilling to talk to him, knew that it must be because of his rudeness to her of the day before.
Lady Wang, observing Bao-yu’s dejected appearance, attri?buted it to embarrassment about yesterday’s episode with Golden and ignored him even more pointedly than Bao-chai.
Dai-yu, seeing how morose Bao-yu looked assumed that it was because Bao-chai was offended with him and, feeling resent?ful that he should care, at once became as morose as he was.
Xi-feng, having been told all about Bao-yu and Golden the night before by Lady Wang, could scarcely be her usual laughing and joking self when she knew of her aunt’s displeasure and, taking her cue from the latter, was if anything even more glacial than the others.
And Ying-chun, Tan-chun and Xi-chun, seeing everyone else so uncomfortable, soon began to feel just as uncomfort?able themselves.
The result was that after sitting for only a very short time, the party broke up.
Dai-yu had a natural aversion to gatherings, which she rationalized by saying that since the inevitable consequence of getting together was parting, and since parting made people feel lonely and feeling lonely made them unhappy, ergo it was better for them not to get together in the first place. In the same way she argued that since the flowers, which give us so much pleasure when they open, only cause us a lot of extra sadness when they die, it would be better if they didn’t come out at all.
Bao-yu was just the opposite. He always wanted the party to go on for ever and flowers to be in perpetual bloom; and when at last the party did end and the flowers did wither well, it was infinitely sad and distressing, but it couldn’t be helped.
And so today, while everyone else left the party with feel?ings of gloom, Dai-yu alone was completely unaffected. Bao-?yu, on the other hand, returned to his room in a mood of black despondency, sighing and muttering as he went.
Unfortunately it was the sharp-tongued Skybright who came forward to help him change his clothes. With provok?ing carelessness she dropped a fan while she was doing so and snapped the bone fan-sticks by accidentally treading on it.
‘Clumsy!’ said Bao-yu reproachfully. ‘You won’t be so careless with things when you have a household of your own.’
Skybright gave a sardonic sniff.
‘You’re getting quite a temper lately, Master Bao. Almost every time we move nowadays we get a nasty look from you. Yesterday even Aroma caught it. Today you’re finding fault with me, so I suppose I can expect a few kicks too. Well, kick away. But I must say, I shouldn’t have thought treading on a fan was such a very terrible thing to do. In the past any num?ber of glass bowls and agate cups have got broken without your turning a hair. Why this fuss about a fan, then? If you’re not satisfied with my service, you ought to dismiss me and get someone better. Easy come, easy go. No need for beating about the bush.’
By the time she had finished, Bao-yu was so angry that he was shaking all over.
‘You’ll go soon enough, don’t you worry!’ he said.
Aroma had heard all this from the adjoining room and now came hurrying in.
‘Now what’s all this about?’ she said, addressing herself to Bao-yu. ‘Didn’t I tell you? As soon as I turn my back there’s trouble.’
‘If you knew that already,’ said Skybright, ‘it’s a pity you couldn’t have come in a bit sooner and saved me from provok?ing him. Of course, we all know that you’re the only one who knows how to serve him properly. None of the rest of us knows how it’s done. I suppose it’s because you serve him so well that he gave you a kick in the ribs yesterday. Heaven knows what he’s got in store for me for having served him so badly!’
Angry, and at the same time ashamed, Aroma was about to retort; but the sight of Bao-yu’s face, now white with anger, made her restrain herself.
‘Be a good girl – just go away and play for a bit. It’s we who are in the wrong.’
Skybright naturally assumed that ‘we’ meant Aroma and Bao-yu. Her jealousy was further inflamed.
‘What do you mean, “we”?’ she said, ‘You two make me feel ashamed for you, you really do — because you needn’t think you deceive me. I know what goes on between you when you think no one is looking. But when all’s said and done, in actual fact, when you come down to it, you’re not even a “Miss” by rights. By rights you’re no better than any of the rest of us. I don’t know where you get this “we” from.’
Aroma blushed and blushed with shame, until her face had become a dusky red colour. Too late she realized her slip. By ‘we’ she had meant no more than ‘you and I’; not ‘Bao-yu and I’ as Skybright imagined. But the pronoun had invited misunderstanding.
It was Bao-yu who retorted, however.
‘I’ll make her a “Miss” then; I’ll make her my chamber-?wife tomorrow, if that’s all that’s worrying you. You can spare your jealousy on that account.’
Aroma seized his hand impulsively.
‘Don’t argue with her, she’s only a silly girl. In any case, you’ve put up with much worse than this in the past; why be so touchy today?’
Skybright gave a harsh little laugh.
‘Oh, yes. I’m too stupid to talk to. I’m only a slave.’
‘Are you arguing with me, Miss, or with Master Bao?’ said Aroma. ‘If it’s me you’ve got it in for, you’d better address your remarks to me elsewhere. There’s no cause to go quarrel?ling with me in front of Master Bao. But if it’s Master Bao you want to quarrel with, then at least you might do it a bit more quietly and not let everyone else know about it. When I came in just now, it was for everyone’s sake, so that we could have a bit of peace and quiet. I don’t know why you had to turn on me and start picking on my shortcomings. It seems as if you can’t make up your mind whether you’re angry with me or with Master Bao. Slipping in a dig here and a dig there. I don’t know what you think you’re up to. Anyway, I shan’t say any more; I’ll just leave you here to get on with it.’
She walked out.
‘There’s no need for you to be so angry,’ Bao-yu said to Skybright. ‘I can guess what it is that’s bothering you. I shall go and tell Her Ladyship that you’re old enough to leave us now and ask her to send you away. That’s what you really want, isn’t it?’
‘I don’t want to go away. Why should I want to go away?’ said Skybright with tears in her eyes now more upset than ever, ‘You’re inventing this as a means of getting rid of me, aren’t you, because I’m in your way? But you won’t get away with it.’
‘Look, I’ve never had to put up with scenes like this before,’ said Bao-yu. ‘What other reason can there be but that you want to leave? I really think I had better go and see Her Ladyship about this.’
He got up and began to go; but Aroma came in again and barred his way.
‘Where are you off to?’ she asked him smilingly.
‘To see Her Ladyship.’
‘Oh, that’s silly,’ said Aroma. ‘I wonder you’re not ashamed to. Even if Skybright really does want to leave, there will be plenty of time to tell Her Ladyship about it when everyone has cooled down a bit and you are feeling calm and collected. If you go rushing off in your present state, Her Ladyship will suspect something.’
‘Her Ladyship won’t suspect anything,’ said Bao-yu. ‘I shall tell her quite openly that Skybright has been agitating to leave.’
‘When have I ever agitated to leave?’ said Skybright, weeping now in earnest. ‘Even if you’re angry with me, you ought not to twist things round in order to get the better of me. But you go and tell her! I don’t care if I have to beat my own brains out, I’m not going out of that door.’
‘Now that’s really strange,’ said Bao-yu. ‘You don’t want to go, yet at the same time you won’t keep quiet. It’s no good; I really can’t stand this quarrelling. I shall really have to see Her Ladyship about this and get it over with.’
This time he seemed quite determined to go.
Seeing that she was unable to hold him back, Aroma went down on her knees. Emerald, Ripple, Musk and the other maids, aware that a quarrel of more than usual magnitude was going on inside, were waiting together outside in breathless silence. When word reached them that Aroma was now on her knees interceding for Skybright, they came silently troop?ing in to kneel down behind her. Bao-yu raised Aroma to her feet, sighed, sat down on the edge of the bed, and told the other maids to get up.
‘What do you want me to do?’ be asked Aroma. ‘My heart is destroyed inside me, but none of you knows or cares.’
Tears started from his eyes and rolled down his cheeks un?heeded. Seeing his tears, Aroma too began to cry. Skybright, who stood crying beside them, was about to say something; but just at that moment Dai-yu walked in and she slipped outside.
Dai-yu beamed at the weeping pair:
‘Crying on a holiday? What’s all this about? Have you been quarrelling over the rice-cakes?’
Bao-yu and Aroma both burst out laughing.
‘Well, if Cousin Bao won’t tell me,’ she went on, ‘I’m sure that you will. Come!’ she said, slapping Aroma familiarly on the shoulder. ‘Tell sis all about it. It’s obvious that the two of you have been having an argument. Tell me what it’s all about and I’ll make it up between you.’
‘Oh, Miss!’ Aroma gave her a push. ‘Don’t carry on so! I’m only a maid; you shouldn’t say such things to me.’
‘Only a maid?’ said Dai-yu. I always think of you as my sister-in-law.’
‘Don’t you see that you’re simply encouraging people to be nasty to her?’ Bao-yu protested. ‘Even as it is, people already gossip about her. How can she stand up to them if you come along and lend your weight to what they are saying?’
‘You don’t know what I feel, Miss,’ said Aroma. ‘If I only knew how to stop breathing, I’d gladly die.’
Dai-yu smiled.
‘If you were to die, I don’t know about anyone else, but I know that I should die of grief.’
‘I should become a monk,’ said Bao-yu.
‘Try to be a bit more serious,’ said Aroma. ‘You and Miss Lin are both laughing at me.’
Dai-yu held up two fingers and looked at Bao-yu with a quizzical expression.
‘That’s twice you’re going to become a monk. From now on I’m keeping the score.’
Bao-yu recognized the allusion to what he had said to her the day before. Fortunately he was able to pass it off with a laugh. Shortly after that, Dai-yu left them.
No sooner had Dai-yu gone than someone arrived with an invitation from Xue Pan. Bao-yu thought that this time he had better go. It turned out to be only a drinking-party, but Xue Pan refused to release him and kept him there until it was over. He returned home in the evening more than a little drunk.
As he came lurching into his courtyard, he saw that some?one in quest of coolness had taken a bed outside and was lying down on it asleep. Assuming that it must be Aroma, he sat down on the edge of it and gave her a push.
‘Is the pain any better?’
‘Can’t you leave me alone?’ she said, rising up wrathfully. He looked again and saw that it was not Aroma after all but Skybright. Taking her by the hand, he drew her down on the bed beside him.
‘You’re getting so self-willed,’ he said laughingly. ‘When you trod on that fan this morning, I only made a harmless little remark, but look how you flew up in the air about it! And then when Aroma, out of the kindness of her heart, tried to reason with you, look how you pitched into her! Seriously, now, don’t you think it was all a bit uncalled-for?’
‘I’m so hot,’ said Skybright. ‘Do you have to maul me about like this? Suppose someone were to see us? Anyway, it’s not right for me to be sitting here.’
‘If you know it’s not right to be sitting here,’ he said teasingly, ‘what were you doing lying down?’
‘Che-e-e!’ Unable at once to reply, she gave a little laugh. Then she said:
‘When you are not here it doesn’t matter. It’s your being here that makes it wrong. Anyway, let me get up now, because I want to have a bath. Aroma and Musk have had theirs al?ready. I’ll send them out to you.’
‘I’ve just had rather a lot to drink and I could do with a bath myself,’ said Bao-yu. ‘As you haven’t had yours yet, bring the water out here and we’ll have a bath together.’
Skybright laughed and declined with a vigorous gesture of her hand.
‘Oh no! I daren’t start you off on that caper. I still remember that time you got Emerald to help you bath. You must have been two or three hours in there, so that we began to get quite worried. We didn’t like to go in while you were there, but when we did go in to have a look afterwards, we found water all over the floor, pools of water round the legs of the bed, and even the mat on the bed had water splashed all over it. Heaven only knows what you’d been up to. We laughed about it for days afterwards. I haven’t got time to fetch that amount of water. And in any case, you don’t want to go taking baths with me. As a matter of fact it’s cooler now, so I don’t think I shall have a bath after all. Why don’t you let me fetch you a bowl of water so that you can have a nice wash and comb your hair? Faithful just sent a lot of fruit round and we’ve got it soaking in iced water in the big glass bowl. I’ll tell them to bring some out to you, shall I?’
‘All right,’ said Bao-yu. ‘If you’re not having a bath yourself, I’ll just wash my hands; and you can get me some of that fruit to eat.’
Skybright smiled.
‘You’ve already told me once today how clumsy I am. I can’t even drop a fan without treading on it. So I’m much too clumsy to get your fruit for you. Suppose I were to break a plate. That would be terrible!’
‘If you want to break it, by all means break it,’ said Bao-yu. ‘These things are there for our use. What we use them for is a matter of individual taste. For example, fans are made for fanning with; but if you prefer to tear them up because it gives you pleasure, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. What you mustn’t do is to use them as objects to vent your anger on. It’s the same with plates and cups. Plates and cups are made to put food and drink in. But if you want to smash them on purpose because you like the noise, it’s perfectly all right to do so. As long as you don’t get into a passion and start taking it out on things — that is the golden rule.’
‘All right then,’ said Skybright with a mischievous smile. ‘Give me your fan to tear. I love the sound of a fan being torn.’
Bao-yu held it out to her. She took it eagerly and — chah! — promptly tore it in half. And again — chah! chah! chah!—she tore it several more times. Bao-yu, an appreciative onlooker, laughed and encouraged her.
‘Well torn! Well torn! Now again – a really loud one!’
Just then Musk appeared. She stared at them indignantly.
‘Don’t do that!’ she said. ‘It’s wicked to waste things like that.’
But Bao-yu leaped up to her, snatched the fan from her hand, and passed it to Skybright, who at once tore it into several pieces. The two of them, Bao-yu and Skybright, then burst into uproarious laughter.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ said Musk. ‘That’s my fan you’ve just ruined.’
‘What’s an old fan?’ said Bao-yu. ‘Open up the fan box and get yourself another.’
‘If that’s your attitude,’ said Musk, ‘we might as well carry out the whole boxful and let her tear away to her heart’s con?tent.’
‘All right. Go and get it,’ said Bao-yu.
‘And be born a beggar in my next life?’ said Musk. ‘No thank you I She hasn’t broken her arm. Let her go and get it herself.’
Skybright stretched back on the bed, smiling complacently. ‘I’m rather tired just now. I think I shall tear some more tomorrow.’
Bao-yu laughed.
‘The ancients used to say that for one smile of a beautiful woman a thousand taels are well spent. For a few old fans it’s cheap at the price!’
He called to Aroma, who had just finished changing into clean clothes, to come outside and join them. Little Melilot came and cleared away the broken bits of fan, and everyone sat for a while and enjoyed the cool.
But our narrative supplies no further details of that evening.

*

About noon next day, while Lady Wang, Bao-chai, Dai-yu and the girls were sitting in Grandmother Jia’s room, some?one came in to announce that ‘Miss Shi’ had arrived. Shortly afterwards Shi Xiang-yun appeared in the courtyard, attended by a bevy of matrons and maids. Bao-chai, Dai-yu and the rest hurried out to the foot of the steps to welcome her.
For young girls like the cousins a reunion after a mere month’s separation is an occasion for touching demonstrations of affection. After these initial transports, when they were all indoors and the greetings, introductions and salutations had been completed, Grandmother Jia suggested that, as the weather was so hot, Xiang-yun should remove her outer gar?ments. Xiang-yun rose to her feet with alacrity and divested herself of one or two layers. Lady Wang was amused.
‘Gracious, child! What a lot you have on! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone wearing so much.’
‘It’s my Aunt Shi who makes me wear it all,’ said Xiang yun. ‘You wouldn’t catch me wearing this stuff if I didn’t have to.’
‘You don’t know our Xiang-yun, Aunt,’ Bao-chai inter?posed. ‘She’s really happiest in boy’s clothes. That time she was here in the third or fourth month last year, I remember one day she dressed up in one of Bao-yu’s gowns and put a pair of his boots on and one of his belts round her waist. At first glance she looked exactly like Cousin Bao. It was only the ear-rings that gave her away. When she stood behind that chair over there, Grandmother was completely taken in. She said, “Bao-yu, come over here! You’ll get the dust from that hanging lamp in your eyes if you’re not careful.” But Xiang?-yun just smiled and didn’t move. It was only when everyone couldn’t hold it in any longer and started laughing that Grandmother realized who it was and joined in the laugh. She told her that she made a very good-looking boy.’
‘That’s nothing,’ said Dai-yu. ‘What about that time last year when she came to stay for a couple of days with us in the first month and it snowed? Grandma and Auntie Wang had just got back from somewhere — I think it was from visiting the ancestors’ portraits — and she saw Grandma’s new scarlet felt rain-cape lying there and put it on when no one was looking. Of course, it was much too big and much too long for her, so she hitched it up and tied it round her waist with a sash and went out like that into the back courtyard to help the maids build a snowman. And then she slipped over in it and got covered all over with mud—’
The others all laughed at the recollection.
Bao-chai asked Xiang-yun’s nurse, Mrs Zhou, whether Xiang-yun was still as tomboyish as ever. Nurse Zhou laughed but said nothing.
‘I don’t mind her being tomboyish,’ said Ying-chun, ‘but I do wish she wasn’t such a chatterbox. You wouldn’t believe it — even when she’s in bed at night it still goes on. Jabber-jabber, jabber-jabber. Then she laughs. Then she talks a bit more. Then she laughs again. And you never heard such a lot of rubbish in your life, I don’t know where she gets it all from.’
‘Well, perhaps she’ll have got over that by now,’ said Lady Wang. ‘I hear that someone was round the other day to talk about a betrothal. Now that there’s a future mother-in-law to think about, she can’t be quite as tomboyish as she used to be.’
‘Are you staying this time, or do you have to go back to?night?’ asked Grandmother Jia.
‘Your Old Ladyship hasn’t seen all the clothes she’s brought,’ said Nurse Zhou. ‘She’ll be staying two days here at the very least.’
‘Isn’t Bao at home?’ said Xiang-yun.
‘Listen to her!’ said Bao-chai. ‘Cousin Bao is the only one she thinks about. He and she get on well together because they are both fond of mischief. You can see she hasn’t really changed.’
‘Perhaps now that you’re getting older you had better stop using baby-names,’ said Grandmother Jia, reminded by the talk of betrothal that her babies were rapidly turning into grown-ups.
Just then Bao-yu came in.
‘Ah! Hallo, Yun! Why didn’t you come when we sent for you the other day?’
‘Grandmother has just this moment been saying that it is time you all stopped using baby-names,’ said Lady Wang. ‘I must say, this isn’t a very good beginning.’
‘Our cousin has got something nice to give you,’ said Dai?-yu to Xiang-yun.
‘Oh? What is it?’ said Xiang-yun.
‘Don’t believe her,’ said Bao-yu. ‘Goodness! It’s no time since you were here last, but you seem to have grown taller already.’
Xiang-yun laughed.
‘How’s Aroma?’
‘She’s fine. Thank you for asking.’
‘I’ve brought something for her,’ said Xiang-yun. She produced a knotted-up silk handkerchief.
‘What treasure have you got wrapped up in there?’ said Bao-yu. ‘The best present you could have brought Aroma would have been a couple of those cheap agate rings like the ones you sent us the other day.’
‘What are these, then?’
With a triumphant smile she opened her little bundle and revealed four rings, each inset with the veined red agate they had so much admired on a previous occasion.
‘What a girl!’ said Dai-yu. ‘These are exactly the same as the ones you sent us the other day by messenger. Why didn’t you get him to bring these too and save yourself some trouble? I thought you must have got some wonderful rarity tied up in that handkerchief, seeing that you’d gone to all the trouble of bringing it here yourself — and all the time it was only a few more of those! You really are rather a silly.’
‘Thilly yourthelf!’ said Xiang-yun. ‘The others can decide which of us is the silly one when I have explained my reason. If I send things for you and the girls, it’s assumed that they are for you without the messenger even needing to say any?thing; but if I send things for any of the maids, I have to explain very carefully to the messenger which ones I mean. Now if the messenger is someone intelligent, that’s all right; but if it’s someone not so bright who has difficulty in remembering names, they’ll probably make such a mess of it that they’ll get not only the maids’ presents mixed up, but yours as well. Then again, if the messenger is a woman, it’s not so bad; but the other day it was one of the boys – and you know how hopeless they are over girls’ names. So you see, I thought it would be simpler if I delivered the maids’ ones myself. There!’— she laid the rings down one after another on the table — ‘One for Aroma; one for Faithful; one for Golden; and one for Patience. Can you imagine one of the boys getting those four names right?’
The others laughed.
‘Clever! Clever!’ they said.
‘You’re always so eloquent,’ said Bao-yu. ‘No one else gets a chance.’
‘If she weren’t so eloquent, she wouldn’t be worthy of the gold kylin,’ said Dai-yu huffily, rising from her seat and walk?ing off as she spoke.
Fortunately no one heard her but Ban-chai, who made a laughing grimace, and Bao-yu, who immediately regretted having once more spoken out of turn, but who, suddenly catching sight of Bao-chai’s expression, could not help laugh?ing himself. Seeing him laugh, Bao-chai at once rose from her seat and hurried off to joke with Dai-yu.
‘When you’ve finished your tea and rested a bit,’ said Grandmother Jia to Xiang-yun, ‘you can go and see your married cousins. After that, you can amuse yourself in the Garden with the girls. It’s nice and cool there.’
Xiang-yun thanked her grandmother. She wrapped up three of the rings again, and after sitting a little longer, went off, attended by her nannies and maids, to call on Wang Xi-?feng. After chatting a while with her, she went into the Gar?den and called on Li Wan. Then, after sitting a short while with Li Wan, she went off in the direction of Green Delights in quest of Aroma. Before doing so, however, she turned to dis?miss her escort.
‘You needn’t stay with me any longer,’ she said. ‘You can go off now and visit your relations. I’ll just keep Fishy to wait on me.
The others thanked her and went off to look for various kith and kin, leaving Xiang-yun alone with Kingfisher.
‘Why aren’t these water-lilies out yet?’ said Kingfisher.
‘It isn’t time for them yet,’ said Xiang-yun.
‘Look, they’re going to be “double-decker” ones, like the ones in our lily-pond at home,’ said Kingfisher.
‘Our ones are better,’ said Xiang-yun.
‘They’ve got a pomegranate-tree here which has four or five lots of flowers growing one above the other on each branch,’ said Kingfisher. ‘That’s a double-double-double?-decker. I wonder what makes them grow like that.’
‘Plants are the same as people,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘The healthier their constitution is, the better they grow.’
‘I don’t believe that,’ said Kingfisher with a toss of her head. ‘If that were so, why don’t we see people walking around with one head growing on top of the other?’
Xiang-yun was unable to avoid laughing at the girl’s sim?plicity.
‘I’ve told you before, you talk too much,’ she said. ‘Let’s see: how can one answer a question like that? Everything in the world is moulded by the forces of Yin and Yang. That means that, besides the normal, the abnormal, the peculiar, the freakish — in fact all the thousands and thousands of different variations we find in things — are caused by different combina?tions of Yin and Yang. Even if something appears that is so rare that no one has ever seen it before, the principle is still the same.’
‘So according to what you say,’ said Kingfisher, ‘all the things that have ever existed, from the time the world began right up to the present moment, have just been a lot of Yins and Yangs.’
‘No, stupid!’ said Xiang-yun. ‘The more you say, the sil?lier you get. “Just a lot of Yins and Yangs” indeed! In any case, strictly speaking Yin and Yang are not two things but one and the same thing. By the time the Yang has become exhausted, it is Yin; and by the time the Yin has become exhausted, it is Yang. It isn’t a case of one of them coming to an end and then the other one growing out of nothing.’
‘That’s too deep for me,’ said Kingfisher. ‘What sort of thing is a Yin-yang, I’d like to know? No one’s ever seen one. You just answer that, Miss. What does a Yin-yang look like?’
‘Yin-yang is a sort of force,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘It’s the force in things that gives them their distinctive forms. For example, the sky is Yang and the earth is Yin; water is Yin and fire is Yang; the sun is Yang and the moon is Yin.’
‘Ah yes! Now I understand,’ said Kingfisher happily. ‘That’s why astrologers call the sun the “Yang star” and the moon the “Yin star”.’
‘Holy Name!’ said Xiang-yun. ‘She understands.’
‘That’s not so difficult,’ said Kingfisher. ‘But what about things like mosquitoes and fleas and midges and plants and flowers and bricks and tiles? Surely you are not going to say that they are all Yin-yang too?’
‘Certainly they are!’ said Xiang-yun. ‘Take the leaf of a tree, for example. That’s divided into Yin and Yang. The side facing upwards towards the sky is Yang; the underside, facing towards the ground, is Yin.’
Kingfisher nodded.
‘I see. Yes. I can understand that. But take these fans we are holding. Surely they don’t have Yin and Yang?’
‘Yes they do. The front of the fan is Yang; the back of the fan is Yin.’
Kingfisher nodded, satisfied. She tried to think of some other object to ask about, but being for the moment unable to, she began looking around her for inspiration. As she did so, her eye chanced to light on the gold kylin fastened in the intricate loopings of her mistress’s girdle.
‘Well, Miss,’ she said, pointing triumphantly to the kylin, you’re not going to say that that’s got Yin and Yang?
‘Certainly. In the case of birds and beasts the males are Yang and the females are Yin.’
‘Is this a daddy one or a mummy one?’ said Kingfisher.
‘“A daddy one or a mummy one”! Silly girl!’
‘All right, then,’ said Kingfisher. ‘But why is it that everything else has Yin and Yang but we haven’t?’
‘Get along with you, naughty girl! What subject will you get on to next?’
‘Why? Why can’t you tell me?’ said Kingfisher. ‘Anyway, I know; so there’s no need for you to be so nasty to me.’
Xiang-yun suppressed a giggle.
‘You’re Yang and I’m Yin,’ said Kingfisher.
Xiang-yun held her handkerchief to her mouth and laughed ‘Well, that’s right, isn’t it?’ said Kingfisher. ‘What are you laughing at?’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘That’s quite right.’
‘That’s what they always say,’ said Kingfisher: ‘the master is Yang and the servant is Yin. Even I can understand that principle.’
‘I’m sure you can,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘Very good.’
While they were talking, a glittering golden object at the foot of the rose pergola caught Xiang-yun’s eye. She pointed it out to Kingfisher.
‘Go and see what it is,’
Kingfisher bounded over and picked it up.
‘Ah ha!’ she said, examining the object in her hand. ‘Now we shall be able to see whether it’s Yin or Yang.’
She took hold of the kylin fastened to Xiang-yun’s girdle and held it up to look at it more closely. Xiang-yun wanted to see what it was that she held in her hand, but Kingfisher wouldn’t let her.
‘It’s my treasure,’ she said with a laugh. ‘I won’t let you see it, Miss. Funny, though. I wonder where it came from. I’ve never seen anyone here wearing it.’
‘Come on! Let me look,’ said Xiang-yun.
‘There you are, Miss!’ Kingfisher opened her hand.
Xiang-yun looked. It was a beautiful, shining gold kylin, both larger and more ornate than the one she was wearing. Reach?ing out and taking it from Kingfisher, she held it on the palm of her hand and contemplated it for some moments in silence.
Whatever reverie the contemplation inspired was broken by the sudden arrival of Bao-yu.
‘What are you doing, standing out here in the blazing sun?’ he asked her. ‘Why don’t you go and see Aroma?’
‘We were on our way,’ said Xiang-yun, hurriedly conceal?ing the gold kylin.
The three of them entered the courtyard of Green Delights together.
Aroma had gone outside to take the air and was leaning on the verandah railings at the foot of the front door steps. As soon as she caught sight of Xiang-yun, she hurried down into the courtyard to welcome her, and taking her by the hand, led her into the house, animatedly exchanging news with her as they went.
‘You should have come sooner,’ said Bao-yu when they were indoors and Aroma had made Xiang-yun take a seat. ‘I’ve got something nice for you here and I’ve been waiting for you to come so that I could give it to you.’
He had been hunting through his pockets as he said this. Not finding what he was searching for, he exclaimed in sur?prise.
‘Aiyo!’ He turned to Aroma. ‘Have you put it away some?where?’
‘Put what away?’
‘That little kylin I got the other day.’
‘You’ve been carrying it around with you everywhere,’ said Aroma. ‘Why ask me about it?’
Bao-yu clapped his hands together in vexation.
‘Oh, I’ve lost it! Wherever am I going to look for it?’
He got up to begin searching.
Xiang-yun now realized that it must have been Bao-yu who dropped the kylin she had only a few minutes earlier dis?covered outside.
‘Since when have you had a kylin?’ she asked him. ‘Oh, several days now,’ said Bao-yu. ‘What a shame! I’ll never get another one like that. And the trouble is, I don’t know when I can have lost it. Oh dear! How stupid of me!’
‘It’s only an ornament you’re getting so upset about,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘What a good job it wasn’t something more serious!’
She opened her hand:
‘Look! Is that it?’
Bao-yu looked and saw, with extravagant delight, that it was.
The remainder of this episode will be told in the following chapter.

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