The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 32

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CHAPTER 32

Bao-yu demonstrates confusion of mind by making his
declaration to the wrong person
And Golden shows an unconquerable spirit by ending her
humiliation in death

OUR last chapter told of Bao-yu’s delight at seeing the gold kylin again. He reached out eagerly and took it from Xiang-?yun’s hand.
‘Fancy your finding it!’ he said. ‘How did you come to pick it up?’
‘It’s a good job it was only this you lost,’ she said. ‘One of these days it will be your seal of office — and then it won’t be quite so funny.’
‘Oh, losing one’s seal of office is nothing,’ said Bao-yu. Losing a thing like this is much more serious.’
Aroma meanwhile was pouring tea.
‘I heard your good news the other day,’ she said, handing Xiang-yun a cup. ‘Congratulations!’
Xiang-yun bent low over the cup to hide her blushes and made no reply.
‘Why so bashful, Miss?’ said Aroma. ‘Have you forgotten the things you used to tell me at night all those years ago, when we used to sleep together in the little closet-bed at Her Old Ladyship’s? You weren’t very bashful then. What makes you so bashful with me now, all of a sudden?’
Xiang-yun’s face became even redder. She gave a forced little laugh.
‘Who’s talking? That was a time when you and I were very close to each other. Then I had to go back home when my uncle’s first wife died and you were given Cousin Bao to look after, and I don’t know why, but whenever I came back here after that, you seemed somehow changed towards me.’
It was now Aroma’s turn to blush and protest.
‘When you first came to live here it was “Pearl dear this” and “Pearl dear that” all the time. You were always coaxing me to do things for you — do your hair, wash your face, or I don’t know what. But now that’s all changed. Now you’re the young lady, aren’t you? You can’t act the young lady with me and expect me to stay on the same familiar terms as before.’
‘Holy Name!’ said Xiang-yun, now genuinely indignant. ‘That’s tho unfair. I wish I may die if I ever “acted the young lady” with you, as you put it. I come here in this frightful heat, and the very first person I want to see when I get here is you. Ask Fishy if you don’t believe me. She can tell you. At home I’m always going on about you.’
Aroma and Bao-yu both laughed.
‘Don’t take it to heart so, it was only a joke. You shouldn’t be so excitable.’
‘Don’t, whatever you do, admit that what you said was wounding,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘Say I’m “excitable” and put me in the wrong!’
While she said this, she was undoing the knotted silk hand-kerchief and extracting one of the three rings from it. She handed it to Aroma. Aroma was greatly touched.
‘I’ve got one like this already,’ she said. ‘It was given to me when you sent those ones the other day to the young ladies. But fancy your bringing this one here specially! Now I know you haven’t forgotten me. It’s little things like this that show you what a person really is. The ring itself isn’t worth much, I know. It’s the thought behind it.’
‘Who gave you the one you’ve already got?’ said Xiang-?yun.
‘Miss Bao,’ said Aroma.
‘Ah,’ said Xiang-yun, ‘Miss Bao. And I was thinking it must have been Miss Lin. Often when I’m at home I think to myself that of all my cousins Bao-chai is the one I like best. It’s a pity we couldn’t have been born of the same mother. With her for an elder sister it wouldn’t matter so much being an orphan.’
Her eyelids reddened as she said this and she seemed to be on the verge of tears.
‘Now, now, now!’ said Bao-yu. ‘Don’t say things like that.’
‘And why not?’ said Xiang-yun. ‘Oh, I know your trouble. You’re afraid that Cousin Lin might hear and get angry with me again for praising Cousin Bao. That’s what’s worrying you, isn’t it?’
Aroma giggled.
‘Oh Miss Yun! You’re just as outspoken as you used to be.’
‘Well, I’ve said that you lot are difficult to talk to,’ said Bao-yu, ‘and I was certainly right!’
‘Don’t make me sick,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘You say what you like to us. It’s with your Cousin Lin that you have to be so careful.’
‘Never mind about that,’ said Aroma. ‘Joking apart, now: I want to ask you a favour.’
‘What is it?’ said Xiang-yun.
‘I’ve got a pair of slipper-tops here that I’ve already cut the openwork pattern in, but as I haven’t been very well this last day or two, I haven’t been able to sew them on to the backing material. Do you think you’d have time to do them for me?’
‘That’s rather a strange request,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘Quite apart from all the clever maids this household employs you have your own full-time tailors and embroiderers. Why ask me to do your sewing? You could give it to anyone here you liked. They could hardly refuse you.’
‘You can’t be serious,’ said Aroma. ‘None of the sewing in this room is allowed to go outside. Surely you knew that?’
Xiang-yun inferred from this that the slippers in question were for Bao-yu.
‘Oh well,’ she said, ‘in that case I suppose I’d better do them for you. On one condition, though: I’ll do them if they are for you to wear, but if they are for anyone else, I’m afraid I can’t.’
‘Get along with you!’ said Aroma. ‘Ask you to make slippers for me? I wouldn’t have the nerve. No, I’ll be honest with you, they’re not for me. Never mind who they’re for. Just tell yourself that I’m the one you’ll be doing the favour.’
‘It isn’t that,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘In the past I’ve done lots of things for you. Surely you must know what makes me un?willing now?’
‘I’m sorry, I don’t,’ said Aroma.
‘What about the person who got in a temper the other day when that fan-case I made for you was compared with hers and cut it up with a pair of scissors? I heard all about that, so don’t start protesting. If you expect me to do sewing for you after that, you’re just treating me as your drudge.’
‘I didn’t know at the time it was you who made it,’ Bao-yu put in hurriedly.
‘He really didn’t,’ said Aroma. ‘I pretended there was some?one outside we’d just discovered who could do very fine and original needlework. I told him I’d got them to do that fan?-case for him as a sample. He believed what I said and went around showing it to everyone. Unfortunately while he was doing this he upset you know who and she took a pair of scissors and cut it in pieces. Afterwards he was very anxious to have some more work done by the same person, so I had to tell him who it really was. He was very upset when he heard that it was you.’
‘I still think this is a very strange request,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘If Miss Lin can cut things up, she can sew them for him, too. Why not ask her to do them for you?’
‘Oh, she wouldn’t want to do them,’ said Aroma. ‘And even if she did, Her Old Ladyship wouldn’t let her, for fear of her tiring herself. The doctors say she needs rest and quiet. I wouldn’t want to trouble her with them. Last year she took practically the whole year embroidering one little purse, and this last six months I don’t think she’s picked up a needle.’
Their conversation was interrupted by a servant with a message:
‘Mr Jia of Rich Street is here. The Master says will Master Bao receive him, please?’
Recognizing the ‘Mr Jia’ of the message as Jia Yu-cun, Bao-yu was more than a little vexed. While Aroma hurried off for his going-out clothes, he sat pulling his boots on and grumbling.
‘He’s got Father to talk to, surely that’s enough for him? Why does he always have to see me?’
Xiang-yun laughed at his disgruntlement:
‘I’m sure you’re very good at entertaining people,’ she said. ‘That’s why Sir Zheng asks you to see him.’
‘That message didn’t come from Father,’ said Bao-yu. ‘He’ll have made it up himself.’
‘“When the host is refined, the callers are frequent,”’ said Xiang-yun. ‘There must be something about you that has impressed him, otherwise he wouldn’t want to see you.’
‘I make no claim to being refined, thanks all the same,’ said Bao-yu. ‘I’m as common as dirt. And furthermore I have no wish to mix with people of his sort.’
‘You’re incorrigible,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘Now that you’re older, you ought to be mixing with these officials and ad?ministrators as much as you can. Even if you don’t want to take the Civil Service examinations and become an adminis?trator yourself, you can learn a lot from talking to these people about the way the Empire is governed and the people who govern it that will stand you in good stead later on, when you come to manage your own affairs and take your place in society. You might even pick up one or two decent, respect?able friends that way. You’ll certainly never get anywhere if you spend all your time with us girls.’
Bao-yu found such talk highly displeasing.
‘I think perhaps you’d better go and sit in someone else’s room,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t want a decent, respectable young lady like you to get contaminated.’
‘Don’t try reasoning with him, Miss,’ Aroma put in hur?riedly. ‘Last time Miss Bao tried it, he was just as rude to her. No consideration for her feelings whatever. He just said “Hai!”, picked up his heels, and walked out of the room, leaving her still half-way through her sentence. Poor Miss Bao! She was so embarrassed she turned bright red. She didn’t know what to say. A good job it was her, though, and not Miss Lin. If it had been Miss Lin, there’d have been weeping and carrying on and I don’t know what. I really admire the way Miss Bao behaved on that occasion. She just stood there a while collecting herself and then walked quietly out of the room. Myself, I was quite upset, thinking she must be offended. But not a bit of it. Next time she came round, it was just as if nothing had happened. A real little lady, Miss Bao — and generous-hearted, too. And yet the funny thing is that his lordship seems to have fallen out with her, whereas Miss Lin, who is always getting on her high horse and ignoring him, has him running round and apologizing to her all the time.’
‘Have you ever heard Miss Lin talking that sort of stupid rubbish?’ said Bao-yu. ‘I’d long since have fallen out with her if she did.’
Aroma and Xiang-yun shook their heads pityingly.
‘So that’s “stupid rubbish”, is it?’ they said, laughing.

*

Dai-yu rightly surmised that now Xiang-yun had arrived, Bao-yu would lose no time in telling her about his newly? acquired kylin.
Now Dai-yu had observed that in the romances which Bao-yu smuggled in to her and of which she was nowadays an avid consumer, it was always some trinket or small object of clothing or jewellery a pair of lovebirds, a male and female phoenix, a jade ring, a gold buckle, a silken handker?chief, an embroidered belt or what not — that brought the heroes and heroines together. And since the fate and future happiness of those fortunate beings seemed to depend wholly on the instrumentality of such trifling objects, it was natural for her to suppose that Bao-yu’s acquisition of the gold kylin would become the occasion of a dramatic rupture with her and the beginning of an association with Xiang-yun in which he and Xiang-yun would do together all those delightful things that she had read about in the romances.
It was with such apprehensions that she made her way stealthily towards Green Delights, her intention being to observe how the two of them were behaving and shape her own actions accordingly. Imagine her surprise when, just as she was about to enter, she heard Xiang-yun lecturing Bao-yu on his social obligations and Bao-yu telling Xiang-yun that ‘Cousin Lin never talked that sort of rubbish’ and that if she did he would have ‘fallen out with her long ago’. Mingled emotions of happiness, alarm, sorrow and regret assailed her.
Happiness:
Because after all (she thought) I wasn’t mistaken in my judgement of you. I always thought of you as a true friend, and I was right.
Alarm:
Because if you praise me so unreservedly in front of other people, your warmth and affection are sure, sooner or later, to excite suspicion and be misunderstood.
Regret:
Because if you are my true friend, then I am yours and the two of us are a perfect match. But in that case why did there have to be all this talk of ‘the gold and the jade’? Alternatively, if there had to be all this talk of gold and jade, why weren’t we the two to have them? Why did there have to be a Bao-chai with her golden locket?
Sorrow:
Because though there are things of burning importance to be said, without a father or a mother I have no one to say them for me. And besides, I feel so muzzy lately and I know that my illness is gradually gaining a hold on me. (The doctors say that the weakness and anaemia I suffer from may be the beginnings of a consumption.) So even if I am your true love, I fear I may not be able to wait for you. And even though you are mine, you can do nothing to alter my fate.
At that point in her reflections she began to weep; and feel?ing in no fit state to be seen, she turned away from the door and began to make her way back again.
Bao-yu had finished his hasty dressing and now came out of the house. He saw Dai-yu slowly walking on ahead of him and, judging by her appearance from behind, wiping her eyes. He hurried forward to catch up with her.
‘Where are you off to, coz? Are you crying again? Who has upset you this time?’
Dai-yu turned and saw that it was Bao-yu.
‘I’m perfectly all right,’ she said, forcing a smile. ‘What would I be crying for?’
‘Look at you! The tears are still wet on your face. How can you tell such fibs?’
Impulsively he stretched out his hand to wipe them. Dai-yu recoiled several paces:
‘You’ll get your head chopped off!’ she said. ‘You really must keep your hands to yourself.’
‘I’m sorry. My feelings got the better of me. I’m afraid I wasn’t thinking about my head.’
‘No, I forgot,’ said Dai-yu. ‘Losing your head is nothing, is it? It’s losing your kylin—the famous gold kylin – that is really serious!’
Her words immediately put Bao-yu in a passion. He came up to her and held his face close to hers.
‘Do you say these things to put a curse on me? or is it merely to make me angry that you say them ?’
Remembering their recent quarrel, Dai-yu regretted her careless reintroduction of its theme and hastened to make amends:
‘Now don’t get excited. I shouldn’t have said that – oh come now, it really isn’t that important! Look at you! The veins are standing out on your forehead and your face is all covered with sweat.’
She moved forward and wiped the perspiration from his brow. For some moments he stood there motionless, staring at her. Then he said:
‘Don’t worry!’
Hearing this, Dai-yu herself was silent for some moments.
‘Why should I worry?’ she said eventually. ‘I don’t under?stand you. Would you mind telling me what you are talking about?’
Bao-yu sighed.
‘Do you really not understand? Can I really have been all this time mistaken in my feelings towards you? If you don’t even know your own mind, it’s small wonder that you’re always getting angry on my account.’
‘I really don’t understand what you mean about not worry?ing,’ said Dai-yu.
Bao-yu sighed again and shook his head.
‘My dear coz, don’t think you can fool me. If you don’t understand what I’ve just said, then not only have feelings towards you been all along mistaken, but all that yon have ever felt for me has been wasted, too. It’s because you worry so much that you’ve made yourself ill. If only you could take things a bit easier, your illness wouldn’t go on getting more and more serious all the time.’
Dai-yu was thunderstruck. He had read her mind – had seen inside her more clearly than if she had plucked out her entrails and held them out for his inspection. And now there were a thousand things that she wanted to tell him; yet though she was dying to speak, she was unable to utter a single syllable and stood there like a simpleton, gazing at him in silence.
Bao-yu, too, had a thousand things to say, but he, too, stood mutely gazing at her, not knowing where to begin.
After the two of them had stared at each other for some considerable time in silence, Dai-yu heaved a deep sigh. The tears gushed from her eyes and she turned and walked away. Bao-yu hurried after her and caught at her dress.
‘Coz dear, stop a moment! Just let me say one word.’
As she wiped her eyes with one hand, Dai-yu pushed him away from her with the other.
‘There’s nothing to say. I already know what you want to tell me.’
She said this without turning back her head, and having said it, passed swiftly on her way. Bao-yu remained where he was standing, gazing after her in silent stupefaction.
Now Bao-yu had left the apartment in such haste that he had forgotten to take his fan with him. Fearing that he would be very hot without it, Aroma hurried outside to give it to him, but when she noticed him standing some way ahead of her talking to Dai-yu, she halted. After a little while she saw Dai-yu walk away and Bao-yu continue standing motionless where he was. She chose this moment to go up and speak to him.
‘You’ve gone out without your fan,’ she said. ‘It’s a good job I noticed. Here you are. I ran out to give it to you.’
Bao-yu, still in a muse, saw Aroma there talking to him, yet without clearly perceiving who it was. With the same glazed look in his eyes, he began to speak.
‘Dearest coz! I’ve never before dared to tell you what I felt for you. Now at last I’m going to pluck -up courage and tell you, and after that I don’t care what becomes of me. Because of you I, too, have made myself ill — only I haven’t dared tell anyone about it and have had to bear it all in silence. And the day that your illness is cured, I do believe that mine, too, will get better. Night and day, coz, sleeping and dreaming, you are never out of my mind.’
Aroma listened to this declaration aghast.
‘Holy saints preserve us!’ she exclaimed. ‘He’ll be the death of me.’
She gave him a shake.
‘What are you talking about? Are you bewitched? You’d better hurry.’
Bao-yu seemed suddenly to waken from his trance and recognized the person he had been speaking to as Aroma. His face turned a deep red with embarrassment and he snatched the fan from her and fled.

*

After he had gone, Aroma began thinking about the words he had just said and realized that they must have been intended for Dai-yu. She reflected with some alarm that if things be?tween them were as his words seemed to indicate, there was every likelihood of an ugly scandal developing, and wondered how she could arrange matters to prevent it. Preoccupied with these reflections, she stood as motionless and unseeing as her master had done a few moments before. Bao-chai found her in this state on her way back from the house.
‘What are you brooding on, out in the burning sun?’ she asked her, laughing.
Aroma laughed back.
‘There were two little sparrows here having a fight. They were so funny, I had to stand and watch them.’
‘Where was Cousin Bao rushing off to just now, all dressed up for going out?’ said Bao-chai. ‘I was going to call out and ask him, but he is getting so crotchety lately that I thought I had better not.’
‘The Master sent for him,’ said Aroma.
‘Oh dear!’ said Bao-chai. ‘I wonder why he should send for him in heat like this? I hope he hasn’t thought of something to be angry about and called him over to be punished.’
‘No, it isn’t that,’ said Aroma. ‘I think it’s to receive a visitor.’
‘It must be a very tiresome visitor,’ said Bao-chai, ‘to go around bothering people on a boiling day like this instead of staying at home and trying to keep cool.’
‘You can say that again!’ said Aroma.
‘What’s young Xiang-yun been doing at your place?’ said Bao-chai, changing the subject.
‘We were having a chat,’ said Aroma, ‘and after that she had a look at some slipper-tops that I’ve got ready pasted and have asked her to sew for me.’
‘You’re an intelligent young woman,’ said Bao-chai, having first looked to right and left of her to make sure that no one else was about, ‘I should have thought you’d have sense enough to leave her a few moments in peace. I’ve been watch?ing our Yun lately, and from what I’ve observed of her and various stray remarks I’ve heard, I get the impression that back at home she can barely call her soul her own. I know for a fact that they are too mean to pay for professional seam?stresses and that nearly all the sewing has to be done by the women of the household, and I’m pretty sure that’s why, whenever she’s found herself alone with me on these last few visits, she’s told me how tired she gets at home. When I press her for details, her eyes fill with tears and she answers evasively, as though she’d like to tell me but daren’t. It must be very hard for her, losing both her parents when she was so young. It quite wrings my heart to see her so exploited.’
Aroma smote her hands together as understanding dawned.
‘Yes, I see. I see now why she was so slow with those ten butterfly bows I asked her to sew for me last month. It was ages before she sent them, and even then there was a message to say that she’d only been able to do them roughly. She told me I’d better use them on something else. “If you want nice, even ones,” she said, “you’ll have to wait until next time I come to stay with you.” Now I can see why. She didn’t like to refuse when I asked her, but I suppose she had to sit up till midnight doing them, poor thing. Oh, how stupid of me! I’d never have asked her if I’d realized.’
‘Last time she was here, she told me that it’s quite normal for her to sit up sewing until midnight,’ said Bao-chai; ‘and if her aunt or the other women catch her doing the slightest bit of work for anyone else, they are angry with her.’
‘It’s all the fault of that pig-headed young master of mine,’ said Aroma. ‘He refuses to let any of his sewing be done by the seamstresses outside. Every bit of work, large or small, has to be done in his room and I just can’t manage it all on my own.’
Bao-chai laughed.
‘Why do you take any notice of him? Why not simply give it to the seamstresses without telling him?’
‘He’s not so easy to fool,’ said Aroma. ‘He can tell the difference. I’m afraid there’s nothing for it. I shall just have to work through it all gradually on my own.’
‘Now just a minute!’ said Bao-chai. ‘We’ll think of a way round this. Suppose I were to do some of it for you?’
‘Would you really?’ said Aroma. ‘I’d be so grateful if you would. I’ll come over with some this evening then.’
She had barely finished saying this when an old woman came rushing up to them in a state of great agitation.
‘Isn’t it dreadful? Miss Golden has drowned herself in the well.’
‘Which Golden? said Aroma, startled.
‘Which Golden?’ said the old woman. ‘There aren’t two Goldens that I know of. Golden from Her Ladyship’s room, of course, that was dismissed the day before yesterday. She’d been crying and carrying on at home ever since, but nobody paid much attention to her. Then suddenly, when they went to look for her, she wasn’t there, and just now someone going to fetch water from the well by the south-east corner found a body in it and rushed inside for help, and when they fished it out, they found that it was Golden. They did all they could to revive her, but it was too late. She was dead.’
‘How strange!’ said Bao-chai.
Aroma shook her head wonderingly and a tear or two stole down her cheek. She and Golden had been like sisters to each other.
Bao-chai hurried off to Lady Wang’s to offer her sympathy. Aroma went back to Green Delights.

*

When Bao-chai arrived at Lady Wang’s apartment she found the whole place hushed and still and Lady Wang sitting in the inner room on her own, crying. Deeming it an unsuitable moment to raise the subject of her visit, Bao-chai sat down beside her in silence.
‘Where have you just come from?’ Lady Wang asked her.
‘The Garden.’
‘The Garden,’ Lady Wang echoed. ‘Did you by any chance see your cousin Bao-yu there?’
‘I saw him going out just now wearing his outdoor clothes, but I don’t know where he was going to.’
Lady Wang nodded and gave a sigh.
‘I don’t know if you’ve heard. Something very strange has happened. Golden has drowned herself in a well.’
‘That is strange,’ said Bao-chai. ‘Why ever did she do that?’
‘The day before yesterday she broke something of mine,’ said Lady Wang, ‘and in a moment of anger I struck her a couple of times and sent her back to her mother’s. I had only been meaning to leave her there a day or two to punish her. After that I would have had her back again. I never dreamed that she would be so angry with me as to drown herself. Now that she has, I feel that it is all my fault.’
‘It’s only natural that a kind person like you should see it in that way,’ said Bao-chai, ‘but in my opinion Golden would never have drowned herself in anger. It’s much more likely that she was playing about beside the well and slipped in accidentally. While she was in service her movements were restricted and it would be natural for her to go running around everywhere during her first day or two outside. There’s no earthly reason why she should have felt angry enough with you to drown herself. If she did, all I can say is that she was a stupid person and not worth feeling sorry for!’
Lady Wang sighed and shook her head doubtfully.
‘Well, it may be as you say, but I still feel very uneasy in my mind.’
‘I’m sure you have no cause, Aunt,’ said Bao-chai, ‘but if you feel very much distressed, I suggest that you simply give her family a little extra for the funeral. In that way you will more than fulfill any moral obligation you may have towards her as a mistress.’
‘I have just given her mother fifty taels,’ said Lady Wang. ‘I wanted to give her two new outfits as well from one of the girls’ wardrobes, but it just so happens that at the moment none of them apart from your Cousin Lin has got anything new that would do. Your Cousin Lin has got two sets that we had made for her next birthday, but she is such a sensitive child and has had so much sickness and misfortune in her life that I’m afraid she would almost certainly feel superstitious about the clothes made for her birthday being used for dress?ing a corpse with, so I’ve had to ask the tailors to make up a couple in a hurry. Of course, if it were any other maid, I should have given the mother a few taels and that would have been the end of the matter. But though Golden was only a servant, she had been with me so long that she had become almost like a daughter to me.’
She began to cry again as she said this.
‘There’s no need to hurry the tailors about this,’ said Bao-?chai. ‘I’ve got two new outfits that I recently finished making for myself. Why not let her mother have them and save them the trouble? Golden once or twice wore old dresses of mine in the past, so I know they will fit her.’
‘That’s very kind of you, but aren’t you superstitious?’ said Lady Wang.
Bao-chai laughed.
‘Don’t worry about that, Aunt. That sort of thing has never bothered me.’
At that she rose and went off to fetch them. Lady Wang hurriedly ordered two of the servants to go after her.
When Bao-chai returned with the clothes, she found Bao-yu sitting beside his mother in tears. Lady Wang was evidently in the midst of rebuking him about something, but as soon as she caught sight of Bao-chai, she closed her mouth and fell silent. From the scene before her eyes and the word or two she had overheard, Bao-chai was able to form a pretty good idea of what had been happening. She handed the clothes over to Lady Wang and Lady Wang summoned Golden’s mother to come and fetch them.
What happened after that will be told in the following chapter.

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