The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 41



Jia Bao-yu tastes some superior tea at Green Bower Hermitage
And Grannie Liu samples the sleeping accommodation at
Green Delights

‘THIS flower will to a pumpkin grow.’
As Grannie Liu of the flower-studded hair said this, gestur?ing with her hands to suggest the size of the full-grown pump-kin, a shout of laughter rose from all those present.
She drank the ‘pass’ cup.
‘To be truthful,’ she said, aiming for another laugh, ‘I’m but a clumsy body at the best of times, and having drunk so much, I’m scared of breaking this pretty cup you’ve given me. You should have given me a wooden one; then if I dropped it, it wouldn’t matter.’
The others laughed; but Xi-feng pretended to take her seriously:
‘If you really want a wooden cup to drink out of, I can find you one. But I’d better warn you. The wooden ones aren’t like these porcelain ones; they come in sets of different sizes, and if we get them out for you, you’ll have to drink out of every one in the set.’
Grannie Liu calculated.
‘I was only joking,’ she thought. ‘I didn’t think they’d really have any. When I’ve dined with the gentry back home, I’ve seen many a gold and silver cup in their houses, but never a wooden one. I expect these will be wooden bowls that the children use. It’s a trick to make me drink a lot. Well, never mind. This stuff’s not much more than sugared water anyway. It can do me no harm if I drink a bit extra.’
Having so reflected, she made reply
‘Very well. Let’s see them first though.’
‘Go to the inner room of the front apartment,’ Xi-feng told Felicity, ‘and fetch me that set of ten winecups on the bookcase—the ones carved Out of bamboo root.’
But before Felicity could go on her errand, Faithful made a counter-proposal:
‘I know that set of yours they’re not very big cups, and in any case, you promised her wooden ones and yours are only made of bamboo. Much better give her ten boxwood ones and make her drink out of Them.’
‘All right,’ said Xi-feng. ‘Better still.’ So Faithful sent someone to fetch them.
The sight of these cups when they arrived both alarmed and delighted Grannie Liu. What alarmed her was their size. The largest was as big as a small hand-basin and even the smallest one was twice as big as the cup she held in her hand. What de?lighted her was the consummate artistry of the carving. On each of the ten cups, in smaller and smaller replicas, was the same landscape with little trees and human figures in it and even some lines of minute ‘grass character’ writing and a tiny carved representation of an artist’s seal.
‘I’ll take the smallest one,’ she said hurriedly.
‘Oh no!’ said Xi-feng, smiling. ‘These cups have never been used before, because up to now we’ve never found any?one with a big enough capacity to drink from them. Now that you’ve asked for them and we’ve been to the trouble of get?ting them out for you, we must insist on your drinking from every one of them.’
‘I couldn’t,’ said Grannie Lin in a panic. ‘Please, Mrs Lian, don’t make me!’
Grandmother Jia, Aunt Xue and Lady Wang all realized that a person of Grannie Liu’s advanced years could not possibly be expected to imbibe so huge a quantity of liquor with?out the direst consequences, and laughingly pleaded for her.
‘Come now, a joke is a joke. You mustn’t make her drink too much. Let her just drink from the largest one.’
‘Holy Name!’ said Grannie Liu. ‘Can’t I just drink from the smallest one, like I said? I can take the largest one home with me and drink it up by degrees.’
The others laughed. Faithful, obliged to relent, ordered one of the larger, but not the largest cup to be filled, and Grannie Liu, holding it in both her hands, began to drink.
‘Drink it slowly, now,’ Grandmother Jia and Aunt Xue counselled her. ‘Don’t make yourself choke.’
Aunt Xue told Xi-feng to offer the old woman something to eat with her bowlful.
‘What would you like, Grannie?’ said Xi-feng. Just name it and I’ll feed you some.’
‘I don’t know the names of any of these dishes,’ said Gran?nie Lin. ‘Anything you like. They all taste good to me.’
‘Give her some of the dried aubergine,’ said Grandmother Jia.
Xi-feng collected some between her chopsticks and held it up to Grannie Liu’s mouth.
‘There. I expect at home you eat aubergines every day. Try some of ours and see what you think of it.’
‘You’re having me on,’ said Grannie Liu, when she had eaten the proffered mouthful. ‘No aubergine ever had a flavour like that. If it did, we’d give up growing other crops and grow nothing but aubergines!’
‘It really is aubergine,’ the others laughingly assured her. ‘This time we’re not having you on.’
‘Really?’ said Grannie Liu in some surprise. ‘Well, I couldn’t have had my mind on it properly while I was eating it. Give me a bit more, Mrs Lian, and this time I’ll chew it more carefully.’
Xi-feng took up some more from the dish in her chopsticks and popped it into Grannie Liu’s mouth. After prolonged, reflective mastication Grannie Liu agreed that there was indeed a slight hint of aubergine in the flavour.
‘But I still say this isn’t really like aubergine,’ she said. ‘Tell me the recipe, so that I can make it for myself.’
‘It’s simple,’ said Xi-feng. ‘You pick the aubergines in the fourth or fifth month when they’re just ripe, skin them, re?move the pulp and pips and cut into thread-fine strips which you dry in the sun. Then you take the stock from one whole fat boiling-fowl, put the dried aubergine-strips into a steamer and steam them over the chicken stock until it’s nearly all boiled away. Then you take them out and dry them in the sun again. You do that, steaming and drying, steaming and drying by turns, altogether nine times. And it has to be dried until it’s quite brittle. Then you store in a tightly-sealed jar, and when you want to eat some, you take out about a saucerful and mix it with fried slivers of chicken leg-meat before serving.’
Xi-feng’s ‘simple recipe’ caused Grannie Liu to stick her tongue out and shake her head in wonderment.
‘Lord Buddha!’ she exclaimed. ‘That’s ten chicken gone into the making of it. No wonder it tastes so good!’
And having laughed a while over the recipe, she applied herself once more to the wine and slowly drank it down. She continued to toy with the cup after she had finished drinking, as though loth to put it down.
‘I do believe you haven’t had enough,’ said Xi-feng. ‘Have another cupful.’
‘Gracious goodness, that would be the death of me!’ said Grannie Liu. ‘No, I was just admiring the carving on it. Beautiful. How could they do it so fine?’
‘Now that you’ve finished drinking from it,’ said Faithful, ‘why not tell us what wood it’s made of?’
‘Ah now, that question doesn’t surprise me,’ said Grannie Liu. You young ladies living in the lap of luxury wouldn’t know much about wood; but people like us that live all our lives with the woods for neighbours, that lie on wood when we re tired and sit on it when we’re weary and even have to eat it sometimes in years of famine: seeing it and hearing it and talking about it every day of our lives, we naturally get to know its different qualities and can tell the genuine from the imitation. Well now, let me see.’
She turned the cup round a good while in her hands and contemplated it with great attention before pronouncing:
‘A household like yours wouldn’t have anything cheap in it,’ she said, ‘so anything wooden you’ve got would be made from a wood that’s not very easy to come by. And this is a heavy wood, so it’s definitely not willow. I should say, with?out much doubt, this is red pine.’
The loud laughter which greeted this pronouncement was interrupted by the arrival of an old woman who reported to Grandmother Jia that the young actresses were in the Lotus Pavilion awaiting instructions. Were they to perform now, or should they go on waiting a little longer?
‘Bless me! I had completely forgotten about them,’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘Yes, tell them to begin straight away.’
The old woman departed, and presently, in the cold, clear air of autumn, the ululation of flutes rising above a drone of pipes and organs came stealing through the trees and across the water, ravishing the hearts and minds of those who heard it.
Bao-yu, the first to be affected, seized his wine-kettle, poured himself a cupful of wine, and drained it in a single gulp. He then poured himself a second cup; but just as he was about to drink it, he noticed that his mother had evidently been affected in the same way, for she was just at that moment giving orders to a servant to fetch her a supply of freshly-heated wine. At once he crossed over to where she was sitting and held his cup to her mouth for her to drink from.
Soon the newly-heated wine arrived and Bao-yu went back to his seat. Lady Wang rose from hers and picked up the wine-kettle that had just been brought, intending to pour some for Grandmother Jia. This was a signal for the others present, including Aunt Xue, to rise from their seats as well; but Grandmother Jia hurriedly gave orders for Li Wan and Xi-feng to take over.
‘Let your Aunt sit down, so that the others can be at their ease,’ she said to Xi-feng, whereupon Lady Wang relinquished the wine-kettle and went back to her seat.
‘We’re having such fun today,’ said Grandmother Jia when Xi-feng had poured for her. ‘All of you must drink!’
She raised her cup to Aunt Xue, then, reaching beyond her, to Xiang-yun and Bao-chai.
‘Come on, you two! You must have a cup too. And your Cousin Lin – we’re not letting her off. I know she can’t drink very much, but today is an exception.’
She drained her cup, and Xiang-yun, Bao-chai and Dai-yu drank something from theirs.
Grannie Liu, meanwhile, who had seldom before heard such fine music and was more than a little drunk, was showing bet appreciation of it with vigorous movements of hands and feet. Bao-yu, catching sight of her, slipped from his seat to whisper in Dai-yu’s ear.
‘Look at the old grannie!’
‘It reminds me of the passage in the History Classic about the animals dancing to the music of Shun,’ said Dai-yu. ‘Only in this case it’s just one old cow!’
The other girls, overhearing this, all laughed.
After a little while the music stopped and Aunt Xue sugges?ted that as everyone appeared to have had about as much to drink as was good for them, perhaps it would be a good idea to break up and walk around for a bit. At this Grandmother Jia, who was herself beginning to feel like some exercise, rose to her feet. The others rose too and followed her outside.
Anxious to keep Grannie Liu with her as a source of diver?sion, Grandmother Jia took her by the hand to walk with her among the trees at the foot of the rockery. She spent a goodish while circumambulating this area with her, explaining what the various trees, rocks and flowers were called. Grannie Liu listened very attentively.
‘Seems that in the city it isn’t only the folks that are gran?der,’ she remarked. ‘The creatures too seem to be grander than what they are outside. Even the birds here are prettier, and they can talk.’
‘What birds?’ they asked her, curious.
‘I know the one on the golden perch on the verandah—him with the green feathers and red beak is—a polly parrot,’ she said defensively, ‘but that old black crow in the cage he’s grown a thingummy on his head and learned to talk, as well.’
The ‘crow’ that she was referring to was a mynah. The others laughed at her mistake.
A little after this some maids came up and invited them to take a snack.
‘After drinking all that wine, I don’t feel hungry,’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘Still, bring it here anyway, and those who want to can help themselves.’
The maids went off and returned carrying two small tables. A couple of food-boxes followed. Each, when its cover was removed, was found to contain two different kinds of delicacy. In the first box there were two kinds of steamed things: marzipan cakes made of ground lotus-root and sugared cassia?-flowers, and pine-nut and goose-fat rolls, The second box contained two sorts of fried things, one of them a heap of tiny jiao-zi only about one inch long
‘What have they got inside them?’ Grandmother Jia asked.
‘Crab-meat, said one of the old women who had brought the boxes.
Grandmother Jia frowned.
‘I shouldn’t think anyone would feel like eating that now,’ she said. ‘Much too rich.’
The other type of fried confection consisted of a wide variety of little pastry-shapes deep-fried in butter. These, too, met with the old lady’s disapproval. She invited Aunt Xue to choose first. Aunt Xue selected one of the little cakes of lotus-root marzipan. Grandmother Jia chose a goose-fat and pine-nut roll, but after merely tasting it, handed the uneaten half to a maid.
Grannie Liu was fascinated by the delicately fashioned pas?tries. They had been looped or perforated or criss-crossed in every conceivable shape and the soft dough instantaneously hardened in boiling butter-fat. The one she had selected was shaped like a peony.
‘The cleverest girl in our village couldn’t make a paper cut?out as fine as that,’ she said, holding it up for the others to see. ‘It seems almost a shame to eat it. I’d like to wrap up a few of these and take them home with me to use as patterns!’
The others laughed.
‘I’ll give you a jarful to take back with you when you go,’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘Eat these ones now, while they’re still hot.’
The others contented themselves with nibbling only one or two of whichever delicacies in the boxes took their fancy, but Grannie Liu and Ban-er, partly because of the novelty (neither of them having eaten such things before), and partly because the little pastry-shapes really were very pretty and, being heaped promiscuously together, tempted you to go on eating them to discover what new shapes were lying underneath, went on munching away until they had tried several of every shape, by which time about half the pile had vanished. Xi-feng had what was left on the four dishes heaped together onto two of them and put into a single box, and sent it over to the Lotus Pavilion for élégante and the eleven other little actresses to eat.
Just then the nurse appeared carrying Xi-feng’s little girl, who at once became the main focus of their attention. She was clutching a large grapefruit, but as soon as she caught sight of the Buddha’s hand that Ban-er was holding, she decided that she wanted that, and let up a wail when the maids who were attempting to coax it from Ban-er could not procure it for her quickly enough. A resourceful cousin saved the situation by hurriedly taking the grapefruit and inducing Ban-?er to make an exchange. Ban-er had by this time been playing with the Buddha’s hand for quite a long while and had more or less exhausted its possibilities; moreover at the moment he had his hands full of fried pastry-shapes; and the grapefruit not only smelled good but, being round, made an excellent football. For these three reasons he concluded that it was an altogether more satisfactory fruit than the Buddha’s hand and abandoned all interest in the latter.


When everyone had taken tea, Grandmother Jia, with the rest of the party following, conducted Grannie Lin to Green Bower Hermitage, where they were met at the gate by the nun Adamantina. Inside the courtyard the trees and shrubs had a thriving, well-cared-for look.
‘Monks and nuns always have the best-kept gardens,’ said Grandmother Jia, in smiling approval of what she saw. ‘They have nothing else to do with their time.’
They were walking towards the meditation hall on the east side of the courtyard. As they seemed to hesitate in the outer foyer, Adamantina invited them to go on inside, but Grand?mother Jia declined.
‘No, we won’t go inside just now. We’ve all recently taken wine and meat, and as you’ve got the Bodhisattva in there, it would be sacrilege. We can sit out here, where we are. Bring us some of your nice tea. We’ll just drink one cup and then go out again.’
Adamantina hurried off to make tea.
Having heard a good deal about her, Bao-yu studied her very attentively, when she arrived back presently with the tray. It was a little cinque-lobed lacquer tea-tray decorated with a gold-infilled engraving of a cloud dragon coiled round the character for ‘longevity’. On it stood a little covered tea?cup of Cheng Hua enamelled porcelain. Holding the tray out respectfully in both her hands, she offered the cup to Grand?mother Jia.
‘I don’t drink Lu-an tea,’ said Grandmother Jia.
‘I know you don’t,’ said Adainantina with a smile. ‘This is Old Man’s Eyebrows.’
Grandmother Jia took the tea and inquired what sort of water it had been made with.
‘Last year’s rain-water,’ said Adamantina.
After drinking half’ Grandmother Jia handed the cup to Grannie Liu.
‘Try it,’ she said. ‘See what you think of it.’
Grannie Liu gulped down the remaining half.
‘Hmn. All right. A bit on the weak side, though. It would be better if it were brewed a little longer.’
Grandmother Jia and the rest seemed to derive much amuse?ment from these comments.
The others were now served tea in covered cups of ‘sweet-white’ eggshell china—all, that is, except Bao-chai and Dai-yu, whom Adamantina tugged by the sleeve as an indication that they should follow her inside. Bao-yu stealthily slipped out after them and saw Adamantina usher them into a side-room leading off the foyer. This was Adamantina’s own room. Inside it Bao-chai seated herself on the couch and Dai-yu sat on Adamantina’s meditation mat. Adamantina busied herself at the stove, fanning the charcoal until the water was boiling vigorously and brewing them a fresh pot of tea. Bao-yu stepped softly into the room and made his presence known to the two cousins.
‘So you get the hostess’s special brew?’
‘Yes,’ they said laughing. ‘And it’s no good your gate-crashing in here after us, because there’s none for you.’
Just as Adamantina was about to fetch cups for the girls, an old lay-sister appeared at the door carrying the empties she had been collecting in the foyer.
‘Don’t bring that Cheng Hua cup in here,’ said Adamantina. ‘Leave it outside.’
Bao-yu understood immediately. It was because Grannie Liu had drunk from it. In Adamantina’s eyes the cup was now contaminated. He watched her as she got cups out for the girls. One of them, a cup with a handle, had

carved in li-shu characters on one side and

Wang Kai his Treasure

in little autograph characters. on the back, followed by another column of tiny characters:

Examined by Su Dong-po in the Inner Treasury
Fourth month Yuan-feng era anno 50

When she had poured tea into this cup she handed it to Bao-chai.
The other cup was shaped like a miniature begging-bowl and was inscribed with the words


in ‘pearl-drop’ seal script. Adamantina filled it and handed it to Dai-yu.
She poured tea for Bao-yu in the green jade mug that she normally drank from herself, Bao-yu commented jokingly on the choice:
‘I thought you religious were supposed to treat all earthly creatures alike. How comes it that the other two get priceless heirlooms to drink out of but I only get a common old thing like this?’
‘I have no wish to boast,’ said Adamantina, ‘but this “com?mon old thing” as you call it may well be more valuable than anything you could find in your own household.’
‘In the world’s eyes, yes,’ said Bao-yu. ‘But “other coun?tries, other ways”, you know. When I enter your domain, I naturally adopt your standards and look on gold, jewels and jade as common, vulgar things.’
Adamantina glowed with pleasure. In place of the jade mug she hunted out a large drinking-bowl for him to drink out of. It was carved from a gnarled and ancient bamboo root in the likeness of a coiled-up dragon with horns like antlers.
‘There, that’s the only thing I’ve got left. Do you think you can drink so much?’
Delightedly he assured her that he could.
‘Yes, I dare say you could too,’ said Adamantina. ‘But I’m not sure that I’m prepared to waste so much of my best tea on you. You know what they say “One cup for a connoisseur, two for a rustic, and three for a thirsty mule”. What sort of creature does that make you if you drink this bowlful?’
Bao-chai, Dai-yu and Bao-yu all three laughed at this. Adamantina poured the equivalent of about a cupful into the bamboo-root bowl. Savouring it carefully in little sips, Bao-yu found it of incomparable freshness and lightness and praised it enthusiastically.
‘You realize, of course,’ said Adamantina seriously, ‘that it is only because of the other two that you are drinking this. If you had come here alone, I should not have given you any.
Bao-yu laughed.
‘I fully realize that, and I don’t feel in the least indebted to you. I shall offer my thanks to them.’
Adamantina pondered this statement with unsmiling gravity.
‘Yes. I think that would be sensible.’
‘Is this tea made with last year’s rain-water too?’ Dai-yu asked her.
Adamantina looked scornful.
‘Oh! can you really not tell the difference? I am quite disap?pointed in you. This is melted snow that I collected from the branches of winter-flowering plum-trees five years ago, when I was living at the Coiled Incense temple on Mt Xuan-mu. I managed to fill the whole of that demon-green glaze water-jar with it. For years I couldn’t bring myself to start it; then this summer I opened it for the first time Today is only the second time I have ever used any. I am mod surprised that you cannot tell the difference. When did stored rain-water have such buoyant lightness? How could one possibly use it for a tea like this?’
Dai-yu was too well aware of Adamantina’s eccentricity to attempt a reply; and since it felt awkward to sit there saying nothing, she signalled to Bao-chai that they should go. While the three of them were leaving, Bao-yu stopped to have a word with Adamantina.
‘That cup that the old woman drank out of: of course, I realize that you can’t possibly use it any more, but it seems a shame to throw it on one side. Couldn’t you give it to the old woman? She’s very poor, and if she sold it, she could probably live for quite a long while on the proceeds. What do you think?’
Adamantina reflected for some moments and then nodded.
Yes, I suppose so. Fortunately I have never drunk out of that cup myself. If I had, I should have smashed it to pieces rather than give it to her. If you want her to have it, though, you must give it to her yourself. I will have no part in it. And you must take it away immediately.’
‘But of course,’ said Bao-yu. ‘No one would expect you to speak to her. That would be an even greater pollution. Just give the cup to me and I shall see to the rest.’
Adamantina ordered the cup to be brought in and handed over to Bao-yu. As he took it, Bao-yu said
‘After we’ve gone, shall I get my boys to bring a few buckets of water from the lake and clean the floor for you ?’
Adamantina smiled graciously.
‘That would be very nice. But tell them to bring the water only as far as the gate. They can leave it there at the foot of the outer wall. Tell them not to come inside.’
‘Of course,’ said Bao1u, putting the cup into his sleeve as they went into the foyer. He found a junior maid of Grand?mother Jia’s there and entrusted it to her.
‘When Grannie Liu goes, see that she takes this Cup with her, will you?’
By the time he had done this, Grandmother Jia was already outside in the courtyard expressing a desire to get back. Ada?mantina made no serious effort to detain her, and after seeing her guests out of the Hermitage, went in again and closed the gate after her.


Back at the scene of the party, Grandmother Jia, who was feeling somewhat exhausted, told Lady Wang and the girls to act as hostesses to Aunt Xue while she herself went off to Sweet-rice Village for a rest. Xi-feng ordered the servants to fetch a little bamboo carrying-chair, which Grandmother Jia got into. Two old women lifted it up, and then off they all went, Xi-feng and Li Wan one on either side of it and a little cohort of maids and older servants bringing up the rear.
As soon as Grandmother Jia had gone, Aunt Xue excused herself and left, Lady Wang, having dismissed the young actresses and given orders for the left-over food in the lacquer boxes to be distributed among the maids, also availed herself of the opportunity of taking a rest. Putting her feet up on the couch lately occupied by Grandmother Jia, she first caused the blinds to be let down, then, instructing one of the junior maids to massage her legs, and murmuring something about ‘calling her if anyone came from Her Old Ladyship’, she settled her-self down for a nap.
Bao-yu and the girls watched the maids take the food-boxes out onto the rockery. Some sat there on the rocks for their picnic; others spread out over the grass below or sat under the trees or down at the water’s edge. Although so dispersed, they managed to create a considerable hubbub.
After a little while Faithful arrived with instructions to show Grannie Liu some more of the Garden. The cousins, hoping for more laughs, went along with them.
A short walk took them to the monumental stone arch at the entrance to the Reunion Palace.
‘Goodness me!’ said the old woman. ‘You even have a temple here!’
She fell down on her knees and kotowed, causing her young companions to double up with laughter.
‘Why do you laugh?’ she said. ‘Do you think I don’t know what the words say? We have quite a few temples where I come from and they all have arches like this. The writing on the arch is the name of the temple.’
‘All right. What’s the name of this temple then?’ they asked her.
Grannie Liu pointed upwards at the characters inscribed overhead.
‘“Temple of the Jade Emperor”. That’s what it says, doesn’t it?’
This produced an ecstasy of merriment in the young people. No doubt they would have gone on teasing her, but just at that moment there was an alarming rumble from her bowels and she clutched the hand of one of the little maidservants standing by and begged her for the favour of a couple of sheets of paper, while with the other hand she began undoing the buttons of her dress.
The others, still laughing, shouted at her to stop
‘No, no! Not here! Not here!’
They told one of the older women to escort her to a place beyond the north-east corner of the precincts where there was a privy. Having led Grannie Liu to within sight of it and pointed it out to her, the old servant deemed this an excellent opportunity of taking some time off, and went away, leaving Grannie Liu to make her way back alone.
Now Grannie Liu had drunk quantities of yellow rice-wine, which did not in fact agree with her; on top of that she had eaten a lot of rich, fatty food; and as the food had made her thirsty, she had concluded by drinking an excessive amount of tea. The upset stomach which was the inevitable consequence of so much indulgence kept her a wearisome long time in the privy before her business there was completed.
When she at last emerged, the colder air outside drove the wine fumes up into her head, increasing the dizziness, which might be thought normal in a woman of her years who has suddenly got up after squatting for a long time on her heels, to such an extent that she was quite Unable to make out the route that she had come by. Everywhere she looked there were buildings, rocks and trees. Unable to decide which of them lay in the right direction, she made for the nearest paved path and, with slow and deliberate steps, followed it to see where it would take her.
It took her in time to the courtyard wall of a house, but she could find no gate in it, and after wandering round a long while looking for one, she came upon a bamboo trellis, which she contemplated with some astonishment.
‘Hmn. Bean-sticks. What are they doing here?’
The ‘bean-sticks’ resolved themselves into a rose-covered pergola. After walking alongside it for a while, she came to a round ‘moon-gate’, which she entered. Ahead of her was a channel of crystal-clear water, five or six feet wide. Its banks were reinforced with stone, and a large, flat slab of white stone had been laid across it to make a bridge. After she had crossed the bridge there was a raised cobbled path which, after a couple of right-angled bends, brought her up to the door of the house.
The first thing she saw on entering it was a young woman smiling at her in welcome. Grannie Liu smiled back.
‘I’m lost, miss. The young ladies have left me to find my own way and I’ve wandered in here by mistake.’
Surprised that the girl did not reply, Grannie Thu stepped forward to take her hand and—bang!—hit her head a most painful thump on the wooden wall. The girl was a painting, as she found on closer inspection.
‘Strange!’ she thought. ‘How can they paint a picture so that it sticks out like that?’
Grannie Liu was ignorant of the foreign mode of light-and-?shadow painting and was sorely puzzled to discover, on touch?ing the picture, that it did not in fact ‘stick out’ but was flat all over. Turning from it with a sigh and a shake of her head, she moved on to a little doorway in the wooden partition-wall, over which hung a green, flower-patterned portière. She raised the portiere and went inside.
In the room she now entered everything, from the top of the surrounding walls, delicately incised with shapes of swords, vases, musical instruments, incense-burners and the like, to the lavish furnishing below, in which

The weaver’s glowing art combined
With gleam of gold and. orient pearl,

and thence down to the very floor of brilliantly patterned green glazed tiles beneath her feet, was such as to make even more dazzled the eyes of an already intoxicated old woman.
She looked for the way out – but where was it? To the left of her there was a bookcase, to the right a screen. She tried behind the screen. Ah, yes! There was the door. But there too, to her intense surprise, approaching her from the opposite direction and causing her a momentary palpitation of the heart, was another old woman, whom she took to be her old gossip from the village.
‘What? are you here too?’ she asked her, ‘I suppose you were wondering what had become of me these last few days. Well, it was neighbourly to come and look for me. Which of the young women brought you in?’
She noticed, with much amusement, that her old neigh?bour’s head was covered all over with flowers.
‘Hoo! You’ll catch it! Picking the flowers from their garden to put in your own hair. Well I never!’
The other merely grinned back at her and said nothing. Grannie Liu stretched out a hand to give her the touch of shame. The other old woman stretched her hand out too to stop her. After a. brief’ soundless skirmish, Grannie Liu managed to get her finger onto the other one’s face. But no sooner had she done so than she recoiled in horror, for the cheek she touched was as cold and hard as a block of ice. Suddenly the truth dawned on her:
‘I’ve heard of rich folks having what they call “dressing mirrors ‘in their houses. Mayhap I’m standing in front of one of them and it’s myself I’m looking at.’
She stretched out her hand again to feel and closely examined the surface. Yes, no doubt of it: it was a mirror, let into the carved surface of the wooden partition. She laughed at her own error.
‘Yes, but how do I get out of here?’ she thought, as she continued to finger the mirror’s carved surround.
Suddenly there was a loud clunk! which so frightened the old woman that for some moments she rolled her eyes in ter?ror. The mirror was in fact a kind of door. It had a West Ocean mechanism by which it could be opened or closed, and Gran?nie Liu, in feeling around it, had accidentally touched the spring which had made the mirror slide back into the panel?ling, revealing the doorway underneath.
Pleasantly surprised, she passed through the doorway into a room whose main feature was a rich and elegantly patterned bed. Now Grannie Liu was seven or eight parts drunk and thoroughly worn out from all her walking. Seeing a bed in front of her, she sat down on it gratefully, to rest her feet. But though she intended no more than a few moments’ rest, as soon as she had sat down, her weariness overcame her. Her head went down and her feet went up as though she was no longer in possession of them; a darkness closed over her eyes, and she sank back on the bed, fast asleep.
Outside in the Garden meanwhile, the cousins were begin?ning to wonder what had become of her, and Ban-er, missing his grandmother, became panicky and began to cry.
‘Perhaps she’s fallen into the privy,’ one of the young people suggested cheerfully. ‘We’d better send someone to have a look.’
Two old women were sent to the privy to investigate. When they reported back ‘hat she was not there, the others were at a loss to think where she could have got to. It was Aroma who hit on the correct hypothesis.
‘She must have missed the way back because she was drunk. If she followed the path in the wrong direction, it will have taken her to our back Courtyard. Now if she went through the pergola and then on into the house through the back door, she’ll probably have been seen by one of the maids. If she didn’t go in through the pergola but went on walking in a south-westerly direction, Heaven only knows where she’ll end up! I think I’d better go and have a look.
She hurried back to Green Delights, intending to ask the junior maids if they had seen her; but the place was deserted; they had all sneaked off elsewhere to play. Entering the main building by way of the front door, she made her way through the complicated carved partition. A thunderous snoring could be heard coming from the bedroom at the back. She hurried through. As she entered the bedroom, a heavy stink, com?pounded of farts and wine-fumes, assailed her nostrils. Her eyes travelled to the bed, from which the sounds were coming, and saw Grannie Liu, spreadeagled on her back and fast asleep.
As soon as she had overcome her shock, she rushed up to the bed and shook her relentlessly until she woke. Grannie Liu opened her eyes wide and saw Aroma standing over her.
‘Oh, miss!’ She scrambled hurriedly to her feet. C Oh, I am sorry! Anyway—praise be!— I haven’t dirtied the bed.’
She felt it nervously, to make sure.
Aroma, mortally afraid that someone would overhear and Bao-yu get to know of what had happened, gestured to her violently not to speak. Hurriedly she threw three or four whole handfuls of Hundred Blend aromatic onto the incense burner that stood always smouldering beside the bed and re?placed its cover.
‘At least it’s a mercy she wasn’t sick,’ she thought to her?self.
Speaking to her in an urgent whisper, she nevertheless con?trived to smile at her reassuringly:
‘It’s all right. I’ll look after this. Just follow me.’
Grannie Liu nodded gratefully and followed her to the junior maids’ quarters outside, where Aroma made her sit down.
‘If they ask what happened, just say that you passed Out and had a little nap on the rockery.’
Grannie Liu willingly agreed, and Aroma gave her some tea. By the end of the second cup she had sobered up com?pletely and was able to converse.
‘Which of the young ladies does the bedroom belong to?’ she asked Aroma. ‘It’s the most beautiful I ever saw. I thought I was in paradise.’
Aroma gave a wry little smile.
‘It’s—actually it’s Master Bao’s bedroom.’
Grannie Liu fell silent, horrified by the enormity of her trespass. Seeing that she had now recovered, Aroma led her out through the front courtyard and back to where the others were waiting.
‘I found her asleep on the grass,’ she said when she saw them, ‘so I’ve brought her back for you.’
The others seemed satisfied with this explanation, for no further mention was made of it.
Shortly after this Grandmother Jia woke up and dinner was laid for her in Sweet-rice Village; but she felt too exhausted to eat anything, and getting into the bamboo carrying-chair again, had herself carried back to her own apartment to rest. When she was back, she told Xi-feng and the rest of the young folk who had escorted her to go and have their dinner, and the cousins went back into the Garden
Ensuing events will be dealt with in the following Chapter.

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