The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 42

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CHAPTER 42

Lady Allspice wins over a suspicious nature with some
well-intentioned advice
And River Queen enhances her reputation as a wit with
some amusing sarcasms

The last chapter showed how Grandmother Jia, escorted by all the others, returned from Sweet-rice Village to her own apartment. As soon as she arrived, she insisted that the young people should go off and have their dinner. The young people accordingly went back into the Garden, and when they had eaten, the party finally broke up.
Returning from the Garden with little Ban-er, Grannie Liu first called on Xi-feng to announce her intention of leaving for home early next morning.
‘We’ve only been here two or three days,’ she said, ‘but in these two or three days we’ve seen and heard and eaten and drunk more things than we ever dreamed of. I’m truly grateful to you and Her Old Ladyship and the young gentlewomen and the young ladies working in the different apartments for treating an old countrywoman with so much kindness. I don’t know what I can do in return. All I can think of is to buy some sticks of best incense when I get back so that I can offer some every day to the Lord Buddha and pray him to give you long life. Leastways it would show my gratitude.’
‘It’s a bit early yet for rejoicing,’ said Xi-feng drily. ‘Thanks to you, Her Old Ladyship seems to have caught a chill and is at this very moment lying on her back complaining how bad she feels; and my little girl has caught a cold, too, and is lying in there with a fever.’
Grannie Liu murmured sympathetically.
‘Her Old Ladyship’s feeling her age, poor soul,’ she said. And she isn’t used to the exercise.’
‘I’ve never seen her more lively than she was today,’ said Xi-feng. ‘Generally when she goes into the Garden, she’ll visit just one or two places, sit there for a little while, and then come back again. But today, because you were there and she wanted to show you everything, she must have covered the greater part of the Garden. It was also because of you that I wasn’t on hand when Lady Wang gave my little girl that piece of cake. I’m sure it was eating out in the cold that has made her feverish.’
‘I suppose your little lass doesn’t go into the Garden very much,’ said Grannie Liu. ‘Not like our young ones, off to play in the grave-garths almost as soon as they can walk. She may have caught a cold from the wind as you say. On the other hand, children of her age, being pure of body, often have the second sight. It could have been brought on by seeing a spirit. If I was you, I’d have a look in the Almanac, just in case. You never know, the child might have been pixified.’
Wondering why she had not thought of this herself, Xi-feng at once ordered Patience to fetch down the Jade Casket. Sun?shine was summoned to look up the relevant passage and read it out to them. This, after some preliminary hunting, he pro?ceeded to do:

EIGHTH MONTH. TWENTY-FIFTH DAY: Sicknesses Occurring on this day have a south-easterly origin. Possible causes Encounter with spirit of hanged person or flower spirit. Recommended action Maxi?mum benefit may be obtained by procuring voluntary departure of spirit. To do this, take forty pieces of coloured paper spirit money’ and walk forty paces in a south-easterly direction offering one of the pieces at every step.

‘There you are!’ said Xi-feng. ‘That must be it. The Garden is just where you’d expect to run into a flower spirit. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if that doesn’t account for Her Old Lady?ship’s trouble as well.’
She sent someone forthwith to obtain two lots of spirit money and got two of the servants to carry out the exorcism, one on Grandmother Jia’s behalf and the other on behalf of her little girl. As soon as it was over, she and Grannie Liu went in to see how Baby was getting on. They found her sleeping peacefully.
‘There!’ said Xi-feng delightedly. ‘It takes an old, ex?perienced person like yourself to know these things. Perhaps you could also tell me why she’s such a sickly little girl. She’s always going down with something or other.’
‘There’s nothing unusual about that,’ said Grannie Liu. ‘Children of well-to-do folks are brought up so delicate, their bodies can’t stand any hardship. And for another thing, when young folks are cherished too much, it overloads their luck. It might be better for her if in future you tried not to make quite so much of her.’
‘You may be right,’ said Xi-feng without much conviction. ‘It’s just occurred to me: as we haven’t named the child yet, I wonder if you’d like to name her for us? For one thing, being named by someone so old will help her to live longer; and for another—I hope you won t mind my saying this, but you country people do have quite a lot of poverty and hardship to contend with—being named by a poor person like yourself may help to balance her luck.’
Grannie Liu thought for a bit.
‘When was she born?’
‘Ah, that’s just the trouble,’ said Xi-feng. ‘She was born on Qiao-jie—the Seventh of the Seventh—a very unlucky date.’
‘No matter,’ said Grannie Lin. ‘Call her “Qiao-jie” then. That’s what the doctors mean when they talk about “fighting poison with poison and fire with fire”. You call her “Qiao?-jie” like I say, and I guarantee that she’ll live to a ripe old age. I prophesy for this child that when she’s a big girl and the others are all going off to get married, she may for a time find that things are not going her way; but thanks to this name, all her misfortunes will turn into blessings, and what at first looked like bad luck will turn out to be good luck in the end.’
Xi-feng was of course delighted with these ‘auspicious words’ and thanked her warmly.
‘May it turn out for her as you say!’
She summoned Patience.
‘We’re going to be busy tomorrow and may not have the time then. As you’ve got nothing to do at the moment, why don’t you get the things for Grannie together, so that every?thing will be ready for her to start first thing tomorrow?’
‘Please don’t go giving me a lot of things,’ said Grannie Liu. ‘I’ve already put you to so much inconvenience these last few days, I should feel even more uncomfortable carrying a lot of things back with me.’
‘These are only very ordinary things,’ said Xi-feng. ‘Noth?ing special. Just a few things for you to take back with you and show off to the neighbours. Just so as to be able to say that you’ve been to town.’
‘Come over here, Grannie, and have a look,’ said Patience. Grannie Lu followed her into the next room. A full half of the kang was occupied by her piled-up presents. Patience picked them up one by one and explained them to her.
‘This sky-blue material is the gauze you said you wanted. The pale-blue gauze in a closer weave is a present from the Mistress to line it with. These are two lengths of wild-silk pongee. You can use it to make either a dress or a skirt with; it would do equally well for either. In this wrapping here there are two lengths of silk for making up into a New Year outfit. This is a box of various kinds of cakes and pastries made in the Imperial kitchens. There are some kinds that you’ve al?ready eaten and some that you haven’t. You want to put them out on plates when you’re having someone to tea: you’ll find they’re a bit better than the ones you can buy in the shops. These two sacks are the ones you brought the vegetables in when you came. This one has got two bushels of pink ‘Em?peror’ rice in it. It makes a really delicious congee. This one has got fruit and nuts and other things from the Garden in it. And this packet here has got eight taels of silver in it. Every?thing up to here is from the Mistress. Now these two packets here have each got fifty taels of silver in them – a hundred taels in all. They’re a present from Her Ladyship, for starting a little business or buying some land with when you get back, so that you can be self-sufficient in future and not have to keep falling back on your friends. The two jackets’—here Patience smiled somewhat embarrassedly—‘the two jackets and the two skirts and the four head-scarves and the packet of embroidery silks are a present from me. The clothes have only been worn a very little but they aren’t new: so if you decide to throw them back at me, I shan’t complain.’
Grannie Liu had been exclaiming rapturously as each item was shown to her and must have uttered several dozen ‘Holy Names’ by the time Patience came to her own gift.
‘Throw them back at you, Miss?’ she said warmly, touched by the maid’s kindness and humility. ‘How can you say such a thing? Fine clothes like these? I shouldn’t know where to buy them if I had the money! You make me feel ashamed. I don’t like to take them off you; yet if I don’t, you will think me un?grateful.’
‘Get away with you!’ said Patience. ‘That sort of talk is for strangers, and you are one of us. If I didn’t think of you so, I’d never have dared make the offer. You just take them and stop worrying. In any case, there’s something I want from you in return. Next New Year, bring us some of your home-dried mixed vegetables: pigweed and cowpeas and kidney beans and dried aubergines and dried gourd-shavings. Everyone here loves them. You just bring us some of them. We don’t want anything else from you, mind, so don’t go wondering what else to bring. Just bring some of them, and we’ll be quits.’
Grannie Liu thanked her warmly and promised to remem?ber the dried vegetables.
‘Now off to bed with you!’ said Patience. ‘I’ll look after this lot for you. You can leave it here tonight, and tomorrow we’ll send the boys out for a cab and get them to load it for you. So you’ve got nothing to worry about.’
Overwhelmed by so much kindness, Grannie Liu went back into the other room to take her leave of Xi-feng, and after thanking her many times over, went off to Grandmother Jia’s apartment to spend the night.
She was up betimes next morning and would like to have said good-bye to Grandmother Jia as soon as she had com?pleted her toilet, and made an early start; but the family fore?stalled her. Knowing that the old lady was indisposed, they had trooped in first thing to inquire how she was and had already sent outside for a doctor. The latter’s arrival at the mansion was shortly after announced by an old woman? servant, whereupon the old women in attendance on Grand mother Jia urged her to conceal herself behind the curtains of the summer-bed. But Grandmother Jia refused to budge.
‘I’m old, too, woman—old enough to be his mother, I shouldn’t wonder. What have I got to fear from him at my age? I’m not going behind any curtains. Let him examine me where I am.’
Seeing that she was resolved to stay, the old women brought up a little table and put a small pillow on it for her to rest her arm on. These preparations completed, they gave orders for the doctor to be admitted.
Dr Wang was shortly to be observed crossing the courtyard below, conducted by Cousin Zhen, Jia Lian and Jia Rong. Modestly declining to walk up the central ramp, he followed Cousin Zhen up the right-hand side steps onto the terrace, where two old women, one on either side of the doorway, were holding up the door-blind in readiness. Bao-yu came for?ward to welcome the doctor as the two old women were conducting him through the outer room, and led him, still accompanied by the other gentlemen, to his grandmother inside.
The old lady was sitting up very stiffly on a couch. She was wearing a black crepe jacket lined with pearly-haired baby lamb’s skin. Four little maids, their hair still done up in childish ‘horns’, stood two on either side of her, holding fly whisks and spittoons, and five or six old serving-women were fanned out in a sort of bodyguard behind her. Vaguely dis?cernible glimpses of brightly-coloured dresses and golden hair-ornaments betrayed the presence of numerous younger women behind the green muslin curtains at the back. Not daring to raise his head in so much female company, Dr Wang advanced and saluted his patient. Observing that he was dressed in the uniform of a mandarin of the sixth rank, Grand?mother Jia deduced that he must be a Court Physician, and in returning his salutation was careful to address him with the ‘Worshipful’ to which his appointment entitled him.
‘And what is the Worshipful’s name?’ she asked Cousin Zhen.
‘Wang.’
‘When I was a young woman, the President of the Imperial College of Physicians was a Wang,’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘Wang Jun-xiao. Famous for his diagnoses.’
The doctor bowed.
‘He was my great-uncle,’ he said, smiling demurely, but still not daring to raise his head.
Grandmother Jia laughed.
‘That makes you a friend of the family.’
She stretched out an arm and slowly arranged it for him on the pillow. The old women brought up a large stool which they set down in front of her table and slightly to one side. Dr Wang knelt on it, squatting on his heel with one haunch so that he was half-sitting on the edge of the stool, and in that polite but uncomfortable posture proceeded at great length to take the old lady’s pulses, first in one arm and then in the other. After that he made another bow and retired, eyes still on the floor, as they had been throughout the consultation.
‘Thank you,’ said Grandmother Jia as he was leaving. ‘See him out, will you, Zhen? And see that he gets. some tea.’
Murmuring a reply, Cousin Zhen himself withdrew, fol?lowed by Jia Lian and Jia Rong, and conducted Dr Wang back to one of the gentlemen’s rooms in the front part of the mansion.
‘There’s nothing seriously wrong with Lady Jia,’ said Dr Wang when they were seated. ‘She has a slight chill. There is no need for her to take any medicine. A light, simple diet for a day or two and see that she keeps warm. That should be enough. I’ll write Out a prescription that you can have made up if she feels like taking something. If not, I should just for?get about it.’
He drank his tea and wrote out the prescription. Just as he was about to leave, the nurse came hurrying in with Xi-feng’s little girl in her arms.
‘Doctor, have a look at us too, will you?’
The doctor went over, took one of the child’s hands and supported it on his own left hand while he felt her pulse. Then he felt her forehead and inspected her tongue.
‘I’m afraid the young lady is not going to be very pleased with my advice,’ he said with a smile. ‘A good, cleansing hunger is what she needs. Let her miss a couple of meals. No need for a prescription. I shall send you some pills that you can dissolve in hot ginger-water and give her to drink at bed?time. That should help do the trick.’
With that he took his leave once more and departed.
Cousin Zhen and the other two went back to Grandmother Jia’s apartment with the prescription and reported what the doctor had said. Then they laid the prescription on the table and withdrew.
Lady Wang, Li Wan, Xi-feng, Bao-chai and the rest came out from behind the curtain as soon as the doctor had gone. Lady. Wang sat with Grandmother Jia for a while before re?turning to her own apartment.
The coast was now at last clear for Grannie Liu to come forward and take her leave.
‘You must come again when you have the time,’ said Grand?mother Jia. She ordered Faithful to see her off. ‘I can’t see you off myself,’ she said. ‘I’m not feeling too well today.’
Grannie Liu, having thanked her and said good-bye, fol?lowed Faithful out of the room and into a room at the side of the courtyard. Faithful pointed to a large bundle on the kang.
‘These are dresses given to Her Old Ladyship by various people over the years as birthday or festival presents, but as she refuses to wear any clothes made by outsiders, they’ve none of them ever been worn. It’s a shame to keep them, really. She told me yesterday to pick out a few for you to take back with you, either to give away as presents or to wear yourself about the house. In this box here you’ll find those pastries you wanted. This parcel has got the medicines in you were talking about the other day: the Red Flower Poison Dis?pellers, the Old Gold Anti-Fever Pastilles, the Blood Renewing Elixir Pills and the Easy Birth Pills. You’ll find each kind wrapped up separately inside its own prescription. These two little silk purses are to wear.’ Faithful undid the draw-strings and extracted from each purse a golden ‘Heart’s Desire’ medallion with a device showing an ingot, a writing-brush and a sceptre. She smiled at Grannie Liu mischievously:
‘You give me these and keep the purses.’
Grannie Liu, surprised and delighted (as she showed by her many pious ejaculations) to be receiving these further presents in addition to what Patience had shown her the night before, seemed eager to accede to this request.
‘Yes, yes, Miss. You keep them by all means.’
Faithful, who had not intended to be taken seriously, re?placed the medallions in their. purses and did them up again.
‘I was only pulling your leg. I’ve got lots of these things already. Keep them to give the children at New Year.
While she was speaking, a little maid came in carrying a Cheng Hua enamelled porcelain cup, which she handed to Grannie Liu.
‘Master Bao said I was to give you this.’
‘Well!’ said Grannie Liu as she took the cup from her. ‘Now what do you make of that? Reckon it must be some?thing I did for him in a past life.’
‘Those clothes I gave you to change into the other day when you had your bath were mine,’ said Faithful. ‘If you don’t mind taking them off me, I’ve got some more like them that I’d like to make you a present of.’
As Grannie Liu made no objection, Faithful got out several more sets of clothing and wrapped them up for her.
Grannie Lin wanted to go into the Garden to thank Bao-yu and the girls and say good-bye to them; she also wanted to take her leave of Lady Wang; but Faithful prevented her.
‘It isn’t necessary. In any case, they won’t be seeing anyone at this hour. I can thank them for you when I see them later. Well, good-bye then. Come again when you can.’
She ordered an old servant-woman to fetch two pages from the inner gate to help Grannie Liu out with her things. The old servant undertook to do this and also went with Grannie Liu to collect the things from Xi-feng’s apartment. When they had got them all together, she fetched the boys from the out?side corner gate who carried them out to the street for her and loaded them into a waiting cab. Grannie Liu and Ban-er then got in themselves and Set off without more ado on their journey back home.
At this point they pass also out of our narrative, which turns now to other matters.

*

After they had eaten their lunch, Bao-chai and the test of the young people called once more on Grandmother Jia, to see how she was progressing. On their way back, as they reached that point in the Garden where their paths separated, Bao-chai called Dai-yu over to her.
‘Frowner, come with me. There’s something I want to talk to you about.’
Dai-yu followed her to Allspice Court. When they were in?side her room, Bao-chai sat down.
‘Well?’ she said to Dai-yu. ‘Aren’t you going to kneel down? I am about to interrogate you.’
Dai-yu was mystified.
‘Poor Bao-chai!’ she said, laughing. ‘The girl’s gone off her head. Interrogate me about what ?’
‘My dear, well-bred young lady!’ said Bao-chai. ‘My dear, sheltered young innocent! What were those things I heard you saying yesterday? Come now, the truth!’
Dai-yu, still mystified, continued to laugh. She was begin?ning to feel somewhat uneasy, though she would not admit it.
‘What awful thing am I supposed to have said? I expect you’re making it up, but you may as well tell me.’
‘Still acting the innocent?’ said Bao-chai. ‘What were those things you said yesterday when we were laying that drinking game? I couldn’t think where you could have got them from.’
Dai-yu cast her mind back and remembered, blushing, that the day before, when stumped for an answer, she had got through her turn by citing passages from The Return of the Soul and The Western Chamber. She hugged Bao-chai imploringly.
‘Dear coz! I really don’t know. I just said them without thinking. If you tell me not to, I promise not to say them again.’
‘I really don’t know either,’ said Bao-chai. ‘I just thought they sounded rather interesting. I thought perhaps you might be able to tell me what they were.’
‘Dear coz! Please don’t tell anyone about this. I promise not to repeat such things again.’
Moved by the scarlet, shame-filled face and pitifully entreating voice, Bao-chai relented and did not pursue her questioning. Having first drawn her down into a seat and handed her some tea, she began, very gently, to address her in the following manner:
‘What do you take me for? I’m just as bad. At seven or eight I used to be a real little terror. Ours was reckoned to be rather a literary family. My grandfather was a bibliophile, so the house we lived in was full of books. We were a big family in those days. All my boy cousins and girl cousins on my father’s side lived with us in the same house. All of us younger people hated serious books but liked reading poetry and plays. The boys had got lots and lots of plays: The Western Chamber, The Lute-player, A Hundred Yuan Plays—just about everything you could think of. They used to read them behind our backs, and we girls used to read them behind theirs. Eventually the grown-ups got to know about it and then there were beatings and lectures and burning of books—and that was the end of that.
‘So, you see, in the case of us girls it would probably be better for us if we never learned to read in the first place. Even boys, if they gain no understanding from their reading, would do better not to read at all; and if that is true of boys, it certainly holds good for girls like you and me. The little poetry-writing and calligraphy we indulge in is not really our proper business. Come to that, it isn’t a boy’s proper business either. A boy’s proper business is to read books in order to gain an understanding of things, so that when he grows up he can play his part in governing the country.
‘Not that one hears of that happening much nowadays. Nowadays their reading seems to make them even worse than they were to start with. And unfortunately it isn’t merely a case of their being led astray by what they read. The books, too, are spoiled, by the false interpretations they put upon them. They would do better to leave books alone and take up business or agriculture. At least they wouldn’t do so much damage.
‘As for girls like you and me: spinning and sewing are our proper business. What do we need to be able to read for? But since we can read, let us confine ourselves to good, im?proving books; let us avoid like the plague those pernicious works of fiction, which so undermine the character that in the end it is past reclaiming.’
This lengthy homily had so chastened Dai-yu that she sat with head bowed low over her teacup and, though her heart consented, could only manage a weak little ‘yes’ by way of reply.
At that moment Candida came into the room:
‘Mrs Zhu says will you please come over to discuss an important matter with her? Miss Ying and Miss Tan and Miss Xi and Miss Shi and Master Bao are there already, waiting for you.’
‘I wonder what it is this time,’ said Bao-chai.
‘We shall soon find out if we go,’ said Dai-yu.
So off she went, and Bao-chai with her, to Sweet-rice Vil?lage. They found everyone else there, as Candida had said. Li Wan greeted them with a smile.
‘We’ve only just got our poetry club started, and already someone is trying to wriggle out of it. It’s Xi-chun. She’s ask?ing for a year’s leave of absence.’
‘I can guess why that is,’ said Dai-yu. ‘It’s because of what Grandmother said about painting the Garden. She’s decided to use that as an excuse.’
‘I don’t think you should blame Grandmother,’ said Tan-?chun. ‘It’s what Grannie Liu said that started it.’
‘Grannie Liu, yes, that’s right,’ Dai-yu hurriedly corrected herself. ‘Whose ‘grannie’ is she anyway, I’d like to know? ‘Old Mother Locust’ we ought to call her, not ‘Grannie Liu’.’
This set them all laughing.
‘If one wants to hear the demotic at its most forceful,’ said Bao-chai, ‘one has to listen to Cousin Feng. Fortunately for us she can’t read, so her jokes are somewhat lacking in finesse and the language she uses can never rise above the level at which it is commonly spoken. The secret of Frowner’s sar?castic tongue is that she uses the method adopted by Confu?cius when he edited the Spring and Autumn Anna/s, that is to say, she extracts the essentials from vulgar speech and polishes and refines them, so that when she uses them to illustrate a point, each word or phrase is given its maximum possible effectiveness. The mere name ‘Old Mother Locust,’, for example, is sufficient to evoke the whole scene of yesterday’s party and everything that happened at it. What’s more, she is able to do this sort of thing almost without thinking.’
The others, still laughing, assured Bao-chai that she excelled as a commentator no less than Dai-yu and Xi-feng, in their different ways, as wits.
‘The reason I asked you all here is because I wanted your advice on how long we ought to give her,’ said Li Wan. ‘I said a month, but she says that’s much too short. What do you all think?
‘Logically a year wouldn’t be at all too long,’ said Dai-yu. ‘If it took a whole year to build the Garden, she would natural?ly require about two years in which to paint it. First she’s got to grind her ink, then she’s got to soften her brushes, then she’s got to fix the paper, then she’s got to find her colours, and then -,
The others realized that this was a joke at Xi-chun’s expense.
‘Yes?’ they said, playing up to her. ‘What then?’
Dai-yu, unable to maintain a straight face, was beginning to giggle.
‘—and then proceed in like manner, by gradual degrees, to paint it.’
Prolonged hilarity and clapping of hands.
‘In like manner, by gradual degrees’,’ said Bao-chai. ‘I like that. The telling phrase at the end. The trouble with all those jokes we were laughing at yesterday is that they were funny enough at the time, but on recollection they seem rather stupid. Dai-yu’s jokes on the other hand, though the words at first appear colourless, are richly humorous to remember. They certainly make me laugh a lot.’
‘You shouldn’t flatter her, Cousin Chai,’ said Xi-chun plaintively. ‘It encourages her to show off. It’s because you complimented her on her joke about Grannie Liu that she’s started making fun of me.’
‘Tell me now,’ said Dai-yu, taking Xi-chun’s hand in her own, ‘is it to be a picture of the Garden alone, or are we to be in it as well?’
‘It was originally to have been of the Garden alone,’ said Xi-chun, ‘but afterwards Grandmother said that that would make it look too much like an architect’s drawing and told me to put in some people. She said what we wanted was something like one of those paintings of ‘Scholars Enjoying Themselves in a Landscape’. The trouble is, I don’t know how to do buildings in the Elaborate style, and I’m no good at human figures; but as I was too scared to refuse, I’ve got myself into a mess.’
‘Human figures are no problem,’ said Dai-yu. ‘It’s the insect-painting that’s going to give you the trouble.’
‘Now you’re talking nonsense,’ said Li Wan. ‘What need will there be of insects in a painting of the Garden? A few animals and birds dotted here and there maybe, but no insects, surely?’
‘If she has no other insects in it, she’s got to have Old Mother Locust,’ said Dai-yu. ‘Without her the painting would be incomplete.’
The others all laughed. Dai-yu continued, laughing so much herself that she had to clutch her chest with both hands:
‘You must hurry up and get on with the painting. I’ve al?ready thought of a title to inscribe on it when it’s finished. You must call it ‘With Locust to the Chew’.’
The others threw back their heads and roared. Their laughter ended abruptly, however, when a loud crash caused them to look anxiously around them to see what had fallen.
It turned out to have been Xiang-yun’s chair. It had been a somewhat rickety one to start with, and in laughing she had thrown herself back against it so violently that the two joints connecting the chairback with the seat had sprung, causing her to sink backwards and sideways, still sitting in the disin?tegrating chair. Fortunately she was saved by the room’s wooden partition from falling onto the floor. The undignified spectacle of her descent provoked fresh shouts of mirth which only gradually subsided when Bao-yu hurried over and helped her to her feet.
As he passed Dai-yu he signalled to her with his eyes. Understanding that something must be wrong with her appearance, she slipped into Li Wan’s bedroom and took the cover off the mirror to have a look. It was the hair above her brows that was coming loose. She pulled out the drawer in Li Wan’s dressing-box, took out two little vanity-brushes, primmed her hair at the mirror, then, hurriedly replacing everything, went back into the outer room, where the others were still laughing. She pointed a finger accusingly at Li Wan.
‘So this is your idea of ‘supervision in needlework and moral instruction’—inviting us over here for jokes and horse?play!’
‘Did you hear that, all of you?’ said Li Wan. ‘This is the ringleader who sets everyone else laughing and misbehaving, yet she has the effrontery to blame me for starting it all! Oh, I could – ! Well, all I can say is that I hope when you marry you have a real Tartar for a mother-in-law and lots of nasty sisters-in-law with tongues as sharp as yours. It will serve you right!’
Dai-yu, blushing, clung to Bao-chai’s hand.
‘Let’s give her a year’s leave, shall we?’
‘Let me suggest what I think is a fair compromise and see what the rest of you think of it,’ said Bao-chai. ‘It’s true that Lotus Dweller can paint, but ‘painting’ in her case means no more than an occasional sketch in the Impressionistic style. Now of course, you couldn’t paint this Garden in the first place if you didn’t have impressions of it; but the trouble is that the Garden itself was designed rather like a painting, with every rock, every tree, every building in it carefully and pre?cisely placed in order to produce a particular scenic effect; and if you tried to get your impressions of all of these different scenes onto paper exactly as they are, they simply wouldn’t make a picture. The shape of the paper imposes its own per?spectives. You have to make them into a composition. You have to decide which to bring into the foreground and which to push into the background, which to leave out altogether and which to show only in glimpses. When you’ve done that, you can make your rough draft. And even then, it’s only when you’ve studied the draft for a long time and corrected it until you’re satisfied that you can go ahead with your transfer.
‘One of your difficulties is going to be the ruler-work. With all those buildings you’re going to have to do the straight lines with a ruler, and in ruler-work if you’re not very careful it’s easy to make the most terrible mistakes – railings that slant to one side, leaning pillars, windows on the skew or steps drawn Out of line. Sometimes careless ruling can produce even more grotesque results, like a table squashed into a wall or a flower?pot apparently testing on the side of a curtain. Any one of these things is enough to make a painting look ridiculous.
‘Putting in the human figures is going to be another prob?lem. First of all you have to be very careful that you have got them in the right perspective. Then again, in painting figures the clothes and the position of the hands and feet are of great importance. A careless slip of the brush can mean a mon?strously swollen hand or a crippled leg. Compared with these, little mishaps like the colour of the face running into the hair are of minor importance.
‘In my opinion this painting is going to be very, very diffi?cult. And since a year is thought to be too long and a month too short, the compromise I suggest is that she should be allowed half a year to do it in, but that Cousin Bao should be appointed to help her. My reason is not that I think he knows mote about painting than she does and can tell her how to do it—I am sure that if he tried, it would only make matters worse—but because whenever there is anything she doesn’t know about or has difficulty in putting in, he will be able to take the painting to one or another of his men friends outside who know about these matters and ask for their advice.’
Bao-yu was enthusiastic.
‘That’s a splendid idea. Zhan Guang can do Elaborate style buildings and Cheng Ri-xing is very good at women. I’ll go and have a word with them now.’
‘Didn’t I tell you you ought to be called ‘Busybody’?’ said Bao-chai. ‘Just because I’ve mentioned the possibility, you don’t have to go rushing off straight away. Wait until we’ve finished discussing what needs to be done, then you can go and see them. The question now is, what is she going to do this painting on?’
‘We’ve got some. Snow Wave paper still,’ said Bao-yu. ‘It comes in large enough pieces and it holds the ink well.’
‘Oh, you’re just hopeless I’ said Bao-chai. ‘Snow Wave is a good, ink-receptive paper for doing calligraphy or Impres?sionist style paintings on, and it will stand up to the wrinkle-and-wipe work in a Southern School landscape; but it is quite unsuitable for a painting like this one involving detailed colouring and layer upon layer of graded washes. You’d merely ruin the picture and waste the paper.
‘Now I’ll tell you what to do. Before they started on the construction of this Garden, they made a very detailed draw?ing of the layout. It was only an artist’s impression, but the measurements shown on it were all accurate. Why don’t you ask Lady Wang for that drawing and then ask Cousin Feng to give you a piece of heavyweight pongee of the same dimen?sions? Cousin Bao can get Uncle Zheng’s gentlemen to size it for you, and they can make you a draft by adapting the archi?tect’s drawing and putting in the human figures. He could even get them to touch in some of the blue-and-green background for you and indicate where the outlines will need reinforcing with milk gold or milk silver.
‘Meanwhile you must get hold of a portable stove that you can use for melting and extracting your glue on and for heat?ing the water to wash your brushes with. You’ll also need a long distemperer’s table, and a blanket to cover it, for resting your painting on. And I don’t suppose your present supply of paint-saucers and brushes is likely to be adequate. You’d better start from scratch and get yourself a completely new outfit.’
‘I haven’t got any equipment to speak of,’ said Xi-chun. ‘I just use my ordinary writing-brushes when I want to paint. As for colours: red ochre, Canton indigo, gamboge and safflower red are the only four I’ve got. Apart from that, all I have is a couple of colouring brushes.’
‘Why ever didn’t you tell me before?’ said Bao-chai. ‘I’ve still got lots of these things. The only thing is, if I give them to you before you actually need them, they will only be lying around doing nothing in your room the same as they now are in mine. On second thoughts I think I’ll hang on to them for the time being. We can say that I am keeping them for you. But I can let you have any of them you want as soon as the need arises. I’d rather you used my stuff for painting fans with and that sort of thing, though. It would be a waste to use it on this great big painting of the Garden. What I’ll do for you now is to make out a list of materials you can ask Lady Jia for. You may not know about some of these things, so perhaps it would be a good idea if Cousin Bao were to take them down at my dictation.’
Bao-yu had brush and ink already prepared. He had been intending in any case to take notes, in order to have his own record of what she said, and had merely to pick up his brush and wait for her to begin.
Here is the list she dictated:

large size raft brushes 4
No.2 size raft brushes 4
No.3 size raft brushes 4
large wash layers 4
medium wash layer 4
small wash layers 4
large Southern crab’s claws 10
small Southern crab’s claws 10
whisker brushes 10
large colouring brushes 20
small colouring brushes 20
face liners 10
willow-slip brushes 20
arrow-shaped cinnabar 4 oz.
Southern red ochre 4 oz.
orpiment 4 oz.
azurite 4 oz.
malachite 4 oz.
brush-stick gamboge 4 oz.
Canton indigo 8 oz.
oyster-shell white 4 boxes
safflower red 10 sheets
red powder-gold 200 leaves
gold foil 200 leaves
quality Canton glue 4 oz.
clear alum 4 oz.

‘That doesn’t allow for the alum and glue that will be needed for the sizing,’ said Bao-chai. ‘You can leave that to the menfolk.
By the time these colours have been washed and ground and emulsified and graded, you should have enough there to last you a lifetime—messing about and practice-work in?cluded.’
She continued with her list:

superfine silk strainers 4
coarse silk strainers 2
strainer-brushes 4
mortars, various sizes 4
coarse howls 20
5-in. saucers 10
3 in. porcelain ditto 20
portable stoves 2
casseroles, various sizes 4
new porcelain water-jars 2
new water-buckets 2
1-ft white linen bags 4
light charcoal 20 catties
willow-wood charcoal 1 catty
3-drawer chest of drawers 1
gauze, close-woven 1 ell
raw ginger 2 oz.
soy sauce 1/2 catty

‘—a cooking-pot and a frying-slice,’ Dai-yu added hurriedly.
‘What are they for?’ said Bao-chai.
‘To use with the ginger and soy sauce,’ said Dai-yu. ‘Then she’ll be able to cook the colours and eat them.’
The others laughed, including Bao-chai herself.
‘Frowner! Frowner!’ she said. ‘What do you know about it? If you didn’t first season the new saucers by rubbing ginger-juice and sauce on the bottom and burning them in, they would crack when you put them on the heat.’
The others assured Dai-yu that this was so. Dai-yu, mean?while, was reading through the list.
‘Just look!’ she said, laying a hand on Tan-chun’s arm and speaking to her in an undertone. ‘All those water-jars and chests of drawers and things to paint a picture! I think she must have got confused at this point and started making a list for her trousseau.’
This set Tan-chun off into a fit of the giggles. ‘Pinch her lips, Chai!’ she said. ‘You should hear what she’s been saying about you.’
‘I don’t need to,’ said Bao-chai. ‘One doesn’t expect ivory from a dog’s mouth!’
Bearing down on Dai-yu as she said this, she forced her back, laughing and protesting, upon the kang and made as if she would pinch her face.
‘Oh, please coz, forgive me!’ Dai-yu pleaded. ‘Little Frowner is younger than you and doesn’t know any better. You should teach me how to be good. If you won’t be nice to me, who else can I turn to?’
The others, not knowing what lay behind these words, were greatly amused.
‘Do forgive her!’ they said, laughing. ‘How pitifully she pleads! Even we are melted.’
But Bao-chai knew she was referring to their recent confrontation on the subject of forbidden books, and feeling rather embarrassed to have this dragged up in the midst of a playful tussle, hurriedly released her. Dai-yu rose to her feet laughing.
‘That’s my good coz. If it had been me, I should never have let you off!’
Bao-chai pointed her finger at Dai-yu and smiled at her in?dulgently.
‘I’m not surprised that Lady Jia is so fond of you or that the others find you so amusing. I can’t help being fond of you too, little coz. Come here and let me do your hair for you.’
Dai-yu turned her head obediently while Bao-chai re?fastened her back hair. Bao-yu, watching from where he sat, thought how much better it looked for Bao-chai’s attention, and wished that he had not told Dai-yu earlier to tidy the hair above her brows, for then Bao-chai could have done that for her too. His agreeable musings on the subject were interrupted by Bao-chai’s voice:
‘Have you finished writing the list? Perhaps you’d better be the one to see Lady Jia about it. If they’ve got those things here already, so much the better. If not, you’ll have to get some money to buy them with. In that case I might be able to advise you on where to go for them.’
Bao-yu folded up the list and stowed it away inside his jacket. They continued to sit a while longer, chatting about this and that.
After dinner they went to call on Grandmother Jia to see how she was. She had been suffering from nothing more serious than a slight chill aggravated by fatigue, and by the evening, after a day’s cosseting and two doses of the mild sudorific prescribed by Dr Wang, she was almost better.
If you want to know what the next day held in store, you will have to read the following chapter.

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