The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 51

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CHAPTER 51

A clever cousin composes some ingenious riddles
And an unskillful physician prescribes a barbarous remedy

WHEN Bao-qin explained that the riddles she had composed were in the form of quatrains, each containing a clue to some well-known object, about famous places she had visited in the course of her travels, the cousins were greatly impressed, and waited with eagerness for her to copy them out. This is what they read when she had finished doing so :

Red Cliff
The river at Red Cliff was choked with the dead,
And the ships without crew carried naught but their names.
A clamour and shouting, a wind took the blaze,
And a host of brave souls rode aloft in the flames.

*
Hanoi
His column of brass bade the nations obey:
The noise of him spread through barbarian parts.
Brave Ma Yuan to conquest and empire was born:
He needed no Iron Flute to teach him those arts.

*
Mt Zhong-shan
Though ambition had never been part of your nature
And the call from retirement was none of your choosing,
You danced in the end at another’s commandment,
So you can’t be surprised if we find it amusing.

*
Huai-yin
The brave must beware of the vicious dog’s bite:
The gift of a throne on your fate set the seal.
Let us learn from your story the humble to prize,
And due gratitude show for the gift of a meal.
*
Guang-ling
Your crows and cicadas no more you shall hear
By the old Sui embankment back home in the South;
But the scandalous story of those wanton times
Wags in many an idle, unsavoury mouth.

*
Peach Leaf Ford
In the waters a scene of decay is reflected;
Long since from its bough did the last peach-leaf fall.
Your old Southern mansion has tumbled in ruins,
And only your likeness looks down from the wall.

*
Green Mound
The Amur’s black flood for pure grief is arrested;
The frozen string twangs with a heartbroken sound;
And, deploring the harsh rule that ordered this exile,
A few crooked trees bow in shame to the ground.

*
Ma-wei
The sad, ravaged face seemed to shine in its sweat;
Then soon that sweet softness all vanished away.
Yet something remained, for the well-known perfume
In the clothing she wore lingers on to this day.

*
The Monastery at Pu-dong
Young Reddie was ever a light, empty creature,
Always to-ing and fro-ing in all kinds of weather.
Though her Mistress in ire hung her up from the ceiling,
Those two had already been walking together.

*
The Plum-tree Shrine
‘’Twill be by the willow and not by the plum.’
But who is it there will her likeness discover?
Let not her full moon make you think that Spring’s coming,
For the cold parts her now till next year from her lover.

After reading these poems, the cousins all praised the re?markable ingenuity with which they had been constructed. Only Bao-chai was critical:
‘The first eight of these poems have historically verifiable subjects, but what about the last two? I’m afraid I don’t quite understand what they are about. I think you ought to make up another two to replace them with.’
‘Don’t be so stuffy, Chai!’ said Dai-yu. ‘Talk about “gluing the bridges of the zither”! It’s true that the subjects of those last two poems can’t be found in the history books, but how can you say that you don’t know what they are? Even if, as well-bred young ladies, we may not read the books in which they are to be found, we’ve all watched plenty of plays. Every three-year-old child is familiar with these stories. It’s sheer hypocrisy to pretend that you’ve never heard of them.’
‘Hear, hear!’ said Tan-chun.
‘In any case,’ said Li Wan, ‘she has actually been to the places associated with the stories, even if the stories them?selves are unhistorical. Stories pick up all kinds of circum?stantial detail in the course of centuries of re-telling. Sooner or later some know-all invariably equips them with a location in order to fool more people into believing them. I remember on my journey here when I first came up to the capital we visited three or four different sites all claiming to be the burial-place of Guan Yu. Now no one doubts that Guan Yu actually existed or that he actually did the heroic things he is supposed to have done; but he can’t have been buried in more than one grave. Obviously the tradition that he was buried in those places was invented by people—living long after Guan Yu’s death who loved and admired Guan Yu and all that he had stood for and wanted to claim him for themselves. And if you look in. the Geographical Gazetteer, you’ll find that it isn’t only Guan Yu who has graves in several different places: practic?ally all the famous men who ever lived appear to have been buried in more than one place. And when it comes to sites which are famous because of people who never even existed, they are still more numerous. It may well be that the people those last two poems are about didn’t exist; but though the stories about them are unhistorical, they are certainly well-known. You can hear them told -by story-tellers; you can see them acted on the stage; you can even find references to them on the divination-sticks that people tell their fortunes with in temples. There can’t be a man, woman or child who isn’t familiar with them. And even if one knows them from the books, it can hardly be said that to have read a few lyrics from The Western Chamber or The Soul’s Return is tantamount to reading pornography. No, I see no harm in these two poems. I think she should leave them as they are.’
This, coming from Li Wan, effectively silenced Bao-chai’s objection.
Some time was now spent in trying to guess answers to the riddles concealed in these poems, but all of their guesses were wrong.
The days in winter are very short and in no time at all, it seemed, they were trooping back into the mansion for their dinner. While they were there, a message arrived for Lady Wang to say that Aroma’s brother, Hua Zi-fang, had come and was waiting outside in the front.
His mother is seriously ill and has been asking to see Aroma,’ said the messenger. He asks if, as a special kindness, you will allow her to go home and see her.’
‘We shouldn’t dream of preventing a mother from seeing her daughter under such circumstances,’ said Lady Wang. ‘Of course she may go.’
She called for Xi-feng and, having explained the situation to her, left it to her to decide what arrangements should be made for Aroma’s departure. Xi-feng promised to attend to the matter and hurried back to her own apartment to do so. She told Zhou Rui’s wife to break the news to Aroma about her mother. She also gave detailed instructions for the visit.
‘Get hold of another of the women in your group to go with you as second chaperone. And take two of the junior maids with you as well. And you’ll want four of the grooms from the front. Take responsible ones: not too young. Tell them you’ll need two carriages, one large and one small. You two can sit in the larger one with Aroma, and the two maids can go in the smaller one.’
Zhou Rui’s wife was on the point of going off to execute these orders, but Xi-feng had evidently not finished.
‘Aroma’s a girl who doesn’t like fuss. You’d better tell her that it’s my wish that she should dress herself up in the very best things she’s got. Tell her to take a good big bundle of extra clothes with her as well. The cloth it’s wrapped in is to be of the highest quality. Her hand-warmer is to be a good one, too. And tell her that before she goes I want her to come here so that I can have a look at her.’
Zhou Rui’s wife went off to do her bidding. In due course Aroma herself arrived, dressed up in all her finery. She was accompanied by Zhou Rui’s wife and the other woman and by two little maids, one carrying her bundle and the other one her hand-warmer. Xi-feng proceeded at once to inspect her, begin?ning at the top. Aroma’s hair, liberally studded with pearled and golden jewellery, was satisfactory; her clothing, it seemed, less so. She had on an ermine-lined silk tapestry dress of peach-pink satin, sprigged with a pattern of different sorts of flowers, a leek-green padded skirt embroidered in couched gold thread and coloured silks, and a black satin jacket lined with squirrel.
‘I see. These are all things that Her Ladyship gave you. That’s good. But the jacket is too plain. And it’s not warm enough for the time of year, either. You want something with a heavier fur in it.’
‘This is the only one she gave me,’ said Aroma, ‘and the only other one I’ve got is lined with ermine. She promised me one with a heavier fur in time for the New Year, but I haven’t been given it yet.’
‘I’ve got one with a heavier fur which I haven’t worn be?cause the trimmings don’t suit me,’ said Xi-feng. ‘I’d been meaning to get it altered, but I could let you have it now if you like and you can give it back to me to have altered when Her Ladyship gets this other one made that she’s promised you. We’ll call it a loan.’
The servants laughed.
‘You like to have your little joke, Mrs Lian. All the year round you’re handing things out on the quiet that Her Lady?ship has overlooked, yet you never ask her for any thing back for them. Why so stingy all of a sudden about a little old jacket?’
‘Her Ladyship can’t be expected to remember everything,’ said Xi-feng, ‘and these are, after all, rather trifling matters. Of course, someone has to think about them, for the sake of appearances. Even if it leaves me a bit out of pocket, I’ve got to see that everyone is dressed decently. If that gets me a reputation for being generous well, that’s just one of the hardships I must learn to put up with! It would be much worse to have everyone going around looking like tramps. Think of the jokes I should hear about my housekeeping then!’
‘There can’t be many like you, Mrs Lian,’ said the women admiringly, ‘so considerate towards Her Ladyship and yet at the same time so thoughtful towards us servants. You really do think of everything.’
While they were praising her, Xi-feng was already ordering Patience to fetch the jacket she had mentioned. It had in fact arrived from the tailor’s only a day or two previously. It was a very grand one, in slate-blue satin, with eight large, embroidery-like silk tapestry roundels woven into it, and with a lining of arctic fox. After giving Aroma the jacket, Xi-feng inspected her bundle. The carrying-cloth was of silk gauze in a nondescript black-and-white pattern, lined with strawberry?coloured silk. All she had got wrapped up in it were a couple of padded dresses, by no means new, and her other fur-lined jacket. Xi-feng told Patience to fetch a better carrying-cloth-one made of a good-quality foreign broadcloth and lined with turquoise-coloured silk—and a snow-cape to add to the con?tents of her bundle. Patience went off to get them. When she came back she was carrying not one snow-cape but two: one of them, in dark-red felt, showed signs of wear; the other, in dark-red camlet, seemed to be almost new.
Aroma protested.
‘I can’t possibly take both of these,’ she said. ‘Even one of these would seem a bit on the grand side for me.’
‘Just pack the felt one,’ said Patience. ‘You can carry the other one on your arm and on your way out get someone to take it over to Miss Xing. Yesterday when we had that heavy snow there were ten or a dozen of them all wearing felt or camlet snow-capes. They made quite a picture in their red capes against the background of white snow. She was the only one there who hadn’t got one. She looked all hunched-up with the cold, poor thing: I felt really sorry for her. Let her have the camlet one.’
‘See how liberal she is with my possessions,’ Xi-feng expostulated jokingly. ‘Heavens, girl, I give enough away already without needing you to help me!’
‘Like mistress, like maid,’ said the woman who had spoken before. ‘It’s because you yourself are so considerate towards Her Ladyship and so kind to us servants that she feels free to behave in that way. If you were a mean. tight-fisted sort of person, she’d never dare.’
Xi-feng laughed.
‘I suppose you could say that she understands me a bit—about thirty per cent perhaps!’
She turned back to Aroma to deliver her parting in?structions.
‘We must hope that your mother recovers, but if by any chance she doesn’t, you will obviously have .to stay on for a bit. Let me know, in that case, and I’ll have your bedding sent on to you. Don’t use their bedding or any of their toilet things.’ She turned to Zhou Rui’s wife. ‘You know our rules, don’t you? I don’t need to go over them again.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ said Zhou Rui’s wife. ‘All their people are to keep away from us while we are there, and if we stay they have to give us one or two inside rooms to ourselves.’
With that she accompanied Aroma outside and called to the pages to fetch lanterns, for it was already getting dark. The little party then made its way to the carriages, and having dis?posed themselves inside them, were driven off to Hua Zi?-fang’s house, where our story leaves them.

*

Back at the mansion Xi-feng summoned two of the nannies from Green Delights.
‘I doubt very much whether Aroma will be coming back for a day or two,’ she told them. ‘You’d better tell whichever two of the senior maids you think are most reliable to be on call at night in Bao-yu’s room while she is away. And keep an eye on things yourselves. See that he doesn’t get up to mischief.’
The two women went off, saying that they would attend to the matter, and a little later came back to report on what they had arranged.
‘We’ve put Skybright and Musk on night-call in his room. There are always four of us outside, of course. We take it in turns to be on duty throughout the night.’ Xi-feng nodded.
‘See that he goes to bed early and doesn’t get up too late.’
The old women promised, and went back into the Garden.
Not long after this Zhou Rui’s wife returned with the mes?sage that Xi-feng had been half expecting: Aroma’s mother had already breathed her last and Aroma would be unable to come back. Xi-feng went off to report this news to Lady Wang. She also sent someone into the Garden to collect Aroma’s bedding and toilet things. Bao-yu stood by and supervised, while Skybright and Musk got them ready.
When Aroma’s things bad been despatched, the two girls removed their hair ornaments and changed into their night-clothes. Skybright showed no disposition, after changing, to remove herself from the clothes-warmer over which she was crouched.
‘Now don’t start acting the young lady,’ said Musk. ‘I advise you to stir yourself a bit.’
‘I’ll stir myself soon enough when you are out of the way,’ said Skybright. ‘As long as you are around, I might as well take it easy.’
‘Now come on, there’s a good girl!’ said busy Musk. ‘I’ll make his bed and you can put the covet over the dressing-mirror and fasten the catch. You’re taller than I am.’
She bustled off and began making up Bao-yu’s bed.
‘Hail’ said Skybright disgustedly. ‘Just as I was beginning to get warm!’
Bao-yu, who up to that moment had been sitting apart, abstractedly wondering about Aroma’s mother (he had still not been told of her death), chanced suddenly to catch this remark. At once he got up, went into the next room, and attended to the dressing-mirror himself,
‘Carry on warming yourself,’ he said with a smile to Skybright as he came in again, ‘I’ve done it for you.’
‘I don’t think I shall ever get warm,’ said Skybright. And I’ve just remembered: I haven’t brought in the hot-water bottle.’
‘How thoughtful we are all of a sudden!’ said Musk. ‘He never has a hot-water bottle. And we shan’t need one tonight. It’ll be much -warmer in here on the clothes-warmer than it is on the kang in the other room.’
‘You’re not both going to sleep on the clothes-warmer, are you?’ said Bao-yu. ‘I shall be scared, all on my own in the closet-bed with nobody near me. I shan’t be able to sleep.’
‘Well, I’m sleeping on the clothes-warmer at all events,’ said Skybright. ‘Let Musk sleep beside the closet-bed.’
The time was well after nine. Musk, who had by this time let down the curtains, moved the lamp to its night-time position, and lit the slow-burning incense, now helped Bao-yu into bed and tucked him up. After that she and Skybright themselves settled down for the night, Skybright on top of the clothes-warmer and Musk outside the curtains which separ?ated the alcove of the closet-bed from the rest of the room.
Some time in the middle watch of the night Bao-yu called out for Aroma a couple of times in his sleep and, not getting the customary response, woke up. Awake he remembered, with some amusement, that Aroma was not there to answer. The noise he made had woken Skybright, who called out from where she lay to Musk.
‘Musk! He’s even woken me up, over here. Do you mean to say you really haven’t heard anything, lying there right beside him? You must sleep like a corpse!
Musk turned over and yawned.
‘He was calling for Aroma; what’s it got to do with me? What do you want?.’ she asked Bao-yu.
‘I want some tea,’ he said.
Musk hopped out of bed to get him some. She was wearing only a quilted red silk tunic.
‘You’ll get cold,’ said Bao-yu. ‘Put my fur gown on.’ She picked up the winter dressing-gown that lay always ready beside him, in case he should need to get up during the night. It was lined with the orange-yellow chest fur of pine-martens and had a big fur collar. Slipping the gown over her shoulders, Musk first washed her hands in the basin, then she poured him a cup of hot water and held the spittoon for him to spit into when he had washed his mouth out. After that she took a teacup from the shelf where the tea-things were kept, rinsed it out with hot water, and filled it from a pot in a padded wicker case in which ready-brewed tea was kept warm for such emergencies. Having ministered to Bao-yu’s wants, she rinsed her own mouth out with the hot water and poured half a cup of tea out for herself.
‘Musk,’ Skybright called out to her, ‘give us a drop too, there’s a dear!’
‘What a nerve!’
‘Go on!’ said Skybright. ‘Tomorrow night you can lie back all night long and let me wait on you.’
Musk held out the spittoon, as she had done for Bao-yu, while Skybright rinsed her mouth out, then fetched her half a cupful of tea.
‘Don’t go to sleep yet, you two,’ she said, as soon as Sky?bright had been attended to. ‘Keep talking while I go outside for a hit.’
‘There’s a ghost waiting for you out there,’ said Skybright. ‘There’s no ghost out there, but there’s a very fine moon,’ said Bao-yu. ‘Go ahead: we’ll keep talking, don’t worry!’
He coughed significantly.
Musk opened the door and lifted up the felt portière. There was, as Bao-yu had predicted, a beautiful moon outside. As soon as she had gone out, Skybright slipped down from the clothes-warmer and tip-toed after her, intending to give her a scare. Physically the hardiest of the maids and, as a rule, the one who was least afraid of the cold, she went as she was, with nothing but a short tunic to cover her. Bao-yu tried to dis?suade her from going out.
‘I wouldn’t, if I were you. If you catch cold, it won’t be quite so funny.’
But Skybright motioned impatiently to him to be quiet and crept out of the door.
The .moonlight outside was like water. Suddenly she heard the wind. It was only a brief, faint gust, but the chill of it penetrated to the marrow of her bones and made her shudder.
‘It’s certainly true what they say about a warm body fearing the wind,’ she reflected. ‘This cold is really no joke.’
She was still determined to frighten Musk; but just as she was about to do so, Bao-yu called out in a loud voice from indoors.
‘Careful Musk! Skybright’s outside.’
Immediately Skybright ran in again.
What an old woman you are!’ she said. ‘The shock wouldn’t have killed her.’
‘I wasn’t thinking about that,’ said Bao-yu. ‘I was worried about your catching cold; and besides, if she’d called out when you startled her she might have woken somebody up, and you know what it would have been like then. They’d never have believed it was a practical joke, they’d have said, “Just look, Aroma only away for a single night and already the girls in his room are seeing things. Not one of them’s to be trusted.” Come on, come over here and tuck this quilt in for me.’
Skybright went over to arrange his bedding. While she was doing so, she stuck one of her hands inside the cover and held it against his skin.
‘Your hand is freezing!’ he said. ‘I told you you’d get cold.’ He noticed how red her cheeks were and put out his hand to touch them. They were as cold as ice.
‘Quick, you’d better get inside here and warm up,’ he said. Just as she did so, there was a loud bang and Musk rushed giggling into the room, slamming the door behind her.
‘Whew, what a shock I’ she said. ‘I thought I saw someone crouching down in the shadows behind the rockery. Actually it was that long-tailed pheasant. I was just going to cry out, when it heard me coming and flew up into the light, so that I could see what it was. If I’d lost my head and started scream?ing, I might have woken everybody up.’
She said this while washing her hands. Presently she finished washing and laughed.
‘Did you say Skybright had gone outside? I wonder why I didn’t see her. I bet she went outside to scare me.’
‘What’s this lump here then?’ said Bao-yu. ‘She’s down in here getting warm. She did go outside. If I hadn’t called out when I did, she would have scared you.’
‘She doesn’t need me to scare her, silly little goose!’ said Skybright, laughing, from inside the bedclothes. ‘By the looks of it she’s perfectly capable of scaring herself!’
She emerged from Bao-yu’s bedding now and crossed the room to the clothes-warmer to get inside her own. Musk gazed at her incredulously as she did so.
‘Is that all you were wearing when you went outside, that circus rider’s outfit you’ve got on now ?’
‘That’s all she was wearing,’ said Bao-yu.
‘You’ll die before your time!’ said Musk. ‘What, standing around with only that on? It’s enough to freeze the skin off you!’
She took the copper cover off the brazier and damped down the glowing charcoal by shovelling some ash on to it with the fire shovel. Before replacing the cover, she threw on a couple of pieces of agalloch to sweeten the air. Then she went behind the screen and trimmed the lamp up. After that she too went back to bed.
The effect on Skybright of the sudden change of tempera?ture was to make her sneeze. Bao-yu groaned.
‘I told you so. You have caught a cold.’
‘She was complaining that she -didn’t feel too good when we got up this morning,’ said Musk, ‘and she hasn’t eaten properly all day. Yet instead of looking after herself she has to go playing pranks on people outside. It will be her own silly fault if she is ill tomorrow.’
‘Does your head feel hot?’ Bao-yu asked Skybright.
Skybright coughed a few times.
‘It’s nothing,’ she said, ‘I’m not that delicate!’
Just then the chiming clock that hung on the partition in the outer room struck twice and they heard the old woman on night duty cough a couple of times and call out:
‘Go to sleep, young ladies! There’ll be plenty of time for talking in the morning.’
Bao-yu gave a subdued chuckle.
‘Better not talk any more,’ he said. ‘We don’t want them talking about us.’
After that the three of them settled down and went to sleep again.
When Skybright got up next morning, her nose was stuffed up’ her voice was hoarse, and the slightest movement cost her an effort.
‘We’d better keep this dark,’ said Bao-yu. ‘If my mother gets to hear of it, she’s sure to insist on your going back home until you’re better; and however nice it may be at your home, I’m sure it won’t be so warm as here, so you’ll be better off with us. I’ll get a doctor in through the back gate to have a look at you on the quiet.’
‘That’s all very well,’ said Skybright, ‘but at least let Mrs Zhu know what you’re doing. Otherwise, when the doctor comes, what are you going to say if they start asking ques?tions?’
Bao-yu knew that she was right and instructed one of the old nannies to go to Li Wan with a message.
‘Tell Mrs Zhu that Skybright has got a bit of a chill. Say it’s nothing very serious, and with Aroma away we shall be even more short-handed if she goes back home to get better, so ?we’d like to get a doctor in quietly through the back gate to have a look at her and not tell Her Ladyship about it.’
The old nannie was gone for quite a long time. When she did return it was with the following answer.
‘Mrs Zhu says all right, as long as she’s better after one or two doses of medicine, otherwise she thinks it would really be better to send her home. She says there’s so much danger of infection at this time of year. She’s particularly worried that one of the young ladies might catch something.’
All this time Skybright had been lying in the closet-bed inside, coughing. She stopped coughing when she heard this message and called out angrily.
‘Anyone would think I’d got the plague I suppose I’d better go, if she’s so scared that I might infect somebody. It would be just too terrible if any of you lot were to get a head?ache or a sore throat as long as you live!’
She actually began getting up as she said this, but Bao-yu rushed in and made her lie down again.
‘Now don’t start getting angry. She is, after ail, responsible for the girls and she’s probably terrified that Lady Wang might get to know about this and grumble at her. I’m sure that’s the only reason she says this: to cover herself in case it’s found out. You’re inclined to be quick-tempered at the best of times. Now, with so much extra heat inside you, you are even more inflammable!’
At this point the doctor was announced and Bao-yu barely had time to conceal himself behind a bookcase as he entered the outer doorway, conducted by two or three old women from the gate. The maids had all fled as soon as the arrival of a male visitor was announced, leaving only three or four old nannies in charge of the apartment. The old nannies quickly let down the closet-bed’s red embroidered curtains and Sky?bright stretched forth her hand through a join in them.
This hand held out for the doctor’s inspection had nails two or three inches long on two of its fingers, stained with balsam juice to a delicate shade of pink. The doctor averted his eyes from this inflaming sight and would not proceed with the examination until one of the old nannies had covered it up with a handkerchief. When he had finished feeling the pulses, he got up, went into the outer room, and announced his diagnosis to the nannies.
‘The young lady is suffering from inner congestion caused by exposure. In view of the severe weather we have been having we should probably not be far wrong in calling it a minor case of cold-fever or grippe. Fortunately your patient is a young lady and therefore probably fairly modest in her diet; and the exposure does not appear to have been a very serious one. What we have, then, is no more than a mild infection picked up by someone whose stamina is normally rather low. One or two doses of something to disperse the congestion should be sufficient to put her right.’
Having pronounced this diagnosis, he went off, conducted once more by the women who had brought him in.
Li Wan had sent warning of the doctor’s arrival both to the servants on the gate and the maids in the various apartments, so that his passage through the Garden, both coming and going, was through an empty landscape in which not a single female was to be seen. After passing through the Garden gate, he sat down in the outer lodge which the pages occupied and wrote -out his prescription.
‘Don’t go yet, sir,’ said one of the old women when he had finished writing it. ‘Our young master always likes to have his say about these matters. Like as not he’ll have some question to ask you.’
The doctor looked startled.
‘Did you say “master”? But surely that was a young lady I examined just now? The room was certainly a young lady’s boudoir, and the consultation was made with the patient behind a curtain. Surely it cannot have been a young gentleman?’
The old woman laughed.
‘I see now why the boys said we had a “new doctor” coming in today. You certainly don’t know much about this family, sir! That was our young master’s room you were in lust now, but the person you examined was one of his maids one of the senior ones. That was no young lady’s room. If one of the young mistresses had been ill, you wouldn’t have got into her room that easy not on your first visit!’
She took the prescription from him and went back inside to show Bao-yu. Bao-yu glanced through it rapidly. ‘Perilla’, ‘kikio root’, ‘wind-shield’ and ‘nepeta-seed’ appeared among the drugs at the head of the list, and lower down he noticed ‘thorny lime’ and ‘ephedra’. He was appalled.
‘He’s prescribing for her as if she were a man. However bad the congestion is, you can’t expect a young girl to stand up to drugs like thorny lime and ephedra. Who sent for this man, anyway? You’d better get rid of him straight away and send for someone we know.’
‘We weren’t to know what his prescriptions would be like,’ said the woman defensively. ‘I suppose we could send one of the boys for Dr Wang. The only thing is, as we didn’t tell the Office about this one, we shall have to pay him ourselves.’
‘How much ?’ said Bao-yu.
‘Well, you don’t want to give too little,’ said the old woman. ‘I should think for a single visit a family like ours would give a tael.’
‘How much do we give Dr Wang for-a visit?’ said Bao-yu.
‘Ah, Dr Wang and Dr Zhang are our regular doctors. They aren’t paid by the visit. They get a fixed yearly amount paid to them in quarterly installments. But this is a new man who’s only ever been here the once, so we have to pay him now.’
Bao-yu ordered Musk to fetch a tael for him, but Musk said that she didn’t know where Aroma kept her money.
‘I’ve seen her taking silver from the little pearl-inlaid cabinet,’ said Bao-yu. ‘I’ll go along with you and have a look.’
The two of them went into the room that Aroma used as her store-room and opened the cabinet that Bao-yu had re?ferred to. In the top compartment they found nothing but writing-brushes, ink-sticks, fans, incense-pastilles and a wide variety of scarves and sachets. In the lower compartment, however, they found several strings of cash, and there was a drawer in it in which they found a work-basket containing several pieces of silver and even a little balance for weighing it with. Musk picked up the balance.
‘Which of these is the one tad mark?’ she said.
‘That’s rich,’ said Bao-yu, ‘your asking me! Anyone would think you were new here.’
Musk laughed. She was about to go outside and ask, but Bao-yu stopped her.
‘Just pick out one of the larger pieces and give her that. There’s no need to bother about the exact amount. We aren’t shopkeepers.’
Putting the balance back into the basket, Musk picked up one of the pieces of silver and felt the weight of it on her palm.
‘I should think this one is about a tael,’ she said. ‘Anyway, it’s better to give too much than too little. A poor creature like that, used to scrimping and scraping himself, would say that it was meanness if we gave him too little. He’d never believe it was because we didn’t know how to use-a balance.’
The woman who had brought the prescription was standing in the doorway, following all this with amusement.
‘That piece you’ve got in your hand is half of a five-tael ingot,’ she said. ‘It must weigh two taels at the very least. Since you haven’t got any silver-shears, I should keep that piece if I were you and pick out a smaller one.’
But Musk had already closed the cabinet.
‘Oh, I can’t be bothered to look in there again. Just take it. Never mind the weight.’
‘And tell Tealeaf to go and get Dr Wang,’ said Bao-yu.
The old woman took the silver and went off to deal with the matter.
Tealeaf must have been quick, for Dr Wang arrived quite soon afterwards. The diagnosis he gave after taking Skybright’s pulses was similar to the other man’s, but there was no ephedra or thorny lime in his prescription: their place was taken by milder drugs such as angelica, bitter-peel and white peony root; and the quantities prescribed were smaller. Bao-yu was pleased.
‘That’s more like it!’ he said. ‘She certainly needs treating for congestion, but not in the savage way this other man was proposing. I remember last year when I was suffering from the same thing and Dr Wang came to look at me—in my case I was badly constipated as well—he said that my constitution wouldn’t stand- up to harsh decongestants like ephedra, gypsum and thorny lime. Well, if my constitution won’t stand up to those drugs, I’m quite sure that yours or Skybright’s wouldn’t. In comparison with you girls, I’m like one of those old aspens that have stood for half a century or more in some grave-garth in the countryside, while you are like those deli?cate crab-flowers that Yun brought round for me in the autumn.’
‘Aspens aren’t the only trees you find growing in grave?garths,’ said Musk, smiling. ‘What about pines and cypresses.? I hate aspens great, stupid trees I It’s not as if they had more leaves than others, yet at the slightest breath of wind they start making a racket. Why compare yourself to an aspen? How common!’
‘I wouldn’t compare myself with a pine or a cypress,’ said Bao-yu. ‘Confucius himself speaks highly of those two trees:

“When the year is coldest, we see that pine and cypress are the last to fade.”
That shows you how noble they are. I should need to be a very conceited person to compare myself with them.’

While he was still discussing this with Musk and Skybright, the old woman who had shown him the prescription arrived back again with the drugs. Bao-yu told one of the maids to find the silver medicine skillet and brew them on the brazier in his room.
‘Now do be sensible!’ said Skybright. Tell them to do it in the tea-kitchen. You’ll stink the place out with the smell of boiling herbs if you do it in here.’
‘But the smell of boiling herbs is the finest smell in the world,’ said Bao-yu, ‘—far superior to the perfume of any flower. Even the Immortals are supposed to gather herbs and cook them; and gathering herbs to make medicine with is the favourite occupation of hermits and holy men. The smell of medicine: that is the one aesthetic treat that has so far been missing from this apartment; and now, today, we shall enjoy it!’
And he insisted that they should prepare the medicine on the spot. Then he told Musk to get some things ready to send to Aroma and commissioned one of the old women to take them to her. She was to see how Aroma was and urge her not to endanger her health by excessive weeping. When all these matters had been attended to, he went off to pay his morning calls on Lady Wang and Grandmother Jia and to have his lunch.
He found Xi-feng at Grandmother Jia’s place discussing mealtime arrangements with his mother and grandmother.
‘Now that it’s so cold and the days are so short,’ she was saying, ‘wouldn’t it be better if Li Wan and the young people were to have their meals in the Garden, to avoid all this trek?king to and fro? They can begin coming in for them again when the weather is warmer and the days are not so short.’
‘Oh, much better, surely?’ said-Lady Wang. ‘Especially when it’s snowing or blowing, as it has been recently. It’s so bad for one to be exposed to the cold immediately after eating. It’s also not good to eat food after being out in the cold with an empty stomach. The empty parts fill up with cold air and then the food presses it down inside one. That big five-frame room inside the back gate of the Garden would make an ideal kitchen. We’ve already got all those women there who keep watch in the Garden at night, so there are plenty of hands for fetching and carrying. All we need are a couple of women from the kitchens here to go over and do the cooking. There are regular allowances for vegetables and so forth, so they can either get the money from Accounts and do their own shopping themselves, or, if they prefer, they can ask the Office to get the stuff for them. And when we have anything special here, like pheasant or roebuck, we can always arrange for a share of it to be sent over to them.’
‘I’d been thinking along these lines myself,’ said Grand?mother Jia, ‘but I was afraid that opening another kitchen might mean extra trouble for you and Feng.’
‘No trouble at all,’ said Xi-feng. ‘It’s simply a matter of switching allowances—spending a bit more here and a bit more there. And even if it does put our expenses up a bit, we don’t want the girls getting colds. Cousin Lin is particularly sus?ceptible. Even Bao-yu is liable to suffer from the cold; and none of our girls is really strong.’
How Grandmother Jia replied will be shown in the follow?ing chapter.

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