The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 53

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CHAPTER 53

Ning-guo House sacrifices to the ancestors on New Year’s Eve
And Rong-guo House entertains the whole family on
Fifteenth Night

SEEING that Skybright’s repair of the peacock gold snow cape had so utterly exhausted her, Bao-yu called in a junior maid to help massage her and for a while they pummelled her between them. After that they all went to bed; but in less than no time it seemed to be broad daylight and they had to get up again. Instead of going straight off to his uncle’s, however, Bao-yu first sent someone to summon Dr Wang. ‘The doctor arrived promptly and proceeded to take Skybright’s pulses. He appeared to be disconcerted by what he found.
‘Yesterday she seemed to be a little better,’ he said, ‘but this pulse today takes us right back to where we started from—empty, superficial, faint, constricted. Now why should that be? She must have been eating or drinking too much. Either that, or she has been worrying about something. The original attack was not a serious one; but failure to take care of oneself after perspiration has been induced can be very serious.’
He went outside and wrote another prescription, which was presently brought in to Bao-yu. Bao-yu noticed that the sudorifics and decongestants of the earlier prescription had been omitted and restorative drugs to increase the vitality and nourish the blood, such as lycoperdon, nipplewort and angelica, had been substituted. He gave instructions for the medicine to be made up immediately. He seemed distressed.
‘This is dreadful. If anything should happen to you after this, I shall never forgive myself.’
Skybright, lying back on her pillow, hooted derisively at his concern:
My dear young Master, just get on with your own affairs and don’t worry about me. I’m not about to go into a decline, I assure you!’
Bao-yu was in any case obliged to go now; but having held out at his uncle’s place until the afternoon, he managed to get back to her by pretending that he was feeling unwell.
Skybright was certainly quite ill. Fortunately she was normally an active, lively sort of girl, not given to moping and vapours; she had always been sensible—even abstemious—in her diet; and her constitution was a sound one. The Jias were great believers in the virtues of fasting. Masters and servants alike were put on a starvation diet at the slightest hint of a cough or cold, the physic and nursing they received being considered of only secondary importance to this, and Skybright had been fasting now for two or three days, ever the influenza began. In addition to this, she had taken her medicine regularly and, except for the one night’s lapse, had looked after herself reasonably well. Although the over-exertion set her back a few days, she was soon on the mend again. And as the new catering arrangements whereby the cousins now ate in their own apartments made ordering things much easier, Bao-yu was able to get all sorts of soups and broths made up to aid her recovery.
Omitting details of this convalescence, our story passes on to the return of Aroma, which occurred shortly after her mother’s funeral. As soon as she got back, Musk told her all about Trinket and how Skybright had dismissed her first and reported the dismissal afterwards to Bao-yu. Aroma merely remarked that Skybright had been ‘too hasty’, but made no further comment.
Li Wan had herself now fallen a victim to the season’s cold; Lady Xing was suffering from an inflammation of the eyes which necessitated Ying-chun’s and Xiu-yan attendance on her both mornings and evenings to dress them for her; Mrs Li had been invited to spend some days with a younger brother and gone off taking Li Wen and Li Qi with her; and Bao-yu was preoccupied with Aroma, who was still thinking con?stantly of her mother and liable at any moment to break down, as well as with Skybright, who had still not entirely recovered. So what with one thing and another, no one felt much in the mood for writing poetry and one or two of the club’s fixture-days went by without a meeting.
It was now well into the twelfth month and Lady Wang and Xi-feng were busily preparing for the New Year. The season of appointments brought news that Wang Zi-teng had been promoted to the post of Inspector-General of Armies in the Nine Provinces and that Jia Yu-cun was to become Under Secretary to the President of the Board of War with occasional duties at Court. Over in the Ning mansion Cousin Zhen had opened up the Hall of the Ancestors and set his people to work sweeping it, setting the vessels out in readiness for the New Year sacrifices, and welcoming the spirits back into the an?cestral tablets. He also had the main hall of the Ning-guo mansion swept in readiness for the annual ceremonial hanging of the ancestral portraits. Everyone in both mansions, both high and low, was in a fever of activity.
One morning in the course of these preparations, as You-?shi, who had not long since risen, was, with the assistance of Jia Rong’s new wife, getting the presents of newly made clothes ready for sending to Grandmother Jia, a maid came in bearing a trayful of New Year medallions.
‘It’s from Merry, ma’am. He says that loose silver you gave him the other day was of several different marks but the total weight was one hundred and fifty-three taels and thirteen pennyweights and he says they’ve managed to make two hundred and twenty medallions from it.’
She held out the tray for You-shi to inspect. On it there were medallions shaped like plum-flowers, crabflower-shaped medallions, medallions with ‘heart’s desire’ rebus patterns of ingot, brush and sceptre, and others with patterns of aus?picious flowers.
‘Yes,’ said You-shi, ‘they seem to be all right. Tell him to take them inside immediately.’
The maid went off to do her bidding. Shortly after that Cousin Zhen came in to have his lunch and Jia Rong’s wife hurried out to avoid him.
‘Have we received the bounty money for the New Year sacrifices yet?’ Cousin Zhen asked You-shi when they were alone together.
‘I sent Rong to draw it this morning,’ said You-shi.
‘It’s not that we rely on the money exactly,’ said Cousin Zhen, ‘but it is after all the gift of the Emperor and I think we ought to draw it as soon as possible and get it across to Lady Jia so that it can be used to pay for the offerings. It’s a double blessing when the gracious favour shown us by His Majesty can be passed on to the ancestors. However many thousands of our own we were to spend on them, it wouldn’t do them nearly as much honour as these offerings subsidized by the imperial bounty—not to mention the advantages that we enjoy as recipients of Imperial favour. And we have to remember that apart from the one or two great families like ours who don’t really need this money, there are many, many families of poor hereditary officials who do actually depend on it for their ancestral sacrifices and who wouldn’t be able to celebrate New Year properly without it. So you see it really was extra?ordinarily benevolent and far-seeing of the dynasty to institute this annual bounty.’
‘Yes, indeed,’ said You-shi.
‘Master Rong is back,’ a servant came in to report while the two of them were still talking.
‘Tell him to come in,’ said Cousin Zhen
Jia Rong entered carrying a little yellow bag, not as one would normally carry a bag, but holding it in both hands at shoulder height.
‘You’ve been a long time, haven’t you?’ said Cousin Zhen.
Jia Rong smiled nervously.
‘This year they’re not paying it at the Board of Rites any longer but at the treasury of the Imperial Victuallers; so having first gone to the Board of Rites, I had to go from there all the way to the Imperial Victuallers to draw the money. The people at the Imperial Victuallers’ office all asked after you, by the way. They say they haven’t seen you for a long time, but they often think about you.’
‘It’s not me they think about but my things,’ said Cousin Zhen with a dry smile. ‘Either that, or they are hoping for an invitation to come round over the New Year.’
He was inspecting the yellow bag as he said this. It had a sealing-slip with the words

PERPETUAL BOUNTY

written on it in large characters. On the other side was the chop of the Department of Sacrifices of the Board of Rites and some columns of smaller characters:

Annual grant awarded in perpetuity to Jia Yan, Duke
of Ning-guo, and Jia Yuan, Duke of Rong-guo, for
New Year Sacrifices: goods to the value of—taels net
Cash received by: Jia Rong, Captain, Imperial Body-
? guard, Inner Palace, on (date)
Issuing officer for the year: (name)

This was followed by a cipher in red ink.
After inspecting the yellow bag, Cousin Zhen had his lunch; then, when he had washed his hands and rinsed his mouth out, he changed into formal hat and boots and, ordering Jia Rong to follow him with the bag, set off for the other mansion to report the arrival of the bounty-money, first to Grandmother Jia and Lady Wang and then to Jia She and Lady Xing next door. When they got back he took out the money and ordered the bag to be carried into the Hall of the Ancestors and burnt there in the great incense-burner in front of the ancestral tablets.
There were further orders now for Jia Rong:
‘I want you to go and ask your Aunt Lian whether she’s decided yet on which days she’ll be entertaining in the New Year. If she has, get the office to make out a good, clear list of the dates, so that we don’t have any duplicating this year. Last year several families got invitations from both of us for the same day, and of course, people being what they are, instead of realizing that it was a mistake, they assumed that we had deliberately worked it out between us as an economy.’
Jia Rong hurried off to see Xi-feng, returning presently with the list of dates that his father had asked for. After run?ning his eye over it, Cousin Zhen handed it to a servant.
‘Give this to Lai Sheng. Tell him to avoid these dates when he sends out our New Year invitations.’
He and Jia Rong went on to inspect operations in the hall, where a number of pages were carrying in and arranging the large screens on which the portraits of the ancestors were to be hung, and cleaning and polishing the tables and the ritual vessels of gold and silver which were to be set up in front of them. While they were thus engaged, a page came in holding a red greetings-card and a schedule containing some sort of list.
‘Bailiff Wu from Black Mountain village, sir. He’s just arrived.’
‘That old rascal?’ said Cousin Zhen. ‘He’s been long enough getting here!’
Jia Rong took the greetings-card and schedule from the servant, and opening up the card, held it out for his father to read. Cousin Zhen folded his hands behind his back and bent over to read the inscription:

Wu Jin-xiao, Bailiff, presents his Humble Compliments
to the
Master and Mistress
and compliments to
The Young Gentlemen and Ladies
wishing you
Wealth, Health and Prosperity
Increase of Pay and Promotion
and
all your Heart’s Desire in the
Coming Year
Cousin Zhen laughed.
‘These country people have an original sense of style.’
‘Never mind the style,’ said Jia Rong, echoing his father’s laughter with obsequious laughter of his own, ‘just think of all the good luck he is wishing us!’
He opened up the schedule and held it out while Cousin Zhen ran his eye down the list:

tufted deer 30
water deer 50
spotted deer 50
Siamese pigs 20
scalded pigs 20
wild boar 20
wild pigs 20
salted pigs 20
wild sheep 20
goats 20
scalded sheep 20
sheep, salted in fell 20
sturgeons 200
fish, various 200
live chickens, ducks and geese (each) 200
dried ditto (each) 200
pheasants & hares (each) 200 brace
bear’s paws 20 pairs
deer’s sinews 20 catties
sea-slugs 50 catties
deer’s tongues 50
ox-tongues 10
dried mussels 20 catties
filberts, pine-nuts, peach-kernels, almonds (each) 2 bags
crayfish 50 pairs
dried shrimps 200 catties
high quality selected Silver Frost charcoal 1000 catties
medium grade ditto 2000 catties
red charcoal 30,000 catties
red Emperor rice 5 bushels
green glutinous rice 60 bushels
white ditto 60 bushels
powder rice 60 bushels
millet, sorghum & other grains (each) 60 bushels
general purpose rice 2500 bushels
dried vegetables 1 cartload
Item, total realized from sales of livestock and cereals 2500 taels silver
Item, Present for the young ladies and gentlemen (Pets) 2 deer
4 pair white rabbits
4 pair black rabbits
2 pair golden pheasants
2 pair Foreign ducks

‘Bring him in,’ said Cousin Zhen when he had finished perusing the schedule.
Wu Jin-xiao promptly appeared. He knelt down in the courtyard below and had already kotowed and called out his greetings before Cousin Then could have him raised up and brought into the hall.
‘You are still hale and hearty then?’ Cousin Then asked him.
‘Yes, sir, thank you sir,’ said the old man, beaming. ‘I still manage to get about.’
‘Your sons must be quite big fellows by now,’ said Cousin Then. ‘Why don’t you let them do the travelling for you?’
‘To tell you the truth, sir, I’m so used to the journey, I’d miss it now if I wasn’t to come. Shouldn’t know what to do with myself. The boys would be only too glad to come if I’d let them, of course—see what it’s like here “in the Emperor’s shadow” as we say—but they’re only youngsters yet: I’d be afeared of them having some mishap on the way. A few years longer and I shan’t need to worry.’
‘How many days have you been on the road?’ said Cousin Then.
‘Well, sir, as you know, there was a lot of snow this year: it must have been lying three or four foot thick in places. And that sudden thaw we had coming on top of it made the going very difficult. That must have put us back several days. It’s taken a month and two days altogether. But I do assure you, sir, seeing that the time was running out and knowing how anxious you’d be, we made as much speed as we could.’
‘I was wondering what could have made you so late,’ said Cousin Then. ‘Well, I’ve been looking at this list of yours. I see you’re holding out on me again this year, you old devil.’

Wu Jin-xiao advanced a couple of steps—springing, as it were, to his own defence:
‘It’s like this, sir. The harvests this year have been really terrible. From the third month to the eighth month it rained on and off all the time. I doubt we had six fine days in a row together. Then in the ninth month we had hall as big as tea?cups. For fifty miles around, the damage to crops and livestock—and houses and people as well, for that matter—was terrible. That’s why I haven’t brought you more this year. That’s the honest truth, sir. You know I wouldn’t lie to you.’
‘I’d reckoned on your bringing me at least five thousand taels,’ said Cousin Then, frowning. ‘What am I supposed to do with an amount like this? We have only eight or nine farms now and of those eight or nine two have declared themselves disaster areas this year and aren’t contributing anything. With you holding back on me too, I might as well give up celebrat?ing New Year altogether.’
‘Your lands have done better than some,’ said Wu Jin-xiao. ‘Take my cousin’s place. That’s only thirty mile from where I am, but my word, what a difference! My cousin manages eight farms for your relations at the other House. They’ve got several times as much land as you, but the vittles he’s brought them this year are no more than this lot here, and their cash yield on sales is no more than two or three thousand. Now they really ha~ got something to make a fuss about.’
‘It’s true,’ said Cousin Then. ‘We’re not too badly off on this side. At least we haven’t got any new major commitments outside our regular annual expenditure. For us it’s a question of spending a bit more freely when we’re flush and economiz?ing a bit when things are tighter. And even in the case of these New Year expenses, I suppose I could cut down on them if I really had to. It would simply be a question of brazening it out. But with our Rong-guo cousins it’s different. They’ve had all these new expenses during the past few years, none of which were optional, but no new source of income to set against them. Which means that for the past year or two they’ve had to start eating into their capital. If you folk can’t help them to make up the deficit, who else is there they turn to?’
‘I know they’ve got a lot on their plate,’ said Wu Jin-xiao with a knowing smile, ‘but it can’t all be outgoings, can it? There must be something coming in as well. Surely Her Grace and old Live-For-Ever must give them a hand-out once in a while?’
Cousin Then turned to Jia Rong with a laugh.
‘You heard that? Rich, isn’t it?’
Jia Rong tittered.
‘What does a countryman like you living at the back of beyond know about such matters? You don’t suppose Her Grace has handed them the keys of the Emperor’s treasury, do you? She’s not her own mistress, even if she wanted to. She does give presents, of course, but it’s only on birthdays and feastdays and the like and never more than a few lengths of figured satin or some curios or knick-knacks. Even when she gives money, at the very most it will be a hundred gold. Now say a hundred gold is worth a thousand silver taels—it can’t be much more than that—what possible good can a thousand taels do them, when during each of the past two years they’ve been forced to draw on their capital to the tune of several thousands a year? During the first of those two years they had the Visitation—including the building of that great garden. Just imagine what that must have cost them. Another two years like these last two with another Visitation thrown in and they’ll be cleaned out!’
‘These simple country souls see “the bright outside but not the dark within”,’ said Cousin Zhen. ‘The situation our Rong-?guo cousins are in is like the proverbial chime-hammer made of phellodendron wood: imposing to look at but bitter inside.’
‘You can tell they really are hard-up,’ said Jia Rong half? jokingly. ‘The other day I heard Auntie Lian plotting with Faithful to steal some of Lady Jia’s things to use as security for a loan.’
‘No, I think that was merely our Feng being her usual artful self,’ said Cousin Then, laughing. ‘They’re still not that poor. I expect she has noticed how much they have been spending. beyond their means and is planning some economy or other. What you overheard would simply have been her way of let?ting people know how hard-up they are and preparing them for some cuts. I’ve got a rough idea of how their finances stand at present and I assure you that they aren’t quite as desperate as that yet.’
Concluding the conversation on this more reassuring note, Cousin Then gave Wu Jin-xiao into the charge of the servants with instructions that he was to be properly looked after and entertained. Our narrative does not follow the old man into the servants’ quarters, however, but remains in the hall with Cousin Then.
Cousin Then had a portion of the things that Wu Jin-xiao had brought set aside to be used as offerings to the ancestors; he had another portion set aside for sending to Rong-guo House; and while Jia Rong attended to its delivery, he person?ally supervised the selection of a third portion which he intended to keep for his own use. What remained he had piled up in orderly heaps on the pavement beneath the hall terrace to be shared out among the junior members of the clan, who were forthwith invited to come and collect their shares.
At that point a large consignment of things arrived from the other mansion, most of them things to be used in the an?cestral sacrifices, but some of them for Cousin Then himself. Having given orders for their disposal, Cousin Then went back to his supervision of the polishing and furniture-shifting in the hall. When that work was completed, he put on a lynx-skin coat and went out, still in his slippers, on to the terrace, where, having found himself a warm place under the eaves, he got the servants to spread out a wolfskin rug for him so that he could sit there and watch the young clansmen as they came to collect their shares. He noticed that Jia Qin was among them.
‘What are you doing here?’ he called out to him. ‘Who told you to come?’
Jia Qin came over and stood in front of him, arms held submissively at his sides.
‘I heard that you were having a family share-out, Uncle, so I came along without waiting to be called.’
‘These things I’m giving away now are intended for those of your uncles and cousins who haven’t got jobs or private incomes to support them,’ said Cousin Then. ‘During the years when you were unemployed yourself, I used to give you a share of the New Year things. But you aren’t unemployed now: you’ve got that supervisor’s job that my Rong-guo cousins gave you, looking after those young nuns in the family temple. Not only have you got a salary of your own, but you control all the nuns’ allowances as well. Yet still you come here for my things. You are too greedy. And just look at you! No one would think from your appearance that you had money to spend and a responsible position. You used to have the excuse that you had no money, but what excuse have you got now? You look even more disreputable now than you did when you were unemployed!’
‘I’ve got a big family to support,’ said Jia Qin. ‘I have a lot of expenses.’
‘Humbug!’ said Cousin Then. ‘I know what you get up to in that temple of yours, don’t think I don’t! Once you set foot in that place, you are the master and nobody there can gainsay you. With money to spend and the rest of us a long way away in the city, you can do exactly as you like: invite the local riff raff in every night to gamble with you and fill the place with your kept women and fancy boys. So having squandered all the money and reduced yourself to the disgraceful state I see you in now, you have the effrontery to try and get something out of me. All you are likely to get out of me, young man, is a good stout stick across the shoulders! And when this holiday is over, I shall make it my business to have a word with your Uncle Lian and see to it that he has you recalled.’
Jia Qin reddened, but dared not say anything.
A servant came up then to report:
‘Someone with a present from the Prince of Bei-jing, sir. Two scrolls and a perfume-bag.’
Cousin Then turned to Jia Rong.
‘Go and entertain him for me. Tell him I’m out.’
Jia Rong hurried off.
Cousin Zhen then dismissed Jia Qin, and having presided over the distribution until all the things had been taken, re?turned to his own apartment to have his dinner with You-shi.
Concerning the rest of that day and the night which fol?lowed our narrative is silent.
The day after that was even busier. But to give further details of these preparations would be tedious. Suffice it to say that by the twenty-ninth of the twelfth month they had been completed. In both mansions new door-gods had been pasted up on all the doors, the inscribed boards at the sides and over the tops of gateways had been repainted, and fresh ‘good luck’ slips—auspicious couplets written in the best calligraphy on strips of scarlet paper—had been pasted up at the sides of all the entrances. In the Ning-guo mansion the central doors of the main outer gate, of the ornamental gate, of the outer reception hall, of the pavilion-gate, of the inner reception hall, of the triple gate dividing the inner from the outer parts of the mansion, and of the inner ornamental gate were all thrown Open, so that a way was opened up from the street right through into the family hall inside. Red lanterns on tall scarlet stands lined either side of this route. At dusk, when the candles in them were lit, they took on the appearance of two long, parallel serpents of light, undulating slightly where they ascended or descended the steps of terraces.
Next day, the last of the Old Year, Grandmother Jia and any of the Jia ladies who possessed patents of nobility attired themselves in the court dress appropriate to their rank and were borne in procession to the Palace, Grandmother Jia at the head in a palanquin carried by eight bearers, to make their kotows to the Imperial Concubine and felicitate her on the successful conclusion of the year. On their return from the banquet which she gave them, their chairs were set down out?side the pavilion-gate of the Ning-guo mansion, where those of the younger Jia males who had not escorted them to the Palace were lined up on either side of the gateway waiting to receive them. When the ladies had all alighted, the young men conducted them on foot to the Jia family’s Hall of the An?cestors.
Bao-qin had never been inside this part of the mansion before. She was being allowed in on this occasion by virtue of her recent adoption into the family and was anxious to take in every detail in order that she might retain as accurate an im?pression of it as possible.
The Jia family’s Hall of the Ancestors was in a separate courtyard of its own in the west part of Ning-guo House, away from the more domestic parts of the mansion—a court?yard that was entered through an imposing five-frame gateway behind a black-lacquered wooden paling. An inscription in large characters hung over the central arch of the gate:

ANCESTRAL TEMPLE
OF THE
JIA FAMILY

with a column of smaller characters in the lower left hand part of the board indicating that the calligrapher was a direct descendant in the sixty-somethingth generation of the Sage Confucius. A long couplet from the brush of the same calli?grapher occupied the two vertical boards at the arch’s sides:

With loyal blood poured out willingly upon the ground
a myriad subjects pay tribute to their benevolent rulers

For famous deeds lauded resoundingly to the skies
a hundred generations offer sacrifices to their heroic ancestors

Inside the gate a raised white marble walk shaded by an avenue of venerable pines and cypresses led up to a terrace on which ancient bronze tripods were ranged. Over the entrance to the temple’s vestibule, whose penthouse-roof swept forwards from the main building’s fa?ade, hung a board framed in a carved and gilded border of nine interlacing dragons and in?scribed in the Late Emperor’s calligraphy with the following words:

HIS MINISTERS ARE AS SHINING STARS

The vertical inscriptions on either side were in the same Im?perial hand:

Their achievements outshone the celestial luminaries
Their fame is reflected in the generations that come after them

The board over the entrance to the main hall of the temple was framed by two contending dragons and its inscription was of incised characters infilled in green. Both it and the matching couplet below it were in the calligraphy of the reigning sovereign:

HONOUR THE DEAD AND KEEP THEIR MEMORIAL

Their sons and grandsons enjoy the fruits of their blessedness
The common people recall Ning and Rong with kindness

Beyond the flickering brilliance of many lights and the glint and sheen of drapes and hangings Bao-qin could make out some of the spirit tablets of the ancestors, but not very clearly.
By ancient custom the menfolk were divided in ranks to left and right of the hall so that each generation was on a different side from the one which followed it, fathers and sons separ?ated, grandfathers and grandsons together. Jia Jing presided over the sacrifice with Jia She acting as his assistant; Cousin Then held the drink-offering; Jia Lian and Jia Cong the silk-offering; Bao-yu carried the incense; Jia Chang and Jia Ling unrolled the kneeling-mat in front of the great incense-burner Then the black-coated musicians struck up and the ceremony began.: the threefold offering of the Cup, the standings, kneel?ings and prostrations, the burning of the silk-offering, the libation—every movement precisely in time to the solemn strains of the music. The music ceased at the same time as the ceremony, and the participants filed out and, grouping them?selves round Grandmother Jia, conducted her to the main hall of the Ning-guo mansion where, under the richly-embroidered frieze which hung high in front of them, against a background of brilliantly-decorated screens, high above the smoking in?cense and flickering candles of the altar, the portraits of the ancestors hung, those of the ducal siblings, Ning-guo and Rong-guo, resplendent in dragon robes and jade-encrusted belts, in the centre and somewhat raised above the rest.
The men ranged themselves in ascending order of seniority in the space between the hall and the ornamental gate, so that the two most junior ones, Jia Xing and Jia Zhi, were just inside the gate and the two most senior ones, Jia jing and Jia She, were at the top of the terrace steps and under the eaves of the hall. The womenfolk of the family were ranged inside the hall in corresponding ranks but in reverse order: that is to say, the most junior were nearest the threshold and the most senior furthest inside the hall, but whereas the senior male in a generation was at the east end of his row, the senior female in the same generation would be at the west end of hers, and vice versa. The male domestics of all ages were ranged in the courtyard on the further side of the ornamental gate.
The manner of making the offerings was as follows: Each ‘course’ was passed from hand to hand by the servants until it reached the ornamental gate. There it was received by Jia Xing and Jia Zhi and passed on from hand to and until it reached Jia Jing at the top of the terrace steps. Jia Rong, as senior grandson of the senior branch of the family, was permitted, alone of all the males, to stand inside the threshold with the women. He received the dishes from his grandfather Jia Jing’s hands and passed them to his wife, Hu-shi. Hu-shi passed them to the row ending in Xi-feng and You-shi, who passed them forwards to Lady Wang standing at the side of the altar. Lady Wang then put them into the hands of Grandmother Jia, who raised them up reverently towards the portraits before laying them down on the altar in front of her. Lady Xing stood to the west of the altar facing eastwards and helped her lay them down. When meat, vegetables, rice, soup, cakes, wine and tea had all been transmitted to the altar by this human chain and offered up there by Grandmother Jia and her two daughters-?in-law, Jia Rong withdrew and took up his position next to Jia Qin in the courtyard below, at the head of the most junior generation of Jia family males.
Now came the most solemn part of the ceremony. As Grandmother Jia, clasping a little bundle of burning joss sticks with both her hands, knelt down for the incense-offering, the entire congregation of men and women, rank upon rank of them, close-packed as flowers in a flower-bed, knelt down in perfect time with her and proceeded to go through the motions of the Great Obeisance. This was done with such silent concentration that, from five-frame hall and three-frame vestibule, from portico and terrace, terrace steps and courtyard, for some minutes nothing could be heard but the faint tinkling made by jade girdle-pendants and tiny golden bells and the soft scrape and scuffle of cloth-soled boots and shoes.
The ceremony over, Jia Jing, Jia She and the rest of the menfolk hurried back to the Rong-guo mansion so that they could be waiting there in readiness to make their kotows to Grandmother Jia on her return.
In You-shi’s main reception-room, whither the ladies re?paired now from the hall, the floor had been entirely covered with a great red carpet and a huge gold cloisonné incense-burner with a loach-lipped rim and three massive legs shaped like the trunks of elephants stood in the middle.
In the centre of the kang—also new-carpeted, but in scarlet—a dark-red back-rest had been placed with a design showing a couchant dragon coiled around the character for ‘longevity’. Large bolsters of the same colour and with the same design on them had been placed as arm-rests at right-angles to it; for extra warmth a black fox-fur had been draped around the top of it, and there was a white fox-fur mg between the bolsters, for sitting on. When Grandmother Jia had been installed on this furry throne, several old great aunts were invited to sit on fur rugs that had been spread out on the kang to left and right of it. Lady Xing, Lady Wang and other ladies of their generation were installed on fur rugs on a smaller kang in an alcove-room to the side of the main kang and discreetly separated from it by an openwork wooden screen. On the floor below, in two facing rows, were a dozen carved lacquer chairs, on which Bao-qin and the other cousins were invited to sit. They had chair-backs and seat-covers of squirrel, and large copper foot-warmers in place of footstools.
You-shi and her daughter-in-law Hu-shi now appeared with tea-trays in their hands, and while You-shi offered tea to Grandmother Jia, Hu-shi served the old aunties. After that You-shi passed into the alcove and served tea to Lady Xing and the other ladies on the smaller kang, and Hu-shi served the cousins sitting in chairs below. Xi-feng, Li Wan and a few other young married women of their generation, debarred from taking tea either with the elder ladies or with their young unmarried cousins, stood idly by, on the floor below the kang, ‘in attendance’. Lady Xing and her group, as soon as they had finished drinking their tea, rose and moved over to where Grandmother Jia was sitting on the kang so that they too might be ‘in attendance’.
After exchanging a few words with the other old ladies while she sipped her tea, Grandmother Jia gave orders for her palanquin to be made ready. At once Xi-feng climbed up on to the kang and began helping her to her feet.
‘But we’ve already prepared dinner for you here,’ said You?-shi. ‘You never stay with us for dinner on New Year’s Eve. Won’t you make an exception just this once? Surely my cater?ing can’t be all that inferior to Feng’s?’
Xi-feng continued to help Grandmother Jia from the kang. ‘Come on, Grannie, let’s be getting home! Pay no attention to lien’
Grandmother Jia laughed.
‘You’re so busy with the sacrifices,’ she said. ‘You’re worked off your feet as it is; I’m sure you don’t want the bother of feeding me as well. Besides, in past years when I haven’t stayed, you have Sent the food over to me. Why don’t you do that again this year? I don’t feel like eating very much now; but if you send it over, I shall be able to save it up for tomorrow, and then I shall be able to eat more of it than I could now.’
This made everyone laugh.
‘See that you get someone thoroughly dependable to sit up and keep an eye on the candles tonight,’ Grandmother Jia said by way of parting admonition. ‘Where fire is concerned, one can’t afford to take chances.’
You-shi, escorting her meanwhile from the room, assured her that she would do so.
At the pavilion-gate You-shi and the other ladies hid them-selves behind the gate-screen from the eyes of the waiting menservants while Grandmother Jia got into her palanquin. Pages of the Ning-guo mansion went ahead of the bearers and, as they approached the outer gate, directed them through the centre of its three gateways. Lady Xing and Lady Wang fol?lowed in their less imposing conveyances, accompanied by You-shi, who was also going over to the other mansion.
Outside, while they were being borne in a westerly direction down the street, the ladies could see the achievements, in?signia and musical instruments (bells, gongs, stone-chimes and drums hung in magnificently carved, painted and tasselled stands) of the Dukes of Ning-guo and Rong-guo, those of the Duke of Ning-guo along the eastern half of the street outside the south wall of the Ning-guo property, and those of his brother-duke outside the Rong-guo wall to its west.
As in the other mansion, the centre-gates throughout Rong-?guo House were all thrown open so that a way was clear from the outer gate right through to the Hall of Exalted Felicity inside. But this time, instead of going through to the pavilion-gate and getting out there, they turned left after the outer reception hall and were carried to the main reception hall in Grandmother Jia’s part of the mansion. The others assembled round the old lady as they got out of their sedans and followed her into the hall. Here, too, everything had been transformed: brilliantly embroidered screens and cushions specially brought out for the occasion and an incense-burner set down in the middle of the room from which emanated delicious odours of pine and cedar and Hundred Blend aromatic.
As soon as Grandmother Jia was seated, a venerable nannie came up to her to report that ‘the old ladies had arrived to make their kotow’ and she hurriedly got up again and ad?vanced to welcome two or three elderly female relations who had just come into the hall. A good deal of polite tussling ensued, accompanied on both sides by laughter and protesta?tions, as Grandmother Jia took the hands of each old lady in turn and, while the old ladies pretended that they were struggling to kneel, made a great show of struggling to pre?vent them—for although Grandmother Jia was their senior, they were in the same generation as her and too elderly to be allowed to kotow in earnest. They sat down for a while after that and took a cup of tea; then Grandmother Jia saw them out, but no farther than the inner ornamental gate.
When she had returned and was once more enthroned on the principal seat in the hall, Jia Jing and Jia She came forward with all the menfolk in the family in rows behind them to make their kotow.
‘You all do so much for me during the year,’ Grandmother Jia protested. ‘Can’t we forget about the kotow?’
But nobody heeded her. Rank upon rank of them, the males in one large group and the females in another, knelt down together and bowed their foreheads to the ground. After that folding chairs were brought and put down in a row to left and right of Grandmother Jia’s seat and the next most senior members of the family sat down and received their kotows, and so on by order of seniority downwards, until all but the most junior members of the family had been kotowed to; but now even their turn arrived and they too were allowed to sit down as the domestics of both households, men-servants and women-servants, pages and maids, came in by order of their various ranks and duties and made their kotows to their em?ployers.
After that the New Year’s Eve wish-penny was distributed to servants and children—gold or silver medallions in little embroidered purses—and the New Year’s love-feast was laid, tables on the east side of the hall for men and boys, tables on the west side for girls and women. There was herb-flavoured New Year’s Eve wine and love-feast soup, there were lucky-?cakes and wish-puddings; and when all had eaten and drunk, Grandmother Jia rose and went into an inner room to change out of her Court dress, which she had all this time been wear?ing. This was a signal for the others present to disperse.
As darkness came on, offerings of cakes and burning joss? sticks were made in front of all the Buddha-shrines and in all the little niches of the Kitchen God, who is welcomed back this night from his annual trip aloft. In the main courtyard, outside Lady Wang’s apartment, an ‘altar to heaven and earth’ was set up – a long table on which offerings of sticky fried honey-sticks and fresh apples and steamed wheat-flour cakes and other goodies had been built up, layer upon layer, into a little pagoda of offerings in front of a large colour-print representing the whole host of heaven (or as much of it as the artist had been able to fit in). Great horn lanterns hung at either side of the main entrance to Prospect Garden to illuminate the gateway, and innumerable standard lamps lit up its alley-ways and courtyards and walks. As for the inhabitants of the mansion, all of them, both masters and servants, seemed, in their dazzling holiday array, like walking flower-gardens of brilliant embroidery and brocade. And all night long a confused hubbub of talking and shouting and laughter arose, punctuated by the continual, unceasing pops and bangs of exploding firecrackers.
At four o’clock in the morning, as the drums of the fifth watch were sounding, Grandmother Jia and the other ladies once more got into their court dresses and were borne in pro?cession to the Palace, this time to felicitate Yuan-chun on the advent of the New Year. Livened footmen walked ahead of them carrying the full paraphernalia to which Grandmother Jia’s rank entitled her. Once more Yuan-chun feasted them; once more, on their return from the Palace, they made offer?ings to the ancestors in their shrine in the Ning-guo mansion; and once more, on returning to her own apartment in Rong-?guo House, Grandmother Jia received the prostrations of the assembled family. As soon as that was over, she changed out of her court clothes and declared that she was going to rest, refusing to see any of the friends and relations who now began arriving in great numbers to offer their New Year felicitations, and spending her time either quietly conversing with Aunt Xue and Mrs Li or, as an occasional diversion, playing games of cards or Racing Go with Bao-yu and the girls.
But Lady Wang and Xi-feng, on both this and each of the seven or eight days which followed, were kept busy entertain?ing the guests whom the family had invited to drink their New Year wine. In both the reception hall and the courtyard out?side it there were plays to watch and tables at which the un?ending stream of visitors could sit for a while and eat and drink while they watched them.
And no sooner was that lot of entertaining over than another lot had to be prepared for as the First Moon waxed greater and the Lantern Festival drew near. Again the Ning and Rong mansions were gay with lanterns and decorations. On the eleventh of the month Jia She entertained Grand-mother Jia and the rest of the family and on the twelfth it was Cousin Zhen’s turn to play host, while for several days run?ning Lady Wang and Wang Xi-feng were most of the time out visiting one or other of the innumerable families from whom they bad received invitations.
On the evening of the fifteenth Grandmother Jia had tables laid for a feast in her big ‘new’ reception hall—the scene of Xi-feng’s fateful birthday-feast. A stage was set up for a troupe of child-actors which she had specially hired for this occasion, and both the stage and hall were hung all over with lanterns of every imaginable shape and colour. When her preparations were completed, she summoned all her children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces, great-nephews and great-nieces to a family feast.
As a matter of fact it is not strictly true that all of them were invited. Jia Jing was, for religious reasons, a total abstainer from meat and strong drink, so he was not invited. Obligations to the dead rather than to the living had brought him back for the holiday, and on the seventeenth, two days after this, as soon as the last of the ancestral sacrifices was over, he returned to his Taoist monastery outside the city and the briefly inter?rupted pursuit of immortality. Meanwhile, when not actually engaged in discharging ceremonial duties, he spent all the time on his own in a quiet, out-of-the-way corner of the mansion, in a state of incommunicado with the other members of the family.
And Jia She, although he was invited, excused himself as soon as he had received a party-gift from his mother. She knew that he felt uncomfortable in her presence and did not attempt to detain him. Back in his own quarters, surrounded by cronies and dependants, he could drink and admire the lan?terns while beautiful young women played and sang for his delectation:

Ears with pipes and songs beguiled,
Eyes by silk skirts hypnotized.

—A different scene altogether from the one he had just left.
But let us return to the latter—to the reception hall in Grandmother Jia’s rear courtyard, where a covered stage had been erected to accommodate the players.
Inside the hall some dozen or more tables had been laid facing outwards towards the stage. They were arranged in a fan shape, with the two central tables in the place of honour at the back and the rest of them raying out forwards to left and right of them. At the side of each table a smaller, ornamental table had been placed on which were arranged
1. a little three-piece incense set (a vase, a cassolette and a tripod, all made on a miniature scale out of metal) in which Hundred Blend aromatic—a gift from the Palace—was burn?ing;
2. a porcelain dish, eight inches long, four or five inches wide and two or three inches deep, containing a miniature landscape made out of stones and mosses;
3. a small japanned tea-tray on which was one of Grand?mother Jia’s best china teacups and a little individual mille fiori teapot in which choicest tea was brewing;
4. a little table-screen of red silk gauze, embroidered with flowers and appropriate lines of ‘grass character’ verse, framed in a delicately carved pierced-work sandalwood frame;*
5. a vase (each one a collector’s piece and each different from the rest) containing the three friends winter’ or riches in a jade hall’ or some other flower arrangement, mostly of fresh flowers that had been specially forced for the occasion.
The two tables in the place of honour at the back were occupied by Aunt Xue and Mrs Li. To their left, at the head of the row of tables radiating outwards towards the east side of the hall, there was a large, low wooden settle with a carved pierced-work back of interlacing dragons, which had

* Stone’s Note to Reader:
These screens were embroidered by a Soochow girl called Hui-niang, who, as member of a highly-cultivated Service family and an accomplished amateur painter and calligrapher, embroidered only occasionally for her own diversion and not as a means of making money. As the flowers embroidered on them were all copied from flower-paintings by famous masters, their design and colouring were far superior to the cruder, more garish productions of professional embroiderers; and the accompanying verses, all chosen with impeccable taste from a wide range of literary sources, were executed in black embroidery-silk with such consummate skill that every hook and squiggle, every variation in thickness of line, every join and break in the brush-written ‘grass script’ calligraphy was exactly reproduced, not mangled and deformed as in the stilted, wooden attempts at copying of the commercial embroiderer.
Since Hui-niang did not depend on her embroidery for a living, speci?mens of it, despite its great fame, have always been hard to come by. Even among the rich and great there are very few households which can boast a specimen. Such as do exist are referred to by collectors as ‘Hui em?broidery’. But what are sometimes sold as specimens of ‘Hui embroidery’ today invariably turn out to be imitations deliberately made to take in the inexpert buyer. The real Hui-niang died tragically at the age of eighteen, and there are in fact no genuine specimens of her work now to be had, since the few houses which posse as a piece or two hold on to them tena?ciously and refuse to part with them to would-be purchasers. Indeed, if a genuine specimen of Hui-niang’s work were ever to come upon the market, its value would be incalculable. The Jia family originally possessed three, of which two had been presented as a gift to the Emperor only a year previously, leaving this set of sixteen little table-screens, to which Grandmother Jia was so much attached that she kept them always in her own apartment, unwilling that they should remain with the stock of objects commonly drawn on for the family’s entertainment of guests, and only rarely, on occasions of her own devising, brought them out to be admired.
Stone
been put there for Grandmother Jia to lie on. It was furnished with a back-rest and bolsters and was large enough to have a fur rug spread out on it and still leave room at one end for a small, exquisitely gilded table of foreign make on which had been placed a teapot, a teacup, a spittoon, a napkin and, among various other small objects, an eyeglass-case. Grandmother Jia rested with her feet up on the settle and, after talking for a while with the company, took out the eyeglasses from their case and looked through them at the stage.
‘I do hope you will forgive me for lying down like this in your presence,’ she apologized to Aunt Xue and Mrs Li. ‘It’s very rude of me, I know, but I’m getting so rheumaticky in my old age?
She made Amber get up on to the settle beside her and massage her legs by gently pounding them with a ‘maiden’s fist’—a sort of short-handled mallet with a padded leather head.
No feaster’s table with cover and drapes had been put in front of the settle, only the little ornamental table with the table-screen and the incense set and vase of flowers. The very elegant, somewhat larger table of normal height which would have been hers if she had been sitting up with the rest had been placed somewhat to the left of the settle and laid with wine-cups, soup-spoons and chopsticks for four. It was occupied by Bao-qin, Xiang-yun, Dai-yu and Bao-yu. Although she could not sit with them, Grandmother Jia kept up a pretence that they were eating together: each dish as it arrived would be submitted to her inspection, and if she fancied it, would be placed on the little table at her elbow; then, when she had tasted it, it would be removed and set down in front of the four young people for them to finish.
After Grandmother Jia and her four grandchildren, the next along on the east side was Lady Xing; after her came Lady Wang, then You-shi, then Li Wan, then Xi-feng, and lastly Jia Rong’s wife, Hu-shi. Along the west side Bao-chai came first, next to her mother, then Li Wen, then Li Qi, then Xiu-yan, then Ying-chun, then Tan-chun and then Xi-chun.
Red-tasselled glass lanterns hung in rows from the beams overhead to left and right of the diners. In front of them, on each of their tables, was an ingenious light consisting of a flower-shaped candle attached to the base of a reflector in the form of a vertical lotus leaf. These lotus leaves, though made of metal, were so skillfully engraved and enamelled that they looked almost real. They were attached to their metal stands by means of a swivel, so that the beams of the candle could be concentrated in any direction desired. When all the reflectors were simultaneously directed towards the stage, the diners’ view of the players was wonderfully improved.
The wooden partitions with their window-lattices and doors which normally separated the hall from the verandah had been removed and great palace lanterns of glass, whose elaborately carved wooden frames were hung with strings of crimson tassels, were suspended at intervals in the space thus created. More rows of lanterns—lanterns of every kind of material and design— horn lanterns, glass lanterns, gauze lanterns, lanterns of Yunnan glitter-glass, embroidered ones, painted ones, lan?terns with cut-outs of paper or silk in them, hung in lines under the verandah eaves, both inside and outside the archi?traves, and from the eaves of the loggias on either side of the courtyard.
The tables on the verandah were all occupied by males: Cousin Zhen, Jia Lian, Jia Huan, Jia Cong, Jia Rong, Jia Qin, Jia Yun, Jia Ling and Jia Chang.
Although Grandmother Jia had sent invitations by word of mouth to every clansman and clanswoman residing in the city, some of them were too elderly to stand up to the noise and excitement of a party, some were unable to come because they had no one to look after the house for them while they were away, some had intended to come but were prevented from doing so by illness, some stayed away from envy of their richer clansmen or because they were ashamed of their own poverty, others because they could not stand Xi-feng, and yet others because they were so unused to company and in?capacitated by shyness that they dared not come—in short, although the clan was a numerous one, for one reason or another, of all those invited the only female guest who turned up was Lou-shi, mother of Bao-yu’s former classmate, the intrepid little Jia Jun, who came bringing Jia Jun with her, and the only male ones were those who had found employ?ment with the family under Xi-feng’s auspices and were there-fore obliged to put in an appearance: Jia Qin, Jia Yun, Jia Chang and Jia Ling. Yet even with the absence of so many who had been invited from outside, for a family party the company was a large one.
Presently, while they all sat watching the players, Lin Zhi?-xiao’s wife came into the hall leading six other women, each pair of whom were carrying between them a small kang-table covered with a red felt top on which was a bundle of strung cash: hundreds and hundreds of newly-minted copper coins, specially chosen for size and quality, fastened together by a single long cord of crimson silk. Under the direction of Lin Zhi-xiao’s wife two of these tables were set down in front of Mrs Li and Aunt Xue and the third one beside Grandmother Jia’s settle.
‘Do it in the middle, where everyone can see’ said Grand?mother Jia.
The women all knew what was expected of them. Setting the tables down in the centre of the hall, they simultaneously undid the ends of the crimson cords with which the money was fastened and began pulling them out so that the coins tumbled in heaps upon the tables.
The play being performed on this occasion was The House in Pin-kang Lane, and the actors had just come to the end of that section of it called ‘Meeting in the Sickroom’. The hero Yu Shu-ye, having at last met the love of his life only to be called by stern duty from her side, had just left the stage in chagrin. At this point the child-actor playing the part of his little page Leopard Boy, observing what was going on in the hall, began to extemporize:
‘You can go off in a huff if you like; but today is the fifteenth of the first month and did Lady Jia of Rong-guo House is holding a family party; so what lam going to do is to get on this horse and gallop there as quickly as I can and ask them for some sweeties!’
This caused Grandmother Jia and the rest of the audience to burst out laughing.
‘That’s a sharp little fellow,’ said Aunt Xue. ‘How sweet!’
‘And he’s barely nine,’ said Xi-feng.
‘Barely nine!’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘And being able to come out with it so pat!’
She nodded in the direction of the waiting women.
‘Largesse!’
Three of the women had already provided themselves with small shallow baskets in readiness for this order. At the word of command they walked up to the little tables, shovelled up basketfuls of coins from the heaped-up money, and took them outside to the foot of the stage which Leopard Boy had just vacated.
‘Largesse from Lady Jia, Mrs Xue and Mrs Li for Leopard Boy to buy himself some sweets with,’ said one of the women.
The three of them then discharged the contents of their baskets upon the stage. The money landed with a mighty clatter and at once the whole stage was covered with shining pennies.
Cousin Then had ordered his own pages to have a large flat basket of money ready for his own largesse to the players.
But you will have to wait for the next volume, gentle reader, in order to find out whether they received it.

EXPLICIT SECUNDA PARS LAPIDIS HISTORIAE

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