The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 70

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CHAPTER 70

Lin Dai-yu resuscitates
the Poetry Club
And Shi Xiang-yun tries her hand
at a song lyric

Each of the seven nights following Er-jie’s death were spent by Jia Lian on his own in Pear-tree Court. Throughout the whole of the seven-day period he had Buddhist monks and Taoist priests chanting arid praying outside for her soul’s repose.
At the conclusion of the last chapter we mentioned the unexpected summons which he received towards the end of this period from Grandmother Jia. It turned out to be for the sole purpose of refusing him permission to convey Er-jie’s body to the family temple outside the city. This was a heavy blow, but one to which he could not but submit. He had to talk to the proprietor of the ground in which San-jie was buried and have another grave opened for Er-jie above her sister’s. Apart from a few Jia males and You-shi and her daughter-in-law, the only other mourners on the day they buried her were Xi-feng’s kinsman Wang Xin and his wife. Xi-feng herself would have nothing to do with the funeral and left Jia Lian to manage everything by himself.
The New Year was now approaching. Among the multitudinous duties that had now to be attended to was the necessity of finding suitable wives from among the maidservants for those of the menservants who had reached the marriageable age of twenty-five. Xi-feng consulted Grandmother Jia and Lady Wang on this subject and a lengthy discussion of it ensued. Several maids were of an age to marry, but for one reason or another had to be exempted. The first of these was Faithful, who had taken a vow to remain single all her life. Ever since the day on which she took this vow she had refused even to speak to Bao-yu and had taken to using make-up only sparingly, dispensing altogether with jewellery, and wearing only the very soberest clothes. The others respected her determination and did not press her to abandon it. Amber had to be exempted because she was ill. Sunset, too, since her break-up with Jia Huan, had developed an illness that seemed incurable and had to be exempted for the same reason. There remained only a few of the older maids-of-all-work from Xi?feng’s and Li Wan’s apartments. The other maids were all too young. It was decided to allow the young menservants to seek their brides outside.
*
Xi-feng’s illness, necessitating their standing in for her as household managers, had for many months deprived Li Wan and Tan-chun of their leisure. That, and the multifarious duties attendant on the New Year festival, had resulted in the indefinite postponement of the Poetry Club. Now spring had come and at last there was time for a meeting. But now it was Bao-yu’s condition that prevented them. Liu Xiang-lian’s conversion and subsequent disappearance, San-jie’s suicide, Er-jie’s hounding to death by Xi-feng, the grave deterioration in Fivey’s health caused by the hardships of her night’s imprisonment – all these shocks and distresses following hard upon one another had eventually reduced him to a state of mental collapse. He was beginning to look and act like a half-wit and his speech was frequently disordered and nonsensical. Aroma and the other maids were frightened out of their wits. They dared not tell Grandmother Jia about it; instead they did what they could to distract him by amusing him and making him laugh.
Early one morning he woke up to the sound of laughter, peals upon peals of it from the neighbouring room. Aroma smiled at him when she saw that he was awake.
‘It’s Aventurin,’ she said, giving Parfumee the name that Bao-yu had insisted on. ‘You’d better go and rescue her. She’s got Skybright and Musk holding her down and tickling her.’
Bao-yu slipped on his squirrel-lined gown and went into the outer room to look. The three girls were on the kang, their bedding still not folded and none of them yet dressed. Skybright, wearing only a tunic of leek-green Hangchow silk and a pair of red silk drawers and with her hair hanging loose over her shoulders, knelt above Parfumee’s body, straddling her as if riding a horse; Musk, wearing little but a red breast-binder and an old gown that she had wrapped round herself like a cloak, was tickling Parfumee under the armpits; Parfumee herself, in flower-patterned shirt, red trousers and green stockings, lay on her back drumming her heels on the kang and laughing so much that she seemed in some danger of asphyxiation.
‘Two big ones against one little one,’ said Bao-yu, laughing. ‘I shall have to see about that!’
He got on the kang and began tickling Skybright. Skybright, being very ticklish, at once began shrieking and let go of Parfumee in order to tickle him back, which gave Parfumee the opportunity of getting on top of her and holding her down. Aroma stood watching these antics with amusement.
‘Why don’t you get dressed, all of you?’ she said. ‘It won’t be so funny if you catch cold.’
At that moment Casta came in.
‘Mrs Zhu thinks she left a handkerchief here last night. Have any of you seen it, please?’
‘Yes,’ said Swallow. ‘I picked it up off the floor, but I didn’t know whose it was. I’ve only just washed it and hung it out to dry. I’m afraid it won’t be dry yet.’
Casta was greatly amused by the four figures struggling on the kang.
‘You’re certainly a lively lot here, larking about like this so early in the morning!’
Bao-yu disengaged himself to talk.
‘Don’t you lot ever play, then? There are enough of you.’
‘Mrs Zhu isn’t much of a one for playing,’ said Casta, ‘and she keeps a pretty tight rein on the others – Miss Qin and the two Miss Lis. It’s very quiet there now that Miss Qin is sleeping over at Her Old Ladyship’s again. It will be quieter still next winter when the two Miss Lis go back to their own home. Look how quiet it’s become at Miss Bao’s place since Caltrop went back to Mr Pan. It’s as though several people had left. Poor Miss Shi is quite lost without her!’
By coincidence it was Xiang-yun’s maid Kingfisher who walked in just at that moment. She had a message for Bao-yu.
‘Miss Shi says come quickly, Master Bao. They’ve got a very good poem for you to look at.’
‘Who have?’ said Bao-yu. ‘What sort of poem?’
‘The young ladies. They’re all together in the Drenched Blossoms Pavilion. You’ll see when you get there.’
Bao-yu rushed through his toilet and hurried outside to join them. He found Dai-yu, Bao-chai, Xiang-yun, Bao-qin and Tan-chun clustered round the sheet of paper on which the poem was written.
‘Have you only just got up?’ the girls jeered when they saw him coming. ‘We’ve all been up for hours!’
‘It’s more than a year now since our Poetry Club met,’ said one of them, ‘yet in all that time no one seems to have felt the urge to get it going again. Springtime, when everything in nature is renewing itself, seems an appropriate time for reestablishing it.’
‘Yes,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘We founded it in the autumn, which is a time of decay. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t thrive. If we reestablish it now, when everything is burgeoning, it is bound to flourish! And this “Flower of the Peach” is such a splendid poem: I think we ought to rename our club “The Peach-flower Club”. What do the rest of you think?’
‘I think it’s an excellent idea,’ said Bao-yu. ‘May I see the poem?’
‘Let’s all go and see Farmer Sweetrice and discuss this business of reviving the Poetry Club with her,’ said the others.
They got up in a body and began to go, Bao-yu reading the poem as he went.
The Flower of the Peach
Peach pink the tender flowers outside the window blow;
Peach pink on sleepy face the morning colours glow.
Tree-flowers outside the room and lady-flower inside:
Only a few short steps the flowery forms divide.
Slyly the conspiring wind tugs at the blind below:
Tree-flowers would peep inside if they could do so.
*
Outside the window tree-flowers are blooming still;
Inside the window lady-flower looks ill.
If the flowers could understand, surely they would grieve?
The anxious wind flaps the blind against the window-sill.
*
The anxious wind flaps the blind; spring crowns the courtyard trees;
Spring sights fill the lady’s eyes, but bring her heart no ease.
In her closed, untrodden court the moss grows green on the stones:
She leans there at the sunset hour, in the soft evening breeze.
*
In the soft breeze the lady’s face is wet with many a tear.
Her silken peach-skirt billows out, the peach-trees to be near.
The peach-flowers and the peach-leaves nod in a rich array:
The leaves, against the peach-pink, dark emerald appear.
A thousand trees, ten thousand trees, crowding close together,
Walls and buildings everywhere in a red mist smother.
*
Heaven’s new bed-spread is burning on the dawn loom of the skies:
It’s time now for sleeping lady-flower from dreams of spring to rise.
Her maid comes in with a golden bowl as she leaves her coral bed,
And the peach-pink stain from her sleepy face the chilly water dyes.

*
If with the water’s rosy hue comparison be made,
Carmine tears and dewy flowers seem of the self-same shade.
Yet lady’s tears and flowers in this unalike I find,
That the flowers are still and smiling, but the tears flow unallayed.
As she gazes on the smiling flowers, her tears at last grow dry;
But as they dry, the springtime ends and the flowers fade.
*
The flowers fade, and an equal blight the lady’s fair cheek palls.
The petals drift; she is weary; and soon the darkness falls.
A nightingale is singing a dirge for the death of spring,
And moonlight steals through the casement and dapples the silent walls.
Bao-yu uttered no word of praise when he had finished reading it, he simply went on staring stupidly at the paper, He wanted to cry, but was ashamed that the girls should see his tears and brushed them away with a hurried movement of his hand.
‘How did you get hold of this poem?’ he asked them.
‘First guess who wrote it,’ said Bao-qin mischievously.
‘River Queen,’ said Bao-yu. ‘Who else?’
‘Really?’ said Bao-qin. ‘Well, as a matter of fact, I did.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ said Bao-yu, smiling back at her. ‘The tone of voice is entirely different from yours.’
‘That just shows how little you know about poetry,’ said Bao-qin. ‘Not all of Du Fu’s poems have the complexity of “Autumn Thoughts”. He is equally capable of lines like
Rain-fattened plum-buds crimson splashed,
Or
The wind’s green duckweed-trails on the water bright.’
‘That’s as may be,’ said Bao-yu, ‘but I don’t believe Cousin Chai would allow you to write such melancholy verses. And in any case, though I am sure you have the talent to write verses like this if you wanted to, I don’t believe you would want to. Cousin Lin writes like this because she has had actual ex?perience of grief.’
The girls all laughed.
They had now reached Sweet-rice Village. Li Wan was shown the poem and – it goes without saying – was full of praise. After some discussion it was decided unanimously that the first meeting of the revived Poetry Club should be held the very next day, which as it happened, would be the second of the third month. The club was to be renamed ‘The Peach-flower Club’ and Dai-yu was to be its presi?dent.
Next day, as soon as lunch was over, everyone met in the Naiad’s House and began discussing the question of a subject. Dai-yu proposed that each of them should compose a hundred couplets on ‘Peach-blossom’.
‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ said Bao-chai. ‘Even if we succeeded in writing so many, there have been such a lot of poems written on this subject in the past that we should be sure to find ourselves repeating what has been said before; and we couldn’t in any case do anything to equal your “Flower of the Peach”. Think of something else.’
But just at that moment a servant came in from outside and summoned them away.
‘The elder Lady Wang is here. Will you all come over to pay her your respects, please.’
So off they trooped to talk to Wang Zi-teng’s wife. They had to stay and have dinner with her and after that show her over the garden. It was lighting-up time before she went.
Next day was Tan-chun’s birthday. Yuan-chun had sent two little eunuchs well in advance of the date with her presents (various ornaments for Tan-chun’s room). There were presents from all the other members of the family as well, of course, but we will spare the reader a list. After lunch Tan-chun had to change into her most formal clothes and go around all the apartments making her kotows.
‘My poetry dub seems to have got off to rather a bad start,’ said Dai-yu ruefully. ‘I’d forgotten about her birthday. Today and tomorrow will be completely taken up with it. Even though there will be no formal birthday with players and so forth, we are sure to have to spend all day in the front with Grandmother and Aunt Wang. There’s sure not to be any time left for a meeting.’
She postponed the meeting until the fifth.
On the morning of the fifth, after lunch, while the girls stood talking with Grandmother Jia, letters from Jia Zheng arrived. Bao-yu brought them with him when he came to make his regular morning call. He opened the one addressed to his grandmother and read it out to her. Most of it was taken up with greetings and inquiries about her health, but there was also something about returning to the capital some time in the sixth month. There were other letters in the same packet dealing with personal or domestic matters which were opened and read by Jia Lian and Lady Wang. Everyone was of course delighted to hear that he was coming back so soon.
But once again the Poetry Club was fated to be unlucky. Not long before this date the betrothal had been announced of Wang Zi-teng’s daughter to the Marquis of Bao-ning’s son (the wedding to be in the fifth month) and Xi-feng had lately taken to spending three or four days in a row at the Wang residence, helping her aunt with the entertaining occasioned by this important event. As ill luck would have it, when Wang Zi-teng’s lady called to collect Xi-feng on the fifth, she insisted that all her other nephews and nieces should come too and spend the day ‘enjoying themselves’ at her place. Grandmother Jia and Lady Wang decreed that Bao-yu, Tan-chun, Dai-yu and Bao-chai should go as a representative selection. It was out of the question to object that they had better things to do; the four of them had to go back to their own rooms and change into their most formal clothes before accompanying Wang Xi-feng and their aunt to the Wang family residence. It was lighting-up time before they returned.
As soon as he got back to Green Delights, Bao-yu threw himself down to rest. Aroma seized the opportunity to offer him a little serious advice. He really must try and pull himself together, she said, and apply himself whenever possible to his books, so as to be ready for his father’s return. Bao-yu did some rapid calculations on his fingers.
‘It’s a bit early for that yet,’ he said.
‘It isn’t only the books,’ said Aroma. ‘Your calligraphy is even more important. Even if you can get by on the books, what are you going to show him when he asks to see your calligraphy?’
Bao-yu smiled unconcernedly.
‘I’m always doing calligraphy. There must be masses of it. Surely you keep it for me, don’t you?’
‘Certainly we keep it for you,’ said Aroma. ‘I got it out to have a look at only yesterday, while you were away. Five hundred and sixty sheets: for all the years since you first started, that’s all you’ve got to show. If you ask me, I think that from tomorrow onwards you ought to concentrate all your energies on copying. If you could copy two or three sheets of calligraphy a day, then by the time he gets back, even though you won’t be able to show him a sheet for every day, you should have enough to get by with.’
Bao-yu heard her with some alarm. He had a look at the collected sheets himself. It was true. There simply wasn’t enough there to convince anyone that he had been practising calligraphy every day.
‘All right,’ he said. ‘Beginning from tomorrow, I’ll write a hundred characters every morning.’
He was still discussing this when they went to bed.
Next morning, as soon as he had washed and combed his hair, he sat down at the window and began painstakingly copying kai-shu, characters out of a sample-book. Grandmother Jia thought he must be ill when he did not appear with the others for his duty-call, and sent someone over to inquire. Bao-yu returned with the messenger to wish her good morning and explain.
‘I’ve been practising calligraphy,’ he told her. ‘That’s what’s made me late.’
Grandmother Jia was delighted.
‘Keep it up, my boy! When you are studying or practising your calligraphy, it doesn’t matter if you don’t come here at all. You may tell your mother I said so.’
Bao-yu went round to Lady Wang’s apartment to do so. His mother was unimpressed.
‘It’s too late to begin sharpening your weapons on the field of battle,’ she said. ‘Getting in a panic now will do you no good. Even if you work all day and all night, you won’t be able to make up for all the time you have wasted. More likely all you will succeed in doing is making yourself ill.’
‘I’ll be all right,’ said Bao-yu.
Bao-chai and Tan-chun, who happened to be present, reassured her.
‘We can’t memorize his texts for him,’ they said, ‘but we could at least help him out with his calligraphy. If each of us copied a sheet of characters for him every day to add to what he has done himself, he ought to have enough calligraphy to get by with. That’s one hurdle at least he’d be over. It would save Sir Zheng from getting angry and Bao-yu from making himself ill.’
Lady Wang smiled and nodded.
When Dai-yu heard that Jia Zheng was coming home, she knew that he would be sure to ask Bao-yu about his lessons and that anything which distracted him from them would be merely adding to his troubles. Because of this she deliberately made no more mention of the Poetry Club, and in order that he should not suspect her real reason for dropping it, pretended that she was beginning to find the whole thing rather a bore.
Tan-chun and Bao-chai each produced a sheet of characters a day to add to his collection, and Bao-yu himself, by doubling the time he spent on calligraphy, managed to produce two hundred or sometimes as much as three hundred characters a day. By the end of the third month he had already added considerably to his stock of sheets.
One day towards the end of the month he was going over this stock and had just estimated that fifty or sixty more sheets would probably be enough, when Nightingale arrived with a roll of something from Dai-yu. On opening it out he found it to consist of several sheets, all of the same dark-yellow bamboo paper, covered with tiny ‘fly’s-head’ kai-shu characters which she had copied, in a hand very similar to his own, from sample-books of Zhong Yu’s and Wang Xi-zhi’s calligraphy. Bao-ya was so pleased that he clasped his hands and made Nightingale a bow before hurrying over to thank her mistress in person.
Shortly after that he received some more sheets of calligraphy that Xiang-yun and Bao-qin had been copying for him. Now, when he put the whole lot together, he found that, though there was nothing like a sheet a day for every day since he first started, there was already a sufficient quantity to get by with. This was a great relief. He could now forget about calligraphy for the time being and concentrate on revision. His aim was to go three or four times over each of the texts.
While he was still busily engaged in this revision, a tidal wave hit a certain part of the coast, causing damage and loss of life in a number of neighbouring communities. After reading the reports sent in by the local authorities, the Emperor issued a Rescript commanding Jia Zheng to visit the area on his way back in order to supervise relief. It now seemed unlikely that he would be able to reach home before the end of the seventh month. When he heard this, Bao-yu threw aside his books and reverted to the drifting, aimless way of life that was customary with him.
Spring was now almost over. Xiang-yun, feeling rather bored, had been watching the drifting willow-floss and amusing herself by composing a little poem about it. It was a song-lyric, in the form of a Ru-meng-ling:
‘Not chewed-off ends of the sky’s embroidery?
‘What are they?’ – ‘Raise the blind a bit and see.’
A white hand snatches some and draws it in,
Pursued by the swallows’ chiding din.
Oh stay, oh stay!
The lovely spring drifts after you away.
Xiang-yun was rather pleased with her little poem and wrote it out on a slip of paper to show Bao-chai. After that she went to look for Dai-yu and showed it to her. Dai-yu read it and smiled.
‘It’s good. Both charming and original.’
‘We’ve never done song-lyrics at any of our poetry meetings,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘Why don’t you call a meeting for to?morrow and we’ll all do some? It would make a nice change.’
Dai-yu was becoming infected by Xiang-yun’s enthusiasm.
‘It’s a good idea,’ she said. ‘I will.’
‘It’s a lovely day today,’ said Xiang-yun. ‘Why not have the meeting today?’
‘I don’t see why not,’ said Dai-yu.
She told the servants to prepare some suitably dainty things to eat, while a couple of them went off to summon the other cousins to the meeting. Meanwhile Dai-yu and Xiang-yun agreed that ‘Willow Floss’ should be the subject of the poems and decided on the stanza-patterns that they should conform to. All this was written down on a sheet of paper which was pasted up on the wall. When the cousins arrived, they first of all read the notice on the wall and then read Xiang-yun’s poem. Some little time after that was devoted to praising it.
‘I’m not much good at song-lyrics,’ said Bao-yu, ‘but I suppose I had better do what I can.’
Everyone drew lots then to see which stanza-forms they were to use. Bao-chai lit a stick of Sweet Dreams incense, and then everyone settled down to think. Dai-yu was the first to have something ready and write it down. Just as she had finished, Bao-qin began hurriedly writing hers.
‘I’ve thought of mine,’ said Bao-chai, ‘but I’d like to look at yours first before I show it to you.’
Tan-chun laughed.
‘Why does the incense seem to be burning so quickly today? I’ve only done the first half of mine.’ She turned to Bao-?yu. ‘How about you? Have you done yours yet?’
Bao-yu had in fact written a few lines of one, but, feeling dissatisfied with what he had written, had crossed it all out and begun again, by which time the incense had almost burned itself out.
‘Bao-yu’s failed to make the grade as usual,’ said Li Wan, laughing. ‘But what about Miss Plantain?’
Tan-chun promptly began to write down what she had composed. The others read the words as she wrote them. It was the first half of a Nan-ge-zi lyric.
Once in the air you start,
The creatures of the wind, the breezes’ sport,
Not to be bound or held back by any art,
To north and south and east and west
You drift apart.
‘Very good,’ said Li Wan. ‘But why don’t you finish it?’
Bao-yu had been willing to concede defeat. When he saw that the incense was running out, he could see no point in writing an indifferent conclusion just for the sake of finishing, and so he had laid down his brush and occupied himself instead in reading what Tan-chun had written. As he did so, he had a sudden inspiration, and picking up his brush again, quickly scribbled out a second half for it:
Your drifting fate not fear:
I understand the message that you bear.
Though orioles mourn and the flowers’ end seems near,
Spring will return, but I must wait
Another year.
The girls were amused.
‘You’re a funny fellow. You can’t do your own, yet you can do someone else’s without any trouble. It’s very good, but unfortunately it doesn’t count.’
They had a look at Dai-yu’s poem then. It was a Tang-duo-ling.
The pollen is spent in the Island of Flowers;
From the House of the Swallow the perfume has fled.
The fluff-balls dance,
Pursue, embrace,
Their floating lives, as our lives, quickly sped’
That, craving Beauty,
Find it dead.

The creatures of nature, they too know our sorrow,
Their beauty, like ours, must soon end in decay.
Our fate, like theirs,
Uncertain hangs,
Wed to the wind, our bridegroom of a day,
Who cares not if we
Go or stay.
The others admired it, but with reservation.
‘Pity it’s so gloomy,’ they said. ‘Still, there’s no denying, it is very good.’
Then they had a look at Bao-qin’s. She had written a Xi-jiang-yue:
In the Han palace gardens a scatter thin and slight,
But along the Sui embankment in legions falling:
Spring’s three-month handiwork before the wind in flight,
A day-dream of pear-blossom on a moonlit night.

In many a courtyard petals fall through the air,
And the floss collects like fragrant snow on the casements:
In North and South the same sight is seen now everywhere;
But for the sad exile most hard to bear.
‘A more virile type of melancholy,’ said the others, laughing. ‘Very typical! That “In many a courtyard…” couplet is good.’
‘I don’t agree,’ said Bao-chai. ‘I think it suffers from the same pessimism as Cousin Dai’s. Willow floss is a light and airy thing. It seems to me that the best way to avoid the cliches that this subject invites is to give it a light and airy treatment. That is the principle on which I have tried to compose my poem; but you may not think I have succeeded.’
‘Don’t be so modest!’ said the others. ‘It’s sure to be good. Come on, hand it over! Permit us to admire!’
It was a Lin-jiang-xian that she had written.
In mazy dances over the marble forecourt,
Wind-whorled, into trim fluff-balls forming –
‘Bravo!’ said Xiang-yun. “‘Wind-whorled, into trim fluff-balls forming”: that line is better than anything the rest of us have written.’
They read on.
Like fluttering moths or silent white bees swarming:
Not for us a tomb in the running waters,
Or the earth’s embalming.

The filaments whence we are formed remain unchanging,
No matter what separates or unifies.
Do not, earth-child, our rootlessness despise:
When the strong wind comes he will whirl us upwards
Into the skies.
They thumped the table enthusiastically.
‘Undoubtedly this poem is the best. There is a more haunting melancholy perhaps in River Queen’s poem and more liveliness and charm in Cloud Maiden’s; but all in all this is far and away the best poem. This time Little Xue and Plantain Lover fail to make the grade. We shall have to think of a penalty.’
‘That’s fair enough,’ said Bao-qin, laughing, ‘but what about someone who failed to submit anything at all? What should his penalty be?’
‘Don’t worry about him,’ said Li Wan. ‘He will be punished too – exemplarily!’
Just at that moment there was a crashing noise outside the window which made them jump. It sounded as if an outer casement had somehow come unfastened and fallen into the bamboos. The maids ran outside to look. Other maids, who had been waiting outside there all the time, told them what it was: a large kite shaped like a butterfly which had fallen down and got caught in the tops of the bamboo.
‘What a beauty!’ said the maids from inside. ‘I wonder whose it is. They must have cut the string. Let’s try and get it down.’
‘I recognize that kite,’ said Bao-yu. ‘It belongs to Uncle She’s new girl, Carmine. Let’s take it down and give it back to her.’
‘There must be other kites like that besides hers,’ said Nightingale. ‘I think it’s silly to say that it must be hers. Anyway, I don’t care. I’m going to get it down for us.’
‘How mean you are, Nightingale!’ said Tan-chun. ‘You’ve got a kite of your own already. And if you keep someone else’s, aren’t you afraid of catching their bad luck?’
‘You’re right,’ said Dai-yu. ‘We don’t know whose bad luck it mightn’t be bringing us. Take it away! Let’s take out our kite and get rid of our bad luck.’
Nightingale told the maids, who had by this rime succeeded in getting the kite down, to take it to the women at the gate and hand it into their keeping. If anyone came looking for it, they were to give it back to them. The other maids rushed off excitedly to fetch Dai-yu’s kite. It was the kind called a ‘pretty lady’. While two of them carried out the kite, one of them brought out a stool to stand on, another fastened the cross-piece to the raising-stick, and another paid the string out from the winder. Bao-chai stood with the other cousins at the gate of the courtyard, directing operations. She told the girls to fly the kite in the open ground outside the courtyard.
‘This kite of yours isn’t nearly as pretty as Cousin Tan’s,’ Bao-qin told Dai-yu. ‘She has one shaped like a phoenix, with wings that move.’
‘Why don’t you get yours and fly it then?’ Bao-chai said, turning to Tan-chun’s maid Ebony.
Ebony hurried off excitedly to do so. Bao-yu, catching the enthusiasm, sent a maid off to fetch one of his own.
‘Bring the big fish one that Lai Da’s wife sent me yesterday,’ he told the girl.
After a long time gone, the girl came back empty-handed.
‘Skybright flew it yesterday and let it go.’
‘Really!’ said Bao-yu. ‘And I hadn’t even flown it once myself.’
Tan-chun laughed.
‘Never mind! At least she’s got rid of your bad luck for you!’
‘All right,’ said Bao-yu to the girl. ‘Go and fetch the big crab one.’
The girl went off and returned accompanied by two or three other maids carrying a large pretty lady kite and a winder.
‘Miss Aroma says she gave the crab one to Master Huan yesterday. She says why don’t you fly this one instead? It was sent to you yesterday by Mrs Lin.’
Bao-yu inspected it. The pretty lady was certainly a beauti?fully constructed creature. He was secretly pleased and told the girls to fly it.
Tan-chun’s kite had also arrived by now and Ebony was already standing on a little hill getting it up with the assistance of a few helpers. Bao-qin had sent for her kite, a large red bat, and Bao-chai, beginning to share the excitement herself, had had hers fetched too: it was a line of seven large geese flying one behind the other. Soon all the kites but one were up in the air being flown successfully. Bao-yu’s pretty lady was the exception. He said it was because the maids didn’t know how to do it properly and insisted on flying it himself; but after a good deal of manoeuvring he could get her no higher than the roof, and even then it was only to flop down weakly again upon the ground. Bao-yu was getting into quite a state and the perspiration stood out in beads upon his brow. The cousins all laughed. At this he became so exasperated that he picked the kite up, threw it down on the ground again, and pointed his finger at it in anger.
‘If you weren’t a lady, I’d stamp on you and smash you into pieces!’
Dai-yu laughed.
‘The string isn’t fastened on right. If you could get someone to refasten it for you properly, it would fly just as well as any other.’
Dao-yu sent someone to take the kite back for restringing and fetch him another pretty lady that he could fly in the mean time.
All the cousins were now standing with their faces turned upwards, watching the kites as they soared higher and higher into the sky. A maid came round offering them all sweets. Pre?sently there was a cry from Nightingale:
‘The wind’s getting stronger, Miss. Do you want to release it now?’
Dai-yu made her handkerchief into a pad for her hand and tested the tension on the string. The wind was certainly pulling it with some force. She took over the winder from Nightingale and let it run free, so that the kite could pull itself away in the wind. There was a whirring noise as the last of the string ran out. Dai-yu asked the others if any of them would like to cut it for her.
‘No, we’ve all got our own,’ they said. ‘You do yours first.’
‘It’s fun to see them fly away,’ said Dai-yu, ‘and yet it seems rather a pity.’
‘But that’s the main reason for flying kites,’ said Li Wan, ‘the pleasure of seeing them fly away. Not to mention the fact that it is supposed to get rid of your bad luck. You of all people ought to let yours go, so as to get rid of your illness.’
‘Come on, Miss, you’ve sent plenty of kites off in your time!’ said Nightingale. ‘Why be so stingy all of a sudden? If you won’t cut it, I’ll cut it for you.’
She snatched a little pair of West Ocean silver scissors out of Snowgoose’s hand and snipped through the kite-string, an inch or so from the winder.
‘Go away, kite!’ she cried merrily. ‘And take my mistress’s illness with you!’
The kite began to swoop and soar. Soon it appeared no bigger than an egg. A few moments later and it was only a dot in the sky. Another moment and it had disappeared from sight altogether.
‘Hurrah! Hurrah!’ cried the cousins, as they watched it disappear.
‘What a pity we don’t know where she will land!’ said Bao-?yu. ‘It would be nice if she landed somewhere where there are people and some little child were to find her. But suppose she lands in some uninhabited wilderness: how lonely she will be! I think I shall send my lady after her, to keep her com?pany!’
He asked for the scissors and cut the string himself, and a second pretty lady went hurrying after the first one until it, too, disappeared.
Tan-chun was just about to cut the string of her phoenix when another phoenix appeared in the sky, not far from hers.
‘I wonder whose that is?’ said Tan-chun.
‘Don’t cut yours yet,’ the others cried. ‘It looks as if that one is going to get caught up in it.’
And that is just what happened. The other phoenix drew nearer and nearer until the two strings crossed and tangled. The maids were all for winding Tan-chun’s kite in and capturing the other kite with it, but the owner of the other kite was not prepared to yield, and after a good deal of tugging and heaving on both sides, the strings finally snapped and the two phoenixes flew off companionably together. The cousins clapped their hands delightedly.
‘Well, I’ve released my kite and now I’m tired. I think I shall go in and rest,’ said Dai-yu.
‘Just wait until we’ve released ours,’ said Bao-chai, ‘and then we can all go.’
So she and Xiang-yun and Bao-qin each cut their kite-strings and watched their kites fly away, after which all of cousins went back to their own apartments.
*
In spite of the reprieve, Bao-yu dared not abandon his lessons altogether and continued to do a little revision or calligraphy from time to time. When he was feeling bored, he would go out to seek the company of the girls, or go round to the Naiad’s House for a chat. The girls, for their part, knowing how much he was behind with his work, no longer sent anyone to invite him when they met together for poetry-reading or other diversions; and Dai-yu, in her anxiety lest he should once more incur his father’s wrath, frequently feigned sleep when he went round to see her, so as not to be the cause of keeping him from his studies. Bao-yu was reduced to spending more and more time in his own room, where work itself now often took the place of a diversion.
In this manner the summer gradually wore away. Autumn was just beginning when one day two of his grandmother’s maids came round in a very agitated state to summon him.
The purpose of the summons and the reason for their agitation will be explained in the chapter which follows.

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