Hung Lou Meng, by Cao Xueqin

CHAPTER LI.

The young maiden Hsüeh Pao-ch’in devises, in novel style, odes bearing on antiquities — A stupid doctor employs, in reckless manner, drugs of great strength.

When the party heard, the story goes, that Pao-ch’in had made the old places of interest she had, in days gone by, visited in the various provinces, the theme of her verses, and that she had composed ten stanzas with four lines in each, which though referring to relics of antiquity, bore covertly on ten common objects, they all opined that they must be novel and ingenious, and they vied with each other in examining the text. On perusal, they read:

On the relics of Ch’ih Pi:

Deep in Ch’ih Pi doth water lie concealed which does not onward flow.

There but remains a name and surname contained in an empty boat.

When with a clamorous din the fire breaks out, the sad wind waxes cold.

An endless host of eminent spirits wander about inside.

On the ancient remains in Chiao Chih:

Posts of copper and walls of gold protect the capital.

Its fame is spread beyond the seas, scattered in foreign lands.

How true it is that Ma Yüan’s achievements have been great.

The flute of iron need not trouble to sing of Tzu Fang.

On the vestiges of former times in Chung Shan:

Renown and gain do they, at any time, fall to a woman’s share?

For no reason have I been bidden come into the mortal world.

How hard a task, in point of fact, it is to stop solicitude!

Don’t bear a grudge against such people as may oft times jeer at you!

On things of historic interest in Huai Yin:

The sturdy man must ever mind the insults of the vicious dog.

Th’ official’s rank in San Ch’i was but fixed when his coffin was closed

Tell all people that upon earth do dwell to look down upon none.

The bounty of one single bowl of rice should be treasured till death.

On events of old in Kuang Lin:

Cicadas chirp; crows roost; but, in a twinkle, they are gone.

How fares these latter days the scenery in Sui T’i?

It’s all because he has so long enjoyed so fine a fame,

That he has given rise around to so many disputes.

On the ancient remains of the T’ao Yeh ferry:

Dry grass and parchèd plants their reflex cast upon the shallow pond.

The peach tree branches and peach leaves will bid farewell at last.

What a large number of structures in Liu Ch’ao raise their heads.

A small picture with a motto hangs on the hollow wall.

On the antique vestiges of Ch’ing Chung:

The black stream stretches far and wide, but hindered is its course.

What time were no more thrummed the frozen cords, the songs waxed sad.

The policy of the Han dynasty was in truth strange!

A worthless officer must for a thousand years feel shame.

On things of historic renown in Ma Wei:

Quiet the spots of rouge with sweat pile up and shine.

Gentleness in a moment vanishes and goes.

It is because traces remain of his fine looks,

That to this day his clothes a fragrance still emit.

On events of the past connected with the Pu Tung temple:

The small red lamp is wholly made of thin bone, and is light.

Furtively was it brought along but by force was it stol’n.

Oft was it, it is true, hung by the mistress’ own hands,

But long ere this has she allured it to speed off with her.

On the scenery about the Mei Hua (Plum Bloom) monastery.

If not by the plum trees, then by the willows it must be.

Has any one picked up in there the likeness of a girl?

Don’t fret about meeting again; in spring its scent returns.

Soon as it’s gone, and west winds blow, another year has flown.

When the party had done reading the verses, they with perfect unanimity extolled their extraordinary excellence. Pao-ch’ai was, however, the first to raise any objections. “The first eight stanzas,” she said, “are founded upon the testimony of the historical works. But as for the last two stanzas, there’s no knowing where they come from. Besides, we don’t quite fathom their meaning. Wouldn’t it be better then if two other stanzas were written?”

Tai-yü hastened to interrupt her. “The lines composed by cousin Pao ch’in are indeed devised in a too pigheaded and fast-and-loose sort of way,” she observed. “The two stanzas are, I admit, not to be traced in the historical works, but though we’ve never read such outside traditions, and haven’t any idea what lies at the bottom of them, have we not likely seen a couple of plays? What child of three years old hasn’t some notion about them, and how much more such as we?”

“What she says is perfectly correct,” T’an Ch’un chimed in.

“She has besides,” Li Wan then remarked, “been to these places herself. But though there be no mention anywhere of these two references, falsehoods have from old till now been propagated, and busybodies have, in fact, intentionally invented such relics of ancient times with a view of bamboozling people. That year, for instance, in which we travelled up here to the capital, we came across graves raised to Kuan, the sage, in three or four distinct places. Now the circumstances of the whole existence of Kuan the sage are established by actual proof, so how could there again in his case exist a lot of graves? This must arise from the esteem in which he is held by posterity for the way he acquitted himself of his duties during his lifetime. And it is presumably to this esteem that this fiction owes its origin. This is quite possible enough. Even in the ‘Kuang Yü Chi’, you will see that not only are numerous tombs of the sage Kuan spoken of, but that bygone persons of note are assigned tombs not few in number. But there are many more relics of antiquity, about which no testimony can be gathered. The matter treated in the two stanzas, now in point, is, of course, not borne out by any actual record; yet in every story, that is told, in every play, that is sung, and on the various slips as well used for fortune telling, it is invariably to be found. Old and young, men and women, do all understand it and speak of it, whether in proverbs or in their everyday talk. They don’t resemble, besides, the ballads encountered in the ‘Hsi Hsiang Chi,’ and ‘Mou Tan T’ing,’ to justify us to fear that we might be setting eyes upon some corrupt text. They are quite harmless; so we’d better keep them!”

Pao-ch’ai, after these arguments, dropped at length all discussion. They thereupon tried for a time to guess the stanzas. None, however, of their solutions turned out to be correct. But as the days in winter are short, and they saw that it was time for their evening meal, they adjourned to the front part of the compound for their supper.

The servants at this stage announced to Madame Wang that Hsi Jen’s elder brother, Hua Tzu-fang, was outside, and reported to her that he had entered the city to say that his mother was lying in bed dangerously ill, and that she was so longing to see her daughter that he had come to beg for the favour of taking Hsi Jen home on a visit. As soon as Madame Wang heard the news, she dilated for a while upon people’s mothers and daughters, and of course she did not withhold her consent. Sending therefore at the same time for lady Feng, she communicated the tidings to her, and enjoined her to deliberate, and take suitable action.

Lady Feng signified her willingness to do what was necessary, and, returning to her quarters, she there and then commissioned Chou Jui’s wife to go and break the news to Hsi Jen. “Send also,” she went on to direct Mrs. Chou, “for one of the married-women, who are in attendance when we go out-of-doors, and let you two, together with a couple of young maids, follow Hsi Jen home. But despatch four cart attendants, well up in years, to look everywhere for a spacious curricle for you as well as her, and a small carriage for the maids.”

“All right!” acquiesced Chou Jui’s wife. But just as she was about to start, lady Feng continued her injunctions. “Hsi Jen,” she added; “is a person not fond of any fuss, so tell her that it’s I who have given the orders; and impress upon her that she must put on several nice, coloured clothes, and pack up a large valise full of wearing apparel. Her valise, must be a handsome one; and she must take a decent hand-stove. Bid her too first come and look me up here when she’s about to start.”

Mrs. Chou promised to execute her directions and went on her way.

After a long interval, (lady Feng) actually saw Hsi Jen arrive, got up in full costume and head-gear, and with her two waiting-maids and Chou Jui’s wife, who carried the hand-stove and the valise packed up with clothes. Lady Feng’s eye was attracted by several golden hairpins and pearl ornaments of great brilliancy and beauty, which Hsi Jen wore in her coiffure. Her gaze was further struck by the peach-red stiff silk jacket she had on, brocaded with all sorts of flowers and lined with ermine, by her leek-green wadded jupe, artistically ornamented with coils of gold thread, and by the bluish satin and grey squirrel pelisse she was wrapped in.

“These three articles of clothing, given to you by our dowager lady,” lady Feng smiled, “are all very nice; but this pelisse is somewhat too plain. If you wear this, you’ll besides feel cold, so put on one with long fur.”

“Our Madame Wang,” Hsi Jen laughingly rejoined, “gave me this one with the grey squirrel. I’ve also got one with ermine. She says that when the end of the year draws nigh, she’ll let me have one with long fur.”

“I’ve got one with long fur,” lady Feng proceeded with a smile. “I don’t fancy it much as the fringe does not hang with grace. I was on the point of having it changed; but, never mind, I’ll let you first use it; and, when at the close of the year, Madame Wang has one made for you, I can then have mine altered, and it will come to the same thing as if you were returning it like that to me.”

One and all laughed. “That’s the way of talking into which her ladyship has got!” they observed. “There she is the whole year round recklessly carelessly and secretly making good, on Madame Wang’s account, ever so many things; how many there is no saying; for really the things for which compensation is made, cannot be so much as enumerated; and does she ever go, and settle scores with Madame Wang? and here she comes, on this occasion, and gives vent again to this mean language, in order to poke fun at people!”

“How could Madame Wang,” lady Feng laughed, “ever give a thought to such trifles as these? They are, in fact, matters of no consequence. Yet were I not to look after them, it would be a disgrace to all of us, and needless to say, I would myself get into some scrape. It’s far better that I should dress you all properly, and so get a fair name and finish; for were each of you to cut the figure of a burnt cake, people would first and foremost ridicule me, by saying that in looking after the household I have, instead of doing good, been the means of making beggars of you!”

After hearing her out, the whole party heaved a sigh. “Who could ever be,” they exclaimed, “so intuitively wise as you, to show, above, such regard for Madame Wang, and below, such consideration for her subordinates?”

In the course of these remarks, they noticed lady Feng bid P’ing Erh find the dark green stiff silk cloak with white fox, she had worn the day before, and give it to Hsi Jen. But perceiving, also, that in the way of a valise, she only had a double one made of black spotted, figured sarcenet, with a lining of light red pongee silk, and that its contents consisted merely of two wadded jackets, the worse for wear, and a pelisse, lady Feng went on to tell P’ing Erh to fetch a woollen wrapper, lined with jade-green pongee. But she ordered her besides to pack up a snow-cloak for her.

P’ing Erh walked away and produced the articles. The one was made of deep-red felt, and was old. The other was of deep-red soft satin, neither old nor new.

“I don’t deserve so much as a single one of these,” Hsi Jen said.

“Keep this felt one for yourself,” P’ing Erh smiled, “and take this one along with you and tell some one to send it to that elderly girl, who while every one, in that heavy fall of snow yesterday, was rolled up in soft satin, if not in felt, and while about ten dark red dresses were reflected in the deep snow and presented such a fine sight, was the only one attired in those shabby old clothes. She seems more than ever to raise her shoulders and double her back. She is really to be pitied; so take this now and give it to her!”

“She surreptitiously wishes to give my things away!” lady Feng laughed. “I haven’t got enough to spend upon myself and here I have you, better still, to instigate me to be more open-handed!”

“This comes from the filial piety your ladyship has ever displayed towards Madame Wang,” every one laughingly remarked, “and the fond love for those below you. For had you been mean and only thought of making much of things and not cared a rap for your subordinates, would that girl have presumed to behave in this manner?”

“If any one therefore has read my heart, it’s she,” lady Feng rejoined with a laugh, “but yet she only knows it in part.”

At the close of this rejoinder, she again spoke to Hsi Jen. “If your mother gets well, all right,” she said; “but if anything happens to her, just stay over, and send some one to let me know so that I may specially despatch a servant to bring you your bedding. But whatever you do, don’t, use their bedding, nor any of their things to comb your hair with. As for you people,” continuing, she observed to Mrs. Chou Jui, “you no doubt are aware of the customs, prevailing in this establishment, so that I can dispense with giving you any injunctions.”

“Yes, we know them all,” Mrs. Chou Jui assented. “As soon as we get there, we’ll, of course, request their male inmates to retire out of the way. And in the event of our having to stay over, we’ll naturally apply for one or two extra inner rooms.”

With these words still on her lips, she followed Hsi Jen out of the apartment. Then directing the servant-boys to prepare the lanterns, they, in due course, got into their curricle, and came to Hua Tzu-fang’s quarters, where we will leave them without any further comment.

Lady Feng, meanwhile, sent also for two nurses from the I Hung court. “I am afraid,” she said to them, “that Hsi Jen won’t come back, so if there be any elderly girl, who has to your knowledge, so far, had her wits about her, depute her to come and keep night watch in Pao-yü‘s rooms. But you nurses must likewise take care and exercise some control, for you mustn’t let Pao-yü recklessly kick up any trouble!”

“Quite so,” answered the two nurses, agreeing to her directions, after which, they quitted her presence. But not a long interval expired before they came to report the result of their search. “We’ve set our choice upon Ch’ing Wen and She Yüeh to put up in his rooms,” they reported. “We four will take our turn and look after things during the night.”

When lady Feng heard these arrangements, she nodded her head. “At night,” she observed, “urge him to retire to bed soon; and in the morning press him to get up at an early hour.”

The nurses replied that they would readily carry out her orders and returned alone into the garden.

In a little time Chou Jui’s wife actually brought the news, which she imparted to lady Feng, that: “as her mother was already beyond hope, Hsi Jen could not come back.”

Lady Feng then explained things to Madame Wang, and sent, at the same time, servants to the garden of Broad Vista to fetch (Hsi Jen’s) bedding and toilet effects.

Pao-yü watched Ch’ing Wen and She Yüeh get all her belongings in proper order. After the things had been despatched, Ch’ing Wen and She Yüeh divested themselves of their remaining fineries and changed their jupes and jackets. Ch’ing Wen seated herself round a warming-frame.

“Now,” She Yüeh smiled, “you’re not to put on the airs of a young lady! I advise you to also move about a bit.”

“When you’re all clean gone,” Ch’ing Wen returned for answer, “I shall have ample time to budge. But every day that you people are here, I shall try and enjoy peace and quiet.”

“My dear girl,” She Yüeh laughed, “I’ll make the bed, but drop the cover over that cheval-glass and put the catches right; you are so much taller than I.”

So saying, she at once set to work to arrange the bed for Pao-yü.

“Hai!” ejaculated Ch’ing Wen smiling, “one just sits down to warm one’s self, and here you come and disturb one!”

Pao-yü had at this time been sitting, plunged in a despondent mood. The thought of Hsi Jen’s mother had crossed through his mind and he was wondering whether she could be dead or alive, when unexpectedly overhearing Ch’ing Wen pass the remarks she did, he speedily sprung up, and came out himself and dropped the cover of the glass, and fastened the contrivance, after which he walked into the room. “Warm yourselves,” he smiled, “I’ve done all there was to be done.”

“I can’t manage,” Ch’ing Wen rejoined smiling, “to get warm at all. It just also strikes me that the warming-pan hasn’t yet been brought.”

“You’ve had the trouble to think of it!” She Yüeh observed. “But you’ve never wanted a chafing-dish before. It’s so warm besides on that warming-frame of ours; not like the stove-couch in that room, which is so cold; so we can very well do without it to-day.”

“If both of you are to sleep on that,” Pao-yü smiled, “there won’t be a soul with me outside, and I shall be in an awful funk. Even you won’t be able to have a wink of sleep during the whole night!”

“As far as I’m concerned,” Ch’ing Wen put in, “I’m going to sleep in here. There’s She Yüeh, so you’d better induce her to come and sleep outside.”

But while they kept up this conversation, the first watch drew near, and She Yüeh at once lowered the mosquito-curtain, removed the lamp, burnt the joss-sticks, and waited upon Pao-yü until he got into bed. The two maids then retired to rest. Ch’ing Wen reclined all alone on the warming-frame, while She Yüeh lay down outside the winter apartments.

The third watch had come and gone, when Pao-yü, in the midst of a dream, started calling Hsi Jen. He uttered her name twice, but no one was about to answer him. And it was after he had stirred himself out of sleep that he eventually recalled to mind that Hsi Jen was not at home, and he had a hearty fit laughter to himself.

Ch’ing Wen however had been roused out of her sleep, and she called She Yüeh. “Even I,” she said, “have been disturbed, fast asleep though I was; and, lo, she keeps a look-out by his very side and doesn’t as yet know anything about his cries! In very deed she is like a stiff corpse!”

She Yüeh twisted herself round and yawned. “He calls Hsi Jen,” she smilingly rejoined, “so what’s that to do with me? What do you want?” proceeding, she then inquired of him.

“I want some tea,” Pao-yü replied.

She Yüeh hastily jumped out of bed, with nothing on but a short wadded coat of red silk.

“Throw my pelisse over you;” Pao-yü cried; “for mind it’s cold!”

She Yüeh at these words put back her hands, and, taking the warm pelisse, lined even up to the lapel, with fur from the neck of the sable, which Pao-yü had put on on getting up, she threw it over her shoulders and went below and washed her hands in the basin. Then filling first a cup with tepid water, she brought a large cuspidor for Pao-yü to wash his mouth. Afterwards, she drew near the tea-case, and getting a cup, she first rinsed it with lukewarm water, and pouring half a cup of tea from the warm teapot, she handed it to Pao-yü. After he had done, she herself rinsed her mouth, and swallowed half a cupful of tea.

“My dear girl,” Ch’ing Wen interposed smiling, “do give me also a sip.”

“You put on more airs than ever,” She Yüeh laughed.

“My dear girl;” Ch’ing Wen added, “to-morrow night, you needn’t budge; I’ll wait on you the whole night long. What do you say to that?”

Hearing this, She Yüeh had no help but to attend to her as well, while she washed her mouth, and to pour a cup of tea and give it to her to drink.

“Won’t you two go to sleep,” She Yüeh laughed, “but keep on chatting? I’ll go out for a time; I’ll be back soon.”

“Are there any evil spirits waiting for you outside?” Ch’ing Wen smiled.

“It’s sure to be bright moonlight out of doors,” Pao-yü observed, “so go, while we continue our chat.”

So speaking, he coughed twice.

She Yüeh opened the back-door, and raising the woollen portière and looking out, she saw what a beautiful moonlight there really was.

Ch’ing Wen allowed her just time enough to leave the room, when she felt a wish to frighten her for the sake of fun. But such reliance did she have in her physique, which had so far proved better than that of others, that little worrying her mind about the cold, she did not even throw a cloak over her, but putting on a short jacket, she descended, with gentle tread and light step, from the warming-frame and was making her way out to follow in her wake, when “Hallo!” cried Pao-yü warning her. “It’s freezing; it’s no joke!”

Ch’ing Wen merely responded with a wave of the hand and sallied out of the door to go in pursuit of her companion. The brilliancy of the moon, which met her eye, was as limpid as water. But suddenly came a slight gust of wind. She felt it penetrate her very flesh and bore through her bones. So much so, that she could not help shuddering all over. “Little wonder is it,” she argued within herself, “if people say ‘that one mustn’t, when one’s body is warm, expose one’s self to the wind.’ This cold is really dreadful!” She was at the same time just on the point of giving (She Yüeh) a start, when she heard Pao-yü shout from inside, “Ch’ing Wen has come out.”

Ch’ing Wen promptly turned back and entered the room. “How could I ever frighten her to death?” she laughed. “It’s just your way; you’re as great a coward as an old woman!”

“It isn’t at all that you might do her harm by frightening her,” Pao-yü smiled, “but, in the first place, it wouldn’t be good for you to get frost-bitten; and, in the second, you would take her so much off her guard that she won’t be able to prevent herself from uttering a shout. So, in the event of rousing any of the others out of their sleep, they won’t say that we are up to jokes, but maintain instead that just as Hsi Jen is gone, you two behave as if you’d come across ghosts or seen evil spirits. Come and tuck in the coverlets on this side!”

When Ch’ing Wen heard what he wanted done she came accordingly and tucked in the covers, and, putting out her hands, she inserted them under them, and set to work to warm the bedding.

“How cold your hand is!” Pao-yü laughingly exclaimed. “I told you to look out or you’d freeze!”

Noticing at the same time that Ch’ing Wen’s cheeks were as red as rouge, he rubbed them with his hands. But as they felt icy cold to his touch, “Come at once under the cover and warm yourself!” Pao-yü urged.

Hardly, however, had he concluded these words, than a sound of ‘lo teng’ reached their ears from the door, and She Yüeh rushed in all in a tremor, laughing the while.

“I’ve had such a fright,” she smiled, as she went on speaking. “Goodness me! I saw in the black shade, at the back of the boulders on that hill, some one squatting, and was about to scream, when it turned out to be nothing else than that big golden pheasant. As soon as it caught sight of a human being, it flew away. But it was only when it reached a moonlit place that I at last found out what it was. Had I been so heedless as to scream, I would have been the means of getting people out of their beds!”

Recounting her experiences, she washed her hands.

“Ch’ing Wen, you say, has gone out,” she proceeded laughing, “but how is it I never caught a glimpse of her? She must certainly have gone to frighten me!”

“Isn’t this she?” Pao-yü inquired with a smile. “Is she not here warming herself? Had I not been quick in shouting, she would verily have given you a fright.”

“There was no need for me to go and frighten her,” Ch’ing Wen laughingly observed. “This hussy has frightened her own self.”

With these words she ensconced herself again under her own coverlet. “Did you forsooth go out,” She Yüeh remarked, “in this smart dress of a circus-performer?”

“Why, of course, she went out like this!” Pao-yü smiled.

“You wouldn’t know, for the life of you, how to choose a felicitous day!” She Yüeh added. “There you go and stand about on a fruitless errand. Won’t your skin get chapped from the frost?”

Saying this, she again raised the copper cover from the brasier, and, picking up the shovel, she buried the live charcoal deep with ashes, and taking two bits of incense of Cambodia fragrant wood, she threw them over them. She then re-covered the brasier, and repairing to the back of the screen, she gave the lamp a thorough trimming to make it throw out more light; after which, she once more laid herself down.

As Ch’ing Wen had some time before felt cold, and now began to get warm again, she unexpectedly sneezed a couple of times.

“How about that?” sighed Pao-yü. “There you are; you’ve after all caught a chill!”

“Early this morning,” She Yüeh smiled, “she shouted that she wasn’t feeling quite herself. Neither did she have the whole day a proper bowl of food. And now, not to speak of her taking so little care of herself, she is still bent upon playing larks upon people! But if she falls ill by and bye, we’ll let her suffer what she will have brought upon herself.”

“Is your head hot?” Pao-yü asked.

“It’s nothing at all!” Ch’ing Wen rejoined, after coughing twice. “When did I get so delicate?”

But while she spoke, they heard the striking clock, suspended on the partition wall in the outer rooms, give two sounds of ‘tang, tang,’ and the matron, on the night watch outside, say: “Now, young girls, go to sleep. To-morrow will be time enough for you to chat and laugh!”

“Don’t let’s talk!” Pao-yü then whispered, “for, mind, we’ll also induce them to start chattering.” After this, they at last went to sleep.

The next day, they got up at an early hour. Ch’ing Wen’s nose was indeed considerably stopped. Her voice was hoarse; and she felt no inclination to move.

“Be quick,” urged Pao-yü, “and don’t make a fuss, for your mistress, my mother, may come to know of it, and bid you also shift to your house and nurse yourself. Your home might, of course, be all very nice, but it’s in fact somewhat cold. So isn’t it better here? Go and lie down in the inner rooms, and I’ll give orders to some one to send for the doctor to come quietly by the back door and have a look at you. You’ll then get all right again.”

“In spite of what you say,” Ch’ing Wen demurred, “you must really say something about it to our senior lady, Mrs. Chia Chu; otherwise the doctor will be coming unawares, and people will begin to ask questions; and what answer could one give them?”

Pao-yü found what she said so full of reason that he called an old nurse. “Go and deliver this message to your senior mistress,” he enjoined her. “Tell her that Ch’ing Wen got a slight chill yesterday. That as it’s nothing to speak of, and Hsi Jen is besides away, there would be, more than ever, no one here to look after things, were she to go home and attend to herself, so let her send for a doctor to come quietly by the back entrance and see what’s the matter with her; but don’t let her breathe a word about it to Madame Wang, my mother.”

The old nurse was away a considerable time on the errand. On her return, “Our senior mistress,” she reported, “has been told everything. She says that: ‘if she gets all right, after taking a couple of doses of medicine, it will be well and good. But that in the event of not recovering, it would, really, be the right thing for her to go to her own home. That the season isn’t healthy at present, and that if the other girls caught her complaint it would be a small thing; but that the good health of the young ladies is a vital matter.’”

Ch’ing Wen was lying in the winter apartment, coughing and coughing, when overhearing (Li Wan’s) answer, she lost control over her temper. “Have I got such a dreadful epidemic,” she said, “that she fears that I shall bring it upon others? I’ll clear off at once from this place; for mind you don’t get any headaches and hot heads during the course of your lives.”

“While uttering her grievances, she was bent upon getting up immediately, when Pao-yü hastened to smile and to press her down.

“Don’t lose your temper,” he advised her. “This is a responsibility which falls upon her shoulders, so she is afraid lest Madame Wang might come to hear of it, and call her to task. She only made a harmless remark. But you’ve always been prone to anger, and now, as a matter of course your spleen is larger than ever.”

But in the middle of his advice to her, a servant came and told him that the doctor had arrived. Pao-yü accordingly crossed over to the off side, and retired behind the bookcase; from whence he perceived two or three matrons, whose duty it was to keep watch at the back door, usher the doctor in.

The waiting-maids, meanwhile, withdrew out of the way. Three or four old nurses dropped the deep-red embroidered curtain, suspended in the winter apartment. Ch’ing Wen then simply stretched out her hand from among the folds of the curtain. But the doctor noticed that on two of the fingers of her hand, the nails, which measured fully two or three inches in length, still bore marks of the pure red dye from the China balsam, and forthwith he turned his head away. An old nurse speedily fetched a towel and wiped them for her, when the doctor set to work and felt her pulse for a while, after which he rose and walked into the outer chamber.

“Your young lady’s illness,” he said to the old nurses, “arises from external sources, and internal obstructive influences, caused by the unhealthiness of the season of late. Yet it’s only a slight chill, after all. Fortunately, the young lady has ever been moderate in her drinking and eating. The cold she has is nothing much. It’s mainly because she has a weak constitution that she has unawares got a bit of a chill. But if she takes a couple of doses of medicine to dispel it with, she’ll be quite right.”

So saying, he followed once more the matron out of the house.

Li Wan had, by this time, sent word to the various female domestics at the back entrance, as well as to the young maids in the different parts of the establishment to keep in retirement. All therefore that the doctor perceived as he went along was the scenery in the garden. But not a single girl did he see.

Shortly, he made his exit out of the garden gate, and taking a seat in the duty-lodge of the servant-lads, who looked after the garden-entrance, he wrote a prescription.

“Sir,” urged an old nurse, “don’t go yet. Our young master is fretful and there may be, I fancy, something more to ask you.”

“Wasn’t the one I saw just now a young lady,” the doctor exclaimed with eagerness, “but a young man, eh? Yet the rooms were such as are occupied by ladies. The curtains were besides let down. So how could the patient I saw have ever been a young man?”

“My dear sir,” laughed the old nurse, “it isn’t strange that a servant-girl said just now that a new doctor had been sent for on this occasion, for you really know nothing about our family matters. That room is that of our young master, and that is a girl attached to the apartments; but she’s really a servant-maid. How ever were those a young lady’s rooms? Had a young lady fallen ill, would you ever have penetrated inside with such ease?”

With these words, she took the prescription and wended her way into the garden.

When Pao-yü came to peruse it, he found, above, such medicines mentioned as sweet basil, platycodon, carraway seeds, mosla dianthera, and the like; and, below, citrus fusca and sida as well.

“He deserves to be hanged! He deserves death!” Pao-yü shouted. “Here he treats girls in the very same way as he would us men! How could this ever do? No matter what internal obstruction there may be, how could she ever stand citrus and sida? Who asked him to come? Bundle him off at once; and send for another, who knows what he’s about.”

“Whether he uses the right medicines or not,” the old nurse pleaded, “we are not in a position to know. But we’ll now tell a servant-lad to go and ask Dr. Wang round. It’s easy enough! The only thing is that as this doctor wasn’t sent for through the head manager’s office his fee must be paid to him.”

“How much must one give him?” Pao-yü inquired.

“Were one to give him too little, it wouldn’t look nice,” a matron ventured. “He should be given a tael. This would be quite the thing with such a household as ours.”

“When Dr. Wang comes,” Pao-yü asked, “how much is he given?”

“Whenever Dr. Wang and Dr. Chang come,” a matron smilingly explained, “no money is ever given them. At the four seasons of each year however presents are simply sent to them in a lump. This is a fixed annual custom. But this new doctor has come only this once so he should be given a tael.”

After this explanation, Pao-yü readily bade She Yüeh go and fetch the money.

“I can’t make out where sister Hua put it;” She Yüeh rejoined.

“I’ve often seen her take money out of that lacquered press, ornamented with designs made with shells;” Pao-yü added; “so come along with me, and let’s go and search.”

As he spoke, he and She Yüeh came together into what was used as a store-room by Hsi Jen. Upon opening the shell-covered press, they found the top shelf full of pens, pieces of ink, fans, scented cakes, various kinds of purses, handkerchiefs and other like articles, while on the lower shelf were piled several strings of cash. But, presently they pulled out the drawer, when they saw, in a small wicker basket, several pieces of silver, and a steelyard.

She Yüeh quickly snatched a piece of silver. Then raising the steelyard, “Which is the one tael mark?” she asked.

Pao-yü laughed. “It’s amusing that you should appeal to me!” he said. “You really behave as if you had only just come!”

She Yüeh also laughed, and was about to go and make inquiries of some one else, when Pao-yü interfered. “Choose a piece out of those big ones and give it to him, and have done,” he said. “We don’t go in for buying and selling, so what’s the use of minding such trifles!”

She Yüeh, upon hearing this, dropped the steelyard, and selected a piece, which she weighed in her hand. “This piece,” she smiled, “must, I fancy, be a tael. But it would be better to let him have a little more. Don’t let’s give too little as those poor brats will have a laugh at our expense. They won’t say that we know nothing about the steelyard; but that we are designedly mean.”

A matron who stood at the threshold of the door, smilingly chimed in. “This ingot,” she said, “weighs five taels. Even if you cut half of it off, it will weigh a couple of taels, at least. But there are no sycee shears at hand, so, miss, put this piece aside and choose a smaller one.”

She Yüeh had already closed the press and walked out. “Who’ll go and fumble about again?” she laughed. “If there’s a little more, well, you take it and finish.”

“Be quick,” Pao-yü remarked, “and tell Pei Ming to go for another doctor. It will be all right.”

The matron received the money and marched off to go and settle matters.

Presently, Dr. Wang actually arrived, at the invitation of Pei Ming. First and foremost he felt the pulse and then gave the same diagnosis of the complaint (as the other doctor did) in the first instance. The only difference being that there was, in fact, no citrus or sida or other similar drugs, included in the prescription. It contained, however, false sarsaparilla roots, dried orange peel, peonia albifora, and other similar medicines. But the quantities were, on the other hand, considerably smaller, as compared with those of the drugs mentioned in the former prescription.

“These are the medicines,” Pao-yü ejaculated exultingly, “suitable for girls! They should, it’s true, be of a laxative nature, but never over and above what’s needful. When I fell ill last year, I suffered from a chill, but I got such an obstruction in the viscera that I could neither take anything liquid or substantial, yet though he saw the state I was in, he said that I couldn’t stand sida, ground gypsum, citrus and other such violent drugs. You and I resemble the newly-opened white begonia, Yün Erh sent me in autumn. And how could you resist medicines which are too much for me? We’re like the lofty aspen trees, which grow in people’s burial grounds. To look at, the branches and leaves are of luxuriant growth, but they are hollow at the core.”

“Do only aspen trees grow in waste burial grounds?” She Yüeh smiled. “Is it likely, pray, that there are no fir and cypress trees? What’s more loathsome than any other is the aspen. For though a lofty tree, it only has a few leaves; and it makes quite a confused noise with the slightest puff of wind! If you therefore deliberately compare yourself to it, you’ll also be ranging yourself too much among the common herd!”

“I daren’t liken myself to fir or cypress;” Pao-yü laughingly retorted. “Even Confucius says: ‘after the season waxes cold, one finds that the fir and cypress are the last to lose their foliage,’ which makes it evident that these two things are of high excellence. Thus it’s those only, who are devoid of every sense of shame, who foolishly liken themselves to trees of the kind!”

While engaged in this colloquy, they perceived the old matron bring the drugs, so Pao-yü bade her fetch the silver pot, used for boiling medicines in, and then he directed her to prepare the decoction on the brasier.

“The right thing would be,” Ch’ing Wen suggested, “that you should let them go and get it ready in the tea-room; for will it ever do to fill this room with the smell of medicines?”

“The smell of medicines,” Pao-yü rejoined, “is far nicer than that emitted by the whole lot of flowers. Fairies pick medicines and prepare medicines. Besides this, eminent men and cultured scholars gather medicines and concoct medicines; so that it constitutes a most excellent thing. I was just thinking that there’s everything and anything in these rooms and that the only thing that we lack is the smell of medicines; but as luck would have it, everything is now complete.”

Speaking, he lost no time in giving orders to a servant to put the medicines on the fire. Next, he advised She Yüeh to get ready a few presents and bid a nurse take them and go and look up Hsi Jen, and exhort her not to give way to excessive grief. And when he had settled everything that had to be seen to, he repaired to the front to dowager lady Chia’s and Madame Wang’s quarters, and paid his respects and had his meal.

Lady Feng, as it happened, was just engaged in consulting with old lady Chia and Madame Wang. “The days are now short as well as cold,” she argued, “so wouldn’t it be advisable that my senior sister-in-law, Mrs. Chia Chu, should henceforward have her repasts in the garden, along with the young ladies? When the weather gets milder, it won’t at all matter, if they have to run backward and forward.”

“This is really a capital idea!” Madame Wang smiled. “It will be so convenient during windy and rainy weather. To inhale the chilly air after eating isn’t good. And to come quite empty, and begin piling up a lot of things in a stomach full of cold air isn’t quite safe. It would be as well therefore to select two cooks from among the women, who have, anyhow, to keep night duty in the large five-roomed house, inside the garden back entrance, and station them there for the special purpose of preparing the necessary viands for the girls. Fresh vegetables are subject to some rule of distribution, so they can be issued to them from the general manager’s office. Or they might possibly require money or be in need of some things or other. And it will be all right if a few of those pheasants, deer, and every kind of game, be apportioned to them.”

“I too was just thinking about this,” dowager lady Chia observed. “The only thing I feared was that with the extra work that would again be thrown upon the cook-house, they mightn’t have too much to do.”

“There’ll be nothing much to do,” lady Feng replied. “The same apportionment will continue as ever. In here, something may be added; but in there something will be reduced. Should it even involve a little trouble, it will be a small matter. If the girls were exposed to the cold wind, every one else might stand it with impunity; but how could cousin Lin, first and foremost above all others, resist anything of the kind? In fact, brother Pao himself wouldn’t be proof against it. What’s more, none of the various young ladies can boast of a strong constitution.”

What rejoinder old lady Chia made to lady Feng, at the close of her representations, is not yet ascertained; so, reader, listen to the explanations you will find given in the next chapter.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cao_xueqin/c2359h/chapter51.html

Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:29