An ill-fated girl happens to meet an ill-fated young man — The Hu Lu Bonze adjudicates the Hu Lu case.
Tai-yü, for we shall now return to our story, having come, along with her cousin to madame Wang’s apartments, found madame Wang discussing certain domestic occurrences with the messengers, who had arrived from her elder brother’s wife’s home, and conversing also about the case of homicide, in which the family of her mother’s sister had become involved, and other such relevant topics. Perceiving how pressing and perplexing were the matters in which madame Wang was engaged, the young ladies promptly left her apartments, and came over to the rooms of their widow sister-in-law, Mrs. Li.
This Mrs. Li had originally been the spouse of Chia Chu. Although Chu had died at an early age, he had the good fortune of leaving behind him a son, to whom the name of Chia Lan was given. He was, at this period, just in his fifth year, and had already entered school, and applied himself to books.
This Mrs. Li was also the daughter of an official of note in Chin Ling. Her father’s name was Li Shou-chung, who had, at one time, been Imperial Libationer. Among his kindred, men as well as women had all devoted themselves to poetry and letters; but ever since Li Shou-chung continued the line of succession, he readily asserted that the absence of literary attainments in his daughter was indeed a virtue, so that it soon came about that she did not apply herself in real earnest to learning; with the result that all she studied were some parts of the “Four Books for women,” and the “Memoirs of excellent women,” that all she read did not extend beyond a limited number of characters, and that all she committed to memory were the examples of these few worthy female characters of dynasties of yore;
replied madame Wang laughingly. “He is so unlike all the rest, all because he has, since his youth up, been doated upon by our old lady! The fact is that he has been spoilt,
through over-indulgence, by being always in the company of his female cousins! If his female cousins pay no heed to him, he is, at any rate, somewhat orderly,
but the day his cousins say one word more to him than usual, much trouble forthwith arises, at the outburst of delight in his heart.
That’s why I enjoin upon you not to heed him. From his mouth, at one time, issue sugared words and mellifluous phrases; and at another,
like the heavens devoid of the sun, he becomes a raving fool; so whatever you do, don’t believe all he says.”
Tai-yü was assenting to every bit of advice as it was uttered, when unexpectedly she beheld a waiting-maid walk in. “Her venerable ladyship over there,” she said, “has sent word about the evening meal.”
Madame Wang hastily took Tai-yü by the hand, and emerging by the door of the back-room, they went eastwards by the verandah at the back.
Past the side gate, was a roadway, running north and south. On the southern side were a pavilion with three divisions and a Reception Hall with a colonnade.
On the north, stood a large screen wall, painted white; behind it was a very small building, with a door of half the ordinary size.
“These are your cousin Feng’s rooms,” explained madame Wang to Tai-yü, as she pointed to them smiling. “You’ll know in future your way to come and find her; and if you ever lack anything, mind you mention it to her, and she’ll make it all right.”
At the door of this court, were also several youths, who had recently had the tufts of their hair tied together, who all dropped their hands against their sides, and stood in a respectful posture. Madame Wang then led Tai-yü by the
hand through a corridor, running east and west, into what was dowager lady Chia’s back-court. Forthwith they entered the door of the back suite of rooms,
where stood, already in attendance, a large number of servants, who, when they saw madame Wang arrive, set to work setting the tables and chairs in order.
Chia Chu’s wife, née Li, served the eatables, while Hsi-feng placed the chopsticks, and madame Wang brought the soup in. Dowager lady Chia was seated all alone on the divan,
in the main part of the apartment,
Tai-yü bowed to each one of them (with folded arms).
“Ask the young ladies in,” dowager lady Chia went on to say; “tell them a guest from afar has just arrived, one who comes for the first time; and that they may not go to their lessons.”
The servants with one voice signified their obedience, and two of them speedily went to carry out her orders.
Not long after three nurses and five or six waiting-maids were seen ushering in three young ladies. The first was somewhat plump in figure and of medium height; her cheeks had a congealed appearance, like a fresh lichee; her nose was glossy like goose fat. She was gracious, demure, and lovable to look at.
The second had sloping shoulders, and a slim waist. Tall and slender was she in stature, with a face like the egg of a goose. Her eyes so beautiful, with their well-curved eyebrows, possessed in their gaze a bewitching flash. At the very sight of her refined and elegant manners all idea of vulgarity was forgotten.
The third was below the medium size, and her mien was, as yet, childlike.
In their head ornaments, jewelry, and dress, the get-up of the three young ladies was identical.
Tai-yü speedily rose to greet them and to exchange salutations. After they had made each other’s acquaintance, they all took a seat, whereupon the servants brought the tea. Their conversation was confined to Tai-yü‘s mother,— how she had fallen ill, what doctors had attended her, what medicines had been given her, and how she had been buried and mourned; and dowager lady Chia was naturally again in great anguish.
“Of all my daughters,” she remarked,
From the moment she got into the chair, and they had entered within the city walls, she found, as she looked around, through the gauze window, at the bustle in the streets and public places and at the immense concourse of people, everything naturally so unlike what she had seen elsewhere.
After they had also been a considerable time on the way, she suddenly caught sight, at the northern end of the street, of two
huge squatting lions of marble and of three lofty gates with (knockers representing) the heads of animals. In front of these
gates, sat, in a row, about ten men in coloured hats and fine attire. The main gate was not open. It was only through the side
gates, on the east and west, that people went in and came out. Above the centre gate was a tablet. On this tablet were inscribed
in five large characters —“The Ning Kuo mansion erected by imperial command.”
“This must be grandmother’s eldest son’s residence,” reflected Tai-yü.
Towards the east, again, at no great distance, were three more high gateways,
likewise of the same kind as those she had just seen. This was the Jung Kuo mansion.
They did not however go in by the main gate; but simply made their entrance through the east side door.
With the sedans on their shoulders, (the bearers) proceeded about the distance of the throw of an arrow, when upon turning a corner, they hastily put down the
chairs. The matrons, who came behind, one and all also dismounted. (The bearers) were changed for four youths of seventeen or eighteen, with hats and
clothes without a blemish, and while they carried the chair, the whole bevy of matrons followed on foot.
“The spirit of malignity and perversity, unable to expand under the brilliant sky and transmuting sun, eventually coagulates, pervades and stops up the deep gutters
and extensive caverns; and when of a sudden the wind agitates it or it be impelled by the clouds, and any slight disposition, on its part, supervenes to set itself in
motion, or to break its bounds, and so little as even the minutest fraction does
unexpectedly find an outlet, and happens to come across any spirit of perception and subtlety which may be at the time passing by, the spirit of right does not yield
to the spirit of evil, and the spirit of evil is again envious of the spirit of right, so that the two do not harmonize. Just like wind, water, thunder and lightning, which, when they meet in the bowels of the earth, must necessarily, as they are both to
dissolve and are likewise unable to yield, clash and explode to the end that they may at length exhaust themselves. Hence it is
that these spirits have also forcibly to diffuse themselves into the human race to find an outlet, so that they may then completely
disperse, with the result that men and women are suddenly imbued
with these spirits and spring into existence. At best, (these human beings) cannot be generated into philanthropists or perfect men; at worst, they cannot also embody extreme perversity or extreme wickedness. Yet placed among one million beings, the spirit of intelligence, refinement, perception and subtlety will be above
these one million beings; while, on the other hand, the perverse, depraved and inhuman embodiment will likewise be below the
million of men. Born in a noble and wealthy family, these men will be a salacious, lustful lot; born of literary,
virtuous or poor parentage, they will turn out retired scholars or men of mark; though they may by some accident be born in a
destitute and poverty-stricken home, they cannot possibly, in fact, ever sink so low as to become runners or
menials, or contentedly brook to be of the common herd or to be driven and curbed like a horse in harness. They will become, for a certainty, either actors of
note or courtesans of notoriety; as instanced in former years by Hsü Yu, T’ao Ch’ien, Yuan Chi, Chi Kang, Liu Ling, the two families of Wang and Hsieh, Ku Hu-
t’ou, Ch’en Hou-chu, T’ang Ming-huang, Sung Hui-tsung, Liu T’ing-chih, Wen Fei-ching, Mei Nan-kung, Shih Man-ch’ing, Lui C’hih-ch’ing and Chin Shao-yu, and
exemplified now-a-days by Ni Yün-lin, T’ang Po-hu, Chu Chih-shan, and also by Li Kuei-men, Huang P’an-cho, Ching Hsin-mo, Cho Wen-chün; and the women
Hung Fu, Hsieh T’ao, Ch’ü Ying, Ch’ao Yün and others; all of whom were and are of the same stamp, though placed in different scenes of action.”
Yü-ts’un lost no time in smiling and replying. “It would be presumption in my part to think so,” he observed. “I was simply at random humming a few verses
composed by former writers, and what reason is there to laud me to such an excessive degree? To what, my dear Sir, do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
he went on to inquire. “Tonight,” replied Shih-yin, “is the mid-autumn feast, generally known as the full-moon festival; and as I could not help thinking that living, as you my worthy brother are, as a mere stranger in this Buddhist temple,
you could not but experience the feeling of loneliness. I have, for the express purpose, prepared a small entertainment, and will be pleased if you will come to my mean abode to have a glass of wine. But I wonder whether you will entertain
favourably my modest invitation?” Yü-ts’un, after listening to the proposal, put forward no refusal of any sort; but remarked complacently: “Being the recipient of such marked attention, how can I presume to repel your generous consideration?”
As he gave expression to these words, he walked off there and then, in company with Shih-yin, and came over once again into the court in front of the library. In a few minutes, tea was over.
The cups and dishes had been laid from an early hour, and needless to say the wines were luscious; the fare sumptuous.
The two friends took their seats. At first they leisurely replenished their glasses, and quietly sipped their wine; but as, little by little, they entered into conversation, their good cheer grew more genial, and unawares the glasses began to fly round, and the cups to be exchanged.
At this very hour, in every house of the neighbourhood, sounded the fife and lute, while the inmates indulged in music and singing. Above head, the orb of the
radiant moon shone with an all-pervading splendour, and with a steady lustrous light, while the two friends, as their exuberance increased, drained their cups dry so soon as they reached their lips.
Yü-ts’un, at this stage of the collation, was considerably under the influence of wine, and the vehemence of his high spirits was irrepressible. As he gazed
at the moon, he fostered thoughts, to which he gave vent by the recital of a double couplet.