Li Guijie, the Singing Girl (CHAPTER 11-The Golden Lotus)

The Golden Lotus


Li Guijie, the Singing Girl

Pan Jinlian, now settled in her new home and confident of Ximen's favor, grew more and more arrogant, and made so much trouble that the whole place was in a turmoil. She was suspicious too, and spent much time listening at doors and peeping through windows.

Chunmei was not a model of patience. One day she had been doing some trifling thing for her mistress, and Jinlian found fault with her about it. She could not vent her bad temper upon her own mistress, so she went to the kitchen and there began to thump the table and knock the chairs about. Sun Xue'e did not appreciate such behavior, so she said:

"You strange creature, if you are so anxious to find a husband, kindly try some other place. Why come here to display your nasty temper?"

Chunmei was already very angry, and this made her even more furious. "Who is the wretch who accuses me of wanting a man?" she cried.

It was quite clear that she was in a very bad temper, and Xue'e pretended not to hear her. Chunmei, however, continued in the same strain, and finally went to the front court where, with a few additions of her own, she related the story to Jinlian, to annoy her. "She says you asked his Lordship to have me so that we could try to keep him all to ourselves."

Jinlian was herself in the worst of moods. She had been obliged to get up very early to help Yueniang to dress for a funeral. She was tired, and decided to lie down for a while. When she awoke, she went to the arbor and there met Meng Yulou, who looked as charming as ever.

"Why are you looking so miserable, Sister?" Yulou said.

"Don't ask me," Jinlian said, "I had to get up very early, and I am tired. Where have you been?"

"I have just come from the kitchen."

"And what did you hear there?"

"I didn't hear anything."

Jinlian hated Xue'e, but she said nothing to Yulou. They sewed for a while in the arbor. Chunmei brought them tea and, after it, they wearied of their work and set out a chess table. Then Qintong came and told them that Ximen Qing had returned. Before they had time to clear their game away, he came through the garden gate.

The two women were wearing white silk hairnets, and their hair peeped out beneath. They had black jeweled earrings, and, in their white silk dresses, red bodices, embroidered skirts, and little red shoes, so tiny, arched, and tapering, they looked like figures carved in jade. Ximen Qing smiled at them.

"You are like a pair of singing girls," he said. "You must be worth a few hundred taels of silver."

"We are not singing girls," Jinlian said, "but if you want one you will find one in the back court."

Yulou was going to leave them, but Ximen Qing pulled her back. "Where are you going?" he said. "The moment I come in, you try to run away. Tell me, what do you do when I'm not here?"

"We were both feeling very miserable," Jinlian said, "so we came here to have a game. We don't play tricks behind your back, but we didn't expect you so early." She took his cloak. "The funeral was soon over," she said.

"There were many court officials at the temple, and it was so hot I couldn't stand it any longer. That is why I am home so early."

Yulou asked if Yueniang had come back, and Ximen said that he had come away before her, and had sent two boys to meet her. "I see you are playing chess," he said, sitting down. "What is the stake?"

"We are playing for love," Jinlian said. "Why should we have a stake?"

"I will play you both in turn," said Ximen, "and the loser shall spend a tael of silver, and treat us."

"We have no money," Jinlian said.

"Well, if you have no money, take one of your hairpins and pawn it with me. That will do."

The chessmen were set up, and Ximen Qing played against Jinlian. She was beaten, but, as soon as Ximen began to count the pieces, she jumbled them all together and ran away to a rock garden where there were many flowers, and pretended to be gathering them.

"Here, little oily mouth," Ximen Qing cried, and ran after her, "you lose, and then you run away." Jinlian laughed at him.

"You wonderful creature," she cried, "it was Yulou you beat, go and bother her instead of coming and plaguing me."

She had some flowers in her hand and, pulling them to pieces, she threw them at him. Ximen Qing went up to her and, taking her in his arms, set her down upon the rock garden, and gave her some sweets from his own mouth. They were amusing themselves in this way when Yulou came up. She told them that Yueniang had returned, and asked Jinlian to go with her to the back court that they might greet her. Jinlian left Ximen Qing, and, as she went, she called out, "Young man, I shall have something to tell you when I come back." She and Yulou then went to make their reverence before the mistress of the house.

"What are you laughing about?" Yueniang said.

"The Fifth Lady has been having a game of chess with Father," Yulou said. "She lost a tael of silver to him. Tomorrow, she is going to give a party. Of course, you must come."

Yueniang smiled. Jinlian stayed only a few moments, and then went back to the front court to Ximen Qing. She told Chunmei to burn incense in her room and to prepare the bath, that they might enjoy the pleasures of fishes in the water that evening.

Yueniang was the first wife, but she was always ill, and could not take her proper place in the management of all the household affairs. Engagements with friends and relatives and all the financial business of the household were attended to by Li Jiao'er. Xue'e acted as housekeeper and attended to the preparation of meals in the kitchen for the whole family. Wherever Ximen Qing happened to be spending the night, if he wished for anything, Xue'e would get it ready, and the maid of the lady with whom he was staying would go to the kitchen for it.

That night Ximen Qing slept in Jinlian's room. They drank wine, took a bath, and went to bed. The next morning it soon became apparent that trouble was brewing. Ximen Qing had promised Jinlian that he would go to the temple and buy a jeweled ornament for her hair. He got up very early and asked for some lotus cakes and soup. He told Chunmei to go to the kitchen for them, but Chunmei did not move.

"Just as well not tell her to go," Jinlian said. "Someone has said that I allow her liberties so that she and I may keep you all for ourselves. They called us all the nasty names they could think of. It will be much better not to send her."

"Who said such a thing? Tell me," Ximen Qing said.

"I shall not tell you," Jinlian said. "The basins and jars in this house have a way of hearing things. Just don't send her, that's all. Tell Qiuju to go."

Ximen Qing told Qiuju to go to the kitchen and tell Xue'e what he wanted. A very long time passed. Jinlian set the table, but there was no sign of food, and Ximen Qing grew more and more angry. Jinlian told Chunmei to go and find her fellow maid. "Go and see what that slave is doing. She doesn't seem to be coming; she must have taken root there." Chunmei went angrily to the kitchen and found Qiuju still waiting for the food.

"You thievish slave," she cried, "mother is going to take your trousers down. Why have you been all this time? Father is all ready to go to the temple, and he wants his cakes. He is in a terrible temper, and has sent me to fetch you."

Xue'e was greatly annoyed. "You marvelous little whore," she cried, "you behave like a Mohammedan Ma keeping a feast day. You think that if you want anything, you have only to run over here for it. I assure you the pans are made of iron, and things take time to cook. I made some gruel, and he won't eat it. Now he must have something new, cakes and soups and so on. I should like to know who is the worm at work in his belly."

This was too much for Chunmei. "Don't you begin any of your indecencies," she cried. "If Father hadn't sent me, I shouldn't be here. Are you going to get it ready or are you not? We will go and see what the master of the house has to say about it." She took Qiuju by the ear, and set off with her to the front court.

"Mistress and slave are far too insolent," Xue'e shouted after her, "but my time will come."

"Time or no time," Chunmei said, "we shall see what happens." She rushed off in a terrible temper.

Jinlian saw her pulling Qiuju along, and noticed that her face was very pale. She asked what was the matter.

"Ask her," Chunmei said. "When I got to the kitchen, she was acting the lady in there, waiting while they slowly stirred the flour. I just said a single sentence: 'Father is waiting, and Mother wants to know why you have not returned.' The one who lives in that little place cursed me in every way she could think of, as if I were a slave. She said Father is like some Mohammedan Ma, who thinks everyone's as devout as he is. She supposed Father had to ask permission from somebody or other before he could have anything to eat. She said they had made gruel for him, and then he has to have soup and cakes. She cursed everybody in the kitchen and would not do a thing."

"I told you so," Jinlian cried. "I told you not to make her go there, or somebody would make trouble with her, and say that we are always monopolizing you, and overwhelm us with insults."

Ximen Qing flew into a rage. He went to the kitchen and, without waiting to hear any explanation, kicked Xue'e several times.

"You crooked, thievish bone," he cried, "I told that maid to come here and ask for some cakes. What right had you to curse her? You called her a slave; but if you want to see a slave you'd better piddle and look at your own image in the pool you make."

Xue'e had to suffer Ximen's ill-usage. She was very angry, but dared not offer any excuses. When he had left the kitchen, she said to the Beanpole, Laizhao's wife:

"You see what bad luck I'm having today. You heard all that went on this morning. I didn't say anything very terrible, but in she came like a roaring demon and created all that disturbance. Then she dragged off the other maid, and went and told his Lordship, making a mountain out of a molehill, and he came here and made all this trouble. There's no rhyme or reason in it. But I will keep my eyes open and be on the watch for them. The mistress and the slave are both of them haughty, but one of these days they will take a false step."

Unfortunately for Xue'e, Ximen Qing heard everything she said. He went back, and struck her several blows with his fist. "You thievish slave, you strumpet," he cried, "you can't say now that you didn't insult her, for I have just heard you saying things about her." He continued to chastise the poor woman, causing her considerable pain. Then he went back to the front court. Xue'e shed many tears and sobbed loudly. Yueniang had just risen and was dressing herself. She said to Xiaoyu, "What is all that noise in the kitchen?"

"Father is going to the temple and he wished for some cakes before he left," Xiaoyu said, "but the Kitchen Lady was rude to Chunmei. Father heard about it. He kicked the Kitchen Lady several times and made her cry."

"I never heard of such a thing," Yueniang cried. "If he wants anything to eat, it is her business to make it for him as soon as she can, and be done with it. There is no reason for her to be rude to the maid."

She told Xiaoyu to go to the kitchen, stir up Xue'e and the maids, and order them to make some soup at once. They did so, and sent it to Ximen Qing. Then he set off to the temple.

Xue'e could not settle down. She went to Yueniang and told her all that had happened. While she was talking, Jinlian happened to come that way and stood outside the window to listen. She heard Xue'e say: "Why should she try to get our husband all for herself and make him do everything she wishes? It seems to me, Mother, you don't realize that this strumpet is more lustful than a woman who has half a dozen husbands. She can't bear to sleep alone even for a single night. Nobody else would ever have dreamed of making such a plot. She poisoned her husband, and now she wants to bury us alive. She has made our husband like a black-eyed chicken. He looks at us, but never gives us a thought."

"In my opinion, it is you who are in the wrong," Yueniang said. "He told the maid to come to you for some cakes, and, if you had given them to her, there would have been no trouble. There was no need for you to insult her."

"Well, I only brought more trouble upon myself," Xue'e said. "There was a time when that maid served in your part of the house. She was disobedient even in those days, and once I had to use the back of a knife upon her. You never said anything then, Mother. Why should she have become so high and mighty now that she belongs to the Fifth Lady?"

Then Xiaoyu came in and said, "The Fifth Lady is here," and a moment later Jinlian entered the room.

"Let us suppose I did murder my husband," she said, looking straight at Xue'e. "Why didn't you do something to prevent your husband from marrying me? There would have been no question then of my getting him all for myself and your nest being empty. Chunmei is not my maid. If you have anything against her, kindly tell the Great Lady, and let her return to her service. Then there will be no further trouble between you, and I shall be well out of the matter. As for the present state of affairs, there need be no difficulty about that. When he comes back, let him give me papers of divorce, and I will go away. Then, perhaps, you'll be satisfied."

"These squabbles are beyond me," Yueniang said, "you'd better both be quiet."

"Mother," Xue'e cried, "you must realize that her mouth is as the Huai River. There is not a person living who could get on with her. It is perfectly clear that she deceives our husband, but, even if she winks, she denies it the next moment. If you had your way," she added, turning to Jinlian, "you would have us all kicked out, except, perhaps, our mistress, so that you could be in sole possession."

Yueniang sat and said nothing, letting them bandy insults as they wished. Soon they began to curse each other. "You called me a slave," Xue'e cried, "but you are the genuine article and no doubt about it." At this, there was nearly a fight, but Yueniang would not allow things to go so far, and told Xiaoyu to take Xue'e to her room. Jinlian went to her own apartments, took off her beautiful dress, washed the powder from her cheeks, and pulled her dark hair about till she was hardly fit to be seen. She cried till her eyes had the color of peaches, and then lay down on the bed.

The sun was going down in the west when Ximen Qing came back from the temple with four taels of pearls. He went to Jinlian's room and asked what was the matter, but she sobbed louder than ever and demanded papers of divorce.

"From the very beginning," she cried, "I have cared nothing about your wealth. You were all I wanted. And in return you let everybody trample on me. They said I murdered my husband. If I had had no maid, there would have been no trouble. Why did you give me somebody else's maid, and then allow other people to insult her?"

Ximen Qing flew into a terrible rage. He rushed like a whirlwind to the back of the house, caught Xue'e by the hair, and thrashed her as hard as he could with a short stick until, fortunately, Yueniang came and stopped him.

"You should behave yourselves, all of you," she said. "Why do you make your master so angry?"

"You thievish, crooked bone," Ximen cried to Xue'e, "I heard you in the kitchen cursing them, yet you still try to blame other people. I don't care if I break every bone in your body."

If Jinlian had not carefully plotted the whole scheme beforehand, Ximen Qing would never have struck Xue'e that day. It was all her doing.

When he had done with Xue'e, Ximen Qing went back to Jinlian's room and gave her the pearls he had brought from the temple. Now that her husband had taken her side and vented her spite for her, there was no reason why she should remain upset, so for one loving overture on his part she repaid him tenfold. Their delight in each other grew unceasingly.

One day, it was Hua Zixu's turn to give a party in his house, next door to Ximen Qing's. There was a great feast, and all the brothers were present. Ximen Qing had another engagement, and did not arrive until the afternoon. They would not take their wine without him, and waited. When at last he came, they made reverences to one another and took their seats, with Ximen in the place of honor. Two singing girls played the lute, the cithern, and the flute.

Soon the wine had been passed three times, and the musicians had played twice. The singing girls put down their instruments, and came towards the guests. They had all the delicacy of a branch of flowers. When they had kowtowed, Ximen Qing told his servant to take two envelopes from his purse, each of which contained a small sum, and give it to them. They thanked him, and went back to their places. Then Ximen Qing said to his host, "These girls sing extraordinarily well. Who are they?" Hua said nothing, but Ying Bojue replied:

"My Lord, you have a very poor memory. Don't you remember them? The one who plays the cithern is Brother Hua's sweetheart, young Wu Yin'er. She lives in one of the back streets in the bawdy district. The one who plays the lute is the girl I told you about some time ago. Her name is Li Guijie, and she is the younger sister of Li Guiqing. One of your ladies is her aunt. It's no use pretending you don't know her."

Ximen Qing smiled. "Oh, that's who she is! I haven't seen her for about six years. I never thought of her as being grown up."

A little later the girls came to pour wine for them. Guijie pressed Ximen to drink a great deal, and murmured loving words in his ear.

"What are your mother and sister doing now?" Ximen said. "Why do they never come to see your aunt?"

"Since last year," Guijie said, "my mother has not been at all well. Even now she can hardly get about, and she has to have someone to lean upon if she wishes to walk. My sister Guiqing has taken up with a merchant from Anhui, and for some months she has been staying at the inn with him. He will not allow her to come home even for a few days, so there is no one at home but me. I have to support the household by going out day after day to sing at parties, and I'm very tired of it all. We are always thinking about coming to see Aunt, but really we never get an opportunity. Why have you not been to see us for so long, Father? It would be kind of you to send my aunt to see her sister one of these days."

Ximen Qing thought the girl very pleasant, and she talked intelligently. He soon found himself falling in love with her. "I think I shall invite one or two friends to help me take you home tonight," he said. "What do you say?"

"Don't make fun of me, Father," the girl said. "How can such noble feet as yours tread our unworthy ground?"

"I am not making fun of you," Ximen said. He took a handkerchief, a toothpick, arid a box of tea leaves from his sleeve, and gave them to her.

"When will you come?" Guijie asked. "I must tell the servant to go home, and give them a chance to get ready."

"We shall start as soon as the party is over."

Soon the wine was finished and it grew dark. Ximen Qing invited Ying Bojue and Xie Xida, and, without going home first, they went off together to Guijie's house in the bawdy district.

A dark, deep pit is this for man's ensnarement

Built like a prison pen, a cavern for the enticement of souls

Like a butcher's yard, with corpses piled and laid in order.

Here love brings death, and only money lives.

The sign is written in great characters:

"Here, golden brothers, would you purchase love, pray do not offer silk for hairdresses.

Before she yields her blossoms to you, Madam must have cash.

In this house, sisters are to be had only for ready money."

Ximen Qing followed Guijie's sedan chair to her door. Guiqing opened it, and took them into the hall, and, after greeting them with due politeness, went to ask her mother to come and receive them. Soon the old procuress came, supporting herself on a stick, for she was almost paralyzed. As soon as she saw Ximen Qing, she cried, "Heavens, Sir, what wind has blown you here?"

Ximen Qing smiled. "Please forgive me, but I have been so busy, I couldn't come."

The old woman turned to Ying Bojue and Xie Xida. "Why haven't you two been here?"

"I have been busy too," Bojue said. "We have been to a party at Hua's house today, and we met Guijie there. Master Ximen and we have brought her home. But give us some wine as quickly as you like, and let us drink a cup or two and have some fun."

The old woman made the three sit down in the place of honor, and offered them tea. Meanwhile the table was laid, and wine and refreshments set out. Candles and lamps were lighted, and a plentiful repast was set before them. Guijie changed her clothes and came to sit beside them. The two sisters, their jade wrists keeping time together, filled the golden cups. They passed the wine and sang songs.

"I have been told," Ximen said to Guiqing, "that your sister can sing songs of the South. Here are these two gentlemen. Won't you ask her to sing a song in their honor?"

"Oh, I really could not trouble her," Bojue said. "I am only basking in your reflected glory, Sir, but I shall of course clean my ears the more respectfully to hear the exquisite melody."

Guijie sat and smiled, but did not get up. Ximen Qing really wished to make a woman of her, and that was why he asked her to sing. Her old mother was experienced in such matters and saw what was in the wind.

"My sister," Guiqing said, "has always been very independent. She won't let anybody hear her sing unless she thinks fit."

Ximen Qing told Daian to take five taels of silver from his purse, and set it on the table. "This is a mere trifle," he said, "but it may suffice to buy you some powder and rouge. I will send you some pretty clothes one of these days."

Guijie jumped up and thanked him, and, telling the maid to take the present away, she prepared to sing. Now, though she was very young, she was much more seductive and clever than many another. There was no flurry or haste about her. She gently touched her silken sleeves, and swung her dainty skirts. A handkerchief, tasseled and embroidered with a design of flowers and water, hung from her sleeve.

When she had ended her song, Ximen Qing was delighted beyond all measure. He told Daian to take the horse home, and spent the night with Guijie. He had been ready enough to make a woman of this girl, and, when Ying Bojue and Xie Xida urged him to do so, he yielded to their suggestions without raising any difficulties. The next day he sent a boy home for fifty taels of silver and four sets of clothes. These were to be the present customary on such occasions. When Li Jiao'er heard the news, she was delighted, for Guijie was her niece. She gave Daian a piece of silver, and he brought the clothes to the bawdy house. There a banquet was prepared, and there was singing, dancing, and wine for three days. They were all as merry as could be. Ying Bojue and Xie Xida brought along Sun Guazui, Zhu Shinian, and Chang Zhijie, and they all offered a few coins in token of congratulation. Ximen Qing provided the silken bedclothes, and every day there was wine and food without stint. They enjoyed themselves immensely.


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