CHAPTER 2 (The Golden Lotus) Pan Jinlian


Pan Jinlian

Wu Song went to the inn near the Town Hall, packed his baggage and his bedclothes, and told a soldier to carry them to his brother's house. When Pan Jinlian saw him coming, she was as delighted as if she had discovered a hidden treasure. She bustled about preparing a room for her brother-in-law and setting everything to rights. Wu Song sent back the orderly, and stayed the night at his brother's home. The next day, he rose very early, and Jinlian hastened to heat water for him. He washed, combed and tied his hair, and then made ready to go to the office to sign the roll.

"Uncle," Jinlian said, "when you have signed the roll, be sure to come home for lunch. You mustn't think of taking your meals anywhere but here."

After signing the roll, Wu Song waited all the morning in attendance at the office, and finally went home. Jinlian had taken the greatest pains over the cooking, and the three sat down together to lunch. Taking a cup of tea in both hands, the woman offered it to Wu Song.

"You take so much trouble on my account," he said, "that it makes me quite embarrassed. Tomorrow I will arrange for a soldier to come and wait on us."

"Please do no such thing," Jinlian cried anxiously. "We are the same flesh and blood, and this house is home to us all. I am not waiting upon a stranger. Certainly this little Ying'er is not much use, and I can't rely upon her. She always seems to do the wrong thing. But if we get a soldier to help about the house, I shall find him in the way in the kitchen, and it will fidget me to watch him."

"In that case," Wu Song said, "I can only accept your kindness gratefully."

Not long after Wu Song had taken up his abode in his brother's house, he gave Wu Da some money and asked him to make arrangements to give a party for the neighbors. They came with presents to pay their respects to Wu Song, and a little later Wu Da gave another party in return. Wu Song presented his sister with a length of colored silk to make dresses.

"Oh, Uncle," she cried delightedly, "I can't possibly accept such a magnificent present," but she hastened to add: "Since you have already bought it, I suppose I must not refuse." She made a reverence, and took the silk. From that time, Wu Song was definitely established as a member of his brother's household. Wu Da, as before, went to the street every day to sell his cakes, and Wu Song went to the Town Hall to perform his official duties. Whether he returned early or late, Jinlian always had something ready for him, and seemed delighted to wait upon him. He noticed this, but thought no more about it. Nonetheless, the woman was forever trying to lead him on by pretty speeches, though she found it no easy task, for he was really incorruptible. If he had anything of importance to say, he would stay long enough to say it, but if not, he went straight about his business.

A month soon passed. It was the eleventh month, and they began to experience seasonable weather. The north wind blew violently for several days and black clouds gathered on every hand. Then the snow began to fall, and soon it filled the skies. 

For miles and miles the skies were filled with thick dark clouds.

Snowflakes, dancing past the window ledge, in midair formed a screen like tiny flowers of jade.

Zi Yu's boat, on the Yan River, was held and forced to tarry.

Soon was a mantle laid on the high palaces

River and mountain bound with a chain of silver

The skies filled with winged salt and driving, powdery dust.

That day, Lū Meng, in his little hut, sighed

For all his wretchedness. 

The snow continued without ceasing until the first night watch; the world was silver everywhere, and it seemed as though the earth had arrayed itself in a glorious garment of jade. Next morning, Wu Song went to the office and stayed till noon. Jinlian bade her husband go and sell his cakes and she went to ask her neighbor, old woman Wang, to go and buy some food and wine for her. Then she went to Wu Song's room, and made up the fire, thinking: "Today I will make sure of him. Beyond a doubt I can do something to wake him up." Afterwards, feeling quiet and lonely, she went and stood beneath the lattice and waited till she saw Wu Song trampling down the glistening snow as he hastened home.

She quickly raised the lattice for him and smiled. "You look frozen, Uncle." He answered her politely and came in, taking off his hat. Jinlian offered to take it, but he brushed the snow away himself and hung it on the wall. Then he unloosed his girdle, took off his outer gown of parrot green, and went into the living room.

"I have been expecting you all the morning," Jinlian said. "Why didn't you come back to lunch?"

"One of my friends asked me to lunch," Wu Song replied, "and just now I had another invitation, but I decided not to accept it, and came home instead."

"Is that so?" said the woman. "Won't you come a little nearer the fire?" Wu Song thanked her and, taking off his oiled boots, changed his socks and put on a pair of slippers. Then he brought a bench and sat down by the fire. Jinlian told Ying'er to bolt the gate and shut the back door. She herself went to fetch some of the dishes she had cooked, and set them on the table before Wu Song.

"Where is my brother?" he said.

"He has not come back from business yet," the woman answered. "Let us drink a few cups of wine together."

"It is not late," Wu Song said. "We had better wait for him."

"Oh, why should we bother about him?" Jinlian cried.

At that moment Ying'er came in with the wine already warmed. Wu Song again apologized politely for causing so much trouble. Jinlian said nothing, but brought a bench to the fire and sat down. There were several dishes on the table, but she only took a cup of wine, looked at Wu Song, and invited him to drink it. This he did in one breath. She poured a second cup and handed that to him, saying, "It is so cold, you must drink this to keep the other company." This, too, Wu Song drank straight off. Then he filled a cup for her. She took the wine and sipped it delicately, then poured out still another cup and offered it to him. Her milk-white breast was partially uncovered, and her disordered hair was like a beautiful cloud. Desire had given color to her cheeks.

"People tell me you keep a singing girl over there by the Town Hall," she said slyly. "Is that true?"

"People always talk nonsense like that, but you shouldn't believe them, Sister," Wu Song said. "I never was that kind of man."

"I don't believe you," said Jinlian. "Your heart speaks one language and your tongue another."

"Ask my brother, if you don't believe me."

"What on earth is the use of bringing him into it?" Jinlian said. "His life is one long dream. Judging by the way he goes about, you might think he was always half tipsy. He would not have to spend all his days selling cakes if he had a particle of intelligence. But have another cup of wine."

She filled three or four cups one after the other, and Wu Song drank them all. She drank a few cups too, till the spur of desire pressed her more acutely and the passion within her blazed so that she lost all control of herself and could hardly speak. By this time, an inkling of the true state of affairs was beginning to dawn upon Wu Song, and he looked away from her. After a while she rose and went to heat some more wine. Wu Song, left alone in the room, took up the poker and began to poke the fire. Jinlian was soon back again with a jar of wine that she had warmed. In one hand she held the jar and with the other she gently pressed his shoulder. "Uncle," she said, "you must be cold with so few clothes." Wu Song was now beginning to feel thoroughly uncomfortable, and made no answer. Seeing him thus silent, she snatched the poker from his hand and cried, "You don't know how to poke. Let me do it for you. I want it as hot as a bowl of fire."

Wu Song felt even more uneasy, but he still said nothing. Jinlian was not in any way put out. She set down the poker and poured out another cup of wine. She drank a mouthful, looked meaningly at Wu Song, and said, "If you feel like it, drink what I have left."

This was too much. He snatched the cup from her hand and dashed the wine upon the floor, crying, "Don't be so shameless," and at the same time pushed her so violently that she almost fell. Then he gazed haughtily upon her.

"My feet are steadfast upon the earth and I aspire to reach the heavens. I am a man with teeth in my mouth and hair upon my head. I am a man, I say, not a swine or a cur, that I should pay no heed to the sacred laws of honor or flout the precepts of common decency. You must not behave in this shameless way. If I hear any whisper of your ever doing such a thing again, my eyes may tell me that you are my sister, but my fist will not recognize you."

This made Jinlian so confused and angry that her face became crimson. She called Ying'er to clear away the dishes, and muttered, "I was only joking. How could you think I was in earnest? You are not an honorable man." When the dishes had been removed, she went down to the kitchen.

So Jinlian came to realize that her blandishments were without effect, except that Wu Song had treated her roughly, while he, now sitting alone, grew angrier and angrier and thought very seriously about the matter.

It was still early, about the hour of the Monkey, when Wu Da came back, carrying his baskets over the snow. He opened the door, put down his burden, and going into the house at once saw that his wife's eyes were red with weeping. "With whom have you been quarreling now?" he said.

"If you were not such a mean-spirited creature," his wife cried, "things like this would not happen. But you never care whether outsiders insult me or not."

"Who has been insulting you?" Wu Da said.

"If you really wish to know, it was that scoundrel, your brother. When the snow was very heavy, I saw him coming back, and I was kindly getting something ready for him, when he saw there was nobody about, and tried to seduce me. It is perfectly true: Ying'er saw him."

"My brother is not that kind of man," her husband said. "He has always been high-principled and straightforward. Don't make so much noise, or the neighbors will hear you and laugh." He went to see Wu Song.

"You haven't eaten your cakes, Brother," he said. "I'll come and have some with you." But Wu Song did not answer him and, after brooding there a while, started to leave the house.

"Where are you going?" cried Wu Da, but his brother went off without replying. Wu Da went back to the room and said to his wife, "I called him, but he would not answer, and now he has gone down the road to the Town Hall. I'm sure I don't understand what all the bother is about."

"You thievish, stupid worm," Jinlian cried. "There is nothing to understand. The wretch is ashamed and dare not face you. That's why he has gone out. Probably he has not the audacity to inflict himself upon us any longer, and has gone to tell somebody to come and take his things away. I can't imagine why you bother about him."

"If he goes away," Wu Da said, "people will certainly laugh at us."

"You silly creature," Jinlian cried. "He is a shameless, immoral fellow, and he tried to seduce me. Is that a laughing matter? If you want him so much, go and live with him. I won't put up with it. Give me divorce papers if you like, and then the pair of you can live together."

After this, Wu Da did not dare to open his mouth again, and he had to suffer his wife's ill-temper for a long time. They were indeed still quarreling when Wu Song, with a soldier carrying a long pole, came back, packed up his luggage, and went off. Wu Da went after him, crying, "Why are you going away, Brother?"

"Ask no questions," Wu Song answered. "If I tell the truth, your good name will be ruined. Let me go."

Wu Da did not dare to question him any further, and was obliged to let him go with his luggage. Meanwhile his wife was scolding in her room: "That's better. Relations always prove a nuisance in the long run. People don't know the truth. Just because here is a young brother with a position at the Town Hall, they must needs conclude that he keeps his brother and sister. They never think that he is really eating us out of house and home. He is like a yellow quince, good to look at and rotten inside. I shall thank my lucky star if he takes himself off for good and all. Indeed there is nothing I hope more than that I may never set eyes on that piece of ill-fortune again."

Wu Da could not avoid hearing all his wife said, but still he could not make out what had really happened, and his heart was troubled. Now that his brother had gone back to live at the inn near the Town Hall, he still sold buns and cakes upon the street. He longed for an opportunity to go to the Town Hall and have a talk, but his wife gave him strict instructions that he must not dare to do anything of the sort, and he did not venture to disobey her. After Wu Song's departure, the snow suddenly stopped. Ten days passed.

The magistrate of Qinghe had been stationed there for more than two years and had amassed much gold and silver. Now he wanted a man of courage to take his treasure to the Eastern Capital, so that his relatives might take charge of it. In three years his term of office would expire, and knowing that he would then have to make his report to the Emperor, he thought it would be well to have this gold and silver in hand when he came to deal with officials more exalted than himself. But he felt the need of a stout fellow for the job, as thieves often beset the way. Then he thought of Wu Song. He was just the man. That very day he sent for Wu Song and said to him:

"I am thinking of sending an important present to one of my relatives at the Eastern Capital. I mean Zhu Mian, one of the Grand Marshal's officers. There may be some danger about the journey, but if you undertake it, I am sure all will be well. If you will do this for me, I will reward you handsomely when you get back."

"You have shown me so much kindness, Sir, that I should never think of refusing," Wu Song replied. "I will set off as soon as you give me your orders."

The magistrate was now perfectly satisfied. He gave Wu Song three cups of wine, and handed him ten taels of silver as journey money. After receiving his instructions, Wu Song went to the inn and, after getting his orderly to buy some food and a jar of wine at a shop in the street, went to his brother's house. When Wu Da returned, he found his brother waiting on the doorstep. He had told his servant to take the wine and food into the kitchen.

Jinlian had not abandoned all hope, and when she saw Wu Song coming with wine and other delicacies she said to herself: "He must still be thinking about me, or he would not have come back. I may get him yet." So she went upstairs to powder her face and arrange her hair, and when she had changed into a prettier dress, she came down to welcome him.

"I can't imagine what can have displeased you, Uncle," she said, as she made a reverence. "For several days you haven't been near us, and I have often wondered why. It is delightful to see you home again, but why did you trouble to bring wine and food?"

"I have something to say to my brother," Wu Song said. "That is why I have come."

Jinlian invited him to go upstairs, and they all three went to the upper room. Wu Da and his wife sat in the places of honor, and Wu Song sat down on a long bench. The orderly brought up the food and Wu Song invited his brother and sister to take some. From time to time, Jinlian glanced meaningly at her brother-in-law, but he paid no attention to anything but the wine he was drinking. When they had all drunk several cups, Wu Song asked Ying'er to bring a loving cup and, when the orderly had heated the wine, he took this cup in his hands and said to Wu Da:

"Honorable elder brother: today the magistrate has ordered me to go to the Eastern Capital for him. I am starting tomorrow, and it may easily be two or three months before I get back, though I hope it will be less. What I have come to say to you is this: you have always been a long-suffering kind of man, and I don't intend you to be imposed upon in my absence. Now, listen to me. You have been in the habit of selling ten trays of cakes, but in future you must only make five. Then you will be able to go out later and come home earlier. Don't let anyone persuade you to drink; pull down the shutters and bolt the door as soon as you get home. If you do this, you will be saved a great deal of unpleasantness, but if anything disagreeable should happen, don't let yourself be drawn into a quarrel. Wait till I come back, and I'll soon settle the matter. Now, my dear brother, if you agree, drink this cup of wine."

Wu Da took the cup and drained it. "I will do whatever you think fit," he said.

Wu Song filled up the cup again and spoke to Jinlian. "Sister, you are no fool, and I don't think I need say any more. My brother is so simple-hearted that the real management of the household is in your hands. You will remember the old saying that a proud appearance is not always the mirror of an honest heart. If you attend to your household duties as you should, my brother will have nothing to worry about. As our fathers used to say: ‘When the fence is safe, dogs cannot get in.'"

Jinlian listened, and the crimson color spread across her face. She shook her finger at Wu Da, and addressed Wu Song through him. "You fool! What do you think you will gain by insulting me like this? I have to wear a woman's clothes, it is true, but I am as good as any man. I am always steady and reliable. A man might stand upon my fist or a horse ride over my arm. I am not a turtle to be wounded without bloodshed. Never, since I married Wu Da, has even an ant dared to sneak into my room. How dare you talk about dogs getting in if the fence is not safe? Tell the truth, not a pack of lies. I don't care in the slightest what you say."

Wu Song laughed. "Don't lose your temper, Sister. So long as your heart keeps company with your mouth, all will be well. But I shall remember what you have said. And now, won't you drink this cup?"

Jinlian dashed the cup aside and ran downstairs. Before she reached the bottom, she turned and cried, "You think you're very wise and clever, but how is it you don't seem to know that a brother's wife should be respected as a mother? When I first married Wu Da, nobody ever mentioned his having a brother. Where have you come from? Are you really a relative or are you not? One would think you were the master of the house. Oh, it makes me wild to have to put up with such nonsense." She went down the rest of the stairs, sobbing.

The brothers drank several more cups of wine together till they could stay no longer, while Jinlian affected many airs and graces. At last they both went downstairs, and took their leave of one another with tears streaming down their cheeks. "Brother," Wu Da said, "you must go, I suppose, but come back as soon as you can and let my eyes rejoice in you once more."

Wu Song said, "Wouldn't it be better if you stayed away from business altogether, and let me arrange with somebody to supply you with funds?" Finally, he cried, "Remember what I say, Brother, and keep a watch on your door." Wu Da promised.

So Wu Song parted from his brother. He went back to the inn, packed his luggage, and saw to his weapons. The next morning he took charge of the magistrate's presents, secured a horse, and set off for the Eastern Capital.

After his brother's departure Wu Da had to endure his wife's scoldings for several days, but he held himself in check, swallowed his wrath, and let her scold him. He did what his brother had told him, and made only half the number of cakes he had made before. Every day he returned before sunset and, setting down his baskets, pulled down the shutters and closed the outer gate before he came to sit down in the room. His wife saw this, and grew more and more resentful every day. "You horrible creature," she said at length, "one would think you couldn't tell the time. Even jailers don't bar the prison gate while the sun is still in the heavens. Our neighbors must be in fits of laughter and think we are afraid of ghosts. You are just like a newborn babe who has to do what his brother tells him. Aren't you ashamed to have everybody laughing at you?"

"Let them laugh," Wu Da said. "What my brother said is true enough, and may save us much trouble yet."

"Pah, you vile creature!" his wife shouted, and spat in his face. "You, a grown-up man, have no will of your own, but have to do whatever anybody tells you."

"Say what you like," Wu Da said with a gesture of weariness. "To me my brother's words are as gold and precious stones." He continued to go out late and return early, and he still shut the door as soon as he got home. This so infuriated his wife that she almost had a fit; she quarreled with him so incessantly that trouble seemed to have become a habit. About the time for his return, she would pull down the shutter and bolt the door, thinking that so she would annoy him, but instead of making him angry, this gave him considerable secret satisfaction and he thought: "If she takes things like this, so much the better for all concerned."

The sun's bright horses galloped past the window, and the sun and moon raced like a weaver's shuttles. It seemed but a moment since the winter solstice passed and it was the season when the plum trees blossom, yet now the weather was giving warning of spring's return. One day, in the third month, the sun shone so pleasantly that Jinlian decided to dress herself in her best clothes. Wu Da was out, and she was standing by the door beneath the lattice. Thinking it was nearly time for his return, she prepared to pull down the shutter and go back to the room to wait for him. But now the fates intervened. A man passed beneath the lattice.

In affairs of the heart we always find that Fate brings the lovers together, and a story would not be worth the telling if accidents never happened. Jinlian was holding the pole and preparing to pull down the shutter, when a gust of wind suddenly blew it out of her hand. She could not catch it, and it fell upon the man's head. She smiled her apologies, and stole a look at him. Upon his head he wore a tasseled hat, and golden filigree hairpins, with one of the signs of the zodiac edged with jade. Over slender hips he wore a green silk gown and on his feet a pair of fine but heavily soled shoes, with socks as white as the purest water. He was fanning himself with a gilt fan. He was indeed as handsome as Master Zhang, and worthy of comparison with Pan An.

Jinlian peeped at him from under the lattice. When first the pole struck him, he stopped and seemed on the point of an angry outburst, but, as he turned, he suddenly beheld an incredibly pretty woman.

Her hair was black as a raven's plumage; her eyebrows mobile as the kingfisher and as curved as the new moon. Her almond eyes were clear and cool, and her cherry lips most inviting. Her nose was noble and exquisitely modeled, and her dainty cheeks beautifully powdered. Her face had the delicate roundness of a silver bowl. As for her body, it was as light as a flower, and her fingers as slender as the tender shoots of a young onion. Her waist was as narrow as the willow, and her white belly yielding and plump. Her feet were small and tapering; her breasts soft and luscious. One other thing there was, black-fringed, grasping, dainty, and fresh, but the name of that I may not tell. Words fail to describe the charm of so beauteous a vision.

Her luxuriant coal-black hair was as thick as the clouds. On each side she wore small pins and, at the back, a pair of combs with a cleverly fashioned flower. Two peach flowers adorned her willow-leaf eyebrows. The jade pendants she wore were remarkable, but the glory of her uncovered bosom was that of jade beyond all price. She wore a blue gown bound with a long silk-embroidered sash, and in her cuff a tiny satchel of perfumes. Beneath her delicate throat, a many-buttoned corsage concealed her breast.

Her feet were graced by tiny shoes made like the mountain crow, with tips embroidered to look like the claws. Their high heels were of white silk, so that she seemed always to walk upon a fragrant dust. Her scarlet silken trousers were decorated with birds and flowers and, as she sat or when she rose, the wind would puff out her skirts and flowing undergarments. From her mouth there came a perfume as delicious as that of orchides and musk, while her cherry lips and beautiful cheeks had the glory of a flower. One glimpse of this vision, and the souls of men would flutter away and die. Many handsome young men might perish at the sight.

No sooner had the man set eyes upon all this beauty than he became almost beside himself with desire. His anger sped to Java and his face was quickly wreathed in smiles. Jinlian knew that she was to blame for the disaster, so she made a graceful reverence and said, "The wind suddenly blew the pole out of my hand, and I had the misfortune to strike you. Please do not be angry with me."

The man set his hat straight with one hand, and made a reverence so low that he almost swept the ground. "Lady," he said, "it was not of the slightest consequence. You may do with me what you will."

It so happened that the neighbor, old woman Wang, the tea seller, had seen everything that happened. She was greatly entertained. "Who may you be, Sir," she cried, "who pass by this house to be welcomed with blows upon the head?"

The man laughed. "It was all my fault. I should have been more careful. Please don't be vexed with me, Lady."

"Don't beat me," said the old woman Wang, still enjoying the joke. The man laughed again, and bowed most profoundly to express his regret. His roguish eyes, experienced in amorous adventure and well versed in the value of a woman's charms, could not look away from Jinlian. At last he went off, strutting and waving his fan, though not without turning around seven or eight times.

Jinlian had no sooner set eyes upon the man with his engaging manner and lively ways, no sooner heard him speak so winningly and brightly, than she fell head over heels in love with him. She had no idea who he was or where he lived, but she rightly concluded that he would not have turned his head so often unless he reciprocated her feelings in some measure. She stayed beneath the lattice until he was out of sight and then, pulling down the shutter, closed the door and went back to her room.

You may have guessed who this man was. None other than that chief of those who sought the pleasures of the couch, that captain of those who gather precious treasure and pursue unlawful fragrance, his Lordship Ximen. His third wife had just died and been given a solemn burial and, being distressed in mind, he was taking a stroll along the street intending to call upon Ying Bojue and thus secure a little distraction from his gloom. As he passed by Wu Da's house, he received, as we have seen, an unexpected blow on the head. But now that he had seen Jinlian under the lattice, Master Ximen went home again. "That was a splendid woman," he thought. "I wonder how I can get hold of her." He suddenly remembered old woman Wang, the neighbor who kept a tea shop. "She seems a clever old body," he said to himself, "and, if she can bring this affair to the conclusion I desire, she shall have a few taels of silver." He did not stay to eat anything, but hurried off to the street and dashed to old woman Wang's tea shop. He went in and took a seat, looking out beneath the awning.

"That was a very fine bow you made, Sir," said old woman Wang, laughing.

"Please come here, Stepmother," Ximen said. "That young neighbor of yours—er—that young woman—ahem— whose wife is she?"

"Oh," the old woman replied, "she is the sister of the King of Hell, the daughter of General Wu Dao. What makes you ask?"

"Don't treat the matter as a joke," Ximen said. "I am speaking seriously."

"Surely you know, Sir," said old woman Wang. "Her husband sells cakes outside the Town Hall."

"What! Xu the Third?" Ximen said.

The old woman shook her head. "No, if it were he, they would be something like a pair. Guess again, Sir."

"Perhaps it is Li the Third, then: he sells cakes."

The old woman shook her head again. "No, if he were the man, I should think they were perfectly matched."

"Well, then," Ximen cried, "it must be Liu Xiao. You know: the man they call Tattooed Arms."

Still the old woman laughed. "No," she said, "even if it were he, I should say they were a well-mated couple. Guess once more, Sir."

"I can't guess, Stepmother," Ximen said almost in despair, while the old woman roared with laughter.

"Well, I'll tell you. Her husband is that fellow Wu Da, who hawks his cakes about the streets."

When Ximen Qing heard this, he nearly jumped out of his chair. "You can't mean that Wu Da whom people call Tom Thumb or Old Scraggy Bark."

"That is the man," replied the old woman.

"Good Heavens," Ximen cried. "What a tasty piece of lamb to fall into a dog's mouth. However can it have happened?"

"It is always the same," old woman Wang replied. "You always find a beautiful horse ridden by some fool of a man, and a pretty girl sleeping with a husband who is not fit to be seen. The old Man in the Moon works things that way."

"How much do I owe you?" Ximen said.

"Nothing worth mentioning," the old woman replied. "We will leave it till another time."

"With whom is your son Wang Chao working now?" Ximen asked.

"He is away with a merchant, a native of Huai, but really he has been away so long that I don't know whether he's alive or dead."

"Why not let him come to me? He seems to be a smart lad."

"I am glad he meets with your approval."

"Very well," Ximen said, "when he comes back we must talk about the matter again." He thanked the old woman and went away. But in less than no time he was back again, sitting once more near the door that looked upon Wu Da's house.

"May I offer you some damson broth, Sir?" said old woman Wang, when she came out.

"I should like some very much," Ximen said, "but let it be a little sour, if you don't mind." The old woman made the broth, and offered it to him with both hands. When he had finished it, he put down the cup. "You make excellent damson broth, Stepmother," he said. "Have you got many dam-sons in your room there?"

"I have dealt in damsons all my life," the old woman said, "but I never keep them in my room."

"I was talking about damsons, not damsels," said Ximen. "You are getting a little mixed up."

"It was damsels you were thinking about, nonetheless," the old lady retorted.

"Well," said Ximen, "you admit you sell damsels. What about finding one for me? If you can let me have a nice tasty one, you won't lose by it."

"You are only teasing me," the old woman said. "If your wife heard about it, my old face would have a rough time."

"Not at all," Ximen said. "My wife is a most amiable woman, and I have several girls already, but none of them is exactly what I want. If you have a really good girl on your books, you must introduce her to me. I don't care whether she is somebody else's leavings or not, but she must be a woman who will satisfy me."

"Ah," the old woman said, "a few days ago I did hear of an excellent girl, but I'm afraid she wouldn't do for you."

"If she is the right stuff, just go ahead, and you shall be well paid for your pains."

"She is more than usually good-looking," said the old lady, "but rather old, perhaps."

"Well," said Ximen, "people have always said that a middle-aged woman has a charm all her own. It will not put me off if she happens to be a year or two older than I am. But how old is she?"

"She was born under the planet Mercury and her animal is the Pig, so as my reckoning goes, she will be ninety-three years old next New Year."

"You crazy old woman," Ximen cried. "Why do you screw up your silly old face and make fun all the time?" It was getting late and he decided to go away. The old woman had lighted her lamp and was going to fasten the gate, when Ximen Qing once again appeared. He sat down under the awning and gazed with longing eyes at Wu Da's house.

"Would you like a little allspice soup?" old woman Wang said.

"Yes, please," said Ximen, "but let it be sweet." The old woman hastily brought some soup, and he ate it all. He sat there till it was very late. At last he stood up. "Please make out my bill, old lady, and I will pay you next time I come."

"Don't worry about it," the old woman said; "we shall certainly have another opportunity of settling it." Ximen Qing laughed and went away.

At home, he could take no pleasure either eating or sleeping; his heart was consumed with desire for Jinlian. Wu Yueniang saw him in this sad state, but thought it was because of his third wife's death, and did not trouble him. Next morning, as soon as it was light and old woman Wang came out to unbolt her gate, Ximen Qing was already striding down the street.

"Ah," she thought, "new brooms sweep clean, and this one seems to be doing all its sweeping in this direction. I must keep the young man on tenterhooks for a while. In his dealings with the people here, he always manages to come off best, but if I get him into my clutches, I shall be surprised if I can't squeeze a little bawdy money out of him."

Old woman Wang's past history was none too creditable. She had been an efficient and busy go-between all her life, and occasionally dealt in children. She had also practiced midwifery, applying the requisite pressure to the mother and receiving the little ones on their arrival. In short, she was a thoroughly accomplished rogue.

The old woman had just opened her door to throw out the tea leaves when she saw Ximen Qing pacing up and down. Finally he came towards the tea shop and stood underneath the awning facing Wu Da's door. He was looking up at the lattice as though he could not take his eyes from it. The old woman pretended not to see him, and went on making a fire in her tea shop, until Ximen Qing, finding that she did not come out to offer him any tea, called to her to bring two cups.

"Ah," the old woman said, "is that you, my lord? Why have you allowed so long a time to pass without coming to see me? Please take a seat." In a few moments, she had made two cups of very strong tea and set them on the table.

"You'll take a cup with me, Stepmother, won't you?" Ximen said.

"I am not your shadow," the old woman said, laughing. "Why should I always drink tea with you?"

Ximen Qing laughed. "What do these neighbors of yours sell?"

"Roasted love darts; dried cuckoo's nests with parsley all around them; good fresh mincemeat; rolls all ready to be stuffed; oyster dumplings, and warm-heart pastries."

"You mad old woman," Ximen said, laughing. "I do wish you would talk sense."

"I am not mad by any means," said the old woman. "If you would rather go and ask the master of the house, you will find him at home."

"I am quite serious," Ximen said. "If they have good buns there, I should like to buy forty or fifty and take them home with me."

"There is no need to go to the house to buy them. The man will be going to the street in a minute or two, and you can get as many as you like."

"That is true," said Ximen. He drank his tea, lingered for a while, and at last went away. Old woman Wang watched him with her stony eyes, and saw him pacing to and fro, looking first to the right and then to the left. This he did seven or eight times. At last he came back to the tea shop.

"How do you do, Sir?" the old lady said. "I had almost forgotten what you look like."

Ximen Qing took a tael of silver from his sleeve and handed it to her. "This is for my tea," he said.

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