CHAPTER 5 (The Story of the Stone)
- Posted on: 2023-11-29
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- ▸ The Story of the Stone
Jia Bao-yu visits the Land of Illusion
And the fairy Disenchantment performs the
"Dream of Golden Days"
From the moment Lin Dai-yu entered the Rong mansion, Grandmother Jia's solicitude for her had manifested itself in a hundred different ways. The arrangements made for her meals and accommodation were exactly the same as for Bao-yu. The other three granddaughters, Ying-chun, Tan-chun and Xi-chun, were relegated to a secondary place in the old lady's affections, and the objects of her partiality themselves began to feel an affection for each other which far exceeded what they felt for any of the rest. Sharing each other's company every minute of the day and sleeping in the same room at night, they developed an understanding so intense that it was almost as if they had grown into a single person.
And now suddenly this Xue Bao-chai had appeared on the scene—a young lady who, though very little older than Dai-yu, possessed a grown-up beauty and aplomb in which all agreed Dai-yu was her inferior. Moreover, in contrast to Dai-yu with her alt of lofty self-sufficiency and total obliviousness to all who did not move on the same exalted level as herself, Bao-chai had a generous, accommodating disposition which greatly endeared her to subordinates, so that even the tiniest maid looked on Miss Bao-chai as a familiar friend. Dai-yu could not but feel somewhat put out by this—a fact of which Bao-chai herself, however, was totally unaware.
As for Bao-yu, he was still only a child—a child, moreover, whom nature had endowed with the eccentric obtuseness of a simpleton. Brothers, sisters, cousins, were all one to him. In his relationships with people he made no distinction between one person and another. If his relationship with Dai-yu was exceptional, it was because greater proximity—since she was living with him in his grandmother's quarters—made her more familiar to him than the rest; and greater familiarity bred greater intimacy.
And of course, with greater intimacy came the occasional tiffs and misunderstandings that are usual with people who have a great deal to do with each other.
One day the two of them had fallen out over something or other and the argument had ended with Dai-yu crying alone in her room and Bao-yu feeling remorsefully that perhaps he had spoken too roughly. Presently he went in to make his peace with her and gradually, very gradually, Dai-yu's equanimity was restored.
The Winter plum in the gardens of the Ning Mansion was now at its best, and this particular day Cousin Zhen's wife, You-shi, had some wine taken into the gardens and came over in person, bringing her son Jia Rong and his young wife with her, to invite Grandmother Jia, Lady Xing and Lady Wang to a flower-viewing party.
Grandmother Jia and the rest went round as soon as they had finished their breakfast. The party was in the All-scents Garden. It began with tea and continued with Wine, and as it was a family gathering confined to the ladies of the Ning and Rong households, nothing particularly worth recording took place.
At one point in the party Bao-yu was overcome with tiredness and heaviness and expressed a desire to take an afternoon nap. Grandmother Jia ordered some of the servants to go back to the house with him and get him comfortably settled, adding that they might return with him later when he was rested; but Qin-shi, the little wife of Jia Rong, smilingly proposed an alternative.
"We have got just the room here for Uncle Bao. Leave him to me, Grannie dear! He will be quite safe in my hands."
She turned to address the nurses and maidservants who were in attendance on Bao-yu.
"Come, my dears! Tell Uncle Bao to follow me."
Grandmother Jia had always had a high opinion of Qin-shi's trustworthiness—she was such a charming, delightful little creature, the favourite among her great-granddaughters-in-law—and was quite content to leave the arrangements to her.
Qin-shi conducted Bao-yu and his little knot of attendants to an inner room in the main building. As they entered, Bao-yu glanced up and saw a painting hanging above them on the opposite wall. The figures in it were very finely executed. They represented Scholarly Diligence in the person of the Han philosopher Liu Xiang at his book, obligingly illuminated for him by a supernatural being holding a large flaming torch. Bao-yu found the painting—or rather its subject—distasteful. But the pair of mottoes which flanked it proved the last straw:
True learning implies a clear insight into human activities.
Genuine culture involves the skilful manipulation of human relationships.
In vain the elegant beauty and splendid furnishings of the room! Qin-shi was given to understand in no uncertain terms that her uncle Bao-yu wished to be out of it at once.
"If this is not good enough for you," said Qin-shi with a laugh, "where are we going to put you? — unless you would like to have your rest in my bedroom."
A little smile played over Bao-yu's face and he nodded. The nurses were shocked.
"An uncle sleep in the bedroom of his nephew's wife! Who ever heard of such a thing!"
Qin-shi laughed again.
"He won't misbehave. Good gracious, he's only a little boy! We don't have to worry about that sort of thing yet! You know my little brother who came last month: he's the same age as Uncle Bao, but if you stood them side by side I shouldn't be a bit surprised if he wasn't the taller of the two."
"Why haven't I seen your brother yet?" Bao-yu demanded. "Bring him in and let me have a look at him!"
The servants all laughed.
"Bring him in? Why, he's ten or twenty miles away! But I expect you'll meet him one of these days."
In the course of this exchange the party had made its way to Qin-shi's bedroom. As Bao-yu entered, a subtle whiff of the most delicious perfume assailed his nostrils, making a sweet stickiness inside his drooping eyelids and causing all the joints in his body to dissolve.
"What a lovely smell!"
He repeated the words several times over.
Inside the room there was a painting by Tang Yin entitled "Spring Slumber" depicting a beautiful woman asleep under a crab-apple tree, whose buds had not yet opened. The painting was flanked on either side by a pair of calligraphic scrolls inscribed with a couplet from the brush of the Song poet Qin Guan:
(on one side)
The coldness of spring has imprisoned the soft buds in a wintry dream;
(on the other side)
The fragrance of wine has intoxicated the beholder with imagined flower-scents.
On a table stood an antique mirror that had once graced the tiring-room of the lascivious empress Wu Ze-tian. Beside it stood the golden platter on which Flying Swallow once danced for her emperor's delight. And on the platter was that very quince which the villainous An Lu-shan threw at beautiful Yang Gui-fei, bruising her plump white breast. At the far end of the room stood the priceless bed on which Princess Shou-yang was sleeping out of doors under the eaves of the Han-zhang Palace when the plum-flower lighted on her forehead and set a new fashion for coloured patches. Over it hung a canopy commissioned by Princess Tong-chang entirely fashioned out of ropes of pearls.
"I like it here," said Bao-yu happily.
"My room," said Qin-shi with a proud smile, "is lit for an immortal to sleep in." And she unfolded a quilted coverlet, whose silk had been laundered by the fabulous Xi Shi, and arranged the double head-rest that Hong-niang once carried for her amorous mistress,
The nurses now helped Bao-yu into bed and then tiptoed out, leaving him attended only by his four young maids: Aroma, Skybright, Musk, and Ripple. Qin-shi told them to go outside and stop the cats from lighting on the eaves.
As soon as Bao-yu closed his eyes he sank into a confused sleep in which Qin-shi was still there yet at the same time seemed to be drifting along weightlessly in front of him. He followed her until they came to a place of marble terraces and vermilion balustrades where there were green trees and crystal streams. Everything in this place was so clean and so pure that it seemed as if no human foot could ever have trodden there or floating speck of dust ever blown into it. Bao-yu's dreaming self rejoiced. "What a delightful place! he thought. "If only I could spend all my life here! How much nicer it would be than living under the daily restraint of my parents and teachers!"
These idle reflections were interrupted by someone singing a song on the other side of a hill:
"Spring's dream-time will like drifting clouds disperse,
Its flowers snatched by a flood none can reverse.
Then tell each nymph and swain
"Tis folly to invite love's pain!"
It was the voice of a girl. Before its last echoes had died away, a beautiful woman appeared in the quarter from which the voice had come, approaching him with a floating, fluttering motion. She was quite unlike any earthly lady, as the following poem will make clear:
She has left her willow-tree house, from her blossoming bower stepped out;
For the birds betray where she walks through the trees that cluster about,
And a shadow athwart the winding walk announces that she is near,
And a fragrance of musk and orchid from fluttering fairy sleeves,
And a tinkle of girdle-gems that falls on the ear
At each movement of her dress of lotus leaves.
A peach-tree blossoms in her dimpling cheek;
Her cloud-coiled tresses are halcyon-sleek;
And she reveals, through parted cherry lips,
Teeth like pomegranate pips.
Her slim waist's sinuous swaying calls to mind
The dance of snowflakes with the waltzing wind;
Hair ornaments of pearl and halcyon blue
Outshine her painted forehead's golden hue.
Her face, through blossoms fleetingly disclosed,
To mirth or ire seems equally disposed;
And as by the waterside she goes,
Hovering on light-stepping toes,
A half-incipient look of pique
Says she would speak, yet would not speak;
While her feet, with the same irresolution,
Would halt, yet would not interrupt their motion.
I contemplate her rate complexion,
Ice-pure and lade-like in perfection;
I marvel at her glittering dress,
Where art lends grace to sumptuousness;
I wonder at her fine-cut featured—
Marble, which fragrance marks as one with living creatures;
And I admire her queenly gait,
Like stately dance of simurgh with his mate.
Her purity I can best show
In plum-trees flowering in the snow;
Her chastity I shall recall
In orchids white at first frost-fall;
Her tranquil nature will prevail,
Constant as lone pine in an empty vale;
Her loveliness as dazzled make
As sunset gilding a pellucid lake;
Her glittering elegance I can compare
With dragons in an ornamental mere;
Her dreamy soulfulness most seems
Like wintry waters in the moon's cold beams.
The beauties of days gone by by her beauty are all abashed.
Where was she born, and from whence descended?
Immortal I judge her, fresh come from fairy feastings by the Jasper Pool,
Or from fluting in starry balls, some heavenly concert ended.
Observing delightedly that the lady was a fairy, Bao-yu hurried forward and saluted her with a smile.
"Madam Fairy, I don't know where you have come from or where you are going to, but as I am quite lost in this place) will you please take me with you and be my guide?"
"I am the fairy Disenchantment," the fairy woman repelled. "I live beyond the Realm of Separation, in the Sea Of Sadness. There is a Mountain of Spring Awakening which rises from the midst of that sea, and on that mountain is the Paradise of the Full-blown Flower, and in that paradise is the Land of Illusion, which is my home. My business is with the romantic passions, love-debts, girlish heartbreaks and male philanderings of your dust-stained, human world. The reason I have come here today is that recently there has been a heavy concentration of love-karma in this area, and I hope to be able to find an opportunity of distributing a quantity of a amorous thoughts by implanting them in the appropriate breasts. My meeting you here today is no accident but a part of the same project.
"This place where we are now is not so very far from my home. I have not much to offer you, but would you like to come back with me and let me try to entertain you? I have some fairy tea, which I picked myself. You could have a cup of that. And I have a few jars of choice new wine of my own brewing. I have also been rehearsing a fairy choir and a troupe of fairy dancers in a twelve-part suite which I recently composed called 'A Dream of Golden Days'. I could get them to perform it for you. What do you think?"
Bao-yu was so excited by this invitation that he quite forgot to wonder what had become of Qin-shi in his eagerness to accompany the fairy. As he followed her, a big stone archway suddenly loomed up in front of them on which
THE LAND OF ILLUSION
was Written in large characters. A couplet in smaller characters was inscribed on either side of the arch:
Truth becomes fiction when the fiction's true;
Real becomes not-real when the unreal's real.
Having negotiated the archway, they presently came to the gateway of a palace. The following words were inscribed horizontally above the lintel:
SEAS OF PAIN AND SKIES OF PASSION
whilst the following words were inscribed vertically on the two sides:
Ancient earth and sky
Marvel that love's passion should outlast all time.
Star-crossed men and maids
Groan that love's debts should be so hard to pay.
"I see," said Bao-yu to himself. "I wonder what the meaning of 'passion that outlasts all time' can be. And what ate 'love's debts'? From now on I must make an effort to understand these things."
He could not, of course, have known it, but merely by thinking this he had invited the attentions of the demon Lust, and at that very moment a little of the demon's evil poison had entered Bao-yu's body and lodged itself in the innermost recesses of his heart.
Wholly unconscious of his mortal peril, Bao-yu continued to follow the fairy woman. They passed through a second gateway, and Bao-yu saw a range of palace buildings ahead of them on either hand. The entrance to each building had a board above it proclaiming its name, and there were couplets on either side of the doorways. Bao-yu did not have time to read all of the names, but he managed to make out a few, viz:
DEPARTMENT OF FOND INFATUATION
DEPARTMENT OF CRUEL REJECT-ION
DEPARTMENT OF EARLY MORNING WEEPING
DEPARTMENT OP LATE NIGHT SOBBING
DEPARTMENT OF SPRING FEVER
DEPARTMENT OF AUTUMN GRIEF
"Madam Fairy," said Bao-yu, whose interest had been whetted by what he had managed to read, "couldn't you take me inside these offices to have a look around?"
"In these offices," said the fairy woman, "are kept registers in which are recorded the past, present and future of girls from all over the world. It is not permitted that your earthly eyes should look on things that are yet to come."
Bao-yu was most unwilling to accept this answer, and begged and pleaded so persistently that at last Disenchantment gave in.
"Very well. You may make a very brief inspection of this office here."
Delighted beyond measure, Bao-yu raised his head and read the notice above the doorway:
DEPARTMENT OP THE ILL-FATED FAIR
The couplet inscribed vertically on either side of the doorway was as follows:
Spring grieves and autumn sorrows were by yourselves provoked.
Flower faces, moonlike beauty were to what end disclosed?
Bao-yu grasped enough of the meaning to be affected by its melancholy.
Passing inside, he saw a dozen or more large cupboards with paper strips pasted on their doors on which were written the names of different provinces. He was careful to look out for the one belonging to his own area and presently found one on which the paper strip said "Jinling, Twelve Beauties of; Main Register". Bao-yu asked Disenchantment what this meant, and she explained that it was a register of the twelve most out-standing girls of his home province.
"People all say what a big place Jinling is," said Bao-yu. "Surely there should be more than just twelve names? Why, even in my own home, if you count the servants, there must be altogether several hundred girls."
"Certainly there area great many girls in the whole province," said Disenchantment with a smile, "but only the most important ones have been selected for recording in this register. The registers in the cupboards on either side contain two other selections from the same area. But of the host of ordinary girls outside those three dozen we keep no records."
Bao-yu glanced at the other two cupboards referred to by Disenchantment. One was labelled "Jinling, Twelve Beauties of; Supplementary Register No.1"; the other was labelled "Jinling, Twelve Beauties of; Supplementary Register No.2". Stretching Out his hand he opened the door of the second one, took out Supplementary Register No.2, which was like a large album, and opened it at the first page.
It was a picture, but not of a person or a view. The whole page was covered with dark ink washes representing storm-clouds or fog, followed on the next page by a few lines of verse:
Seldom the moon shines in a cloudless sky,
And days of brightness all too soon pass by.
A noble and aspiring mind
In a base-born frame confined,
Your charm and wit did only hatred gain,
And in the end you were by slanders slain,
Your gentle lord's solicitude in vain.
Bao-yu could not make much sense of this, and turned to the next page. It was another picture, this time of a bunch of fresh flowers and a worn-out mat, again followed by a few limes of verse.
What price your kindness and compliance,
Of sweetest flower the rich perfume?
You chose the player fortune favoured,
Unmindful of your master's doom.
Bao-yu was even more mystified by this than by the first page, and laying the album aside, opened the door of the cupboard marked "Supplementary Register No.!" and took out the album from that.
As in the previous album, the first page was a picture. It represented a branch of cassia with a pool underneath. The Water in the pool had dried up and the mud in the bottom was dry and cracked. Growing from it was a withered and broken lotus plant. The picture was followed by these lines:
Your stem grew from a noble lotus toot,
Yet your life passed, poor flower, in low repute.
The day two earths shall bear a single tree,
Your soul must fly home to its own country.
Once more failing to make any sense of what he saw, Bao-yu picked up the Main Register to look at. In this album the picture on the first page represented two dead trees with a lade belt hanging in their branches and on the ground beneath them a pile of snow in which a golden hairpin lay half-buried. This was followed by a quatrain:
One was a pattern of female virtue,
One a wit who made other wits seem slow.
The jade belt in the greenwood hangs,
The gold pin is buried beneath the snow.
Still Bao-yu was unable to understand the meaning. He would have liked to ask, but he knew that Disenchantment would be unwilling to divulge the secrets of her immortal world. Yet though he could make no sense of the book, for some reason he found himself unable this time to lay it down, and continued to look through it to the end.
The picture that followed was of a bow with a citron hanging from it, followed by what looked like the words of a song:
You shall, when twenty years in life's hard school are done,
In pomegranate-time to palace halls ascend.
Though three springs never could with your first spring compare,
When hare meets tiger your great dream shall end.
Next was a picture of two people flying a kite. There was also a large expanse of sea with a boat in it and a girl in the boat who had buried her face in her hands and appeared to be crying. This was followed by a quatrain:
Blessed with a shrewd mind and a noble heart,
Yet born in time of twilight and decay,
In spring through tears at river's bank you gaze,
Borne by the wind a thousand miles away.
The next picture showed some scudding wisps of cloud and a stretch of running water followed by these words:
What shall avail you rank and riches,
Orphaned while yet in swaddling bands you lay?
Soon you must mourn your bright sun's early setting.
The Xiang flows and the Chu clouds sail away.
Next was a picture showing a beautiful jade which had fallen into the mud, followed by words of judgement:
For all your would-be spotlessness
And vaunted otherworldliness,
You that look down on common flesh and blood,
Yourself impure, shall end up in the mud.
Next was a striking picture of a savage wolf pursuing a beautiful girl. He had just seized her with his jaws and appeared to be about to eat her. Underneath it was written:
Paired with a brute like the wolf in the old fable,
Who on his saviour turned when he was able,
To cruelty not used, your gentle heart
Shall, in a twelvemonth only, break apart.
After this was an old temple with a beautiful girl sitting all on her own inside it reading a Buddhist sutra. The words said:
When you see through the spring scene's transient state,
A nun's black habit shall replace your own.
Alas, that daughter of so great a house
By Buddha's altar lamp should sleep alone!
Next was an iceberg with a hen phoenix perched on the top of it, and these words:
This phoenix in a bad time came;
All praised her great ability.
"Two" makes my riddle with a man and tree:
Returning south in tears she met calamity.
Next was a cottage in a deserted village inside which a beautiful girl sat spinning, followed by these words:
When power is lost, rank matters not a lot;
When families fall, kinship must be forgot.
Through a chance kindness to a country wife
Deliverance came for your afflicted life.
This was followed by a picture of a vigorously growing orchid in a pot, beside which stood a lady in full court dress. The words said:
The plum-tree bore her fruit after the rest,
Yet, when all's done, her Orchid was the best.
Against your ice-pure nature all in vain
The tongues of envy wagged; you felt no pain.
The picture after that showed an upper room in a tail building in which a beautiful girl was hanging by her neck from a beam, having apparently taken her own life. The words said:
Love was her sea, her sky; in such excess
Love, meeting with its like, breeds wantonness.
Say not our troubles all from Rong's side came;
For their beginning Ning must take the blame.
Bao-yu would have liked to see some more, but the fairy woman, knowing how intelligent and sharp-witted he was, began to fear that she was in danger of becoming responsible for a leakage of celestial secrets, and so, snapping the album shut, she said with a laugh, "Come with me and we will do some more sight-seeing. Why stay here puzzling your head over these silly riddles?"
Next moment, without quite knowing how it happened, Bao-yu found that he had left the place of registers behind him and was following Disenchantment through the rear parts of the palace. Everywhere there were buildings with ornately carved and painted eaves and rafters, their doorways curtained with strings of pearls and their interiors draped with embroidered hangings. The courtyards outside them were full of deliciously fragrant fairy blooms and rare aromatic herbs.
Gleam of gold pavement flashed on scarlet doors,
And in jade walls jewelled casements snow white shone.
"Hurry, hurry! Come out and welcome the honoured guest!" he heard Disenchantment calling to someone inside, and almost at once a bevy of fairy maidens came running from the palace, lotus-sleeves fluttering and feather-skirts billowing, each as enchantingly beautiful as the flowers of spring or the autumn moon. Seeing Bao-yu, they began to reproach Disenchantment angrily.
"So this is your 'honoured guest'! What do you mean by making us hurry out to meet him? You told us that today at this very hour the dream-soul of our darling Crimson Pearl was coming to play with us, and we have been waiting I don't know how long for her arrival. And now, instead, you have brought this disgusting creature to pollute our pure, maidenly precincts. What's the idea ?"
At these words Bao-yu was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of the uncleanness and impurity of his own body and sought in vain for somewhere to escape to; but Disenchantment held him by the hand and advanced towards the fairy maidens with a conciliatory smile.
"Let me tell you the reason for my change of plan. It is true that I set off for the Rong mansion with the intention of fetching Crimson Pearl, but as I was passing through the Ning mansion on my way, I happened to run into the Duke of Ning-guo and his brother the Duke of Rong-guo and they laid a solemn charge on me which I found it hard to refuse.
"'In the hundred years since the foundation of the present dynasty,' they said, 'several generations of our house have distinguished themselves by their services to the Throne and have covered themselves with riches and honours; but now its stock of good fortune has run out, and nothing can be done to replenish it. And though our descendants are many, not one of them is worthy to carry on the line. The only possible exception, our great-grandson Bao-yu, has inherited a perverse, intractable nature and is eccentric and emotionally unstable; and although his natural brightness and intelligence augur well, we fear that owing to the fated eclipse of our family's fortunes there will be no one at hand to give the lad proper guidance and to start him off along the right lines.
"'May we profit from the fortunate accident of this encounter, Madam, to entreat you to take the boy in hand for us? Could you perhaps initiate him in the pleasures of the flesh and all that sort of thing in such a way as to shock the silliness out of him? In that way he might stand a chance of escaping some of the traps that people fall into and be able to devote himself single-mindedly to the serious things of life. It would be such a kindness if you would do this for us.'
"Hearing the old gentlemen so earnest in their entreaty, I was moved to compassion and agreed to bring the boy here. I began by letting him have a good look at the records of the three grades of girls belonging to his own household; but the experience did not bring any awareness; and so I have brought him to this place for another attempt. It is my hope that a full exposure to the illusions of feasting, drinking, music and dancing may succeed in bringing about an awakening in him some time in the future."
Having concluded her explanation, she led Bao-yu indoors. At once he became aware of a faint, subtle scent, the source of which he was quite unable to identify and about which he felt im1)elled to question Disenchantment.
"How could you possibly know what it was," said Disenchantment with a somewhat scornful smile, "since this perfume is not to be found anywhere in your mortal world? It is made from the essences of rare plants found on famous mountains and other places of great natural beauty, culled when they are new-grown and blended with gums from the peari4aden trees that grow in the jewelled groves of paradise. It is called 'Belles Se Fanent'."
Bao-yu expressed his admiration.
The company now seated themselves, and some little maids served them with tea. Bao-yu found its fragrance fresh and clean and its flavour delicious, totally unlike those of any earthly blend he knew. He asked Disenchantment for the name.
"The leaves are picked in the Paradise of the Full-blown Flower on the Mountain of Spring Awakening," Disenchantment informed him. "It is infused in water collected from the dew that lies on fairy flowers and leaves. The name is 'Maiden's Tears'."
Bao-yu nodded attentively and commended the tea.
Looking around the room he noticed various musical instruments, antique bronzes, paintings by old masters, poems by new poets, and other hallmarks of gracious living. He was particularly delighted to observe some rouge-stained pieces of cotton-wool lying on the window-sill—evidently the aftermath of some fairy-woman's toilet. A pair of calligraphic scrolls hung on the wall, making up the following couplet:
Earth's choicest spirits in the dark lie hid:
Heaven ineluctably enforced their fate.
After reading the scrolls, Bao-yu asked to be introduced to the fairy maidens. They had a strange assortment of names. One was called Dream-of-bliss, another was called Loving-heart, a third Ask-for-trouble, a fourth Past-regrets, and the rest all had names that were equally bizarre.
Presently the little maids came in again and proceeded to arrange some chairs around a table and to lay it with food and wine for a feast. In the words of the poet,
Celestial nectar filled the crystal cup,
And liquid gold in amber goblets glowed.
The wine's bouquet was delectable, and once again Bao-yu could not resist asking about it.
"This wine," said Disenchantment, "is made from the petals of hundreds of different kinds of flowers and extracts from thousands of different sorts of trees. These are blended and fermented with kylin's marrow and phoenix milk. Hence its name, 'Lachrymae Rerum'"
Bao-yu praised it enthusiastically.
As they sat drinking wine, a troupe of twelve dancers entered and inquired what pieces they should perform for the company's entertainment.
"You can do the twelve songs of my new song-and-dance suite 'A Dream of Golden Days'," said Disenchantment.
At once the sandalwood clappers began, very softly, to beat out a rhythm, accompanied by the sedate twang of the Zheng's silver strings and by the voice of a singer.
"When first the world from chaos rose…"
The singer had got no further than the first line of the first song when Disenchantment interrupted.
"This suite," she told Bao-yu, "is not like the music-dramas of your earthly composers in which there are always the fixed parts of sheng, dan, jing, mo and so on, and set tunes in the various Northern and Southern modes. In my suite each song is an elegy on a single person or event and the tunes are original compositions which we have orchestrated ourselves. You need to know what the songs are about in order to appreciate them properly. I should not imagine you are very familiar with this sort of entertainment; so unless you read the libretto of the songs first before listening to them, I fear you may find them rather insipid."
Turning to one of the maids, she ordered her to fetch the manuscript of her libretto of "A Dream of Golden Days" and gave it to Bao-yu to read, so that he could listen to the songs with one eye on the text. These were the words in Disenchantment's manuscript:
Prelude: A Dream of Go/den Days
When first the world from chaos rose,
Tell me, how did love begin?
The wind and moonlight first did love compose.
And quite cast down
In low estate
I would my foolish heart expose,
And so perform
This Dream of Golden Days,
And all my grief for my lost loves disclose.
First Song: The Mistaken Marriage
Let others all
Commend the marriage rites of gold and jade;
I still recall
The bond of old by stone and flower made;
And while my vacant eyes behold
Crystalline snows of beauty pure and cold,
From my mind can not be banished
That fairy wood forlorn that from the world has vanished.
How true I find
That every good some imperfection bolds!
Even a wife so courteous and so kind
No comfort" brings to my afflicted mind.
Second Song: Hope Betrayed
One was a flower from paradise,
One a pure jade without spot or stain.
If each for the other one was not intended,
Then why in this life did they meet again?
And yet if fate bad meant them for each other,
Why was their earthly meeting all in vain?
In vain were all her sighs and tears,
In vain were all his anxious fears:
All, insubstantial, doomed to pass,
As moonlight mirrored in the water
Or flowers reflected in a glass.
How many tears from those poor eyes could flow,
Which every season rained upon her woe?
Third Song: Mutability
In the full flower of her prosperity
Once more came mortal mutability,
Bidding her, with both eyes wide,
All earthly things to cast aside,
And her sweet soul upon the airs to glide.
So far the road back home did seem
That to her parents in a dream
Thus she her final duty paid:
"I that now am but a shade,
For your happiness I fear:
Do not tempt the hand of fate!
Draw back, draw back, before it is too late!"
Fourth Song: From Dear Ones Parted
Sail, boat, a thousand miles through rain and wind,
Leaving my home and dear ones far behind.
I fear that my remaining years
Will waste away in homesick tears.
Father dear and mother mild,
Be not troubled for your child!
From of old our rising, falling
Was ordained; so now this parting.
Each in another land must be;
Each for himself must fend as best he may;
Now I am gone, oh. do not weep for me!
Fifth Song: Grief Amidst Gladness
While you still in cradle lay,
Both your parents passed away.
Though born to silken luxury,
No warmth or kind indulgence came your way.
Yet yours was a generous, open-hearted nature,
And never could be snared or soured
By childish piques and envious passions—
You were a crystal house by wind and moonlight scoured.
Matched to a perfect, gentle husband,
Security of bliss at last it seemed,
And all your childish miseries redeemed.
But soon alas.! the clouds of Gao4ang faded,
The waters of the Xiang ran dry.
In our grey world so are things always ordered:
What then avails it to lament and sigh?
Sixth Song: All at Odds
Heaven made you like a flower,
With grace and wit to match the gods,
Adding a strange, contrary nature
That set you with the test at odds.
Nauseous to you the world's rank diet,
Vulgar its fashion's gaudy dress:
But the world envies the superior
And hates a too precious daintiness.
Sad it seemed that your life should in dim-lit shrines be wasted,
All the sweets of spring untasted:
Yet, at the last,
Down into mud and shame your hopes were cast,
Like a white, flawless jade dropped in the muck,
Where only wealthy rakes might bless their luck.
Seventh Song: Husband and Enemy
Who for past kindnesses cared not a jot!
Bully and spendthrift, reckless in debauch,
For riot or for whoring always hot!
A delicate young wife of gentle stock
To you was no more than a lifeless block,
And bore, when you would rant and rave,
Treatment fat worse than any slave;
So that her delicate, sweet soul
In just a twelvemonth from its body stole.
Eighth Song: The Vanity of Spring
When triple spring as vanity was seen,
What use the blushing flowers, the willows green?
From youth's extravagance you sought release
To win chaste quietness and heavenly peace.
The hymeneal peach-blooms in the sky,
The flowering almond's blossoms seen on high
Dismiss, since none, for sure,
Can autumn's blighting frost endure.
Amidst sad aspens mourners sob and sigh,
In maple woods the poor ghosts thinly cry,
And under the dead grasslands lost graves lie.
Now poor, now rich, men's lives in toil are passed
To be, like summer's pride, cut down at last.
The doors of life and death all must go through.
Yet this I know is true:
In Paradise there grows a precious tree
Which bears the fruit of immortality.
Ninth Song: Caught By Her Own Cunning
Too shrewd by half, with such finesse you wrought
That your own life in your own toils was caught;
But long before you died your heart was slain,
And when you died your spirit walked in vain.
Fall'n the great house once so secure in wealth,
Each scattered member shifting for himself;
And half a life-time's anxious schemes
Proved no more than the stuff of dreams.
Like a great building's tottering crash,
Like flickering lampwick burned to ash,
Your scene of happiness concludes in grief:
For worldly bliss is always insecure and brief.
Tenth Song: The Survivor
Some good remained,
Some good remained:
The daughter found a friend in need
Through her mother's one good deed.
So let all men the poor and meek sustain,
And from the example of her cruel kin refrain,
Who kinship scorned and only thought of gain.
For far above the constellations
One watches all and makes just calculations.
Eleventh Song: Splendour Come Late
Favour, a shadow in the glass;
Fame, a dream that soon would pass:
The blissful flowering-time of youth soon fled,
Soon, too, the pleasures of the bridal bed.
A pearl-encrusted crown and robes of state
Could not for death untimely compensate;
And though each man desires
Old age from want made free,
True blessedness requires
A clutch of young heirs at the knee.
The head with cap and hands of office on,
And gleaming bright
Upon his breast the gold insignia shone.
An awesome sight
To see him so exalted stand! -Yet the black night
Of death"s dark frontier lay close at hand.
All those whom history calls great
Left only empty names for us to venerate.
Twelfth Song: The Good Things Have An End
Perfumed was the dust that fell
From painted beams where springtime ended.
Her sportive heart
And amorous looks
The ruin of a mighty house portended.
The weakness in the line began with Jing;
The blame for the decline lay first in Ning;
But retribution all was of Love's fashioning.
Epilogue: The Birds Into The Wood Have Flown
The office jack"s career is blighted,
The rich man's fortune now all vanished,
The kind with life have been requited,
The cruel exemplarily punished;
The one who owed a life is dead,
The tears one owed have all been shed.
Wrongs suffered have the wrongs done expiated;
The couplings and the sunderings were fated.
Untimely death sin in some past life shows,
But only luck a blest old age bestows.
The disillusioned to their convents fly,
The still deluded miserably die.
Like birds who, having fed, to the woods repair,
They leave the landscape desolate and bare.
Having reached the end of this suite, the singers showed signs of embarking on another one. Disenchantment observed with a sigh that Bao-yu was dreadfully bored.
"Silly boy! You still don't understand, do you?"
Bao-yu hurriedly stopped the girls and told them that they need not sing any more. He felt dizzy and his head was spinning. He explained to Disenchantment that he had drunk too much and would like to lie down.
At once she ordered the remains of the feast to be removed and conducted Bao-yu to a dainty bedroom. The furnishings and hangings of the bed were more sumptuous and beautiful than anything he had ever seen. To his intense surprise there was a fairy girl sitting in the middle of it. Her rose-fresh beauty reminded him strongly of Bao-chai, but there was also something about her of Dai-yu's delicate charm. As he was pondering the meaning of this apparition, he suddenly became aware that Disenchantment was addressing him.
"In the rich and noble households of your mortal world, too many of those bowers and boudoirs where innocent tenderness and sweet girlish fantasy should reign are injuriously defiled by coarse young voluptuaries and loose, wanton girls. And what is even more detestable, there are always any number of worthless philanderers to protest that it is woman's beauty alone that inspires them, or loving feelings alone, unsullied by any taint of lust. They lie in their teeth! To be moved by woman's beauty is itself a kind of lust. To experience loving feelings is, even more assuredly, a kind of lust. Every act of love, every carnal congress of the sexes is brought about precisely because sensual delight in beauty has kindled the feeling of love.
"The reason I like you so much is because you are full of lust. You are the most lustful person I have ever known in the whole world!"
Bao-yu was scared by the vehemence of her words.
"Madam Fairy, you are wrong! Because I am lazy over my lessons, Mother and Father still have to scold me quite often; but surely that doesn't make me lustful? I'm still too young to know what they do, the people they use that word about."
"Ah, but you are lustful!" said Disenchantment. "In principle, of course, all lust is the same. But the word has many different meanings. For example, the typically lustful man in the common sense of the word is a man who likes a pretty face, who is fond of singing and dancing, who is inordinately given to flirtation; one who makes love in season and out of season, and who, if he could, would like to have every pretty girl in the world at his disposal, to gratify his desires whenever he felt like it. Such a person is a mere brute. His is a shallow, promiscuous kind of lust.
"But your kind of lust is different. That blind, defenceless love with which nature has filled your being is what we call here 'lust of the mind'. 'Lust of the mind' cannot be explained in words, nor, if it could, would you be able to grasp their meaning. Either you know what it means or you don't.
"Because of this 'lust of the mind' women will find you a kind and understanding friend; but in the eyes of the world I am afraid it is going to make you seem unpractical and eccentric. It is going to earn you the jeers of many and the angry looks of many more.
"Today I received a most touching request on your behalf from your ancestors the Duke of Ning-guo and the Duke of Rong-guo. And as I cannot bear the idea of your being rejected by the world for the greater glory of us women, I have brought you here. I have made you drunk with fairy wine. I have drenched you with fairy tea. I have admonished you with fairy songs. And now I am going to give you my little sister Two-in-one—'Ke-qing' to her friends—to be your bride.
"The time is propitious. You may consummate the marriage this very night. My motive in arranging this is to help you grasp the fact that, since even in these immortal precincts love is an illusion, the love of your dust-stained, mortal world must be doubly an illusion. It is my earnest hope that, knowing this, you will henceforth be able to shake yourself free of its entanglements and change your previous way of thinking, devoting your mind seriously to the teachings of Confucius and Mencius and your person wholeheartedly to the betterment of society."
Disenchantment then proceeded to give him secret instructions in the art of love; then, pushing him gently inside the room, she closed the door after him and went away.
Dazed and confused, Bao-yu nevertheless proceeded to follow out the instructions that Disenchantment had given him, which led him by predictable stages to that act which boys and girls perform together and which it is not my intention to give a full account of here.
Next morning he lay for a long time locked in blissful tenderness with Ke-qing, murmuring sweet endearments in her ear and unable to tear himself away from her. Eventually they emerged from the bedroom hand in hand to walk together out-of-doors.
Their walk seemed to take them quite suddenly to a place where only thorn-trees grew and wolves and tigers prowled around in pairs. Ahead of them the road ended at the edge of a dark ravine. No bridge connected it with the other side. As they hesitated, wondering what to do, they suddenly became aware that Disenchantment was running up behind them.
"Stop! Stop!" she was shouting. "Turn back at once! Turn back!"
Bao-yu stood still in alarm and asked her what place this was.
"This is the Ford of Error," said Disenchantment. "It is ten thousand fathoms deep and extends hundreds of miles in either direction. No boat can ever cross it; only a raft manned by a lay-brother called Numb and an acolyte called Dumb. Numb holds the steering-paddle and Dumb wields the pole. They won't ferry anyone across for money, but only take those who are fated to cross over.
"If you had gone on walking just now and had fallen in, all the good advice I was at such pains to give you would have been wasted!"
Even as she spoke there was a rumbling like thunder from inside the abyss and a multitude of demons and water monsters reached up and clutched at Bao-yu to drag him down into its depths. In his terror the sweat broke out over his body like rain and a great cry burst from his lips, "Ke-qing! Save me!"
Aroma and his other maids rushed upstairs in alarm and clung to him.
"Don't be frightened, Bao-yu! We are here!"
But Qin-shi, who was out in the courtyard telling the maids to be sure that the cats and dogs didn't fight, marvelled to hear him call her name out in his sleep.
"'Ke-qing' was the name they called me back at home when I was a little girl. Nobody here knows it. I wonder how he could have found it out?"
If you have not yet fathomed the answer to her question, you must read the next chapter.
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