Chiufu (translated) By Lin Yutang
Chiufu often said to me, “A man’s life lasts only a hundred years, and of this hundred sleep and dream occupy one half, days of illness and sorrow occupy one half, and the days of swaddling clothes and senile age again occupy one half. What we have got left is only a tenth or fifth part. Besides, we who are made of the stuff of willows can hardly expect to live a hundred years.”
One day when the autumn moon was at its best, Chiufu asked a young maid to carry a chin and accompany her to a boating trip among the lotus flowers of the West Lake. I was then returning from the West River, and when I arrived and found that Chiufu had gone boating, I bought some melons and went after her. We meet at the Second Bridge of the Su Tungpo Embankment, when Chiufu was playing the sad ditty of “Autumn in Han Palace.” Stopping to listen with my gown gathered in my hands, I listened to her music. At this moment, the hills all around were enveloped in the evening haze, and the reflections of the stars and the moon were seen in the water. Different musical sounds came to my ear so that I could not distinguish whether it was the sounds of the wind in the air, or the sounds of jingling jade. Before the song was completed, the bow of our boat had already touched the southern bank of the Garden of Swirling Waters. We then knocked at the gate of the White Cloud Convent, for we knew the nuns there. After sitting down for a while, the nuns served us with freshly picked lotus seeds prepared in soup. Their color and their fragrance were enough to cool one’s intestines, a world different from the taste of meats and oily foods. Coming back, we landed at Tuan’s Bridge, where we spread a bamboo matting on the ground and sat talking for a long time. The distant rumble of the city rather annoyed our ears like the humming of flies…. Then the stars in the sky became fewer and fewer and the lake was blanketed with a stretch of white. We heard the drum on top of the city wall and realized that it was already the fourth watch [about 3 A.M.] and carried the chin and paddled the boat home.
The banana trees that Chiufu planted had already grown big leaves which cast their green shade against the screen. I had heard raindrops dwelling upon the leaves in autumn when lying inclined on a pillow was enough to break one&aposs heart. So one day I playfully wrote three lines on one of the leaves:
What busybody planted this sapling?
Next day, I saw another three lines following them, which read:
It’s you who’re lonesome, fretting!
The characters were delicately formed, and they came from Ch’iufu’s playful pen. But I have learnt something from what she wrote.
One night we heard the noise of wind and rain, and the pillows and matting revealed the cooler spirit of autumn. Chiufu was just undressing for the night, and I was sitting by her side and had just gone through an album of hundred flowers with inscriptions that I was making. I heard the noise of several yellow leaves falling upon the floor from the window, and Chiufu sang the lines:
Yesterday was better than today;
And this year I’m older then the last.
I made a dress with a plum-flower design for Chiufu, with fragrant snow all over her body, and at a distance she looked like a Plum Fairy standing alone in a world of mortal beings. In late spring, when her green sleeves were resting on the balcony, butterflies would flit about her temples, not knowing that the season of the Eastern Wind was already gone.
Last year, the swallows came back later than usual, and when they came, half of the peach blossoms outside the screen had already bloomed. One day, the clay from their nest fell down and a young swallow fell to the ground. Afraid that a wild cat might get it, Chiufu immediately took it up, and made a bamboo support for its nest. This year the same swallows have returned and are chirping around the house. Do they perhaps remember the one who protected the young one last year?
Chiufu loves to play chess but is not very good at it. Every night, she would force me to play”the conversation of fingers” with her, sometimes till daybreak. I playfully quoted the lines of Chu Chuchen:”At tossing coins and matching grass-blades you have both lost. I ask you with what are you going to pay me tonight?””Are you so sure I cannot win?” she said, evading the question.”I will bet you this jade tiger.” We then played and when twenty or thirty stones had been laid, and she was getting into a worse situation, she let the cat upon the chessboard to upset the game.”Are you regarding yourself as Yang Kueifei [who played the same trick upon Emperor Tang Minghuang]?” I asked. She kept quiet, but the light of silver candles shone upon her peach-colored cheeks. After that, we did not play any more.
There are several cassia trees at the Hupao Spring, stretching low over some rocks. During blossom, its yellow flowers cover up the stone steps, its perfume making one feel like visiting the Kingdom of Divine Fragrance. I have a weakness for flowers and often boiled tea under them. Chiufu plucked the flowers and decorated her hair with them, but sometimes her hair would be caught or upset by the overhanging branches. I arranged it and smoothed it with the spring water. On our departure, we plucked a few twigs and brought them home, putting them on the back of our cart as we went through the city streets, that people might know the latest news of the new autumn.
秋芙 （节选自《秋灯琐忆》） 蒋坦