“Your uncle,” madame Wang explained, “is gone to observe this day as a fast day, but you’ll see him by and bye. There’s, however, one thing I want to talk to you about. Your three female cousins are all, it is true, everything that is nice; and you will, when later on you come together for study, or to learn how to do needlework, or whenever, at any time, you romp and laugh together, find them all most obliging; but there’s one thing that causes me very much concern. I have here one, who is the very root of retribution, the incarnation of all mischief, one who is a ne’er-do-well, a prince of malignant spirits in this family. He is gone to-day to pay his vows in the temple, and is not back yet, but you will see him in the evening, when you will readily be able to judge for yourself. One thing you must do, and that is, from this time forth, not to pay any notice to him. All these cousins of yours don’t venture to bring any taint upon themselves by provoking him.”

Tai-yü had in days gone by heard her mother explain that she had a nephew, born into the world, holding a piece of jade in his mouth, who was perverse beyond measure, who took no pleasure in his books, and whose sole great delight was to play the giddy dog in the inner apartments; that her maternal grandmother, on the other hand, loved him so fondly that no one ever presumed to call him to account, so that when, in this instance, she heard madame Wang’s advice, she at once felt certain that it must be this very cousin.

“Isn’t it to the cousin born with jade in his mouth, that you are alluding to, aunt?” she inquired as she returned her smile. “When I was at home, I remember my mother telling me more than once of this very cousin, who (she said) was a year older than I, and whose infant name was Pao-yü. She added that his disposition was really wayward, but that he treats all his cousins with the utmost consideration. Besides,

now that I have come here,

I shall, of course, be always together with my female cousins,

while the boys will have their own court, and separate quarters;

and how ever will there be any cause of bringing any slur upon myself by provoking him?”

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