SOME INCIDENTS OF THE COURT
MY first day with Her Majesty was very trying as I did not know just what she wanted or how she wanted things done, and no one seemed willing to tell me; but by watching very closely I was soon able to grasp the situation. After I had finished putting the things in the boxes I did not know whether to take them back to the jewel room or not, or whether to wait until Her Majesty ordered me, and again I was in a quandary. I saw she was talking to my mother, so I waited a little time and finally made up my mind I would risk it and take them back, which I did. As I was returning I met Her Majesty in the big courtyard. She had just changed her gown again and looked much shorter as she had also changed her shoes for ones with lower heels. This gown was made of heavy sky-blue crepe with no embroidery at all, just trimmed with pale pink ribbons, and she looked very nice in it. When Her Majesty saw me, she asked me: "Where have you been?" I told her that I had just been putting her jewels away. Then she said: "Has anyone told you to put them away as soon as I am finished with them? I forgot to tell you this morning, although I had meant to." I said that no one had told me anything, that I was afraid to have the eunuchs taking such valuable things here and there, that I was sure that she did not want to use them any more, so I thought it would be safer to put them away in the jewel room again. Her Majesty looked at me and said: "I can see that these girls don't tell you anything and I am very glad to see that you have done just the right thing. That is why I thought someone must have told you what to do. Anything you want to know you can ask me, but don't talk to these mean people here." I could see from this that there must be some jealousy among them and decided that I was well able to find my own way, as I knew Her Majesty liked me and would help me out.
Her Majesty walked along a little way, then laughed and said to me: "Don't I look more comfortable now? I am going for a long walk and take lunch on the top of the hill. There is a nice place up there and I am sure you will like it. Come, let us go."
The Emperor had gone back to his own Palace, and the head eunuch had also disappeared. As we were walking along, Her Majesty was talking and smiling as if she had never a care or trouble in the world, or any important questions of state to settle. I thought from what I had seen so far that she had a very sweet disposition. She looked back and said: "Just see how many people are following us." I turned and saw the same crowd that had accompanied Her Majesty earlier in the day to the Audience Hall.
After passing out of the large courtyard on the West side, we came to a large, long veranda running in a zig-zag fashion along the front of the lake, and it was so long that I could not see the end of it. It was very prettily made of solid carved work from one end to the other. Electric lights were hanging from the ceiling at intervals, and when they were lighted at night, made a beautiful sight.
Her Majesty was a very fast walker and we had to step lively to keep up with her. The eunuchs and the servant girls walked on the right side and only one of the eunuchs was allowed to walk behind us, and he was the one who carried Her Majesty's yellow satin stool, which, like her dog, went everywhere she did. This stool she used to rest on when taking a walk. We walked for quite a long while and I began to feel tired, but Her Majesty, as old as she was, was still walking very fast and did not appear to be the least bit tired. She asked me if I liked the Palace and whether I would be satisfied to live with her, etc. I told her that it was a great pleasure for me to serve her, that it had been my dream for years, and now that my dream had come true, I could not help but be satisfied.
We finally arrived at the place where the marble boat was kept, and I was about finished. I never saw such vitality in an old woman in my life as Her Majesty had, and it was no wonder that she had ruled this vast Empire of China so successfully for so many years.
This boat was magnificent, being one mass of carved work, but the inside was all spoiled. Her Majesty showed us all over the boat, and whilst we were looking at the ruin, she said: "Look at those colored glasses in the windows and these beautiful paintings. They were all spoiled by the foreign troops in 1900. I don't intend to have it repaired as I don't want to forget the lesson I have learned and this is a good reminder." After we had been standing there a few minutes, a eunuch who had been carrying the famous satin stool, came forward, and Her Majesty sat down to rest. While we were talking I noticed two large and very fancy-looking boats approaching us, with several smaller ones coming along behind. As they came nearer I saw that they were also very beautifully made, and looked like floating pagodas of beautifully carved natural wood. The windows of the pagodas were hung with red gauze curtains and all was trimmed with silk. Her Majesty said: "There are the boats. We must go over to the west side of the lake and have luncheon." Her Majesty got up and walked to the edge of the lake, two eunuchs supporting her, one at each side. She stepped into the boat and we all followed her example. The inside of the boat was very nicely furnished with carved ebony furniture with blue satin cushions, one with many pots of flowers on both sides of the window. There were two more cabins behind this sitting room. Her Majesty told me to go in to see those two rooms. One little room was a dressing room full of toilet articles. The other one had two couches and several small chairs for Her Majesty to rest whenever she felt tired. Her Majesty sat on her throne and ordered us to sit on the floor. The eunuchs brought in red satin cushions for us to sit upon. To sit on the floor is all right for Chinese clothes, but of course it was out of the question with Paris gowns, and I felt very uncomfortable, but did not like to say so. I wanted to change into Manchu clothes, for I knew they were comfortable and easy to work in, but having received no order from Her Majesty, I did not dare to suggest it. Her Majesty noticed how very uncomfortable we looked sitting on the floor. She said: "You can stand up if you want to and just watch those boats following us." I put my head out of the window and noticed the Young Empress and several other Court ladies were in the other boat. They waved to me, and I waved back. Her Majesty laughed and said to me: "I give you this apple to throw to them." While saying this she took one from the big plates that stood upon the center table. I tried very hard, but the apple did not reach the other boat, but went to the bottom of the lake. Her Majesty laughed and told me to try again, but I failed. Finally, she took one and threw it herself. It went straight to the other boat and hit one of the ladies' head. We all laughed quite heartily. Then I began to enjoy myself. There were several open boats full of eunuchs, and another one of servant girls, amahs and the rest with Her Majesty's luncheon. The lake was beautiful and looked so green in the sun. I told Her Majesty that this color reminded me of the sea. She said: "You have travelled so much, and yet you have not had enough, but are still thinking of the sea. You must not go abroad any more, but stay with me. I want you to enjoy this sailing on this lake instead of the rough sea." I promised her that I would be only too happy to stay with her. I must say the truth, I did enjoy the lovely scenery, the beautiful weather, superb sunshine, with Her Majesty so kind to me and talking to me in such a motherly way made me love her more and more every minute I was there. I was so extremely happy there that even Paris pleasures had gone out of my memory entirely.
At last we arrived at another part of the lake. This was more of a stream, very narrow, just wide enough for one boat to pass. On both sides of the bank were planted drooping willow trees that reminded me of the Chinese Fairy tales I have read. This time I saw the servant girls, amahs, and also eunuchs carrying boxes, walking on both sides of the shore. Only two boats were going then, the Young Empress' and ours. Her Majesty said: "We will arrive at the bottom of the hill in a few minutes." When we came near the shore I saw her yellow chair and several red chairs waiting. We landed and walked to the chairs. I watched Her Majesty get into hers and noticed this was not the same chair she used this morning. This little one was, of course, of yellow, with yellow poles, and two eunuchs carried it, with yellow rope across their shoulders, and four eunuchs supported the poles, one on each corner of the chair. They were just going to raise her chair up when she said: "Yu tai tai (Lady Yu) I give you and your daughters special favor and give you a red chair with red cord that I have given to only a few people." The Young Empress looked at us, which I understood at once was meant for us to kowtow to her, which we did, and waited until the Empress got into hers. Then we went to search for ours. To my surprise our own eunuchs were standing waiting beside our chairs. On the poles I noticed that my name was written and I asked our eunuch the reason. He said that Her Majesty gave the order the night before. It was a lovely ride going to the top of the hill. I saw Her Majesty's chair in front, and the Young Empress'. They looked to me quite dangerous in ascending that way, and the men at the back of the chair had to raise the poles above their heads so as to make the chair the same level in ascending. I was quite nervous and was very much afraid that they might fall off and injure me. Our eunuchs were walking beside our chairs. I said to one of them that I was afraid the chair bearers might slip. He told me to look back of my chair, which I did, and to my surprise they had the poles raised up also above their heads, and I did not feel it at all. He told me that these chair bearers practice for such purposes and that there was no danger at all. It made my heart stop beating looking back and seeing the other Court ladies in their chairs way below mine, the eunuchs and servant girls walking, for fear I might fall off at any time. At last we arrived at the top of the hill. We helped Her Majesty to alight and followed her into the most lovely building I ever saw, the best one in the Summer Palace to my idea (name of this pavilion, Ching Fo Ker). This Palace had only two rooms, with windows on every side. One could see everywhere. Her Majesty used one large one to take her luncheon in and the other as a toilet room. I noticed that wherever we went we found Her Majesty's toilet room. Her Majesty took us around the compound and showed us the lovely flowers planted everywhere. One of the young eunuchs told me that Her Majesty's dainties were ready. That was my first day of real work. I went out and found two large yellow boxes of different kinds of candies and fruits, as I have before mentioned. I carried two plates at a time, and finished in nine times, placing them on a square table near her. She was talking to my mother then about flowers. I noticed that although she was talking, she was watching me at the same time. I placed the plates upon the table very carefully, and already having noticed the day before what were her favorite dishes, and placed these near her. She smiled at me and said: "You have done it very nicely. And how do you know that these are my favorites and have placed them near me? Who told you?" I replied that no one had told me anything and that I had noticed the day before what Lao Tsu Tsung liked (according to the Manchu custom one must address a superior or one's parents in the third person). Her Majesty said: "I can see you use your heart in everything (in China people say heart instead of head) and are not like the crowd I have here; they haven't the brains of a bird." She was soon busy eating, and gave me some candies, and told me to eat right there in her presence. Of course I never forgot to thank her, for I thought I had rather thank her too much than too little. She told me: "Whenever I give you small things you need not kowtow. Just say: `Hsieh Lao Tsu Tsung Shang' (Thank the old ancestor), that is enough." After a little while she finished eating, and told me to take the dishes away. She said: "To-day is your day, so these things are yours. Take them out and sit down on the veranda and enjoy yourself. You see I could not eat all. There are lots of things left. If you like you can tell your own eunuch to send them to your room." I placed the little dishes back in the boxes and took them to the veranda. There I placed them upon the table and told the Young Empress to eat some. I did not know whether it was right to offer them to her or not and thought I could not do her any harm, even if I tried. She said all right, that she would eat some. I took a piece of candy and had just put it into my mouth when I heard Her Majesty calling my name. I hurried in and found her sitting at her table ready to take her lunch. She said: "What else did Mdme. Plancon say yesterday? Was she really pleased? Do you think they, the foreigners, really like me? I don't think so; on the contrary I know they haven't forgotten the Boxer Rising in Kwang Hsu's 26th year. I don't mind owning up that I like our old ways the best, and I don't see any reason why we should adopt the foreign style. Did any of the foreign ladies ever tell you that I am a fierce-looking old woman?" I was very much surprised that she should call me in and ask me such questions during her meal. She looked quite serious and it seemed to me she was quite annoyed. I assured her that no one ever said anything about Her Majesty but nice things. The foreigners told me how nice she was, and how graceful, etc. This seemed to please her, and she smiled and said: "Of course they have to tell you that, just to make you feel happy by saying that your sovereign is perfect, but I know better. I can't worry too much, but I hate to see China in such a poor condition. Although the people around me seem to comfort me by telling that almost every nation feels very friendly towards China, I don't think that is true. I hope we will be strong some day." While she was saying this I noticed her worried expression. I did not know what to say, but tried to comfort her by saying that that time will come, and we are all looking forward to it. I wanted to advise her on some points, but seeing that she was angry, I thought I had better not make any suggestions that day, but wait until I had another opportunity. I felt sorry for her, and would have given anything in the world to help her by telling what the general opinion of her was so as to let her know the truth, which no one dared to tell her. Something told me to be silent. I kept thinking all the time she was talking to me, and finally made up my mind that the time was not yet ripe for me to make any suggestion. I had grown to love her very much, so I wanted to take care not to offend her; that would probably finish my ambition. I wanted to study her first thoroughly and then try to influence her to reform China.
I stood all the time while she was eating. She got up from the table and handed me her napkin (this napkin was made of a piece of silk a yard square, woven in many colors). One corner was turned in, and a golden butterfly was fastened to it. It had a hook at the back of this butterfly so as to hook on her collar. She said: "I am sure you must be hungry. Go and tell the Young Empress and the rest of the people to come and eat. You can eat anything you want from these tables, so eat all you can." I was very, very hungry. Just imagine, I had been up since 5:00 o'clock and had only a light breakfast, and had walked a great deal. It was almost noon when Her Majesty sat down at her table. She ate so slowly, too. While I stood there talking to her I thought she would never finish. She ate a good meal. The Young Empress stood at the head of the table, and we all stood on either side. We did not like to be forward, so we stood at the other end of the table. The food was very much the same as the first day we were there. Her Majesty came out from the inner room, had just finished washing her face and hands, and had changed into another gown. This one was simple, but very pretty. It was woven with pink and gray raw silks, which gave it a changeable light whenever she moved. She came out and said: "I want to see you people eat; why is it that you are standing at the end of the table, the best dishes are not there? All of you come over here and eat near the Young Empress." So we moved from our end of the table to the other. Her Majesty stood near me, and pointed to a smoked fish and wanted me to try it, as it was her favorite, and said: "Make yourselves at home. You know you have to fight your own battles here with this crowd. Of course you can come and tell me if anyone does not treat you fair." Her Majesty then went out, saying that she would walk a bit. I noticed that some of the court ladies did not look pleased, seeing that Her Majesty paid so much attention to us. I could see they were a little jealous of me, but that did not worry me in the least.
After we got through our luncheon, I followed the Young Empress, for it was all so new to me, and I did not know what I must do -- whether to join Her Majesty or not. After seeing that they were jealous of me, I paid strict attention to everything, so as not to make any mistake in doing my work and let them have the satisfaction of laughing at me. I would not give them the chance. I heard Her Majesty talking to the eunuchs who looked after the garden, about some branches which ought to be cut down, saying they were lazy. So we went to her. She said to us: "You see I have to look after everything myself, if not, my flowers would be ruined. I can't depend on them at all. I wonder what they are good for. They ought to look around every day and cut down the dead branches and leaves. They have not been punished for several days and they are looking forward to it." She laughed and said: "I will not disappoint them, but give them all they wish to have." I thought these people must be idiots, looking forward to a whipping, and wondered who would whip them. Her Majesty turned to me and said: "Have you ever witnessed such an operation?" I told her that I had, having seen the convicts being whipped at a Magistrate's Yamen when I was a little girl living at Shansi (on the Yangtsze). She said: "That is nothing. The convicts are not half so wicked as these eunuchs. Of course they deserve a heavier punishment when they are bad." Her Majesty said that I should learn to play dice with her, as she never had enough people to play with, so we went back to the same room where she had taken her lunch. A square table was in the middle of this large room and a little throne of Her Majesty's, facing south (her favorite direction). Her Majesty sat on her throne and said to me: "I will show you how to play this game. Do you think you know enough Chinese to read this map?" I noticed a large map, the same size as the table, and laid upon it, drawn in different colors. In the center of the map was written the direction of the game. It said: "This game is called the `Eight Fairies Travel across the Sea.' The names are Lu Hsien, Chang Hsien, Li Hsien, Lan Hsien, Hang Hsien, Tsao Hsien and Hain Hsien. These seven were masculine fairies. Hor Hsien was the only lady fairy." This map was the map of the Chinese Empire, and the names of the different provinces were written on the drawing. There were eight pieces of round ivory, about one inch and a half in diameter and a quarter of an inch thick. The names of these fairies were engraved upon them. This game could be played either by eight people or four people, when each person had to take two fairies' places, instead of one. A porcelain bowl was placed in the center of the map, to compare the point by throwing six dice into the bowl. For instance, four people play. One throws these six dice into the bowl and counts the points on them. The highest that one could get was 36, and should 36 be thrown the fairy should go to Hangehow to enjoy the beautiful scenery. This person threw dice for Lu Hsien and had 36 points and placed this ivory piece of Lu Hsien on Hangehow upon the map. The same person has to throw another time for another fairy, so each person throws twice if four people play the game, and once if played by eight. These different points count different provinces. They are counted thus: -- Six dice alike. One pair in six dice, to three pairs. The lowest was the double 1, 2, 3. If any unfortunate fairy got this he should go on exile and be left out altogether. Any one of the fairies that travelled round the map to reach the Imperial Palace, the first, was the winner.
I read this to Her Majesty. She seemed to be quite pleased, and said: "I had no idea that you could read so well. This game was my own invention and I taught three Court ladies to play. I had a very hard time teaching them. I also taught them how to read Chinese in order to play the game, but it took them so long to learn anything that I got quite discouraged before I got through with them. I am sure you know how to play it now." I was very much surprised to hear that these Court ladies were as ignorant as this. I thought they must be excellent scholars, so did not dare to show my knowledge of Chinese literature. We began to play the game. Her Majesty was lucky. The two fairies held by her were way ahead of ours. One of the Court ladies said to me: "You will be surprised to see that Lao Tsu Tsung is always the winner." Her Majesty smiled and said to me: "You will never be able to catch my fairies." She said: "You are the first day here to play this game and if any of your fairies beat any of mine I will give you a nice present, so hurry up." I thought I could never get ahead of her fairies, for they were so far ahead of mine, but I tried hard, as Her Majesty told me to call out for the points I wanted. I did, but it came out something so different that it amused her a great deal. I had no idea how long we were playing this game. We counted who came next, and that was one of my fairies, so Her Majesty said to me: "I was sure you could not beat me, as no one could. Seeing that yours are next to mine, I will give you the present just the same." While she was saying this she told a servant girl to bring her some embroidered handkerchiefs. This girl brought several colored ones to her, and she asked me what color I preferred. She handed me a pink one and a pale blue one, all embroidered with purple wisteria, and said: "These two are the best, and I want you to take them." I was just going to thank her by bowing to the ground, but I found that my legs could not move. I tried hard and succeeded finally, with difficulty. Her Majesty laughed very heartily at me and said: "You see you are not accustomed to standing so long and you cannot bend your knees any more." Although my legs were sore I thought I had better not show it, but smiled and told her that it was nothing, only my legs were a little stiff, that was all. She said: "You must go and sit on the veranda and rest a minute." I was only too glad to sit down, so I went to the veranda and found the Young Empress sitting there with several Court ladies. The Young Empress said: "You must be tired standing so long. Come and sit near me." My legs were very stiff and my back was tired. Of course Her Majesty did not know how uncomfortable we were while she was sitting on her cozy throne. Foreign attire is out of the question for the Imperial Palace of Peking. I had hoped that Her Majesty would tell us to change into our Manchu gowns. I noticed that she asked many questions every day about foreign costumes, and she said: "The foreign costume is not any prettier than ours and I should say they must be quite uncomfortable round one's waist. I wouldn't be squeezed that way for anything." Although she was saying such things she did not suggest that we should give them up, so we had to wait patiently for her orders. The Young Empress took her watch out of her pocket, and said to me: "This game has lasted just two hours." I said to her that it seemed to me longer than that. While we were talking I saw our own eunuchs bringing four round boxes, made of thin board, carried at each end of bamboo poles. They put them down near where we sat, and one of them brought me a cup of tea. When my mother and sister came the same eunuch brought another two cups, and there were several Court ladies talking with us. This eunuch did not give them any. I noticed at the other end of this long veranda there were another two boxes, exactly the same as these, and a big tall eunuch made tea and brought it to the Young Empress in a yellow porcelain cup, with a silver saucer and a silver top cover. He did not give any to the others.
I was puzzled when one of the Court ladies sitting next to me said: "Would you mind telling Wang (our head eunuch) to give me a cup of your tea, just to save me the trouble to go and get it from the small room at the end of this long veranda?" I gave her such a surprised look, for I did not know that this was our tea, but I thought I'd just tell Wang to bring her a cup, and find out afterwards the reason, for I would give anything in the world rather than appear ignorant before those people. While we were talking Her Majesty came out. Before she reached the veranda I got up and told the Young Empress that Her Majesty was coming. I saw her first because I sat facing her back hall. Her Majesty said to us all: "It is almost three o'clock now, and I am going to rest a while. Let us leave here." We all stood in a line for her to enter her chair, and then we went to ours. It was quite a fast ride and we got out of our chairs before arriving at the courtyard of her own Palace. We walked ahead of her chair and formed into another line for her to alight. She walked to her bedroom and we all followed. A eunuch brought her a cup of hot water and another brought a bowl of sugar. She took her golden spoon and took two teaspoonfuls of sugar and put it into her cup of hot water, and drank it very slowly. She said: "You know before one goes to sleep or ever lies down, sugar water will quiet one's nerves. I always take it, and find it very good indeed." She took the flowers off from her headdress and I fixed them back in their boxes at once, and placed them in the jewel-room. When I came out of this jewel-room she was in bed already, and said to us: "You all go and rest a while. I don't need you now."