THE COURT LADIES
WE retired from her room, but I noticed that two of the Court ladies did not come out with us. One of them said to me: "I am glad that I can rest a bit to-day, for I have been sitting three afternoons in succession." At first I did not know what she meant. Then she said: "Oh, your turn has not come yet. We don't know whether you received the order or not. You know two of us must stay with Her Majesty during her afternoon siesta, to watch the eunuchs and the servant girls." I thought that was the funniest thing I had ever heard of, and wondered how many people would be in her room. The Young Empress said: "We had better go at once and rest ourselves, otherwise Her Majesty will be up again before we get the chance." Of course I had not the least idea how long she slept. So we went back to our rooms. I did not realize how tired I was until I sat down in my room. I felt finished and awfully sleepy at the same time, for I was not used to getting up at 5 o'clock. Everything was so new to me. As I sat there my thoughts wandered to Paris, and I thought how strange it was that I used to go to bed at 5 o'clock after the dances, and here I had to get up at such a time. All the surroundings seemed new to me, seeing the eunuchs running here and there waiting on us, as if they were chambermaids. I told them that I didn't need them any more. I wanted them to go out of the room so that I could lie down a bit. They brought us tea and different kinds of candies, and asked what else was wanted. I was just going to change into a comfortable dress, when the eunuch came in and informed me that "Yo ker lila" (visitors have come), and two Court ladies came, and another girl of about seventeen came in. I had seen her that very morning when I came to the Palace, busy working, but I was not introduced to her. These two girls said: "We have come to see you and also to find out if you are comfortable." I thought they were kind to come and see me that way, but I did not like their faces. They introduced this mean-looking girl to me and told me her name was Chun Shou (Graceful Long Life). She did not look as if her life would last long, being so thin and delicate. She looked sick and worn out to me. I did not know who she was. She courtesied to me and I returned to her, in a sort of half way. (I will explain about the courtesy.)
(To Her Majesty, the Emperor and the Young Empress, we went down and bent our knees, while we stood upright to the people of lower rank than ourselves. In this case one must always wait while the inferior courtesies first, and bend the knees a little bit in return. This was the way I returned Chun Shou's courtesy to me.) The two girls then said "Chun Shou's father is only a small official, so she has not much standing at the Court. She is not exactly a Court lady, but she is not a servant girl either." I almost laughed right out, to hear such a funny statement, and wondered what she must be. I saw her sitting down with the Court ladies that very morning, so of course I asked her to sit down, too. These two Court ladies asked me if I felt tired, and how I liked the Empress Dowager. I told them that Her Majesty was the most lovely lady I had ever seen, and that I already loved her very much, although I had only been there a few days. They looked at Chun Shou and exchanged smiles. They did that in such a peculiar way that it annoyed me. They asked: "Do you think you would like to live in this place, and how long do you intend to stay?" I said I would love to stay long, and would do my best to wait on Her Majesty, and be useful to her, for she had been so kind towards us in the short time we had been there, and besides, it was my duty to serve my sovereign and country. They laughed and said: "We pity you, and are sorry for you. You must not expect any appreciation here, no matter how hard you work. If you are really going to do as you have said just now, you will be disliked by everybody."
I did not know what they were talking about, or what their conversation referred to. I thought this was so strange that I had better put a stop to it, so I immediately changed the subject. I asked them who dressed their hair, and who made their shoes for them, as they had asked me. They answered my questions by saying that their maids did everything for them. Chun Shou said to these two girls: "Tell her everything about this Palace, and I am sure she will change her mind when she actually sees things for herself." I didn't like this Chun Shou, and her face didn't impress me. She was a little bit of a thing, tiny head with thin lips. When she laughed one could only hear the noise she made; no expression was on her face at all. I was just going to say something to them, so as not to give them the opportunity of gossiping, but found they were too cunning. They noticed that I tried every way to stop them, so they said: "Now let us tell you everything. No one else will know. We like you very much and we want to give you some warning, so as to be able to protect yourself whenever you are in trouble." I told them that I would take great care to do my work and didn't think that I would ever get into trouble. They laughed and said: "That makes no difference. Her Majesty will find fault." I could not believe these things that they said, and intended to tell them that I refused to hear such statements, but I thought I had better listen to what they had to say first and not to offend them, for I never believed in making enemies. I then told them that it would be impossible for so sweet and kind-hearted a person like Lao Tsu Tsung (the old ancestor) to find fault with such helpless girls as we were, for we were her people, and she could do anything she liked with us. They said: "You don't know, and have no idea how wicked this place is; such torture and suffering one could not imagine. We are sure that you think you must be happy to be with the great Empress Dowager, and proud to be her Court Lady. Your day hasn't come yet, for you all are new to her. Yes, she is extremely kind to you just now, but wait until she gets tired of you and then see what she will do. We have had enough, and know what the Court life is. Of course you must have heard that Li Lien Ying (the head eunuch) rules this Palace behind Lao Tsu Tsung's back. We are all afraid of him. He pretends that he cannot influence Lao Tsu Tsung, but we always know the result after a long conversation consulting how to punish anyone. If any of us do anything wrong, we always go to him and beg him to help us out. Then he says he has no power to influence Her Majesty, and also that he dare not tell her much, for she would scold him. We hate all the eunuchs, they are such bad people. We can see very plainly they are awfully polite to you because they can see that you are in favor. To receive such rudeness from them, constantly, as we do, is unbearable.
"Lao Tsu Tsung is very changeable. She may like one person to-day, to-morrow she hates this same person worse than poison. She has moods, and has no appreciation whatsoever. Even Chu Tzu, the Young Empress (Chu Tzu means Mistress, that is to say she was mistress of us all, for the Manchus were considered by the sovereign as slaves) is afraid of Li Lien Ying, and has to be very nice to him. In fact, we all have to be polite to him." They talked so long that I thought they would never finish. About this time Wang came in and brought tea for us. Suddenly I heard people howling in the distance, so I asked Wang what was the matter. The girls were listening also and a eunuch came flying in and told us Lao Fo Yeh chin la (The Great Buddha wakes up). The girls got up and said we must all go to see her, so they went. I was not at all pleased with their visit, and wished they hadn't come, especially as they told me such horrible things. It made me quite sad to listen to the awful way they talked about Her Majesty. I loved her the first day I was there, and made up my mind to forget everything they had told me.
I was cross also because I didn't have time to change my clothes, and had to go up to Her Majesty at once. I went into her bedroom, and found her sitting upon the bed cross-legged, with a small table placed on the bed in front of her. She smiled and asked: "Have you had a good rest? Did you sleep at all?" I said that I was not sleepy, and could not sleep in the daytime. She said: "When you are old like me, you will be able to sleep at any time. Just now you are young, and fond of play. I think you must have been on the hills to gather flowers, or walked too much, for you look tired." I could only say "Yes." The two Court ladies who had just been talking nonsense about Her Majesty came in, to assist in handing her the toilet articles. I looked at them, and felt ashamed for them to face her, after having said so many disagreeable things. Her Majesty washed her face and combed her hair, and a servant girl brought her fresh flowers, of white jasmine and roses. Her Majesty stuck them in her hair and said to me: "I am always fond of fresh flowers -- better than jade and pearls. I love to see the little plants grow, and I water them myself. I have been so busy ever since you came that I haven't been able to visit my plants. Tell them to get the dinner ready and I will take a walk afterwards." I came out of her room and gave the eunuch the order. As usual we brought little dainties to her. By this time Her Majesty was dressed and was sitting in the large hall, playing solitaire with her dominoes. The eunuch laid the tables as usual, and Her Majesty stopped play, and commenced to eat. She asked me: "How do you like this kind of life?" I told her that I very much enjoyed being with her. She said: "What kind of a place is this wonderful Paris I have heard so much about? Did you enjoy yourself while you were there, and do you wish to go back again? It must be hard for you people to leave China for three or four years, and I suppose you were all pleased when you received the order to come back, after your father's term was finished."
The only thing I could say was "Yes," because it wouldn't be nice to tell her that I was awfully sorry to leave Paris. She said: "I think we have everything in China, only the life is different. What is dancing? Someone told me that two people hold hands and jump all over the room. If that is the case I don't see any pleasure in it at all. Do you have to jump up and down with men? They told me that old women, with white hair, dance, too." I explained to her about the balls given by the President, and all the private dances, and also all about the masquerade balls, etc. Her Majesty said: "I don't like this masquerade ball because you don't know whom you are dancing with if they are wearing a mask." I explained to her how carefully the people issued their invitations, and that anyone who behaved badly could never enter into high society. Her Majesty said: "I would like to see how you jump, can you show me a little?" I went in search of my sister, and found her busy talking to the Young Empress. I told her that Her Majesty wished to see how people dance, and that we must show her. The Young Empress and all the Court ladies heard this, and all said that they also wished to see. My sister said that she had noticed a large gramophone in Her Majesty's bedroom, and that perhaps we could find some music. I thought that was a good idea, and went to ask her for the gramophone. She said: "Oh, must you jump with music?" I almost laughed when she said that, and told her it was much nicer with music, as otherwise one could not keep in time. She ordered the eunuchs to have the gramophone brought to the hall, and said: "You jump while I take my dinner." We looked over a lot of records, but they were all Chinese songs, but at last we found a waltz, so we started to dance. We could see that a lot of people were looking at us, who perhaps thought that we were crazy. When we had finished we found Her Majesty laughing at us. She said: "I could never do that. Are you not dizzy turning round and round? I suppose your legs must be very tired also. It is very pretty, and just like the girls used to do centuries ago in China. I know that it is difficult and one ought to have any amount of grace to do it, but I don't think it would look nice to see a man dancing with a girl like that. I object to the hand around the girl's waist; I like to see the girls dance together. It would never do for China for a girl to get too close to a man. I know the foreigners don't seem to think about that at all. It shows that they are broader minded than us. Is it true that the foreigners don't respect their parents at all-that they could beat their parents and drive them out of the house?" I told her that it was not so, and that someone had given her wrong ideas about foreigners. Then she said: "I know that perhaps sometimes one among the commonest class do that, and that people are apt to take it wrong, and conclude that all foreigners treat their parents that way. Now I see just the same thing done by the common people in China." I wondered who had told her such nonsense and made her believe it.
After we had taken our dinner it was just half-past five, and Her Majesty said she would take a walk along the long veranda, so we followed her. She showed me her flowers, and said that she had planted them herself. Whenever Her Majesty went anywhere there was always a lot of attendants following her, exactly the same as when she went to the morning audiences. When we reached the end of this long veranda, which took us a quarter of an hour to walk, Her Majesty ordered her stool to be brought into one of the summer houses. These summer houses were built of nothing but bamboo, all the furniture being made of different shaped bamboo. Her Majesty sat down, and one of the eunuchs brought tea and honeysuckle flowers. She ordered the eunuchs to give us tea also. Her Majesty said: "This is my simple way of enjoying life. I love to see the country scenery. There are a great many pretty places which I will show you and I am sure that after you have seen them you will not like foreign countries any more. There is no scenery in the world which can beat the Chinese. Some returned Ministers from abroad said to me that the trees and mountains in foreign countries looked ugly and savage. Is that true?" I concluded right away that someone had wished to please her by saying things about foreigners, so I told her that I had been in almost every country, and had found lovely scenery, but of course it was different from China. While we were talking Her Majesty said that she felt chilly and asked: "Are you cold? You see you have your own eunuchs, they are all standing around, and have nothing to do. Next time tell them to carry your wraps along with you. I think that foreign clothes must be quite uncomfortable either too warm or too cold. I don't see how you can eat, having your waist squeezed that way." Her Majesty got up and we all went on walking slowly towards her own Palace. She sat down on her favorite little throne in the hall and started to play solitaire. We came out on the veranda, and the Young Empress said to us: "You must be tired, for I know you are not used to doing such hard work all day long without stopping. You had better wear Manchu clothes, because they are comfortable and easy to work in. Look at your long train; you have to take it up in your hands while walking."
I told her that I would be only too pleased to change the clothes, but that not having received an order from Her Majesty I could not make any suggestions. The Young Empress said: "No, don't ask anything, and I am sure Her Majesty will tell you to change by and by. Just now she wishes to see your Paris gowns, because she wants to know how foreign ladies dress on different occasions. She thought that some of the ladies came to the Garden Party dressed in woolen clothes. We thought that foreign ladies were not so extravagant as we are until we met Mdme. Plancon the other day. Do you remember what Her Majesty said to you? `That Mdme. Plancon was so different from many ladies she had met, and also dressed differently.' " It was a chiffon dress, with hand paintings, which Mdme. Plancon wore, which pleased Her Majesty very much. While I was talking with the Young Empress all the electric lights turned up, so I went to Her Majesty to see if she needed anything. She said: "Let us play a game of dice before I go to bed." We began to play the same thing as we had done in the afternoon. Her Majesty won another game, this time it took only an hour to finish the game. Her Majesty said to me: "Why can't you win once?" I knew she wanted to tease, so I said that my luck was bad. She laughed and said: "To-morrow you try to put your stocking on wrong side out; that is a sure sign of winning." I told her that I would, and I knew that pleased her. During the short time I was there I kept studying her most of the while. I could see nothing would make her happier than for me to obey her orders. Her Majesty said that she felt tired, and that we must bring her milk. She said to me: "I want you to burn incense sticks and bow to the ground every night to the Buddha in the next room before I go to bed. I hope you are not a Christian, for if you are I can never feel as if you are mine at all. Do tell me that you are not." I did not expect that question at all, and I must say that it was a very difficult question to answer. For my own protection I had to say that I had nothing to do with the Christians. I felt guilty at having deceived her that way, but it was absolutely necessary, and there was no other way out of it. I knew that I had to answer her question at once, because it would never do for her to see any hesitation, which would arouse her suspicions. Although my face showed nothing, my heart stopped beating for a while. I felt ashamed to have fooled her. The earliest training I had was never to be ashamed to tell the truth. When Her Majesty heard me say that I was not a Christian, she smiled and said: "I admire you; although you have had so much to do with foreigners, yet you did not adopt their religion. On the contrary, you still keep to your own. Be strong and keep it as long as you live. You have no idea how glad I am now, for I suspected you must believe in the foreign God. Even if you don't want to, they can make you believe it. Now I am ready for bed."
We helped her to undress, and I, as usual, put away her jewels, and noticed she wore only one pair of jade bracelets to sleep. She changed into her bed clothes and lay down between the silk covers and said to us: "You can go now." We courtesied to her and withdrew from her bedroom. Out in the hall there was on the cold stone floor six eunuchs. They were the watchmen and must not sleep at all during the night. In her bedroom were two eunuchs, two servant girls, two old women servants and sometimes two Court ladies. These people also must not sleep. The two girls massaged her legs every night, and the two women were there to watch the girls, the two eunuchs to watch the two old women, and the two Court ladies to watch them all, in case they did any mischief. They all took turns, and that was the reason why sometimes two Court ladies must sit overnight when it happened that the eunuchs were not reliable. Her Majesty trusted the Court ladies the most. I was never more surprised in my life than when one of these six eunuchs told me in the hall, for I had asked what they were all doing there.
Later on one of the Court ladies said to me that it was customary for them to take turns to attend at Her Majesty's bedchamber in the morning to wake her up, and that I should take my turn the next morning and my sister the following morning. While saying this she smiled in a most peculiar way. I did not understand at the time, but found out later. I asked her what I should do to wake Her Majesty, and she said: "There is no particular way, you will have to use your own judgment; but be careful not to make her angry. It was my turn this morning. I knew that she was very tired, having had a very trying time the day before, so I had to make a little more noise than usual when waking her. She was very angry and scolded me dreadfully when she arose, as it was rather late. This very often happens when Her Majesty gets up late, as she always says that we do not make enough noise to wake her. However, I don't think she will do this to you, just now, as you are new here; but wait until you have been here a few months." What this Court lady said to me worried me quite considerably; but from what I had seen of Her Majesty so far, I could not believe that she would be angry with anyone who was doing her duty properly.