THE YOUNG EMPRESS
I THOUGHT of so many things while I was riding in my chair. It was a glorious day. I felt sorry for Her Majesty, for she was very quiet that day. Generally she was happy, and made everyone laugh with her. I thought about the branches of willow, too, but could not understand the meaning. I came out of the hall while Her Majesty was dining with the Emperor, and found the Young Empress sitting in a small room on the left side of the courtyard, with several Court ladies. When they saw me they made signs for me to go there. I found them all drinking tea, and the Young Empress said to me, "I am sure you must be tired and hungry. Come and sit near me and have a cup of tea." I thanked her and sat down beside her and we talked of what we saw on the roads and how we had enjoyed our long ride. She said: "We have still an hour's ride before we reach the Forbidden City." She also talked about the ceremony we had performed that morning and said that we must all pray earnestly for rain. I could not wait any longer, so I asked her what those branches of willow meant. She smiled and told me that willow could bring water, as the Buddhist religion believes, and that it was an old custom of the Court wearing willow leaves, when praying for rain. She also told me that we must perform the same ceremony every morning until the rain came.
We heard Her Majesty talking in the courtyard, and knew that she had finished her luncheon, so we went in with the Young Empress, and ate what was left, as usual. I found the food very nice indeed, although it seemed rather funny without having meat. We came out into the courtyard and saw that Her Majesty was walking up and down. She said to us: "My legs are so stiff, riding in the chair. I must walk a little before we leave here. Are you all tired?" We told her that we were not tired, so she ordered us to walk with her. It looked very funny to see us walking round and round, Her Majesty in front, and we following her. Her Majesty turned and smiled at us, and said: "We are just like horses taking their rounds at a stable." It reminded me of a circus. Li Lien Ying came and knelt down, and said that it was time for Her Majesty to depart, in order to reach the Forbidden City at the lucky hour she had selected, so we left Wan Shou Si. All the chairs went very fast, and after an hour's ride we came near the Palace Gate. We followed the Emperor's chair, taking a shorter route, and noticed the gate was wide open. His Majesty, the Emperor, and the Young Empress' chairs went in, but we had to alight and walk in. There were small chairs waiting for us. (As I explained before these little chairs were carried by eunuchs, with a rope across their shoulders.) We came to the courtyard of the Audience Hall where the Emperor and the Empress were waiting for us. As usual His Majesty knelt in front. Behind him was the Young Empress, and we knelt in a row behind her, waiting to welcome Her Majesty to her Palace. She went to her room where the eunuchs had placed everything in order long before her arrival. We held the ceremony that afternoon and evening. After Her Majesty had retired we came back to our rooms and found that everything was in order, our eunuchs had made up our beds already. It was very nice to have them, for we could not do our own work at all. I was so tired and my limbs were stiff. I immediately went to sleep and did not realize how long I had slept until I heard someone knocking at my window. I got up and pulled the blind away. I noticed that the sky looked dull and thought it was clouded. I felt happy, and thought it might rain, and so relieve Her Majesty. I got dressed in great haste, but much to my disappointment I saw the sunshine on the opposite windows.
The Palace in the Forbidden City was so old, and built in such a queer way. The courtyards were small, and the verandas very broad. All the rooms were dark. No electric light. We had to use candle light. One could not see the sky except by going into the courtyard and looking up. I found that I had risen before the sun was up, and I was not quite awake yet, and thought the sky was clouded. I went to Her Majesty's own Palace and found the Young Empress already there. She was always the first and always looked so tidy I often wondered how early she had to get up. She told me that I was not late, although Her Majesty was awake but not up yet. I went into her bedroom and made my usual morning courtesy to her. The first thing she asked me was about the weather. I had to tell her the truth -- that there was no sign of rain. Her Majesty got up, dressed, and had her breakfast as usual, and told us there would be no audience that morning. The Emperor went to the Temple, sacrificing, and there was nothing important to attend to. We prayed for three days in succession, but no rain came. I found that Her Majesty was truly discouraged, and ordered each of us to pray twenty times a day. We marked a spot with vermilion powder and a little water on big yellow sheets of paper each time we prayed.
On the sixth day of the fourth moon the sky was clouded. I ran to Her Majesty's bedroom that morning to tell her the news, but found that someone had told her already. She smiled, and said to me: "You are not the first one to give me the good news. I know everyone of you wanted to be the first to tell me. I feel very tired today, and wish to lie down a little longer. You can go, and I will send for you when I am ready to get up." When I went to search for the Young Empress I found all the Court ladies there also. They all asked me if I had noticed the rain. We came out of the waiting room and found that the courtyard was wet, and after a while it rained very fast. Her Majesty got up, and we prayed as usual. Fortunately the rain did not stop, but came pouring down all that day.
Her Majesty played solitaire with the dominoes, and I stood at the back of her chair watching her. I saw that the Young Empress and all the girls were standing on the veranda. Her Majesty saw them, too, and said to me: "Go and tell them to wait in the waiting room. Can't they see that the veranda is wet?" I went to them, but before I had the opportunity of telling them anything the Young Empress told me that the waiting room was wet, and that the water had gone in. As I said before, this building was very old, and there were no drains at all. Her Majesty's own Palace was high; it had twelve steps, while our waiting room, which was on the left side of her Palace, was built right on the ground, with no raised foundation at all. While I was talking on the veranda just for a few minutes, I got quite wet. Her Majesty knocked at her glass window and told us to go in. Now I must explain that none of us, not even the Young Empress could enter Her Majesty's Palace without her orders except we had work to do there, or were on duty. Her Majesty was very happy that day. She laughed and said that we looked as if we had just been pulled out of the lake. The Young Empress had on a pale blue gown, and the red tassel on her headdress was dripping red water all over her gown. She smiled and said to us: "Look at those girls; their gowns are all spoiled." While we were talking, Her Majesty gave us orders for us to change our clothes.
After they had gone, I went back to Her Majesty. She looked at me and said: "You are wet also, only your clothes do not show." I had on a cashmere dress which was made very plain. She touched my arm and said: "How wet you are. You had better change, and put on a thick dress. I think foreign clothes must be very uncomfortable; the waist is too small and it seems to me out of proportion to the rest of the body. I am sure that you will look much prettier in our Manchu gown. I want you to change and put your Parisian clothes away as souvenirs. I only wanted to know how foreign ladies dressed and now I have seen enough. The Dragon Boat Festival will be here next month and I will make some pretty gowns for you." I thanked her by kowtowing to the ground and told her that I would be only too pleased to change into Manchu clothes, but having lived so many years abroad, and having always worn foreign clothes, I had not had any made. We were planning to change into Manchu gowns before coming to the Court, but we had received orders that Lao Tsu Tsung wished to see us in foreign clothes. I was very glad when I received that order as there were several reasons why I wanted to wear Manchu gowns. First, the Court ladies at the beginning treated us as outsiders. Secondly, I knew that Her Majesty did not like them, and besides, we were very uncomfortable living at the Palace in Peking, and made up our minds that we must wear Manchu clothes, which were made for it. We had so much work to do, and having to stand most of the time one absolutely needed loose garments. Her Majesty ordered one of the eunuchs to bring one of her dresses for me to try on, so I went back to my own room, and took off my wet clothes and changed. I tried on her gown, but it was too loose for me. The length was quite all right and so were the sleeves. Her Majesty told one of the eunuch writers to write down my measurements in order to have a gown made for me, and said she was sure it would fit me. She did the same thing for my mother and sister, and ordered our gowns to be made at once. I knew she was pleased, as she told me what color would suit me the best. She said that I should always wear pink and pale blue, for they suited, and were her favorite colors, too. She also talked about our headdress, and ordered some made the same as worn by the other Court ladies. She said to me: "I know you can wear my shoes, for I tried yours on the first day you came, don't you remember? I must select a lucky day for you to become a Manchu once more," she said this with a smile, "and no more foreign clothes after that." She took her special book for lucky days and hours, and studied it a little while, then she said the eighteenth of that month was the best. Li Lien Ying, the head eunuch knew how to please Her Majesty, and said he would give orders to have everything ready for us at that time. Her Majesty told us the way we must have our hair dressed, and what kind of flowers we should wear, in fact she was very happy arranging to make us into Manchus. A short while after she dismissed us for the day. It rained for three days without stopping. The last day the Emperor came back, and all ceremonies ceased. Her Majesty never liked to stay in the Forbidden City, and I was not a bit surprised, as I hated the place. We had to use candles to dress by, in the morning, as the rooms were in absolute darkness even in the middle of the afternoon. It rained so much that finally Her Majesty said she would return to the Summer Palace the next day, whether it was raining or not, and we were all very glad to go.
We returned to the Summer Palace on the seventh. It was a dull day, but no rain. We packed everything in just the same way we had done when we came, and stopped at Wan Shou Si and had our luncheon. That day we commenced to eat meat again. I noticed that Her Majesty enjoyed her meal very much. She asked me if I liked the food without meat, and I told her that everything was nicely done and that I enjoyed the food very much, although without meat. She told me that she could not eat that kind of food and enjoy it, and that if it were not necessary to make sacrifice she would not have abstained.
The first garden party of the year was given by the Empress Dowager to the ladies of the Diplomatic Corps, in the fourth moon. This year Her Majesty desired to deviate a little from previous custom, and issued orders that stalls should be arranged in the garden, on a similar principal to a bazaar, on which were to be displayed curios, embroidered work, flowers, etc., etc. These were to be given as presents to the guests. The guests were: Mrs. Conger, wife of the American Minister, Mrs. Williams, wife of Chinese Secretary of the American Legation, Madame and Mademoiselle de Carcer, wife and daughter of the Spanish Minister, Madame Uchida, wife of the Japanese Minister, and a few ladies of the Japanese Legation, Madame Almeida, wife of the Portuguese Charge d' Affaires, Madame Cannes, wife of the Secretary of the French Legation, the wives of several French Officers, Lady Susan Townley, wife of the First Secretary of the British Legation, two ladies from the German Legation, wives of German Officers, and wives of a few Customs Officials. On this occasion Her Majesty selected a most beautiful gown of peacock blue, embroidered all over with phoenix. The embroidery was raised and each phoenix had a string of pearls two inches long sewed into its mouth. Whenever Her Majesty stirred, these strings of tiny pearls moved forwards and backwards and it made a very pretty effect. Of course, she wore her jade phoenix on her hair as usual and shoes and handkerchief embroidered with the same pattern. My mother wore a lavender silk gown, trimmed with silver braid, her hat was of the same shade with plumes to match. My sister and myself wore pale blue Chinese silk gowns with insertion and medallions of Irish crochet and trimmed with tiny velvet bands. We wore blue hats with large pink roses. All the Court ladies dressed in their most picturesque gowns and it was a very pretty sight to see the procession walking to the Audience Hall.
Her Majesty was in her happiest mood that morning and said to us: "I wonder how I would look in foreign clothes; my waist is very small, but wearing this kind of loose gown it would not show. I don't think I would need to squeeze myself so tight, either, but I don't think there is anything in the world prettier than our Manchu gowns."
First the guests were received in audience by Their Majesties. They were accompanied by the Doyen, Baron Czikann, Minister for Austria, and an interpreter from each Legation. On entering the Audience Hall all the guests stood in line and the Doyen presented a short address to Their Majesties. This was translated to Prince Ching, who, in turn, communicated it to the Emperor. The Emperor made a suitable reply in Chinese which was translated by the Doyen's interpreter. Then the Doyen mounted the steps of the dais and shook hands with Their Majesties, the rest of the guests being presented in turn. I was standing at the right hand of the Empress Dowager and as each guest came forward, called out their names, and the Legation which they represented. Her Majesty had a few words for everyone, and when she saw a new face she would ask how long they had been in China; whether they liked it, etc., etc. All these conversations I interpreted for Her Majesty. As the guests finished paying their respects they passed along and remained standing in the Hall until everybody had been presented.
The interpreters, who did not take part in this ceremony but had remained standing in the Hall until it was over, were then conducted by Prince Ching to another part of the Palace, where refreshments were provided for them. After they had gone out Their Majesties descended from the dais and mixed with the guests.
The formal ceremony now being concluded, chairs were brought in and everybody made themselves comfortable. Tea was brought in by the eunuchs and after a few minutes' conversation, we all adjourned to the refreshment room, with the exception of the Empress Dowager, the Emperor, the Young Empress and the Secondary wife. In the absence of Her Majesty, the Imperial Princess (The Empress Dowager's adopted daughter) officiated as hostess, Mrs. Conger sitting at her right and Madame de Carcer, wife of the Spanish Minister, on her left. The food was all Chinese, but knives and forks were provided for the use of the guests. During the luncheon the Imperial Princess stood up and spoke a few words of welcome, which I translated into English and French. After the luncheon was over we adjourned to the garden where Their Majesties were awaiting us. A brass band was playing European airs.
Her Majesty led the way around the gardens, passing the various stalls on the way, where the ladies would stop and admire the different articles, which were later presented to them as souvenirs of the occasion. On arriving at a teahouse which had been erected in the gardens, everybody rested and partook of tea. Their Majesties then wished everybody good-bye and the guests were then conducted to their chairs and took their departure.
As usual, we reported to Her Majesty everything that had taken place and how the guests had enjoyed themselves. She said: "How is it that these foreign ladies have such large feet? Their shoes are like boats and the funny way they walk I cannot say I admire. I haven't yet seen one foreigner with pretty hands. Although they have white skins, their faces are covered with white hair. Do you think they are beautiful?" I replied that I had seen some American beauties when I was abroad. Her Majesty said: "No matter how beautiful they are they have ugly eyes. I can't bear that blue color, they remind me of a cat." After a few more remarks, she ordered us to retire, saying that we must be tired. We were rather used up and glad of an opportunity to rest, so made our courtesies and retired.
We had been at the Palace more than two months, and I had had no opportunity to see my father at all, who was quite ill at that time. We did not know whether we could ask leave of absence from the Court. I received letters from my father every day, telling me to have courage, and to do my duty. My mother asked the Young Empress if it would be correct to ask Her Majesty for permission to go home for a day or two. The Young Empress told us that it would be quite all right to do that, but she thought it would be better if we could wait until after the eighth, for there would be a feast on that day. The eighth day of the fourth moon every year is the ceremony of eating green peas. According to the Buddhist religion there is a hereafter which divides or grades, according to the life that is lived on earth, that is to say, those who live good lives go to Heaven when they die and those who are bad go to a bad place to suffer. On this occasion Her Majesty sent to the people she liked, each a plate containing eight peas, and we had to eat them. The Young Empress told me that if I presented a plate of peas to Her Majesty it would please her, which I did. This meant: "May we meet in the hereafter" (Chi Yuen Dou). Her Majesty was very happy that day. We went to the west side of the lake and had our luncheon there. Her Majesty talked to us about the first day we came to the Court, and then said to mother: "I wonder if Yu Keng is any better. When will he be able to come to the Court? I haven't seen him since he returned from France." (My father had asked three months leave of absence from the Court on account of his poor health.) My mother answered and said that he was feeling better, but that his legs were still very weak, and he could not walk much. Her Majesty then said to us: "Oh, I have forgotten to tell you that if you wish to go home, you can ask permission. I have been so busy lately, and forgot to remind you." We thanked her and told her that we would like to go home and see how my father was, so she gave orders that we should leave the Court the next day. Then she asked me how long I would like to stay at home, and of course I knew the custom, and told her that I was waiting for her orders: "Would two or three days be enough?" We told her that it suited us beautifully. I was so surprised when she mentioned it to us, and wondered if anyone had told her of our intentions, or if Her Majesty was a mind reader.
When she retired that afternoon I went to see the Young Empress, who was always very nice and kind, and asked me to sit near her. Her eunuch brought me a cup of tea. Her rooms were furnished exactly the same as Her Majesty's, but everything looked extremely dainty, and showed very good taste. We talked about the life at the Palace for a long time, and she told me that she was very fond of us, and so was Her Majesty. I told her that Her Majesty had mentioned to us about going home for two or three days and that I was surprised to see how thoughtful she was. She said that someone had reminded Her Majesty to let us go home, for we had been at the Court for more than two months. I found out afterwards that it was the head eunuch Li who had heard that we were anxious to go. The Young Empress said to me: "I want to teach you to be wise, that is, you are ordered to leave the Court to-morrow, but Her Majesty did not mention any particular hour. You must not talk about it to anyone, and don't show that you are excited to go home. Don't dress as if you are going out to-morrow, but be natural and do your work as if you don't care about going at all. Don't you remind her, in case she forgets to tell you to go, and come back on the second day, which is the custom. It will show that you are anxious to see Her Majesty, so you come back one day earlier than the appointed time." I was so happy to get this information and asked her if it would be all right to bring Her Majesty some presents when we returned to the Court. She said that was just the proper thing to do. The next day we did the same work, and went to the Audience Hall with Her Majesty, as usual. After the audience was over Her Majesty ordered her luncheon to be served at the country teahouse. This teahouse was built in country style, and right on top of her peony mountain, with bamboo and straw, and all the furniture was made of bamboo also. They were beautifully made, and the frames of the windows were carved into a line of characters -- Shou (long life), and butterflies, with pink silk curtain hangings. At the rear of this exquisite little building was a bamboo shade, with railings all around, hung with red silk lanterns. The seats were built against the railings, so that one could sit on them comfortably. This was supposed to be used by the Court ladies as their waiting room. We played dice with Her Majesty when luncheon was over. We played a very long time, and I won the game that day. Her Majesty laughed and said to me: "You have luck to-day. I think you are so happy to go home that your fairies have helped you to win the game." As I mentioned before, this game was called "Eight Fairies Going across the Sea." "I think it is time for you to go now." While saying this she turned and asked one of the eunuchs what the time was, and he answered that it was half-past two. We kowtowed to Her Majesty, and stood waiting for more orders. Then she said: "I am sorry to see you go although I know you are coming back within two or three days. I know I shall miss you." To my mother she said: "Tell Yu Keng to take care of his health and get well soon. I have ordered four eunuchs to accompany you, and am sending some of my own rice for him." We had to kowtow again in thanking Her Majesty for her kindness and finally she said: "Nemen tzowba" (you can go now).
We withdrew, and found the Young Empress on the veranda. We courtesied to her, and said good-bye to the Court ladies and came to our rooms to get ready to start. Our eunuchs were very good, and had everything packed up ready for us. We gave ten taels to each of our eunuchs, for that was the custom, and gave four taels to each chair bearer of the Palace. When we arrived at the Palace Gate our own chairs were waiting for us. We said good-bye to our eunuchs. Strange to say they seemed attached to us and told us to come back soon. The four eunuchs ordered by Her Majesty to see us home were there, and as soon as we got into our chairs I saw them riding on horseback beside us. It seemed to me just like a dream the two months I had spent at the Court, and I must say I felt very sorry to leave Her Majesty, but at the same time I wanted very much to see my father. We got home after a two hours' ride, and found him looking much better, and one can imagine how happy he was to see us. The four eunuchs came into our parlor, and placed the yellow bag of rice on the table. My father thanked Her Majesty by kowtowing to the ground. We gave these eunuchs each a little present, and they departed.
I told my father about my life at the Palace, and how very kind Her Majesty was to me. He asked me if I could influence Her Majesty to reform some day, and hoped he would live to see it. Somehow or other I had the idea that I could and promised him that I would try my best.
Her Majesty sent two eunuchs to see us the next morning, and also sent us food and fruits. They told us that Her Majesty missed us, and had told them to ask if we missed her. We told these eunuchs that we were returning to the Court the next day. We stayed at home only two days and a great many people came to see us, and kept us busy all the time. My father suggested that we should start from the house at about 3:00 A. M., so as to get to the Summer Palace before Her Majesty was up. We left our house at 3:00 A. M. in total darkness, just like we had two months before. What a change. I thought I was the happiest girl in the world. I was told by many people, especially by the Young Empress, that Her Majesty was extremely fond of me. I had also heard that she did not care for young people at all. Although I was happy, I noticed that some of the Court ladies did not like me, and they made me uncomfortable on many occasions by not telling me just the way Her Majesty wanted the work to be done. They smiled to each other whenever Her Majesty was saying to my mother that she liked me, and that I was always careful in doing anything that pleased her. I knew I was going to see those people again. However, I made up my mind to fight my battles alone. I only wished to be useful to Her Majesty, and would not take any notice of them.
It was a little after five o'clock when we reached the Summer Palace. Our own eunuchs were very happy to see us again and told us that Her Majesty was not up yet and that we had time to go to our rooms, where they had some breakfast prepared for us. We went to see the Young Empress first, and found she was ready to go to Her Majesty's Palace. She was also very glad to see us, and told us that our Manchu costumes were all ready, and that she had seen them and they were perfectly lovely. We were very hungry, and enjoyed our breakfast immensely. After that we went to see Her Majesty. She was awake, so we went into her bedroom. We greeted her the same way that we did every morning, and kowtowed to her and thanked her for all the things she had sent us while we were at home. She sat up on the bed, smiled, and said: "Are you glad to come back? I know everyone who comes to me and stays for a while does not like to go away from here any more. I am glad to see you (to my mother). How is Yu Keng?" My mother told her that my father was much better. She asked us what we did for those two days, staying at home. She also wanted to know whether we still remembered which day she had chosen for us to change into our Manchu costume. We told her we knew the date, and were looking forward to it. The eunuchs brought in three large yellow trays, full of beautiful gowns, shoes, white silk socks, handkerchiefs, bags for nuts, in fact the whole set, including the gu'un dzan (Manchu headdress). We kowtowed to her, and told her we were very much pleased with everything she had given us. Her Majesty told the eunuchs to bring everything out for us to see. She said to us: "You see I give you one full official dress, one set of Chao Chu (amber heads), two embroidered gowns, four ordinary gowns for everyday wear, and two gowns for Chi Chen wear (the anniversary of the death of an Emperor or Empress), one sky blue, the other mauve, with very little trimming. I also have a lot of underwear for you." I was excited and told Her Majesty that I would like to commence to dress up at once. She smiled, and said: "You must wait until the day comes, the lucky day I have selected for you. You must try to fix your hair first, which is the most difficult thing to do. Ask the Young Empress to teach you." Although she told me to wait, I knew she was pleased to see that I showed so much enthusiasm. She asked me the first day when we came to the Court why my hair was so curly. I showed her that I curled it with paper, and she teased me ever afterwards. She also said that I could not pull my hair straight in time to wear Manchu clothes, that everyone would laugh at me, and how ugly I would look. That night one Court lady came over to me while I was sitting on the veranda and said: "I wonder if you will look nice in Manchu dress?" I told her I only wanted to look natural. "You have lived so many years abroad we consider you are a foreigner to us." I told her that as long as Her Majesty considered I was one of her own, I would be satisfied and that she need not worry herself about me. I knew they were jealous of us, so I went in search of the Young Empress and left this girl alone. We were talking with the Young Empress in the waiting room, and this girl came in and sat near me, smiling to herself most of the time. One of the servant girls was fixing some fresh flowers for Her Majesty. She looked at her and asked her why she was smiling. The Young Empress saw, and asked her the same question. She would not answer, but kept on smiling all the time. At this moment a eunuch came and said that Her Majesty wanted me. I afterwards tried to find out what she had told the Young Empress but could not. Several days passed very quietly. Her Majesty was happy, and so was I. One day the Young Empress reminded us that we should make all preparations in order to be able to dress ourselves properly on the eighteenth, as the time was getting short -- only two days left. That night, after Her Majesty had retired, I went to my own room and fixed my headdress on and went to see the Young Empress. She said that I looked very nice, and that she was sure Her Majesty would like me better in Manchu costume. I told her that I used to wear Manchu dress when I was a little girl, before we went to Europe, and of course I knew how to put it on. I also told her that I could not understand why these girls looked upon me as a foreigner. She said that they only showed their ignorance, and that they were jealous of me and I should not pay any attention to them at all.