The Golden Cangue

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  • Published : March 4, 2013
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THE GOLDEN CANGUE Translated by Eileen ChangSHANGHAI thirty years ago on a moonlit night ... maybe we did not get to see the moon of thirty years ago. To young people the moon of thirty years ago should be a reddish-yellow wet stain the size of a copper coin, like a teardrop on letter paper by To-yün Hsüan' worn and blurred. In old people's memory the moon of thirty years ago was gay, larger, rounder, and whiter than the moon now. But looked back on after thirty years on a rough road, the best of moons is apt to be tinged with sadness. The moonlight reached the side of Feng-hsiao pillow. She was a slave girl brought by the bride, the new Third Mistress of the Chiangs. She opened her eyes to take a look and saw her own blue-white hand on the half-worn blanket faced with quilted Korean silk. "Is it moonlight?" she said to herself. She slept on a pallet on the floor under the window. The last couple of years had been busy with the changing of dynasties. The Chiangs coming to Shanghai as refugees did not have room, so the servants' quarters were criss-crossed with people sleeping. Feng-hsiao seemed to hear a rustle behind the big bed and guessed that somebody had got up to use the chamber pot. She turned over and, just as she thought, the cloth curtain was thrust aside and a black shadow emerged, shuffling in slippers trodden down in the back. It was probably Little Shuang, the personal maid of Second Mistress, and so she called out softly, "Little Sister Shuang." Little Shuang came, smiling, and gave a kick to the pallet. "I woke you." She put both hands under her old lined jacket of dark violet silk, worn over bright oil-green trousers. Feng-hsiao put out a hand to feel the trouser leg and said, smiling:2 "Colorful clothes are not worn so much now. With the people down river,' the fashions are all for no color." Little Shuang said, smiling, "You don't know, in this house we can't keep up with other people. Our Old Mistress is strict, even the young mistresses can't have their own way, not to say us slave girls. We wear what's given dressed like peasants." She squatted down to sit on the pallet and picked up a little jacket at Feng-hsiao's feet. "Was this newly made for your lady's wedding?" Feng-hsiao shook her head. "Of my wardrobe for the season, only the few pieces on view are new. The rest is just made up of discards." "This wedding happened to run into the revolution, really hard on your lady." Feng-hsiao sighed. "Don't go into that now. In times like this, one should economize, but there was still a limit! That wedding really lacked style. That one of ours didn't say anything, but how could she not be angry?" "I shouldn't wonder Third Mistress is still unhappy about it. On your side the trousseau was passable, the wedding preparations we made were really too dismal. Even that year we took our Second Mistress it was better than this." Feng-hsiao was taken aback. "How? Your Second Mistress ..." Little Shuang took off her shoes and stepped barefoot across Feng-hsiao to the window. "Get up and look at the moon," she said. Feng-hsiao scrambled quickly to her feet. "I was going to ask all along, your Second Mistress ..." Little Shuang bent down to pick up the little jacket and put it over her shoulders. "Be careful you don't catch cold." Feng-hsiao said, smiling, as she buttoned it up, "No, you've got to tell me." "My fault, I shouldn't have let it out," Little Shuang said, smiling. "We are like sisters now. Why treat me like an outsider?"

"If I tell you, don't you tell your lady though. Our Second Mistress's family owns a sesame oil shop." "Oh!" Feng-hsiao was surprised. 'A sesame oil shop! How on earth could they stoop so low! Now your Eldest Mistress is from a titled family; ours can't compare with Eldest Mistress, but she also came from a respectable family." "Of course there was a reason. You've seen our Second Master, he's crippled. What mandarin family would give him a daughter for wife? Old Mistress didn't know what...
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