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                                                                 Scene Two

 
A week later. A burly, virile GUARD stands in front of the Cheng house, sword in hand. BEITESEN appears, stealthily leaving from the back door. SHE moves coquettishly toward the Guard, giggles, then links her arm in his. As THEY exit stage right, the lights rise in the Cheng living room. The WIDOW and WAN are seated at the table. THEY are just finishing dinner and sipping tea.
              WAN
                       What an excellent dinner,
                       Madame Cheng!                                                                       WIDOW CHENG
   It was the very least I could do
   After your kindness, Wan Lei.
   How can we ever repay you
   For going to the commandant
   And having him send a guard
   To protect our humble home?
 
       WAN
   It was nothing.
   The commandant is, as Yang is,
   A friend of my father.
 
            WIDOW CHENG
   Your father must be a wonderful man.
WAN
   He is what I hope someday I shall be.
                                                                                             WIDOW CHENG
                       I can see that you are already on that path.
                       Our door shall always be open to you.
 
                                                                                                     WAN
                       You touch me deeply, Madame Cheng.
                       I shall remember this evening most
                       When the false masks of the capitol
                       Send me to the solitude of my lodgings.
                       But why think of this moment in the past
                       When it exists in the present?
                       Do you realize the most important fact, dear Madame Cheng?
                       We are clansmen!  
WIDOW CHENG
   You and I?
WAN
   My mother's maiden name was Cheng.
                   WIDOW CHENG
   Oh, Wan Lei,
   I am so delighted!
   But I must call you Cousin,
   Cousin Wan.
   It is something we must drink to
   I shall get my daughter Meilan.
   She must join us
   If only for a moment
   To greet her cousin
   In proper custom.
(rising and going toward the inner door)
                       Meilan!
                       Come here!
                       I want you to greet your Cousin Wan.
 
             WAN
   I believe, dear Madame Cheng,
   Your daughter is afraid of me.
   Yesterday,
   While walking in the garden,
   I chanced to see her
   And when I smiled and greeted her,
   She fled into the house.
   WIDOW CHENG
                        Oh, Cousin Wan,
                        My Meilan is very shy.
                        Forgive the child
                        For we have lived so many years
                        Away from the world.
 
           WAN
                        I understand.
 
             WIDOW CHENG
                        But there is no need for shyness all her life!
                        I will see she comes out
                        And greets her cousin
                        In proper fashion.
                        Meilan! Meilan!
                        I want you to come here
                        Immediately. (MEILAN appears timidly at the door. Her head is lowered, her eyes avert Wan's penetrating gaze.)
 
WIDOW CHENG
    Sit down, Meilan,
    And speak to your cousin.
    He thinks that you are afraid of him. (to Wan)     We must drink to the Cheng clan,
    And while you are here,
    We must trace the relationship.
    Beitesen! Bring the wine!
    Beitesen?
    Where is that girl now?
    Oh, yes! Of course.
    You see, Cousin Wan,
    Beitesen is the most grateful of all
    For your having brought the guard.
    If you will excuse me,
    I shall attempt to wrest her away
    From her personal protector.
  (SHE goes out through the front door and disappears off stage calling, "Beitesen!" WAN and MEILAN are now alone. There is silence. MEILAN stares straight in front of her with a mask-like expression.)
 
WAN
    You ran away yesterday in the garden? (No response.)     Am I that unpleasant to your eyes? (Silence.)     You may speak to me now, Meilan,
    For we are cousins
    And we have now been
    Formally introduced. (Silence.)     I do not ask gratitude
    For sending the guard.
    All I ask is to hear your voice. (SHE says nothing.)
 
    Meilan, Meilan,
    I have never asked a girl to speak before.
    In the capitol
    It is hard to keep them silent.
    But just a word or two, Meilan,
    For the voice must be as exquisite as the face. (SHE reacts not at all.)     Oh, speak to me, Meilan,
    And tell me anything you wish.
    How glowing is the sun,
    How green the countryside.
    Oh, speak to me, Meilan,
    And tell me only what you will.
    How pleasant is the night
    Or how clear the distant evening star.
    What wine did you drink with dinner?
    Was it red,
    Was it rich,
    Was it warm?
    What work did you weave with your needle?
    Is it as lovely
    As the hands that caressed it?
    Oh, speak to me, Meilan,
    If just to let me hear your voice. (MEILAN'S face does not change expression. It is as though he has not sung at all.)     Oh, speak to me, Meilan,
    And tell me anything you wish.
    Oh, speak to me, Meilan,
    And tell me only what you will.
    Oh, speak to me, Meilan,
    And tell me only what you will.
    How cool the brook nearby,
    How ripe the deep plum tree,
    Where you have walked today
    And the things that you have seen.
    And maybe someday
    You will tell me
    What you think,
    What you feel,
    What you dream.
    But, oh, Meilan,
    Somewhere we must begin.
    Oh, speak to me, Meilan,
    Please speak to me, Meilan.
  (WIDOW CHENG appears from stage right with a guilty BEITESEN, who is straightening her clothes and her hair. The Widow is carrying a bottle of wine. Together THEY enter the house.)  
WIDOW CHENG
    Beitesen, pour the wine
    So that we may drink
    To Cousin Wan and the Cheng clan! (BEITESEN fills their glasses and the WIDOW raises hers.)  
WAN
    To Madame Cheng
    And her daughter, Meilan,
    For their hospitality (directly at Meilan)     And their conversation.
 
WIDOW CHENG
    Meilan, you are not drinking. (MEILAN rises and flees from the room.)     Meilan! (SHE is about to follow, but then turns to Wan with resignation.)     Forgive her, Cousin Wan.
 
WAN
    Do not apologize, Madame Cheng.
    I understand.
    Now you must forgive me.
    I must return to my room
    To study.
 
WIDOW CHENG
    Beitesen,
    Bring a candle
    And escort my cousin
    Safely through the garden.
    Ah, Cousin Wan,
    The evening ends too soon.
 
WAN
    Alas, the evening ends too soon.
BEITSEN
 (glancing dispiritedly toward the front of the house where we assume the Guard now patrols)
             Oh, yes! The evening ends too soon.
 
       WIDOW CHENG
                                                            (shooting a reproving look at Beitesen and then turning to WAN)               You must come again very soon.
 
 
WAN
                                                                      (bowing deeply)
              I shall be most honored.
 
WIDOW CHENG

              Good night.

WAN

              Good night.
 

BEITESEN
                                                            (glancing again in the direction of the Guard with the same look of frustration)
              Good night.
  (BEITESEN, candle in hand, leads Wan from the house out to the garden. As they approach the monastery, WAN stops.)  
WAN
              Your name is Beitesen, is it not?
 
BEITESEN
              Yes, sir.
 
WAN
              You have been a maid to the Chengs long?
 
BEITESEN
              Since I was thirteen, sir.
 
WAN
              You serve them well.
                                                         (BEITESEN bows in acknowledgement. WAN pauses.)
              Beitesen,
              Though you be only a servant girl,
              Still you must understand love.
 
BEITESEN
                                        (glancing again in the direction of the Guard, only this time dreamily)
              Love, sir?
              I do not know.
              I mean, I do not know
              If I understand it.
WAN
              I know I do not understand it.
              Oh, Beitesen!
              I must have someone to help me.
              I have never asked anyone for help before.
              But I must have it now!
              Will you help me?
 
BEITESEN
              Me, sir?
 
WAN
              Oh, Beitesen,
              I am in love with your mistress!
              There it is,
              The secret I have kept
              Since first I saw her
              Here in the garden
              Only a week ago.
              I know it sounds strange
              When she has never spoken to me
              Or even stared into my eyes.
              I cannot explain it.
 
BEITESEN
               Perhaps that is the reason.
 
WAN

               What?
 

BEITESEN
           (changing the subject quickly)                Oh, sir,
               I do not know what to tell you.
               My mistress is very shy and very queer.
               She spends most of her hours alone,
               Sitting by the brook and reading.
               She does not often speak,
               And when she does,
               It is not the speech
               Of other girls her age.
  (WAN glances dejectedly toward the Cheng house, then turns his head away.)  
BEITESEN
               But wait!
               There is one thing,
               One way perhaps to her heart.
               My mistress loves poetry.
               She has read every book of poems
               In the library of her father.
               If you could but write a poem to herů
 
WAN
               A poem?
               Only a poem?
               You think this could do it?
 
BEITESEN
               I say perhaps.
 
WAN
               Come to my room
               In an hour,
               And I shall have a poem
               For you to bring to her!
               A poem!
               The most beautiful poem
               That has ever been created!
 
 

 

LIGHTS DIM QUICKLY