A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 101

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Chapter 101


A Ghostly Warning Is Given One Moonlit Night

in Grand View Garden

A Fearful Omen Is issued by the Oracle

in Scattering Flowers Temple

On Xifeng’s return home, because Jia Lian was still out, she assigned servants to prepare Tanchun’s dowry and baggage. After dusk, on the spur of the moment, she decided to call on her accompanied by Fenger and two other young maids, one going in front with a lantern. But when they went out, as the moon had already risen and was casting a shimmering, liquid light, she sent the girl with the lantern back again.

As they passed the window of the boiler house, they heard the babble of voices inside and what sounded like a half tearful half laughing discus­sion. In annoyance, Xifeng told Xiaohong to go in casually but keep her ears open to find out what the women in there were gossiping about. The girl left them to do her bidding.

Then Xifeng went on with Fenger to the Garden. The gate was closed but not yet locked. They opened it and entered. The moonlight here seemed brighter than outside, the ground was covered with the dark shadows of trees and not a voice could be heard in that lonely stillness. As they made for the path to Autumn Freshness Studio, the soughing wind brought leaves rustling down from the trees on every side, while the creaking of their branches startled the chilly crows roosting there so that they winged off in alarm. Xifeng had been drinking, and this wind made her shiver. Fenger behind her hunched her shoulders too.

“My, it’s cold!” she exclaimed.

“Run back and fetch me that sleeveless ermine jacket. I can’t stand this,” ordered Xifeng. “I’ll be waiting for you in Miss Tanchun’s place.”

The maid agreed with alacrity, eager to go back to put on more clothes herself. She set off at a run.

Xifeng was just walking on when a snuffling and sniffing behind her made her hair stand on end. She turned to look. A creature black as coal was sniffing at her with out-stretched nose, its two eyes shining like lamps. Scared out of her wits, she let out a little scream as she saw that it was a hound. Trailing its bushy tail, the great dog bounded off up a hillock, where it turned and folded its front paws to salute her.

Trembling with fright she hurried on towards Autumn Freshness Stu­dio, and was passing some rocks near its gate when a shadowy figure flitted in front of her. She wondered which apartment this maid belonged to.

“Who’s there?” she called out.

No one answered even when she repeated the question, and she was frightened out of her wits. Then, indistinctly, she heard a voice behind her:

“Aunty, don’t you recognize me?”

She swung round to see a pretty, well-dressed young woman who looked extremely familiar, though she could not identify her.

“Aunty,” the other continued, “you’re so set on enjoying wealth and luxury, you’ve thrown to the winds my advice to you that year to lay a foundation that will last for ever.

Xifeng lowered her head to think, but could riot for the life of her place this young woman.

“Aunty, you used to be so fond of me, how is it that now you’ve forgotten me completely?” the other asked her with a cynical laugh.

Only then did Xifeng realize that this was Jia Rong’s first wife Qin Keqing.

“Mercy!” she exclaimed. “You’re dead — how did you get here?”

She spat at the apparition and turned to run, but tripped over a stone and fell down, drenched with sweat as if awakening from a nightmare. Though convulsed with fear, she was clear enough in her mind to see the blurred figures of Fenger and Xiaohong approaching. Not wanting to be laughed at, she scrambled up.

“What have you been doing that kept you so long?” she asked. “Hurry up and help me into that jacket.”

Fenger came over to do this, after which Xiaohong took Xifeng’s arm to help her forward.

“I’ve just been there and they’re all asleep,” Xifeng prevaricated. “Let’s go back.” With that she hurried home with her two maids.

By this time Jia Lian had returned, and she saw from his worried face that he was not his usual self. Though tempted to ask what was wrong, knowing his temper she refrained and simply went to bed.

The next day Jia Lian rose at dawn, meaning to call on the chief eunuch Qiu Shian who was in charge of the Audience Hall, to find out what news there was. As it was too early to leave, he picked up from the desk a copy of the Court Gazette delivered the previous day and started to read it.

The first item was a report from Wang Zhong, Governor of Yunnan, that eighteen felons had been apprehended in an attempt to smuggle muskets and gun-powder over the frontier. The ringleader Bao Yin was a servant in the household of Jia Hua, Duke of Zhenguo and Senior Impe­rial Tutor.

He then read the second item. Li Xiao, Prefect of Suzhou, had im­peached a man for condoning the crimes of one of his stewards, who had bullied soldiers as well as civilians, and had killed a chaste wife and two others of the family after failing to rape her. The culprit, Shi Fu, admitted that he served the family of Jia Fan who had a third-rank hereditary title. These two items made Jia Lian uneasy.

He wanted to read on, but feared that might make him too late to see Qiu Shian; so putting on formal clothes and not stopping for breakfast, he took two sips of the tea Pinger had just brought in, then went out, mounted his horse and rode off. Pinger put away the clothes out of which he had changed.

Xifeng was still in bed, and Pinger suggested, “I heard you tossing and turning during the night. Let me massage you now so that you can have a good nap.”

Construing Xifeng’s silence as consent, Pinger sat on the kang be­side her and pummelled her gently. Xifeng was dozing off when the cries of her small daughter in the next room made her open her eyes again.

Pinger called out, “Nanny Li, what are you doing? If baby cries, you should pat her. What a glutton for sleep you are!”

Nanny Li, waking up with a start, was annoyed by this scolding. She gave Qiaojie several hard spanks.

“Die and be done with it, you little wretch!” she grumbled. “Why don’t you sleep? Is your mother dead that you’re wailing like this in the middle of the night?” Grinding her teeth, she pinched the child so that she burst out howling.

“This is the limit!” cried Xifeng. “Listen to the way she’s taking it out on the child! Go and wham that black-hearted bitch, and bring Qiaojie in here.”

“Don’t be angry, madam,” said Pinger. “She wouldn’t dare. I ex­pect she bumped into her by accident. If I were to give her a few whacks, they’d start accusing us behind our backs of beating people at midnight.”

Xifeng was silent for some time, then she sighed, “Look what hap­pens while I’m still alive and kicking. If I die tomorrow what will become of this imp?”

“What a way to talk, madam!” chuckled Pinger. “First thing in the morning too.”

“You don’t understand.” Xifeng gave a cynical laugh. “I know I shan’t last very long. Though I’ve lived only twenty-five years, I’ve seen and tasted things not given to others to see or taste, and had the best of food and clothing as well as of all the good things in this world. I’ve vented my spite fully too, and done enough others down. So if I’m a bit short on ‘longevity’ what does it matter?”

At this, Pinger’s eyes brimmed with tears.

“Don’t put on that soft-hearted act,” scoffed Xifeng. “Once I’m dead, the two of you will be only too pleased. You can live in peace and harmony, without me as a thorn in your side. All I ask of you, come what may, is to take good care of my child.”

Pinger was weeping now.

“Don’t be such a fool,” jeered Xifeng. “I’m not dying yet a while. Why start mourning so early? Are you trying to hasten my death with your wailing?”

Pinger hastily dried her eyes.

“It’s the way you talk, madam, that upset me,” she said, then went on massaging her until Xifeng dropped off.

Pinger had no sooner got down from the kang than she heard footsteps outside. For Jia Lian had left too late to see the chief eunuch, who had gone to court. And so he had come back in a bad temper.

“Are they still not up?” he asked Pinger.

“Not yet,” she said.

He came in, banging the portiere behind him. “Fine!” he swore. “Not up at this hour, just to make things more difficult for me!”

He called for tea, and she promptly poured him a cup. But the maids had gone back to bed after Jia Lian went out, not expecting him home so quickly, and had therefore not prepared tea; so what Pinger brought him was not freshly brewed. In a fury he raised the bowl and — crash! smashed it to smithereens.

Xifeng, startled from sleep, woke up in a cold sweat. She opened her eyes and gave a cry of dismay at sight of her husband sitting there in a rage while Pinger stooped to pick up the broken pieces.

“Why are you back so soon?” she asked.

She waited in vain for an answer and then repeated the question.

“Don’t you want me back?” he bellowed. “Want me to die out­side?”

“Why talk like that?” she said gently. “You don’t usually come back so quickly, that’s why I asked. You’ve no call to lose your temper.”

“Since I didn’t find him, why shouldn’t I come straight back?” he bellowed again.

“If you didn’t find him, you’ll just have to be patient and go earlier tomorrow; then he’ll be in.”

“Why should I run errands for other people?” he roared. “I’ve plenty of work of my own here, with no one lifting a finger to help; yet for no reason at all I’ve had to run right and left for other people. Why the hell should I? The ones in hot water are taking it easy at home, not giving a -damn; and I hear they’re laying on feasts and operas to celebrate some birthday with gonging and drumming! Why should I run these pointless errands for them?” He spat in disgust and swore at Pinger again.

Xifeng swallowed her anger and, on second thoughts, refrained from arguing with him.

“Why get so worked up?” she said, forcing a smile. “Why yell at me like that first thing in the morning? Who told you to take on jobs for other People? Since you have, you must just have patience and do as they ask. It’s news to me that anyone in trouble should feel in the mood for feasts and operas.

“That’s what you say! Tomorrow you can ask him.”

“Ask whom?” she exclaimed in surprise.

“Whom? Your brother!”

“Is he the one you’ve been talking about?”

“Of course. Who else?”

“What business is it that he wants you to see to for him?” she de­manded hastily.

“Are you still in the dark?”

“This is really very strange! I haven’t heard a word.”

“How could you hear? Even the mistress and Aunt Xue haven’t heard. Because I didn’t want to worry them, and because you’re always com­plaining of bad health, I hushed the business up outside and didn’t let the family know either. The mere mention of this really makes me livid! If you hadn’t asked me today, I couldn’t very well have told you. You may think that brother of yours a gentleman; but do you know what people outside call him?”

“What do they call him?”

“Wang Ren (忘仁 — forgetting humanity)

She burst out laughing. “Of course, that’s his name – Wang Ren (王仁).”

“It’s not the Wang Ren you think, but the Wang Ren meaning that he’s lost all sense of decency and propriety.”

“What backbiters have been slandering him like that?”

“It isn’t slander. I may as well tell you now, because you ought to know what your fine brother’s like. It’s your second uncle’s birthday he’s celebrating – did you know that?”

Xifeng thought for a second, then exclaimed, “Oh! But tell me -isn’t his birthday in the winter? I remember it was Baoyu who went every year. When the master was promoted, second uncle sent an opera troupe to perform here, and I told the family in confidence, ‘Second uncle’s very tight-fisted, not like our elder uncle. The two families keep bickering over money. When our elder uncle died, didn’t his younger brother try to grab his property?’ That’s why I advised them, when his birthday came round, to pay back the opera so that we wouldn’t be beholden to him. But what’s the idea, celebrating his birthday in advance this year?”

“You’re still in the dark,” said Jia Lian. “As soon as your brother came to the capital, he held a requiem for your elder uncle. For fear that we might stop him, he didn’t tell us; and he made thousands of taels out of the donations. Later, your second uncle bawled him out for grabbing the whole lot. Then, under pressure, he thought up another trick. He’s invited guests on the pretext that it’s second uncle’s birthday, fishing for more money from them to pacify him. What does he care whether it’s summer or winter, or whether relatives and friends know the date of the birthday or not? That’s how shameless he is!

“Do you know why I got up so early? The censors have investigated the business by the coast and discovered a deficit during your elder uncle’s term of office. As he’s dead, his younger brother Wang Zisheng and his nephew Wang Ren have to make it good. In desperation, the two of them come to enlist my help; and because they looked scared stiff, and be­cause they’re related to you and our mistress, I agreed. I wanted to get Old Qiu who’s in charge of the inner court to fix it up by transferring the deficit to some earlier or later account. Unfortunately I got there too late, after he’d gone to the Palace. So I went to all that trouble for nothing. But your brother’s still ordering operas and giving feasts. Isn’t that mad­dening?”

Although Xifeng knew that Wang Ren was in the wrong, it was not her way to admit it.

“Whatever he’s like, he’s your brother-in-law,” she said. “Besides, both the elder uncle who’s dead and the second uncle who’s alive should be grateful for what you’re doing. It goes without saying that as this is our Wang family business, I must beg you humbly to help; otherwise other people will get blamed on my account and curse me behind my back.”

In tears, she threw back her bedding and sat up, gathering her hair into a loose knot and slipping on some clothes.

“You don’t have to take on like that,” said Jia Lian. “It’s your brother who’5 so disgusting. I didn’t blame you. When I was out and you were poorly, these maids were still sleeping even after I was up — since when has that been the rule in our family? You let it go, to show how kind­hearted you are. When I say a word against someone, you get up. If I find fault with them tomorrow, will you take all the blame on yourself? This is so pointless!”

“It’s high time for me to get up now,” answered Xifeng, drying her eyes. “If that’s how you feel, I’ll be grateful if you’ll fix things up for them. Not only for my sake either. When the mistress hears about it, she’ll be pleased too.”

“All right. I know. You don’t have to teach me that.”

“Why get up so early, madam?” asked Pinger. “Don’t you have a fixed time for getting up every day? Master Lian’s in a bad temper over something and taking it out on u~ That’s just too bad!” She turned to challenge him, “Madam’s done enough for you, hasn’t she, always bearing the brunt for you? It’s not my place to say this, sir, but you’ve taken advantage of her all this time, and it’s not much you’re doing for her now — not just for her sake either yet you make such a song and dance about it. Don’t you mind hurting her feelings?

“Besides, you can’t pin this on her. If we get up late, you’ve a right to be angry with us — after all, we’re only slaves. But madam’s ruined her health by wearing herself out. Why treat her so unkindly?” She was on the verge of tears.

Jia Lian had been bursting with rage, but he was floored by these sharp yet gentle reproaches from his lovely wife and beautiful concubine.

“All right, all right!” he laughed. “She’s quite enough for me to cope with, without your taking her side. Anyway I’m not wanted here: the sooner I die the better off you’ll be.”

“Don’t talk like that,” Xifeng retorted. “Who knows what will hap­pen? I may die before you. The earlier I do, the sooner I’ll have some peace.” She wept again, and Pinger had to console her.

By now the sun was shining through the window and Jia Lian, having no more to say, rose and left. Xifeng had just got up to make her toilet when a young maid came in with a message from Lady Wang:

“The mistress wants to know whether you’re going to call on your uncle, madam. If you are, she’d like you to take Madam Bao along.”

Xifeng was depressed after her husband’s disclosure and resented the way her family had let her down; on top of which she really felt very limp after her fright the night before in the Garden.

“Tell Her Ladyship I still have one or two things to attend to, so I can’t go today,” was her answer. “Besides, it isn’t an important occa­sion. If Madam Bao wants to go, she can go by herself.”

The girl assented and went back to report this.

After Xifeng had finished her toilet, she reflected that even if she did not go she ought to send some message; besides, Baochai, still a new bride, should be accompanied if she paid a visit. So she went to see Lady Wang, then made some excuse to look in on Baoyu. She found him lying fully dressed on the kang, raptly watching Baochai as she combed her hair. Baochai was the first to see Xifeng in the doorway. She hastily rose to offer her a seat, and Baoyu got down from the kang. Xifeng seated herself with a smile.

“Why didn’t you announce Madam Lian?” Baochai scolded Sheyue.

“As soon as she came in, she signed to us to keep quiet,” the maid replied with a smile.

Xifeng asked Baoyu, “Why are you still here? You’re grown up now, yet you still behave like a child. Do you have to stick around watching her doing her hair? Together all day long, don’t you see enough of each other? Aren’t you afraid the maids will make fun of you?” She laughed and smacked her lips.

Baoyu, though rather sheepish, paid no attention. Baochai blushed all over her face, feeling she should not let this pass but not knowing what to say. At this point Xiren brought in tea, and to hide her confusion Baochai passed their guest a tobacco-pipe, which Xifeng stood up to accept with a smile.

“Never mind us, sister,” she said. “Hurry up and get dressed.”

Baoyu, too, tried to pass off his embarrassment by rummaging around. “You go on ahead,” Xifeng urged him. “Who ever heard of gentle­men waiting to go with the ladies?”

“I just feel these clothes I’m wearing aren’t very good, not up to that peacock-feather cape the old lady gave me that year.”

“Why don’t you wear it then?” she asked mockingly.

“It’s too early in the season.

Thus reminded, Xifeng regretted having spoken. Luckily Baochai was related to the Wangs, still she felt rather put out in front of the maids.

But then Xiren interposed, “You don’t realize, madam, that he wouldn’t wear it even if the weather was cold.”

“Why not?” asked Xifeng.

“Because our young master’s behaviour is really fantastic. That year the old lady gave him this cape to wear on your second uncle’s birthday, but that very same day he burnt it. My mother was very ill, so I was away; but Sister Qingwen was still here at the time. Though she was unwell, I heard she sat up all night mending it for him, so that the next day the old lady didn’t notice the burn. One cold day last year when he was going to school, I told Beiming to take that cape for him, but the sight of it reminded him of Qingwen and he said he’d never wear it again. He told me to keep it for him all his life….”

“Speaking of Qingwen,” Xifeng cut in, “it really was a shame! She was a pretty child with clever hands, only rather sharp-tongued. It was too bad that the mistress heard some rumour which cost the girl her life.

“That reminds me: I noticed one day that Wuer, the daughter of Mrs. Liu in the kitchen, was the image of Qingwen, and I decided to take her on. When I asked her mother she was only too willing. Then it occurred to me that since Hongyu had left Baoyu service for mine, I ought to give him Wuer in exchange; but Pinger told me the mistress had given orders that no girl looking like Qingwen was to work in Baoyu’s place. So I dropped the idea. However, now that he’s married what does it matter? I’d better tell her to come — that is, if Baoyu would like it. If he misses Qingwen, he can look at this Wuer instead.”

Baoyu who was on his way out stopped when he heard this.

Xiren answered for him, “Of course he would like it. He wanted to get her here long ago, only the mistress was so strongly against it.”

“In that case I’ll send her over tomorrow,” said Xifeng, “I can square it with the mistress.”

Baoyu, delighted by this, went to call on his grandmother while Baochai got dressed.

Baoyu’s obvious affection for Baochai upset Xifeng when she con­trasted it with Jia Lian’s behaviour to her earlier on. Not wanting to stay there, she stood up and suggested to Baochai, “Let’s go to see the mistress.

They went off cheerfully together to call on the old lady, and found Baoyu there explaining that he was going out to visit his uncle.

The old lady nodded. “Go along then,” she said. “But don’t drink too much, and come home early. You’re only just over your illness.”

Baoyu assented and left, coming back again from the courtyard to whisper a few words in Baochai’s ear.

“All right,” she replied with a smile. “Off you go now.” She urged him to hurry.

The old lady chatted with Xifeng and Baochai until, presently, Qiuwen came in to say, “Master Bao has sent Beiming back with a message for Madam Bao.”

“Has he forgotten something again?” Baochai wondered. “Why send his page back?”

“I told one of the girls to ask Beiming,” Qiuwen answered. “He said, ‘Master Bao forgot to tell Madam Bao this, so he sent me back with the message: If she’s going, she’d better go soon; if not, she mustn’t stand too long in a draught.”

The old lady, Xifeng, the serving-women and maids all burst out laughing at this.

Baochai, flushing crimson, spat in disgust at Qiuwen. “You silly crea­ture!” she scolded. “Bursting in so wildly just to tell us this!”

Qiuwen went off, giggling, to tell the girl outside to curse Beiming.

He ran off, calling back over his shoulder, “Master Bao insisted that I must dismount and bring back this message. If he found out I hadn’t delivered it, he’d have sworn at me. Now I’ve been sworn at all the same just for doing as I was told!”

The girl laughed and ran back to report this.

“Off you go then,” said the old lady to Baochai. “That’ll stop him from worrying about you.”

Baochai hardly knew which way to look, with Xifeng teasing her too. She left in a fluster.

Just then, Abbess Daliao of Scattering Flowers Temple arrived. Having paid her respects to the Lady Dowager and Xifeng, she sat down and had some tea.

“Why haven’t you been to see us for so long?” the old lady asked her.

“These days we’ve been having sacrifices in our temple,” said the abbess. “We had visits too from several noble ladies, so I didn’t find time before. I’ve come today specially, Old Ancestress, to let you know that tomorrow we are holding another mass. If you’d care to join us, it would be a little outing for you.”

The old lady asked the nature of the mass.

“Last month evil spirits appeared in the Wang mansion, contaminating it,” the abbess explained. “One night Madam Wang saw the ghost of her dead husband; so yesterday she came to our temple saying that she wanted to offer incense to the Flower-Scattering Saint and to have sacrifices made for forty-nine days to ensure the family peace, so that the dead may ascend to Heaven and the living enjoy good fortune. This is what kept me from coming to pay my respects before.”

Xifeng normally had no patience with such proceedings, but since seeing a ghost the night before she had been filled with misgivings. This had changed her attitude, making her inclined to believe what the abbess said.

She asked, “Who is this Flower-Scattering Saint? How can he ward off evil and exorcise devils?”

Seeing that she was open to conviction, the abbess said, “Since you ask, madam, let me tell you. This saint’s extraordinary powers are deep-founded. He was born in the Country of Great Trees in the Western Paradise. His parents were woodcutters. He came into the world with three horns on his head and four eyes, eight feet in height, with arms reaching to the ground. Because his parents thought he was a monster, they abandoned him behind the Icy Mountain. But an old monkey there with magic powers, coming out in search of food, saw a white vapour rising from this saint’s head and noticed that tigers and wolves kept away from him. He knew then that this was no ordinary child, so carried him back to his cave and brought him up. Now this saint had been born so quick of understanding, he was able to discuss the Way and Buddhism with the monkey. They did this every day, until flowers rained down from the skies.

“A thousand years later the saint ascended to Heaven. But even now on the mountain you can see the place where he expounded the canons, scattering flowers. All prayers to him are granted, and he often manifests his divinity by saving those in distress. That is why this temple was built and offerings are made to his image.”

“What proof have you of this?” Xifeng wanted to know.

“You’re cavilling again, madam! What proof is needed? If this were false it could only fool one or two people. How could so many people with good sense have been fooled from old times till now? Just think, madam, the reason why Buddhist sacrifices have been made throughout the centuries is because they have proved efficacious in safeguarding the country and enriching the people — that’s why men believe in them.”

Convinced by this reasoning, Xifeng replied, “In that case, I’ll go tomorrow and try. Do you have divination lots in your temple? I’d like to draw one. If it solves my problem, I shall become a believer!”

“Our lots are infallible,” Daliao assured her. “You’ll know that when you draw one tomorrow, madam.”

“Better wait till the day after that – the first of the month,” said the old lady.

When Daliao had finished her tea, she went to pay her respects to Lady Wang and those in other apartments, after which she returned to the temple.

Xifeng bore up as best she could till the morning of the first; then she ordered a carriage and horses to be made ready and, attended by many servants, went with Pinger to the temple. Daliao came out at the head of all the nuns to welcome her; and after tea had been served, Xifeng washed her hands and entered the main hall to offer incense. In no mood to gaze at the image, she kowtowed devoutly and picked up the bamboo con­tainer holding the lots. First she offered up a silent prayer about the appa­rition and her bad health, then she shook the container three times. A bamboo slip shot out. With another kowtow she picked it up and saw the inscription: “Number 33. Most auspicious.”

Daliao looked up that number in the oracle book and found the entry: ‘Wang Xifeng returns home in splendour.”

In amazement Xifeng asked her, “Was there another Wang Xifeng in olden times?”

Daliao answered with a smile, “Why, madam, with your broad knowl­edge of past and present, haven’t you heard the story of how Wang Xifeng of the Han Dynasty found an official post?”

Zhou Rui’s wife beside them chuckled, “The other year, we wouldn’t let that story-teller, Mrs. Li, tell this story because that was your name, madam.”

“That’s right,” agreed Xifeng. “I had forgotten.”

She then read the words below:

The one who for a score of years left home

Now in fine raiment will return again.

The honey culled from blossoms by the bee

Is seized by others — all its toil is vain.

The traveller arrives.

Word comes too late.

Settle the lawsuit.

Reconsider the match.

Xifeng could not make much of this, but the abbess cried, “Congratu­lations, madam! What a coincidence! You have been here since child­hood, never going back to Nanjing. Now that His Lordship has a provin­cial post he may send for his family, which will give you a chance to return in splendour’ as the oracle says.” While speaking she had copied out the prediction and handed it to the maid.

Xifeng was still only half convinced. When Daliao served her a meal, she simply toyed with the food then made ready to leave, first donating some silver for incense, and the abbess could not prevail on her to stay longer.

When she reached home, the old lady and Lady Wang asked what the oracle had said. Once it had been explained to them they were delighted.

“The master may really have such a plan!” they exclaimed. “It would make a pleasant trip for us.

As one and all said this, Xifeng too accepted this interpretation.

When Baoyu woke from his siesta that day, Baochai was not in the room; but before he could ask her whereabouts she came in.

“Where have you been all this time?” he wanted to know.

“I was explaining an oracle for Cousin Xifeng,” she told him with a smile.

He asked her what it had been and she read it out to him.

“Everyone declares it’s a good omen,” she told him. “But I think ‘returns home in splendour may mean something else. Well, time will show.”

“You’re too sceptical, trying to twist the saint’s meaning,” he pro­tested. “Everybody has always known that this is a good omen. Why read some other meaning into it? How else would you explain it any­way?”

Before Baochai could tell him, a maid came from Lady Wang to sum­mon her and she had to go over at once. To know the reason for this summons, read the next chapter.

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