A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 102

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Chapter 102


Powers of Darkness Derange the Inmates

of the Ning Mansion

Priests Exorcise Evil Spirits

in Grand View Garden

Summoned by Lady Wang, Baochai hurried over to pay her respects to her.

“Tanchun is going to be married,” her mother-in-law said. “As her sister-in-law, you should give her some good advice to show your affec­tion. After all, she’s an intelligent child too, and I know how well both of you get on together. But I hear the news of her marriage set Baoyu crying bitterly — you should reason with him as well.

“These days I’m constantly ailing, and Xifeng is unwell three days out of five. As you have good sense you ought to take things in hand, not holding back for fear of giving offence. In future you’ll be responsible for this whole household.”

“Yes, madam.”

“Another thing,” continued Lady Wang. “Your sister-in-law Xifeng brought Mrs. Liu’s daughter here yesterday and said, as you’re one maid short, the girl’s to join your staff.”

“Pinger brought her over just now, saying that both you and Xifeng had agreed to it, madam.”

“Yes, Xifeng proposed it to me and I raised no objection — I could hardly turn her down. Only, judging by the look in that girl’s eyes, she’s not the kind to keep quiet. I dismissed some of Baoyu’s maids before because they were such vixens; but of course you know that — that was why you moved out of the Garden. Now with you here things are different. I’m telling you just so that you’ll be on the look-out. The only reliable girl in your place is Xiren.”

Baochai expressed agreement and after a little more chat she took her leave. After her meal, she called on Tanchun and they had a good heart-to-heart talk which we need not record in detail.

The next day before setting off on her journey, Tanchun came to say goodbye to Baoyu who was, of course, most reluctant to see her go. She held forth, however, on the moral principles governing human relations and, though at first he hung his head in silence, he gradually brightened up and showed signs of seeing sense. Then, relieved in her mind, she bade farewell to the whole household, mounted her sedan-chair and set off to journey south by boat and by carriage.

Formerly all the girls had stayed in Grand View Garden; but after the Imperial Consort’s death the place was not kept up. By the time of Baoyu’s marriage and Daiyu’s death, as Xiangyun had also left and Baoqin had moved home very few people remained there. Then, when the weather grew colder, Li Wan and her cousins as well as Tanchun and Xichun moved back to their former quarters, only returning sometimes by com­mon consent to enjoy the flowers and moonlight. Now that Tanchun had gone and Baoyu was staying indoors to recuperate, there were even fewer pleasure-seekers left. So the Garden was very quiet, with only a few caretakers in residence.

After Madam You had gone over to see Tanchun off that day, as it was already dark and she did not want to take a carriage, she decided to walk through the side-gate which had been made in the Garden to give access to the Ning Mansion. She found the place desolate, its pavilions and lodges deserted, with vegetables growing in the former flower-beds. The sight filled her with nostalgia.

By the time she reached home she had a slight fever and, after bear­ing up for a couple of days, she had to take to her bed. During the day­time she was not too feverish, but at night her temperature shot up and she became delirious. The doctor summoned by Jia Zhen to attend her diagnosed a chill which had upset her digestion, making her delirious and subject to delusions. A bowel movement should set her right.

However, two doses of medicine failed to cure her – she raved more wildly than ever. In his anxiety Jia Zhen sent for Jia Rong.

“Find out what other good doctors there are outside and ask some of them here to see her,” he ordered his son.

“This doctor we had is the best-known,” was the answer. “Maybe my mother’s illness is one that medicine can’t cure.”

“Nonsense! Stop giving her medicine, just leaving her to get over it herself?”

“That’s not what I meant, sir. But the other day, when she went to the West Mansion, she came back through the Garden and as soon as she got home she had this fever, so something there may have put a jinx on her. There’s a very good diviner here from the south, a man called Mao Banxian. Why not ask him here to consult him? If it seems that’s what happened, we’ll follow his advice. If it doesn’t work, we can look for other good doctors.”

Jia Zhen immediately sent to invite this man. He was offered a seat in his study and served with tea.

“You sent for me, sir,” the diviner said to Jia Rong. “What do you want me to prognosticate?”

“My mother is ill. We’d like you to divine the reason.

“In that case,” said Mao, “bring me clean water to wash my hands and set incense on the table. I’ll see what I can do.”

When the servants had done as he asked, he took out from his pocket a bamboo tube and, stepping forward, made a reverent bow.

He shook the tube, intoning, “The Yin and Yang of the Primal Order have interacted; sacred symbols have appeared with infinite changes; divine manifestations must answer the prayers of the pious.

“Now here is a devout gentleman named Jia whose mother is ill. We piously beseech the four great sages Fu Xi, King Wen, the Duke of Zhou and Confucius to hear our supplication, that manifestations may appear for the faithful and bad or good fortune be truthfully predicted. First vouch­safe the three inner signs.”

He emptied three coins from the tube on to a plate, then announced, “A true manifestation: the first toss shows three obverses.”

Then he picked up the coins and poured them out again. The second toss was two obverses and one reverse, the third another three obverses.

Picking up these coins he intoned, “Now the inner signs have been revealed; we vouchsafe the three outer signs to make up the answer.”

These came out as two obverses and one reverse for the first toss, two reverses and one obverse for the second, while the third was the same as the first.

Thereupon Mao Banxian put away the tube and the coins and re­sumed his seat.

“Please sit down while I study this carefully,” he said. “This is an irrelevant diagram. The third sign indicates plundering of brothers and certain misfortune. But since you are asking about your honourable mother’s illness, it is the first sign that counts; and in that parents’ sign there is a hostile ghost. The fifth sign shows another ghost; hence I fear your mother’s illness is quite serious.

“However, there is a compensating factor, namely that the water ele­ment is now in the ascendant, and next comes wood which leads in turn to fire. Then there is a progeny sign which subdues ghosts. Besides, in another two days the water will subside and all will be well.

“But I fear from the ghost in the parents’ sign that your father’s health may be affected too. The manifestations also show serious con­tradictions and destruction, and there will be trouble when water is in the ascendant and earth is weak.” With this he sat down, thrusting forward his goatee.

Jia Rong had at first been laughing up his sleeve at this rigmarole, but now he felt there might be something in it and in this prediction that his father would fall ill too.

“This is brilliantly divined, sir,” he said. “But what caused my mother’s illness?”

“The signs indicate fire counteracted by water, therefore it must be a case of a cold congestion combined with a hot humour. Even divination by milfoil would be unable to determine this more clearly — for that you would need to resort to the method of the Duodecimal Cycle.”

“Are you expert in that too, sir?”

“I know something about it.”

Jia Rong asked him to demonstrate and gave him the two-hour period. Then Mao Banxian drew a board, set the deities in due order and found that it was the hour of the White Tiger.

“This is called the ‘dissolution of animal spirits,”‘ he said. “White tigers are evil. When controlled by a spirit in the ascendant they cannot run amok; but now that disaster has befallen the house, at a time of misfortune and death, tigers grow ravenous and must prey on people. The portent acquired this name because animal spirits dissipate when alarmed.

“This sign indicates the loss of animal spirits attended by deaths, sick­nesses and alarms. Since, according to the portent, tigers appear at dusk, she must have been taken ill in the evening. It also says, ‘All who cast this lot must have a tiger spirit lurking in an old house to cause trouble. It may take form and utter sounds.’ You asked to have your parents’ for­tunes told, sir. This coincides with the saying that a tiger appearing in the daytime harries men, seen at night it harries women. This is very omi­nous!”

Before Jia Rong had heard him out he was pale with fright. “No doubt, sir,” he agreed. “But this doesn’t altogether accord with that other prediction. Just how serious is it?”

“Don’t panic. Let me study it carefully again.” He lowered his head and muttered to himself for a while.

“Good!” he cried presently. “There is hope. I have worked out that a noble spirit will come to the rescue. This sign is known as the ‘dissolution of the sentient soul with the return of the spiritual soul.’ Anxiety will be followed by joy. All will be well, but you must take precautions.”

Jia Rong presented him with his fee and saw him out.

He then reported to Jia Zhen, “Mother caught this illness in the old house at dusk, when she met a white tiger spirit.”

“You told me that the other day your mother came back through the Garden; she must have run into it there. Remember how your aunt Xifeng fell ill after going to the Garden? Though she didn’t see anything herself, later on all the maids and nurses with her declared they had seen a furry creature on a rock with eyes as big as lanterns, and able to speak. It drove her back, making her fall ill from fright.”

“Yes, I remember,” replied Jia Rong. “I also heard from Uncle Bao’s page Mingyan that Qingwen had become the Spirit of the Hibiscus in the Garden, and that after Miss Lin died music sounded high above, so she must have been put in charge of some flowers there too. What a dreadful thing — all those monsters in the Garden! Before, with all those people coming and going and the place so full of life, it didn’t matter. But now it’s very lonely, and when my mother went there she may have trodden on some flowers or had some jinx put on her. So it seems the divination was correct.”

“Did he say there was any danger?” asked Jia Zhen.

‘According to him, in another two days she’ll be better — but I hope it doesn’t all happen as he predicted.”

“What do you mean?”

“If that fortune-teller was right, sir, I’m afraid you’ll be out of sorts too.”

Just then, someone called out from the inner quarters, “The mistress wants to get up and go over to the Garden. Her maids can’t stop her!”

Her husband and son went in to pacify her.

“The one in red’s calling me! The one in green’s hurrying me!” Madam You was raving.

All present were both frightened and amused. Jia Zhen sent to buy paper money to burn in the Garden. And, sure enough, that night she sweated and calmed down, while after another two days she gradually recovered.

This story spread until everyone was talking of the devils in the Gar­den, and the servants in charge there were too scared to cut flowers, prune tress or water the vegetables. At first, they dared not venture out at night, so that birds and beasts ran wild; then, even in the daytime, they would only go there in groups and armed with weapons.

Later, indeed, Jia Zhen also fell ill, but instead of consulting a doctor or taking medicine he made certain vows and had paper money burnt in the Garden and prayers offered to the stars. No sooner had he recovered than Jia Rong and the others fell ill in turn. This went on for several months, so that both households were appalled — the sough of the wind and the cry of cranes caused panic, while people saw monsters in each tree or tuft of grass. As all income from the Garden stopped, the monthly expenses of different compounds increased and the Rong Mansion was harder pressed for money. The servants in the Garden, eager to leave the place, kept making up stories and stirring up trouble with their tales of flower spirits and tree monsters. So finally the Garden gate was sealed up and no one dared to go there any more. The fine towers, pavilions, lodges and terraces were each and all taken over by birds and beasts.

Now Qingwen’s cousin Wu Gui lived just outside the Garden gate. Since Qingwen’s death and the story that she had turned into a flower spirit, his wife dared not go out at night. One day she had a cold and took the wrong medicine while Wu Gui was out shopping, so that on his return late that evening he found her dead on the kang. Outsiders, knowing her bad reputation, claimed that a monster had climbed over the wall to enjoy her until she died of exhaustion.

The old lady, scandalized by this talk, posted guards outside Baoyu’s house who sounded the watch as they patrolled in turn. And these young maids alleged that they had seen a red-faced figure as well as a ravishing beauty, raising such a ceaseless commotion that Baoyu went in terror every day. Luckily, Baochai had sense and she managed to curb these rumours to some extent by threatening to beat any maids whom she heard talking wildly. Still, all who lived there were so apprehensive that they hired extra watchmen, adding to the household’s expenses.

Jia She alone was sceptical.

“How could there be monsters in such a fine garden?” he scoffed.

Choosing a fine sunny day and ignoring the others’ warnings, he led a troop of armed servants to investigate.

Inside the Garden there was indeed a sinister atmosphere. Jia She braced himself to proceed, while his followers flinched with fear. One young servant, already afraid, heard a whizzing noise and looked round to see a gaudy creature fly past. With a cry of terror, his legs gave way and he fell down. Jia She turned to ask what had happened.

“I saw a monster!” gasped the boy. “Yellow in the face with a red beard, dressed in green. It flew into a cave behind the trees.”

Shaken by this, Jia She asked, “Did the rest of you see it?”

Some servants seized this chance to chime in, “Yes, we did, sir. But as you were ahead, we didn’t like to alarm you. So we kept quiet about it. We slaves can control ourselves.”

Afraid to go any further, Jia She beat a hasty retreat, instructing the servants not to mention this but to say that a thorough search of the Garden had revealed nothing amiss. At heart, however, he believed the boy’s story and decided to go to the Taoist Patriarch to invite some priests to exorcise evil spirits. And when they saw his fear, those servants who never let slip a chance to make trouble not only did not hush it up but embroidered on the story, so that all who heard it gaped in consternation.

Jia She felt he had no choice but to call in Taoists to exorcise the spirits haunting the Garden. An auspicious day was selected, and on the altar set up in the Hall of Reunion were placed the images of the Three Taoist Gods with, beside them, the Twenty-eight Constellations, the Four Great Generals Ma, Zhao, Wen and Zhou and, below these, the Thirty-six Heavenly Officers. Incense, flowers, lamps and candles filled the hall, on either side of which were ranged bells, drums and other scared vessels, as well as five flags denoting north, south, east, west and centre. The Board of Taoist Sacrifices sent forty-nine attendants who spent a whole day purifying the altar. Then three high priests offered incense and sprinkled water, after which the sacred drum was beaten. The priests wore seven-star chaplets, nine-coloured robes with Eight Diagrams de­signs, and cloud-ascending sandals. Holding ivory wands, they presented a memorial begging the gods to descend.

Then for a whole day they chanted the Primal Void Canon to wipe out evil spirits and bring good fortune. This done, they issued the order to summon the heavenly generals. On it was written in large characters, “The Grand Monad, using the holy signs of the Three Sacred Realms, convokes all the deities of these realms to the altar for service.

The masters and the men-servants of both mansions had gone to the Garden that day to watch the priests catch monsters.

“What an impressive order!” they commented. “This commotion to summon heavenly generals here should frighten any number of monsters away.”

They crowded round the altar to watch the acolytes raising flags and taking up their positions north, south, east, west and centre to await or­ders. Next, the three high priests took their places before the altar, the first holding a sword and pitcher of holy water, the second the seven-­starred black flag, and the third the peach-wood rod for beating mon­sters. As soon as the music stopped, the magic tablet was rapped three times and they chanted incantations while the acolytes with their flags circled round them. Then the high priests, leaving the altar, made mem­bers of the family lead them to the various pavilions, lodges, rocks and streams so that they could sprinkle them with holy water and brandish the sword at each. Returning, they rapped the tablet again several times and raised high the seven-starred flag. Next, the priests held the flags to­gether and the rod beat the air three times.

The onlookers, sure that by now the monsters must have been caught, pressed forward to see them; but there was no sign of them. They saw nothing but the high priests sending for a bottle in which to imprison the monsters, and when this had been sealed up they wrote a charm in ver­milion on the seal, then put the bottle away with instructions that later it should be taken back and kept securely under their temple pagoda. Fi­nally, the altar having been cleared, they offered up thanks to the heav­enly generals.

Jia She expressed respectful gratitude to the priests, but Jia Rong and some other younger men of the family were secretly most amused.

“What a great to-do!” they scoffed. “We expected them to show us the monsters they’d caught, to let us see what they were really like after all that hunting round. Heaven knows whether they caught anything or not!”

“You fools!” swore Jia Zhen. “Monsters take shape or vanish into thin air just as they please. With all the heavenly generals here, how dare they show themselves? Now that the evil has been exorcised, they’ll have to stop making trouble — such is the power of the sacred doc­trine.”

The young men waited sceptically to watch for further developments. The servants, however, did not question the claim that the monsters had been captured. They stopped panicking and let the matter drop. The re-co very of Jia Zhen and the other invalids was also attributed to the Tao­ists’ magic.

Only one page chortled, “I don’t know what happened earlier on, but I went to the Garden that day with Lord She, and it was a big pheasant that flew past — that was plain as daylight. But Shuaner took fright, thought he’d seen an apparition and described it to the life! We all backed him up by fibbing, so Lord She took his story seriously. That’s why we had this grand show to watch today!”

But none of his hearers believed him, and still no one had the courage to live in the Garden.

One day, when Jia She was at leisure, he thought of ordering some servants to move into the Garden as caretakers to prevent bad charac­ters from hiding there at night. Before he could give this order, Jia Lian came in and paid his respects.

“Today, in Uncle Wang’s place, I heard that Second Uncle has been impeached by the governor,” he announced. “He’s accused of not keep­ing a check on his subordinates and of levying too much grain. The court has been petitioned to dismiss him.”

“It must surely be a rumour!” replied Jia She, very shocked. “Only the other day, he wrote to tell us the date of Tanchun’s arrival and the auspicious day chosen for seeing her off to the coast. She’d had a smooth journey, he said, so the family need not worry. He also wrote that the governor was treating him as a relative and had given him a congratula­tory feast. How could anyone related to him impeach him? But let’s not waste time talking. Go straight to the Ministry of Civil Affairs to find out the facts, then come and let me know.”

Jia Lian left at once.

On his return a few hours later he said, “I’ve just heard in the minis-try that he has been impeached. A report has been sent to the court, but thanks to His Majesty’s clemency it hasn’t been referred to the ministry. It has been decreed: ‘Since he failed to keep his subordinates in check and levied too heavy a grain tax, cruelly exploiting the people, he should be dismissed. But in view of the fact that he was new to this provincial post and inexperienced in administration, enabling his subordinates to de­ceive him, he is to be demoted three ranks and, by the gracious favour of the Emperor, can still serve as assistant minister of the Ministry of Works. He is to return forthwith to the capital.

“This news is reliable. We were just discussing it in the ministry when a magistrate from Jiangxi, newly summoned to court, arrived. He has a high opinion of Second Uncle. Says he’s a good official but doesn’t know how to handle subordinates, so those servants of his made trouble outside, bullying and cheating people and spoiling his reputation. The gov­ernor, knowing this all along, also thinks well of Second Uncle. It’s puz­zling that he should have impeached him now. Maybe things were getting so out of hand he was afraid there might be some big scandal and there­fore accused him of negligence to get him off more lightly.”

Cutting him short, Jia She instructed him, “Go and tell your aunt about this, but don’t let the old lady know.”

Jia Lian went to report this news to Lady Wang. To know her reac­tions you must read the next chapter.

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