A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 104

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Chapter 104

The Drunken Diamond Brags That Small Fry

Can Stir Up Big Billows

A Crazy Lordling Grieves over the Past

As Jia Yucun was about to cross the ford someone rushed up to him.

“Your Honour!” this man, one of his runners, exclaimed. “That temple you just visited is on fire!”

Yucun turned to see flames leaping skyward and the sun blotted out by smoke and dust.

“How extraordinary!” he thought. “I’ve barely left the place, How could this blaze have started? I hope this hasn’t done for Zhen Shiyin!”

He felt an urge to go back but did not want to delay his tour of inspec­tion; yet he could not set his mind at rest without investigating. After a moment’s reflection he asked, “Did you see that old Taoist leave the temple?”

‘I followed you out, Your Honour, “said the man. “Then I had the gripes and had to relieve myself. When I turned I saw flames – the temple had caught fire-so I hurried here to report it. I didn’t see anybody leaving the place.

Although Yucun was worried, his own career was his first concern and he did not want to turn back.

“You stay here till the fire burns out,” he ordered. “Then go in to see whether the old priest was trapped or not, and come back to report to me.”

The man assented and remained behind while Yucun crossed the river to carry on with his inspection. After checking up on a few districts, he put up in a hostel for the night.

The following day he journeyed another stage and re-entered the capital, runners before him clearing the way while others of his attendants fol­lowed behind. Then, seated in his sedan-chair, he heard the men in front shouting angrily and asked them what had happened. One of the runners dragged over a man and made him kneel down before the prefect’s chair.

“This drunkard didn’t get out of the way but came charging at us, he reported. “When ordered to stop, he put on a drunken act and flopped down in the middle of the road, then accused me of knocking him down.”

“I am in charge of this district,” Yucun announced. “All citizens here come under my jurisdiction. When you saw your prefect coming, you were too drunk to make way yet had the nerve to make false accusa­tions!”

‘I buy drink with my own money,” retorted the fellow. “When I’m tipsy it’s the Emperor’s land I lie down on. Not even high officials can interfere.”

“Lawless scoundrel!” Yucun fumed. “Ask him his name.”

“I am Ni Er the Drunken Diamond.”

Yucun was furious. “Have this wretch beaten,” he ordered. “We’ll soon see whether he’s hard as a diamond!”

The runners pinned Ni Er down and gave him some hard lashes till, sobered up by the pain, he begged for mercy.

Yucun from his chair scoffed, “So that’s the rough diamond you are! I won’t have you beaten now but taken to the yamen for a thorough interrogation.”

The runners shouted assent, tied Ni Er up and dragged him oft, ignor­ing his entreaties.

Yucun went to court to make his report, and by the time he returned to his office this incident had slipped his mind completely. But men in the street who had witnessed it commented to one another, “Ni Er, in his cups, counts on his strength to throw his weight about; but now he’s fallen into Prefect Ji a’s clutches he’s not likely to get off lightly!”

This talk reached the ears of Ni Er’s wife and daughter, who waited in vain that night for him to come home. The girl went to search different gambling-houses for him, and when everyone there confirmed the report she wept.

“Don’t worry, “they said. “Prefect Jia is connected with the Rong Mansion, and a certain Second Master Jia of that family is one of your father’s friends. If you and your mother ask him to put in a word, your father will be let off.”

Ni Er’s daughter thought, “Yes, I’ve often heard father say that Mr. Jia Yun next door is his friend, so why not get him to help?”

She hurried home to propose this to her mother, and together they called on Jia Yun. He happened to be in that day and promptly offered them seats while his mother ordered tea. Then Ni Er’s wife and daugh­ter told him their story.

“We’ve come to beg you to put in a word, Second Master, to get him set free,” they entreated.

“That’s easy,” Jia Yun bragged. “As soon as I mention this to the West Mansion he’ll be released. This Mr. Jia Yucun owes his high post to the help of the Rong Mansion, so once they send him a message the thing will be settled.”

Mother and daughter went joyfully home, then took word to Ni Er in the lock-up that he need not fret because Jia Yun had promised to see about his release. Ni Er’s spirits rose again.

However, since the embarrassing occasion when Xifeng had declined his presents, Jia Yun had seldom called at the Rong Mansion. For the gatemen there watched their masters’ behaviour to visitors and acted accordingly. Welcome guests who were treated with favour they an­nounced; but those who were cold-shouldered they turned away, even if they were relatives, fobbing them off with excuses.

Today Jia Yun went to the gate saying that he had come to pay his respects to Jia Lian.

“The Second Master is out,” the gatemen told him. “We’ll tell him when he comes back that you called.”

Jia Yun thought of asking to see Xifeng instead, but for fear of another snub he refrained and went home, where Ni Er’s wife and daughter importuned him again.

“You always said that not a single yamen, no matter which, dared disobey your family, ” they said. “Now this prefect is one of your clan, and it’s not a big favour to ask. If you can’t even do this, you’re one of the Jias in vain!”

“Yesterday I was too busy to send a message, but today I’ll tell them and he’ll be released,” he boasted to cover up his discomfiture. “You’ve nothing to worry about!”

So mother and daughter waited again for news. As for Jia Yun, un­able to gain admission through the main gate, this time he went round to the back, meaning to go through the Garden to find Baoyu. But the back gate was locked. He retraced his steps dejectedly, telling himself, “I wangled a treeplanting job from her that year because Ni Er lent me money and I sent in that gift of aromatics. Now that I’ve no money for gifts she won’t let me in. It’s not as if she’s a decent sort. She simply loans out the family’s funds left by our ancestors at exorbitant interest, but won’t let us poor relations have even one ounce of silver! Can they count on remaining rich all their lives? Why, their name stinks outside! I’m not one to blab — if I were, they would be involved in plenty of murder cases!”

Occupied by these reflections he reached home, where Ni Er’s wife and daughter were waiting for him. Unable to put them off again he told them, “The West Mansion sent a message but Prefect Jia has ignored it. You had better get Leng Zixing, who’s related to their steward Zhou Rui, to put in a word.”

Mother and daughter objected, “If a gentleman like you failed, how could a servant succeed?”

“You don’t understand,” he blurted out in embarrassed exasperation. “Nowadays servants have much more say than their masters.”

Seeing that he was unable to help, Mrs. Ni laughed sarcastically.

“Sorry to have troubled you for nothing these days,” she said. “We shall thank you again when that man of mine comes out.”

They left to ask others to intercede, and finally Ni Er was let off with only a few strokes, not convicted of any crime.

On his return, his wife and daughter told him how the Jia family had refused to help. Ni Er, who was drinking, flared up and wanted to seek Jia Yun out.

“The bastard, the ungrateful beast!” he fumed. “When he was starv­ing and wanted to worm his way into that house to wangle a job, I was the one who helped him. Now when I land in trouble he leaves me in the lurch. Fine! If Ni Er raises a row, both the Jia Mansions will be dragged through the mud!”

“Ai! You’re drunk again, talking so wildly, “they objected. “Weren’t you beaten the other day for making a drunken scene? Before you’ve got over it, here you are starting again!”

“Do you think a beating makes me afraid of them? I was only afraid of not finding a handle against them. In jail, I palled up with quite a few decent fellows. According to them, apart from all these Jias here in the city there are plenty of others in the provinces too, and not long ago a number of their servants were put in clink. I’d always known the younger Jia men and their servants here were a bad lot but thought the older generation all right, so I was surprised to hear they’d landed in trouble. After asking around I heard that those in trouble belong to branches of the clan in other provinces. Now they are on trial, brought here to wait for the verdict. So I no longer need worry.

“As this puppy Jia Yun has let me down for all I was so good to him, my friends and I can spread word that their family’s ridden roughshod over people, practised usury and abducted other men’s wives. When the scandal spreads and reaches the censor’s ears they’ll catch it! Then they’ll get to know Ni Er the Diamond!”

“Go to bed and sleep it off,” urged his wife. “Whose wives have they abducted? You’re making it up. You mustn’t talk such nonsense.

“Staying at home, what do you know about what goes on outside? The year before last I met a young fellow called Zhang in a gambling-den, and he told me that his betrothed had been bagged by the Jias. He asked my advice, and I stopped him from making a row. I don’t know where he is now, I haven’t seen him for the last couple of years. If I knock into him, I’ll fix up a plan to do in that young bastard Jia Yun! I won’t let him off unless he offers me rich gifts! How dare he refuse to help me?”

He lay down, muttered for a while to himself, then dozed off. His wife and daughter paid no attention, considering these threats mere drunken talk. The next morning Ni Er went back to his gambling-house, and there we can leave him.

Upon Jia Yucun’s return home, after a night’s rest he told his wife of his encounter with Zhen Shiyin.

“Why didn’t you go back to have a look?” she asked reproachfully,

shedding tears. “If he got burnt to death, won’t we seem too heartless?”

“He’s outside the mundane world now and wouldn’t have anything to do with us,” Yucun assured her.

Just then a servant outside announced, “The man Your Honour left at the temple after the fire the other day has come back.”

Yucun went out and that runner, having paid his respects, reported, “After going back on Your Honour’s order, I didn’t wait for the fire to burn out but went in through the flames to look for the priest. The fire had burnt the place where he had been sitting and the back wall had col­lapsed, so I expected to find him dead, but there was no sign of him, although a hassock and gourd there were undamaged. I looked every­where for his corpse, yet found not a single bone. For fear that you might not believe me, I decided to bring back the hassock and gourd as evi­dence; but when I touched them they both turned to ashes!”

Yucun realized that Zhen Shiyin had vanished by magic, being an im­mortal. He dismissed the runner and went back to his room but did not repeat this message to his wife for fear that she as an ignorant woman might grieve, simply telling her that there was no trace of the priest so most likely he had escaped.

Then he went out and sat alone in his study to mull over Zhen Shiyin’s conversation with him, when a servant suddenly brought him a summons to court to read some edicts. He hastily mounted his chair to go to the Palace, where he heard that Jia Zheng, recalled from his post as Grain Commissioner of Jiangxi, was to acknowledge his fault today at court.

He hurried to the cabinet and found the ministers assembled there reading an Imperial edict deploring the maladministration of the coastal provinces. Coming out, he went at once to find Jia Zheng, expressed his sympathy over his impeachment, then congratulated him on his return and asked about his journey. Jia Zheng described his experiences since last they met.

“Have you sent in your acknowledgement of culpability?” asked Yucun.

“Yes. After lunch I shall learn the Emperor’s will.”

That very moment he was summoned to an audience and hurried in, while the ministers concerned for him waited there.

It was some time before Jia Zheng emerged, his face streaming with sweat. The others crowded round to ask what had happened. He stuck out his tongue in dismay.

“I had the fright of my life!” he gasped. “Thank you, gentlemen, for your concern. Luckily nothing serious has happened.”

They asked him what the Emperor had said.

“His Majesty wanted to know about the smuggling of firearms in Yunnan,” Jia Zheng told them. “It was reported that the culprit was a servant of the former Senior Imperial Tutor Jia Hua, which reminded His Majesty of my ancestor’s name, and he asked me what it was. At once I kowtowed and replied that it was Jia Daihua. Then the Emperor asked with a smile, ‘Wasn’t that former Minister of War who was later de­moted to be prefect of the capital also called Jia Hua?”‘

Yucun beside him gave a start. “What was your reply, sir?” he asked.

“I explained distinctly that the former Senior Imperial Tutor Jia Hua came from Yunnan, the present prefect from Huzhou in Zhejiang. Then His Majesty asked, ‘Is that Jia Fan impeached by the prefect of Suzhou one of your family?’ Kowtowing again I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ Then the Em­peror demanded angrily, ‘How can your family allow your servants to abduct a good citizen’s wife?’ I dared say nothing. ‘What is Jia Fan’s relation to you?’ was the next question. ‘He’s a distant kinsman,’ I said. The Emperor snorted at that and dismissed me. It was touch-and-go!”

“Quite a coincidence that,” they commented, “these two cases one after the other.”

“That’s not so strange,” said Jia Zheng. “What’s bad is both men being Jias. Our poor clan is such a large one that after all these years we have relatives everywhere. Though no trouble came of it this time, the name Jia will stick in the Emperor’s mind — and that’s bad.”

“Truth will always prevail,” they assured him. “You’ve nothing to fear.”

“I would give anything not to be an official, but I dare not retire. Besides, our family has two hereditary titles. This is something that can’t be helped.”

“You are still in the Ministry of Works, sir,” pointed out Yucun. “A metropolitan post should be quite safe.”

“Even so, that’s hard to say after two provincial appointments.”

‘We admire your character and your conduct, sir,” the other officials told him. “Your brother is a man of honour too. All you need do is control your nephews more strictly.”

“I am seldom at home to check up on them and can’t be too easy in my mind about them. Since you’ve brought this up and we are close friends, please tell me — have my nephews in the East Mansion been misconducting themselves?”

“Not really, but a few vice-ministers – some Imperial eunuchs too – are not on very good terms with them. It’s nothing to worry about if you just warn them to be more circumspect in future.”

They saluted him and left, and Jia Zheng went home. All his nephews and sons had turned out to welcome him, and when he had asked after the old lady’s health and the young men had paid their respects, together they entered the house. Lady Wang and the other womenfolk had as­sembled in the Hall of Glorious Felicity to meet him, but first he went to the old lady’s apartments to pay her his respects and report to her all that had happened since his departure. Asked for news of Tanchun, he de­scribed the marriage arrangements.

“I had to leave in too much of a hurry to wait for the Double Ninth Festival,” he explained. “But though I didn’t see her, I heard from the other family that everything went very well. Her father- and mother-in-law send their regards to you, madam. They hope, this winter or next spring, to be transferred to the capital, which would of course be still better. But I hear there is trouble in the coastal regions, so the transfer may be delayed.”

The old lady had been depressed by Jia Zheng’s demotion and Tanchun’s marrying so far from home; but his explanation of his recall and the good news of Tanchun cheered her up again and with a smile she urged him to go and rest. Jia Zheng saw his brother, sons and nephews next, and when the younger ones had paid their respects he informed them that the next morning he would sacrifice in the ancestral temple.

After Jia Zheng’s return to his quarters, when Lady Wang and others had greeted him, Baoyu and Jia Lian paid their respects again. Jia Zheng was relieved to see Baoyu looking better than at the time of his departure and, knowing nothing of his son’s mental illness, he did not regret his demotion but was pleased to think how well the old lady had managed things. When, moreover, he observed that Baochai appeared still more quiet and composed and Lan quite cultured and handsome, he fairly beamed. Only Huan was unchanged, and his father could feel no real affection for him.

After a short rest, however, he asked abruptly, “Isn’t there someone missing?”

Lady Wang knew he had noticed Daiyu’s absence. As they had not written to him about her death and he was only just home and in high spirits, she did not like to break the news at once. She just said that Daiyu was unwell. Baoyu felt as if his heart had been pierced by a dagger, but as his father was back he had to repress his grief and wait on him. Lady Wang ordered a feast of welcome at which Jia Zheng’s sons and grand­sons poured him wine; and though Xifeng was the wife of a nephew, since she was running the household she joined Baochai and the others in passing the wine. After one round of toasts, Jia Zheng sent them away to rest and dismissed the servants too with instructions that the domestics could come to meet him after the ancestral sacrifice the next day.

When the others had gone, he and his wife talked of the happenings since their separation. Certain subjects Lady Wang did not venture to broach, and when he brought up the death of her brother Wang Ziteng she dared not show her grief. When he mentioned Xue Pan, she said simply that he had brought this trouble on himself, then she took this occasion to tell him about Daiyu’s death. In consternation, Jia Zheng shed tears and sighed. Then Lady Wang gave way to weeping too until Caiyun who was attending her tugged her sleeve. She controlled herself then and talked of more cheerful topics, after which they retired for the night.

The next morning Jia Zheng worshipped in the ancestral temple, ac­companied by all the younger male members of the family. This done, he took a seat in the temple annex and called Jia Zhen and Jia Lian in to ask about family affairs. Jia Zhen gave him a carefully edited account.

“Since I’ve just come home I can’t make a detailed check-up,” Jia Zheng told him. “But I’ve heard outside that your household isn’t doing as well as before. You must be more circumspect in everything. You are no longer young, and you should discipline those youngsters so that they don’t offend people outside. You take this to heart too, Lian. It’s not that I want to find fault as soon as I get back, but I’ve heard talk. You must take extra care.

Jia Zhen and Jia Lian flushed red, not venturing to answer more than “Yes, sir.” Then Jia Zheng dismissed them and went back to the West Mansion. After all the men-servants had kowtowed to him he entered the inner quarters where the women-servants paid their respects in turn – we need not dwell on this.

Jia Zheng’s question about Daiyu the previous day and Lady Wang’s reply that she was unwell had set Baoyu brooding again. After his father dismissed him he went back, shedding tears all the way. As Baochai was chatting in his room with Xiren and others, he sat gloomily by himself in the outer room. Baochai told Xiren to take him tea then came out to cheer him up, imagining that he was worried that his father might ques­tion him about his studies.

“You go to bed first,” said Baoyu. “I want to collect my thoughts a bit. My memory’s not what it was, and if I keep forgetting what to say it’ll make a bad impression on my father. If you go to sleep first, Xiren can keep me company here.”

Baochai could not refuse and nodded agreement.

In the outer room, Baoyu softly begged Xiren to fetch Zijuan.

“I’ve something to ask her,” he said. “But as she always looks so angry and cold-shoulders me when she sees me, you must do some ex­plaining for me before she’ll come.”

Xiren answered, “I was pleased to hear that you wanted to collect Your thoughts, but what’s this you’re thinking about? If you’ve some-thing on your mind, why not ask her tomorrow?”

“I’m only free this evening. Tomorrow the master may give me some-thing to do and keep me busy. Dear sister, please fetch her quickly!”

“She won’t come unless Madam Bao sends for her.”

“That’s why I want you to go and persuade her.”

“What should I say?”

“You understand how I feel and how she feels — both of us because of Miss Lin. Tell her that I wasn’t faithless to her. It was you people who made me look faithless.” He glanced towards the inner room and point­ing at it continued, “I never wanted to marry her, but they tricked me into it – the old lady and others – and that was the death of poor Cousin Lin. But even so, they should have let me see her and clear myself -then she wouldn’t have died with such a sense of grievance! You must have heard from Miss Tanchun and the others that, at the last, she re­proached me angrily. And Zijuan hates me like poison because of her.”

“But how can you think me so heartless? Qingwen was only a maid who didn’t mean so much to me, yet the truth is that when she died I wrote an elegy for her and sacrificed to her. Miss Lin saw that for her­self. Now that Miss Lin is dead, would I treat her worse than Qingwen? But I can’t even sacrifice to her. Besides, her spirit is living on; so when she thinks about this won’t she blame me still more?”

‘You can sacrifice to her if you like,” said Xiren. “What do you want of me?”

“Since my health started improving I’ve been wanting to write an elegy but somehow I’ve grown dim-witted. I can sacrifice any old way to other people, but there mustn’t be anything the least bit crude about a sacrifice to her. So I want to find out from Zijuan what her mistress was thinking and how she detected it. Before my illness I could have figured it out, but now I can’t remember a thing. You told me that Miss Lin was getting better; how did she come to die so suddenly? What did she say when she was well and I didn’t go to see her? She didn’t call when I was ill, and how did she explain that? And why is it your mistress never lets me touch those things of hers which I managed to get hold of?”

“She’s afraid they might upset you, that’s all.”

“I don’t believe it. If Miss Lin felt for me, why did she burn her poems before she died instead of leaving them to me as a memento? I heard tell that music sounded in the sky, so she must have become a goddess or an immortal. I saw her coffin, it’s true, but who knows whether she was in it or not?”

“You’re talking more and more nonsensically. How could anyone announce a death simply by displaying an empty coffin?”

“I didn’t mean that!” he cried. “But when people become immortals, some retain their bodily form, others shed their mortal frame. Good sister, please fetch Zijuan for me!”

“You’ll have to wait till I’ve explained to her just how you feel. If she’s willing to come, all right; if she refuses it may take time to talk her round. But even if she comes, at sight of you she’s bound to hold certain things back. It seems to me I’d better question her tomorrow after Madam Bao had gone to see the old lady. That way I may find out more. Then when there’s time to spare, I’ll tell you about it.”

“That’s all very well, but I’m too impatient to wait!”

At this point Sheyue came out. “The young mistress says it’s already the fourth watch and she wants the young master to go to bed,” she announced. “And Sister Xiren must have been enjoying her chat so much that she lost track of the time.”

“That’s right!” exclaimed Xiren. “It’s time to go to bed. We can talk again tomorrow.”

Though distressed, Baoyu had to comply, but as he was leaving he whispered, “Mind you don’t forget tomorrow!”

Xiren smiled and said, “All right.”

“You two are up to some tricks again,” Sheyue teased. “Why not ask the mistress to let you sleep with Xiren, then you can talk all night for all we care.”

Baoyu waved his hand saying, “There’s no need for that.”

“You bitch, talking such rot!” scolded Xiren. “Tomorrow I’ll pinch your lips.” She turned to Baoyu. “Look at all the trouble you’ve caused. Sitting up so late talking but without so much as a word about this.” They escorted him to the inner room then went to bed themselves.

Baoyu could not sleep that night, and he was still thinking of Daiyu the next day when a servant brought in the message, “Relatives and friends have offered to send over operas and feasts to celebrate the master’s return; but the master has declined. He says there’s no need for operas, but we’ll have a simple meal at home to invite them all for a chat. The date fixed is the day after tomorrow, so I’ve come to notify you.

To know what visitors came, turn to the next chapter.

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