A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 105

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Chapter 105

Imperial Guards Raid the Ning Mansion

A Censor Brings a Charge Against

the Prefect of Pingan

Jia Zheng was entertaining his guests in the Hall of Glorious Felicity when in burst Lai Da.

“Commissioner Zhao of the Imperial Guards and several of his offic­ers are here to see you, sir,” he announced. “When I asked for their cards the commissioner said, ‘No need: we are old friends.’ He dis­mounted from his carriage and came straight in. Please make haste to meet them, sir, with the young gentlemen.”

Jia Zheng, who had had no dealings with Commissioner Zhao, could not understand why he should have come uninvited. As he had guests he could hardly entertain him, yet not to ask him in would be discourteous.

He was thinking it over when Jia Lian urged, “Better go at once, uncle, before they all come in.”

That same moment a servant from the inner gate announced, “Com­missioner Zhao has entered the inner gate.”

Jia Zheng and others hastily went to meet him. The commissioner, smiling, said not a word as he walked straight into the hall. Behind him were five or six of his officers, only a few of whom they recognized, but none of these answered their greetings. At a loss, Jia Zheng had to offer them seats. Certain of the guests knew Commissioner Zhao, yet with his head in the air he ignored them all, simply taking Jia Zheng’s hand as he made a few conventional remarks. This looked so ominous that some of the guests ~ipped into the inner room while all the rest stood at respectful attention.

Jia Zheng, forcing a smile, was about to make conversation when a flustered servant announced the Prince of Xiping. Before he could has­ten to meet him the prince had entered.

Commissioner Zhao stepped forward at once to salute him, then or-

dered his officers, “Since His Highness has arrived, you gentlemen can take runners to guard the front and back gates.”

His officers assented and went out. Jia Zheng, knowing that this spelt trouble, fell on his knees to welcome the prince, who helped him to his feet with a smile.

“We wouldn’t presume to intrude without special reason, “he said. “We have come to announce an Imperial decree to Lord She. You have many feasters here, which is somewhat inopportune, so T’ll ask your relatives and friends to disperse, leaving only your own household to hear the decree.”

Commissioner Zhao put in, “Your Highness is very gracious, but the prince officiating at the East Mansion takes his duties so seriously that the gates are doubtless already sealed up.”

Hearing that both mansions were involved, the guests were desperate to extricate themselves.

“These gentlemen are free to go,” the prince said affably. “Have attendants see them out and notify your guards that there is no need to search them as they are all guests. Let them leave at once.

Then those relatives and friends streaked off like lightning, leaving Jia Zheng, Jia She and their households livid and trembling with fear. Mean­while runners had swarmed in to guard all the doors, so that no one

whether master or man could stir a foot from his place.

Commissioner Zhao turned to request the prince. “Please read the decree, Your Highness, then we can start the search.”

The runners hitched up their tunics and rolled up their sleeves, ready to go into action.

The Prince of Xiping proclairned slowly, “His Majesty has ordered me to bring Zhao Quan of the Imperiai Guards to search Jia She’s property.”

Jia She and the rest prostrated themselves on the ground.

The prince, standing on the dais. continued. “Hear the Imperiai de­cree: Jia She has intrigued with provincial officiais and abused his power to molest the weak, showing himself unworthy of Our favour and sullying his ancestors’ good name. His hereditary rank is hereby abolished.”

Commissioner Zhao thundered, “Arrest Jia She! Keep guard over the others.”

At that time, all the men of both Jia Mansions were in the hall except for Baoyu, who had slipped off to join the old lady on the pretext of indisposition, and Jia Huan who was seldom presented to guests. So all the rest were now under surveillance.

Commissioner Zhao told his men to dispatch officers and runners to search the different apartments and draw up an inventory. This order made Jia Zheng’s household exchange consternated glances, while the runners gleefully rubbed their hands, eager to ransack the place.

The prince interposed, “We hear that Lord She and Lord Zheng keep separate accounts, and according to the decree we are to search the former’s property. The rest is to be sealed up pending further orders.”

Commissioner Zhao rose to his feet. “May it please Your Highness,” he said, “Jia She and Jia Zheng have not divided the family property, and we hear that Jia Zheng has put his nephew Jia Lian in charge of his household affairs. We shall therefore have to search the whole premises.” When the prince made no comment he added, “I must go in person with my officers to search the houses of Jia She and Jia Lian.”

“There is no hurry,” demurred the prince. “Send word first so that the ladies inside may withdraw before you start to search.”

But already the commissioner’s attendants and runners, making the Jias’ servants show them the way, had set off in different directions to ransack both mansions.

“No disorder now!” called the prince sternly. “I shall come in person to supervise the search!” Then getting up slowly he ordered, “None of those who came with me are to move. Wait here. Later we shall check up on the property and make an inventory.”

Just then a guard came in and knelt to report, “In the inner apartments we have found some clothes from the Palace and other forbidden things which we haven’t presumed to touch. I have come, Your Highness, to ask for your orders.”

Presently another group gathered round the prince to report, “In Jia Lian’s house we have found two cases of title-deeds and one of promis­sory notes all at illegally exorbitant rates of interest.”

“Good!” cried Commissioner Zhao. “So they are usurers too. All their property should certainly be confiscated! Please rest here, Your

~ighness, while I supervise the search before coming back for your in­structions.”

Just then, however, the prince’s steward announced, “The guards at the gate say that His Majesty has sent the Prince of Beijing to proclaim another decree and they ask the commissioner to receive him.”

As Commissioner Zhao started out to meet the Prince of Beijing he told himself, “I was out of luck having that crabbed prince foisted on me. Now, with this other one here, I should be able to crack down on them hard!”

The Prince of Beijing had already entered the hall. Standing facing the doorway he announced, “Here is a decree. Let Zhao Quan, Commis­sioner of the Imperial Guards, pay heed.” He then proclaimed, “The commissioner’s sole task is to arrest Jia She for trial. The Prince of Xiping will deterrnine what other measures to take according to the ear­lier decree.”

Elated by this, the Prince of Xiping seated himself beside the Prince of Beijing and sent the commissioner back to his yamen with Jia She. This development disappointed all his officers and runners, who had come out on hearing of the second prince’s arrival. They had to stand there awaiting Their Highnesses’ orders. The Prince of Beijing selected two honest officers and a dozen of the older runners, sending away the rest.

The Prince of Xiping told him, “I was just losing patience with Old Zhao. If you hadn’t brought that decree in the nick of time, sir, they’d have been really hard hit here.”

“When I heard at court that Your Highness had been sent to search the Jia Mansions I was relieved, knowing you would let them off more lightly, “the Prince of Beijing replied. “I never thought Old Zhao was such a scoundrel. But where are Jia Zheng and Baoyu now? And how much damage has been done inside?”

His men reported, “Jia Zheng and the rest are under guard in the servants’ quarters, and the whole place has been turned upside down.”

At the Prince of Beijing’s orders, the officers fetched Jia Zheng for questioning. He fell on his knees before Their Highnesses and with tears in his eyes begged for mercy. The prince helped him up and urged him not to worry, then informed him of the terms of the new decree. With

tears of gratitude, Jia Zheng kowtowed towards the north to thank the Emperor then turned back for further instructions.

The prince said, “When Old Zhao was here just now, Your Lordship, his runners reported finding various articles for Imperial use and some promissory notes for usurious loans this we cannot cover up. Regard­ing those forbidden articles, as they were for Her Imperial Highness’ use it will do no harm to report them. But we must find some way to explain those IOU’s. Now I want you, sir, to take the officers and hon­estly hand over to them all your brother’s property, to end the matter. Don’t on any account conceal anything, or you will be asking for trouble.”

“I would never dare,” answered Jia Zheng. “But we never divided up our ancestral estate, simply considering the things in our two houses as our own property.”

“Very well,” they said. “Just hand over everything in Lord She’s house.” They sent the two officers off with orders to attend only to this and nothing else.

Let us return now to the ladies’ feast in the Lady Dowager’s quar­ters. Lady Wang had just warned Baoyu that unless he went out to join the gentlemen his father might be angry.

Xifeng, still unwell, said faintly, “I don’t think Baoyu’s afraid of meeting them, but he knows there are plenty of people there to entertain the guests, so he’s waiting on us here instead. If it occurs to the master that they need more people there to look after the guests, you can trot out Baoyu, madam. How about that?”

“This minx Xifeng!” the old lady chuckled. “She still has the gift of the gab for all she’s so ill!”

The fun was at its height when one of Lady Xing’s maids came rush­ing in crying, “Your Ladyships! We’re done for! A whole lot of robbers have come, all in boots and official caps… They’er opening cases, over­turning crates, ransacking the whole place’

The old lady and the others had not recovered from this shock when Pinger, her hair hanging loose, dashed in with Qiaojie.

“We’re ruined!” she wailed. “I was having lunch with Qiaojie when Lai Wang appeared in chains, and told me to lose no time in warning you

ladies to keep out of the way, as some prince has come to raid our house! I nearly died of fright! Before I could go in to fetch any valuables, a band of men drove me out. You’d better make haste to get together the clothes and things you need.”

Lady Xing and Lady Wang were completely flummoxed, frightened out of their wits. Xifeng who had listened wide-eyed now collapsed in a faint. The old lady was crying with terror, unable to utter a word.

Pandemonium reigned as the maids tried to attend to their mistresses. Then they heard shouts, “The women inside must make themselves scarce! The prince is coming!”

Baochai and Baoyu looked on helplessly as the maids and nurses at­tempted desperately to hustle the ladies out. Then in ran Jia Lian.

“It’s all right now!” he panted. “Thank goodness the prince has come to our rescue!”

Before they could question him, he saw Xifeng lying as if dead on the floor and gave a cry of alarm. Then the sight of the old lady, terror-stricken and gasping for breath, made him even more frantic. LuckHy Pinger and others managed to revive Xifeng and help her up. The old lady recovered consciousness too, but lay back dizzily on the couch sob­bing and choking for breath, while Li Wan did her best to soothe her.

Taking a grip on himself, Jia Lian explained to them how kindly the two princes had intervened. But fearing that the news of Jia She’s arrest might make the old lady and Lady Xing die of fright, he withheld it for the time being and went back to his own quarter.

Once over the threshold, he saw that all their cases and wardrobes had been opened and rifled. He stood speechless in consternation, shed-ding tears, till he heard his name called and had to go out. Jia Zheng was there with two officers drawing up an inventory, which one of the officers read out as follows:

One hundred and twenty-three gold tnnkets set with jewels; thirteen strings of pearls two pale gold plates; two pairs of gold bowls; two gilded bowls; forty gold spoons; eighty big silver bowls and twenty silver plates; two pairs of ivory chopsticks inlaid with gold; four gilded pots; three pairs of gilded cups; two tea-trays; seventy-six silver saucers; thirty-six silver cups; eighteen black fox furs; six deep-grey fox furs; thirty-six

sable furs; thirty yellow fox furs; twelve ermine furs; three grey fox furs; sixty marten furs; forty grey fox-leg furs; twenty brown sheep-skins; two raccoon furs; two bundles of yellow fox-leg furs; twenty pieces of white fox fur; thirty lengths of Western worsted; twenty-three lengths of serge; twelve lengths of velveteen; twenty musk-rat furs; four pieces of spotted squirrel fur; one bolt of velvet; one piece of plum-deer skin; two fox furs with ornamental cloud patterns; a roll of badgercub skin; seven bundles of platypus fur; a hundred and sixty squirrel furs; eight male wolf-skins; six tiger-skins; three seal-skins; sixteen otter furs; forty bundles of grey sheep-skins; sixty-three black sheep-skins; ten sets of red fox-fur hat material; twelve sets of black fox-fur hat material; two sets of sable-fur hat material; sixteen small fox furs; two beaver-skins; two otter-skins; thirty-five civet-cat furs; twelve lengths of Japanese silk; one hundred and thirty bolts of satin: one hundred and eighty-one bolts of gauze; thirty-two bolts of crepe; thirty bolts of Tibetan serge; eigbt bolts of satin with serpent designs; three hales of hemp-cloth; three bales of different kinds of cloth; one hundred fur coats; thirty-two Tibetan serge garments; three hundred and forty padded and unpadded garments; thirty-two jade articles; nine jade buckles; over five hundred utensils of copper and tin; eighteen clocks and watches; nine chaplets; thirty-two lengths of different kinds of satin with serpent designs; three satin cush­ions with serpent designs for Imperial use; eight costumes for Palace ladies; one white jade belt; twelve bolts of yellow satin; seven thousand and two hundred taels of silver; fifty taels of gold; seven thousand strings of cash.

Separate lists were made of all the furnishings and the mansions con­ferred on the Duke of Rongguo. The title-deeds of houses and land and the bonds of the family slaves were also sealed up.

Jia Lian, listening at one side, was puzzled not to hear his own prop­erty listed.

Then the two princes said, “Among the property confiscated are some 10U’s which are definitely usurious. Whose are they? Your Lordship must tell the truth.”

Jia Zheng knelt down and kowtowed. “I am guilty of never having managed the household affairs and that is the truth,” he said. “I know nothing about such transactions. Your Highnesses will have to ask my nephew Jia Lian.”

Jia Lian hastily stepped forward and knelt to report, “Since those documents were found in my humble house, how can I deny knowledge of them? I only beg Your Highnesses to be lenient to my uncle who knew nothing about this.”

The two princes said, “As your father has already been found guilty, your cases can be dealt with together. You did right to admit this. Very well then, let a guard be kept over ha Lian; the rest of the household can return to their different quarters. Lord Zheng, you must wait prudently for a further decree. We shall go now to report to His Majesty, leaving officers and runners here to keep watch.”

They mounted their sedan-chairs, Jia Zheng and the others kneeling at the inner gate to see them off. The Prince of Beijing, on leaving, stretched out one hand with a look of compassion and said, “Please set your minds at rest.”

By now Jia Zheng felt slightly calmer, although still dazed.

Jia Lan suggested, “Grandfather, won’t you go in to see the old lady first? Then we can send for news of the East Mansion.”

Jia Zheng hastily did so, and found serving-women from different apart­ments all milling about in confusion. In no mood to check what they were doing he entered his mother’s room, where one and all were in tears. Lady Wang, Baoyu and others had gathered silently around the old lady, tears streaming down their cheeks. Lady Xing was shaken by sobs. At his arrival they exclaimed in relief.

“The master has come back safely,” they told the old lady. “Don’t worry any more, madam.”

The Lady Dowager, apparently at her last gasp, feebly opened her eyes and quavered, “My son, I never thought to see you again!”

She burst out weeping and all the others joined in until Jia Zheng, fearing these transports of grief might be too much for his mother, held back his tears.

“Set your heart at rest, madam,” he urged. “It is a serious matter, but His Gracious Majesty and the two princes have shown us the kindest consideration. The Elder Master has been taken into custody for the time being; but once the matter is cleared up the Emperor will show more clemency. And our property is not being confiscated.”

Jia She’s arrest distressed the old lady anew, and Jia Zheng did his best to comfort her.

Lady Xing was the only one who ventured to leave, going back to her apartments. She found the doors sealed up and locked, the serving-women confined in a few rooms. Unable to get in she burst out wailing, then made her way back to Xifeng’s apartments. The side-gate there was also sealed, but Xifeng’s room was open and from it came the sound of continuous sobbing. Entering, she saw Xifeng lying with closed eyes, her face ashen-pale, while Pinger wept beside her. Thinking her dead, Lady Xing started sobbing too.

“Don’t cry, madam,” said Pinger, stepping forward to greet her. “We carried her back just now in a dead faint, but presently she came to and cried a little. Now she is quieter. Please calm down, madam. How is the old lady now?”

Lady Xing made no answer but went to rejoin the Lady Dowager. The only people there were members of Jia Zheng’s household, and she could not hold back her grief at the thought that both her husband and son had been arrested, her daughter-in-law was at death’s door, and her daughter was ill-treated by her husband, so that she had nowhere to turn. The others tried to console her. Li Wan told servants to clear out some rooms for her for the time being, and Lady Wang assigned maids to look after her.

Jia Zheng outside was on tenterhooks, tweaking his beard and wring­ing his hands as he waited for the Emperor’s next decree.

“Which house do you belong to anyway?” he heard the guards out­side shouting. “As you’ve come butting in here, we’ll put you down on our list and chain you up to hand over to the officers inside.”

Jia Zheng went out and saw it was Jiao Da.

“Why did you come here?” he asked.

Jiao Da stamped his foot and wailed, “I warned those degenerate masters of ours all along, but they treated me as their sworn enemy’ Even you don’t know, sir, what hardships I endured serving the old duke. Now things have come to a pretty pass with Sir Zhen and Rong arrested by some princes’ officers! The ladies’ trinkets were looted by the offic­ers and runners and they were shut up in an empty room! And those

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useless slaves cooped up like pigs and dogs! Everything has been confis­cated, furniture broken in pieces, porcelain smashed they even want to put me in chains too! I’ve lived eighty to ninety years and trussed people up for the old duke; how can I let myself be trussed up instead? I told them I belonged to the West Mansion and broke out, but those fel­lows wouldn’t let me go. They hauled me here, where I find things are just as bad. I’m sick of life I’ll have it out with them!” With that he butted the runners.

As he was so old and their orders were not to make trouble, the run­ners simply said, “Pipe down, old man. This is done by Imperial decree. You’d better take it easy and wait for news.

Although Jia Zheng tried to ignore this, he felt as if a knife had been plunged in his heart. “We’re done for, done for!” he sighed. “To think that we should be reduced to this!”

As he was waiting impatiently for news from court, Xue Ke came running in. “What a time I had getting in here!” he panted. “Where is uncle?”

“Thank Heaven you’ve come!” Jia Zheng exclaimed. “How did you gain admittance?”

“By pleading hard and promising them money.

Jia Zheng described the raid to him and asked him to make inquiries. “I can’t very well send messages to other relatives and friends now that we’re under fire,” he explained. “But you can deliver messages for me.”

“It never occurred to me that you’d have trouble here, sir; but I’ve heard something about the East Mansion’s business.”

“What exactly are the charges against them?”

“Today I went to the yamen to find out what Cousin Pan’s sentence is, and I heard that two censors have accused Cousin Zhen of corrupting young nobles by getting them to gamble that isn’t so serious. The more serious charge is of abducting the wife of an honest citizen, who Was forced to kill herself rather than submit. To bring this charge home, the censors got our man Bao Er and a fellow called Zhang as witnesses. Thi5 may involve the Court of Censors too, as that fellow Zhang had brought a suit before.”

Jia zheng stamped his foot. “Terrible! We’re done for!” he sighed, tears 5~eaming down his cheeks.

Xue Ke tried to reassure him then went off to find out more news, returning a few hours later.

“It looks bad,” he informed him. “When I asked at the Board of Punishments, I didn’t hear the result of the two princes’ report but was told that this morning Censor Li brought another charge against the pre­fect of Pingan, accusing him of pandering to an official in the capital and oppressing the people to please his superior there were several seri­ous charges.”

“Never mind about other people,” said Jia Zheng impatiently. “What did you hear about us?”

“That charge against the prefect of Ping an involves us too, sir. The official in the capital referred to by the censor was Lord She, who’s accused of tampering with lawsuits. This adds fuel to the flames! All your colleagues are trying hard to keep out of this, so who would send you word? Even those relatives and friends at your feast either went home or are keeping well away until they know the upshot. Some clans­men of yours confound them! – have been saying openly, “Their ancestors left them property and titles. Now that they’re in trouble who knows whom the title may go to. We all ought to take steps….

Without hearing him out Jia Zheng stamped his foot again. “What a fool my brother is!” he groaned. “It’s a scandal, too, the way they’ve carried on in the East Mansion! For all we know this may be the death of the old lady and Lian’s wife! Go and see what more you can find out while I look in on the old lady. If there’s any news, the sooner we know it the better.”

Just then a great commotion broke out inside and they heard cries of “The old lady’s dying!” Jia Zheng hurried anxiously in. To know whether she lived or died, you must read the next chapter.

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