A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 108

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Chapter 108

Baochai’s Birthday Is Celebrated

with Forced Mirth

Baoyu, Longing for the Dead, Hears Ghosts

Weeping in Bamboo Lodge

When Jia Zheng’s petition to make over to the state his mansion and Grand View Garden was rejected by the court, as there was no one staying in the Garden he had the place locked up. Later, as it adjoined the quarters of Madam You and Xichun and its vast grounds were deserted, to punish Bao Yong he sent him there to keep watch.

ha Zheng was regulating the household now in accordance with his mother’s instructions, gradually cutting down the staff and economizing in all possible ways; but still he could not manage. Luckily for him, xifeng was the old lady’s favourite although no love was lost between her and Lady Wang and the rest and as she was an able manager the household affairs were once more entrusted to her. Since the raid, how­ever, for lack of funds she had no scope to manoeuvre and because the mistresses and maids of the different apartments were used to luxury, with their income less than a third of what it had been she found it impos­sible to satisfy them. Inevitably there were endless complaints. But Xifeng, in spite of her illness, dared not relinquish her task and did her best to please the Lady Dowager.

After Jia She and Jia Zhen reached their destinations, having money they settled down there for the time being, writing home that they were COrnfortably off and the family need not worry. This relieved the old lady’s mind, and Lady Xing and Madam You took comfort too.

One day, Shi Xiangyun arrived on her first visit after her marriage. The old lady, to whom she paid her respects, complimented her on her husband; and Xiangyun told her that her whole family was well and she need have no anxiety on that score. Then, speaking of Daiyu’s death, they both shed tears; and the thought of Yingchun’s hard lot made the old lady even sadder. After trying to console her, Xiangyun paid a round of

calls on the others, returning to rest in the old lady’s room. And now they spoke of the Xue family and how it had been ruined by Xue Pan; for though this year he had been granted a reprieve, there was no knowing whether his sentence would be commuted next year or not.

“You haven’t heard the latest,” said the old lady. “The other day Pan’s wife died in mysterious circumstances, nearly causing another scandal~ Thanks to the mercy of Buddha, the maid she had brought with her made a clean breast of the business, so that old Mrs. Xia couldn’t raise a row and stopped them from holding an inquest. The trouble your aunt had getting rid of the Xi as! So you see the truth of the saying ‘All kinsmen share the same fate.’ The Xues are in a bad way. Now the only one she has staying with her is Ke. He’s a good-hearted lad who says he won’t marry while Pan is still in jail, his case not settled; that’s why your Cousin Xiuyan is staying with the Elder Mistress and having a thin time. Baoqin hasn’t married yet either, because Academician Mei’s son is still in mourning for him. The Second Mistress’ elder brother has died, Xifeng’s elder brother is a nincompoop, and that niggardly Second Uncle of theirs has embezzled public funds; so they’re in hot water as well. As for the Zhen family, we’ve had no news of them since their house was raided.”

“Has Cousin Tanchun written home since she left?” asked Xiangyun.

“After her marriage your uncle came back with the news that she was happily settled at the coast. We’ve had no letter from her, though, and I miss her the whole time; but what with all the troubles our family’s had, there’s nothing I can do. Now Xichun’s marriage still has to be fixed. As for Huan, who has time for him? We’re harder up now than we used to be when you stayed here. Poor Baochai hasn’t passed a single day in comfort since she came to our family. And your Cousin Bao’s still so crazy what can we do?”

“I grew up here so I know all my cousins we~,” Xiangyun replied. “They’ve all changed since last I was here. I thought at first they were holding aloof because I’d stayed away so long; but on thinking it over I realize it isn’t that. When we met, I could see they meant to be as free­and~easy as in the old days; but, somehow, once we got talking they grew depressed. That’s why after sitting with them for a bit I came back

here to you, madam.”

“The way we’re living now is all right with me, but how can those young people stand it? I’ve been wondering how to give them a day’s fun, but I haven’t the energy for it.”

“I have an idea!” cried Xiangyun. “It’s Baochai’s birthday, isn’t it, the day after tomorrow? I can stay an extra day to congratulate her, and we’ll all have a day’s fun. What do you think, madam?”

“Anger must have addled my wits. If you hadn’t reminded me, I’d have forgotten. Of course, the day after tomorrow is her birthday. I’ll get out some money to celebrate it tomorrow. We had several parties for her in the past, but not since she married into the family. Baoyu used to be such a clever, mischievous boy, but our family misfortunes have left him speechless. Zhu’s wife is still a good daughter-in-law, quietly bringing Lan up and behaving the same whether things go well or badly it’s hard on her.”

“The one who’s changed most is Cousin Xifeng,” put in Xiangyun. “She’s lost her good looks and her old gift of the gab. Wait till I tease them tomorrow and see how they react. But I’m afraid, though they won’t say so, they’ll secretly resent the fact that now I have… ” She broke off at this point blushing.

“Don’t worry,” said the old lady seeing her embarrassment. “You and your cousins used to have a good time chaffing each other. You mustn’t have such scruples. People should make the best of what they’ve got, able to enjoy rank and riches or to put up with poverty. Your Cousin Baochai has always been broadminded. When her family was well-off she wasn’t the least bit conceited; later, when they got into trouble, she kept cheerful. Now that she’s one of our family, when Baoyu treats her well she takes it calmly, and if he’s bad to her it doesn’t provoke her. I think that’s her good fortune. Your Cousin Daiyu, on the other hand, was narrow-minded and hyper-sensitive; that’s why she didn’t live long. Xifeng, being more experienced, shouldn’t let upsets influence her behaviour. If she’s so foolish, that’s rather petty too. Well, as the day after tomorrow is Baochai’s birthday, I’ll get out some silver for a lively celebration, to give her a happy day.”

“You’re quite right, madam. And while you’re about it, why not

invite all her girl cousins too? Then we can have a good chat.”

“I certainly will.” More cheerful now, the old lady told Yuanyang to get out a hundred taels and order the servants to prepare two days’ feasts, starting from the next day.

Yuanyang sent one of the matrons off with the money, after which the night passed uneventfully.

The next day, servants were sent to fetch Yingchun home. Aunt Xue and Baoqin were invited too, and asked to bring Xiangling. Aunt Li was also invited, and Li Wen and Li Qi with her.

Baochai was still in the dark when one of the old lady’s maids ar­rived with the message, Aunt Xue has come, and you’re asked to go over, madam.”

Without stopping to change her clothes, she went over happily to see her mother. She found assembled there her cousin Baoqin and Xiangling, as well as Aunt Li and others. Ascribing their visit to the news that the Jia family was no longer in trouble, she paid her respects to Aunt Li and to the old lady, said a few words to her mother, then greeted the Li sisters.

“Please take seats, ladies,” urged Xiangyun, “while we girls wish Cousin Baochai a long life.”

Baochai stood amazed, then thought, “Yes, of course tomorrow is my birthday.”

“Jt’s right and proper for you girls to come and see the old lady,” she protested. “I can’t have you saying that it’s on my account.”

Baoyu, come to greet Aunt Xue and Aunt Li, arrived in time to hear her modest rejoinder. He had been wanting to celebrate his wife’s birth­day, but had not ventured to suggest it to his grandmother because the household was at sixes and sevens. Now that Xiangyun and the rest were about to congratulate Baochai, he was delighted.

“It’s tomorrow, her birthday,” he said. “I was meaning to remind the old lady.”

“For shame!” retorted Xiangyun playfully. “The old lady doesn’t need any reminding. Do you suppose these visitors would have come if she hadn’t invited them?”

~aochai could hardly believe this, but now she heard the old lady tell her mother, “Poor Baochai has been married for a year, but with one

thing after another cropping up here we’ve not celebrated her birthday. I’m giving this party for her today, and have asked you ladies over for a good chat.”

“You shouldn’t have put yourself out, madam,” said Aunt Xue. “You’ve been having such an anxious time, and the child hasn’t been dutiful enough.”

“The old lady’s favourite grandchild is Cousin Bao,” quipped Xiangyun. “So why shouldn’t his wife be a favourite too? Besides, Baochai deserves a birthday party.”

Baochai lowered her head and said nothing.

Baoyu told himself, “I thought marriage was bound to turn Cousin Shi into a different person, so I was afraid to approach her and she ig­nored me too; but it seems from the way she talks that she hasn’t changed. In that case, why has Baochai grown so bashful since we married? She can hardly get a word out.”

As he was wondering about this, a young maid came in to report Yingchun’s return. Then Li Wan and Xifeng arrived too, and greetings were exchanged.

Yingchun mentioned that at the time of her father’s departure she had wanted to see him of{ but her husband had forbidden her. “He said that our family was having a run of bad luck and I mustn’t be tainted by it,” she explained. “I couldn’t talk him round so I didn’t come, just cried for days on end.”

“Then why did he let you come today?” asked Xifeng.

“He says it’s all right to keep up the connection now that our Second Master has inherited the title.” She wept again.

“I was feeling very depressed,” complaind the old lady. “That’s why I invited you all here today to celebrate my granddaughter-in-law’s birthday. I thought some fun and laughter would cheer us up, but here you are provoking me by bringing up those tiresome things again.”

Then Yingchun and the others dropped the subject.

Though Xifeng forced herseJf to crack a joke or two, she was less Witty and amusing than before; but the old lady egged her on, in the hope of diverting Baochai. And Xifeng, understanding this, did her best.

She said, “Today the old lady’s feeling more cheerful. And look at all

these people who haven’t foregathered for so long, here today all to-gether.” There she broke off for, glancing round, she realized that her mother~in-law and Madam You were absent.

The two words “all together” reminded the old lady of them too, and she sent to invite them. Lady Xing, Madam You and Xichun had per­force to come, although much against their wishes, reflecting that if the Lady Dowager was in the mood to celebrate Baochai’s birthday with the family half ruined – it showed her favouritism. Hence they arrived looking listless and apathetic. When asked about Xiuyan, Lady Xing made the excuse that she was unwell and the old lady said no more, knowing that Aunt Xue’s presence made it embarrassing for Xiuyan to come.

Soon sweetmeats and wine were served. “We won’t send any to the gentlemen outside,” said the Lady Dowager. “Today’s party is just for us womenfolk.”

Baoyu, though a married man now, still had the freedom of the inner quarters because he was his grandmother’s favourite. Being unable to sit with Xiangyun and Baoqin, he took a seat by the old lady and started toasting the guests one by one on Baochai’s behalf.

“Sit down now and let’s all drink,” proposed the old lady. “You can go round and pay your respects to them later. If you do that now, every­one will be formal and that would spoil my fun.”

Baochai complied and sat down.

“Today we may as well let ourselves go,” continued the old lady. “We’ll just keep one or two maids to wait on us, and I’ll tell Yuanyang to take Caiyun, Yinger, Xiren and Pinger to the back to drink by them­selves.”

The maids protested, “We haven’t yet kowtowed to Madam Bao. How can we go off to drink?”

“Just do as I say,” she answered. “We’ll call you when we need You.”

After Yuanyang had gone off with the other maids, the old lady urged Aunt Xue and the others to drink. But none of them behaved as they had ~ the old days.

“What’s wrong with you?” she demanded frantically. ‘q want every-

one to have fun!”

“We’re eating and drinking what more should we do?” asked xiangyun.

~They used to be young and gay,” explained Xifeng. “Now they’re standing too much on their dignity to talk wildly; that’s why you find them rather quiet, madam.”

Baoyu whispered, “There’s nothing we can talk about, madam, be­cause any talk’s bound to lead to something depressing. Why don’t you get them to play a drinking game?”

The old lady had inclined her head to listen. Now she remarked with a smile, “If we’re to play drinking games we must call Yuanyang back.”

Needing no further instrnctions, Baoyu went to the back to give her this message.

“Won’t you let us drink a cup in peace, young master?” she pro­tested. “Why come and disturb us?”

“It’s trne,” he insisted. “The old lady wants you there. This isn’t my doing.”

Yuanyang had to tell the others, “Just go on drinking, I’ll be back before long.” With that she rejoined the old lady.

‘~So here you are, eb?” said the Lady Dowager. “We want to play drinking games.”

“I came because Master Bao told me you wanted me, madam. What game would you like to play?”

“Those literary games are terribly dull, but rowdy ones are no good either. You must think of something fresh.”

After a moment~s reflection Yuanyang said, “Aunt Xue at her age doesn’t like to cudgel her brains, so why don’t we fetch the dice-pot and toss for the names of melodies, making the losers drink?”

“Very well.” The old lady sent for the dice-pot and had it put on the table.

“We’ll throw four dice,” Yuanyang announced, “Anyone who fails to produce a name must drink one cup as forfeit. If a name is thrown, the others will have to drink according to the pips.”

“That sounds simple,” said the rest. “We’ll do as you say.”

They made Yuanyang drink a cup and toss to see who should start,

counting from herself – and it happened to be Aunt Xue, who threw four ones.

“The name for this,” said Yuanyang, “is ‘The Four Elders of Shangshan.’ Those getting on in years should drink.” This meant the old lady, Aunt Li, Lady Xing and Lady Wang. But as the old lady raised her cup Yuanyang continued, “Since Aunt Xue threw this, she must give the name of a melody corresponding to it, and the one whose turn is next must follow with a Line of poetry. The forfeit if either of them fails is one cup.

~You’re having me on!” objected Aunt Xue. “How can I possibly answer?”

“It’s too tame if you don’t,” said the Lady Dowager. “so better make a try. It’s my turn next, and if I can’t think of a line I’ll drink with you.

Then Aunt Xue said, “The melody’s called Retreating into Flowers as Old Age Approaches.”

The old lady nodded and quoted:

“Men may say that in idle moments I ape children.”

Then the dice-pot was passed to Li Wen, who tossed two fours and two twos.

Yuanyang said, “This has a name too. It’s ‘Liu Zhen and Yuan Zhao Go to Mount Tiantai.’

Li Wen named the melody Two Scholars Go to Peach-blossom Stream, and Li Wan who was next to her quoted:

“Finding Peach-blossom Stream to escape from Qin.”

All took a sip of wine, after which the dice-pot went to the old lady, who tossed two twos and two threes. “I suppose I shall have to drink,” she said.

But Yuanyang told her, “There’s a name for this: ‘The Swallow on the River Leads Its Fledgelings.’ Everybody has to drink.”

“Many of the fledgelings have flown,” began Xifeng, when glances from the others silenced her.

“Well, what shall I say?” the old lady went on. “The Grandfather Leads His Grandchildren.”

Li Qi, the next, quoted:

“Idly watching children catching willow-catkins.”

And this won general approval.

Baoyu was eager to try his hand but had to wait for his turn. While he was thinking the pot was set before him and he threw one two, two threes and a single one. He asked, “What is this called?”

Yuanyang smiled and replied, “It’s no good. Drink up and throw again.”

This time he threw two threes and two fours.

“This is called ‘Zhang Chang Paints His Wife’s Eyebrows,”‘ Yuanyang announced.

Baoyu knew that she was teasing, and Baochai blushed scarlet. But Xifeng, not catching on, urged him, “Answer quickly, Cousin Bao, so that we can pass on to the next.”

He gave up then, saying sheepishly, “I’ll pay the forfeit. There’s no one after me either.”

Then the dice-pot went to Li Wan who made her toss.

Yuanyang said, “You’ve thrown ‘The Twelve Girls with Golden Hair­pins.”

Baoyu at once hurried over to have a look and saw that half the pips were red, half green. “Very pretty!” he exclaimed. Suddenly recalling his dream of twelve girls he went back to his seat in a daze. “Those twelve girls were supposed to be from Jinling,” he mused. “How is it that of all those in our family only these few are left?” Seeing Xiangyun and Baochai there but not Daiyu, he ~t tears well up in his eyes and, to escape detection, excused himself on the pretext that he was hot and wanted to take off some clothes. Xiangyun, who noticed him slip away, supposed that he was sulking because he had tossed less successfully than the rest. She was rather vexed herself too because the game was so dull.

Then Li Wan said, “I’m stumped. There are people missing too. I’d better pay the forfeit.”

“This game isn’t much fun, let’s give it up,” suggested the old lady. “Let Yuanyang have a try. See what she gets.”

A young maid put the dice-pot before Yuanyang, who did as she was

told, throwing two twos and one five. While the fourth dice was still rolling in the pot she cried. “Not a five!” But a five it was. “Too bad!” she exclaimed. “I’ve lost.”

“Doesn’t this count as anything?” asked the old lady.

“Well, it has a name, but I can’t think what melody goes with it.” “Tell me its name and I’ll think up something for you.”

“It’s ‘Water-weeds Swept by Waves.’

“That’s not difficult. Here you are: Autumn Fish Amid Caltrops.” Xiangyun who came next recited:

“I sang white water-weeds on the southern river in autumn.”

“Very apt,” approved the others.

“This game’s finished. Let’s drink a few cups, then have rice,” pro­posed the Lady Dowager, then noticed that the place beside her was empty. “Where has Baoyu gone? Why isn’t he back yet?” she asked.

Yuanyang told her he had gone to change his clothes.

“Who went with him?”

Yinger stepped forward to report, “When I saw Master Bao going out I told Sister Xiren to go with him.”

Their Ladyships felt reassured, but after waiting for a while Lady Wang sent a young maid in search of him. She went to the bridal cham­ber where Wuer was setting out candles.

“Where is Master Bao?” asked the maid.

“Over with the old lady, drinking.”

“I’ve just come from there, sent by Her Ladyship to find him. If he were there, why should she send me?”

“In that case I don’t know where he is,” said Wuer. “You’d better try somewhere else.”

On her way back the maid met Qiuwen. “Have you seen Master Bao?” she asked her.

“I’m looking for him too,” was the reply. “The mistresses are wait­ing for him to start dinner. Wherever can he have got to? Hurry back and tell the old lady, not that he’s not at home but that he’s feeling out of Sorts after drinking and doesn’t want any food. After resting for a little he’ll rejoin them. He hopes Their Ladyships will start without him.”

The young maid ran meekly off to give this message to Zhenzhu, who reported it to the Lady Dowager.

“He never eats much,” the old lady said. “So missing a meal doesn’t matter. Tell him to have a good rest and not to trouble to come back today as we have his wife here instead.”

Zhenzhu asked the younger maid, “Did you hear that?”

Replying in the affirmative and not liking to tell them the truth, the girl went out for a stroll then came back to report that she had delivered this message. The others paid no attention and after their meal broke up into groups to chat. But enough of this.

Baoyu who had left the feast in a fit of distress was at a loss what to do. Xiren overtook him to ask what was amiss.

“Nothing,” he answered. “I’m just bored. While they’re drinking, suppose we stroll over to Madam You’s place.”

“She’s with the old lady,” Xiren pointed out. “How can you call on her?”

“I’m not thinking of calling on anyone, just of seeing what her place is like.”

Xiren had to follow him, chatting as they made their way to Madam You’s lodge, near which they saw a small gate left ajar. Instead of going in, Baoyu accosted two matrons in charge of the Garden who were sit­ting on the threshold gossiping.

“Is this small gate always open?” he asked.

“No, it’s usually kept shut,” they answered. “Today, hearing that the old lady might be wanting fruit from the Garden, we opened it in readi­ness.”

He strolled over and looked at the half open gate. Before he could step through it Xiren stopped him.

“Don’t go in there,” she warned. “The Garden’s unclean after being deserted for so long, and you might see another apparition.”

Rather tipsily he boasted, “I’m not afraid of such things!”

Xiren tried hard to restrain him, but the old women butted in, “This Garden’s been quiet ever since the priests haled off the evil spirits that day, and we often go in alone to pick flowers or fruit. If Master Bao

wants to go in we’ll keep him company. There’s safety in numbers!”

Baoyu was pleased and Xiren, unable to stop him, had to go along with them.

When Baoyu stepped into the Garden, it struck him as a scene of desolation. The plants were withering, and the paint was flaking off the lodges in various places. In the distance, however, he saw a clump of bamboo which was still luxuriant. After a second’s thought he said, “Since moving out of the Garden because of my illness, I’ve been living in the hack and haven’t been allowed to come here for months. How quickly the place has run wild! Look, the only green things left are those bam­boos. Isn’t that Bamboo Lodge?”

“After a few months away, you’ve even lost your bearings,” Xiren told him. “We were so busy chatting, you didn’t notice passing Happy Red Court.” She turned and pointed behind. “Bamboo Lodge is over there.”

He looked in the direction in which she was pointing. “Have we really passed it?” he asked dubiously. “Let’s go back and have a look.”

“It’s getting late, time to go home. The old lady must be waiting for you to start dinner.”

Baoyu made no answer but found the path and walked on. You may wonder, Reader, how he could possibly have forgotten the way, even after an absence of nearly a year. The fact is that Xiren had tried to fob him off for fear that the sight of Bamboo Lodge, reminding him of Daiyu, would distress him again. When she saw him heading straight there and was afraid that he might be bewitched, she had pretended that they had passed the place. But Baoyu had set his heart on visiting Barnboo Lodge. He strode swiftly ahead and she had to follow him, till he froze in his tracks as if watching or listening to something.

“Do you hear anything?” she asked.

“Is there anybody staying in Bamboo Lodge?”

“I shouldn’t think so.”

“I distinctly heard sobbing inside, so there must be someone.”

“That’s just your imagination. Because you often used to come here before and find Miss Lin weeping.”

Baoyu did not believe her and wanted to go closer to hear better.

The matrons overtaking them urged, “Better go back, Master Bao. It’s growing dark. Other places aren’t scary, but this is out of the way and they say that since Miss Lin’s death weeping has often been heard here, so everybody gives the place a wide berth.”

Baoyu and Xiren were startled.

“So it’s true!” he exclaimed, shedding tears. “Cousin Lin! Cousin Lin! There was nothing the matter with you, but I killed you! Don’t hold it against me my parents made the decision. It’s not that I was un­true!” Feeling broken-hearted he burst into loud sobbing.

Xiren was at her wit’s end when Qiuwen and some others hurried towards them.

“Whatever possessed you?” Qiuwen asked Xiren. “Why bring Master Bao here of all places? Their Ladyships are so frantic, they’ve sent out search parties. Just now someone at the side-gate said the two of you had come here, so frightening Their Lady ships that they lashed out at me and ordered me to bring people here at once. Hurry up and go back!”

Baoyu was still weeping bitterly. Ignoring his sobs, Xiren and Qiuwen dragged him off, wiping his tears as they told him how wonried his grand­mother was. He had no choice but to go back.

To allay the old lady’s anxiety Xiren took him straight to her room, where the others were still waiting.

“Xiren!” stormed the Lady Dowager. “I entrusted Baoyu to you think­ing you had some sense. How could you take him to the Garden today, with him just over his illness? If something had given him a turn and brought on another fit, what should we have done?”

Not venturing to justify herself, the maid hung her head in silence. Baochai was appalled too by Baoyu’s unhealthy colour, thus it was left to him to exonerate Xiren.

“What does it matter in broad daylight?” he asked. “It’s so long since I’ve had a stroll in the Garden that I went there after drinking to clear my head. How could anything there possibly give me a turn?”

Xifeng, who had been so terrified in the Garden, shivered with fright at this. “Cousin Bao’s too reckless!” she cried.

“Not reckless but loyal,” put in Xiangyun. “He must have gone to find the Hibiscus Spirit, or in search of some other goddess!”

Baoyu made no reply, and Lady Wang was too worried to get a word out.

“Did anything frighten you in the Garden?” the old lady asked him. “Well, don’t talk about it now. If you want to stroll there in future, you must take more people with you. If not for this rumpus you made, our party would have broken up long ago. Go and have a good night’s sleep now, everyone, and mind you come early tomorrow. I want to make it up to you all by giving you another day of fun. Don’t let this rumpus he kicked up upset you.

Then they all took their leave, Aunt Xue going to spend the night with Lady Wang while Xiangyun stayed with the Lady Dowager, and Yingchun went with Xichun. The others all returned to their own quarters.

Baoyu, back in his room, heaved sigh after sigh but Baochai, knowing the reason for this, ignored him. However, for fear that his grief might bring back his old illness, she called Xiren into the inner room to ask her just what had happened in the Garden. If you want to know Xiren’s answer, read the next chapter.

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