A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 109

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Chapter 109

Baoyu Waits for a Fragrant Spirit and

Wuer Is Loved by Default

Yingchun Pays Her Mortal Debt and Returns

to the Primal Void

After Baochai had heard Xiren’s story, for fear lest Baoyu should fall ill from grief she spoke to her, as if casually, of Daiyu’s death.

‘People feel for each other while on earth,” she said. “But after death they go their separate ways, no longer the same as in life. Even if the one still living remains fond, the one who is dead can’t know it. Be­sides, Miss Lin is said to have become an immortal, so to her all men on earth must be unbearably vulgar and she’d never stoop to coming back. To imagine otherwise is to invite evil spirits to take possession of you.”

Aware that these remarks were intended for Baoyu’s ears, Xiren chimed in, “That’s true, her corning back is out of the question. I was on good terms with her too, so if her spirit were still in the Garden how is it I’ve never seen her once in my dreams?”

Baoyu eavesdropping outside thought to himself, “Yes, this is strange! Though I’ve thought of her time and again each day since her death, why has she never appeared to me in dreams? She must have gone up to Heaven, I suppose, and because I’m too vulgar to have any communica­tion with the divine I’ve not once dreamed of her. Well, tonight I’ll sleep in the outer room and maybe, now that I’ve visited the Garden, she’ll know my heart and ~et me dream of her. I must ask her where she’s actually gone and offer regular sacrifices to her. If she’ll really have nothing to do with a lout like me and won’t let me dream of her, then I’ll stop thinking about her.”

His mind made up, he announced, “Tonight I’m going to sleep in the outer room, and you can just let me be.”

Baochai made no attempt to dissuade him, only saying, “Don’t go imagining all sorts of things. Didn’t you see how worried your mother was too worried to speak because you went to the Garden? If you

don’t look after your health and the old lady hears of it, she’ll blame us for not taking better care of you.

“I just said that for fun,” he answered. “I’ll join you after sitting here awhile. You must be tired; you’d better turn in first.”

Believing him, Baochai prevaricated, “I’ll go to bed and let Xiren wait on you.

This was just what Baoyu wanted. After Baochai had retired he told Xiren and Sheyue to make up a bed for him outside, then sent them in several times to see whether she was sleeping yet or not. She pretended that she was, but in fact stayed awake all night.

When he thought Baochai was asleep he told Xiren, “I want you all to turn in. I’ve stopped feeling upset. If you don’t believe me you can wait till I’ve dropped off before going inside, but mind you don’t disturb me.

Xiren helped him to bed, made his tea then went inside, closing the door behind her, to attend to other things, after which she lay down fully dressed, ready to go out if summoned.

As soon as she had gone, Baoyu dismissed the two matrons who were sitting up to keep watch. Then he quietly sat up to pray below his breath before lying down once more. At first he could not sleep; but once he had calmed himself he dozed off and slept soundly all night, not wak­ing until dawn. He sat up, rubbing his eyes, and thought back – no, he’d had no dream. With a sigh he recited the lines:

One living and one dead, sundered for years,

Her spirit never appeared to him in his dreams.1

Baochai who had passed a sleepless night herself heard this from the inner room. “That’s a wild way to talk!” she called out. “If Cousin Lin were alive she’d take offence again.”

Baoyu got up in embarrassment and went sheepishly in to tell her, “I meant to come in but somehow or other I happened to fall asleep.”

“What’s it to me whether you come in or not?” she retorted.

Xiren had not slept either. At the sound of their voices she promptly came in to pour tea. Then a young maid arrived, sent by the old lady, to inquire whether Baoyu had passed a good night or not and to tell him that,

~ ~

if he had, he should go over with Madam Bao as soon as they were dressed.

Xiren sent her back with the message that Baoyu had slept well and would soon be going over.

After a hasty toilet, Baochai went ahead with Yinger and Xiren to pay her respects to the Lady Dowager, then to Lady Wang and Xifeng. By the time she rejoined the old lady Aunt Xue had arrived.

When asked if Baoyu had slept well, Baochai told them, “He’s quite all right. He went to sleep as soon as we got back.” Then, their minds relieved, they chatted.

And now a young maid came in to report, “Miss Yingchun has to go home. They say Mr. Sun sent servants to complain to the Elder Mistress, who sent word to Miss Xifeng to let her go back. Miss Yingchun’s weeping in the Elder Mistress’ room. She should be coming soon to say goodbye.”

The others, sad to hear this, deplored Yingchun’s fate.

“Such a brute of a husband has ruined her life,” the old lady sighed.

Then Yingchun, her face tear-stained, came in to take her leave. As this was Baochai’s birthday she had to choke back her grief, and know­ing how strictly she was controlled her grandmother could not detain her.

“All right, you’d better go back,” she said. “But don’t be so upset. It’s no use crying over spilt milk. I’ll send for you again in a few days’ time.”

“You’ve always been goodness itself to me, madam,” sobbed Yingchun. “But now there’s nothing you can do. And I’m afraid this is the last time I shall see you!”

“What’s to stop you from coming again?” the others remonstrated. “Your third sister’s worse off, so far away that she’s hardly any chance of coming home.”

The thought of Tanchun reduced them all to tears.

But as this was Baochai’s birthday, the old lady tried to strike a more cheerful note. “It’s not impossible,” she said. “Once peace is restored along the coast and her father-in-law is transferred to the capital, we shall see each other again.”

“That’s true,” the rest agreed.

Then Yingchun had to leave disconsolately. Having seen her out the others rejoined the old lady, who entertained them till the evening when as she looked tired they dispersed.

Aunt Xue went back with Baochai to whom she said, “Your brother’s got by this year. When there’s an Imperial amnesty and his sentence is commuted, we can try to ransom him. But how am I to manage these next few years on my own? I’d like to get Xue Ke married. Do you think that a good idea?”

“You had doubts about it before, mother, because you were horrified by my sister-in-law,” Baochai answered. “I think it’s high time that you saw to this. You know Xiuyan and what a thin time she’s having here. Once she marries into our family, though we’re poor, at least she’ll be much better off than staying here as a dependent.”

“Then find a chance to mention it to the old lady. Tell her I need someone to help out, and so I want to fix the wedding day.”

“Why not just discuss it with Cousin Ke? When you’ve chosen a good day you can come and tell the old lady and Elder Mistress, then take her over and be done with it. The Elder Mistress here is eager to get her married off.”

“I heard today that your Cousin Shi’s going back too. The old lady wanted to keep Baoqin for a few days and she’s staying. As I think that sooner or later she’ll be leaving home to get married, you’d better take this chance to have some good talks.”

“Yes, mother, I will.”

After sitting there for a while Aunt Xue said goodbye to the others and went home.

When Baoyu returned to his quarters that evening he thought, “The fact that I didn’t dream of Daiyu last night may be because she has become an immortal and doesn’t want to meet vulgar oafs like me; or it may be because I’m too impatient.”

That gave him an idea and he told Baochai, “Last night I happened to doze off outside, and slept so much more soundly than in here that I woke up this morning feeling refreshed. So if you’ve no objection I’d like to sleep outside for a couple more nights.”

Baochai knew from the poetry he had recited that morning that he

was thinking of Daiyu, and that there was no reasoning with such a simple­ton. She decided she might as well let him have his own way until he himself lost hope, especially as he had slept well the previous night.

“What’s that got to do with me?” she asked. “You can sleep wher­ever you like; why should we stop you? But don’t let your fancy run wild or put a jinx on yourself.”

“What an idea!” he chuckled.

“Take my advice, Master Bao, and sleep inside,” put in Xiren. “If you’re not well looked after outside and catch cold, that will be bad.” Before he could answer, Baochai tipped Xiren a wink and she continued, “Very well then. We’ll get somebody to keep you company, to pour you tea during the night.”

“In that case, you stay with me,” he said with a smile.

Xiren flushed crimson with embarrassment and did not answer him. Knowing how staid she was Baochai proposed, “She’s used to stay­ing with me, so let her do that. Sheyue and Wuer can look after you. Besides, she’s tired out after dancing attendance on me all day; we should let her have a good rest.”

Baoyu went out gleefully.

Baochai told Sheyue and Wuer to make a bed for him in the outer room and to sleep lightly themselves and see to his tea. Assenting to this, they went out and found Baoyu seated bolt upright on the bed, his eyes closed and his hands folded just like a monk. Not daring to speak, they stared at him in amusement. Xiren, sent out by Baochai to see that he had all he wanted, was amused by this sight too.

“It’s time to sleep,” she said softly. “Why are you practising yoga?”

Baoyu opened his eyes and seeing who it was replied, “You all go to bed. I’ll sit here a bit then sleep.”

“The way you behaved yesterday kept Madam Bao awake all night. Are you starting all over again?”

Knowing that none of them would sleep if he stayed up, Baoyu lay down. Xiren gave the two other girls some final instructions then went inside, closing the door, and retired for the night.

Sheyue and Wuer spread out their quilts too, and when Baoyu had lain down they went to bed. But Baoyu could not sleep. As he watched them

unfolding their quilts he had recalled the time during Xiren’s absence when Qingwen and Sheyue had waited on him. Sheyue had gone out in the night and Qingwen, to frighten her, had slipped out in her night clothes and caught cold it was that illness that later carried her off. At this memory his heart went out to Qingwen. And mindful, suddenly, of Xifeng describing Wuer as the image of her, he shifted his longing for Qingwen to her double. While shamming sleep he peeped at Wuer, and more and more she looked to him like Qingwen, making him quite enraptured. There was no sound now from the inner room and he assumed that the occu­pants were asleep. Not knowing whether Sheyue was awake or not, he called her a couple of times but received no answer.

Wuer hearing him asked, “Do you want something, Master Bao?”

‘I want to rinse my mouth.”

Since Sheyue was asleep, Wuer had to get up. Having trimmed the can~e she poured him a cup of tea, holding ready the spittoon in her other hand. She had got up in a hurry wearing only a peach-red silk shift, her hair loosely knotted. To Baoyu she appeared the reincarnation of Qingwen. He bethought himself abruptly of Qingwen’s saying, “If I’d known I was going to get a bad name, I’d have committed myself.” He gaped at Wuer, neglecting to take the cup.

Now after Fangguan’s dismissal, Wuer had lost interest in coming into service here. But when later she heard that Xifeng was sending her to work for Baoyu, she was more eager for this than Baoyu himself. After her arrival, however, she was overawed by Baochai and Xiren and found Baoyu deranged and less handsome than before; moreover she heard that Lady Wang had dismissed certain maids for playing around with him, and so she gave up her girlish infatuation. Yet tonight her wit­less master, taking her for Qingwen, was attracted to her. Wuer blushed all over her face. Not venturing to raise her voice she said softly:

“Rinse your mouth, Master Bao.”

He took the tea with a smile, but forgetting to rinse his mouth asked with a grin, “You and Sister Qingwen were on good terms, weren’t you?”

In bewilderment she answered, “We were like sisters; of course we were on good terms.”

“When Qingwen was dying and I went to see her, weren’t you there

too?” he asked softly.

She smiled and nodded.

“Did you hear her say anything?”

“No.” She shook her head.

Forgetting himself, he took her hand. Wuer blushed furiously, her heart beating fast.

“Master Bao!” she whispered. “Say what you have to say, but keep your hands to yourself.”

He dropped her hand then and told her, “She said to me, ‘If I’d known I was going to get a bad name, I’d have committed myself.’ Did you hear that?”

Wuer felt this was a challenge, yet dared not rise to it. “That was a shameless thing to say,” she answered. “How can young girls talk like that?”

“Are you such a moralist?” he cried frantically. “It’s because you look just like her that I confided this to you. Why run her down in that way?”

Not knowing what was in his mind she said, “It’s late. You’d better sleep, Master Bao. If you keep sitting up you may catch cold. What did Madam Bao and Sister Xiren tell you?”

“I’m not cold.” Suddenly remembering that she was in her night clothes, he was afraid she might catch cold like Qingwen. “Why didn’t you put more on before bringing my tea?” he asked.

“You sounded in such a hurry, what time did I have for that? If I’d known you’d keep talking so long, I’d have put on something warmer.

At once he offered her the pale grey silk padded jacket which was lying over his quilt, and urged her to put it on.

She refused, saying, “Keep it yourself, Master Bao. I’m not cold. Anyway, I have clothes of my own.

She went back to her bed and slipped into a long gown, listening to make sure that Sheyue was still sound asleep, then came back slowly and asked, “Don’t you want to have a good rest tonight, Master Bao?”

“Not a bit of it!” he answered with a smile. “To tell you the truth, I’m hoping to meet a goddess.”

“What goddess?” she asked, even more bewildered.

‘~If you want to know, it’s a long story. Sit down next to me and I’ll tell you.

‘How can I sit down with you lying there?” she asked blushing.

“Why shouldn’t you? It was very cold that year when Qingwen played a trick on Sheyue, and for fear she might catch cold I tucked her under my quilt. What does it matter? It’s hypocritical to be so prudish.”

It sounded to Wuer as if he were flirting with her. Little did she know that this foolish master of hers was speaking from his heart. She was at a loss, equally averse to leaving, standing there or sitting down.

“Don’t talk such nonsense,” she said playfully. “Suppose someone was to hear? No wonder people say you waste all your time on girls! You have Madam Bao and Sister Xiren, both as pre~y as goddesses, yet you insist on fooling around with others. If you go on talking that way I’ll report it to Madam Bao then what face will you have left?”

Just then they were startled by a sound outside. Baochai in the inner room coughed. Baoyu at once pursed his lips, and at this signal Wuer put out the light and tiptoed back to bed. Actually, because Baochai and Xiren had not slept the night before and today had been a busy day for them both, they had slept through the conversation. The sound in the courtyard made them wake with a start and prick up their ears, but nothing more could they hear. Baoyu in bed wondered, “Could Cousin Lin have come? Maybe hearing me talk she decided to give us a fright.” He tossed and turned, giving way to foolish fancies, not falling into a troubled sleep till dawn.

Because Baoyu had fooled about with her half the night and then Baochai had coughed, Wuer had a guilty conscience and was afraid her mistress had overheard them. Filled with misgivings she could not sleep all night. When she got up the next morning, as Baoyu was still dead to the world she tidied the room.

“Why get up so early?” Sheyue asked. “Couldn’t you sleep last night?”

Suspecting from this that Sheyue knew what had happened, Wuer 5miled sheepishly and made no reply. I’resently Baochai and Xiren got up too. When they opened the door and saw Baoyu still slumbering, they Wondered how he had managed to sleep so soundly the last two nights

outside.

Baoyu woke to find them all up. He sat up quickly, rubbing his eyes, and thought back. No, he had not drearned last night either. So it must be tiue that “The ways of immortals and mortals never meet.” Getting slowly out of bed he recalled Wuer’s remark during the night that both Baochai and Xiren were as pretty as goddesses. Indeed they were! He stared at Baochai as if stunned. She assumed he was thinking of Daiyu, but could not tell whether he had dreamed of her or not. Put out by his stare she asked:

“Did you meet a goddess last night?”

Imagining that she must have overheard them he faltered, “What do you mean?”

Wuer, too conscience-stricken to speak, waited for Baochai to go on.

“Did you hear Master Bao talk with someone in his sleep?” Baochai asked her with a smile, making Baoyu beat a discomfited retreat.

Red in the face, Wuer mumbled, “He did say something I couldn’t catch it clearly in the first part of the night. Something about ‘getting a bad name’ and ‘not committing herself.’ I couldn’t made it out and begged Master Bao to sleep. Then I fell asleep myself, so I don’t know whether he said anything more.

Baochai lowered her head and thought, “He obviously had Daiyu in mind. If we let him stay outside, he may get more deranged and some flower fairy or tree spirit may take possession of him. Besides, his illness was brought on by his strong feeling for her. If only there were some way to divert his affection to me, he’d get over it.” At this idea, she blushed up to her ears and went sheepishly back to her room to do her hair.

The old lady’s improved spirits these last two days had made her overeat, and that evening she was out of sorts. The next day her chest felt constricted; however, she would not let Yuanyang report this to Jia Zheng.

“I’ve been rather greedy these two days and had too much to eat,” she said. “Missing a meal will set me right. Don’t make a fuss about it.” So Yuanyang and the others kept quiet.

When Baoyu went home that evening, Baochai had just come back from paying her respects to the old lady and Lady Wang. The sight of her reminded him of her remarks that morning, making him rather ashamed. Seeing how put out he looked and knowing what a sentimentalist he was, she decided to use his infatuation to cure him.

“Are you going to sleep outside again tonight?” she asked.

“Outside or inside it’s all the same to me,” he answered glumly.

She wanted to say more but could not get the words out.

“Well, just what does that mean?” asked Xiren. “I don’t believe you slept so well outside.”

Wuer seized this chance to add, “When Master Bao sleeps outside, the only snag is that he talks in his sleep in a way we can’t understand, yet we dare not talk back.”

“I’ll move my bed outside tonight to see whether I talk in my sleep or not,” said Xiren. “You two move Master Bao’s bedding back to the inner room.”

Baochai said nothing. Baoyu, too ashamed to argue, let them move his bedding inside.

Now Baoyu in his contrition wanted to set Baochai’s mind at rest, while she, for fear lest longing might drive him distracted, thought it best to show affection to win him over to take Daiyu’s place in his heart. So that evening when Xiren moved out, he made abject advances which Baochai naturally did not reject. And thus that night at last their marriage was consummated. Later she conceived, but that need not concern us now.

When next day husband and wife had got up together, after Baoyu had dressed he set off first to see his grandmother. As she was so fond of him and thought Baochai dutiful too, it suddenly occurred to her to make Yuanyang open a case and get out a Han-Dynasty jade, an heirloom of hers. Though less precious than Baoyu’s jade, it was a rare pendant.

Yuanyang found the jade and handing it over remarked, “I don’t be­lieve I’ve ever seen this before. Fancy you remembering so clearly, madam, the exact case and box it was in after all these years! By looking Where you told me I found it in a jiffy. But what do you want this for,

madam?”

‘I’ll tell you. This jade was given by my great-grandfather to my father. Since I was my father’s favourite, just before I married he sent for me and gave me this himself, saying, ‘This jade is a pendant of the kind worn in the Han Dynasty; it’s very precious. Keep it to remind you of me.’ I was young at the time I took it and didn’t set much store by it, so I left it in the case. And after I came to this house and saw how many knick-knacks we had here, this seemed nothing special so I never wore it, and there it’s lain for more than sixty years. Now seeing how dutiful Baoyu is to me, as he’s lost his own jade I decided to get this out and give it to him, just as my father gave it to me.”

Just then Baoyu arrived to pay his respects.

The old lady said gaily, “Come here, I’ve something to show you.

He walked up to her bed and she handed him the Han jade. A close scrutiny revealed that it was some three inches square, shaped like a musk-melon, pinkish, and very well carved. Baoyu was loud in his praise.

“You like it?” asked the old lady. “This was given me by my great-grandfather. Now I’m passing it on to you.”

Smilingly Baoyu bowed his thanks and wanted to take the jade to show his mother.

“If your mother sees it,” the old lady said, “She’ll tell your father and he’ll say that I love my grandson more than my son! They’ve never even seen this.”

Baoyu went off cheerfully, leaving Baochai and the others to talk a little longer before taking their leave.

After this the Lady Dowager fasted for two days, yet the congestion of her chest persisted and she had dizzy spells and fits of coughing. When Lady Xing, Lady Wang and Xifeng came to pay their respects and saw that she looked quite cheerful, they simply sent to notify Jia Zheng, who imniediately came over. On leaving, he sent for a doctor to examine her. Before long the doctor arrived and felt her pulses. He diagnosed that the old lady had caught a chill as a result of not eating regularly, but some ~edicine to help the digestion and expel the cold would cure her. He Wrote out a prescription. Jia Zheng, noting that the ingredients were ordi­nary medicines, told servants to prepare this for his mother. He himself

came each morning and evening to inquire afrer her health. When three days had passed and there was no improvement, he told Jia Lian to make haste to find some better doctor.

‘~I don’t think those doctors we usually have are much good,” he explained. “That’s why I want you to find one to diagnose her illness correctly.”

Jia Lian reflected and said, “I remember that year when Cousin Bao fell ill, we got a man who wasn’t a professional to cure him. We’d better call him in again.”

“Medicine is abstruse, and the least celebrated physicians are often the best,” Jia Zheng agreed. “Send to ask him over.”

Jia Lian assented and left, returning to report, “That Doctor Liu has recently left town to teach. He only comes back every ten days or so. As we can’t wait, I’ve invited another man who should be here presently.” Then they had to wait.

All the ladies of the house called daily to ask after the old lady’s illness. They were all assembled there one day when in came the old woman in charge of the Garden’s side-gate.

She announced, ‘Sister Miaoyu of Green Lattice Nunnery has heard of the old lady’s illness and come to pay her respects.”

“She’s a rare visitor,” they said. “Since she’s called today, hurry up and show her in.”

Xifeng went to the old lady’s bedside to tell her this, while Xiuyan

Miaoyu’s old friend went out to meet her. Miaoyu was wearing a nun’s cap, a pale grey plain silk tunic under a long, sleeveless checked jacket with dark silk borders, a yellow silk sash and a white skirt with dark designs. Holding a whisk and her beads she swept gracefully in, attended by a maid.

Having greeted her Xiuyan said, “When I stayed in the Garden 1 could often drop in to see you; but now that it’s so deserted I don’t like to go in on my own, and the side-gate is usually closed, so I haven’t seen you for ages. I’m so glad you’ve come!”

“You were all of you so lively in the old days that even when you were living in the Garden I didn’t feel it appropriate to call too often,” Miaoyu replied. “Now I know their family isn’t doing too well and I hear

the old lady is ill; so I’ve been thinking of you and would like to see Baochai too. What do I care whether you lock the gate or not? I come and go as I please. If I didn’t want to come, you couldn’t get me here even by invitation.”

‘I see you haven’t changed in the least,” Xiuyan chuckled.

Chatting together they entered the old lady~s room. When the others had greeted Miaoyu, she approached the old lady’s bed to ask after her health and exchange civilities.

~Can you, who are saintly, tell me whether I shall get over this illness or not?” asked the Lady Dowager.

“A kindly old lady like you is bound to live to a great age,” Miaoyu assured her. “You’ve just caught cold, and a few doses of medicine should set you right. Old people shouldn’t worry.”

‘~I’m not the worrying sort,” replied the old lady. “I always try to have fun. And I’m not feeling too bad, simply rather bloated. Just now the doctor said it’s because I was vexed, but you know very well that nobody here would dare vex me. He can’t be much good at diagnosis, can he? As I told Lian, the first doctor was right when he diagnosed a chill and indigestion. Tomorrow we’re going to ask him over again.” She told Yuanyang to order the kitchen to prepare Miaoyu some vegetarian dishes.

“I’ve had my lunch,” said the nun. “I won’t eat anything, thank you.”

“That’s all right,” said Lady Wang. “But stay a little longer to chat.”

“Yes, I haven’t seen you all for so long, today I had to come.

They talked for a while until Miaoyu rose to leave. Turning round she saw Xichun standing there and asked, “Why are you so thin, Fourth Sis­ter? Don’t let your fondness for painting wear you out!”

“I haven’t painted for ages,” Xichun told her. “I don’t feel like it because my present rooms aren’t as light as those in the Garden.”

“Where are you living?”

“In that house east of the gate you came through. It’s very close if you care to drop in.”

“I’ll call when I’m in the mood,” Miaoyu promised her.

Then Xichun and the others saw her out. On their return, hearing that

the doctor had arrived they dispersed.

The Lady Dowager’s illness grew daily worse, no medicine proving effective, and later she developed diarrhoea too. Worried because she was not likely to recover, Jia Zheng sent to ask leave from his yamen and be and his wife attended her day and night. One day she took some nourishment, and they were feeling relieved when they saw an old woman peeping through the door. Caiyun, told by Lady Wang to see who she was, recognized her as one of the serving-women who had accompanied Yingchun to the Sun family.

“What brings you here?” she asked.

“I’ve been waiting outside for sorne time but couldn’t find a soul, and I dared not burst in I was frantic!”

“Why, what’s wrong? Has Mr. Sun been bullying your young lady again?”

“My young lady’s dying! The day before yesterday they had a row and she cried all night long. Yesterday she was choking, her throat blocked up with phlegm, yet they wouldn’t get a doctor. Today she’s worse!”

“The old lady’s ill; don’t kick up such a shindy.”

Lady Wang inside had heard their conversation. Fearing that the old lady would be upset if she knew this, she ordered Caiyun to take the woman away. But the Lady Dowager lying there quietly had overheard them too.

“Is Yingchun dying?” she asked.

“No, madam,” said Lady Wang. “These women are all alarmists. She says Yingchun hasn’t been well the last couple of days and may take Some time to recover. They want us to get her a doctor.”

“My doctor’s a good one. Have him fetched at once.”

Lady Wang told Caiyun to send the woman to report this to Lady Xing.

When the woman had left, the old lady lamented, “Of my three grand­daughter5, one died after enjoying great good fortune; the third has mar­ried so far from home that I shan’t be able to see her again; Yingchun

a hard time but I thought she might pull through, never dreaming

‘d die so young! What is there for an old woman like me to live for?”

Lady Wang, Yuanyang and the rest consoled her at length. Baochai

and Li Wan were absent at the time and Xifeng had recently fallen ill again. Now Lady Wang sent for them to keep the old lady company, for fear lest grief should aggravate her illness. Returning then to her own quarters, she sent for Caiyun.

“What a fool that woman is!” she scolded. “In future when I’m with the old lady and you have something to report, it can wait.” The maids agreed to this.

Just as the serving-woman reached Lady Xing’s apartments, word came that Yingchun was dead. Her mother wept. In Jia She’s absence, she had to send Jia Lian to the Sun family to find out the situation. Since the old lady was so ill, nobody dared tell her the news. Alas, that this girl fair as a flower or the moon should be hounded to death by the Sun family after little more than a year of marriage! As the old lady was at death’s door the others could not leave her, but had to let the Sun family arrange the funeral in perfunctory fashion.

The Lady Dowager, failing from day to day, longed to see her grand­daughters and nieces. Her thoughts turned to Xiangyun and she sent to fetch her. The servant on her return slipped in to find Yuanyang, but could not enter the old lady’s room where Yuanyang happened to be with Lady Wang and others. Instead she went to the back where she found Hupo.

“The old lady wanted to see Miss Shi and sent us to ask her to come, she told her. “But we found her crying her heart out, because her husband’s desperately ill, and the doctors say he’s not likely to recover unless it turns into consumption in which case he may drag on for another four or five years. So Miss Shi is frantic. She knows the old lady is ill, but she can’t come. She told me, too, not to mention this to her grand-aunt. If the old lady asks, she hopes you’ll make up some excuse for her.” Hupo exclaimed in dismay but did not answer. After some time she told the other to go. Not liking to report this, she decided to tell Yuanyang and ask her to make up some story. She went to the old lady’s bedside then and found her in a critical condition. As there were many people standing round murmuring that it seemed there was no hope, Hupo had to hold her tongue

Jia Zheng quietly drew Jia Lian aside and whispered some instruc­0 which he assented softly. He then went out to summon all the

tions t

stewards at home.

“The old lady’s sinking fast,” be said. “You’re to send at once to make the necessary preparations. First, get out the coffin and have it lined. Then get the measurements of the whole household and order tai­lors to make mourning for them. The funeral retinue must be arranged too, and more hands will be needed to help in the kitchen.”

Lai Da told him, “You needn’t worry, Second Master. We’ve got it all figured out. But where is the money to come from?”

~You needn’t raise money outside,” replied Jia Lian. “The old lady has kept a sum in readiness. Just now the master told me that it must be handsomely done we want a good show.”

The stewards assented and went off to see to these matters while he returned to his own quarters.

“How is your mistress today?” he asked Pinger.

Pinger pouted towards the inner room. “Go in and see her.”

He did so and found Xifeng, exhausted by dressing, leaning against the small table on the kang.

“I’m afraid you can’t rest now,” he told her. “The old lady will be gone by tomorrow at the latest, so you can’t keep out of it. Hurry up and get somebody to clear up here, then make the effort to go over there. If it comes to the worst, we shan’t be able to come back today.”

“What is there here to clear up?” retorted Xifeng. “We’ve only these few things left, so what does it matter? You go first; the master may want you. I’ll come when I’ve changed my clothes.”

Jia Lian went ahead to the old lady’s place and whispered to Jia Zheng that all the preparations had been made. Jia Zheng nodded. Then the doctor was announced. Jia Lian invited him in to feel the old lady’s pulse. After some time he withdrew and quietly told Jia Lian, “The old lady’s pulse is very weak. Be prepared….”

Jia Lian understood and told Lady Wang, who signalled to Yuanyang and, when she came over, sent her off to make ready the garments in which to lay out the old lady. At this point the Lady Dowager opened her eyes and asked for some tea. Lady Xing gave her a cup of ginseng broth but after tasting it she said:

“Not this. Give me a cup of tea.”

Forced to humour her, they brought it immediately. She took two sips, then said, “I want to sit up.”

“If you want something, madam, just tell us,” urged Jia Zheng. “There is no need to sit up.”

“After a little drink I feel better,” she answered. “Prop me up on the pillow so that I can talk to you.”

Zhenzhu gently propped her up, and they saw that she did look better. To know whether she lived or died, read the next chapter.

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