A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 111

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Chapter 111

Yuanyang Dies for Her Mistress and

Ascends to the Great Void

A Despicable Slave Leads Robbers

into the Mansion

The young maid’s taunt so enraged and wounded Xifeng that she vonuted blood and fainted. Pinger heTd her up and called for help to carry her back to her room, where they laid her gently on her bed and ordered Hongyu to give her a drink of warm water. After one sip, however, Xifeng relapsed into unconsciousness. Qiutong came over to glance at her then went off, and Pinger did not cail her back. Instead she told Fenger who was standing near by to take word of this at once to Their Lady ships.

When Fenger explained Xifeng’s inability to entertain the guests, Lady Xing suspected her of shamming and shirking, but did not like to say this in the presence of so many relatives.

She simply replied, ~’All right, let her take a rest.” And the others made no comment.

That evening, naturally, they had a stream of visitors. It was lucky that certain close relatives helped entertain them, for some of the staff took advantage of Xifeng’s absence to play truant or slack and pande­monium reigned it was most unseemly.

After the second watch, when the guests living at a distance had left, they prepared to farewell the dead and the women behind the mourning curtain began to wail. Yuanyang wept so bitterly that she fainted away. They raised her up and massaged her till she came round.

“The old lady was so good to me, I must follow her!” she cried.

Thinking her beside herself with grief, the others paid no attention. When the ceremony started, there were over a hundred mourners high and low present, but Yuanyang had disappeared. In the general confu­sion her absence passed unnoticed until it was time for Hupo and the Other maids to kowtow to the dead; however, supposing that Yuanyang worn out by weeping must be resting somewhere, they let it go at that.

The ceremony at an end, Jia Zheng called Jia Lian outside to ask about the cortege the next day and whom he meant to leave in charge at home.

“Of the masters, I’ve told Jia Yun to stay behind,” Jia Lian reported. ‘~Of the servants, I’ve ordered Lin Zhixiao’s family to see to the dis­mantling of the sheds. But which of the ladies should stay to keep an eye on the inner apartments?”

“I hear from your mother that your wife is too unwell to go. She can stay at home. And your Sister-in-law You suggests that since she is so ill, Xichun should keep her company and get a few maids to look after the mistresses’ quarters.”

Jia Lian knew that Madam You had made this proposal because she was not on good terms with Xichun, who could not take effective charge; and Xifeng was too ill to cope. After some consideration he replied, “Please have a rest, sir, while I go in to settle it with them before reporting back.”

Jia Zheng nodded and ha Lian went to the inner quarters.

Now Yuanyang after a bout of weeping thought, “I’ve been with the old lady all my life, and I’ve found no niche for myself. Although the Elder Master isn’t at home now, I don’t think much of the Elder Mis­tress either. And with the Second Master letting things slide, there’ll be such chaos in future that there’s no knowing who else may take over. Then we shall be at their mercy, whether they decide to make us concu­bines or marry us off to some servants. I couldn’t stand that. Better die and be done with it! But how shall I kill myself?”

By now she had entered the old lady’s annex. As she stepped over the threshold in the dim lamplight, she saw the shadowy figure of a woman who appeared to be about to hang herself with the scarf in her hand. Yuanyang felt no fear but wondered, “Who is she? She has the same idea as mine, but is a step ahead of me.”

“Who are you?” she asked. “Since we’re both of the same mind, let’s die together.”

The other made no reply, and Yuanyang approaching her saw that it Was not one of their household. When she tried to look closer, the air struck chill and the apparition vanished. In stupefaction she left the room

and sat down on the kang.

“Ah, I know,” she murmured after a moment’s reflection. “That was Master Rong’s first wife from the East Mansion. She died so long ago, what brought her here? She must have come to summon me. But why should she hang herself?” She thought it over and decided, “That’s it. She’s showing me the way.”

This train of thought enabled an evil spirit to take possession of her and standing up, weeping, she opened her dressing-case to take out the lock of hair which she had cut off when she swore never to leave the old lady’s service. Having tucked it inside her tunic, she undid her sash and looped it over the beam indicated by Qin Keqing. Then she wept again until the sound of guests dispersing outside made her afraid that someone might come in. She made haste to close ffie door, moved over a footstool and stood on it, tied the sash into a noose, slipped it round her throat and kicked the stool away. Then, alas, strangled to death, her sweet spirit took flight!

Her wraith was wondering where to go when she saw Qin Keqing’s shadowy form in front. She overtook her crying, “Wait for me, Madam Rong!”

“I am not Madam Rong,” was the reply, “but the sister of the God­dess of Disenchantment.”

“I can see quite clearly that you’re Madam Rong why should you deny it?”

“Let me tell you the reason, then you’ll understand. I was the Arbiter of True Love in the palace of the goddess, and all romantic affairs were in my charge; then I descended to the dusty world as the most amorous of mortals, to lead all lovesick maidens back betimes to the Board of Love. This is why it was my Tot to hang myself. Now that I have seen through earthly love, passed over the sea of love and returned to heaven, there is no one in charge of the Board of Infatuation in the Illusory Land of Great Void. The Goddess of Disenchantment has appointed you in my Place to head this Board, and has therefore ordered me to lead you there.”

“I have never known passion,” replied Yuanyang’s spirit. “How can I count as amorous?”

“You don’t understand. Mortals mistake carnal appetite for love, and

at at at at at at at at

justify their immorality by calling themselves romantics and passing it off lightly. In fact, before the expression of joy or anger, grief or happiness, love is latent in each one’s nature; once these feelings are expressed then we have passion. Our love is as yet unexpressed like a flower in bud. If once expressed, it would cease to be true love.”

Yuanyang’s wraith nodded agreement, then followed Keqing’s spirit.

After Hupo had bid farewell to the dead and heard Their Ladyships designate caretakers, she decided to go and ask Yuanyang what carriage they would be taking the next day. Unable to find her in the old lady’s room, she approached the smaller room which opened off it. The door was closed, but peeping through a crack she was startled by the dim lamplight and flickering shadows, though she could hear not a sound.

She went away exclaiming, “Where can the wretch have run off to?” Bumping into Zhenzhu she asked, “Have you seen Sister Yuanyang?”

“I’m looking for her too,” was the answer. “Their Ladyships want her. Is she asleep in the annex?”

“I had a peep and didn’t see anyone. The lamp hasn’t been trimmed, and it was too dark and scary to go in. But now we can go in together, to make sure there’s no one inside.”

As they went in to trim the lamp Zhenzhu exclaimed, “Who put the stool here? It nearly tripped me up!”

Happening to look up, she let out a little scream and fell backward, knocking hard against Hupo, who by then had also seen the fearful sight. She shrieked, rooted to the spot. People outside hearing their cries rushed in and, after exclaiming in horror, went to report this to Their Ladyships.

At this news, Lady Wang, Baochai and the rest shed tears and went to take a look.

Lady Xing remarked, “I never imagined Yuanyang had it in her! We must send word of this at once to the master.”

Baoyu kept silent, gaping in consternation, till Xiren anxiously took his arm and urged him, “Cry if you want to, but don’t suppress your feel­ings.”

Then Baoyu burst out wailing. “Only someone like Yuanyang would Choose this way to die!” he thought. “The subtlest elements in the uni­

verse are truly concentrated in such girls! She died a splendid death. Which of the old lady’s sons or grandsons can compare with her, filthy creatures that we are?” This reflection raised his spirits.

Baochai had heard Baoyu wailing, but by the time she reached his side he was smiling.

‘This is a bad sign!” cried Xiren. “He’s losing his mind again.”

“Don’t worry,” said Baochai. “He has his reason.”

This delighted Baoyu, who thought, “After all she understands me. The others don’t.”

As Baoyu was letting his fancy run wild, Jia Zheng and some others came in.

“What a good girl!” declared Jia Zheng approvingly. “The old lady’s love for her wasn’t thrown away.” He told Jia Lian, “Go and send to buy a coffin immediately and give her a good funeral. Tomorrow her coffin can go in the old lady’s cortege and be left in the temple behind the old lady’s coffin. This is what she wished for.”

Jia Lian withdrew to attend to this, while orders were given to cut down Yuanyang’s corpse and lay it out in the inner room.

Word of this brought Pinger, Xiren, Yinger and the other maids to the scene, where they mourned bitterly. Zijuan, who could see no future for herself, wished she had followed Daiyu to her grave to repay her mis­tress’ kindness, thinking that would have been a good death. As it was, she was hanging about for nothing in Baoyu’s quarters; for though he treated her affectionately, nothing would come of it. So she wept even more heart-rendingTy than the rest.

Lady Wang now summoned Yuanyang’s sister-in-law to attend to the coffining. After some discussion with Lady Xing, she also presented her with a hundred taels of the old lady’s money, promising to give her all Yuanyang’s belongings later. The sister-in-law kowtowed her thanks and withdrew.

“She really had spirit, the lucky girl!” she exulted. “Winning herself a good name like this and a fine send-off!”

“What a way to talk!”said a matron standing nearby. “You’re so tickled at selling her life for a hundred taels, you’d have been even better pleased that year to have given her to the Elder Master for a still bigger

sum.

This home-thrust made the sister-in-law blush. She had just reached the inner gate when Lin Zhixiao led in men carrying the coffin, obliging her to return to help lay out the corpse and make a pretence of wailing.

Because Yuanyang had died for the Lady Dowager, Jia Zheng called for incense, lighted three sticks, and bowed before her coffin.

‘Since she immolated herself she can’t be treated as a bondmaid,” he said. “All you youngsters should pay homage to her.”

Baoyu, only too glad to comply, came over and kowtowed respect­fuUy. Jia Lian, mindful of her past goodness to him, wanted to follow suit but Lady Xing stopped him.

“It’s enough for one of the masters to kowtow to her,” she reasoned. “If we overdo it she’ll lose her chance of reincarnation.”

Then Jia Lian desisted.

Baochai put out by this officiousness said, “By rights I shouldn’t pay homage to her, but after the old lady’s death we dared do nothing rash because of all the business we had to attend to; and as she showed true filial piety in our place, we should entrust to her the task of serving the old lady in our stead when she enters paradise. So it’s only right for us to express our thanks.”

Then leaning on Yinger’s arm she went up to the coffin and poured a libation of wine, tears flowing down her cheeks. After that she bowed several times with clasped hands and wept bitterly. Some of those present thought Baoyu and his wife both rather crazed, others that they were compassionate yet others that they understood etiquette; and Jia Zheng approved of their conduct. They agreed to leave Xifeng and Xichun in charge of the house while the rest joined the funeral cortege. There was little sleep for anyone that night.

At the fifth watch the cortege could be heard assembling outside. At seven it set off, headed by Jia Zheng in deep mourning and weeping as befitted a filial son. Then the coffin was borne out of the gate and sacri­fices were offered at the roadside by different families – we need not go into detail. Eventually they reached Iron Threshold Temple, where both coffins were deposited and all the men were required to stay. But no more of this.

Meanwhile in the Rong Mansion Lin Zhixiao supervised the disman­tling of the sheds, refitted the doors and windows, had the courtyards swept clean and then assigned nightwatchmen. According to the rules of the house, after the second watch the three gates were closed and no man was permitted to enter the inner apartments, where only women kept watch.

Xifeng felt a little clearer in her mind after a night’s rest, although too limp to get up. So Pinger and Xichun inspected the various apartments, then issued instructions to the women on watch and retired to their own quarters.

Let us turn back now to Zhou Rui’s godson He San. The previous year when Jia Zhen was in charge, he had been thrashed and driven out because of his brawl with Bao Er, and he spent most of his time in a gambling-den. Recently, hearing of the old lady’s death and assuming that there must be odd jobs going, he had gone there to make inquiries day after day but all to no effect. He went back grumbling to the gambling-house and sat down dejectedly.

His cronies asked, “Why not play to recoup your losses?”

“I would if I could,” said He San, “but I’ve no money.”

“You’ ve been with your godfather for several days and must have got pots of money from the Rong Mansion. Don’t go telling us you’re broke.”

“Shut up!” he snapped. “They’ve got millions all right, but they’re hanging on to it. It’ll serve them right if one of these days there’s a fire or thieves break in.”

“You’re lying again,” said the others. “After their place was raided they can’t have much left.”

“A fat lot you know. It was only things from the palace that got con­fiscated. The old lady left masses of gold and silver, but they won’t touch it it’s all tucked away in her room waiting to be shared out after the funeral.”

One of the gamesters made a note of this and after a few more throws remarked, “I’ve lost quite a bit but won’t try to win it back now. I’m for bed.” As he left he pulled He San out too. “Come on,” he said, “I want

a word with you.”

He San went out with him.

‘You’re a smart fellow yet now you’re broke,” said the man. “I think it’S a shame.~’

‘It’s my fate to be poor. What can I do about it?”

~You just said there’s pots of silver in the Rong Mansion. Why don’t you get hold of some?”

“Brother, they may be rolling in gold and silver, yet when the likes of us ask for a cent or two will they part with it for nothing?”

“If they won’t, what’s to stop us from helping ourselves?”

Catching his implication He San demanded, “Then what do you sug­gest?”

“I call you pretty dumb. If I were you I’d have taken it long ago.

“How would you go about it?”

“If you want to make a pile,” the other whispered, “all you need do is act as guide. I have plenty of friends who are dabs at this. Not to say the Jias are away at the funeral, with only a few women left in the house; no matter how rnany men were there we wouldn’t be afraid! All I’m afraid of is that you haven’t the guts.”

“Of course I have! Do you think I’m scared of that godfather of mine? I only put up with him for my godmother’s sake. He doesn’t count. As for your idea, I’m afraid it may be a flop and land us in trouble instead. They have connections, you know, in all the yamens. So quite apart from the fact that we may not pull it off, even if we do they’ll raise a hullabaloo.”

“If that’s all that’s worrying you, you’re in luck! I’ve palled up with some men from the coast, who are on the look-out here for some open­ing. If we get the loot, there’s no point in staying here we’d better go to sea to have a good time, eh? If you don’t want to ditch your god­mother, we can take her along as well to share the fun. How about it?”

“You must be drunk, old man, to talk such rubbish!” With that He San pulled him to a quiet spot to discuss the matter further. Then they went their different ways, and there we will leave them.

Let us now revert to Bao Yong, who had been berated by Jia Zheng

and sent to keep watch in the Garden. After the Lady Dowager’s death, although the whole household was busy while he was assigned no job that did not disturb him. He cooked his own meals, went to sleep when bored, and in his waking hours would exercise with a sword or staff in the Garden, left to his own devices. That morning he knew that the funeral cortege had left, but as no assignment had been given him he rambled round as his custom was till he saw a nun with an old deaconess go up to the side-gate and start knocking on it.

Bao Yong went over and asked, “Where are you going, reverend sister?”

The deaconess said, “We heard today that the services for the old lady have ended, but didn’t see Miss Xichun with the cortege, so we think she must be at home minding the house. For fear she may feel lonely, my mistress has come to call on her.”

“The family are all away and I’m the gateman here,” was Bao Yong’s reply. “I must ask you to go back. If you want to call, wait till the masters are back.”

“What upstart scavenger are you,” she asked, “that you try to inter­fere with our coming or going?”

“I’ve no use for the likes of you,” was his retort. “I won’t let you in, so you’ll just have to lump it.”

“The impertinence!” she screeched. “Even when the old lady was alive, no one ever stopped us from coming. Who are you, you lawless brigand? We’re going this way, so there!” With that she beat a tattoo with the door-rapper.

Miaoyu, speechless with anger, was about to turn back when the woman in charge of the inner gate heard them quarrelling and hastily opened the gate. Seeing Miaoyu turning away, she guessed that Bao Yong must have offended her. As all the women-servants knew how fond their mistresses and Xichun were of Miaoyu, she feared that if they came to learn that she had been refused admittance there would be trouble.

She hurried over calling, “We didn’t know you were here, sister, and were late in opening the gate. Miss Xichun is at home, longing to see you. Please come back. This caretaker is new here and doesn’t know our ways. We’ll report him later to Her Ladyship and see that he’s given a

whipping and thrown out.”

When Miaoyu pretended not to hear, the woman chased after her and pleaded with her. Finally she voiced her own fear of punishment, all but going down on her knees, she was so frantic. So Miaoyu had to follow her through the gate. BaoYong glared but, unable to bar the way, went off fuming.

Miaoyu, attended by the old deaconess, called on Xichun and after expressing her condolences they started chatting.

Xichun told her, “I’m to stay and look after the house, and shall have to manage as best I can for a few nights; but Madam Lian is ill and I find it boring and scaring all on my own. If I had company I’d feel easier, for there isn’t a single man in the house now. As you’ve done me the honour of calling today, won’t you spend the night with me? We can play draughts and chat.”

Miaoyu had no wish to stay but gave her consent because Xichun looked so pathetic, and a game of draughts appealed to her too. When she had sent back the deaconess to get her maid to bring over her tea things, night-clothes and bedding, they settled down for a good talk; and Xichun in her delight told Caiping to fetch some rain water kept from the previous year to brew some choice tea. Miaoyu would not drink out of any cups but her own; however, before long her maid brought over her things and Xichun herself made the tea. They chatted happily until the first watch, when Caiping got out the draughts board and they played draughts. Xichun lost twice in succession, then managed to win the third game by half a point only because Miaoyu ceded her four pieces.

In no time it was the fourth watch. The night was still, with not a sound outside.

“I must meditate at the fifth watch,” Miaoyu remarked. “My maid will look after me. You’d better rest.”

Xichun felt reluctant to part with her, but could hardly interfere with her devotions. She was about to go to bed when the women keeping watch in the Lady Dowager’s quarters on the east side set up a sudden commotion. At once the matrons attending Xichun joined in.

“Help!” they screamed. “Men have broken in!”

In a panic, Xichun and Caiping heard the night-watch outside shouting

too.

“Mercy!” gasped Miaoyu. “They must be robbers!”

She promptly locked the door, shrouded the lamp and peeped out through the window. There were men standing in the yard. Too terrified to utter a sound, she turned, signalling for silence, then crept back and whispered, “What shall we do? There are some rough fellows outside.”

That same instant they heard a great clattering on the roo{ and watch­men came running to their compound to catch the thieves.

One called, “The old lady’s room has been ransacked, but there’s nobody there. We have men at the east side; let’s search the west our­selves.”

When Xichun’s serving-women heard that these were their own family retainers, they called out, “There are lots of them on our roof!”

The watchmen yelled, “Look! There they are!” and raised a clamour; but as tiles were raining down from the roof they dared not clamber up. Just as they were at a loss, the side-gate of the Garden banged and through it rushed a hefty fellow wielding a staff. At sight of him they took cover in alarm.

“Don’t let one of them get away!” the newcomer yelled. “All follow me!”

The servants were too consternated to move their bones seemed turned to water. They stared at that fellow standing there bellowing till the most keen-sighted among them identified him as Bao Yong, recom­mended to their house by the Zhen family. That reassured them.

“One has gone,” they faltered. “Some others are up on the roof.”

Bao Yong ran and vaulted on to the roof to give chase.

The thieves had known that there were no men in the house. While in Xichun’s courtyard they had peeped through the window and been in-flamed by the sight of a ravishing nun. As there were only terrified women inside, they were about to kick down the door when they heard the night­watch rushing in after them and promptly climbed up the roof. When they Saw that their pursuers were few they thought of putting up a fight, but just then someone leapt on to the roof and charged them. As he was alone the thieves were not alarmed and went for him with knives; but When Bao Yong with his staff knocked one of them off the roof, the rest

tied over the Garden wall with him in hot pursuit. Accomplices hidden in the Garden to receive the loot had already carried most of it off. When they saw the thieves fleeing they drew weapons to defend them, and as Bao Yong was one against many they swarmed round him.

‘You bandits!” he swore. “Dare you take me on?”

One thief reminded the rest, “He knocked down one of our mates whom, dead or alive, we’d better carry off.”

Bao Yong hit out and four or five of the ruffians, all armed, surrounded him and fought back wildly. But now the nightwatchmen plucked up cour­age to join in, and seeing that they could not get the upper hand the thieves had to run for it. Bao Yong, pursuing them, tripped over a case. When he regained his balance he thought: If the things are still here and the thieves have got away, there’s no point in chasing them. He told the other ser­vants to search with their lanterns, but all they found on the ground were a few empty cases which he asked them to put away while he himself went to the mistresses’ quarters. As he did not know the way, he arrived first at Xifeng’s house which was lit up.

“Do you have thieves here?” he asked.

Pinger inside quavered, “We haven’t opened the gate. We only heard them shouting that there were thieves in the old lady’s rooms. You’d better go there.”

Bao Yong was wondering what path to take when some watchmen turned up and led the way. They found all the doors open and the women on night duty weeping and wailing.

Presently ha Yun and Lin Zhixiao arrived, frantic at having learned of the robbery. They went in to investigate. The door to the old lady’s room was wide open, and they saw by their lanterns that the lock was broken. Going in, they found all the chests and cases empty.

They swore at the women who had been on duty, “Are you all dead? Didn’t you know when thieves broke in?”

The women sobbed, “We took turns keeping watch, and our shifts were before midnight. We never stopped making our rounds from front to back. Those thieves came well after midnight when we’d gone, so we just heard shouting but didn’t see anybody. You must ask the women in charge of the later shifts, sir.”

“You all deserve to die!” fumed Lin Zhixiao. “We’ll deal with you later. Let’s go first to the different quarters to have a look.”

The watchmen took them to where Madam You lived. The gate was locked, but some women inside called out, “Oh, what a fright we had!”

“Did you lose anything here?” asked Lin Zhixiao.

They opened the door saying, “Nothing.”

Next Lin Zhixiao led the way to Xichun’s quarters.

“Mercy on us!” they heard a woman inside exclaiming. “Our young lady’s fainted for fright. Quick, bring her round!”

He told them to open the door and asked what had happened.

The woman who admitted them reported, “Thieves were fighting here, and our young lady passed out for terror. Luckily Sister Miaoyu was here, and she and Caiping revived her. We haven’t lost anything.”

“What were the thieves fighting over?”

A watchman told him, “We have to thank Bao Yong for jumping on the roof to chase them away. We heard that he knocked down one of the thieves too.”

“He’s by the Garden gate,” volunteered Bao Yong. “You’d better go quickly to have a look at him.”

Jia Yun and the others did so. They found a man lying there dead. Looking at him closely, to their surprise they recognized Zhou Rui’s god­son. They assigned one man to guard the corpse and two others to watch the front and back gates, both still locked. Lin Zhixiao told men to open the gate and report this robbery to the police. At once an investigation was made, and it was discovered that the thieves had climbed up to the roof from the back passage. Following their tracks to the roof of the west courtyard, they found many broken tiles and other tracks leading to the back and the Garden.

The watchmen insisted, “They were brigands, not thieves.”

The constable protested, “If they didn’t break in openly with torches and clubs, how can you call them brigands?”

“When we gave chase, they pelted us with tiles from the roof so that we couldn’t get near them. Then one of our household, a man called ‘3ao, managed to get on the roof and beat them off. When he chased them to the Garden, a whole bunch of them attacked him. They only ran

away after they started getting the worst of it.”

“That proves it,” the constable said. “If they’d been brigands, couldn’t they have beaten you people? Never mind that now. Quickly check on what has been stolen and send in a list so that we can report it to our superiors.”

Jia Yun and the others went back to the main apartments, where Xifeng had come, ill as she was, and Xichun. Jia Yun paid his respects to Xifeng and greeted Xichun, then together they tried to find out what was miss­ing. But as Yuanyang was dead and Hupo and the old lady’s other maids had gone to the funeral, no one knew exactly how many things she had had, since they had been kept locked up. So how could they make a check?

They said, “There were many things in these cases and chests, and now they’re all empty. It must have taken quite a time to ransack them. What were those women on night duty doing? And the thief killed was Zhou Rui’s godson. So it must have been partly an inside job.”

“Have all those women locked up,” ordered Xifeng, glaring at them furiously. “Then take them to the police to be cross-examined!”

The women fell on their knees, wailing, to beg for mercy. How they were dealt with and whether or not the lost property was recovered is recorded in the next chapter.

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