A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 117

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Chapter 117

Two Maids Protect Baoyu’s Jade Lest

He Renounce the World

A Worthless Son, Taking Sole Charge

of the House, Revels in Bad Company

When Lady Wang sent to ask for Baochai, arid Baoyu knew that the monk was outside, he hurried all alone to the front crying out, “Where is my master?”

He called repeatedly but could not find him and, reaching the gate, saw Li Gui barring the way, refusing the monk admission.

“The mistress has sent me,” said Baoyu, “to invite this holy man in.”

Then Li Gui let go of the monk who swaggered in and, seeing that he looked like the monk in his trance, Baoyu had an inkling of the truth. Bowing he said, “Excuse my tardiness in welcoming you, master.”

“I don’t want you to entertain me,” the monk replied. “Just hand over the silver and I’ll be off.”

This did not sound to Baoyu the way a saint would talk; moreover, the monk had a scabby head and was wearing filthy rags. He reflected, “The ancients said, ‘One who has attained the Way makes no show of it; one who makes a show of it has not attained the Way.’ I mustn’t let slip this chance, but agree to give him the reward so as to sound him out.”

Re replied, “Please have patience, master, and sit down to wait while my mother gets it ready. May I ask if you are from the Illusory Land of Great Void?”

“What ‘illusory land’? Whence I came, thither shall I depart. I’m here to return you your jade. Can you tell me where it comes from?” When Baoyu could not answer the monk chuckled, “You don’t even know your own origin yet question me!”

Baoyu had the intelligence after all he had experienced to have seen through the vanity of this earth, being simply ignorant of his own anteced­ents. The monk’s question awoke him to the truth.

“You don’t need any silver,” he cried. “I’ll returri you the jade.”

“And so you should!” laughed the monk.

Without a word Baoyu raced in to his own compound, which Baochai and Xiren had left to see Lady Wang. He snatched the jade up from his bed and dashed out, running full tilt into Xiren who started with fright.

“The mistress said it was very good of you to entertain the monk, and she means to give him some silver,” she informed him. “What brings you back?”

‘~Go straight and tell her there’s no need to raise any money. I’ll return him the jade instead.”

“Not on any account!” She caught him by the arm. “This jade is your life. If he takes it away your illness will come back!”

“Not any more. Now I’m in my right mind again, what do I need the jade for?” He wrenched himself free and made off.

Xiren ran frantically after him calling, “Come back! I’ve something to tell you.

He cried over his shoulder, “There’s nothing we need talk about.”

She chased after him regardless, expostulating, “Last time you lost the jade it nearly cost me my life! You’ve just got it back and if he takes it away that will be the death of us both! You can only give it back over my dead body!” With that, overtaking Baoyu, she caught hold of him.

“Whether you die or not I must give it back,” was his desperate re­tort.

He pushed her with all his might, but she seized his belt with both hands and would not let go, weeping and screaming as she sank to the ground. The maids inside hearing this darted out and found them both distraught.

“Tell the mistress, quick!” Xiren sobbed. “Master Bao wants to give his jade back to the monk.”

When the maids ran to report this, Baoyu grew even angrier and tore at Xiren’s hands to free himself; but mindless of the pain she would not let go. And when Zijuan inside heard what Baoyu meant to do, even more frantic than the rest she completely forgot her resolve to remain aloof and ran out to help restrain him. Though he was a man and strug­gling hard, he could not free himself from their desperate clutches.

“So you’re hanging on to this jade for dear life!” he sighed. “What

would you do if I went away myself?” At that they burst into uncontrol­lable sobbing.

They were still locked together when Lady Wang and Baochai hur­ried over. “Baoyu!” wailed his mother. “You’ve gone crazy again!”

At sight of her Baoyu knew he could not escape. With a sheepish smile he said, “Why all this fuss? Why upset the mistress for no reason at all? I thought it unreasonable of the monk to insist on ten thousand taels, not one tael less; so in a pique I came back meaning to return him the jade, saying that it was a fake and we didn’t want it. If he saw that we didn’t value it, he’d be willing to accept whatever we offered.”

“I thought you really meant to give it back,” scolded Lady Wang. “All right then, but why didn’t you tell them clearly? Why make them raise such a rumpus?”

Baochai put in, “If that’s the case, well and good. If you really gave the jade back, that monk is so odd that he could cause fresh trouble for our family and that would never do. As for the reward, you can raise it by selling my jewels.”

“Yes,” agreed Lady Wang. “Let’s do that.”

Baoyu made no objection as Baochai stepped forward to take the jade from his hand. “There’s no need for you to go out,” she said. “Her Ladyship and I will give him the money.”

“I don’t mind not giving him the jade,” he replied, “but I must see him once more.”

xiren and Zijuan were still keeping hold of him. Baochai, having sized up the situation, told them, “Let go of him. He can go if he wants to.”

Then Xiren released Baoyu, who said with a smile, “You people think more of the jade than you do of me! Now that you’re not stopping me, suppose I go off with the monk and leave you the jade?”

In renewed alarm Xiren wanted to seize him again, but in the pres­ence of the mistresses she could not take liberties, and Baoyu had al­ready slipped away. She at once sent a maid to Beiming at the inner gate with the message, “Tell the servants outside to keep an eye on Master Bao; he’s not in his right mind.” The girl went off on this errand.

Lady Wang and Baochai went in now and sat down to ask Xiren just what had happened, and she related in detail all Baoyu had said. This so

· ‘··

worried them that they sent word to the servants outside to wait on Baoyu and hear what the monk had to say.

The maid on her return informed Lady Wang, “Master Bao is really rather crazed. The pages outside say he was at a loss because you wouldn’t let him have the jade. Now he’s gone out and begged the monk to take him with him.”

Lady Wang exclaimed in horror, then asked what the monk had re­plied.

“He said he wants the jade, not it’s owner,” the girl said. “Doesn’t he want the money then?” asked Baochai. “I didn’t hear anything about that, madam. Later the monk and Mas­ter Bao were laughing and chatting together about many things, but the pages couldn’t understand a word.”

“Stupid creatures!” cried Lady Wang. “Even if they don’t under­stand, they can memorize it.” On her orders the maid hurriedly fetched one of the pages and, standing outside the window, he paid his respects.

“Though you didn’t understand the talk between the monk and Mas­ter Bao, can’t you repeat it to me?” asked Lady Wang.

“All we caught were phrases like ‘the Great Waste Mountain,’ ‘Blue Ridge Peak,’ ‘the Land of Great Void’ and ‘severing mortal entangle­ments’, “he told her.

Lady Wang could not make head or tail of this either, but Baochai’s eyes widened in alarm and she could not get a word out. They were about to send to fetch Baoyu back, when in he came grinning and saying to himsell, “Fine, fine!”

Baochai remained speechless while his mother asked, “What is this crazy talk?”

“I’m in earnest,” protested Baoyu, “yet you call me crazy! That monk and I knew each other before and he simply wished to see me. He never really wanted a reward but was just doing a good deed. After he’d explained that, he vanished. Isn’t that fine?”

His mother, not believing him, sent the page to question the gateman.

“The monk has really gone,” he came back to report. “He left word that Your Ladyships needn’t worry. He wants no silver, simply wants Master Bao to pay him occasional visits. ‘Just submit to fate and things

will take their natural course’, “he said.

“So he was a good monk after all! Did you ask where he lives?”

“The gateman said he told Master Bao, so he knows.”

But Baoyu when questioned answered with a smile, “That place is far or near, depending on how you look at it….

“Wake up!” cut in Baochai, “Stop dreaming! The master and the mistress dote on you, and the master told you to study hard to advance yourself.”

“What I have in mind will advance us all, won’t it? Don’t you know the saying. ‘When one son renounces the world, seven of his ancestors will go to heaven’?”

Lady Wang lamented, “What’s to become of us? First Xichun insists on renouncing the world, and now here’s another. How can I live on like this?” She broke down and wept.

Baochai tried hard to console her and Baoyu said, “I was joking, madam. Don’t take it seriously.”

His mother stopped weeping to retort, “Is this ajoking matter?”

Just then a maid came in to announce, “Master Lian is back, quite unlike his usual self. He hopes you’ll go back, madam, so that he can report something to you.”

“Tell him to come in here,” ordered Lady Wang in fresh alarm. “He’s known his sister-in-law since they were children, so he doesn’t have to avoid her.”

When Jia Lian had entered and paid his respects to her, Baochai stepped forward to greet him.

He reported, “I have just had word from my father that he’s seriously ill. He’s sent for me. Any delay and I may never see him again!” Tears coursed down his cheeks.

“What illness did he say he had?” asked Lady Wang.

“It started as influenza but turned into consumption, and now he’s dying. He sent a messenger posthaste with the news, warning that if I delay for so mucb as two days I shall be too late to see him. So I’ve come to ask your permission to leave at once, madam. But there’s no one at home to see to things unless we rope in Qiang and Yun. Though they aren’t much good at least they are men, and if business crops up

outside they can report it.

“My own household is no problem. Because Qiutong kept weeping and wailing that she didn’t want to stay. I told her family to fetch her back and that has saved Pinger a good deal of vexation. Though Qiaojie has no one to look after her, Pinger is kind to her and she~s an intelligent gid though even more wilful than her mother, madam, so I hope you will discipline her from time to time.” The rims of his eyes were red now and he dabbed at them with the silk handkerchief attached to the sachet at his waist.

“The child has her grandmother here,” demurred Lady Wang. “Why should you entrust her to me?”

‘If you bring that up, madam,” he muttered, “I may say something outrageous. I can only beg you any way to be kind, as you always are, to your nephew.”

He fell on his knees.

“Get up quickly!” she said, her own eyes reddening. “We are all one family, of course I’ll help. Only one thing: the child is growing up, and if anything should happen to your father her marriage would be delayed. If some suitable family makes a proposal, should we wait for your return or let her grandmother decide what to do?”

“Since Your Lady ships are at home, naturally you can decide without waiting for me.”

‘Before you go, write to the Second Master telling him there is no one responsible at home and you don’t know whether your father will re­cover, so we hope he will have the old lady buried quickly and come back as fast as he can.”

Jia Lian assented and started out, then turned back. “We have enough servants here for the house,” he said, “But there’s not one in the Garden since Bao Yong went back to his master. And Master Xue Ke has va­cated that compound where Aunt Xue lived to move to their own house. It’s not good having no caretakers for all those empty lodges in the Gar­den, so I hope you’ll send people from time to time to keep an eye on them. Green Lattice Nunnery belongs to us too, and since Miaoyu’s dis­appearance the nuns who attended her dare not take charge and want us to assign someone to see to things there.”

· ‘ ~ · “· ~ · · ‘ ~ “· ~ · · “· ~~’·:·~· · · ‘,’ ‘ ~~’,’:

“We can’t set our own house in order, so how can we handle other people’s affairs? But mind you don’t mention this to Xichun, or she’ll plague us again to let her be a nun. How can a family like ours allow one of our daughters to become a nun?”

“If you hadn’t raised this, madam, I wouldn’t have ventured to. But after all Cousin Xichun belongs to the East Mansion, and because she has no parents, her elder brother’s away and she’s hardly on speaking terms with her sister-in-law, I hear that she’s often threatened to take her own life. Since her mind is made up, if we thwart her and she really kills hersel{ won’t that be worse than entering a nunnery?”

Lady Wang nodded. “This business is really too much for me. I can’t make the decision; that’s up to her sister-in-law.”

After a few further words Jia Lian went out, summoned the stewards to give them their instructions, then wrote to Jia Zheng and packed up for his journey.

Pinger naturally gave him some parting advice. It was Qiaojie, how­ever, who was most distressed. Her father wished to entrust her to Wang Ren, but she was most unwilling; and it upset her even more, although she could hardly say this, to learn that Yun and Qiang would be in charge of outside business. She said goodbye to her father and settled down to live quietly with Pinger, for after Xifeng’s death Fenger and Hongyu had asked leave on the pretext of illness. Pinger would have liked to get a girl from the Jia family to keep Qiaojie company and look after her, but there was no one available; nor could she get Xiluan or Sijie forrner favourites of the old lady for the latter had recently married and the former was engaged and shortly to wed.

Jia Yun and Jia Qiang, having seen Jia Lian off, came in to pay their respects to Their Lady ships. They stayed in the outer study by turns, and during the day would fool around with the servants or assemble friends to feast, taking it in turn to stand treat. They even held gambling parties; but this was kept secret from the inner apartments.

One day Lady Xing’s brother and Wang Ren called and discovered Jia Yun and Jia Qiang staying there. As they were boon companions, On the pretext of helping with family affairs they often joined in ffie ganri­

bling and drinking parties. The few reliable stewards had gone away with Jia Zheng and Jia Lian, leaving only some sons and nephews of Lai Da and Lin Zhixiao. These young fellows, used to taking advantage of their parents’ positions to enjoy themselves, had no idea of how to manage a household and in their elders’ absence ran wild like un­bridled colts. Egged on by their two masters who were only kinsmen they did just as they pleased. So the Rong Mansion was turned upside-down.

Jia Qiang thought of roping in Baoyu, but Jia Yun dissuaded him say­ing, “Don’t ask for trouble. Uncle Bao was born under an unlucky star. One year I proposed an excellent match for him: the girl’s father was a provincial tax-collector, the family owned several pawnshops, and she herself was prettier than a fairy. I went to the trouble of writing him the full particulars, but he wasn’t cut out for such luck.” Glancing round at his companions he continued, “He’d already fallen for Aunt Bao! And didn’t you hear too everyone must know it that he made Miss Lin die of a broken heart? Oh well, each one’s romance is fated by heaven. Yet he was annoyed with me because of this and since then has cold-shouldered me. He must have imagined I wanted to make him indebted to me.”

Jia Qiang nodded and did not press the point. Neither of them knew that since meeting that monk Baoyu was eager to sever all worldly ties, and though he dared not break with his mother he was already holding aloof from Baochai and Xiren. When the younger maids, unaware of ffiis, still tried to attract him he paid no attention. He did not care about the family either. Lady Wang and Baochai kept urging him to study and while he made a pretence of doing so he remained preoccupied with the fairy­land to which the monk had led him, thinking all those around him vulgar creatures. Since his own household irked him, when at leisure he would go to talk with Xichun and, seeing eye to eye, they strengthened each other’s convictions.

Jia Huan and Jia Lan were left to their own devices. Jia Huan, be­cause his father was not at home, his own mother had died and Lady Wang paid little attention to him, joined Jia Qiang’s group; and when Caiyun reproached him she only got cursed for her pains. Yuchuan, hav­

mg seen how unbalanced Baoyu was growing, had also asked her mother to take her home. So Jia Huan and Baoyu, each in his different way, were making themselves shunned by all. Only Jia Lan stayed with his mother and studied hard, writing compositions which he took to school for Jia Dairu to correct; but as recently the tutor had been confined to his bed the boy had at present to study on his own. Li Wan had always been sedate and now, apart from duty calls on Lady Wang and visits to Baochai, she did not stir from her rooms, just watching her son study. So although there were not a few inmates in the Rong Mansion, they kept to them­selves, not imposing their will on others. Thus ha Huan and Jia Qiang went from bad to worse, going so far as to steal things to pawn or sell. And Jia Huan in particular stopped at nothing, even frequenting brothels and gambling-dens.

One day when Uncle Xing and Wang Ren were drinking with them in the outer study, being in high spirits they sent for some singsong girls to join them and propose toasts.

“The racket you make is too vulgar,” objected Jia Qiang. “I suggest we recite some verses while we drink.”

“All right,” agreed the rest.

“Start with the word ‘moon’, ” he went on. “I’ll recite a line first, and we’ll count round to see who has to drink when I reach the word ‘moon.’ Then he must recite another line on my orders and, if he fails, must drink three big cups as a forfeit.”

When they acquiesced he tossed off a cup and declaimed:

“Winged goblets fly as we drink to the moon.

This made it Jia Huan’s turn. “Recite a line ending with ‘oleander,’ “he was ordered.

“Silently the cold dew wets the oleander.”

After this quotation he asked, “What’s the other line?”

“One containing the word ‘fragrance’.

“Heavenly fragrance wafts down from the clouds.”

“How deadly dull!” protested Uncle Xing. “A fat lot of literature you know, yet you pose as literati! This isn’t fun; it’s downright exasperat­

mg! Let’s drop it and play a finger-game instead with the loser drinking and singing a song – ‘a double dose of gall’ this is called. If someone can’t sing he can tell a joke, provided it’s amusing.”

“Right!” cried the rest.

They started playing wildly. Wang Ren lost, drained a cup and sang a song which was applauded. Then they began again and the singsong girl who lost sang Such a Pretty Young Lady. The next loser was Uncle Xing, who when asked for a song said, “I can’t sing. I’ll tell you a joke instead.”

“If it doesn’t make us laugh,” warned Jia Qiang, “you must pay the forfeit.”

Uncle Xing emptied his cup. “Listen, gentlemen,” he began. “In a certain village stood a temple to Emperor Yuandi, with next to it the shrine of the tutelary god whom the Emperor often called over for a chat. One day Yuandi ‘s temple was robbed, and he told the tutelary god to investi­gate.

“The tutelary god reported, ‘There are no thieves in this locality. Your officers must have slipped up and allowed thieves from outside to break in and rob you.’

“‘Nonsense!’ said Yuandi. ‘As the local deity, you’re responsible for any thefts; yet instead of catching the robbers you’re accusing my officers of negligence!”

“The other said, ‘If they weren’t negligent, there must be something unlucky about your temple.’

“Yuandi asked, ‘Do you know anything about geomancy?’

“‘Let me have a look round,’ the other replied. He did this, then reported, ‘You’re running a risk with those double red doors behind you. Behind my shrine is a wall, so naturally I don’t lose things. Once you build a wall behind yourself all will be well.’

“Emperor Yuandi was convinced and ordered his officers to fetch masons to build a wall.

“His officers objected, ‘Nowadays no one comes to offer incense, so how are we to get the bricks and mortar and masons to build a wall?’

“Not knowing what to do, he told them to use magic but they were powerless.

“Then General Tortoise at Yuandi’s feet stood up to say, ‘You fel­lows are useless, but I have a plan. Just pull down those red doors, and when night falls I’ll stop up the doorway with my belly. Wouldn’t that do as well as a wall?’

‘The other officers approved, ‘Good. This costs no money and should be very solid.’

“So General Tortoise undertook this task and for a few days all was quiet. Then, however, things started disappearing again. They summoned the tutelary god and told him, ‘You said that once we had a wall these thefts would stop. Now with a wall, we’re still losing things; how is that?’

“He answered, ‘Your wall can’t be s~id enough.’

“‘Go and see for yourself.’ they retorted.

“He examined it and it was certainly solid. So why were things still disappearing? However, when he felt it he exclaimed, ‘I thought it was a real wall, but this is just a fake wall’! “‘

All hooted with laughter, even Jia Qiang joining in.

“Fine, Foolish Uncle!” he cried. “Why should you abuse me without any provocation? Hurry up and drink a big cup as punishment.”

Although already tipsy Uncle Xing did so, and the others went on carousing until they were all rather drunk. Then Uncle Xing ran down his elder sister and Wang Ren his younger, in the most virulent terms. Jia Huan in his cups also spoke scathingly of the way Xifeng had bullied his mother and him, trampling all over them.

“People should be more considerate,” said the others. “Xifeng was so ruthless when she had the old lady’s backing that now she’s died sonless, leaving only one daughter. She’s suffering for her sins!”

Jia Yun, recalling how shabbily Xifeng had treated him and how Qiaojie had cried at the sight of him, joined in the general abuse till Jia Qiang said, “Let’s drink! Why gossip about other people?”

The two singsong girls asked, “How old is this daughter of hers? What does she look like?”

“She’s very good-looking,” answered Jia Qiang, “and nearly four­teen already.”

“It’s too bad she was born into such a rich family,” said one of the girls. “If she were from a humble family, she could help her parents and

brothers get official titles and make pots of money.” Asked what she meant she explained, “There’s a borderland prince not related to the Imperial House, a very gallant noble who is looking for a concubine. If she took his fancy, her whole family could move into his palace. Wouldn’t that be fine?”

The others paid little attention as they went on drinking, but Wang Ren made a mental note of this.

At this point they were joined by two youngsters from the families of Lai Da and Lin Zhixiao. “What ajolly party you gentlemen are having!” they said.

The others stood up to rejoin, “Why are you so late? We’ve been waiting for you for some time.”

“This morning we were worried by a rumour about more trouble for our family. We hurried off to investigate; but it’s not true.”

“If it has nothing to do with us, why didn’t you come earlier?”

“Though we’re not directly concerned there is a connection. You know who’s in trouble? Mr. Jia Yucun. This morning we went there and saw him in chains and were told he was to be taken to court for trial. Knowing what a frequent visitor he was here, we were afraid our house might be involved and therefore went to make inquiries.”

“That was thoughtful of you, brothers,” said Jia Yun. “Yes, you were right to find out. Sit down and drink a cup, then tell us about it.”

After some polite deferring they sat down to drink and said, “This Jia Yucun is an able gentleman and clever climber, who holds quite a high post but is too grasping; so several charges of extorting money from his subordinates have been brought against him. Our most sagacious, be­nevolent Emperor is angered by nothing so much as reports of venal officials who abuse their power to oppress good citizens; he therefore issued a decree for his arrest and trial. If he is found guilty he will be in trouble; if the charges prove groundless, those who impeached him will suffer. This is a really good reign, if only we had the luck to be officials!”

“Your elder brother’s in luck,” the others told Lai Da’s son. “Isn’t he sitting pretty as a magistrate?”

“I’m only afraid he may not remain a magistrate for long, the way he’s carrying on,” was the reply.

“Does he fleece people too?”

The young man nodded, then raised his cup to drink.

“What other news did you hear?” they were asked.

“Nothing much,” the two of them answered. “Only that a number of brigands captured at the coast have been tried, and during their interro­gation they revealed the whereabouts of many more, some of them lying low here in town and looking out for a chance to break into more houses. But now all our high officials are good administrators and strategists, exerting themselves to repay the Emperor’s favour, so wherever they go they quickly wipe out brigands.”

“You spoke of some brigands in town. Have they found out who robbed our family?”

“That we haven’t heard. There was some vague talk about a man from the provinces who robbed a house here and kidnapped a girl to take her to the coast; because she resisted him the brigand killed her, and before he could leave the capital he was caught and executed on the spot.

“Wasn’t Miaoyu in our Green Lattice Nunnery kidnapped? Could she be the girl who was killed?”

“Yes, it must be her!” said Jia Huan.

“How do you know?” they asked him.

“That creature Miaoyu was disgusting, the airs she gave herself! She was all smiles to Baoyu, yet never cast so much as a glance at me. If it turns out to be her I’ll be only too glad!”

“Women are being kidnapped all the time. This doesn’t have to be her.”

“There’s some indication that it is,” said Jia Yun. “The other day we heard that her serving-woman dreamed that she saw Miaoyu murdered.”

The others chuckled, “A dream doesn’t count!”

“Never mind about her dream,” said Uncle Xing. “Let’s have supper now. We must play for high stakes tonight.”

The rest were willing and after their meal started betting heavily. They were still at it after midnight when they heard a clamour from the inner apartments.

A servant reported, “Miss Xichun has quarrelled with Madam You,

then cut off all her hair and rushed to kowtow to Their Ladyships, beg­ging them to let her enter a nunnery and threatening that if they won’t she’ll kill herself on the spot. Their Ladyships don’t know what to do and want Master Qiang and Master Yun to go in.”

Jia Yun knew that Xichun had taken this into her head when left in charge of the house, and they had little chance of dissuading her. He proposed to Jia Qiang, “Though Their Ladyships have sent for us we can’t and indeed we shouldn’t make any decisions. We’ll have to try to talk her round and, failing that, leave it to them to decide. After discussing it we can write to report this to Uncle Lian so that we won’t be held responsible.”

Having agreed on this they went inside to see Their Ladyships, and made a show of dissuading Xichun. She, however, was determined to renounce the world and begged them, if they would not let her leave, to give her a couple of clean rooms in which she could chant sutras and worship Buddha. Since the two young men were unwilling to make a decision and Xichun might really commit suicide, Madam You had to decide the matter herselL

“All right,” she announced. “I’ll take the blame. We’ll just say that I couldn’t stand my young sister-in-law and forced her to become a nun. Of course we mustn’t let news of this get out. Here at home, with Their Ladyships as witnesses, let me take the responsibility. Qiang will have to write to Master Zhen and your Uncle Lian.”

The two young men assented. To know whether Their Ladyships agreed or not, you must read the next chapter.

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