A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 118

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Chapter 118

A Disgruntled Uncle and Cousin Delude

a Helpless Girl

Alarmed by His Cryptic Talk, Wife and Concubine

Reprove Their Witless Husband

Madam You had convinced Their Ladyships that Xichun’s case was hopeless.

“If you’re set on worshipping Buddha,” said Lady Wang, “it must be predestined and we really can’t stop you. It doesn’t seem proper, though, for a girT from a family like ours to become a nun. Now your sister-in-law has agreed to it and your piety is commendable, but I’ve one condition to make: Don’t shave your head. So long as you’re sincere, what does your hair matter? Just think of Miaoyu she became a nun with long hair but who knows what change of heart she had to come to such a bad end! Since you’re set on this, we’ll count your present quarters as your convent. We’lT also have to question all your maids, and if some are willing to stay with you we won’t find husbands for them; for the rest we’ll make other arrangements.”

At this, Xichun stopped weeping and kowtowed her thanks to Their Ladyships, Li Wan and Madam You.

Then Lady Wang asked Caiping and the other maids, “Which of you want to join in your young lady’s devotions?”

“Whichever of us you choose, madam,” they replied. And, inferring that they were unwilling, she started casting about for someone else.

Xiren standing behind Baoyu expected him to burst into tears and have another relapse. But to her surprise, upsetting her even more, he Simply sighed, “How sublime!”

Though Baochai said nothing, not yet having fathomed his meaning, her heart ached to see him a victim still of delusions. Before Lady Wang could question any more maids, Zijuan came forward and knelt down before her. “Just now you asked who would stay with Miss Xichun,” She said. “Whom do you have in mind, madam?”

“How can I choose anyone against her will?” was Lady Wang’s reply. “If anyone wants to, she can volunteer.”

‘Of course Miss Xichun’s doing this of her own free will, but the girls in her service aren’t willing to do the same,” said Zijuan. “I have a request to make, madam. It’s not that I want to separate the other girls from Miss Xichun, but we each have our own ideas. I waited on Miss Lin all that time and Your Ladyship knows how good she was to me. I can truly never repay her tremendous kindness. When she died I longed to follow her to the grave, but as she belonged to another family and I’m a bond-slave of this house I could hardly kill myself. Now that Miss Xichun wants to enter holy orders, I beg Your Ladyships to assign me to wait on her all my life. If you will agree to this, I shall count it my good fortune!”

Before Lady Xing or Lady Wang could answer, Baoyu felt a pang at the thought of Daiyu and shed tears. The others were about to ask the reason when he burst out laughing again.

“It wasn’t my place to propose this,” he said, stepping forward. “But as you assigned Zijuan to my service, madam, I’m emboldened to ask you to agree so that she can realize her aspirations.”

His mother objected, “When Tanchun married you nearly cried your heart out; yet now that Xichun wants to become a nun, instead of trying to dissuade her you approve. What do you mean by this? I can’t under­stand you.”

“You’ve already agreed to her becoming a nun, and I assume her mind’s made up on the subject. If that’s the case, there’s something I’d like to tell you; but if she hasn’t decided yet I dare not speak out of turn.”

“How ridiculous you are, cousin,” protested Xichun. “If I had’t made up my mind, how could I have won round the mistresses? I agree with what Zijuan just said. If you let me have my way I shall count it my good fortune. Otherwise I can always die I’m not afraid! So just say what you have in mind.”

“It can’t count as disclosing any secret, as this was fated. I’m going to recite you a poem.

The others expostulated, “Why pester us with your poems when we’re all so upset?”

“It’s not my poem, but one I read somewhere. Listen.”

‘~All right,” they conceded. “Recite it, but stop talking nonsense.”

Without further argument Baoyu declaimed:

She sees through the transience of spring,

Dark Buddhist robes replace her garments fine;

Pity this child of a wealthy noble house

Who now sleeps alone by the dimly lit old shrine.

Li Wan and Baochai exclaimed, “Oh dear! He’s bewitched.”

Lady Wang, however, nodded and asked with a sigh, “Tell me truly, Baoyu, where you saw this poem?”

Not liking to disclose his dream he answered, “Don’t ask me the place, madam.”

Having digested the meaning she burst out sobbing, “I thought at first you were joking, but then you came out with this poem. All right, I under-stand. What do you expect me to do? I shall simply have to let you do as you choose; but just wait till I’m dead before you each go your own way!”

Baochai, trying to console her, felt such a stab of anguish that she could not help sobbing too, while Xiren was so prostrated with grief that Qiuwen had to support her. Baoyu neither wept nor attempted to comfort them, simply remaining silent. And at this point Jia Lan and Jia Huan slipped away.

To soothe Lady Wang, Li Wan said, “Baoyu must have been so upset by Xichun’s decision that he started raving. Don’t take his nonsense seriously, madam. Why not give Zijuan an answer, so that she can get up?

“What does my consent count for?” replied Lady Wang. “When someone’s made up her mind there’s no stopping her. As Baoyu said, this was fated.”

Zijuan kowtowed. Xichun also thanked Lady Wang. Then Zijuan kow­towed to Baoyu and Baochai too.

“Amida Buddha! Fine!” cried Baoyu. “You’ve stolen a march on rue!”

Baochai, for all her self-control, was finding it hard to bear up. And Xiren despite the presence of Lady Wang sobbed, “I want to be a nun with Miss Xichun too.”

‘You mean well,” Baoyu told her gently. “But you’re not fated to enjoy this pure happiness.”

“Do you mean I’m going to die?” she cried.

Grieved as he was for her he could not tell her more, and since it was nearly dawn he urged his mother to rest, whereupon Li Wan and the others dispersed. Caiping escorted Xichun back as usual, but was later married off; and then Zijuan waited on Xichun as long as she lived, with­out any change of heart. But this is anticipating.

Let us now return to Jia Zheng who was escorting the old lady’s coffin south. On his way, boatloads of troops withdrawing upstream jammed the river and held him up, much to his anxiety. Luckily he learned from some officials from the coast that the garrison commander there had been recalled to the capital, and it relieved him to think that Tanchun must be going home. However, he was upset, not knowing when she would be starting on her journey. Estimating that his funds would be rnn­ning out, he had no choice but to write to Magistrate Lai Shangrong, the son of Lai Da, to ask for a loan of five hundred taels of silver, instructing the messenger to overtake him with the requisite sum.

Some days passed, during which his boat proceeded only a few dozen ii; then his servant overtook them and, coming aboard, delivered Lai Shangrong’s letter. It pleaded poverty, and the silver sent was a paltry fifty taels.

In a rage Jia Zheng ordered the man, “Take this back at once with his letter, and tell him not to trouble.”

The servant had to go back to Lai Shangrong. Worried by the return of his letter and the silver, and aware that he had bungled things, Lai added another hundred taels and begged the servant to take this back and put in a good word for him. The man refused, however, and left without the money.

Lai Shangrong in dismay at once wrote home to his father, urging him to ask for leave and to buy his freedom. The Lai family requested Jia Qiang and Jia Yun to beg Lady Wang to be kind enough to release him; but Jia Qiang knew that this was out of the question and told them a day later that she had refused. Thereupon Lai Da asked for leave and sent to

advise his son to resign on the pretext of illness. Lady Wang, however, knew nothing of all this.

Now Jia Qiang’s lie that Lady Wang had refused to let Lai Da re­deem himself had dashed’ Jia Yun’s hope of bettering his position in the Rong Mansion. While gambling outside he lost heavily for several days in succession and, unable to pay up, applied to Jia Huan for a loan. But Jia Huan had not a cent, having already squandered his mother’s savings, and was unable to help anyone else. Resenting his harsh treatment at Xifeng’s hands, he decided now that Jia Lian was away to vent his spite on Qiaojie, using Jia Yun as his cat’s paw.

He jeered at him, “You’re a grown man, yet for lack of guts you let go a chance to make money, and instead come begging from a pauper like me!”

“That’s ridiculous talk, Third Uncle,” protested Jia Yun. “Being on the spree together all the time, what chance have we to make money?”

“Didn’t someone say the other day that a prince in a border province wants to buy a concubine? Why not discuss this with Uncle Wang and marry Qiaojie off?”

“Don’t take offence, uncle,” retorted Jia Yun. “But if that prince were to buy her, how could he keep on good terms with our family?”

Jia Huan whispered something into his ear, but although Jia Yun nod­ded he thought this too childish a notion to entertain seriously.

Just then Wang Ren turned up. “What are you two plolling behind my back?” he asked.

Jia Yun told him what Jia Huan had just whispered to him.

Wang Ren clapped his hands crying, “This is a fine idea! There’s money in it! I’m only afraid you won’t be able to pull it off. If you have the nerve to, as her maternal uncle I can authorize it. If Huan will pro­pose it to Lady Xing I’ll have a word with Uncle Xing; then if the other mistresses ask about it you can speak up in favour and it should go through.”

Once they had agreed to this, Wang Ren went to find Uncle Xing while Jia Yun made this proposal – in an embroidered form – to Their Ladyships. Lady Wang was somewhat sceptical, but when Lady Xing

heard that her brother approved she sent to sound him out.

Uncle Xing, who had been won round by Wang Ren and hoped to share the proceeds, told his sister, “That prince is most distinguished. If we agree to this match, even though she’s not his principal wife, once she goes to his palace my brother-in-law’s rank is bound to be restored and you’ll be in a good position again.”

Lady Xing had no mind of her own. Taken in by Foolish Uncle’s fabrications she consulted Wang Ren, who gave her even more blarney. Then she sent to urge Jia Yun to make the proposal, and Wang Ren lost no time in despatching a messenger to the prince’s palace.

Not knowing the truth of the matter, the prince ordered some of his household to inspect the girl. Jia Yun informed them, “We’ve kept this secret from most of the family, just telling them that His Highness is proposing marriage. But once it’s settled, as her grandmother approves and the girl’s own uncle is the guarantor, we have nothing to fear.”

When they agreed to this arrangement, he sent word to Lady Xing and reported the proposal to Lady Wang. Li Wan, Baochai and the others who were ignorant of the real facts thought it a good match and were all delighted.

On the appointed day, two ladies in magnificent costumes called. Lady Xing welcomed them in and civilities were exchanged, the visitors treat­ing her with due respect as she was a lady of rank. Since the matter was not yet decided, Lady Xing instead of telling Qiaojie about it sent for her to come and meet some relatives who had called, Qiaojie, too young to suspect anything, came over with her nurse. And Pinger accompanied them as she had certain misgivings. She saw these two visitors dressed like ladies-in-waiting looked Qiaojie over from head to foot, after which they got up and took her hand to examine her once more; then after sitting a little longer they left. Qiaojie, most embarrassed by this scrutiny, went back to her room very puzzled and, not having heard of these rela­tives before, asked Pinger who they were.

Pinger had more or less guessed from their behaviour that they were looking over a prospective bride; but in Jia Lian’s absence, with Lady Xing in charge, she could not find out which family they came from. Their close scrutiny was uncalled for if it was a match between families

of equal status; and the two visitors had not behaved like members of any of the royal households with which the Jias were connected, but rather like provincials. She decided not to tell Qiaojie this but to make certain inquiries, which she did by discreetly questioning the maids and serving-women under her, who told her everything they had heard out­side. Pinger was consternated. Though she kept this from Qiaojie, she hurried over to tell Li Wan and Baochai, begging them to inform Lady Wang.

Lady Wang knew that this was a bad business and warned Lady Xing against it; but the latter, taken in by her brother and Wang Ren, suspected Lady Wang’s motives.

“My grand-daughter has reached marriageable age,” she said. “With Lian away the decision is up to me. Besides, her own grand-uncle and maternal uncle have made inquiries, and they must surely know the facts of the case better than other people. So I’m quite willing. If things turn out badly, Lian and I won’t hold anyone else to blame.”

Lady Wang, secretly angered by such talk, forced herself to chat for a while on other matters before going off to confide tearfully to Baochai what had happened.

‘~Don’t let this upset you, madam,” said Baoyu. “I don’t think it will go through. If it does, it’s Qiaojie’s fate, so you needn’t intervene.”

“You can’t open your mouth without raving!” his mother retorted. “Once the matter is fixed they’ll come and take her away. And then, as Pinger says, won’t your cousin Lian hold me to blame? Not to say that she’s my own grand-niece, even if she were some distant relative we’d want something better for her. We arranged that match between Miss Xing and your cousin Xue Ke, and isn’t it good the way they’re living happily together? Then there’s Baoqin who’s made an excellent mar­riage into the Mei family, which by all accounts is very comfortably off. As for Xiangyun’s marriage, that was her uncle’s idea and all went well to start with, but now her husband’s died of consumption and she’s made up her mind never to marry again, poor thing. How can I have the heart to let Qiaojie marry into the wrong family?”

As she was talking, Pinger called on Baochai to find out Lady Xing’s intentions, and Lady Wang told her what the latter had said. Pinger, speech-

less at first, fell on her knees then implored, “Qiaojie’s whole future is in your hands, madam! If we trust them, not only will the girl have a wretched life, but how are we to account for it to Master Lian when he comes home?”

“You’re a sensible girl,” Lady Wang replied. “Get up and listen to me. The Elder Mistress, after all, is Qiaojie’s grandmother. If she de­cides on this, how am I to stop her?”

Baoyu insisted, “It doesn’t matter, if only you’re clear-headed.”

For fear that in his madness he might disclose her appeal to Lady Wang, Pinger did not remonstrate with him but left soon afterwards.

Lady Wang’s anxiety made her heart palpitate. She told maids to help her to her room to lie down but would not let Baoyu and Baochai attend her, saying, “A little rest will set me right.” However, she was so troubled in her mind that when word was brought that Li Wan’s aunt had called she did not feel up to entertaining her.

Jia Lan came in then to pay his respects and reported, “This morning a letter came from my grandfather, which the servants at the gate brought in to my mother. She wanted to bring it to you, but then my grand-aunt arrived, so she told me to deliver it instead, madam. My mother will be coming presently and so will my grand-aunt, she says.” He presented the letter.

“What has your grand-aunt come for?” asked Lady Wang.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “I only heard her mention some letter from my aunt Li Qi’s future in-laws.”

Lady Wang realized that since a match had been arranged and be­trothal gifts exchanged between Zhen Baoyu and Li Wan’s cousin Li Qi, the Zhen family must be wanting to go ahead with the marriage and Aunt Li had come to discuss this. She nodded and opened the letter, in which she read:

My journey has been delayed by the ships all along the river returning from their successful coastal campaign. I hear that Tanchun is coming to the capital with her father-in-law and husband, and wonder if you have any news of her. I received Lian’s letter about the Elder Master’s illness, but do not know if there is more definite news. Baoyu and Lan will shortly be taking the examination; they must study hard and not slack. It

will be some time before the old lady’s coffin can be conveyed to our native place. My health is good; have no worry on that score. Tell Baoyu and the others what I have written. Rong will write separately.

To this were appended the date and Jia Zheng’s signature.

Lady Wang returned the letter to Lan saying. “Take this to show your Uncle Bao, then give it back to your mother.”

Just then, however, Li Wan brought over her aunt to pay their re­spects, and Lady Wang offered them seats. Aunt Li told her of the Zhen family’s wish to expedite Li Qi’s wedding, and they talked this over.

Then Li Wan asked Lady Wang, “Have you read the master’s letter, madam?”

“Yes, I have.”

Jia Lan showed it to his mother, whose comment was, “Tanchun hasn’t been back once in all these years since her marriage. Now that she’s coming to the capital you can feel much easier in your mind, madam.”

“Yes,” said Lady Wang. “I had palpitations of the heart just now; but this news has made me feel better. I only wonder when she will arrive.”

When Aunt Li had asked whether Jia Zheng had had a good journey, Li Wan said to her son, “Did you read the letter? It’s nearly time for the examination and your grandfather has it very much on his mind. You must take his letter to show Uncle Bao.”

“They haven’t passed the first degree; how can they sit for the pro­vincial examination?” Aunt Li inquired.

Lady Wang explained, “When his grandfather was Grain Commis­sioner he bought him and Baoyu the rank of Imperial College Student.”

Aunt Li nodded and Jia Lan went off with the letter to find Baoyu.

After seeing his mother to her room, Baoyu had gone back to amuse himself by reading the chapter “Autumn Water” in Zhuang Zi. Baochai, coming out from the inner room and finding him utterly absorbed in a book, went over to have a look and was dismayed to discover what it was. “Re takes that talk about ‘leaving the world of men’ seriously,” she reflected.”No good will come of it in the long run.” But thinking it useless to try to dissuade him, she sat down beside him lost in revene.

Baoyu noticing this asked, “What’s on your mind now?”

“Since we are man and wife, you’re the one I have to rely on all my life; this isn’t a question of my personal feelings. Of course wealth and honour are ‘transient as drifting clouds’ but the sages of old set store by moral character and a firm foundation….”

Without waiting for her to finish, Baoyu laid his book aside and said with a faint smile, “So you talk about ‘moral character and a firm foun­dation’ and the ‘sages of old’. Don’t you know that one ancient sage taught that we ‘should not lose the heart of a child?’ What’s special about a child? Simply this: it has no knowledge, no judgement, no greed and no taboos. From our birth we sink into the quagmire of greed, anger, infatuation and love; and how can we escape from earthly entanglements? I’ve only just realized that mortal men are like water weeds drifting to­gether and then apart again. Though the ancients spoke of this, no one seems to have awakened to the fact. If you want to talk about character and foundation, tell me who has achieved the supreme primeval state?”

“Since you speak of the heart of a child,” she countered, “the sages of old took it to mean loyalty and filial piety, not leaving the world and giving up all human relationships. The constant concern of Yao and Shun, Yu and Tang, the Duke of Zhou and Confucius was to save the people and benefit the world; so what they meant by the heart of a child was simply love for humanity. What would the world come to if everyone took your advice and disregarded all natural relationships?”

Baoyu nodded and chuckled, “But Yao and Shun didn’t force Chao Fu and Xu You1 to take up office, nor did King Wu and the Duke of Zhou force Bo Yi and Shu Qi2 to serve them.”

Before he could finish, Baochai interposed, “What you’re saying now is even more wrong. If all the men of old had been like Cao Fu, XuYou, Bo Yi and Shu Qi, why should Yao and Sbun, the Duke of Zhou and Confucius be considered as sages today? It’s even more ridiculous to compare yourself with Bo Yi and Shu Qi. They lived when the Shang Dynasty was in decline, and because they couldn’t cope with the situa­tion found some pretext to run away. But we live under a sage Emperor, out family is deeply indebted to the state, and our ancestors have lived in luxury; while in your case, particularly, since your childhood you’ve been treasured by the old lady while she was alive and by your parents. Just

think over what you said. Was it right or wrong?”

Baoyu made no answer, just looked up and smiled.

Baochai went on to plead, “Since you’ve run out of arguments, my advice to you is to take a grip on yourself and study hard; because if you can pass the triennial examination, even if you stop at that, you’ll be paying back your debt of gratitude for your sovereign’s favour and your ancestor’s virtue.”

Baoyu nodded and sighed, then said, “Actually it isn’t difficult to pass. And what you said about stopping there and repaying my debt is not far wide of the mark.”

Before she could answer, Xiren joined in, “Of course, we don’t un­derstand those old sages whom Madam Bao was talking about. I just feel that those of us who’ve been hard at it since we were small serving Master Bao, and told off ever so often though of course that was only right -all hope he will show more consideration for us. Besides, it’s for your sake that Madam Bao has been such a dutiful daughter-in-law; so even if you haven’t much family feeling you shouldn’t let her down. All those legends about gods and spirits are lies – who ever saw an immor­tal come down to earth? Yet when that monk from goodness knQws where talked some nonsense to you, you believed it! How can someone with book-learning like you, Master Bao, take his advice more seriously than your parents’?”

Baoyu bowed his head and said nothing.

Before she could continue, they heard footsteps in the courtyard and someone outside the window asked, “Is Uncle Bao in?”

Recognizing Jia Lan’s voice, Baoyu stood up and called cheerfully, “Come in!”

Baochai also rose to her feet as Jia Lan entered, beaming, to pay his respects to them both, after which he and Xiren exchanged greetings. Then he presented the letter to Baoyu.

After reading it Baoyu said, “So Tanchun’s coming back?”

“According to grandfather, she must be,” he answered.

Baoyu nodded and seemed lost in thought.

“Did you read the end of the letter, uncle, where grandfather urges us to study hard? Have you written any compositions these days?”

Baoyu smiled and said. “Yes, I must write a few to keep my hand in, so that I can wangle a pass.”

~In that case, uncle, won’t you set some subjects for us both, so that I can muddle through this examination too? Otherwise I may have to hand in a blank paper, making a fool of mysel{ which would reflect badly on you, uncle, as well.”

“No, you should do all right.”

Baochai invited Jia Lan to take a seat, and as Baoyu was still sitting in his own place the boy sat down respectfully beside him. They cheerfully discussed writing essays; and Baochai, observing this, withdrew to the inner room. “Judging by Baoyu’s present behaviour,” she thought, “he appears to have seen reason. Yet just now he stressed that this was where he would stop what did he mean by that?”

Though Baochai still had her doubts, Xiren was delighted to hear how animatedly Baoyu was talking about essay writing and the examination. “Merciful Buddha!” she thought. ‘He seems to have come to his senses at last after that lecture we gave him!”

As Baoyu and Jia Lan were talking, Yinger brought them tea and Jia Lan stood up to take it. He then cousulted Baoyu about the examination rules and suggested that they might invite Zhen Baoyu over. Baoyu ap­peared very willing.

Presently Jia Lan went home, leaving the letter with Baoyu, who went in cheerfully and handed it to Sheyue for safe keeping. Coming out again he put away the volume of Zhuang Zi, then gathered together some of his favourite books on Taoism and Buddhism and told Sheyue, Qiuwen and Yinger to take them all away. Wondering what he was up to, Baochai sounded him out playfully, “It’s quite right and proper to stop reading those, but why have them taken away?”

“It’s just dawned on me that these books count for nothing. I’m going to have them burnt to make a clean sweep!” Hearing this she was beside herself with joy. But then he chanted softly to himself:

Buddha’s nature is not to be found in sacred canons, The fairy barque sails beyond the realm of alchemy.

She could not hear too clearly but caught the words “Buddha’s nature” and “fairy barque” which caused her fresh misgivings. As she waited to

see what he would do next, Baoyu ordered Sheyue and Qiuwen to pre­pare a quiet room for him, and got out all his collections of the sayings of past sages as well as other famous works and poems written during ex­aminations, which he had put in this room. Then, to Baochai’s relief, he set to work in good earnest.

Xiren was amazed by these developments. She quietly told Baochai, ‘The talking-to you gave him did the trick after all, madam. The way you kept refuting him made him see reason. Too bad, though, that it’s rather late in the day so close to the examination!”

Baochai nodded and answered with a smile, “Success or failure in examinations is fated, regardless of how soon or late one starts to study. We can only hope that from now on he’ll stick to the right path and never be influenced again by those evil spirits!” Since they were alone in the room she went on softly, “Of course it’s good that he’s seen the light at last; but I’m afraid he may revert to his bad old ways and start fooling about with girls.”

“Exactly, madam. After Master Bao put his trust in that monk he cooled off towards the girls here; now that he’s lost faith in him, his old trouble may very well flare up again. I don’t think he ever cared much for you or me, madam. Now Zijuan’s gone, leaving just four senior maids and the only vamp among them is Wuer. They say her mother has asked Their Ladyships to let her go home to get married; however, for the time being she’s still here. Sheyue and Qiuwen are all right, but in the old days Master Bao used to fool about with them too; soit looks as if Yinger is the only one in whom he’s shown no interest, and she’s steady girl. I suggest that pouring his tea and fetching his water can be left to her, with some younger girls to help her. What do you think of that, madam?”

“This is what I’ve been worrying about. Your idea’s a good one.” So from then on Yinger was assigned to wait on Baoyu with some younger maids.

Baoyu, however, never left his compound, just sending someone ev­ery day to pay his respects for him to Lady Wang. And she, it goes without saying, was pleased to know how hard he was studying.

The third day of the eighth lunar month was the old lady’s birthday. Baoyu went that morning to kowtow to her shrine before going to his

study. After lunch, Baochai, Xiren and some of the maids were chatting in the front room with Their Ladyships while he remained in his quiet room deep in thought, when suddenly Yinger brought in a tray of fruit and sweetmeats.

“Her Ladyship told me to bring you this, Master Bao,” she announced. “It’s a sacrifice to the old lady.”

Baoyu stood up to express his thanks, then resumed his seat saying, “Put it down there.”

As Yinger did so she whispered, “Her Ladyship’s praising you.” When he smiled she added, “Her Ladyship says, now you’re working hard and will soon pass the examination; and next year you’ll get your third degree and an official post, living up to your parents’ hopes!”

He still merely nodded and smiled.

Yinger suddenly recalled what he had said when she made him a net before. “If you really pass, Master Bao, Madam Bao will be in luck! Remember that year in the Garden, when you told me to make you a plum-blossom net? You said he’d be a lucky man, whoever got the pair of us, mistress and maid. Now you’re the one in luck.”

Hearing this, Baoyu felt a stirring of desire, but quickly suppressing it said with a faint smile, “You say I’m in luck and your mistress too. How about you?”

Yinger blushed. “What luck is there for the likes of me bondmaids for life?”

“If you can really remain a bondmaid all your life, you’ll be luckier than us,” he chuckled.

She was afraid he was raving again on account of what she had said, and decided to leave.

“You silly girl!” he laughed. “I’ve something to tell you.”

To know what this was you must read the next chapter.

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