A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 119

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Chapter 119

Baoyu Passes the Examination with Honours and

Severs Earthly Ties

The Jia Family Retains Its Wealth and

Titles Thanks to Imperial Favour

Bewildered by Baoyu’s talk, Yinger was about to leave.

“You silly girl!” he said. “I’ve something to tell you. Since your young mistress is in luck, of course you as her maid will be lucky too, which is more than your sister Xiren can count on. You must work hard in future, so that when your mistress prospers she may repay you for your faithful service.”

The first half of this made sense to Yinger, not the last. However all she said was, “I understand. Madam Bao is expecting me. When you’re ready to taste the sweetmeats just send a maid to call me.”

Baoyu nodded and she left. Presently Baochai and Xiren also went back to their rooms, where we will leave them.

A few days later it was time for the examination. Everyone else sim­ply hoped that the two young masters would write good compositions and pass with honours; but Baochai had noticed that Baoyu, though studying hard, seemed strangely detached and indifferent. As this was the first examination for which he and Jia Lan had entered, she feared they might meet with some mishap in the throng of people and horses; moreover ever since the monk’s departure Baoyu had stayed indoors, and though she had rejoiced to see him studying she was sceptical about his sudden conversion and afraid of some new misfortune. And so, the day before the examination, she sent Xiren with some maids to help Suyun pack the young gentlemen’s things; and when she had made sure that everything needed was ready, she went with Li Wan to ask Lady Wang to send more than the usual number of experienced stewards with them, ostensi­bly to prevent their being jostled in the crowd.

The next day Baoyu and Jia Lan, in clothes neither new nor shabby, presented themselves cheerfully to Lady Wang.

“This is your first examination,” she warned them. “The first time in all these years that you’ve ever left me. Even when I wasn’t keeping an eye on you, you were surrounded by maids and serving-women, never sleeping for a single night alone. Today, entering for the examination, you’re going to be entirely on your own, so you’ll have to take care of yourselves! Come out as soon as you’ve finished your compositions to find our family servants, then come straight back to set the minds of your mothers and wife at rest.” She was moved to grief as she spoke.

Jia Lan had assented to each sentence, whereas Baoyu had said noth­ing. But when his mother finished he came over to kneel before her, shedding tears. After kowtowing three times he said, “I can never repay the mother who gave birth to me. But I shall do as well as I can in the examination, to obtain a good ju-ren degree and make you happy, madam. Then I shall have done my duty as a son and atoned for all my faults.”

This upset Lady Wang even more. “It’s good, of course, for you to feel that way,” she said. “If only the old lady could have lived to see you now!” Weeping she tried to raise him to his feet, but Baoyu refused to getup.

“Even if the old lady can’t see me, she’ll know and be pleased,” he answered. “So it’s all the same whether she sees me or not. We’re separated in form only, not in spirit.”

This exchange made Li Wan aftaid that Baoyu was losing his mind again, besides striking her as inauspicious. She made haste to say, “Madam, why grieve over such a happy occasion? Especially as Brother Baoyu has recently been so sensible and dutiful, studying hard as well. When he and his nephew have taken the examination and written some good com­Positions, they’ll come straight back to show what they wrote to our seniors, after which we can wait for news of their success.” She told maids to help Baoyu up.

He turned to bow to her saying, “Don’t worry, sister-in-law. We’re both of us going to pass. Later on, your Lan is going to do so well that you’ll wear the costume of a high-ranking lady.”

She chuckled, “I only hope it works out as you say, so that it won’t have been in vain She broke off there, afraid to upset Lady Wang.

“Provided you have a good son to continue our ancestors’ line,” re­

joined Baoyu, “even though my brother hasn’t lived to see it, it means he has done his duty.”

Li Wan simply nodded, reluctant to say any more as it was growing late.

Baochai was most dismayed. For not only had Baoyu’s words struck her as ill-omened, so had everything said by Lady Wang and Li Wan. Still, trying not to take it seriously she just held back her tears and kept silent. And now Baoyu walked over to make her a deep bow. All present, though mystified by his strange behaviour, did not like to laugh. They were even more amazed when Baochai wept.

Baoyu told her, “I’m going now, cousin. Take good care of the mis­tress and wait for my good news!”

‘It’s time you were off. There’s no need to maunder like this,” she answered.

“So you’re hurrying me? I know it’s time to be off.” He turned to look round and noticed two people missing. “Send word for me to xichun and Zijuan,” he added. “Well, all I want to say is I shall be seeing them again.”

As he sounded half rational, half crazy, the others attributed this to the fact that he had never left home before and was affected by what his mother had said. They thought it best to speed him on his way. “People are waiting outside,” they reminded him. “If you delay any longer you’ll be late.”

Baoyu threw back his head and laughed. “I’m going now! No more ado! This is the end!”

The others answered cheefully. “Go quickly.”

Only Lady Wang and Baochai behaved as if this were a separation for life.Their tears coursed down and they nearly burst out sobbing as Baoyu, laughing like a maniac, went out. Truly:

Taking the only approach to fame and wealth, He breaks through the first door of his cage.

Let us leave Baoyu and Jia Lan for the time being. When Jia Huan saw them set off to take the examination he was furious. Regarding himself as the master now, he decided, “Here’s my chance to avenge

my mother. All the other men of the family have gone, and as the Elder Mistress listens to me whom else do I have to fear?” His mind made up, he called on Lady Xing, flattering her to get into her good graces.

Very gratified she said, “Now you’re talking like a sensible boy! Qiaojie’s marriage is something I should decide; but your cousin Lian is a fool and instead of leaving it to me, the child’s own grandmother, he’s entrusted it to other people!”

“That family says this branch of our house is the only one they recog­nize,” Jia Huan told her. “Now that it’s settled, they’ll be sending you rich presents, madam; and once your grand-daughter’s married to a prince, the Elder Master will get a high post for sure. It’s not my place to speak ill of our mistress, but after one of her daughters was made an Imperial Consort she became too overbearing! I hope that in future Qiaojie won’t be so heartless. I must make her promise that.”

“Yes, you should talk to her to let her know whom she has to thank for this.Why, even if her father were at home, he wouldn’t be able to find her a better husband. It’s only that silly Pinger who thinks this match no good and says your mistress is against it too. I suppose she begrudges us this satisfaction. If we put this off till your cousin Lian comes back, he maY listen to them and it may fall through.”

“The other side has agreed. They’re just waiting for you to send her horoscope, madam. According to the rules of the prince’s house they’ll fetch her three days after receiving it. There’s one thing, though, which may not please you: They say since it’s forbidden to marry the grand­daughter of a cashiered official, they can only carry her over quietly and the celebration will have to wait till after our Elder Master is pardoned and back in office.”

“Why should I object to that? It’s only correct.”

“In that case you can send the horoscope, madam.”

“Don’t be a fool! We’ve only women at home. You must tell Qiang to write it.”

Jia Huan assented with gleeful alacrity and hurried off to give Jia Yun this message, after which they urged Wang Ren to go to the prince’s residence to draw up the contract and bring back the money.

However, one of Lady Xing’s maids one recommended by Pinger

had overheard them and now slipped away to repeat the whole of their conversation to her. Pinger had known that they were up to no good and had explained this to Qiaojie, with the result that the girl wept all night, insisting that they must wait for her father’s return instead of ac­cepting Lady Xing’s decision. This fresh news made her cry more bit­terly, and she wanted to appeal to Lady Wang.

Pinger hastily stopped her saying, “Steady on, miss! The Elder Mis­tress is your grandmother, so in your father’s absence she’s the one who has the say. Besides, your uncle is acting as guarantor, and they’re in cahoots, so how can you override them? I’m only a servant, what I say doesn’t count. We must think of some way out but on no account act rashly!”

“You’d better be quick about it,” said Lady Xing’s maid. “Otherwise a sedan-chair will be coming to fetch her!” With that she left.

When Pinger had seen her of{ she found Qiaojie prostrated with grief. Helping her up she said, “It’s no use crying, miss. We’re not in touch with your father, and judging by what they said….”

Before she could finish, a maid arrived from Lady Xing to announce, “The young lady’s marriage is fixed! Pinger is to get together all the things she’ll be needing. Her dowry can wait till Master Lian comes back.”

Pinger had to agree. On her return to the room she found that Lady Wang had called and Qiaojie was weeping in her arms.

“Don’t worry, child,” said Lady Wang tearfully, “Your grandmother gave me a good ticking-off because I spoke up for you; so I can’t see myself talking her round. We shall have to agree but put it off while we send a servant posthaste to tell your father.”

“You haven’t heard the latest, madam,” said Pinger. “This morning Master Huan told Lady Xing it’s the rule of the prince’s house to fetch the girl there within three days of receiving her horoscope. She’s already asked Master Yun to write it out; so how can we wait for Master Lian?”

The news that Jia Huan was behind this made Lady Wang speechless with rage.When she found her tongue again she gave furious orders to have him fetched; but after a long search her maids reported that he had gone out that morning with Jia Qiang and Wang Ren.

‘~Where is Jia Yun?” she demanded.

“He’s nowhere to be found either.”

They stared at each other in dismay, at a loss. As Lady Wang could hardly take issue with Lady Xing, all they could do was weep.

A serving-woman came in at this point to announce, “The servants at the back gate say that Granny Liu’s here again.”

“In a family crisis like this we’ve no time to entertain visitors,” said Lady Wang. “Put her off with some excuse.”

But Pinger demurred, “Better invite her in, madam. As Qiaojie’s god­mother she should be told about this.”

As Lady Wang raised no objection, the serving-woman brought in Granny Liu and greetings were exchanged. Puzzled to find them all with red eyes, Granny Liu presently asked, “What’s wrong? You must have been grieving for Madam Lian again.”

This mention of her mother made Qiaojie weep even more bitterly. Pinger said, “Let’s not beat about the bush. Since you’re her god­mother you ought to know this.” She drew her aside to explain the situa­tion.

Granny Liu was flabbergasted too. After a while, however, she laughed and said, “A clever young lady like you must surely have listened to durm-ballads? They describe plenty of ways and means. It’s not hard to find a way out.”

“What way out have you, granny?” asked Pinger eagerly. “Do tell us quickly.”

“It’s very simple. Don’t say a word to a soul; just up and leave, and that’s that.”

“That’s easier said than done. A young lady frorn a house like ours, where’s she to go?”

“If you want to spirit her away and don’t mind her coming to my village, I~ll hide the young lady. I’ll get my son-in-law to find a messen­ger, and she can write a letter in her own hand for him to take to her father, so that he comes back at once. How about that?”

“What if the Elder Mistress finds out?”

“Do they know that I’m here?”

“As her quarters are in the back and she’s such a tartar, nobody

passes on any news to her. If you’d come by the front gate she’d have known about it, but not now that you’ve come in by the back.”

“Then let’s fix a time, and I’ll get my son-in-law to come with a carriage to fetch her.”

“That would take too long,” said Pinger. “Just wait here a moment.” She hurried in and took Lady Wang aside to pass on Granny Liu’s pro­posal.

Lady Wang after thinking it over decided it would not do.

“It’s the only way!” pleaded Pinger. “I wouldn’t dare propose this to anyone else. You can pretend to be in the dark, madam, and later ask the Elder Mistress where Qiaojie has gone. We’ll send to get Master Lian to hurry back.”

Lady Wang said nothing but sighed.

Qiaojie who had overheard them begged, “Please come to my res­cue, madam! When my father comes home he’s bound to be grateful to you!”

“That’s settled then,” said Pinger. “You’d better go back, madam. We’ll just ask you to send someone to look after our house.”

“Keep it hushed up!” urged Lady Wang. “And mind you both take clothes and bedding with you.”

‘We can only pull it off if we leave at once,” replied Pinger. “If they come back with everything fixed, then we’re sunk!”

“All right. Go and get ready quickly. I’ll see to things here.” With that Lady Wang went over to see Lady Xing, engaging her in conversation to keep her at home while Pinger sent servants to make preparations.

“Don’t sneak out!” she instructed them. “If anybody sees you, just say that the Elder Mistress has ordered a carriage to take Granny Liu home.”

So the servants at the back were told to hire a carriage, while Pinger dressed Qiaojie up to look like Qinger and hurried her out. She herself, pretending to be seeing off Granny Liu, slipped into the carriage too when no one was looking; and so they left the mansion. Though the back gate had been open recently, there were 6nly a couple of gatekeepers on duty; and though there were a few other servants around, as the place was so big and practically deserted how could they keep an eye on everything?

Besides, Lady Xing had never shown them the least consideration whereas they were all indebted to Pinger; so although aware that this was wrong they connived at Qiaojie’s escape. Lady Xing, still talking with Lady Wang, had no inkling of what was afoot.

Lady Wang, however, was on tenterhooks. After making conversa­tion for a while she slipped over to see Baochai, who observing her dis­tracted air asked what was worrying her. Lady Wang told her in confi­dence what had happened.

“How dangerous!” exclaimed Baochai. “We must hurry up and stop Yun from going there.”

“But I can’t find Huan.”

“You had better pretend to know nothing about this, madam, while I find someone to inform Lady Xing.”

Lady Wang nodded and left it to her; but no more of this for the time being.

Now that prince from the provinces wanted to buy some serving-maids, and on the strength of the go-between’s description he sent some of his household to look Qiaojie over. When they reported back to him he asked about her family, and not daring to deceive him they told him the truth.

On learning that she came from an old noble family, the prince ex­claimed, “Out of the question! This is strictly forbidden: it would have been a fiasco! Since I have already paid homage at court I must choose a day now to return to my post. If anyone comes to broach this again, send him packing!”

So today when Jia Yun and Wang Ren arrived to present Qiaojie’s horoscope, the prince’s attendants blustered, “His Highness has given orders: Anyone who tries to pass off a daughter of the Jia family as a common citizen must be arrested and tried! In this reign of peace who dares do such a thing?”

This so terrified Wang Ren and ha Yun that they scuttled off, com­plaining that this had not been made clear at the start. They parted crest-fallen.

Jia Huan, back at home waiting for news, was flustered to hear of

Lady Wang’s summons. When Jia Yun came back alone his first words were, “Is it settled?”

Jia Yun stamped his foot. ‘~The fat’s in the fire! Someone’s let the cat out of the bag!” He described the dressing-down they had been given.

In consternation Jia Huan said, ‘~Now what’s to be done? After I made it sound so good to the Elder Mistress this morning, you lot have landed me in a proper mess!”

As they were wondering what to do, they heard servants inside call­ing that Their Ladyships wanted them. Very sheepishly the~ went in.

Lady Wang looked blackly at them and exclaimed, ‘A fine thing you’ve done, hounding Qiaojie and Pinger to death! Hurry up and bring me their bodies!”

The two young men fell on their knees. Jia Huan was too afraid to say a word. Jia Yun with bowed head protested, “We would never have dared, but Grand-Uncle Xing and Uncle Wang proposed this match for Qiaojie, as we reported to Your Lady ships. The Elder Mistress was will­ing, and told me to write out the horoscope. But that family has tumed her down, so how did we hound her to death?”

“Huan told the Elder Mistress she’d be fetched away in three days,” snapped Lady Wang. ‘And that her relatives were the guarantors. Isn’t that what you said? Well, I shan’t question you now. Hurry up and bring Qiaojie back. You’ll have to answer for this when the master returns!” Lady Xing being now reduced to tearful silence, Lady Wang swore at Jia Huan, “Concubine Zhao was a bitch, and she left behind her a misbegot­ten scoundrel!” She called her maids to help her back to her own quar­ters.

Jia Huan, Jia Yun and Lady Xing indulged in mutual recriminations, then said, “Well, let’s stop blaming each other. They can’t really have killed themselves. Pinger must have hidden her in some relative’s house.”

Lady Xing sent for the gatemen from the front and the back of the house and berated them. ‘~Do you know where Qiaojie and Pinger have gone?” she demanded.

They answered in the same vein, ‘Don’t ask us, madam. Ask the gentlemen in charge. You’ve no call to storm at us. When our mistress questions us we know what to say. She can have us all beaten or dis­

missed; but since Master Lian left there’ve been fine goings-on in the outer quarters! We haven’t been issued our monthly allowances. They gamble, get drunk, fool about with young actors, and even bring women from outside into the house. Isn’t that so, gentlemen?”

Jia Yun and Jia Huan had nothing to say for themselves, and when Lady Wang sent to order them to find Pinger and Qiaojie immediately they only wished the earth would swallow them up. They did not venture to question Qiaojie’s household, knowing that all the maids there, detest­ing them, would keep her whereabouts secret. Not daring to admit this to Lady Wang, they sent round to other relatives to ask, but in each case drew a blank. So Lady Xing inside and Jia Huan and the others outside were given no peace for several days in a row.

Soon came the day for the examination to end, and Lady Wang was eager for the return of Baoyu and Jia Lan. By the afternoon when there was no sign of them, she, Li Wan and Baochai sent servants out to make inquiries, but they did not come back, having no news. Others were sent, and when these did not return either the three women felt quite distraught.

That evening, to their delight Jia Lan came back.

“Where is your Uncle Bao?” he was asked.

Without stopping to pay his respects he sobbed, “Uncle Bao has dis­appeared!”

Lady Wang, dumbfounded, collapsed. Luckily Caiyun and others were at hand to carry her to her bed and revive her; but at once she started wailing. Baochai remained speechless, dazed.

Xiren, dissolved in tears, reproached Jia Lan, “Stupid creature! You were with him, how could you lose him?”

“In the hostel we ate and slept in the same place,” he told them. “And in the examination grounds our cells weren’t too far apart, so we kept in close touch. This morning, Uncle Bao f~ni shed his papers first and waited for me to hand them in together. Then we came out together; but in the crowd at the Dragon Gate he disappeared. The servants who’d come to meet us asked me where he was and Li Gui said he’d seen him, just a few yards away, but he’d vanished in the crowd. I sent Li Gui and others to search in different directions while I took some men with me to

search all the cells. But he wasn’t there. That’s why I’m so late back.” Lady Wang was crying too much to speak, Baochai had a fair idea of

the truth of the matter, while Xiren was sobbing as if she would never stop. So Jia Qiang without waiting for orders went out with others in different directions to search. In the Rong Mansion, plunged in gloom and half deserted, the banquet to welcome the candidates back went un­touched. Forgetting his own exhaustion, Jia Lan wanted to make another search for Baoyu, but Lady Wang restrained him.

“Child, your uncle has disappeared,” she said. “We can’t have you getting lost too. Go and rest now, there’s a good boy!”

Still Jia Lan insisted on going, till Madam You and the rest managed to dissuade him.

Xichun, the only one to grasp the truth, could not divulge it. She asked Baochai, “Did Cousin Baoyu take his jade with him?”

“Of course, he always wore it,” was the answer, to which Xichun made no reply.

Xiren, recalling her attempt to snatch the jade from Baoyu, suspected the monk of spiriting him away. Her tears fell like pearls as, sobbing and broken-hearted, she remembered Baoyu’s past kindness. “Sometimes when I provoked him he lost his temper,” she thought. “But he always had the grace to make it up later, to say nothing of his warm-hearted consideration. When I provoked him too much, he swore he’d become a monk. For all we know he may have kept his word!”

By now it was already the fourth watch and there was still no news. Afraid Lady Wang would wear herself out with grief, Li Wan urged her to go and rest, and the others attended her, only Lady Xing going back to her own quarters while Jia Huan skulked out of sight. Lady Wang sent Jia Lan to bed but herself passed a sleepless night.

At dawn, the servants came back to report that they had searched high and low without finding a trace of Baoyu. Then Aunt Xue, Xue Ke, Xiangyun, Baoqin and Aunt Li called in turn to pay their respects and ask for news. This went on for several days, with Lady Wang too grief­stricken to eat.

She was at death’s door when a servant announced, “A messenger from the coast says he comes from the Garrison Commander, and our

Miss Tanchun will be arriving tomorrow.”

This news relieved Lady Wang’s mind, although she still grieved for Baoyu. And the next day, sure enough, Tanchun came home.They all went out some distance to welcome her and saw that, splendidly dressed, she looked lovelier than ever. At sight of Lady Wang’s haggard looks and the red, swollen eyes of the others, she too broke down and wept before greeting them. It distressed her to see Xichun dressed like a Tao­ist nun; and when she learned of Baoyu’s disappearance and the family’s many misfortunes they all wept again. Fortunately, with her persuasive­ness and good sense she succeeded little by little in consoling Lady Wang to some extent.

The following day Tanchun’s husband also called and, when informed what had happened, urged her to stay for a while to comfort the house­hold. The maids who had accompanied her at the time of her marriage, reunited with their old friends, talked of all that had taken place since their departure; but day and night high and low alike were waiting for word of Baoyu.

One day, after the fifth watch, servants from the outer apartments came to the inner gate to announce good tidings. A few young maids rushed in, without waiting for the senior maids’ permission, and burst out, “Such good news, madam!”

Jumping to the wrong conclusion, Lady Wang stood up elatedly to ask, “Where did they find him? Bring him in at once!”

“He’s come seventh of the successful candidates.”

“But where is he?” When there was no answer she sat down again.

“Who came seventh?” asked Tanchun. “Master Bao,” they told her.

Then another shout went up outside, “Master Lan has passed too!”

The maids hurried out and came back with the announcement that Jia

Lan’s name was the hundred-and-thirtieth on the list. Li Wan was natu­rally overjoyed, but while Baoyu was missing she dared not show it. Lady

Wang too was pleased that Jia Lan had passed but thought, “If only

Baoyu were to come back how happy we all should be!”

Baochai, the only one still overcome with grief, had to hold back her tears.

All who offered congratulations said, “Since Baoyu was fated to pass, he’s bound to turn up. Besides, now as a successful candidate, he’s too well-known to remain lost.”

Lady Wang half convinced by this gave a wan smile, whereupon they urged her to take some nourishment.

Beiming outside the third gate was clamouring, “Now that Master Bao has passed, we’re certain to find him!” Asked what he meant he explained, “The proverb says: ‘A successful candidate’s fame spreads throughout the world.’ Wherever he goes now, people will know about him and will have to send him back.”

Those in the inner apartments commented, “That young fellow has no manners, yet he talks sense.”

Xichun, however, countered, “How could a grown man like him get lost? I suspect he’s seen through the ways of the world and taken mo­nastic vows, in which case it will be difficult to find him.”

This set Lady Wang and the others weeping again.

Li Wan agreed, “Yes, since ancient times many men have given up rank and wealth to achieve Buddhahood and become immortals.”

“If he’s so unfilial as to abandon his parents, how can he become a Buddha?” sobbed Lady Wang.

“People shouldn’t have anything unique about them,” Tanchun re­marked. “We all thought it a good thing Brother Baoyu being born with that jade; but now it seems all this trouble stems from it. Don’t be angry, madam, at what I’m going to say, but if he doesn’t turn up in the next few days then there must be some reason, and you’d better consider him as never having been born. If there really is some mystery about him and he becomes a Buddha, this must be owing to your virtue in some previous existence.”

Baochai said nothing, but Xiren could not bear her mental anguish her head reeled and she collapsed. Lady Wang compassionately told some maids to help her back to her room.

Jia Huan was thoroughly mortified by the success of his brother and his nephew on top of Qiaojie’s disappearance, for which he held Jia Qiang and Jia Yun to blame. He knew that with Tanchun back this matter would not be dropped, yet he dared not hide himself. These days he felt

on thorns.

The next day when Jia Lan went to offer his thanks at court, he learned that Zhen Baoyu had also passed and so they ranked as classmates.Young Zhen, told of Baoyu’s mysterious disappearance, expressed his sympa­thy.

The officer in charge of recommendations presented the papers of the successful candidates to the Emperor, who perused each in turn and found them all perspicuous. Observing that the seventh candidate Jia Baoyu was a native of Jinling, as was the hundred-and-thirtieth Jia Lan, he asked, “Is either of these Jias from Jinling from the same family as the late Imperial Consort?”

His ministers sent for them to question them, then repeated Jia Lan’s account of Baoyu’s disappearance as well as of their antecedents. There­upon our sagacious, compassionate Emperor recalled the Jia family’s services to the state and ordered his ministers to draw up a detailed me­morial on the subject. His Majesty in his great goodness then ordered the bureau in charge to re-investigate Jia She’s case and submit their find­ings to him. He also read in the report “On the Successful Conclusion of the Compaign Against Brigands at the Coast” that “the whole empire is at peace and the people are content.” In his delight he ordered his minis­ters to reward those officials responsible and to proclaim a general am­nesty.

After Jia Lan had left the court and thanked his examiner, he heard of the general amnesty and reported it to Lady Wang. The whole family rejoiced and only hoped that Baoyu would now return home. Aunt Xue, even more overjoyed, made ready to ransom Xue Pan.

Then one day it was announced that old Mr. Zhen and Tanchun’s husband had called to offer congratulations. Lady Wang sent Jia Lan out to entertain them. Presently he returned to her beaming.

“Wonderful news, madam!” he told her. “Mr. Zhen has heard at court that our Elder Master has been pardoned; and Uncle Zhen has not only been pardoned but is to inherit the Ning Mansion’s noble title. Grandfa­ther will keep the title of Duke of Rongguo, and after the period of mourning is to be made vice-minister of the Ministry of Works. All the property confiscated will be returned. The Emperor was impressed by Uncle Bao’s

essays, and discovered that he is the Imperial Consort’s younger brother, whose good character the Prince of Beijing has vouched for. His Maj­esty summoned him to court and when it was reported that according to his nephew Jia Lan he had disappeared after the examination and a search was being made for him everywhere, the Emperor decreed that all the garrisons of the capital must do their utmost to find him.This decree should set your mind at rest, madam. Now that the Emperor has shown us such favour, Uncle Bao is bound to be found!”

Lady Wang and the rest of the family exchanged jubilant congratula­tions. Only Jia Huan was frantic as he searched high and low for Qiaojie, who had left the city with Granny Liu and Pinger. In the village Granny Liu treated her with respect, cleaning out the best rooms for her and Pinger to stay in; and though she could only offer them country fare the food was fresh and clean, while with Qinger to keep her company Qiaojie felt quite at home.

When the few well-to-do families in the village heard that a young lady from the Jia Mansion was staying with Granny Liu, they flocked to see her and thought her a goddess come down to earth. Some sent pre­sents of vegetables and frnit, others of game, making quite a commotion. The richest family among them, named Zhou, were millionaires owning a vast estate of good land. Their only son, a handsome, intelligent lad of fourteen for whom his parents had procured a tutor, had just passed the county examination.When his mother saw Qiaojie she thought enviously, “Country folk like us aren’t good enough for such a young lady from a noble house.”

Granny Liu guessed what she was thinking. “I know what’s in your mind,” she said. “Let me propose the match.”

“Don’t make fun of me!” laughed Mrs. Zhou. “Such grand people would never agree to marry her to a family like ours.”

“We’ll see about that,” was the reply. And there the matter rested.

Concerned to know how the Jia family was faring, Granny Liu sent Baner to town to make inquiries. As it happened, he found Rongning Street lined with carriages and sedan-chairs, and people in the neighbourhood informed him, “The heads of the Ning and Rong Man­sions are getting back their official posts and their confiscated property.

They’re going up in the world again. Only that Baoyu of theirs who passed the examination has disappeared.”

Baner was about to go happily home when some horsemen galloped up and alighted before the gate. The gateman went down on one knee to salute the foremost. “So you’re back, Second Master,” he cried. “Con­gratulations! Is the Elder Master better?”

“He is,” was the smiling answer. “Thanks to the Imperial favour, he will be home very soon. Whose are all these carriages?”

The gateman reported, “Imperial envoys have been sent to order us to fetch back the family property.” Then the gentleman went in as if walking on air, and Baner guessed that he must be Jia Lian. Without making further inquiries, he hurried back to tell his grandmother.

When Granny Liu heard this news, beaming with smiles she passed it on to Qiaojie with her congratulations.

Pinger exclaimed, “What a lot we owe you, granny! If not for the way you fixed things, our young lady wouldn’t be so happily placed to­day.” Qiaojie was still more delighted.

As they were chatting, the messenger who had taken her letter to Jia Lian came back to report, “Master Lian is extremely grateful and told me, as soon as I reached home, to escort the young lady back. He re­warded me too with several taels of silver.”

Granny Liu, gratified to hear this, had two carts prepared for them and urged Qiaojie to mount one. But by now she felt so at home here that she was reluctant to leave, while Qinger burst into tears, unwilling to part with her. Seeing this, Granny Liu told Qinger to go with them, and to­gether they drove straight back to the Rong Mansion.

Earlier on, when Jia Lian had heard that his father was mortally ill and sped to his place of exile, they had wept on meeting again; but gradually Jia She recovered.When Qiaojie’s letter arrived, Jia Lian told his father what had happened at home and promptly started back. On the way he heard of the general amnesty, and pressing on for another two days he reached home just as the Imperial decree had been brought. Lady Xing was worried because there was no one to receive it, Jia Lan being too young. Now Jia Lian’s return was announced, and both joy and sadness

attended this reunion, but having no time to stop and talk he hurried to the front hall to pay homage.

The Imperial envoys asked after his father and instructed him, “Come tomorrow to the Imperial Treasury to receive your bounty. The Ning Mansion is yours to live in again.” With that they took their leave.

When Jia Lian escorted them out, he saw several countrified carts which the servants were forbidding to draw up there. He knew from the altercation going on that Qiaojie had come back.

“Stupid bastards!” he swore at the servants. “When I was away you swindled us, forcing my daughter to flee, and now that they’re bringing her back you bar the way! What grudge have you got against me?”

The servants had been afraid that Jia Lian on his return would bring them to book, not grasping the situation; but to their surprise he knew more about it than they did. Standing at respectful attention they reported, “After you left, sir, some of us fell ill, some had to ask for leave. Master Huan, Master Qiang and Master Yun were in charge we had nothing to do with this.”

“You scoundrels!” he swore. “When I’m through with my business I’ll deal with you. Let those carts in at once!”

When Jia Lian went inside again he ignored Lady Xing. Going instead to Lady Wang’s apartments he knelt down and kowtowed to her. “Qiaojie is back safe and sound, all thanks to you, madam!” he said. “I’ll leave Cousin Huan out of this, but Yun is a rascal who made trouble before when left in charge of the house. Now I’ve only been away a couple of months, yet look at the chaos here! A fellow like this, I suggest we drive him away and have no more to do with him!”

“That wretch Wang Ren is just as bad,” she complained.

“Don’t worry, madam. I know how to deal with them.”

As they were talking, Caiyun announced Qiaojie, and the girl paid her respects to Lady Wang. They had not been parted long, yet the thought of her narrow escape moved them both to tears, Qiaojie weeping bitterly. Jia Lian lost no time in thanking Granny Liu, and Lady Wang made the old woman sit beside her to talk over recent events. When Jia Lian saw Pinger he shed tears of gratitude, although he could not express his feel­ings in public. And so much had she.risen in his estimation that he de­

cided, after his father’s return, to ask to have her promoted to be his wife. But this is anticipating.

Lady xing had feared ructions when Jia Lian found Qiaojie missing. The news that he had gone to see Lady Wang alarmed her even more, and she sent a mald to find out what was afoot. When the girl came back to report that Qiaojie and Grnnny Liu were talking there too, Lady Xing at last realized the trick played on her and suspected Lady Wang of selling her son agalnst her. “But who could have sent Pinger word?” she fumed.

Just then Qiaojie came in with Granny Liu and Pinger, followed by Lady Wang who lald the whole blame on Jia Yun and Wang Ren.

“When you heard their proposal, you naturally thought it a good one,” she said. “How were you to know what they were up to outside?”

Abashed, Lady Xing admitted to herself that Lady Wang had made the right decision. After this, these two mistresses were on better terms.

Upon leaving Lady Wang, Pinger took Qiaojie to see Baochai, and each confided her troubles to the other.

Pinger told them, “The Emperor has shown us such favour that now our family should prosper again. I’m sure Master Bao will come back.”

Just then Qiuwen came running in frantically. “Xiren is dying!” she cried. If you want to know what had happened, read the next chapter.

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