A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 12

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A Dream of Red Mansions012

Chapter 12

Xifeng Sets a Vicious Trap

for a Lover

Jia Rui Looks into the Wrong Side

of the Precious Mirror of Love

While Xifeng was talking to Pinger, Jia Rui was announced. She or­dered him to be admitted at once.

Overjoyed at being received, he hastened in and greeted her effu­sively, beaming with smiles. With a show of regard she made him take a seat and offered him tea. The sight of her in informal dress threw him into raptures. Gazing amorously at her he asked:

“Why isn’t Second Brother Lian home yet?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Xifeng replied.

“Perhaps he’s been caught by someone and can’t tear himself away?”

“Perhaps. Men are like that. Bewitched by every pretty face they see.”

“Not all of us, sister-in-law. I’m not like that.”

“How many are there like you? Not one in ten.”

Tweaking his ears and rubbing his cheeks with delight, the young man insinuated, “You must be very bored here day in and day out.”

“Yes indeed. I keep wishing someone would drop in for a chat to cheer me.”

“I have plenty of time. Suppose I were to drop in to amuse you every day?”

“Now you’re joking,” she replied archly. “You wouldn’t want to come and see me.”

“I mean every word I say. May a thunderbolt strike me if I don’t! I didn’t dare come before because I was told you were very strict and took offence at the least little thing. Now I see how charming and how kind you are, you may be sure I’ll come, even if it costs me my life.”

“You’re certainly much more understanding than Jia Rong and his brother. They look so refined one would expect them to be understand­ing, but they’re stupid fools with no insight at all into other people’s hearts.”

Inflamed by this praise, he edged closer. Staring at the purse hanging from her girdle, he asked if he might look at her rings.

“Take care,” she whispered. “What will the maids think?”

He drew back instantly as if obeying an Imperial decree or a mandate from Buddha.

“You had better go now,” Xifeng smiled.

“Don’t be so cruel. Let me stay a little longer.”

“This is no place for you during the day with so many people about,” she murmured. “Go now but come back again secretly at the first watch. Wait for me in the western entrance hall.”

To Jia Rui this was like receiving a pearl of great price.

“You’re not joking, are you?” he demanded. “How can I hide there with people passing back and forth all the time?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll dismiss all the pages on night duty. Once the gates on both sides are locked, no one can come through.”

Hardly able to contain himself for joy, the young man hurried off, convinced he would have his desire and longing for the evening.

That night, sure enough, he groped his way to the Rong Mansion, slipping into the entrance hall just before the gates were bolted. It was pitch dark and not a soul was about. Already the gate to the Lady Dowager’s quarters was locked, only the one on the east remaining open.

He waited, listening intently, but no one came. Then with a sudden clatter the east gate was bolted too. Frantic as he was, he dared not make a sound. He crept out to try the gate and found it securely closed. Escape was out of the question, for the walls on either side were too high to climb.

The entrance hall was bare and draughty. As it was the depth of winter the nights were long and an icy north wind chilled him to the bone. He almost froze to death.

At last dawn came and a matron appeared to open the east gate. As she went over to knock on the west gate and was looking the other way, Jia Rui shot out like a streak of smoke, hugging his shoulders. Luckily no one else was up at this early hour. He was able to escape unseen through the postern door.

Jia Rui had been orphaned early and left in the charge of his grandfa­ther Jia Dairu, a strict disciplinarian who allowed him no freedom for fear he drink or gamble outside and neglect his studies. Now that he had stayed out all night his grandfather was furious and suspected him of drinking, gambling or whoring, little guessing the truth of the matter.

In a cold sweat with fright, Jia Rui tried to lie his way out.

“I went to my uncle’s house, and because it was late he kept me for the night.”

“You have never dared leave home before without permission,” thundered his grandfather. “You deserve a beating for sneaking off like that. And a worse one for deceiving me.

He gave Jia Rui thirty or forty strokes with a bamboo, would not let him have any food, and made him kneel in the courtyard to study ten days’ lessons. This thrashing on an empty stomach and kneeling in the wind to read essays completed the wretched youth’s misery after his freezing night.

But still too blinded by infatuation to realize that Xifeng was playing with him, he seized his first chance a couple of days later to call. She reproached him for his breach of faith, earnestly as he protested his inno­cence; and since he had delivered himself into her hands she could not but devise further means to cure him.

“Tonight you can wait for me in another place that vacant room off the passage behind this apartment. But mind you don’t make any mis­take this time.”

“Do you really mean it?”

“Of course I do. If you don’t believe me, don’t come.”

“I’ll come, I’ll come, even if I should die for it.”

“Now, you’d better go.”

Assuming that this time all would go well, Jia Rui went off.

Having got rid of him, Xifeng held a council of war and baited her trap while the young man waited at home impatiently, for to his annoyance one of their relatives called and stayed to supper. By the time he left the lamps were being lit, and Jia Rui had to wait for his grandfather to retire before he could slip over to the Rong Mansion and wait in the place appointed. He paced the room frantic as an ant on a hot griddle, but there was no sight or sound of anyone.

“Is she really coming?” he wondered. “Or shall I be left to freeze for another whole night?”

Just then a dark figure appeared. Sure that it was Xifeng, he threw caution to the winds and barely had the figure stepped through the door than he flung himself on it like a ravenous tiger, or a cat pouncing on a mouse.

“Dearest!” he cried. “I nearly died of longing.”

He carried her to the kang, where he showered kisses on her and fumbled with her clothes, pouring out incoherent endearments. Not a sound came from the figure in his arms.

Jia Rui had just pulled down his pants and prepared to set to work when a sudden flash of light made him look up. There stood Jia Qiang, a taper in his hand.

“What’s going on in here?” he demanded.

The figure on the kang said with a chuckle, “Uncle Rui was trying to bugger me.”

When Jia Rui saw that it was Jia Rong, he wished he could sink through the ground. In utter confusion he turned to run away.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Jia Qiang grabbed him. “Aunt Xifeng has told Lady Wang that without any reason you tried to make love to her. To escape your attentions she played this trick to trap you. Lady Wang’s fainted from shock. I was sent here to catch you. I found you on top of him, you can’t deny it. So come along with me to Lady Wang!”

Jia Rui nearly gave up the ghost. “Dear nephew,” he pleaded, “do tell her you couldn’t find me. I’ll pay you well for it tomorrow.”

“I might do that. Depends how much you’re willing to pay. I can’t just take your word for it, I must have it down in writing.”

“How can I put a thing like this down in writing?”

“That’s no problem. Just write that you borrowed so much silver from the bank to pay a gambling debt.”

“All right. But I’ve no paper or brush.”

“That’s easy.” Jia Qiang disappeared for a moment and promptly returned with writing materials, where upon the two of them forced Jia

Rui to write and sign an I. O. U. for fifty taels which Jia Qiang pocketed. When he urged Jia Rong to leave, however, the latter at first absolutely refused and threatened to lay the matter before the whole clan the next morning, Jia Rui kowtowed to him in desperation. However, with Jia Qiang mediating between them, he was forced to write another I. O. U. for fifty taels of silver.

“I’ll get the blame if you’re seen leaving,” said Jia Qiang. “The Lady Dowager’s gate is closed, and the Second Master is in the hall looking over the things which have arrived from Jinling, so you can’t get out that way. You’ll have to go through the back gate. But if anyone meets you I’ll be finished too. Let me see if the coast is clear. You can’t hide here, they’ll be bringing stuff in presently. I’ll find you somewhere to wait.

He blew out the light and dragged Jia Rui out to the foot of some steps in the yard.

“Here’s a good place,” he whispered. “Squat down there until we come back and don’t make a sound.”

As the two others left, Jia Rui squatted obediently at the foot of the steps. He was thinking over his predicament when he heard a splash above him and a bucket of slops was emptied over his head. A cry of dismay escaped him. But he clapped one hand over his mouth and made not another sound, though covered with filth from head to foot and shiv­ering with cold. Then Jia Qiang hurried over calling:

“Quick! Run for it!”

At this reprieve, Jia Rui bolted through the back door to his home. By now the third watch had sounded, and he had to knock at the gate. The servant who opened it wanted to know how he came to be in such a state.

“I fell into a cesspool in the dark,” lied Jia Rui.

Back in his own room he stripped off his clothes and washed. Only then did he realize with rage the trick Xifeng had played him, yet the recollection of her charms still made him long to embrace her. There was no sleep for him that night. Afterwards, however, although he still longed for Xifeng, he steered clear of the Rong Mansion.

Both Jia Rong and Jia Qiang kept dunning him for payment, so that his fear of being found out by his grandfather and the hopeless passion which consumed him were now aggravated by the burden of debts, while he had to work hard at his lessons every day. The unmarried twenty-year-old, constantly dreaming of Xifeng, could not help indulging in “finger-play.” All this, combined with the effect of two nights of exposure, soon made him fall ill. Before a year was out he suffered from heartburn, loss of appetite, emissions in his urine and blood in his phlegm; his legs trembled, his eyes smarted; he was feverish at night and exhausted by day. And finally he collapsed in a fit of delirium.

The doctors who were called in dosed him with dozens of catties of cinnamon, aconitum roots, turtle-shell, liriope, polygonatum and so forth—but all to no effect. With the coming of spring he took a turn for the worse.

His grandfather rushed to and fro in search of new physicians, yet they proved useless. And when pure ginseng was prescribed this was beyond Jia Dairu’s means: he had to ask for help from the Rong Man­sion. Lady Wang told Xifeng to weigh out two ounces for him.

“All our recent supply was used the other day in the old lady’s medi­cine,” said Xifeng. “You told me to keep the remaining whole roots for General Yang’s wife, and as it happens I sent them round yesterday.”

“If we’ve none, send to your mother-in-law’s for some. Or your Cousin Zhen’s household may let us have what’s needed. If you can save the young man’s life, that will be a good deed.”

But instead of doing as she was told, Xifeng scraped together less than an ounce of inferior scraps which she dispatched with the message that this was all Her Ladyship had. To Lady Wang, however, she re­ported that she had collected two ounces and sent them over.

Jia Rui was so anxious to recover that there was no medicine he would not try, but all the money spent in this way was wasted.

One day a lame Taoist priest came begging for alms and professes to have specialized in curing diseases due to retribution. Jia Rui heard him from his sick-bed. At once, kowtowing on his pillow he loudly implored his servants to bring the priest in.

When they complied he seized hold of the Taoist and cried:

“Save me, Bodhisattva! Save me!”

“No medicine can cure your illness,” rejoined the Taoist gravely. “However, I can give you a precious object which will save your life if you look at it every day.”

He took from his wallet a mirror polished on both sides and engraved on its handle with the inscription: Precious Mirror of Love.

“This comes from the Hall of the Illusory Spirit in the Land of Great Void,” he told Jia Rui. “It was made by the Goddess of Disenchantment to cure illnesses resulting from lust. Since it has the power to preserve men’s lives, I brought it to the world for the use of intelligent, handsome, high-minded young gentlemen. But you must only look into the back of the mirror. On no account look into the front — remember that! I shall come back for it in three days’ time, by when you should be cured.” He strode off then before anyone could stop him.

“This is a strange business,” reflected Jia Rui. “Let me try looking at this Taoist’s mirror and see what happens.” He picked it up and looked into the back. Horrors! A skeleton was standing there! Hastily covering it, he swore, “Confound that Taoist giving me such a fright! But let me see what’s on the other side.”

He turned the mirror over and there inside stood Xifeng, beckoning to him. In raptures he was wafted as if by magic into the mirror, where he indulged with his beloved in the sport of cloud and rain, after which she saw him out.

He found himself back in his bed and opened his eyes with a cry. The mirror had slipped from his hands and the side with the skeleton was exposed again. Although sweating profusely after his wet dream, the young man was not satisfied. He turned the mirror over again, Xifeng beckoned to him as before, and in he went.

But after this had happened four times and he was about to leave her for the fourth time, two men came up, fastened iron chains upon him and proceeded to drag him away. He cried out:

“Let me take the mirror with me!”

These were the last words he uttered.

The attendants had simply observed him look into the mirror, let it fall and then open his eyes and pick it up again. This time, however, when the mirror fell he did not stir. They pressed round and saw that he had breathed his last. The sheet under his thighs was cold and wet.

At once they laid him out and made ready the bier, while his grandpar­ents gave way to uncontrollable grief and cursed the Taoist.

“This devilish mirror!” swore Jia Dairu. “It must be destroyed before it does any more harm.” He ordered it to be thrown into the fire.

A voice from the mirror cried out: “Who told you to look at the front? It’s you who’ve taken false for true. Why should you burn me?”

That same instant in hustled the lame Taoist, shouting, “I can’t let you destroy the Precious Mirror of Love!” Rushing forward he snatched it up, then was off like the wind.

Jia Dairu lost no time in preparing for the funeral, notifying all con­cerned that sutras would be chanted in three days’ time and the funeral would take place in seven. The coffin would be left in Iron Threshold Temple until it could be taken to their old home.

All the members of the clan came to offer condolences. Jia She and Jia Zheng of the Rong Mansion contributed twenty taels each towards the expenses, and Jia Zhen of the Ning Mansion did the same. Others gave three or five taels according to their means, while the families of Jia Rui’s schoolmates collected another twenty or thirty taels. So Jia Dairu, although not well-off, was able to conduct the funeral in style.

And then, at the end of winter, a letter came from Lin Ruhai saying that he was seriously ill and wished to have his daughter sent home. This increased the Lady Dowager’s distress, but they had to prepare with all speed for Daiyu’s departure; and although Baoyu was most upset he could hardly come between her and her father.

The Lady Dowager decided that Jia Lian should accompany her grand­daughter and bring her safely back. We need not dwell on the presents and arrangements for the journey, which naturally left nothing to be de­sired. A day was quickly chosen on which Jia Lian and Daiyu took their leave of everyone and, accompanied by attendants, set sail for Yangzhou.

For further details, read the next chapter.

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