A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 47


Chapter 47

A Stupid Bully Is Beaten Up

for His Amorous Advances

A Cool Young Gentleman Leaves Home

for Fear of Reprisals

Lady Wang hurried out to greet Lady Xing who had come in the hope of news, unaware that the Lady Dowager knew all about her proposal to Yuanyang. Only as she stepped into the courtyard was she quietly ap­prised of this by some serving-women; but it was too late to retreat now that her arrival had been announced and Lady Wang had come out to meet her. She had no choice but to go in and pay her respects.

The old lady received her without a word, to her great mortification. Xifeng had already left on the pretext of some business, while Yuanyang had retired to her room to sulk. Now Aunt Xue, Lady Wang and the others withdrew one by one to spare Lady Xing embarrassment. She herself dared not leave, however.

Once they were alone the Lady Dowager sneered, ‘I hear you’ve been doing some matchmaking for you husband. Quite a model of wifely submission and virtue, aren’t you? Only you carry this obedience too far. You have children and grand children now, yet you’re still afraid of him. Instead of giving him a little good advice you let him carry on just as he pleases.’

Blushing all over her face Lady Xing replied, ‘I have reasoned with him several times, but he pays no attention. You know how it is, madam. I had no choice.’

‘Would you commit murder too if he insisted’? Have some sense! Your sister-in-law is a simple soul and, for all her poor health, she has to worry about high and low in this household. Though your daughter-in-law helps her, her work is never done. So I don’t make too many demands on them, and when the two of them overlook certain things, that child Yuanyang is thoughtful enough to attend to my wants. She sees I get what I need, and tells them in time what wants replenishing. If not for her, in all their press of business the pair of them would be bound to forget this or that. Do you expect me to see to everything? To work out every day what I need to ask for? She’s the only maid left me who’s not just a child and knows something of my ways and temperament. In the second place: she gets on well with the older and younger mistresses alike here, and never tries in my name to ask this mistress for clothes or that for money. So during the last few years the whole household old and young, starting with your sister-in-law and daughter-in-law, all trust her. It’s not just that I rely on her, she saves them trouble too. As long as I’ve someone like her, I don’t have to worry about going short of anything even if my daugh­ters-in-law or my grandsons’ wives forget it. But who would you give me in her place if she left now? Even if you managed to produce a girl of her size made of pearls but unable to talk she’d still be no use to me.

‘I was just on the point of sending to tell your husband: I’ve money here for him if he wants to buy someone, and I don’t care if it costs eight or even ten thousand taels; but he can’t have this girl. If she can be left to wait on me for a few years, that’ 11 be the same as him waiting on me day and night himself like a dutiful son. It’s a good thing that you’ve come. It’s more fitting that he should hear this from you.’

She called for her maids then and told them, ‘Ask Madam Xue and the young ladies to come back. We were having fun together, why have they all left?’

The maids made haste to carry out her orders.

Everyone hurried back except Aunt Xue, who objected, ‘I’ve just got home, why should I go over again? Tell her I’m sleeping.’

‘Do us a favour, dear madam, good ancestress!’ pleaded the maid. ‘Our old lady’s in a bad temper. If you won’t go, we shall never man­age to soothe her. Just do it for our sake. If you’re tired, madam, I’ll carry you there on my back.’

‘You little imp!’ Aunt Xue chuckled. ‘You’ve nothing to fear except a taste of her tongue.’ None the less she felt constrained to go back with the maid.

The Lady Dowager made her sit down and suggested, ‘What about a game of cards? You must be rather rusty, so let’s sit together to make sure that Xifeng can’t cheat us.’

‘That’s right, you must help me, madam,’ agreed Aunt Xue. ‘Shall we have a foursome or rope in one or two others?’

‘Yes, there are just four of us,’ observed Lady Wang.

‘One more would be more fun,’ put in Xifeng.

‘Then send for Yuanyang,’ directed the old lady. ‘Tell her to sit on my left. Your aunt’s eyesight isn’t good; she can help us both with our cards.’

Xifeng sighed and remarked to Tanchun, ‘With all your education, it’s too bad you haven’t learned to tell fortunes too.’

‘What an odd thing to say!’ exclaimed Tanchun. ‘Why not concen­trate on winning some money from the old lady instead of thinking about fortune-telling?’

‘I want some fortune-teller to predict how much I’ll be losing today. How can I hope to win? Look, before the game even starts they’ve laid ambushes right and left.’

The Lady Dowager and Aunt Xue laughed.

Presently Yuanyang arrived and took a seat between the Lady Dowa­ger and Xifeng. The red felt cloth was spread and the cards were shuffled and drawn. After the five of them had played for a while, Yuanyang noticed that the old lady needed only a ‘two of circles’ to win the game, and she signalled this to Xifeng whose turn it was to discard. Xifeng deliberately hesitated.

‘I’m sure Aunt Xue has the card I want,’ She said. ‘If I don’t play this she’ll never part with it.’

‘I haven’t anything you want,’ said Aunt Xue.

‘I won’t believe that till I’ve seen your hand.’

‘You can have a look if you like. But first discard and let’s see what that card is.’

Xifeng put down the ‘two of circles’ in front of Aunt Xue.

‘I don’t want that,’ chuckled the latter. ‘I’m only afraid the old lady is going out.’

‘I’ve thrown the wrong one!’ cried Xifeng hastily.

But the Lady Dowager, beaming, had already laid down her hand.

‘Don’t you dare take it back,’ she crowed. ‘Who told you to throw the wrong card?’

‘You see why I wanted to consult a fortune-teller,’ said Xifeng. ‘But this time it was really my own fault.’

‘That’s right.’ The old lady laughed. ‘You should slap your own face and blame yourself.’ She turned to Aunt Xue. ‘It’s not that I’m miserly and to win; I play for luck.’

‘Of course, madam,’ replied Aunt Xue with a smile. ‘Who’s so foolish as not to know that?’

Xifeng, who was counting out the cash she had lost, strung the coins together again on hearing this. ‘That’s fine,’ she cried with a twinkle. ‘If the old lady only plays for luck, not for money, I needn’t count my cash in this miserly way. I’ll put it away at once.’

The Lady Dowager always made Yuanyang shuffle the cards for her, but now as she chatted with Aunt Xue she noticed that the girl had made no move.

‘What’s the matter?’ she asked. ‘Won’t you even shuffle for me?’

Yuanyang picked up the cards then, asking, ‘Isn’t Madam Lian going to pay?’

‘Not going to pay? Paying up will bring her better luck!’ cried the old lady.

She ordered a young maid to bring Xifeng’s whole string of cash and put it by her pile. The girl did as she was told.

‘Give that back,’ pleaded Xifeng. ‘All right, I’ll pay the amount I owe.’

‘Xifeng really is stingy,’ laughed Aunt Xue. ‘This is only a game, after all.’

At this Xifeng left her seat and, taking Aunt Xue by the arm, turned and pointed at the wooden chest in which the Lady Dowager kept her money.

‘Look there, aunt,’ she said. ‘Goodness knows how much of my money has been swallowed up by that. It’s less than an hour since we began, and already the money in that chest has beckoned to this string of cash. As soon as this string’s gone in too we shan’t have to play any more, and our Old Ancestress will have got over her temper. Then she’ll send me off to attend to my duties again.’

The whole company was laughing uproariously when Pinger arrived with another string of cash, for fear her mistress might not have enough.

‘There’s no need to put that in front of me,’ cried Xifeng. ‘Just put it on the old lady’s pile. That will save the money in her chest the trouble of beckoning twice.’

The Lady Dowager laughed so much at this that she scattered the cards in her hand all over the table as she nudged Yuanyang and out told her to pinch Xifeng’s mouth.

Pinger put the money down as she was told and, having joined in the laughter, left. By the courtyard gate she met Jia Lian.

‘Where’s my mother?’ he asked. ‘Father sent me to fetch her.’

‘She’s been standing stock-still all this time before the old lady. You’d better clear off, quick. It’s taken our mistress a long time to coax the old lady into a better temper.’

‘I’ve come over just to ask whether she’s going to Lai Da’s feast on the fourteenth or not, so that I can have her sedan-chair ready,’ he re­plied. ‘What’s wrong with fetching my mother and pleasing the old lady at the same time?’

‘Take my advice and steer clear,’ Pinger smiled. ‘The whole family, Lady Wang and Baoyu too, have had a dressing-down. But here you come asking for a share in it.’

‘It’s blown over now. Why should I have to make up for something past and done with? Besides, this business had nothing to do with me, and my father himself ordered me to fetch my mother. If he discovered that I’d sent someone else, in the temper he’s in now he’d vent his anger on.’

With that he walked in. And since there was reason in what he said, Pinger followed. Once in the hall, Jia Lian tiptoed to the door of the inner room and peeped inside. He had just seen Lady Xing standing there when Xifeng with her sharp eyes spotted him. She signalled to him to keep out and threw a meaning glance at Lady Xing; but the latter, afraid to go without taking her leave, poured a cup of tea for the Lady Dowager. As the old lady turned to take it, she caught sight of Jia Lian who had not stepped back in time.

‘Who’s that in the hall?’ she demanded. ‘It looked like some young fellow peering in.

‘Yes, I thought I saw someone too,’ said Xifeng. ‘I’ll go and have a look.’

She got up and started out.

At once Jia Lian came in with a conciliatory smile.

‘I’ve come to ask whether the old lady means to go out on the four­teenth,’ he announced, ‘so that I can have her chair ready.’

‘Why didn’t you come in, then instead of skulking outside?’ asked the Lady Dowager.

‘I didn’t like to disturb you at your game, madam. I was hoping to get my wife to come out so that I could ask her .’

‘Why couldn’t you wait for her to go home where you can ask her all the questions you want? Since when have you been so attentive? Or are you spying for someone, acting in this hole-and-corner way? You gave me quite a fright, you sneaky devil. Your wife is playing cards with me and won’t be free for some time. Better go home and plot against her again with that wife of Zhao Er’s.’

Amid general laughter Yuanyang put in, ‘Bao Er’s wife, not Zhao Er’s wife, Old Ancestress.’

‘That’s right.’ The old lady smiled. ‘How do you expect me to re­member their names, whether they mean ‘carried in the arms or on the back’?’ Talking of that business I can’t help but be angry. I came to this house as the bride of a great-grandson, and now I have great-grand­daughters-in-law myself. In my fifty-four years first and last here, I’ve had plenty of shocks and frights and seen all manner of amazing happen­ings ‘ but never such scandalous carryings-on as yours. Off with you now. Out of my sight!’

Without venturing to say a word, Jia Lian beat a hasty retreat.

‘Well,’ whispered Pinger. standing outside the window, ‘you wouldn’t take my advice and now you’ve caught it.’ Just then Lady Xing came out and ha Lian complained. ‘It’s all the master’s fault, but we are the ones to suffer for it, madam.’

‘May lightning strike you, you unfilial wretch,’ scolded Lady Xing. ‘Other sons would die for their fathers; but you, you start complaining just because of a little talking-to. You’d better watch your step. He’s in a bad mood these days ‘ mind he doesn’t beat you.’

‘Please go home quickly, madam,’ he urged. ‘It’s some time now since I was sent to find you.

He then accompanied his mother out and across to the other courtyard.

When Lady Xing gave her husband an abbreviated version of what the Lady Dowager had said, Jia She felt at a loss and bitterly mortified too. After this, on the pretext of illness he stopped calling on his mother, being actually afraid to face her, sending his wife and son instead to pay their respects every day. None the less he made his men scout around and finally, for the sum of eight hundred taels, bought a seventeen-year-old girl called Yanhong to be his concubine. No more of this.

The card game in the Lady Dowager’s rooms went on until dinner time, and the next couple of days passed uneventfully.

Soon it was the fourteenth, and almost before it was light Lai Da’s wife came to invite them over. The Lady Dowager, being in a good humour, took Lady Wang, Aunt Xue, Baoyu and the girls to spend half a day in Lai Da’s garden. Although it could not compare with Grand View Garden, the grounds were extensive and neatly laid out with pleasant streams, rocks and trees, as well as some splendid lodges and fantastic pavilions.

Xue Pan, Jia Zhen, Jia Lian, Jia Rong and some other close relatives of the Rong and Ning households were entertained in the outer hall. Their distant relatives did not come, however, and neither did Jia She.

A few officials and sons of good families had also been invited to keep them company. Among these was a certain Liu Xianglian, whom Xue Pan had been longing to meet again ever since he first made his acquaintance; for the report that Liu was fond of acting in romantic op­eras about young scholars and beauties had made him mistake him for a homosexual. Eager as he was to make closer acquaintance, he was overjoyed by this chance meeting today.

The others also knew Liu Xianglian’s reputation, and Jia Zhen, emboldened by wine, persuaded him to perform in two operas, after which he came and sat down next to Liu, chatting with him for a while on various subjects.

Now this Liu Xianglian was the son of a good family who had lost both parents early. No great scholar but frank, chivalrous and unconven­tional in his ways, he was a good spearman and swordsman addicted to gambling and drinking, fond of the company of singsong girls and quite a musician himself. His youth and good looks led many who did not know him to mistake him for an actor; but he had been invited today because he was a friend of Lai Da’s son Shangrong. The other guests behaved de­cently enough after drinking; but Xue Pan got up to his old tricks again, which so disgusted Liu that he would have slipped away had not Lai Shangrong most earnestly detained him.

‘Just now Master Bao told me he’d noticed you as soon as he came in, but there’s too much of a crowd here to talk in comfort,’ said Lai Shangrong. ‘He hopes you’ll stay on after the party breaks up, as he has something to ask you. If you insist on going, let me fetch him first. Then I shan’t be responsible for your leaving without having seen him.’

He ordered some pages, ‘Go in and get one of the old women to have a quiet word with Master Bao and ask him to come out.’

This was done, and in less time than it would take to drink a cup of tea they were joined by Baoyu.

‘I leave Xianglian to you, my dear uncle,’ said Lai Shangrong with a smile. ‘I must see to our other guests.’ With that he left them.

Baoyu led Liu Xianglian into a small study at one side of the hail and, when the two of them were seated, asked, ‘Have you visited Qin Zhong’s grave at all recently?’

‘Yes, I have,’ Xianglian told him. ‘Some time ago a few of us were flying falcons near his grave. For fear it might not have stood up to the heavy rain this summer, I rode over on my own to have a look and, sure enough, found it slightly damaged. So after coming home I got together a few hundred cash and went out three days later with two men I’d hired to repair it.’

‘That explains it,’ said Baoyu. ‘Last month when the lotus seed­pods in our pool in Grand View Garden ripened, I picked ten and sent Mingyan out to offer them at his grave. When he came back, I also asked if the grave had been damaged by the rain; but he said that on the con­trary it looked in better condition than before. I guessed, then, that some friends must recently have restored it. My trouble is that I’m cooped up at home all the time and am not my own master. Every move I make is known, and there’s always someone trying to stop me or dissuade me, so whatever I say, I can’t do a thing. Though I’ve money, I can’t spend it as I want.’

‘You don’t have to worry about that,’ Xiangiian assured him. ‘I’ll see to anything that you can’t do outside. So long as you remember him, that’s what counts. It will soon be the first of the tenth month, and I’ve put by some money to sacrifice at his grave. You know how hard up I am, with no property of my own, and any money I get slips straight through my fingers. It seemed better to set this sum aside so as not to be caught empty-handed when the time comes.’

‘That’s why I was meaning to send Mingyan to look for you; but you’re so seldom at home, floating about free as duckweed every day, one never knows where to find you.’

‘There was no need to look for me. Each of us must simply do what he can. But soon I shall be setting out on a long journey. I don’t expect to be back for three or four years.’

‘Why should you stay away so long?’

‘You don’t know what’s been on my mind.’ Xianglian gave a bitter smile. ‘You’ll find out all in good time. Now I must take my leave.’

‘It’s so rarely we have a chance to meet, can’t you stay until the party breaks up this evening?’

‘That honourable maternal cousin of yours is up to his old tricks again. If I stay, there may be trouble. I’d better keep out of his way.

‘I see,’ said Baoyu after a thoughtful pause. ‘Well, you may be right to keep out of his way, but you mustn’t really go off on a long journey without letting me know beforehand. Whatever happens, don’t just slip away.’ He was shedding tears as he spoke.

‘Of course I’ll say goodbye to you,’ promised Xianglian. ‘Only don’t tell anyone else.’ As he stood up to leave he added, ‘Go on in, there’s no need to see me out.’

He left the study and had just reached the main gate when he saw Xue Pan there bawling, ‘Who let that lad Liu get away?’

Liu Xiangiian’s eyes flashed with anger. He longed to strike Xue Pan dead with one blow of his fist. Only the thought that a drunken brawl would embarrass Lai Shangrong made him control himself.

Xue Pan catching sight of him was as overjoyed as if he had found some treasure.

‘Where are you going, brother?’ he chortled, staggering forward to catch him by the arm.

‘I’ll be back soon,’ said Xianglian.

‘If you go, dear fellow, it won’t be any fun. Do stay a bit longer to show you care for me. Any pressing business you have, just leave it to me ‘ your elder brother ‘ only don’t hurry off. Do you want an official post? Want to make money? Your elder brother can easily fix it for you.

Angered and humiliated by this outrageous talk, Xianglian hit on a plan. He pulled Xue Pan aside.

‘Do you mean that, about wanting to be my friend?’

Xue Pan could hardly contain himself for excitement.

‘How can you ask such a question, dear brother?’ he leered. ‘If I’m not in earnest may I drop dead!’

‘Very well, but we can’t talk here. After staying a little longer I’ll leave first, and you can follow me presently to my place. We may as well make a night of it. I’ve two marvellous boys there, absolutely virgin; so there’s no need for you to bring a single servant. I’ve people to wait on you.’

Xue Pan was so overjoyed that he half sobered up.

‘Do you really mean it?’

‘Now, come, come!’ Xianglian chuckled. ‘Why turn sceptical when someone’s sincere with you?’

‘I’m no fool.’ Xue Pan grinned. ‘I trust you. But I don’t know where you live. If you go on ahead, how am Ito find you?’

‘I live outside the North Gate. Do you mind spending a night outside, away from your family?’

‘If I’ve got you, I shan’t miss my family.’

‘In that case, I’ll wait for you on the bridge outside the North Gate. Now let’s go back to the feast. Once you see I’m gone, you can slip out and no one will notice.’

Xue Pan promptly agreed. They went back to their table then and drank another round. Xue Pan could hardly sit still. As he feasted his avid eyes on Xianglian he grew more and more jubilant, until soon he was tossing off whole pots of wine without waiting to be urged. When he was nine-tenths drunk, Xianglian rose to leave and slipped away unnoticed. Outside the gate, he ordered his page Xinnu to go home while he paid a call out of town.

Then he mounted his horse and rode straight out of the North Gate to wait on the bridge for Xue Pan. In less time than it takes for a meal, he saw a solitary horseman approaching. It was Xue Pan, his mouth open, his eyes gaping, his head turning right and left like a pedlar’s rattle as he gazed wildly around. So intent was he on staring into the distance that he missed what was close at hand and rode right past Xianglian’s horse. Amused and disgusted, Xianglian cantered after him. Riding on, Xue Pan observed that the houses now were few and far between. He turned back then to make another search and was overjoyed by the sight of Liu Xianglian.

‘I knew you’d keep your word,’ he chortled.

‘Ride on, quick,’ said Xianglian. ‘We don’t want people to see us and follow us.’

He spurred on his horse and Xue Pan followed close behind. At a lonely spot near a marsh overgrown with reeds, Xianglian dismounted and tethered his horse to a tree.

‘Down you get,’ he said. ‘First we must take an oath. Cursed be he who has a change of heart or betrays our secret.’

‘Right you are!’ Xue Pan slithered eagerly down from his saddle. Having made fast his horse he fell on his knees to swear: ‘If ever I have a change of heart or betray our secret, may Heaven and Earth destroy me….’

Before he had finished, wham! He was struck from behind by what seemed like an iron hammer. Everything went black before him, then he saw a riot of golden stars as he flopped to the ground.

Xianglian stepped forward to have a look at him and, knowing the oaf to be unused to beatings, gave him only a few light punches in the face which instantly turned all the colours of a fruit stall. When Xue Pan tried to struggle to his feet, Xianglian tripped him with one foot a couple of times and sent him sprawling again.

‘We did this by mutual consent,’ complained Xue Pan. ‘If you didn’t want to, you could simply have said so. Why fool me into coming out here and then beat me up?’ He let loose a flood of abuse.

‘You must be blind not to know your master,’ cried Xinglian. ‘Now instead of asking my pardon you insult me. There’s no point in killing you, I’ll just teach you a lesson.’

He fetched his horsewhip and gave him a few dozen strokes all over his back till Xue Pan, pretty well sober now, yelped with pain.

‘You coward,’ sneered Xianglian. ‘I thought you could take a beat­ing.’ As he spoke he dragged him by the left leg through the mud into the reeds, bedaubing him with slime. ‘Now do you know who I am?’

Xue Pan said nothing, just lay face downwards, groaning. Xianglian tossed away the whip to pummel him with his fists. Xue Pan rolled over and over frantically howling:

‘You’ve broken my ribs. I know you’re straight. I shouldn’t have believed other people’s talk.’

‘Don’t drag anyone else into this. Just stick to the point.’

‘What more do you want me to say, except that you’re straight and I was wrong?’

‘You’ll have to do better than that to be let off.’ Xue Pan whined, ‘Dear younger brother…’ Once more Xianglian punched him.

‘Ouch!’ he yelled. ‘Dear elder brother…’ Xianglian struck him twice again.

‘Mercy, kind master, spare me! I was blind. From now on I’ll respect and fear you.’

‘Drink two mouthfuls of that water,’ ordered Xianglian.

Xue Pan wrinkled his brows. ‘It’s too foul. How can I drink it?’

Xianglian raised a threatening fist.

‘I’ll drink it, I’ll drink it.’

Bending his head he lapped up a mouthful of the water at the base of the reeds; but before he could swallow it, he retched and spewed up everything he had eaten.

‘Filthy swine!’ swore Xianglian. ‘Lick up that vomit and I’ll let you off.’

Kowtowing frantically Xue Pan begged, ‘Have a heart! Do a good deed and let me off. I can’t stomach that, not if you kill me.

‘This stench is making me sick!’ declared Xianglian.

With that he left Xue Pan, untethered his horse and, mounting it, rode away. When Xue Pan saw with relief that he had gone, he regretted his blunder in mistaking his man. He tried to struggle to his feet, but the pain was too much for him.

When the absence of the two of them from the feast was suddenly noticed by Jia Zhen and others, they searched high and low for them but could not find them. It was rumoured, though, that they seemed to have gone out of the North Gate. Xue Pan’s pages were too afraid of him to follow him against his orders; Jia Zhen, however, was so worried that he sent Jia Rong with some men to track them down. The search party rode out of the North Gate for more than two li along the road from the bridge, until they saw Xue Pan’s horse tethered to a tree beside the marsh.

‘Thank goodness!’ they exclaimed. ‘If the horse is here, the rider can’t be far off..’

Going up to the horse, they heard groaning in the reeds and hurrying forward discovered Xue Pan there, his clothes tattered and torn, his face swollen and bruised, covered from head to foot with mud like a sow.

Jia Rong had a shrewd idea of what had happened. Quickly dismount­ing, he ordered some men to help Xue Pan to his feet.

‘So today Uncle Xue’s pursuit of love has brought him to this swamp,’ he joked. ‘I suppose the Dragon King was so impressed by your roman­tic spirit that he wanted you to be his son-in-law; but then you knocked into the dragon’s horn!’

Xue Pan wished he could sink through the ground for shame. As he could not ride, Jia Rong sent to the North Gate to hire a small chair for him, after which they all returned to the city together. ha Rong threat­ened to carry him back to Lai Da’s feast, and Xue Pan had to plead hard not to have this business made public before he was allowed to go back home.

Then Jia Rong returned to Lai Da’s house to tell Jia Zhen what had

happened. Hearing of the beating Xianglian had given Xue Pan, ha Zhen observed with a laugh:

‘A lesson like this should be good for him.’

After the party had broken up that evening he went to inquire after Xue Pan’s health, but the latter sent word from his bedroom that he was too unwell to receive anyone.

To return to the Lady Dowager and her party, after they all went back to their own quarters Aunt Xue and Baochai noticed that Xiangling’s eyes were swollen from weeping. Having learned the reason they hur­ried in to see Xue Pan. They found that, although badly bruised on both face and body, he had broken on bones. Aunt Xue, torn between mater­nal affection and anger, abused her son and Liu Xianglian by turns. She wanted to complain to Lady Wang and have Xianglian arrested.

‘This isn’t all that serious,’ Baochai demurred. ‘They were simply drinking together, and drunken brawls are common enough. A man often gets a thrashing too when he’s drunk. Besides, everyone knows how wild and headstrong Pan is. I understand why your heart’s bleeding for him, mother, and it won’t be hard to get even. In three days’ or five days’ time, when my brother’s well enough to go out again, Cousin Zhen, Cousin Lian and the others over there won’t let the matter drop. They’ll invite that fellow to a feast to make a public apology to Pan. If you make such an issue of it and spread the news, everyone will think you spoil your son and encourage him to make trouble and that once he’s beaten you raise a big rumpus, relying on your powerful relatives to bully humble folk.’

‘You’re right as usual, child,’ replied her mother. ‘I was muddled for the moment by anger.

‘In fact, this is all to the good,’ continued Baochai with a smile. ‘He’s not afraid of you, mother, and won’t listen to other people’s advice ei­ther. He’s growing more and more headstrong. Coming a few croppers should cure him.’

Xue Pan was still raging at Liu Xianglian from his kang, ordering his servants to go and pull down Liu’s house, beat him to death, or take the case to court. Aunt Xue stopped them however, saying:

‘Liu Xianglian ran riot after a bout of drinking, but now that he’s sobered up he’s filled with remorse. He’s run away for fear of the con­sequences.’

Xue Pan, hearing this, gradually got over his rage.

To know the outcome, read on.

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