A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 58

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Chapter 58

Under the Shade of an Apricot Tree

an Actress Mourns Her Stage Lover

The Master of Happy Red Court Sympathizes

with the Girl’s lnfatuation

The subject of conversation was changed at the arrival of Tanchun and Xichun. The newcomers having asked after Daiyu’s health, they all chatted for a while before dispersing.

Now the demise of the Grand Imperial Concubine mentioned earlier was announced, and all titled ladies were required to go to court to mourn according to their rank. Nobles throughout the empire were forbidden feasting and music for a year, while common citizens were debarred from marrying for three months.

The Lady Dowager, Lady Xing, Lady Wang, Madam You and her daughter-in-law nee Xu grandparents as well as grand-children of the Jia family had to go to court every morning when sacrifice was offered, not returning until two in the afternoon. After twenty-one days of lying in state in the Great Inner Court of the Side Palace, the coffin would be conveyed to the Imperial Mausoleum in the county called Xiaoci; and as this was some ten days’ journey from the capital, and the coffin would have to wait there for several days before it could be interred in the underground palace, the whole proceedings would occupy nearly one month.

By rights, Jia Zhen and his wife of the Ning Mansion should both have assisted at these obsequies; but as that would have left no one in charge at home, after much discussion they decided to beg leave from the court for Madam You on the plea that she was with child, so that she could take over the supervision of the two mansions.

Aunt Xue, having been prevailed upon to keep an eye on the girls and maids in the Garden, now had to move in there too. But at this juncture Baochai had Xiangyun and Xiangling with her; Li Wan, although her aunt and her aunt’s two daughters were not staying with her, received visits from them every few days, and she had been entrusted with Baoqin as well by the Lady Dowager; Yingchun had Xiuyan; Tanchun’s apartments were not convenient either, as she was so occupied with household af­fairs and the trouble caused by Concubine Zhao and Jia Huan; and Xichun’s space was limited. Besides, as the old lady had asked Aunt Xue to take special care of Daiyu, for whom she herself felt the deepest sympathy, under the circumstances she naturally moved into Bamboo Lodge where she shared Daiyu’s room and kept a strict eye on the girl’s medicine and diet. Daiyu was more grateful for this than words can tell. She began to treat Aunt Xue as her own mother and Baochai and Baoqin as her sisters, feeling closer to them than to all the other girls, to the Lady Dowager’s great satisfaction.

Aunt Xue simply looked after the girls and controlled the younger maids, however, not interfering with other family business. And though Madam You came over every day she dealt only with routine matters, careful not to overstep her authority. In any case she was too busy, for besides being in sole charge of the Ning Mansion she had to see to the daily food and supplies for the Lady Dowager and Lady Wang in the hostel where they were staying.

While those in charge of the two mansions had their hands full in this way, all the chief stewards were busy too those who had not left earlier to look for lodgings for their masters and mistresses during the funeral ceremonies, either accompanied their masters to court or were busy handling jobs in their hostel outside. And in the absence of proper supervision, the servants of both mansions slacked or ganged up under the provisory chief stewards to abuse their power. The only stewards left in the Rong Mansion were Lai Da and a few in charge of outside busi­ness. Deprived of his usual assistants, Lai Da delegated authority to some ignorant rogues who proved far from satisfactory, cheating him and sending in false accusations or recommendations. But we need not dwell here on all the trouble they caused.

As other official families were now disbanding their private opera troupes, Madam You and the others decided that when Lady Wang came home they would suggest dispensing with the services of their twelve child-actresses too.

‘We bought those girls,’ they told her, ‘so even if we stop training them we can keep them on as maids, just dismissing their instructors.’

‘We can’t treat them as servants,’ objected Lady Wang. ‘They’re the daughters of respectable families, whose parents being unable to make a living sold them into this low trade to dress up as ghosts and demons for several years. Here’s our chance to give them a few taels of silver as travelling-expenses would be unkind, and niggardly too. We still have a few old actresses here, it’s true, but they had their own reasons for not wanting to leave, which is why we kept them on as attendants and even­tually married them to our own servants.’

‘Let’s find out which of these twelve girls want to go home,’ pro­posed Madam You. ‘Then we can send word to their parents to come and fetch them and give them a few taels of silver as travelling-expenses. But we must make sure that it’s their parents who come for them, not some scoundrels who pretend to be their kinsmen and take them off merely to sell them all over again. For in that case, wouldn’t our kindness come to nothing? Anyone who doesn’t want to leave can stay.’

When Lady Wang approved, Madam You sent to inform Xifeng and ordered the steward in charge to give each of the instructors an eight-tael gratuity with free permission to leave. Everything in Pear Fragrance Court was inventoried and put away, and some servants were appointed to guard the place at night.

More than half the twelve young actresses, when summoned and ques­tioned, proved reluctant to go home. Some said that their parents were only out to make money, and if they went back they would be sold again; others that their parents were dead, and they had been sold by their uncles or their brothers; others that they had nowhere to go; yet others that they had no wish to leave this family which had been so good to them. In all, only four or five elected to leave.

When Lady Wang heard this she had to keep them. The few who chose to leave were instructed to stay with their foster-mothers until their own parents should come for them. Of those who chose to remain, Wenguan was kept by the Lady Dowager, most of the rest being sent to different apartments in the Garden. Fangguan who played the part of young ladies was assigned to Baoyu; Ruiguan who played pert maids to Baochai; Ouguan who played young gentlemen to Daiyu; Kuiguan who played the chief warriors to Xiangyun; Douguan who played lesser war­riors to Baoqin; and Aiguan who played old men to Tanchun. Madam You then took Jiaguan whose role was old women.

Once places had been found for them, they were as merry the whole day long in the Garden as caged birds newly set free; for everyone showed them indulgence, knowing that they had never learned to sew or wait on other people. One or two of the more intelligent, however, were worried by their lack of useful skills now that they had given up acting; so they began to learn sewing, weaving and other tasks expected of girls.

Soon the day came for the great sacrifice at court. The Lady Dowa­ger and her party went at dawn to the hostel, where they had some refreshments before proceeding to court. After breakfast they retired to the hostel for a short rest, returning to court after lunch and a nap for the noon and evening sacrifices, then going back for another rest and not returning home until after dinner. Their hostel, the family temple of a high official, had nuns in residence and scores of cells all of which were scrupulously clean. The Rong Mansion party had the use of the east court­yard, the Prince of Beijing’s household that of the west. Since the Prin­cess Dowager and the Princess Consorts also rested there every day, they daily met the Lady Dowager and her party in the east courtyard, and the two families travelled to court and back together, keeping each other company. But these happenings outside need not concern us.

To return to Grand View Garden. Since the Lady Dowager and Lady Wang were away for the whole month of the state funeral, the maid-servants at home had little to do but amuse themselves in the Garden, whose occupants were increased by several dozen now that the matrons from Pear Fragrance Court were dispersed among the different apart­ments there. Because Wenguan and most of the other actresses, owing to pride or their privileged position, had given themselves airs above their station, treated their inferiors badly, insisted on the best of everything and made cutting remarks, the matrons had always resented them, not that they dared to quarrel with them outright. Pleased by the disbanding of the opera troupe, some of them let bygones be bygones; and though the more narrow-minded still bore a grudge, they were too scattered now to ven­ture to get their own back.

Now the Clear and Bright Festival came round again. Jia Lian, having prepared the traditional offerings, took Jia Huan, Jia Cong and Jia Lan to Iron Threshold Temple to sacrifice to the dead. Jia Rong of the Ning Mansion did the same with other young men of the clan. Baoyu, not yet fully recovered, was the only one not to go.

After the midday meal he felt drowsy.

‘Why not go out while it’s fine?’ suggested Xiren. ‘Sleeping straight after lunch may give you indigestion.’

So taking a cane he strolled out in his slippers.

He found the matrons recently put in charge of different parts of the Garden busy at their various tasks, pruning bamboos and trees, planting flowers or sowing beans, while others in boats dredged mud from the lake or planted lotus there. Xiangyun, Xiangling, Baoqin and several young maids were sitting on the rocks enjoying the sight.

As Baoyu sauntered towards them Xiangyun laughed.

‘Drive that boat away, quick!’ she cried. ‘It’s come to fetch Cousin Lin.’

The general laughter this raised made Baoyu blush.

‘Did I choose to fall ill?’ he retorted. ‘It’s not kind to make fun of me.

‘Even in illness you had to be unique,’ she teased. ‘How can you blame us for laughing?’

He sat down then to watch everyone hard at work.

‘There’s a wind here and it’s cold sitting on the rock,’ remarked Xiangyun presently. ‘We’d better go indoors.’

As Baoyu was eager to see Daiyu, he parted company with them and walked on with his cane along the dyke from Seeping Fragrance Bridge. The willows were trailing golden threads, peach-blossom made a red mist, and the big apricot tree behind an artificial mountain was already bare of flowers and covered with thick foliage. The apricots on it were no bigger than peas.

‘Just a few days’ illness and I missed the apricot-blossom,’ thought Baoyu. ‘Now ‘Green leaves make a shade and the boughs are filled with fruit.’

Lost in contemplation of the tree, he thought of Xiuyan and her recent engagement. Though marriage was something everyone must go through with, this would mean one good girl the less; in just a couple of years she would be burdened with children as this tree was with fruit; and just as the apricots would soon be gone, leaving the branches bare, in a few more years Xiuyan’s hair would be turning silver and she would lose her beauty too. He could not help shedding tears as he gazed at the tree. But as he was sighing, a bird alighting to chirp on one of its boughs set him indulging in foolish fancies again.

‘This bird must have visited the tree when it was in bloom,’ he mused. ‘Now that there are no flowers left, only fruit and leaves, it’s chirping like this by way of lamentation. Too bad Gongye Chang2 isn’t here to tell me what it’s saying. Will it come back next year to see the blossom, I wonder?’

As he was occupied with these foolish fancies, a flame sprang up on the other side of the artificial mountain and frightened the bird away.

Startled, Baoyu heard a voice cry, ‘Do you want to die, Ouguan? How can you burn all this paper money here? I shall report this to the mistresses, so look out for a thrashing!’

Baoyu hurried in bewilderment to the other side of the rockery. There he discovered Ouguan, her face stained with tears, crouching over the ashes of some paper money, a light still in her hand.

‘To whom are you making this offering?’ he asked. ‘You mustn’t do it here. If it’s for your parents or brothers, tell me their names and I’ll write them down on paper and get the page boys outside to do it properly for you.’

Ouguan said nothing to this, not even when Baoyu repeated his ques­tion. Then up came an irate matron to drag her away.

‘I’ve reported this to the mistresses. They’re very angry!’ she scolded.

Ouguan, being only a child, hung back for fear of being put to shame.

‘I always said you were riding for a fall,’ stormed the woman. ‘You can’t fool around here the way you did outside. You have to watch your

step.’ Pointing at Baoyu she continued, ‘Even our young master has to observe the rules. Who do you think you are to fool around here? It’s no use being afraid. Come along with me.’

‘She wasn’t burning paper coins but waste paper for Miss Lin,’ put in Baoyu quickly. ‘You didn’t see clearly and accused her wrongly.’

Ouguan had been at a loss, and Baoyu’s appearance had frightened her even more; but she took heart when he covered up for her like this and started defending herself.

‘Just look, is this paper money?’ she demanded. ‘Miss Lin spoiled some paper when writing ‘ that’s what I’ve been burning.’

The woman, even more provoked by this, stooped to pick up two unburned paper coins from the ashes.

‘Still trying to deny it?’ she snapped. ‘Here’s the evidence. We’ll discuss it in front of the mistresses.’ She caught hold of the girl’s sleeve to drag her off.

Baoyu quickly pulled Ouguan back, knocking the woman’s hand away with his cane.

‘Take that if you want to,’ he said. ‘I’ll tell you the truth. Last night I dreamed that the spirit of the apricot tree came to ask me for a string of white paper money, saying that if it was burns for me by a stranger, not by anyone in my apartments, my sickness would be cured faster. That’s why I got this paper, then asked Miss Lin’s permission to have her come and burn it for me to make my dream come true. It had to be kept a secret, and I was just beginning to feel better, able to get out of bed. But now, by butting in like this, you’ve gone and spoiled everything. And do you still mean to report her? Go with her, Ouguan, and tell them what I’ve just said. When the old lady comes back, I’ll report her for deliber­ately spoiling my sacrifice so as to make me die early.’

Emboldened by this, Ouguan started tugging the woman away. The latter hastily dropped the paper money.

‘How was Ito know?’ she asked Baoyu meekly. ‘If you tell the old lady, Second Master, it will be the end of me! I’ll go and tell the mis­tresses that I made a mistake ‘ it was you burning sacrificial paper.’

‘Don’t say anything about it and I won’t tell her,’ he promised.

‘But I’ve already reported it, and they ordered me to take her there.

How can I say nothing? All right, I’ll tell them Miss Lin sent for her.’

Baoyu thought for a while then nodded, and the woman went away.

Then he asked again: ‘Whom was the offering for? I’m sure it can’t have been for your own people, as in that case you’d have asked others to burn it for you. There must be a story behind it.’

Ouguan, grateful for his championship, began to feel that they were kindred spirits. Tears sprang to her eyes.

‘Only two people know this,’ she said, ‘Fangguan in your place and Miss Baochai’s Ruiguan. As you happened to spot me today and you’ve just helped me, I shall have to let you into my secret. You mustn’t tell a soul though.’ Then, sobbing again, she added, ‘I can’t bring myself to tell you. If you must know, go back and ask Fangguan when no one else is about.’ With that she went abruptly away.

Baoyu was very puzzled as he went on to Bamboo Lodge. He found Daiyu looking more pathetically frail than ever, although she insisted that her health was much better. She saw that he too was much thinner, and could not help shedding tears at the thought of the reason. After a brief chat she urged him to go back and rest, and Baoyu took her advice, being eager to question Fangguan. But it so happened that Xiangyun and Xiangling had called and were chatting with her and Xiren. He could not call her aside for fear of arousing their curiosity. All he could do was to wait.

After a while Fangguan went out with her foster-mother to have her hair washed. When the woman made her own daughter wash first, Fangguan accused her of showing favouritism.

‘So I’m to wash with the water your daughter has used, am I?’ she complained. ‘You grab my whole monthly allowance, and on top of tak­ing advantage of me like that expect me to be content with other people’s leavings!’

‘You don’t know when you’re well off, you wretch,’ blustered the discomfited woman. ‘No wonder everyone says: ‘Don’t tangle with actresses’; even the best of them go to the bad once they take to the stage. Who do you think you are, you little monkey, to pick and choose like this and give me the rough side of your tongue? You’re like a mule biting its mates.’

Then the two of them started quarrelling in earnest.

Xiren sent a maid to urge them, ‘Stop that noise. Can’t you keep quiet when the old lady’s away?’

‘Fangguan’s too fussy,’ said Qingwen. ‘Why should she be so cocky? All she’s done is sing in a couple of operas; she’s not killed a traitor or captured a rebel chief.’

‘‘You can’t clap with one hand,’’ quoted Xiren. ‘The old one’s too unfair and the young one’s too tiresome.’

‘You mustn’t blame Fangguan,’ Baoyu expostulated. ‘As the prov­erb says, ‘Injustice will cry out.’ She has no folk of her own, no one to care for her here; and that woman takes her money yet still treats her so badly. How can you say it’s her fault?’ He asked Xiren, ‘How much is her monthly allowance? Why don’t you take it and look after her? Wouldn’t that save trouble all round?’

‘If I want to look after her, I can anyway. Why should I need her bit of money to do it?’ replied Xiren. ‘That would simply set tongues wag­ging.’

She got up and fetched from her room a bottle of scent and pomade, as well as some eggs, soap and hair-ribbons.

‘Give these to Fangguan,’ she told one of the matrons. ‘Tell her to send for some more water to wash her hair. They must stop quarrelling.’

This only incensed and humiliated the foster-mother even more.

‘You ungrateful slut,’ she swore at Fangguan. ‘So now you’re ac­cusing me of robbing you!’ She slapped the girl and set her wailing.

Baoyu started towards the outer room, but Xiren hastily stopped him.

‘Stay where you are,’ she urged. ‘I’ll see to this.’

Qingwen had already gone out to confront the woman, however.

‘Old as you are, you have no sense,’ she scolded. ‘We only gave her those things because you don’t take proper care of her. But instead of feeling ashamed of yourself, you have the nerve to slap her! Would you dare do such a thing if she were still training in the opera troupe?’

‘She accepted me as her mother, so she’s my daughter,’ was the reply. ‘If she talks back at me, I’ve the right to beat her.’

Xiren told Sheyue, ‘I’m no good at arguing, and Qingwen’s too hot­-tempered. Why don’t you go and give her a good scare?’

Sheyue at once went out.

‘Stop that noise and answer me this,’ she said to the woman. ‘In all the Garden, not just these apartments, which servant have you ever seen reprimand her children in the master’s rooms? Even if she were your own daughter, once she’s in service here it’s up to the master or the senior girls to punish her or scold her. It’s not for her parents to meddle with our affairs. If everybody butted in like you, what are we here sup­posed to do? The older you get, the less you respect the rules.

‘You saw Zhuier’s ma make a scene here the other day, so now you’re following suit. Well, just you wait! These last few days, with so many people ill and the old lady so busy, I haven’t reported this yet. In a couple of days I shall make a full report, and that will take the wind out of your sails. Baoyu’s just getting better, and we’ve all been trying to keep our voices down; yet you raise a rumpus fit to wake the dead. If the higher-ups are away just a few days, you lot run completely wild with no respect for anyone at all. In another day or two, I suppose, you’ll be slapping us as well. She doesn’t need a foster-mother like you to muck her up!’

Baoyu, in the doorway, pounded the sill with his cane.

‘How can these old women be so heartless?’ he fumed. ‘Fantastic! Instead of looking after the girls in their charge, they torment them. If this goes on, what’s to be done?’

‘What’s to be done?’ echoed Qingwen. ‘Drive all those humbugs out, I say. We don’t need such good-for-nothings here.’

The woman was too deflated to say a word. Meanwhile Fangguan, wearing only a cerise padded jacket and flowered green silk lined-trou­sers, loose round the ankles, her glossy black hair streaming over her shoulders, had given way to floods of tears.

Sheyue teased, ‘Miss Yingying has turned into Hongniang after a beating.3 Although you’re not on the stage now, you look just like her. Aren’t you going to tidy yourself up?’

‘No, she’s fine as she is,’ objected Baoyu. ‘She looks completely natural. Why should she spruce up?’

Qingwen led Fangguan away to wash her hair and dry it with a towel for her, after which she fastened it in a loose knot. Then she told her to change her clothes before rejoining them.

The old kitchen-maids now reported that dinner was ready, and asked whether it should be sent in or not. A young maid brought in this message to Xiren.

‘With all that racket just now I forgot to listen for the clock,’ she said. ‘What time is it?’

‘Something’s wrong with that silly clock, it needs mending again,’ answered Qingwen. Having looked at a watch she said, ‘Just wait for the time for half a cup of tea.’

As the young maid withdrew, Sheyue remarked, ‘Fangguan does deserve a spanking for being naughty. She was playing with the pendu­lum yesterday; that’s how the clock got broken.’ While speaking she laid the table.

The young maid came back with a hamper for their inspection. And Qingwen and Sheyue, opening it, found the usual four kinds of pickles inside.

‘He’s better now, but they keep serving this rice gruel and pickles,’ grumbled Qingwen. ‘Why not send a couple of easily digested dishes instead?’

Just then, however, at the bottom of the hamper, she discovered a bowl of ham-and-fresh-bamboo-shoot soup. She put this before Baoyu, who took a sip.

‘It’s too hot!’ he exclaimed.

Xiren laughed.

‘A few days without meat and you’ve grown so greedy!’

She took the bowl and blew gently at the film of oil on the surface. Then, noticing Fangguan standing near by, she passed the bowl to her.

‘You can do this, ‘ she said. ‘Time you learned to make yourself useful, instead of acting like a silly goose. Mind you blow gently though. Don’t spit into the soup.’

Fangguan did as she was told, and was managing quite well, when in rushed her foster-mother who had been waiting outside with the rice.

Now when Fangguan and the others first arrived they had been as­signed foster-mothers outside, who had later accompanied them to Pear Fragrance Court. This woman had originally been a third-class servant in the Rong Mansion, only doing some laundry work and never entering the inner apartments, so that she did not know the rules of the house. Once the actresses were taken into the Garden, however, their foster-mothers had gone with them to the different apartments. After being told off by Sheyue, this woman was afraid that she might not be allowed to remain in charge of Fangguan, and that would be very much to her disadvantage. So she was determined now to win them round. Seeing Fangguan blow­ing on the soup, she hurried in.

‘Let me do that!’ she cried with a smile. ‘She’s so green she may break the bowl.’ She reached out for it.

‘Get out!’ shouted Qingwen. ‘Even if you make her smash it, this is no job for you. How dare you sneak into this room? Out you go at once!’ She scolded the younger maids, ‘Are you all blind? If she doesn’t know any better, you should have told her.’

‘We tried to chase her away but she wouldn’t go,’ they protested. ‘She didn’t believe us. And now she’s got us into trouble too.’ They rounded on the woman. ‘Now do you believe us? Half the places we’re allowed in are out of bounds to you, yet here you come bursting in where even we are forbidden to go. As if that weren’t enough, you start reach­ing out and opening your big mouth!’ They bundled the woman off.

The matrons waiting at the foot of the steps for the hampers greeted her with mocking laughter.

‘You should have looked in the mirror before butting in there, sister,’ one of them sniggered.

The woman, torn between rage and shame, had to control herself as best she could.

By now, Fangguan had blown on the soup several times.

‘That’ 11 do,’ said Baoyu. ‘Don’t tire yourself. Taste it to see if it’s cool enough.’

Thinking he must be joking, she turned with a smile to Xiren and the other girls.

‘Go on, taste it,’ urged Xiren.

‘Let me show you,’ offered Qingwen, then took a sip.

Fangguan followed her example.

‘It’s all right,’ she said.

She passed the soup to Baoyu, who drank half a bowl and ate a few bamboo shoots with half a bowl of rice gruel. After that they cleared the table, some young maids brought in a basin, and as soon as he had rinsed his mouth and washed it was time for Xiren and the others to have their meal.

Baoyu signalled at this point to Fangguan. And since she was quick in the uptake and had learned a good deal in her few years as an actress, she pretended that she had a headache and had lost her appetite.

‘Then you may as well stay here and keep him company,’ said Xiren. ‘I’ll leave you the gruel, in ease you feel like it later.’ With that the other girls left.

When the two of them were alone, Baoyu described in detail how he had noticed something burning and spotted Ouguan, how he had lied to cover up for her, and how Ouguan had told him to ask her, Fangguan, for an explanation.

‘For whom were those offerings?’ he asked.

Fangguan heard him out with a smile, then heaved a sigh.

‘‘It’s a funny business but pathetic too.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘That offering was for Diguan, who died.’

‘Why not, if they were friends?’

‘They weren’t just ordinary friends. Ouguan had the fantastic notion that as she used to play young men and Diguan young ladies, and as they were often cast as husband and wife, although it was make-believe they should act the part every day as if they were really in love. So they became so crazy about each other that even offstage they were for ever together. In the end they were so devoted that when Diguan died she nearly cried her heart out, and to this day she’s never forgotten her. That’s why she burns paper money at all the festivals. When Ruiguan later took Diguan’s place, we found that Ouguan was just as attached to her.

‘‘Has your new sweetheart made you forget the old one?’ we asked.

‘‘No, but there’s a very good reason for this,’ she told us. ‘I’m like a widower who marries again. If he doesn’t forget his first wife, he’s still true to her. But if he insists on remaining single all the rest of his life, that’s against the rules of propriety too, and how could his dead wife rest in peace in her grave?’

‘Don’t you call that crazy and senseless? It’s really ridiculous!’

However, such foolish talk was precisely the kind to appeal to foolish Baoyu. He exclaimed in wonder, torn between sadness and joy.

‘Since Heaven creates such wonderful girls, what use are we filthy males except to contaminate the world?’ he cried.

He took Fangguan’s hand and urged her, ‘If that’s how things are, you must tell her something from me. I can’t very well tell her directly.’

‘What is it?’ asked Fangguan.

‘In future, she mustn’t burn paper coins. That’s a later practice and a heretical one, not based on the instructions of Confucius. At all future festivals she need only burn some incense in a censer; and if her heart is pure, Diguan’s spirit will know it. Foolish people don’t understand and have different sorts of sacrifices for the gods, Buddha and the dead; whereas actually the important thing is just sincerity. Even if you’re in a hurry, or away from home and unable to find incense, you can offer a clod of earth or a blade of grass, provided that it’s clean. Not only will the spirits of the dead accept such a sacrifice, even the gods will too.

‘Haven’t you seen that censer on my desk? Whenever I miss some dead friend, whatever the date, I burn incense and offer some fresh wa­ter or tea, or maybe flowers or fruit, or even meat or vegetables. As long as your heart is pure, Buddha himself will come to the sacrifice. That’s why we say: ‘It’s the intention that counts, not the empty form.’ So go presently and tell her not to burn any more paper money in future.’

Fangguan promised to do this and then ate the rice gruel.

Just at that moment someone announced that Their Ladyships were back. To know what happened after, read the next chapter.

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