A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 72


Chapter 72

Xifeng Puts up a Bold Front,

Ashamed to Admit Her illness

Lai Wang’s Wife Relies on Her Mistress’ Power

to Force Through a Match for Her Son

Yuanyang left the side gate still blushing, in a flutter after this shock. ‘This is serious!’ she thought. ‘If it got out, the charge of lewdness linked with theft might even cost them their lives besides involving other people. Well, as it’s no concern of mine, I’d better keep it to myself and not tell a soul.’ So on her return she simply reported that she had passed on the Lady Dowager’s orders, after which they all went to bed. After this Yuanyang seldom went to the Garden after dark; and reflecting that if even the Garden was the scene of such strange carryings-on, other places must be still worse, she went nowhere else either if she could avoid it.

Now Siqi and her cousin had been playmates as children and vowed in fun to marry no one else. Both of them had now grown up good-looking, and whenever Siqi went home they would exchange glances, recalling their former feeling for each other although neither could make open overtures. Besides, they feared their parents’ disapproval. So they had bribed the women in charge of the Garden gate to leave it open, and taking advantage of today’s confusion had had their first rendezvous. Although they had not made love, they had secretly exchanged solemn vows and pledges, baring their hearts to each other. Their sudden discov­ery by Yuanyang had made the boy run off through the flowers and wil­lows to slip out by the side gate.

Siqi, repenting too late, could not sleep that night. The next day when she saw Yuanyang she turned red and white by turns in an agony of embarrassment and guilt. She lost her appetite and grew quite bemused. But when two days passed without any repercussions she began to feel somewhat easier in her mind.

That evening, however, one of the matrons came to tell her in confidence,’ Your cousin’s skedaddled. He hasn’t been home for three or four days and a search is being made for him everywhere.’

Distraught by this news Siqi thought,’ Even if there’s a scandal we ought to die together. Of course, being a man he can go anywhere he wants to. How heartless he is!’ This embittered her so much that the next day she felt too upset to bear up. Ill with frustration she took to her bed.

When Yuanyang learned that a page in the Jia household had fled and Siqi was asking to go home on sick leave, she knew they were afraid of the consequences if she disclosed their secret. As this preyed on her mind, she went to see Siqi. After sending everyone else out of the room, she gave the girl her solemn word:

‘I’ll die before I breathe a word about this. Just stop worrying and nurse your illness. Don’t risk your little life like this, child!’

Siqi caught her by the arm.

‘Sister, we’ve been on good terms since we were children,’ she sobbed. ’You’ve never .treated me as an outsider and I’ve always re­spected you. Now if you’ll really keep my slip-up a secret, I shall look on you as my own mother ‘ for I’ll owe every day that I live to you. If I get well, I shall set up a shrine to you and burn incense and bow to it every day to pray for good fortune and long life for you. If I die, I’ll become a donkey or a dog so as to repay your kindness. ‘Even the longest feast must break up at last,’ says the proverb. In two or three years we shall all be leaving this place. Still, even floating weeds may come together again, much more so human beings. And if we do meet again I shall try to repay your goodness.’ She shed tears as she spoke.

By now Yuanyang was weeping in sympathy.

Nodding she said, ‘All right. I’m not in charge, so why should I spoil your good name? Why be so officious? In any case, I could never bring myself to speak of such a thing. So don’t you worry. When you’re better you must behave more circumspectly and not carry on like that.’

Siqi propped on her pillow nodded repeatedly, and after more reassur­ances Yuanyang left.

As she knew that Jia Lian was away and these last few days Xifeng had looked out of sorts, quite unlike her usual self, on the way back she called to see her. When she entered the courtyard the servants at the inner gate stood up to let her in, and as she stepped into the hail Pinger came out of the bedroom and approached her.

‘She’s just had a bite to eat and is having a nap,’ Pinger whispered. ‘Won’t you wait in the other room for a while?’ She took her to the eastern room where a maid served tea.

‘What’s the matter with your mistress these days?’ Yuanyang asked in a low voice. ‘I’ve noticed she seems very listless.’

As they were alone Pinger sighed, ‘She’s been this way for some time, at least a month. And these last few days she’s been kept on the go and provoked into the bargain, so that’s brought on a relapse. As it’s worse now than before, she can’t put up a brave front and hide it.’

‘In that case why not get a doctor in good time?’

Again Pinger sighed.

‘Don’t you know the way she is, sister? She won’t hear of fetching a doctor or taking medicine. When I simply asked out of concern how she felt, she swore crossly that my nagging was making her ill. Poorly as she is, she still insists on checking on this and that every day instead of taking things easy to get back her health.’

‘Even so, you ought to get a doctor to diagnose her illness and save us all worry.’

‘I’m afraid it’s something serious.’

‘What do you mean?’

Pinger drew closer to whisper, ‘Since her period last month she’s been having fluxions off and on non-stop. Wouldn’t you call that seri­ous?’

‘Aiya! From what you say, it sounds like menorrhagia.’

Pinger spat in disgust, then chuckled.

‘What does a girl like you know about such things? It’s unlucky to talk like that.’

Yuanyang blushed.

‘I didn’t know any such things to start with,’ she answered. ‘But have you forgotten that was how my sister died? I’d no idea what her illness was till I overheard my mother telling her mother-in-law, and the name meant nothing to me. Later I heard mother explain its cause and that gave me an inkling.’

‘Yes, I’d forgotten that,’ said Pinger gently.

As they were chatting a maid came in.

‘Just now Mrs. Zhu came again,’ she announced. ‘We told her the mistress is having a siesta, so she went to Lady Wang’s place.’

Pinger nodded.

Yuanyang asked, ‘Which Mrs. Zhu?’

‘That professional go-between,’ Pinger explained. ‘The family of some official named Sun wants to arrange a match with us, so recently she’s been turning up here every day with a card, making a regular nui­sance of herself.’

Before she had finished the maid returned to report, ‘The master’s back.’

By now Jia Lian was calling Pinger from the door of the hall, and before she could go to meet him he stepped through her doorway. At sight of Yuanyang seated on the kang he halted.

‘What brings our distinguished Sister Yuanyang to our humble abode?’ he asked smiling.

Remaining seated she answered, ‘I came to pay my respects to you and madam, but you were out and she was having a nap.

‘You work so hard all the year round for the old lady, by rights I should call on you. How can we trouble you to come to see us?’ He added, ‘Still, this is very opportune. I was meaning to go and see you, but felt so hot in this heavy gown that I came back first to change into a lighter one. Now Heaven has taken pity on me and saved me a trip by having you waiting here.’ He seated himself on a chair.

She asked what his business was.

‘It’s slipped my mind,’ Jia Lian chuckled, ‘but you may remember. On the old lady’s birthday last year, an itinerant monk presented her with a Buddha’s-hand made of soapstone; and as the old lady took a fancy to it, it was taken straight to her place for display. The other day on her birthday I checked our inventory of curios and found this listed there, but I don’t know where it’s got to now. The caretakers of the storeroom for antiques have mentioned it several times, as they want to record where it is. So I meant to ask you whether it’s still in the old lady’s place or whom she’s given it to.’

‘The old lady had it out for a couple of days, then got tired of it and gave it to Madam Lian,’ was Yuanyang’s answer. ‘So now you are asking me! I even remember the day when I sent Old Wang’s wife to bring it here. If you can’t remember, ask Madam Lian or Pinger.’

Pinger who was getting out clothes for Jia Lian came out on hearing this.

‘Yes, it was delivered here. It’s kept upstairs,’ she said. ‘Madam sent to tell them that it had been given to us, but the fools must have forgotten to record it. Now they’re pestering us again over these trifles.’

Jia Lian grinned.

‘How come I didn’t know it was given to your mistress? You two must have pocketed it.’

‘She told you, sir,’ Pinger retorted. ‘You wanted to give it to some­one else, but she didn’t agree, so we managed to hang on to it. Now you’ve forgotten and say we’ve kept it. What precious, priceless rarity is it, pray? We’ve never kept anything from you, not even things ten times better than this. Why should we value that worthless object now?’

Jia Lian lowered his head with a smile to think this over, then clapped his hands.

‘Yes, I’m getting muddle-headed and forgetful,’ he exclaimed. ‘I don’t wonder you scold me ‘ my memory’s not what it was.’

Yuanyang smiled.

‘You’re not to blame. You have so much to attend to, so many people coming to you with requests; and then when you drink a few cups of wine how can you remember every single thing?’ While saying this she rose to take her leave.

Jia Lian stood up hastily too.

‘Dear sister, please sit down for a while,’ he begged. ‘I’ve some­thing else to ask you.’ He reprimanded the maid, ‘Why didn’t you brew some better tea? Hurry up and fetch a clean bowl with a lid and brew some of that new tribute tea.’

Turning back to Yuanyang he went on, ‘These days, because of the old lady’s birthday, I’ve spent the few thousand taels of silver I had. Our house rents and land rents from various places won’t be coming in till the ninth month, so right now I’m rather hard up. Tomorrow I have to send presents to the Prince of Nanan and prepare Double-Ninth gifts for Her Imperial Highness; then there are weddings and funerals coming up in several other families too. I need at least two or three thousand taels, and I can’t raise that sum quickly. As the proverb says, ‘It’s better to ask of one’s own folk than of outsiders.’ So I wonder, sister, if you’ll stick your neck out and filch me a case of gold and silver utensils which the old lady isn’t using for the time being. I can pawn them for some silver to tide over. In less than half a year, when my money comes in, I’ll redeem them and return them. I promise not to land you in any trouble.’

‘You certainly know a trick or two,’ Yuanyang laughed. ‘The idea!’

‘I won’t lie to you,’ he chuckled. ‘Apart from you, there are sev­eral others who have control of plenty of silver, but none of them is as sensible and plucky as you. If I approached them they’d take fright. So I’d rather strike the golden bell once instead of trying all the broken drums.’

At this point one of the Lady Dowager’s maids hurried in in search of Yuanyang.

‘The old lady wants you, miss,’ she said. ‘We’ve been looking ev­erywhere, but here you were all the time.’

Then Yuanyang quickly went back.

As soon as she had gone Jia Lian went in to see Xifeng, who had woken up and heard him ask for a loan. Not liking to interpose, she just lay on the kang until Yuanyang had left and Jia Lian entered her room.

‘Did she agree?’ she asked him.

‘Not in so many words, but it looks hopeful,’ he answered cheerfully. ‘You must go and mention it again this evening, and that should fix it.’

‘I’ll do nothing of the sort,’ retorted Xifeng. ‘If she agrees, once you get hold of the money you’ll forget all your fine talk and promises now. Who’s going to run such a risk for you? If it came to the old lady’s ears, I’d lose all the face I’ve had the last few years.

‘Be an angel,’ he begged. ‘If you fix this up, I’ll make it worth your while ‘ how’s that?’

‘What with?’

‘Whatever you say.

Pinger beside them put in, ‘Don’t ask for any other rewards, madam.

Just yesterday you were saying you needed a couple of hundred taels. If you get this loan you can deduct them from that. Wouldn’t that suit you both?’

‘I’m glad you reminded me,’ cried Xifeng gaily. ‘All right then.’

‘What a hard bargain you drive,’ protested Jia [ian. ‘Don’t talk about pawning things for a mere thousand taels when I know you could easily produce three to five thousand of ready cash here and now. You should be thankful I’m not borrowing from you, just asking you to put in a word; and yet you still demand interest. This is the limit…’

Before he could go on, Xifeng sprang up.

‘If I have three thousand or fifty thousand, I didn’t earn it from you.’ she cried. ‘Nowadays everybody inside and out, high and low, keeps carping about me behind my back, so you may as well join in. Ghosts from outside don’t come in unless they’re invited by some family devils. Where did our Wang family’s money come from, pray? Is it all from your Jia family? Don’t make me vomit. You think you’re as rich as a mint-master. The sweepings from the cracks in our Wang family’s floor are enough to last you a lifetime. Aren’t you ashamed talking like that? There’s evidence to prove it. Just look at the dowries Lady Wang and I brought and compare them with yours. In what way are we inferior to you?’

‘Why take a joke so seriously?’ he asked, smiling. ‘This is nothing to get so worked up about. If you want a couple of hundred taels, that’s nothing. More than that I can’t manage, but this I can afford. Suppose you take that to be going on with before you raise this loan?’

‘I’m not waiting for that to pay for my funeral, so what’s the hurry?’

‘Why carry on like that? There’s no need to flare up.’

‘Don’t accuse me of temper. But your words cut me to the heart. I was thinking that the day after tomorrow is the anniversary of Second Sister You’s death; and as she and I were good friends, the least I can do is burn some paper money at her grave for friendship’s sake. Though she didn’t leave any children, we shouldn’t forget her now that she’s turned to dust.’

Jia Lian lowered his head and was silent for some time.

‘I’d forgotten,’ he admitted. ‘It’s good of you to remember. If you

don’t need the money till the day after tomorrow, wait till we raise this loan tomorrow, then you can take as much as you want from it.’

Just then Lai Wang’s wife came in.

‘Is it settled?’ Xifeng asked her.

‘No, nothing doing,’ answered Mrs. Lai. ‘But I think if you sponsor it, madam, it should come off.’

Jia [ian wanted to know what they were talking about.

‘It’s of no great consequence,’ Xifeng told him. ‘Lai Wang has a son who’s seventeen this year and not yet married. They want Caixia who waits on Lady Wang, but don’t know whether Her Ladyship will agree. The other day she kindly said that as Caixia is grown up and so delicate she can be given her freedom and sent home, so that her parents can arrange for her marriage. Then Mrs. Lai approached me. I thought the two families being fairly well matched, once the request was made it was bound to be granted. Yet here she comes now saying nothing do­ing!’

‘What does that matter?’ he rejoined. ‘There are plenty of better girls than Caixia.’

Mrs. Lai put in with a smile, ‘You may look at it that way, sir; but her family turning us down like that will make others look down on us even more. It’s not so easy to find a suitable girl. I thought with your help we could fix it up ‘ that at a word from madam they’d surely agree. So I troubled some one to go and sound them out, but to my surprise we got snubbed. The girl herself is agreeable and never seemed to be against the match, but those two old creatures have grander ideas for their daugh­ter.’

This was a challenge to Xifeng and Jia Lian; but as her husband was there the former said nothing, just waited to see his reaction. Jia Lian having other things on his mind did not take this seriously. However, as Mrs. [ai had accompanied Xifeng here at the time of her wedding and served them well, he could hardly ignore her request.

‘It’s not all that important,’ he said. ‘Why keep on about it? Don’t worry, you can go now. Tomorrow I’ll act as go between and send two respectable fellows with betrothal gifts to tell them it’s my proposal. If they still hold out, we’ll get them to come and see me.’

At a sign from Xifeng, Mrs. Lai fell on her knees to kowtow her thanks to Jia Lian.

‘It’s your mistress you should be kowtowing to,’ he said. ‘Even though I’ll do what I can, it would be best for her to send for Caixia’s mother and put it to her nicely. Otherwise even if they agree, we’ll seem too overbearing.’

‘If you’re willing to go to this trouble for her,’ put in Xifeng, ‘how can I just stand watching? Well, Mrs. Lai, you’ve heard that. After this is settled, you must hurry up and see to my business for me. Tell your hus­band to collect all the money lent out before the end of this year ‘ not a single cash short. I’ve a bad enough reputation as it is. I don’t want to make it worse by going on lending out money.’

Lai Wang’s wife laughed.

‘You needn’t worry, madam. Who would dare say a word against you? But, honestly speaking, if you stopped lending out that money we’d save ourselves trouble and offend fewer people.’

Xifeng snorted.

‘I’ve acted like a fool all for nothing. What did I need money for? Only for daily expenses, as we’re overspending our income and our house­hold is always short. My monthly allowance and his, plus those of our four maids, come to only some twenty taels a month ‘ not enough to last three or five days. If I hadn’t raised more by hook or by crook, we’d long ago have had to move into some tumble-down cave. But all I’ve got for my pains is the reputation of a moneylender. So I may as well call in all those loans. I can spend money as well as anyone else. In future let’s all sit here spending, without worrying how long the money will last. Isn’t that the idea?

‘Before the old lady’s birthday the other day, Lady Wang worried for two months, not knowing how to raise funds, till I reminded her that in the back upstairs storeroom there were four or five cases of big copper and pewter vessels lying useless. By pawning these for three hundred taels she managed to make her contribution. As for me, as you know, I sold that gold striking-clock for five hundred and sixty-four taels. But in less than half a month it all went on some ten outlays big and small. Now that even our treasury is short, someone’s had the bright idea of milking the old lady. A few more years and we’ll be reduced to selling our clothes and jewellery, and won’t that be fine!’

Lai Wang’s wife chuckled.

‘The clothes and jewels of any single one of our mistresses would raise enough to last us a whole lifetime. But of course that would never do.’

‘It’s not that I’ve got cold feet,’ Xifeng insisted. ‘But if things go on this way I really can’t cope. Last night I suddenly had a very odd dream. I dreamed that someone with a familiar face, but whose name I couldn’t recollect, came to see me. When I asked her business, she said Her Imperial Highness had sent her to fetch a hundred rolls of silk from me. I asked which Imperial Highness. She told me it wasn’t the one from our family, so I refused. Then she tried to take the silk by force. We were scuffling when I woke up.’

Lai Wang’s wife said with a smile, ‘That’s because you’d been worrying all day about presents for the Palace.’

Just then it was announced that the eunuch Xia had sent a young eunuch to see them.

Jia Lian frowned.

‘What is it this time?’ he exclaimed. ‘Haven’t they squeezed enough out of us this year?’

‘You keep out of sight and let me handle this,’ suggested Xifeng. ‘If it’s some small matter, all right. It it’s something important I know how to ward him off.’

Jia Lian withdrew then to the annex.

Xifeng ordered the young eunuch to be brought in and offered him a seat, after which tea was served. She then asked his business.

‘His Excellency Xia saw a house today which he’d like to buy, but he’s two hundred taels short,’ was the answer. ‘He sent me to ask you, madam, if you have ready money at home and can lend him a couple of hundred for the time being. He’ll pay you back in a few days.’

Xifeng replied with a smile, ‘Don’t speak of paying us back. We’ve plenty of silver here; just take any amount you need. If ever we’re short of funds, we’ll apply to you.’

‘His Excellency also said he still hasn’t repaid the twelve hundred taels he borrowed the last two times. He will definitely return it all before the end of the year.’

‘His Excellency is too scrupulous.’ Xifeng laughed. ‘He may as well forget it. At the risk of offending him I’d like to say that if he remem­bered to pay us back all he’s borrowed, goodness knows how much that would come to. The only thing that worries us is that we may not have money when he needs it. As long as we have, he can take it.’ She called for Lai Wang’s wife and told her, ‘Go and get hold of two hundred taels from somewhere.’

Taking the hint, Mrs. Lai replied, ‘I came to borrow from you, madam, because I couldn’t raise money anywhere else.’

‘You just come in asking us for money,’ scolded Xifeng, ‘When I ask you to get some outside, you say you can’t.’ She told Pinger, ‘Take those two gold necklets of mine and have them pawned for four hundred taels.’

Pinger went off, returning after some lapse of time with a brocade-covered box containing two silk wrappers. In one was a gold filigree necklet studded with pearls as large as lotus seeds; in the other, a jewel­led green enamel necklet. Both were similar to those made for the Pal­ace. She took these away and soon brought back four hundred taels, half of which on Xifeng’s instructions she gave to the young eunuch, the other half to Lai Wang’s wife to meet expenses for the Moon Festival. Then the young eunuch took his leave, and a servant was ordered to carry the silver for him and see him out of the main gate.

Jia Lian returned now demanding, ‘When will those scoundrels out­side stop plaguing us?’

Xifeng chuckled, ‘It’s a case of ‘talk of the devil.’’

‘Yesterday the eunuch Zhou came and asked straight out for a thou­sand tales. When I hedged, he looked put out. In future we’re bound to offend them even more often. I only wish we could come into another two or three million taels.’

While he was speaking Pinger helped her mistress with her toilet, and then Xifeng went to wait upon the Lady Dowager at dinner.

Jia Lian had barely gone to his outside study when Lin Zhixiao ap­peared.

‘Just now I heard that Jia Yucun has lost his post,’ he reported. ‘I don’t know why. Of course, it may not be true.’

‘Whether it’s true or not, he’s not likely to keep his present post for long,’ replied Jia Lian. ‘If he gets into trouble, I’m afraid we’ll be in­volved. It would be better to keep clear of him.’

‘Quite so,’ agreed Lin. ‘But that’s easier said than done. At the moment he’s very thick with the master of the East Mansion, and our master Lord She likes him too. Every body knows that he’s a frequent visitor here.’

‘Provided we don’t get involved in any of his schemes, it doesn’t matter. Go and check up to find out what’s really happened.’

Lin Zhixiao assented, but instead of leaving he sat there chatting until the subject of their financial straits came up again. He took this chance to advise:

‘We should cut down on our household ‘ it’s too large. Why not ask the old lady and the master to release some old servants who have served the family well but are no longer useful? They all have indepen­dent means, and that would save us some money and grain each year. We have too many maids as well. Now that times have changed we can’t follow the old rules but should tighten up a bit! Those used to eight maids can make do with six, those used to four with two. By cutting down like this in all our apartments we’d save a good deal of money and grain every year. And then half the girls in the household, who are grown up anyway, should get married. With them married, our household would increase. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?’

‘I’ve had the same idea,’ agreed Jia Lian. ‘But the master is only just back, and there are quite a few important matters I haven’t yet reported to him; so there’s been no time to bring this up. The other day when the professional match-maker came with a horoscope to propose a match, Her Ladyship told us not to mention it as His Lordship is just home, enjoying this family reunion, and a sudden proposal of this sort might upset him.’

‘Quite right and proper too. You think of everything, sir.’ ‘Yes, but this reminds me of something. Our man Lai Wang wants Caixia in Her Ladyship’s place for his son. Yesterday he asked my help. As it’s nothing important, I don’t think it matters which of you goes to propose it. Just send anyone who’s free and say I approve of the match.’

Lin Zhixiao could not but assent. After a pause, however, he smiled. ‘Actually, sir, if I were you I’d have nothing to do with this. That son of Lai Wang’s, for all he’s so young, drinks and gambles and gets up to all sorts of devilry outside. They may both be bond-servants; still, mar­riage is for life. Though I haven’t seen Caixia these last few years, I hear she’s grown up a nice-looking girl. Why ruin her life for her?’

‘So that young fellow’s a dissolute drunkard, eh?’

‘He not only drinks and gambles but carries on outrageously outside. We’ve turned a blind eye because his mother worked for madam.’

‘I didn’t know that,’ said Jia Lian. ‘In that case we certainly won’t give him a wife. We’ll give him a good beating instead, then have him locked up and take his parents to task.’

‘This isn’t the time for that.’ The steward smiled. ‘I shouldn’t have brought it up. Wait till he makes trouble again and we’ll report it to you, sir, for you to handle. Better let him off for the time being.’

Jia Lian said nothing to this, and soon Lin Zhixiao withdrew.

That evening Xifeng sent for Caixia’s mother and proposed the match. Although the woman did not like the idea, as Xifeng had done her the honour of proposing it in person she had to agree out of hand. After she had left, Xifeng asked Jia [ian whether he had broached the matter.

‘I was meaning to,’ he said, ‘but then I heard that the boy is a worth­less wretch. I thought: if he’s really no good, we’d better discipline him for a couple of days before giving him a wife.’

‘Who told you he’s no good?’

‘One of our servants, of course.

‘You think nothing of us Wangs, not even of me, much less our ser­vants. I’ve spoken to Caixia’s mother and she’s consented gladly. Am I to call her back now and tell her it’s off?’

‘There’s no need for that if you’ve already made the proposal. I’ll just tell the boy’s father tomorrow to give him a good dressing-down.’

The rest of their conversation need not concern us.

Now Caixia after being released from service was waiting for her

parents to choose her a husband. Although she had been on friendly terms with ha Huan, nothing had come of it; and now she saw Lai Wang coming repeatedly to ask for her hand. As she had heard that his son was a drunkard and gambler and ugly into the bargain, she felt all the more upset ‘ for if Lai Wang fixed up this match with Xifeng’s backing her whole life would be ruined. This prospect made her so frantic that that evening she secretly sent her younger sister Xiaoxia to Concubine Zhao, to find out the situation.

Concubine Zhao had always been on good terms with Caixia and was all for giving her to Jia Huan, for then she would have an ally in the house. She had never expected Lady Wang to discharge her. Day after day she urged ha Huan to go and ask for her, but he was too shy to speak and not too attracted by Caixia in any case. To him, she was only a maid and he would have others in future; so he procrastinated, quite willing to give her up. His mother was reluctant to do this, however. After the younger sister came for news, as she was free that evening she went to enlist ha Zheng’s help.

‘What’s the hurry? ‘he asked. ‘Wait till the boys have studied a year or two more before we get concubines for them. I’ve already got two suitable maids in mind, one for Baoyu, one for Huan. But they’re still young and it might hold up their studies; so let’s wait a couple of years.’

‘Baoyu’s had one for two years already. Didn’t you know that sir?’ asked Concubine Zhao.

At once Jia Zheng demanded, ‘Who made the decision?’

Before she could answer they heard a crash outside. To know what had happened, read the following chapter.

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