A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 82

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Chapter 82

An Old Teacher Expounds the Classics to

Warn Against Mischief

The Queen of Bamboos Falling Ill

Has a Fearful Nightmare

Baoyu, home from school, went to call on his grandmother.

“Good! Now the wild colt’s muzzled,” she said with a smile.

“Report to your father, then go and amuse yourself.”

Baoyu, having assented, presented himself to Jia Zheng.

“Back from school so early?” his father asked. “Did the teacher assign your lessons?”

“Yes, sir. In the morning I’m to revise the Four Books; after lunch, practise writing; in the afternoon, expound texts and read essays.

Jia Zheng nodded.

“Go and keep your grandmother company for a while. Instead of just fooling around you must learn some manners. Go to bed early, and get up early to go to school every day. Do you hear?”

“Yes, sir. Yes, sir.”

Baoyu, withdrawing, hurried to call on his mother and then to report to his grandmother, very soon leaving her again to rush to Bamboo Lodge. Once inside the gate, he clapped and crowed with laughter.

“Here I am back safe and sound!”

Zijuan raised the portiere and he went in and sat down.

“I thought I heard you’d gone to school,” said Daiyu, startled by his sudden return. “How come you’re back so early?”

“Ah, it’s too bad!” he exclaimed. “When my father made me go to school today, I thought I’d never set eyes on you all again. But I survived it somehow, and now that we’re together again I feel as if I’d just risen from the dead! ‘One day apart seems three autumns’ — how true that old saying is.”

“Have you paid your duty calls?”

“Yes, all of them.”

“Called anywhere else?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“You should drop in to see your other cousins too.”

“I can’t be bothered right now. I’d rather just sit here and chat with you for a while. ‘Early to bed and early to rise’ those are my father’s orders; so I’ll have to leave calling on them till tomorrow.”

“After sitting here a bit you must go back to rest.”

“I’m not tired, only dying of boredom. Sitting here with you I don’t feel bored, yet now you’re trying to shoo me away again!”

With a faint smile Daiyu told Zijuan, “Brew a cup of my Longjing tea for the Second Master. Now that he’s studying we must treat him with more respect.”

Zijuan laughingly fetched the tea leaves and told one of the younger maids to make tea.

“Don’t mention studying!” Baoyu continued. “I can’t stand such moral talk. And those eight-section essays are still more ridiculous. Using them to wangle a degree and make a living — that’s not so bad; but how can you claim they ‘voice the views of the sages’? The better ones are nothing but a hotch-potch of classical tags, while the most ludicrous ones are written by ignoramuses who drag in this, that and the other to make up a monstrous mishmash, yet boast of their erudition! How can this be called expounding the views of the sages? When father insists on my studying these essays, I can’t oppose him; but here are you talking about study too.”

“We girls don’t have to write essays,” Daiyu answered. “Still, when I was young and your kinsman Mr. Jia Yucun was my tutor, I read a few essays too. Some of them showed good sense, some were quite subtle. Though I didn’t altogether understand them, I thought quite highly of them. I don’t see how you can condemn them so sweepingly. Besides, If you want an official career, this is the scholarly way to go about it.”

Baoyu was disgusted by talk of this kind.

“Daiyu never used to be like this,” he reflected. “What’s made her so worldly-wise all of a sudden?” But not wanting to argue with her, he simply snorted.

Just then they heard the voices of Qiuwen and Zijuan outside.

“Sister Xiren said I’d find him in the old lady’s place, but instead he’s here,” said Qiuwen.

“We’ve just made tea,” Zijuan told her. “Wait till he’s drunk it before fetching him back.”

Then the two of them came in.

“I’ll be coming presently,” Baoyu promised Qiuwen. “I’m sorry you had the trouble of looking for me.

When Qiuwen made no answer, Zijuan said, “Drink up quickly and go. They’ve been longing for you all day.”

“Shut up, you bitch!” cried Qiuwen.

Amid general laughter he rose to take his leave, and Daiyu saw him to the door while Zijuan waited at the foot of the steps, not reentering the house until he had gone.

Baoyu soon reached Happy Red Court. As he went in, Xiren emerged from the inner room.

“Is he back?” she called out.

“Long ago,” Qiuwen answered. “I found the Second Master with Miss Lin.”

“Did anything happen today?” Baoyu wanted to know.

“Nothing much,” said Xiren. “Only Her Ladyship sent Sister Yuanyang over just now with a message: The master has set his mind on your studying hard, and if any maids dare fool about with you they’ll be dealt with in the same way as Qingwen and Siqi. After serving you all this time, I must say I find a warning like that uncalled for!” She was looking most put out.

“Good sister, don’t worry,” he cried. “I’ll have to study hard so that the mistress doesn’t scold you again. In fact, I must do some reading this evening, as tomorrow I’ve got to expound texts to the teacher. If I need anything, Sheyue and Qiuwen can attend to it. You’d better go and rest.”

“If you’re really going to study hard, we’ll be glad to wait on you, was her reply.

Baoyu had a hasty supper, then made them light the lamp so that he could revise the Four Books. But where to start? When he leafed through one volume, the text seemed clear enough; yet when he thought it over carefully, he was not too sure of the meaning. He consulted the notes and then the commentaries, until the first watch had sounded.

“I find poetry very easy, but with this I’m getting nowhere,” he re­flected as he sat there, his mind in a whirl.

“Go to bed now,” urged Xiren: “You can’t digest all that in just one night.”

When Baoyu mumbled agreement she and Sheyue helped him to bed, then turned in themselves. But Xiren, waking later, heard him still tossing about.

“Are you still awake?” she asked. “Stop racking your brains! You must get some rest if you’re going to study well tomorrow.”

“I know, but I can’t sleep. Will you come and take off one of these quilts for me?”

“Better keep it on — it’s not hot.”

“Well, I feel hectic.”

He started kicking off one of his quilts.

Xiren promptly got up to stop him, and laying one hand on his forehead found it a little hot.

“Don’t move,” She coaxed. “You’re rather feverish.”

“I know.”

“How come?”

“Don’t worry. It’s because I’m feeling frantic. But don’t raise an alarm, or my father’s hound to say I’m shamming to get out of going to school — or why else should I fall ill now of all times? I’ll be well enough to go back to school tomorrow; then everything will he all right.”

Taking pity on him she said, “I’ll come and sleep with you.”

She massaged his back for a while, then they both dozed off, not waking until the sun was high in the sky.

“Confound it, I’ve overslept!” exclaimed Baoyu.

He hastily dressed, paid his respects to his elders and hurried to school. Already the teacher was glowering.

“No wonder your father is angry and calls you good-for-nothing you start slacking on your second day at school! What time is it now?”

Baoyu excused himself by explaining about his feverish night, then settled down again to study.

That afternoon Dairu set him a passage to analyse from the Analects, beginning with the line “Respect the young.” He thanked his lucky stars that it was not from the Great Learning or the Doctrine of the Mean.

“How am Ito analyse it?” he asked.

“Carefully explain the passage and the gloss.”

Baoyu read it aloud, then began, “In this passage the sage is encour­aging young people, exhorting them to work hard while there is time, so as not….”

He broke off here and glanced up at the teacher, who smiled.

“Just go ahead. In expounding the classics, as the Book of Ceremony says, nothing is taboo. Go on, ‘So as not…’ — what?”

“So as not to grow old without achieving anything. First he says ‘re­spect’ to encourage young people, then warns them not to grow into men whom nobody would respect.”

He looked up expectantly.

“That’s more or less right,” said Dairu. “Now paraphrase the whole text.”

“The sage said: When people are young, their intelligence and talents all seem quite formidable. Who can be sure that in future they won’t equal me today? But if they let things slide until they are forty or fifty and still not known, however promising they may have been when young, by that time nobody will ever fear them.”

The teacher smiled.

“When you summarized the meaning just now, it was fairly clear,” he said. “But your paraphrase was rather childish. The words ‘not known’ don’t mean failure to attain officialdom. Here ‘knowing’ refers to un­derstanding the truth, which doesn’t depend on becoming an official. Didn’t some sages of old turn hermit and remain unknown? They weren’t officials, were they? But does that mean they were no good?”

“When he said that such cases were ‘not to be feared, ‘ he meant that people knew the limitations of their understanding; so this is in direct contrast to the previous idea — it doesn’t imply fearing their power. You should examine such points carefully to grasp their subtlety. Do you un­derstand now?” “Yes, sir.”

“Then here’s another passage for you to expound.”

He turned to a page and pointed out for Baoyu the line, “I have never yet seen anyone who loved goodness as much as beauty.”

Feeling rather sensitive on this score, Baoyu objected with a smile, ‘‘There’s nothing worth expounding here.

“Nonsense! If this subject were set in the examinations, would you say it wasn’t worth writing about?”

Then Baoyu had to comply.

“The sage noticed that men didn’t love goodness but were enrap­tured with beauty when they saw it. Actually, goodness is something inherent in human nature, yet people don’t hanker after it. As for beauty, though it’s also born not made, and everybody loves it, it is a human desire whereas goodness is a law of nature. However, people don’t love the law of nature as much as human desire. Confucius both deplored this and hoped that men would change their ways. He also noticed that though some men loved goodness, that love didn’t go very deep. Only when they came to love goodness as much as beauty could that be considered true love.”

“That is more or less correct,” commented Dairu. “Now tell me this. If you understand the sage’s teachings, why are you having trouble on both scores? Though I don’t stay in your family and your father has never spoken to me of this, I am well aware of your shortcomings. Why don’t you want to make progress? You’re young now, just at the ‘for­midable’ age. Whether you turn out well or not is entirely up to you. I’m going to give you a month to revise all the classics you studied before, then another month to read essays. After that I’ll set you subjects to write about. And 1 shan’t tolerate any slacking! As the proverb says, ‘Men must choose between progress and comfort. Keep what I’ve told you in mind!”

Baoyu promised to do so, and from that day on he had to apply himself harder to his studies.

After Baoyu went back to school, Happy Red Court was so quiet that Xiren had more time for embroidery. As she stitched a pouch for betel-nuts one day, she reflected that his return to school had made life less complicated for his maids; indeed, had he gone back earlier, Qingwen might never have come to such a sad end. Grieving over her friend’s death, she sighed. Then it occurred to her that although at present she could control Baoyu, as she was not destined to be his wife but only a concubine, if his wife proved a termagant she herself would share the same fate as Second Sister You and Xiangling. Judging by the attitude of Their Ladyships as well as certain remarks let fall by Xifeng, it seemed as if their choice would be Daiyu — who could be difficult. Flushing at this thought, her heart beat so fast that she plied her needle at random. Finally, laying down her embroidery, she went to Daiyu’s place to sound her out.

Daiyu, engrossed in reading when she arrived, got up to offer her a seat.

“Are you much better these days, miss?” asked Xiren stepping for­ward.

“How could I be? A bit better, that’s all. What have you been doing at home?”

“Since Master Bao went back to school we’ve had very little to do. So I dropped in here for a chat to see how you are.

Zijuan brought in tea at this point.

“You mustn’t trouble, sister!” Xiren rose to her feet, then added with a smile, “I heard the other day from Qiuwen that you’d been gossiping behind our backs!”

“Don’t you believe her,” Zijuan laughed. “All I said was that with Master Bao away at school, Miss Baochai gone and even Xiangling stay­ing away, you must be feeling lonely.”

“Don’t talk about Xiangling!” cried Xiren. “Poor thing! She must be having a hard time of it with her mistress such a martinet, a worse terror even than her.” She held up two fingers to indicate the Second Mistress —Xifeng. “She doesn’t even care for appearances.

“She’s no less hard-hearted,” put in Daiyu. “Remember how Sec­ond Sister You died?”

“Of course,” agreed Xiren. “we’re all women, only a bit different in status, so I can’t think why anyone should be so cruel. It spoils our repu­tation outside as well.”

Daiyu guessed there was something behind this, as it was not Xiren’s habit to gossip in such a way behind people’s backs.

“Well, it’s hard to say,” she answered. “In every family, if the east wind doesn’t prevail over the west wind, then the west wind is bound to prevail over the east wind.”

“But a concubine is diffident to start with. How dare she take advan­tage of the wife?”

Just then a serving-woman called from the courtyard, “Is this Miss Lin’s house? Is anybody in?”

Xueyan went out and, thinking she recognized one of Aunt Xue’s servants, asked her business.

“Our young lady sent me to bring something to Miss Lin.”

Telling her to wait, Xueyan came back to report this, and Daiyu made her fetch the woman in. The latter curtseyed to Daiyu, but instead of explaining her errand just stared at her.

Embarrassed by her scrutiny Daiyu asked, “What did Miss Baochai tell you to bring me?”

“A jar of lichees preserved in honey.” Catching sight of Xiren then, the woman added, “Isn’t this Miss Hua from the Second Master’s place’?”

“How did you know, aunty?” asked Xiren.

“We stay in mostly to keep an eye on the house, not going out much with our mistress or young ladies, so you other young ladies wouldn’t be likely to know us. But as you sometimes come to our place, we have a faint recollection of you all.”

Having given the jar to Xueyan she turned back to look at Daiyu again, then observed with a smile to Xiren, “No wonder our mistress says that Miss Lin here and your Master Bao would make a perfect pair. She’s as pretty as a goddess, indeed she is!”

To put a stop to such foolish talk, Xiren hastily interposed, “You must be tired out, aunty. Take a rest and have some tea.”

“We’re all very busy over there preparing for Miss Baoqin’s wed­ding,” the woman chuckled. “And there are two more jars of lichees which Miss Baochai wants sent to Master Bao.”

She took her leave then and started to hobble away. Daiyu, though annoyed by her impertinence, could hardly reprove a messenger sent by Baochai. When the woman had stepped outside she called:

“Thank Miss Baochai for me.”

The old creature was still exclaiming, “Such good looks — too good for anyone but Baoyu!”

Daiyu could only pretend not to have heard.

Xiren remarked with a smile, “When people grow old they talk so foolishly, one doesn’t know whether to be angry or laugh.”

Xueyan showed Daiyu the jar of fruit.

“I don’t want it now. Put it away,” said Daiyu, then talked a little longer with Xiren until the latter left.

That evening when Daiyu went into the inner room to get ready for bed, the sight of the jar of lichees reminded her of the old woman’s maundering and she felt a pang. In the quiet dusk, her heart filled with forebodings.

“My health’s poor and I’ve reached the age to marry,” she reflected. “Judging by Baoyu’s behaviour, he isn’t interested in anyone else; but my grandmother and aunt haven’t yet indicated their preference. If only my parents were still alive, or had fixed this match in advance!” Then it occurred to her, “Even if they’d lived they might have promised me to someone else, who couldn’t possibly be up to Baoyu. This way there may still be a chance.”

Her heart was in a turmoil, distraught as a pulley swinging up and down. After many a sigh and tear, she flung herself listlessly down on her bed fully dressed.

She was lying there in a daze when a young maid approached to report that Mr. Jia Yucun had asked to see her.

“It’s true that I studied under him,” said Daiyu. “But I’m not a boy; why should he want to see me? Besides, though he’s my uncle’s friend, my uncle’s never mentioned him to me; so it would be inappropriate to receive him.”

She told the maid, “I’m not well enough to go out. Give him my greet­ings and apologies.”

“I think he’s here to offer congratulations,” said the girl. “Some people have just come from Nanjing to fetch you.”

That same moment in walked Xifeng, Lady Xing, Lady Wang and Baochai.

“We’ve come to congratulate you and to see you off!” they cried.

“What do you mean?” asked Daiyu in alarm.

“Don’t play the innocent,” teased Xifeng. “Surely you know that your father has been promoted to be the Grain Commissioner of Hubei and has taken another wife, a most suitable match. They don’t feel it would be right to leave you here, so they asked Mr. Jia as go-between to arrange for you to marry a relative of your stepmother, a widower. Now they’ve sent to fetch you back, and the wedding will probably take place as soon as you get home. It’s all been decided by your stepmother. We’re sending your Second Cousin Lian to escort you and look after you on the road.”

At this, Daiyu broke out in a cold sweat. She did seem to have a hazy recollection of her father’s appointment to an official post there.

“This can’t be true!” she protested frantically. “Cousin Xifeng must be joking.”

She saw Lady Xing wink at Lady Wang, then say, “She still doesn’t believe it. Let’s go.

With tears in her eyes Daiyu begged, “Dear aunts, please wait!”

But in silence, smiling coldly, they all went away.

Daiyu had no means to express her desperation. Sobbing bitterly, she seemed through her tears to see the Lady Dowager standing before her. Thinking, “If I beg my grandmother, she’s the only one who may save me,” she fell on her knees and clasped the old lady’s waist.

“Save me, madam!” she pleaded. “I’d rather die than go south. Be­sides, she’s my stepmother, not my own mother. Do let me stay with you, madam!”

But with a look of indifference the old lady said, “This has nothing to do with me.”

“What does that mean, madam?” she sobbed.

“Marrying a widower is good: you’ll get two sets of wedding pre­sents.”

“If I can stay with you, madam, I promise not to put you to extra expense. I just implore you to save me!”

“It’s no use. All girls must get married sooner or later. You ought to know that, child. You can’t stay here for ever.

“I’d rather be a bondmaid here, earning my keep. Please, please speak up for me, madam!”

Still the old lady said nothing.

Daiyu caught hold of her again and cried, “Madam, you were always so kind, so fond of me, how can you leave me in the lurch like this? Even if I’m only your grand-daughter, removed by one generation, my mother was your own daughter — won’t you protect me for her sake at least?” She gave way to a storm of weeping in the Lady Dowager’s lap.

“Yuanyang, take her out to calm down,” ordered the old lady. “She’s wearing me out, making such a scene.

Daiyu knew then that appealing for help was useless. Determining to kill herself instead, she stood up and started out. How bitterly she grieved that she had no mother! For though her grandmother, aunts and cousins had always seemed so good to her, this now appeared to be nothing but a pretence.

“How is it I haven’t seen Baoyu?” she wondered. “He might be able to help.”

And just then Baoyu suddenly appeared.

“Congratulations, cousin!” he said with a smile.

This made Daiyu even more frantic. Forgetting all reserve she seized him by the arm.

“Fine!” she cried. “Now I know how heartless you are, Baoyu!”

“In what way am I heartless? Now that you’re engaged, we must each go our own way.

Feeling yet more angry and helpless, she gripped his arm.

“Good cousin, to whom do you want me to go?” she sobbed.

“If you don’t want to leave, you can stay here. You were originally promised to me: that’s why you came to live here in the first place. And just think how close we’ve been.”

Then it seemed to Daiyu that she had indeed been engaged to Baoyu. Her sorrow turned to joy.

“My mind’s made up even if I die!” she cried. “Tell me honestly, do you want me to leave or to stay?”

“I want you to stay. If you doubt me, I’ll show you my heart!”

He drew a small knife and plunged it into his chest so that blood spurted out. In terror, she thrust one hand over his heart.

“How can you do that!? You’d better kill me first!”

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “I’ll show you my heart.”

He groped around with his hand in the gaping wound while Daiyu trembled and wept, fearful lest others see them. Racked by sobs she held him close.

Then Baoyu exclaimed, “I’m done for! Now I’ve lost my heart I must die!”

He turned up his eyes and slumped with a thud to the ground.

As Daiyu started screaming she heard Zijuan calling her.

“Miss! Miss! Have you had a nightmare? Wake up! Undress and go to bed properly.”

Daiyu turned over and found it was all a dream. She was still sobbing, her heart beating wildly. Her pillow was drenched and she felt icy cold.

She thought, “My parents both died long ago and never engaged me to Baoyu, so how could such ideas occur to me?” Recalling the dream and her helplessness, she wondered what would become of her if Baoyu were really to die. 11cr mind in a turmoil of anguish, she burst out weep­ing again until soon she was perspiring. Struggling up to take off her robe, she told Zijuan to tuck in her quilt and lay down again, but toss and turn as she might she could not sleep. There was a rustling outside like wind or rain, and presently some way off she heard heavy breathing — it was Zijnan, fast asleep and beginning to snore. She sat up again with an ef­fort, wrapping the bedding around her; but a cold draught through the window cracks made her shiver, so once more she lay down. As she was dozing off, she heard sparrows twittering on the bamboo; and although the blinds were drawn. light gradually filtered through the window-paper.

By no Daiyu was wide-awake. She started coughing, waking up Zijuan.

“Still not asleep, miss?” she asked. “And coughing again! You must have caught cold. Look, the window’s light and it will soon be dawn. Yon must rest properly, not let your thoughts wander.”

“1 want to sleep, but 1 can’t. You can go back to sleep” Talking set her coughing again.

But Zijuan was too upset by Daiyu’s fit of coughing to sleep any longer. She hastily got up to fetch the spittoon. By now it was light.

“Are you getting up?” Daiyu asked.

“It’s already bright. How can I go on sleeping?”

“In that case, you may as well change the spittoon.”

Zijuan, assenting, hurried out to fetch a clean spittoon, placing the used one on the table in the outer room. Having closed the door behind her, she let down the soft flowered portiere before going to wake Xueyan. When she came back to empty the spittoon, she was shocked to find the sputum in it flecked with blood.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “Heaven help us!”

“What’s the matter?” called Daiyu from the inner room.

Aware of her gaffe Zijuan hedged, “It’s the spittoon — it nearly slipped from my hand.”

“It wasn’t because there’s something in the sputum?”

“Oh no!” But her voice was quavering with distress and tears gushed from her eyes.

Daiyu’s suspicions had been aroused by the sweet-salty taste in her throat, and now they were confirmed by Zijuan’s exclamation of dismay as well as the catch in her voice.

“Come in!” she called. “Ifs cold out there.”

“Yes, miss.” Zijuan sounded even more woeful, and the sadness in her voice set Daiyu shivering.

She came in, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief.

“Why are you crying for no reason so early in the morning?” Daiyu asked.

“Who’s crying?” She forced a smile. “When I got up my eyes felt itchy. You must have slept even less than usual last night, miss. I heard you coughing half the time.”

“That’s right. The harder I tried to sleep, the more wide-awake I felt.”

“You’re so delicate, miss, I don’t think you should worry so much. Health is what counts. As the saying goes, ‘As long as the mountain’s there we shan’t lack fuel. ‘Besides, everyone here from Their Ladyships down is ever so fond of you.

Unfortunately, this last remark reminded Daiyu of her dream. Her heart missed a beat, all turned dark before her eyes, and the colour drained from her face. Zijuan hastily held up the spittoon for her while Xueyan patted her back, and after retching she spat out some dark, bloody mu­cus. Her two maids turned pale with fright. As they stood there gaping, she fell back in a faint. In dismay, Zijuan signalled to Xueyan to go for help.

As soon as Xueyan went out she saw Cuilu and Cuimo approaching.

“Why hasn’t Miss Lin come out yet?” asked? Cuilu with a smile. “Our young lady and Miss Tanchun are in Miss Xichun’s place, discuss­ing that painting she’s done of the Garden.” Xueyan waved her hands to stop them.

“What does this mean?” they asked in astonishment.

When she explained what had happened they thrust out their tongues in dismay.

“This is no joking matter. You must report it at once to the old lady. Heavens! How can you be so stupid?”

“I was on my way there when you turned up,” she countered.

Just then Zijuan called from the house, “who’s that out there Miss Lin would like to know.”

They hurried in, and the two newcomers saw Daiyu lying in bed cov­ered with a quilt.

“Who told you to make such a fuss over nothing?” she asked them.

Cuimo said, “Our young lady and Miss Xiangyun are in Miss Xichun’s place discussing that painting she’s made of the Garden. They told us to invite you over, miss. We didn’t realize you were unwell.”

“It’s nothing serious: I just feel a bit limp. I shall get up after I’ve rested. Go back and tell Miss Tanchun and Miss Xiangyun I’d like them to drop in if they’ve time after lunch. Has Master Bao gone there too?”

“No.”

Cuimo added, “Master Bao’s going to school these days. The master checks up on his lessons every day, so he can’t run around the way he used to.”

When Daiyu made no response, after waiting a little the two maids slipped away.

Let us turn now to Tanchun and Xiangyun in Xichun’s room. Com­menting on her painting of Grand View Garden, they found it rather over­crowded in parts and rather empty in others. When it came to discussing a suitable inscription, they sent to invite Daiyu over to consult her. And now they saw Cuilu and Cuimo return looking thoroughly disconcerted.

“Why hasn’t Miss Lin come?” asked Xiangyun.

“Last night her illness flared up again, and she coughed all night,” Cuilu answered. “We heard from Xueyan that she spat out a whole lot of blood.”

“Is that true?” exclaimed Tanchun in consternation.

“Of course it’s true,” Cuilu insisted.

“Just now when we went in to see her,” Cuimo added, “she looked in a very bad way, hardly able to talk.”

“If she’s in a bad way, of course she can’t talk,” said Xiangyun.

“How can you be so dense?” cried Tanchun. “If she can’t speak, that means… “Her voice trailed away.

Xichun said, “Cousin Lin is very intelligent but I think she takes things too much to heart she’s so serious about even the least little thing. How can one take everything so seriously?”

“Well, if that’s the case,” said Tanchun, “we should all go and see her. If she’s so very ill, we must get our sister-in-law to report in to the old lady and send for a doctor, so that we’ll know how to cope.

“That’s right,” agreed Xiangyun.

“The two of you go on ahead,” said Xichun. “I’ll go over later on.” Then Tanchun and Xiangyun, helped along by some young maids, went to Bamboo Lodge. Their arrival upset Daiyu, reminding her of her dream. “What can I expect of them, when even my grandmother cold-shoul­dered me like that?” she wondered. “Besides, they wouldn’t have come unless I’d invited them.” But instead of showing what was in her mind, she made Zijuan help her to sit up and offered them seats.

Tanchun and Xiangyun sat down, one on either side of her on the edge of the bed, distressed to see her so ill.

“What brought on this relapse, cousin?” Tanchun asked.

“It’s nothing serious. I just feel very limp.”

Zijuan standing behind her pointed surreptitiously at the spittoon. And Xiangyun, being young and straightforward, picked it up to have a look. What she saw horrified her.

“Did you bring this up, cousin?” she exclaimed. “Heaven help us!”

Daiyu had been too dazed before to look carefully at her sputum. At Xiangyun’s ejaculation she turned to look, her heart already sinking.

To cover up Xiangyun’s tactlessness, Tanchun hastily put in, “This is nothing out of the usual it’s just that a hot humour in the lungs made her bring up a drop or two. But Xiangyun is so silly, the least little thing always makes her fly off the handle.”

Xiangyun, regretting her blunder, blushed at this.

Seeing how listless and tired Daiyu seemed, Tanchun got up and said, “You must rest well, cousin. We’ll call again later on.

“Thank you both for your concern.

Tanchun urged Zijuan, “Look after your young lady well !“

As Zijuan assented Tanchun turned to leave; but just then somebody outside started shouting.

To know who it was, read on.

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