A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 86

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Chapter 86

An Old Magistrate Takes a Bribe

to Re-open a Case

A Young Girl, to While Away Time,

Explains a Lute Score

After listening to Xue Ke’s letter, Aunt Xue called in the page who had brought it.

“You heard what Master Pan said. How did he come to kill a man?” she asked.

“I didn’t get it too clear, madam. That day he told Master Ke….” The page looked round to make sure they were alone before continuing, “Master Pan said he was so sick of all these rows at home that he made up his mind to go south to buy goods. He decided to ask somebody to go with him a certain Wu Liang who lives more than two hundred ii south of this city. On his way to find him he met that Jiang Yuhan who used to be such a friend of his, bringing some young actors to town. While they were having a meal and drinking together in his inn, Master Pan was annoyed by the way the waiter kept staring at Jiang Yuhan. But then Jiang left.

“The next day, while drinking with Wu Liang, Master Pan remem­bered what had happened the day before and, when the waiter was slow in bringing fresh wine, he started cursing him. When the fellow answered back, he threatened him with his wine bowl. The rogue craned his neck, daring our master to hit him. Then Master Pan brought the bowl down on his head. Blood spurted out and he dropped to the ground swear­ing — but very soon he fell silent.”

“Why did no one stop him?” scolded Aunt Xue.

“That, Master Pan didn’t say and I dare not make anything up.

“You go and rest now.

“Yes, madam.”

When the page had gone Aunt Xue went to see Lady Wang, to enlist her husband’s help. Learning what had happened, he hedged. They must wait to see the magistrate’s response to Xue Pan’s petition, he said, before deciding on a course of action.

Aunt Xue sent the page back with more money from the pawnshop, and three days later received another letter. She sent to tell Baochai, who came at once and read it out as follows:

With the money you sent we have squared the yamen officers. Brother Pan is not being ill-treated in jail; don’t worry. Only the local people are cutting up rough. The dead man’s family and the witnesses are holding out, and even that friend invited by Brother Pan is taking their side.

I and Li Xiang are strangers here, but luckily we found a good pettifog­ger, and after his palm was greased he came up with a plan. He advised us to get hold of Wu Liang who was drinking with Brother Pan and bail him out, then offer him money to enlist his help. If he wouldn’t agree, we could say he was the one who killed Zhang San then laid the blame on an outsider. If that scared him, then it should be easy to handle.

I took his advice and got Wu Liang out; then we bribed the dead man’s relatives and the witnesses; and the day before yesterday I sent in an­other petition. Today the answer has come, and I enclose a copy for you to see.

Baochai next read out the petition:

Petitioner….

Petition on behalf of his brother, a victim of foul play who-has been unjustly accused.

My elder brother Xue Pan, a native of Nanjing now resident in the capital, set off on such and such a day to go south on business. A few days after he left home, a family servant brought the news that he had been in­volved in manslaughter. I came immediately to Your Honour’s county and learned that he had accidentally injured a man named Zhang. When I went to the jail, he told me with tears that this Zhang was a stranger to him and there had been no enmity between them. An accidental quarrel had broken out when my brother, asking for wine, spilt some on the ground. Zhang San happened to be stooping to pick something up, and my brother, whose hand slipped, struck the top of his head with the wine bowl and killed him. During interrogation, for fear of torture, he con­fessed that he had killed the man in a fight. But Your Honour, in your infinite goodness, realized that this could not have been the case and deferred giving a verdict. As my brother in jail is forbidden to send in a plea, on account of our close relationship I am venturing to intercede for him. I hope Your Honour will graciously permit another trial. This will be a great act of mercy, and my whole family will for ever remember your ineffable goodness. This is my earnest petition.

The magistrate’s rescript read:

Investigation at the scene of the crime uncovered definite proof; and your brother, without being tortured, confessed in writing to killing a man in a brawl. Coming from far away and not being an eye-witness, how can you trump up a case? By law you should be punished, but in view of your brotherly concern I shall pardon you. Your petition is rejected.

“He’s done for, then!” exclaimed Aunt Xue. “What shall we do?”

“Wait till you hear the end of Brother Ke’s letter,” said Baochai, then read it out.

What really matters, the messenger can tell you.

Then Aunt Xue questioned the page.

“The magistrate knows that our family is well off, madam,” he said. “If we get help from people of consequence in the capital, then send him a handsome present, he can hold another trial and lighten the sentence. There’s no time to be lost. Any delay, and the master will suffer for it.”

Aunt Xue dismissed the page and went straight to the Jia Mansion to tell Lady Wang of this and appeal to her husband. Jia Zheng agreed only to send someone to speak to the magistrate — not to send him a bribe. And doubting the use of this, Aunt Xue prevailed on Xifeng to send Jia Lian with several thousand taels to buy off the magistrate, while Xue Ke at the same time squared the others involved.

Then the magistrate held a fresh trial, to which he summoned the local bailiff, witnesses and dead man’s relatives as well as Xue Pan, who was fetched from the jail. When the secretaries of the criminal department had checked the roll of names, the magistrate ordered the bailiff to iden­tify the original deposition, then called forward the dead man’s mother Mrs. Zhang and his uncle Zhang Er for questioning.

Mrs. Zhang, weeping, testified, “My husband, Zhang Da, lived in the southern suburbs and died eighteen years ago. My first and second sons died too, leaving me only Zhang San — who has been killed. He was twenty-three this year and not yet married. Because our family is poor, with no means of livelihood, he worked as a waiter in Li Family Inn. That afternoon, they sent from the inn to tell me he had been killed. I was frightened to death, Your Honour! I rushed there and saw him lying on the ground, at his last gasp, bleeding from a gash on his head. When I called him he could not answer, and soon he died. I must have it out with that young devil!“

The runners raised an intimidating shout.

Then she kowtowed, pleading, “Your Honour, avenge me! He was the only son I had left.”

The magistrate waved her aside and called for the inn-keeper.

“Was Zhang San a workman in your inn?” he asked.

“Not a workman but a waiter,” Li Er replied.

“At the autopsy, you said that Xue Pan killed Zhang San with a bowl. Did you see him do it?”

“I was serving at the bar. I heard a customer call for wine, and soon after that someone cried, ‘Confound it! He’s knocked out!’ I ran there and saw Zhang San flat on the ground, unable to speak. I lost no time in summoning the bailiff and sent word to Zhang’s mother too. But as to how the fight started, I really have no idea. The man who was drinking with him must know that, Your Honour.”

“In your testimony at the first trial you said you witnessed the fight,” said the magistrate sternly. “How is it you’re now retracting?”

“The funk that I was in made me muddle things up.”

Once more the runners raised a warning shout.

Next the magistrate asked Wu Liang, “You were drinking with Xue Pan, weren’t you? How did he come to strike the waiter? Out with the truth!”

“I was at home that day when this Mr. Xue asked me out to drink with him. Not liking the wine he called for a different kind; and when Zhang San refused to fetch it, he flared up. He dashed the wine over the waiter’s face, and somehow or other the bowl struck his head. This I saw with my own eyes.

“Rubbish! At the autopsy, Xue Pan admitted to killing him with the bowl, and you confirmed that. Why are you eating your words now? Slap twenty-three this year and not yet married. Because our family is poor, with no means of livelihood, he worked as a waiter in Li Family Inn. That afternoon, they sent from the inn to tell me he had been killed. I was frightened to death, Your Honour! I rushed there and saw him lying on the ground, at his last gasp, bleeding from a gash on his head. When I called him he could not answer, and soon he died. I must have it out with that young devil!”

The runners raised an intimidating shout.

Then she kowtowed, pleading, “Your Honour, avenge me! He was the only son I had left.”

The magistrate waved her aside and called for the inn-keeper.

“Was Zhang San a workman in your inn?” he asked.

“Not a workman but a waiter,” Li Er replied.

“At the autopsy, you said that Xue Pan killed Zhang San with a bowl. Did you see him do it?”

“I was serving at the bar. I heard a customer call for wine, and soon after that someone cried, ‘Confound it! He’s knocked out!’ I ran there and saw Zhang San flat on the ground, unable to speak. I lost no time in summoning the bailiff and sent word to Zhang’s mother too. But as to how the fight started, I really have no idea. The man who was drinking with him must know that, Your Honour.”

“In your testimony at the first trial you said you witnessed the fight,” said the magistrate sternly. “How is it you’re now retracting?”

“The funk that I was in made me muddle things up.”

Once more the runners raised a warning shout.

Next the magistrate asked Wu Liang, “You were drinking with Xue Pan, weren’t you? How did he come to strike the waiter? Out with the truth!”

“I was at home that day when this Mr. Xue asked me out to drink with him. Not liking the wine he called for a different kind; and when Zhang San refused to fetch it, he flared up. He dashed the wine over the waiter’s face, and somehow or other the bowl struck his head. This I saw with my own eyes.

“Rubbish! At the autopsy, Xue Pan admitted to killing him with the bowl, and you confirmed that. Why are you eating your words now? Slap his face!”

With an answering shout the runners raised threatening hands.

“Xue Pan didn’t fight Zhang San — truly!” faltered Wu Liang. “His hand slipped — that’s how the wine bowl hit Zhang San’s head. Please have the goodness to ask Xue Pan, Your Honour!”

The magistrate summoned Xue Pan.

“What feud was there between you and Zhang San?” he demanded. “How did he die? Tell the truth!”

“Be merciful, Your Honour!” begged Xue Pan. “I truly never hit him. Because he wouldn’t bring us better wine, I was emptying my bowl on the ground when my hand slipped and the bowl smashed in his head. I tried to stem the bleeding, but couldn’t. Blood came pouring out, and presently he died. At the autopsy that day, for fear Your Honour would have me beaten, I said I’d struck him with the bowl. I beg Your Honour’s pardon.”

“You dolt!” bellowed the magistrate. “When first I asked why you struck him, you said you were angry because he wouldn’t fetch fresh wine. But now you say it was an accident!”

Glaring, he threatened to have him beaten and tortured. But Xue Pan stuck to his statement.

The magistrate ordered the coroner, “Give me an honest report of the wounds you recorded in the autopsy that day.”

“When I examined Zhang San’s corpse,” said the coroner, “the only wound on the body was one gash on the skull caused by a porcelain object. Half an inch deep and 1.7 inches long, it had broken the skin and fractured 0.3 inch of the parietal bone. This wound was undoubtedly caused by a blow.”

The magistrate checked this with the post-mortem record. Although knowing that the secretaries had altered this he did not dispute it but ordered them, hugger-mugger, to sign the new confession.

“Your Honour!” sobbed Mrs. Zhang. “Last time, I heard there were other wounds. How are there none today?”

“You are talking nonsense,” he fumed. “Here is the post-mortem record. Can’t you read?”

He then summoned the dead man’s uncle Zhang Er to ask him, “How many wounds were there on your nephew’s body?”

“One on the head,” replied Zhang Er hastily.

“Quite so,” said the magistrate.

He made a secretary show Mrs. Zhang the record, and told the bailiff and Zhang Er to point out the testimony of all the eye-witnesses that there had been no fight and that this was not murder but simply an acci­dent. Having made them append their signatures, he consigned Xue Pan to jail until further notice, ordered the bailiff to take the others away, and declared the court adjourned. When Mrs. Zhang wept and clamoured, he told runners to throw her out.

“It really was an accident,” Zhang Er assured her. “How can we hold him to blame? Now His Honour has decided the case, don’t make a scene.”

Xue Ke, outside, was pleased when he heard the upshot. He sent word home but stayed there himself, waiting to pay the plaintiffs com­pensation once the verdict was announced. Then he overheard several passers-by in the street saying that an Imperial Concubine had died, and the Emperor had suspended court for three days. As this place was not far from the Imperial Sepulchres, the local magistrate had to prepare for the funeral and would probably be occupied for some time. Xue Ke, knowing that waiting there would serve no purpose, went to see Xue Pan in prison.

“Just wait with an easy mind, cousin,” he urged him. “I’m going home but will be back before long.”

To allay his mother’s anxiety, Xue Pan gave him a note for her in which he had written:

I am all right now. After a few more payments to the yamen I’ll be able to return home. Don’t begrudge spending money!

Then, leaving Li Xiang to attend to things there, Xue Ke went home. When he saw Aunt Xue, he told her how the magistrate had been sub­orned and decided the case in their favour, returning a verdict of death by misadventure.

“After paying the dead man’s family more compensation, we should have no further trouble,” he concluded.

Aunt Xue said with relief, “I was hoping you’d come back to see to our family affairs. I ought to go to thank the Jia family. Besides, now that Imperial Concubine Zhou had died they have to go to court every day, leaving the house empty. I was thinking of going over to help see to things and keep your aunt company, but we have no one at home. You’ve come just at the right time.”

“It’s because I heard outside that Imperial Consort Jia had died that I hurried back. I did wonder, though, how that could be, as she had been in good health.”

“Last year she had one bout of illness, then recovered. This time we hadn’t heard that she was unwell, but we were told that for several days the old lady in the Jia Mansion had been poorly, and whenever she closed her eyes she saw Her Highness — that had everyone worried! Yet when they sent to make inquiries, it seemed nothing was amiss. Then three nights ago the old lady asked, ‘How could Her Highness come all by herself to see me?’ No one took her seriously, thinking this another hal­lucination brought on by illness. ‘You don’t believe me,’ she said, ‘but Yuanchun herself just told me: Prosperity and splendour soon run out; some way of escape must be found!’

“Still no one paid much attention, thinking it natural for an old soul of the worrying sort to have such notions. But the very next morning, word came from the Palace that the Imperial Consort was mortally ill and all ladies of rank were to go to pay their respects. That threw them into a fluster, and they hurried to the Palace. Before their return, though, word reached us here that it was Imperial Concubine Zhou who died. Just fancy, isn’t it remarkable the way these rumours outside and our suspi­cions at home coincided!”

Baochai put in, “It wasn’t just the rumours outside that misled us, but the mere words ‘Her Highness’ set her family in a tizzy, and only after­wards did they find out the truth. The last couple of days their maids have come and told us that they knew earlier on it couldn’t be their Royal Highness.

“How can you be sure?’ I asked.

“The answer was, ‘A few years ago at New Year, someone in the provinces introduced to us a fortune-teller, said to be infallible. The old lady told us to put Her Highness’ horoscope in with the maids’ for him to work out.

“He said, ‘There must be some mistake in the hour of birth of that girl born on the first of the first month. Otherwise, she must be of high degree — she couldn’t be in this house.’

“Lord Zheng said, ‘Never mind whether there’s a mistake or not. Just predict her fortune.’

“‘She was born in the year Jiashen, the month bin gym,’ he said. ‘Three of these characters signify ‘demotion’ and ‘bankruptcy.’ Only shen augurs well for officialdom and wealth; still that doesn’t hold good for a girl who has to leave home. The day of her birth is yimao. In early spring the ‘wood’ element is in the ascendant. Although the two signs clash, the bigger the clash the better, just as in the case of good wood — the more you polish it, the greater its value. But most auspicious of all is the hour sign xinshi, xin meaning precious as gold, shi high rank and wealth. Combined, they make up the ‘winged horse’ sign, and the day in this combination is so exceptionally auspicious that she should soar up like the moon in the sky and rank high in the Emperor’s favour. If the hour of her birth is correct, she must be a sovereign lady.’

“‘Wasn’t that an accurate forecast?’ said the maids. ‘We also re­member his saying that unluckily her splendour would be short-lived. If a mao month happened to fall in a yin year, there would be a double clash and that would undermine her strength, just as in the case of good wood if it’s carved too intricately. They forgot all those predictions and got worked up over nothing. But we remembered the other day and told our mistress. This isn’t the yin year nor the mao month, is it?”’

Before Baochai could finish, Xue Ke said excitedly, “Never mind about other people. If you know of such a miraculous fortune-teller, quickly give me Xue Pan’s horoscope — I’m sure he’s under some evil star this year to have such a bad stroke of luck — and I’ll get him to work out what’s going to happen.”

“That man came from the provinces,” said Baochai. “We don’t know whether he’s still in the capital this year or not.”

Baochai then helped her mother get ready to go to the Jia Mansion. At the time of Aunt Xue’s arrival, the only ones of the family at home were Li Wan, Tanchun and Xichun, who asked her about Xue Pan’s case.

“It won’t be settled till the court has reported it to the higher-ups,” Aunt Xue told them. “But it looks as if it won’t be too serious.”

They were relieved to hear this.

Tanchun remarked, “Yesterday evening Her Ladyship, thinking back, said, ‘Last time we had trouble at home, Aunt Xue rallied round. But now, with troubles of our own, we’re in no position to help her.’ This has been preying on her mind.”

“I’ve been feeling bad myself,” answered Aunt Xue. “But with your Cousin Pan in this fix and your Cousin Ke away to sort things out, there was only Baochai at home — and what could she do? I couldn’t leave her before, especially not with my daughter-in-law so senseless. At present the magistrate there is so busy preparing the funeral of Imperial Concu­bine Zhou, he has no time to wind up Pan’s case. So your Cousin Ke has come back, making it possible for me to come over.

“Won’t you stay here for a few days, aunt?” urged Li Wan.

“I’d like to stay and keep you company for a bit.” Aunt Xue nodded. “But that would be rather lonely for Baochai.”

“If that’s what worries you, aunty, why not bring her over too?” suggested Xichun.

Aunt Xue smiled.

“No, that wouldn’t do.”

“Why not?” asked Xichun. “Didn’t she stay here before?”

“You don’t understand,” put in Li Wan. “She has work to do at home. How could she come?”

Xichun, thinking this the truth, did not press the point.

As they were chatting, the Lady Dowager’s party returned.

At sight of Aunt Xue, without stopping to exchange greetings, they asked her for news of Xue Pan, which she gave them in full. When she described his encounter with Jiang Yuhan, Baoyu — though he could not ask in front of the rest — knew that this was his friend the actor. He wondered, “If he’s back in the capital, why hasn’t he come to see me?” Baochai’s absence puzzled him too, and he remained lost in thought till Daiyu’s arrival cheered him up and stopped him thinking about her. He and the girls stayed to dine with the old lady, after which they dispersed, Aunt Xue staying on to sleep in the old lady’s annex.

Once home again, Baoyu was changing his clothes when he remem­bered the sash given him by Jiang Yuhan.

He asked Xiren, “Do you still have that red sash which you refused to wear the other year?”

“I put it away,” she said. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, for no special reason.

“Didn’t you hear how Master Pan got charged with murder through mixing with such riffraff? Why bring that up again? You’d better study quietly and forget about such trifles, instead of worrying your head over nothing.”

“I’m not doing anything wrong, am I?” lie demanded. “It just hap­pened to cross my mind. What does it matter whether you have it or not? I ask one little question, and listen to the way you run on!”

“I didn’t mean to nag.” She smiled. “But someone who studies the classics and knows the rules of propriety ought to aim high. Then, when the one you love comes, she’ll be pleased and respect you.

This reminded Baoyu of something.

“Botheration!” he exclaimed. “There was such a crowd with the old lady just now that I wasn’t able to talk with Cousin Lin. She paid me no attention either. By the time I left, she’d already gone. She must be in her place now. I’ll drop in to see her.” With that he started out.

“Don’t be too long,” said Xiren. “I shouldn’t have said that, getting you all worked up.

Baoyu made no reply but went off with lowered head to Bamboo Lodge where Daiyu, bending over her desk, was reading. He approached her with a smile.

“Have you been back long?”

“You cut me, so why should I stay there?” She asked archly.

“There were so many people talking, I couldn’t get a word in. That’s why I didn’t speak to you.”

He had been eyeing Daiyu’s book, but could not recognize the char­acters in it. Some looked familiar, others were combinations of various radicals and numerals.

In puzzled surprise he observed, “You’re getting more erudite, cousin, all the time, reading something so esoteric!” Daiyu burst out laughing.

“What a scholar!” she teased. “Have you never seen a lute score before?”

“Of course I have. But how come I don’t know any of those charac­ters there? Do you understand them, cousin?”

“Would I read it if I didn’t?”

“I don’t believe you. I’ve never seen you playing a lute. We have several hanging in our study. The other year a scholar called, Ji Haogu I think his name was. My father asked him to play, but when he took the lutes down he said none of them was any good and proposed, ‘If you like, sir, I’ll bring my own lute some day to play for you. ‘But he never turned up again, probably because my father’s no connoisseur. Why have you been hiding this accomplishment from me?”

“I’m no good at it really,” she said. “The other day, feeling a bit better, I rummaged through the books on the big bookcase and found a set of lute scores which looked intriguing. It gives a lucid account of musical theory and clear instructions for playing. Luting was truly an art the men of old cultivated to achieve tranquility and integrity. In Yangzhou, I heard it explained and learned to play, but then I gave up and that was the end of that. As the saying goes, ‘Three days without playing, and fingers become thumbs.

“The other day when I read those scores, there were no words to the music, only titles. Then I found a score somewhere else with words set to the music, which made it more interesting. It’s really hard to play well. We read that when the musician Kuang played the lute, he could summon up wind and thunder, dragons and phoenixes. Even the sage Confucius learned from the musician Xiang, and as soon as he played a piece he realized that this was King Wen’s music. Then there was the musician who, playing of mountains and streams, met a man of true understand­ing…” Here her eyelashes fluttered and, slowly, she lowered her head.

By now Baoyu’s enthusiasm was aroused.

“Dear cousin, how fascinating you make it sound!” he exclaimed. “But I can’t read any of those characters. Won’t you teach me a few of them.”

“You don’t have to be taught. Once I explain, you’ll catch on.”

“I’m a stupid fellow, so tell me what that character like ‘big’ (大) with a hook to it means, and the one that has a ‘five’ in it.”

Daiyu rejoined gaily, “the one made up of ‘big’ and ‘nine’ means that you must thumb the ninth note of the lute. The hook combined with ‘five’ means that you must pluck the fifth string with your right hand. They’re not characters actually but musical signs, which are very easy to follow. Then there are various methods of fingering: Whirring, strok­ing, plucking, damping, tapping, sliding, gliding, pushing and so forth.”

Baoyu was delighted.

“Good cousin, since you understand all about it, why don’t we learn to play the lute?” he proposed.

“No,” she said. “The men of old made music to induce self-restraint, curb passion, and suppress licence and extravagance. So anyone want­ing to play the lute should choose some quiet, lofty studio either in some attic among forests and rocks, or on the summit of a hill or the bank of a stream. A fine, mild day should be chosen too, with a cool breeze and bright moon. Then one should burn incense and sit quietly, one’s mind a blank, one’s breathing regular, to become one with the spirit world and the Way. This is why the ancients said ‘Hard to meet one who under­stands music’. When there are no understanding listeners, one should play to the cool breeze and bright moon, green pines and rugged rocks, wild monkeys and hoary cranes, conveying one’s emotions in solitude so as not to do injustice to the lute.

“Then again, good fingering and execution are needed. Before play­ing one must dress fittingly in a loose cape or long robe like the men of old, to be worthy of this instrument of the sage’s. This done, the hands should be washed, incense lit, and the lutist should sit lightly on the couch with the lute on his desk, its fifth note facing his heart. Only then, when mind and body are well-regulated, can the two hands be raised slowly. And whether soft or loud, fast or slow, the playing must be natural and dignified.”

“We’re only learning for fun!” exclaimed Baoyu. “If you’re so par­ticular, it’ll be too hard.”

While they were talking Zijuan had come in. She smiled at the sight of Baoyu.

“So you’re in good spirits today, Master Bao!” she remarked.

“My cousin’s conversation is so illuminating, I could never tire of listening,” he told her.

“That’s not what I meant,” said the maid. “You must have been in good spirits today to come here.”

“While she was unwell, I was afraid to disturb her; besides, I had to go to school. That’s why I gave the impression of keeping away….

“Miss Lin’s only just better,” Zijuan interrupted. “As you know that, Master Bao, you should let her rest now and not wear her out.”

“I was so intent on listening, I forgot that she might be tired.”

“It’s not tiring but fun to discuss such things,” said Daiyu with a smile. “I’m only afraid you may not understand.”

“Well, anyway, I’ll get it clear gradually.” With that he stood up say­ing, “Really you’d better rest now. Tomorrow I’ll ask Tanchun and Xichun to learn to play the lute for me too.”

“You’re too spoilt!” chuckled Daiyu. “If we all learn to play but you don’t understand, won’t that be a case of playing a lute to an….”1 Here she recollected herself and broke off.

“So long as you can play, I’ll be only too glad to listen,” said Baoyu cheerfully. “I don’t care if you think me an ox.”

Daiyu blushed and smiled while Zijuan and Xueyan laughed.

Baoyu was on his way out when along came Qiuwen with a younger maid carrying a small pot of orchids.

“Someone sent four pots of orchids to Her Ladyship.” she announced. “They’re too busy to enjoy them, so Her Ladyship told us to take one pot to Master Bao, one to Miss Lin.”

Daiyu saw that a few sprays had double blooms. The sight stirred her, but whether with joy or with grief she did not know as she stared at them blankly. Baoyu’s mind, however, was still set on the lute.

“Now that you have these orchids, cousin,” he said, “you can play that tune The Orchid.”2

This remark upset Daiyu. Going back to her room she gazed at the orchids, reflecting, “In spring, plants put out fresh blooms and luxuriant leaves. I’m still young, yet already I’m like a plant in late autumn. If my wish comes true, I may gradually grow stronger. If not, I fear I’ll be like a fading flower — how can I stand buffeting by rain and wind?” She could not hold back her tears.

Zijuan seeing this could not understand the reason. She thought, “Just now with Baoyu here she was so happy. Why has looking at orchids made her sad again?”

She was anxiously wondering how to comfort her mistress when a maid arrived with a message from Baochai. To know what it was, read on.

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