A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 95

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Chapter 95

A Rumour Comes True and the Imperial

Consort Yuanchun Dies

A Fraud Is Perpetrated After Baoyu

Loses His Mind

After hearing from Beiming that the jade had been found, the young maid hurried in to report this to Baoyu. The others all urged him to go out to question his page, and stepped into the corridor themselves to listen. Feeling reassured, Baoyu went to the door and asked:

“Where did you find it? Bring it here at once.”

“I can’t do that,” said Beiming, “till we’ve found a guarantor.”

“Tell me where it is then, and I’ll send someone to get it.”

“When I learned outside that Mr. Lin was going to consult a fortune­teller, I followed him. Then, hearing that it could be found in a pawnshop, without waiting for him to finish I rushed over to several pawnshops and gave them a description of the jade, and one shop said they’d got it. When I asked for it, though, they wanted the pawn-ticket. ‘How much was it hocked for?’ I asked. They said, ‘We give from three hundred to five hundred cash. The other day someone brought in a jade like that and pawned it for three hundred. Today another man came with a piece and pawned it for five hundred.”’

Baoyu cut him short with the order, “Go at once, taking money to redeem both; then we’ll see whether one is the right piece or not.”

“Don’t listen to him, Master Bao!” scoffed Xiren from inside. “When I was small my brother often told me that hawkers of small pieces of jade pawn them when they need cash. Every single pawnshop must have some.”

The others had been surprised by Beiming’s report. Now, thinking over Xiren’s comment, they laughed.

“Tell Master Bao to come in,” they cried. “Pay no attention to that simpleton. The jade he’s talking about can’t be the right one.”

Baoyu was laughing too when Xiuyan came back.

Now Xiuyan on reaching Green Lattice Nunnery, as soon as she saw Miaoyu had asked her — without any preliminaries to consult an oracle for them by writing on sand. Miaoyu laughed disdainfully.

“I’ve treated you as my friend,” she said, “because you’re not one of the vulgar herd. Why trouble me like this today on the base of some rumour? Besides, I know nothing about ‘writing on sand.”’ And this said, she ignored her.

Knowing the young nun’s temperament, Xiuyan regretted having come. Still she reflected, “After telling the others, I can hardly go back empty-handed.” Since she could not very well argue with Miaoyu and affirm that she could use a planchette, she explained to her with a conciliatory smile that the lives of Xiren and the other maids depended on this. When she saw her wavering, she got up and curtseyed to her several times.

Miaoyu sighed, “Why should you put yourself out for others? No one’s known, since I came to the capital, that I can consult oracles. If I make an exception for you today, I’m afraid I shall have a lot of trouble in future.”

“I couldn’t help blurting it out, counting on your kindness,” said Xiuyan. “If you’re pestered in future, it’s up to you whether you agree or not who’d dare to force you?”

Miaoyu smiled and told the old deaconess to burn some incense, then from her case she took out a sand-board and stand and wrote an incanta­tion. Xiuyan, after bowing and praying on her instructions, got up to help hold the planchette. Presently the wand wrote swiftly:

Ah! Come and gone without a trace

By the ancient pine at the foot of Blue Ridge Peak.

To seek it, cross myriads of mountains:

Entering my gate with a smile you will meet again.

This written, the wand stopped.

“Which deity did you invoke?” Xiuyan asked.

“Saint Li the Cripple.”

Xiuyan wrote down the oracle, then begged Miaoyu to explain it.

“I can’t,” was the answer. “I don’t understand it myself. Hurry up and take it back. You have plenty of clever people over there.”

Xiuyan went back, and as soon as she entered the courtyard the oth­ers all wanted to know how she had fared. Without giving them the de­tails, she handed Li Wan the oracle she had transcribed. The girls and Baoyu crowded round to read it and took it to mean that the jade could not be found quickly, but it would turn up some time when they were not looking.

“But where is this Blue Ridge Peak?” they asked.

“That must be some divine riddle,” said Li Wan. “We’ve no such peak here, have we? I expect the thief has thrown it under some rockery with pine trees on it, for fear of detection. But it says ‘entering my gate’— whose gate would that be?”

Daiyu remarked, “I wonder whom she invoked.”

“Saint Li the Cripple,” Xiuyan told her.

“If it’s an immortal’s gate, that won’t be easy to enter!” exclaimed Tanchun.

Xiren hunted frantically round, clutching at shadows and searching under each rock, but there was no trace of the jade. When she came back, Baoyu smiled foolishly instead of asking whether she had found it.

“Little Ancestor!” cried Sheyue in desperation. “Where exactly did you lose it? If you tell us, even if we suffer for it, we shall have something to go on.”

“When I said I lost it outside, you wouldn’t have it,” he reminded her. “Now how can I answer your question?”

Li Wan and Tanchun interposed, “We’ve been in a flurry ever since this morning, and now it’s nearly midnight. Look, Cousin Lin’s already left — she couldn’t last out any longer. We ought to get some rest too: we’ll have our hands full tomorrow.”

They all dispersed then, and Baoyu went to bed. But poor Xiren and the other maids wept and racked their brains all night, unable to sleep.

When Daiyu, having gone home first, recalled all the earlier talk about gold and jade she told herself with inward satisfaction, “Monks and priests can’t be believed, and that’s a fact. If a match between the gold and the jade was predestined, how could Baoyu lose the jade? Maybe it’s be­cause of me that this match between gold and jade has been broken up. Consoled by these reflections, she forgot the fatigues of the day and started reading again, till Zijuan who was worn out urged her to sleep. But although she lay down her thoughts turned to the crab-apple trees. “He was born with that jade; it’s no ordinary stone,” she mused. “So its disappearance must have some significance. If the blossoming of the crab-apples was a good omen, he shouldn’t have lost the jade. It looks as if the blossoming was an ill omen and he’s in for a spell of bad luck.” Her spirits sank again till she thought of her marriage, when it seemed right for the trees to have blossomed and for the jade to be lost. In this way, sad and happy by turns, she did not fall asleep till dawn.

Early the next day, Lady Wang sent to make inquiries at various pawn­shops, and Xifeng also had a search made in secret. This went on for several days, but to no effect. Luckily the old lady and Jia Zheng did not know this. Xiren and the other maids were on tenterhooks every day, while Baoyu stayed away from school looking dazed and dejected, say­ing not a word. However, his mother did not take this to heart, attributing it to the loss of his jade.

She was brooding one day when, abruptly, Jia Lian came in to pay his respects.

Beaming, he announced, “I’ve just heard that Yucun has sent word to the Second Master that your honourable brother has been promoted to the post of Grand Secretary and summoned to the capital. His appoint­ment is to be proclaimed on the twentieth of the first month next year, and a dispatch has been sent to his post three hundred ii away. I expect he’s on his way now, travelling day and night, and will be here in little more than a fortnight. So I’ve come specially to report this to you, madam.

Lady Wang was overjoyed. She had been regretting that so few of her family were left and Aunt Xue’s family had declined, while her brother serving in the provinces could not look after them. His return to the capi­tal now as Grand Secretary would exalt the Wang family and give Baoyu someone to rely on in future. She stopped worrying so much about the loss of the jade, looking forward every day to her brother’s arrival.

Then one day ha Zheng burst in, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Quick!” he panted, “Go and ask the old lady to go at once to the Palace! You can escort her there — no need for too many people. Her Highness has suddenly fallen ill. A eunuch is waiting outside. According to him, the Imperial physicians say she’s had a stroke and there’s no hope!”

Lady Wang at once gave way to a storm of weeping.

“This is no time for crying,” he interposed. “Hurry up and fetch the old lady. But break it to her gently. Don’t frighten the old soul.” He then left to tell the servants to make preparations.

His wife, holding back her tears, went to tell the Lady Dowager that Yuanchun was ill and they were to call to pay their respects to her.

Invoking Buddha the old lady exclaimed, “Is she unwell again? Last time I had a bad fright till we heard it was just a rumour. Let’s hope this proves to be a false report too.”

Lady Wang concurred and urged Yuanyang and others to open the chests at once and get out the old lady’s ceremonial costume. She then hurried back to her room to change herself before returning to wait on the old lady. Presently they went out and were carried by sedan-chairs to the Palace.

Now Yuanchun, highly favoured by the sagacious sovereign since her installation as Imperial Concubine in Phoenix Palace, had grown too plump to exert herself — the least fatigue made her liable to apoplexy. A few days before this, on her way back from waiting on the Emperor at a feast, she had caught a chill which had brought on her former trouble. And this time it was serious: phlegm blocked her wind-pipe, her limbs were numb and c-old. This was reported to the Emperor, and Imperial physicians were summoned. However, she was unable to take any medi­cine, nor could they clear up the congestion. In their anxiety the Palace officials asked permission to prepare for her death, which was why the Lady Dowager had been sent for.

Entering the Palace in response to the Imperial summons, she and Lady Wang found Yuanchun unable to speak. At sight of her grand­mother she showed signs of distress but had no tears to shed, while the old lady stepped forward to pay her respects and offer condolences. Soon the cards of Jia Zheng and the rest were sent in and presented by maids-in-waiting; but Yuanchun’s sight had failed and the colour was slowly ebbing from her face. The Palace officials and eunuchs had to report this to the Emperor and, anticipating that other Imperial concu­bines would be sent to see her, in which case it would not be fitting for her relatives to remain there, they asked them to wait outside. The old lady and Lady Wang could hardly bear to leave, but they had to conform to court etiquette and withdraw with aching hearts, not even daring to weep.

News was sent to the officials at the Palace gate, and presently a eunuch came out to summon the Imperial Astrologer. The old lady knew what this foreboded, but did not venture to move. Very soon a younger eunuch came out to announce:

“The Imperial Consort Jia has passed away.”

As the Beginning of Spring fell on the eighteenth of the twelfth lunar month that year, and Yuanchun had died on the nineteenth, it was already the first solar month of the next year and so her age was reckoned as forty-three.

Nursing her grief, the old lady rose to leave the Palace and go home by sedan-chair. Jia Zheng and the others, having also received the news, made their way sadly back. When they reached home, Lady Xing, Li Wan, Xifeng, Baoyu and the rest were ranged on both sides in front of the hall to meet them. After paying their respects to the Lady Dowager, then to ha Zheng and Lady Wang, they all gave way to weeping.

Early the next day, those with official titles went to the Palace to mourn beside the coffin as etiquette prescribed. As Jia Zheng was a vice-minister of works, though there were rules concerning the construc­tion of an Imperial consort’s tomb, the minister had to consult him more specially regarding the building of this one, while his colleagues also called to ask for his instructions. This kept him doubly busy both at home and in the ministry, more so than after the deaths of the Empress Dowager and the Imperial Consort Zhou some time ago. Because Yuanchun had borne no son, her posthumous title was Virtuous and Noble Imperial Concubine, according to the rules of the Imperial House. But no more of this.

The whole ha family, men and women alike, were kept very busy going each day to the Palace. It was fortunate that Xifeng’s health had recently improved, as she now had to see to household affairs besides preparing to welcome and congratulate Wang Ziteng on his return. When her brother Wang Ren heard that their uncle was joining the Grand Sec­retariat, he also came with his wife to the capital. Xifeng was delighted, these relatives’ arrival allaying some of her anxieties and contributing to her further recovery. And now that she was running the household again, Lady Wang’s burden was considerably lightened, while her brother’s impending arrival helped to set her mind at rest too,

As Baoyu had no official duties and had given up studying, his tutor leaving him to his own devices in view of their family’s trouble; and as ha Zheng was too busy to check up on him, he would normally have taken this chance to amuse himself with his girl cousins every day. How­ever, since the loss of his jade he had grown thoroughly listless and talked nonsense. When told that the old lady was back and he should go to pay his respects, he went: if not prompted, he made no move. Xiren and his other maids felt deep misgivings yet dared not take him to task for fear of his anger. When his meals were set before him he would eat; otherwise he never asked for anything. Xiren, suspecting that he was not sulking but ill, made time one day to slip over to Bamboo Lodge and describe his condition to Zijuan.

“Do ask your young lady to come and talk some sense into him,” she begged.

However, when this message was passed on to Daiyu, she was reluc­tant to call on Baoyu in the belief that the two of them were to marry. “If he came here I couldn’t ignore him,” she thought, “as we were together as children. But it would be quite wrong for me to seek him out.” She therefore refused to go.

Then Xiren confided in Tanchun. But the unseasonable blossoming of the crab-apples and even stranger disappearance of the precious jade, followed by the death of Yuanchun, had convinced Tanchun that their family was ill-fated. She had been worrying for days and was in no mood to go to admonish Baoyu. Besides, girls were supposed to keep a re­spectful distance from their brothers; and when once or twice she did call, his apathy discouraged her from paying him any more visits.

Baochai had also heard of the loss of the jade. However, the day that Aunt Xue went home having agreed to a match between her and Baoyu she told her daughter, “Though your aunt has proposed it I’ve not yet given my consent, telling her we’d decide after your brother’s return. But are you willing or not?”

Baochai had answered gravely, “You shouldn’t ask me that, mother. A girl’s marriage is arranged by her parents. As father is dead the decision’s up to you, or you can consult Brother Pan; but you -shouldn’t ask me.

This only increased her mother’s regard for her, for Baochai although much indulged since childhood had always been a paragon of virtue. From then on Aunt Xue never mentioned Baoyu in her presence; and Baochai naturally made a point of never breathing his name. So now though shocked and disturbed by the loss of the jade she made no inquiries about it, simply listening to what others said on the subject as if this did not concern her.

Aunt Xue sent maids several times to ask for news. But worried as she was by the charge against her son Pan and eager for her brother’s arrival to help clear him; knowing, too, that although Yuanchun’s death had thrown the Jia family into confusion Xifeng was now well enough to run the household, she seldom went over herself. This left Xiren to bear the brunt. She waited assiduously on Baoyu and tried to advise and con­sole him, but still his wits wandered. Yet she had to keep her anxiety to herself.

Shortly afterwards, Yuanchun’s coffin was deposited in one of the rear temples in the Imperial Sepulchre, and while the old lady and others were away attending the funeral Baoyu grew more deranged from day to day. -He had no fever or pain but could neither eat nor sleep properly and even grew incoherent in his speech. Xiren and Sheyue in their alarm reported this more than once to Xifeng, who came over from time to time. At first she thought he was sulking because the jade had not been found; then she realized that he was losing his mind and had doctors fetched to attend him every day. Although they prescribed various medi­cines, his condition only grew worse. Asked whether he felt any pain, he would not answer.

After Yuanchun’s funeral was over, the old lady who had been con­cerned about Baoyu came to the Garden with Lady Wang to see him. Xiren and the others told him to go out to meet them and pay his respects, for though deranged he could still get about as usual. Now he paid his respects to his grandmother as before, except that Xiren was beside him to prompt him.

“I thought you were ill, child,” the old lady exclaimed. “That’s why I came to see you. How relieved I am to find you looking all right.”

Lady Wang felt reassured too. However, Baoyu made no answer apart from tittering. Once seated inside, they questioned him and Xiren had to prompt him each time with an answer. He seemed completely changed too, behaving like a moron. The old lady’s misgivings increased.

“At first sight I saw nothing wrong,” she said. “But now that I look at him carefully, this illness seems serious — the boy’s lost his mind! How ever did this happen?”

Realizing that the truth could no longer be concealed and pitying Xiren in this predicament, Lady Wang whispered to her Baoyu’s story about losing the jade when he went to hear the opera in the duke’s mansion.

“We’ve sent to search for it everywhere,” she added distractedly, hoping to stop the old lady from worrying. “We’ve consulted oracles too, and they all say we shall find it in a pawnshop. So we shall get it back.”

At this the Lady Dowager rose frantically to her feet, tears streaming down her face.

“How could you lose that jade!” she exclaimed. “You really are too careless! Does the master also leave it at that?”

Seeing how angry she was, Lady Wang told -the maids to kneel down. Then, her head bowed, she answered humbly, “For fear of worrying you, madam, and making the master angry, I dared not report it.”

“This jade is the root of Baoyu’s life,” sighed -the old lady. “It’s because he’s lost it that he’s out of his mind. This will never do! The whole city knows of this jade, so if someone picked it up do you expect him to let you have it back? Send for the master at once and I’ll tell him this.”

Lady Wang and the maids pleaded in consternation, “If you are so angry, madam, think what a rage the master will be in! Now that Baoyu’s ill, just-leave it to-us to do our very best to find it.”

“Don’t be afraid of the master. I’ll handle him.” The old lady or­dered Sheyue to send to fetch him. Presently it was reported that he was out paying a call.

“We can do without him then,” she said. “Say these are my instruc­tions. For the time being there’s no need to punish the maids. I’ll get Jia Lian to write an announcement to hang up by the road Baoyu took that day, offering a reward of ten thousand taels to anyone who picked up the jade and returns it, and five thousand to anyone who tells us who has it so that we can get it back. Provided it can be found, we won’t stint our silver. In this way we’re sure to recover it. If we leave it to a few of our household to search, they could search their whole lives long without finding it.”

Lady Wang dared raise no objection. The old lady had these direc­tions sent to Jia Lian with instructions to see to -this quickly.

Next she ordered, “Move all the things Baoyu uses every day to my apartments. Xiren and Qiuwen are to come over with him, leaving the other maids there in the Garden to keep an eye on his rooms.

All this time Baoyu had said nothing, just grinning foolishly. The Lady Dowager rose then, taking his hand, and Xiren and others helped them out of the Garden. Back in her own quarters, the old lady made Lady Wang sit down to supervise the rooms’ arrangement.

“Do you know what I have in mind?” she asked. “It seems to me there are too few people in the Garden, and those trees in Happy Red Court have withered and blossomed suddenly in a strange way. He used to have this jade to ward off evil spirits; now that he’s lost it I’m afraid he may succumb to some evil influence. That’s why I’ve brought him here to stay with me. We won’t let him out for a few days. The doctors can come here to see him.”

“Of course you’re right, madam,” answered Lady Wang. “Living with you, such a favourite of fortune, he can’t come to any harm.”

“Who’s a favourite of fortune? But my rooms are cleaner, and we’ve plenty of Buddhist scriptures which we can read to calm him. Ask Baoyu if he likes being here or not.”

But Baoyu only grinned. Not until prompted by Xiren did he say “Yes.”

Seeing this Lady Wang shed tears but could not sob aloud before the old lady.

Understanding her anxiety the latter said, “You go back now. I’ll take care of him. When the master gets back this evening tell him he needn’t come here. Just be sure not to complain about this.”

After Lady Wang had gone, the old lady made Yuanyang get out some tranquillizing medicines and give them to Baoyu according to the pre­scription. But no more of this.

That evening Jia Zheng was coming home by carriage when he heard some passers-by talking.

“If anyone wants to make a pile, it’s easy!” said one.

“How?” his companion asked.

“I heard today that some young master in the Rong Mansion has lost a piece of jade, and a notice has been posted up describing its size, shape and colour. Ten thousand taels reward has been offered for its return, and five thousand for news of its whereabouts.”

Though Jia Zheng had not caught every word distinctly, he had heard enough to hurry home in amazement.

The gateman when questioned reported, “The first 1 heard of this, sir, was at noon today when Master Lian passed on the old lady’s order and sent people to post up a notice.”

“Our family must be on the decline!” Jia Zheng sighed. “For our sins we’ve been saddled with this degenerate. At the time of his birth he was the talk of the town, but after ten years and more the gossip died down. Now we’re raising this hue and cry again to find his jade — preposter­ous!”

He hurried inside to question Lady Wang, who told him the whole story. As this had been done on his mother’s instructions, Jia Zheng could not oppose it. He just vented his anger briefly on his wife before going out again to order the notice to be taken down without the old lady’s knowledge. However, some idlers had already -made off with it.

A few days later, a man came to the Rong Mansion claiming to have brought back the jade.

In great jubilation the servants at the gate said, “Hand it over and we’ll go and report it for you.”

The fellow reached in his pocket for the notice, pointing at it for them to see.

“Wasn’t this put up by your house?” he asked. “It says clearly here that whoever returns the jade will get a reward of ten thousand silver taels. I may look poor now to you gentlemen, but once I have that silver I shall be rich; so don’t be so high-handed!”

He spoke with such confidence that the gateman answered, “Well then, just show me the jade so that I can report this for you.”

At first the man was unwilling, but on second thoughts he produced the jade and displayed it in the palm of-one hand.

“Isn’t this it?” he demanded.

These servants on duty at the gate all knew of the jade, but this was their first close look at it. They hurried in, eager to be the first with this good news. That day Jia Zheng and Jia She were out. Only Jia Lian was at home.

Hearing this report, he asked, “Is it genuine?”

“We’ve seen it for-ourselves,” the servants answered. “-But he won’t give it to us underlings. He wants to see one of the masters, to hand over the jade to him in exchange for the money.

Jia Lian hastened in happily to report this to Lady Wang who then told the old lady, so delighting Xiren that she clasped her hands together, in­voking Buddha. And the Lady Dowager was as good as her word.

“Tell Lian to ask that man to wait in the study while he brings the jade here,” she said. “Once we’ve seen it we’ll give him the silver.”

Jia Lian accordingly invited the fellow in, treating him as a guest and thanking him profusely.

‘‘I would like to take this jade in to show the young master himself,” he said. “Then we’ll give you your full reward.”

The man handed him a red silk wrapper. Jia Lian opened it and saw indeed a fine translucent jade. He had paid scant attention to Baoyu’s jade before and now took a good look, a careful scrutiny disclosing the inscription “warding off evil.” Overjoyed, he ordered servants to wait on the visitor, then hurried in to let the old lady and Lady Wang identify the stone.

By now everyone was agog to see the jade. As soon as Jia Lian came in Xifeng snatched it from him and, not venturing to examine it herself, presented it to the old lady.

Jia Lian chuckled, “So even over a trifle like this, you won’t let me take the credit!”

When the Lady Dowager unwrapped the jade, it struck her as much more opaque than before. She rubbed it with her fingers while Yuanyang fetched her spectacles and, putting them on, she scruti­nized the stone.

“That’s odd!” she exclaimed. “This is the jade all right, but how is it that it’s lost all its former lustre?”

Lady Wang examined it for some time but could not give a positive opinion. She told Xifeng to have a look.

“It resembles it, but the colour’s not quite right,” Xifeng observed. “Better let Baoyu look at it himself, then we shall know.”

Xiren beside her also had her doubts, but in her eagerness to have the stone prove authentic she did not express them. Xifeng took the jade from the old lady and went in with Xiren to show it to Baoyu, who had just woken from a nap.

“Here’s your jade,” Xifeng told him.

Baoyu, his eyes still blurred from sleep, took the jade and without so much as looking at it threw it on the ground.

“You’re trying to fool me again,” he said with a cynical smile.

Xifeng hastily picked up the jade, protesting, “Strange! How can you tell without even looking at it?”

Baoyu said nothing, just smiled.

Lady Wang h-ad come in too and seeing this she said, “It goes without saying he must know, as that strange jade came from the womb with him. This one must be a counterfeit made from the de­scription in the notice.”

Then the truth dawned on everyone.

“If it’s a fake, give it to me and I’ll ask him how he dare play such tricks,” cried Jia Lian, who had overheard this from the outer room.

But the old lady remonstrated, “bust return it to him, Lian, and let him go. The poor devil must have been trying to capitalize on this trouble in our family; but now he’s spent money on making this for nothing and we’ve seen through his trick. In my view we shouldn’t make things hard for him. Just return him the jade saying that it isn’t ours and give him a few taels. Then when outsiders hear of it, if they pick up some clues they’ll be willing to let us know; whereas if we punish this fellow, then even if the genuine jade is found no one will dare bring it to us.”

Jia Lian agreed to this and withdrew. The man after his long wait was already somewhat apprehensive, and now he saw Jia Lian come out in a towering rage. But to know what happened next, read the following chapter.

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