A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 97

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Chapter 97

Daiyu Burns Her Poems to End Her

Infatuation

Baochai Goes Through

Her Wedding Ceremony

As Daiyu reached the gate of Bamboo Lodge, Zijuan’s cry of relief startled her. She vomited blood. The two maids were just able to catch her as she was collapsing and carry her inside; then Qiuwen left Zijuan and Xueyan to attend to her.

After a while, Daiyu regained consciousness and saw that her maids were crying. She asked them the reason.

In relief Zijuan answered, “You seemed unwell just now, miss, when you left the old lady’s place, and we didn’t know what to do — we cried for fright.”

“Oh, I’m not going to die as easily as all that,” retorted Daiyu, pant­ing as she spoke.

The news of Baoyu’s impending wedding to Baochai, a prospect which Daiyu had dreaded for years, had so enraged her that she had lost her senses. After the hemorrhage her mind gradually cleared, but she had completely forgotten what Numskull had said. Zijuan’s tears brought it back to her vaguely. Instead of grieving, however, she just longed to die quickly and be done with it. Her maids felt constrained to stay with her although they wanted to go and report her condition, for they were afraid Xifeng would scold them again for raising a false alarm.

However, Qiuwen had gone back panic-stricken. The old lady, just up from her nap, saw her agitation and asked her what had happened. Qiuwen’s fearful description of what she had seen made the Lady Dowa­ger exclaim in horror and send at once for Lady Wang and Xifeng to communicate this bad news.

“I ordered all the maids to keep quiet,” said Xifeng. “Who could have blabbed? This makes things more difficult.”

“Never mind about that now,” said the old lady. “Let’s go and see how she is.”

The three of them went to Bamboo Lodge and found Daiyu deathly pale. She seemed comatose and her breathing was very weak. Presently she had another fit of coughing. Her maids brought over the spittoon and to their consternation her sputum was streaked with blood. Her eyelids fluttered then, and she saw the old Lady by her.

“Madam,” she gasped, “your love for me has been wasted.”

Her heart aching, her grandmother said, “Don’t be afraid, dear child. You must rest well.”

Daiyu smiled faintly, closing her eyes again as a maid came in to report the doctor’s arrival to Xifeng. Thereupon the ladies withdrew, and Doctor Wang was led in by Jia Lian to feel the patient’s pulse.

“She will be all right,” he observed. “Pent-up anger has drained her liver of blood, resulting in nervous disorders. Some medicine to regulate the blood will set her right again.”

This said, he went out with ha Lian to write out his prescription and fetch medicine.

The Lady Dowager had seen that Daiyu’s state was critical. After leaving her she said to Xifeng, “It’s not that I want to put a jinx on her but it doesn’t look to me, I’m afraid, as if the child will recover. You must get ready after-life things to counter her bad luck. If she gets over this ill­ness, that’ 11 be a great weight off our minds. And if it comes to the worst, you won’t be caught unprepared at the last minute. We’ve that other business to attend to these days.

When Xifeng had acquiesced, the old lady questioned Zijuan; but the maid did not know who had told Daiyu the news.

Dubiously, the old lady went on, “It’s natural for young people who’ve played together as children to be partial to each other; but now that they’re big enough to know the facts of life they should keep at a distance. That’s how a girl should behave if she wants me to love her. To get other ideas into her head would be most improper, and all my love for her would be thrown away. I’m quite upset by what you’ve been telling me.”

On her return to her own quarters, she called in Xiren to interrogate her. Xiren repeated what she had told Lady Wang, then described Daiyu’s behaviour earlier that day.

“She didn’t look deranged when I saw her just now,” commented the old lady. “I simply can’t understand this. In a family like ours, of course there can’t be any carryings-on, but even thinking such thoughts is ta­boo! If that’s not the root of her illness, I’m willing to spend any sum to cure her. If it is, I doubt if it can be cured and I don’t care!”

Xifeng put in, “Don’t worry about Cousin Lin, madam. Lian will take the doctor to see her every day anyway. It’s the other business that matters. I heard this morning that the rooms are practically ready. Why don’t you and Her Ladyship call on Aunt Xue to discuss it with her? I’ll go with you. The only snag is that with Cousin Baochai there it will be difficult to talk. Suppose we ask Aunt Xue over for a consultation here this evening? Then we can settle everything tonight.”

“You’re right,” Their Ladyships agreed. “But it’s too late today. We’ll go over there tomorrow after breakfast.”

As the old lady had finished her supper by now, Xifeng and Lady Wang went back to their own apartments.

The next day, Xifeng came over after breakfast and went in to sound out Baoyu.

“Congratulations, Cousin Bao!” she greeted him gaily. “The master has chosen a lucky day for your wedding. Doesn’t that make you happy?”

Baoyu just grinned at her and nodded imperceptibly.

“Your bride will be Cousin Lin. Are you glad?”

He simply burst out laughing, and she was unclear about his mental state.

“The master says you can marry her if you’re better, not if you go on acting the fool,” she warned.

“If anyone’s a fool, it’s you — not me!” he retorted seriously, then stood up and announced, “I’m going to see Cousin Lin to reassure her.”

Xifeng promptly barred his way.

“She knows it already,” she said. “As she’s to marry you, she’ll naturally feel too shy to see you.

“Will she see me after the wedding?”

Amused and perturbed Xifeng thought, “Xiren was right. At the men­tion of Daiyu, though he still raves his mind seems clearer. If he really comes to his senses and finds out that it isn’t Daiyu but we’ve played a trick on him, then the fat will be in the fire!”

Suppressing a smile she said, “If you’re better she’ll see you, not if you act crazily.”

“I’ve given her my heart. When she comes, she’s bound to bring it and put it back in my breast.”

As he was raving, Xifeng came out and smiled at the old lady, who had been both amused and upset by their conversation.

“I heard,” she said. “We can ignore him for now and leave Xiren to calm him down. Let’s go.”

For by then Lady Wang had come too, and together they called on Aunt Xue, ostensibly to see how her family was faring. Aunt Xue was most grateful and gave them news of Xue Pan. When tea had been served she wanted to send for Baochai, but Xifeng stopped her.

“You needn’t summon her, aunty,” she said with a smile. “The old lady came partly to see how you are and partly because there’s some important business which she’d like to discuss with you in our place.”

Aunt Xue nodded and agreed to this, and after a little more idle talk they left.

That evening Aunt Xue came over. Having paid her respects to the old lady she called on Lady Wang, and speaking of Wang Ziteng’s death they all shed tears.

“Just now in the old lady’s place, Baoyu came out to pay his re­spects,” remarked Aunt Xue. “He looked all right, simply a little thinner. Why do you speak as if it were so serious?”

“Actually it’s nothing much,” replied Xifeng. “But the old lady is worried. Now the master is going to a provincial post and may not be back for some years. Her idea is to have Baoyu’s wedding while he’s still here. Firstly, to set his father’s mind at rest; and secondly, in the hope that Cousin Baochai’s golden locket will bring Baoyu good luck, over­coming the evil influence so that he recovers.

Aunt Xue wanted the match but feared Baochai might feel herself wronged. “That’s all right,” she replied, “but we must think it out more carefully.”

Lady Wang told her Xifeng’s plan, adding, “As your son is away from home now, you need not give any dowry. Tomorrow send Ke to tell Pan that while we have the wedding here we’ll find some way to settle his lawsuit for him.” Omitting to mention that Baoyu had lost his heart to Daiyu, she concluded, “Since you agree to it, the sooner the bride comes the better — the sooner we’ll all feel easier in our minds.”

At this point Yuanyang arrived, sent by the old lady to hear what they had decided. Though this was treating Baochai shabbily, Aunt Xue could hardly refuse as they were so pressing. She consented with a show of readiness. Yuanyang went back to report this to the old lady, who in elation sent her back to urge Aunt Xue to explain the situation to Baochai so that she would not feel unfairly treated. Aunt Xue agreed to this. Having decided that Xifeng and her husband should act as go-betweens, the others left. Then Lady Wang and her sister sat up half the night talking.

The next day Aunt Xue went home and told Baochai in detail all these arrangements to which she had agreed. Baochai lowered her head in silence, and presently shed tears. Her mother did her best to comfort her, explaining the matter at length; and when Baochai went back to her room. Baoqin went with her to try to cheer her up. Aunt Xue also told Xue Ke, urging him to leave the following day to find out what sentence had been passed and to give Xue Pan this news, then to come back immediately.

Four days later Xue Ke returned.

“Regarding Cousin Pan’s business,” he reported, “the judge has ap­proved a verdict of accidental manslaughter, which will be pronounced at the next session; and we must have silver ready by way of compensa­tion. As for his sister’s wedding, Pan says your decision was a good one, and rushing it through will save a good deal of money. He says you shouldn’t wait for his return but do as you think fit.”

This news reassured Aunt Xue that her son would be released and her daughter’s wedding could be carried through, although she could see that Baochai looked rather unwilling. “Still,” she thought, “she’s a girl who’s always been submissive and a model of propriety. Knowing that I’ve agreed, she won’t raise any objections.”

She told Xue Ke, “Get a gilded card and write her horoscope on it, then have it sent at once to Second Master Lian and ask the date for the exchange of gifts, so that you can make preparations. We don’t mean to notify relatives and friends because, as you’ve said, all Pan’s friends are a bad lot and our only relatives are the ha and Wang families. Now the Jias are the bridegroom’s family and the Wangs have no one in the capi­tal. When Miss Shi was engaged her family didn’t invite us, so we needn’t put them out either. But we must ask Zhang Dehui here to help see to things as he’s elderly and experienced.”

Xue Ke, acting on her instructions, had a card sent to the Jia family. And the next day Jia Lian called to pay his respects to Aunt Xue.

“Tomorrow is a very auspicious day,” he said. “So I’ve come to propose that we exchange gifts tomorrow. We only hope you won’t think us too niggardly, aunt. He handed her the card .on which was written the date of the wedding, and when she had made a polite rejoinder and nod­ded her consent he hurried back to report this to Jia Zheng.

“Let the old lady know,” said Jia Zheng. “Suggest that as we’re not notifying friends and relatives, we may as well keep everything rather simple. Regarding the gifts, just ask her to approve them; no need to refer to me.”

Jia Lian assented and went off on this errand. Lady Wang told Xifeng to take all the gifts to the old lady for her inspection, and to get Xiren to let Baoyu know as well.

“Why go to all this bother?” Baoyu chuckled. “We send things to the Garden, then they send them back here again — our own people doing the sending and the accepting!”

Their Ladyships hearing this remarked cheerfully, “We say he’s weak in the head, but today he’s talking sense.”

Yuanyang and the other maids could not suppress smiles either as they showed the gifts one by one to the old lady.

“This is a gold necklet,” they said. “Here are gold and pearl trinkets, eighty of them in all. There are forty rolls of serpent-patterned brocade, a hundred and twenty rolls of coloured silk and satin and a hundred and twenty garments for all four seasons. As no sheep and wine have been prepared, here is the equivalent in silver.”

When the old lady had approved these gifts she quietly instructed Xifeng, “Go and tell Aunt Xue not to stand on ceremony. Ask her to wait till Pan is released to return gifts for his sister in his own good time. We here will prepare the bedding for the happy occasion.”

Xifeng assented and left to send Jia Lian to Aunt Xue’s place. She then instructed Zhou Rui and Lai Wang, “Don’t take the presents through the main gate but by that old side-gate in the Garden. I’ll be coming over myself presently. That gate is a good distance from Bamboo Lodge. If people from other households notice you, warn them not to mention this to anyone there.”

The stewards went off to carry out these orders.

In the happy belief that he was to marry Daiyu, Baoyu’s health im­proved, though he still talked foolishly. The stewards sending the presents named no names when they came back; and though most of the household knew where they had been, in view of Xifeng’s instructions they dared not disclose it.

Now Daiyu, although taking medicine, was sinking steadily. Zijuan and her other maids pleaded hard with her.

“Things have come to such a pass, miss, we must speak out,” they said. “We know what’s in your heart. But nothing unforeseen can possi­bly happen. If you don’t believe us, just think of Baoyu’s health — he’s so ill, how could he get married? Don’t listen to silly rumours, miss, but rest quietly till you’re better.”

Daiyu smiled faintly without a word, then started coughing again and brought up more and more blood. Her maids saw that she was dying, and nothing they could say would save her. They remained at her bedside weeping, though sending three or four times a day to report to the old lady. But as Yuanyang had noticed that recently Daiyu had lost favour in her grandmother’s eyes, she often neglected to pass on their messages. And as the old lady was occupied with preparations for the approaching wedding, when she had no news of Daiyu she asked no questions. All her maids could do was send for the doctor to see her.

During Daiyu’s previous illnesses, everyone from the old lady herself down to the maids of her cousins had come to ask after her health. But now not one relative or servant came, not even sending inquiries, and when she opened her eyes there was nobody but Zijuan in the room. She knew there was not the least reason for her to live on.

“Sister, you’re the one closest to me,” she murmured with an effort. “Ever since you were assigned to me by the old lady, I’ve always looked on you as my own sister….” Here she had to stop for breath.

Zijuan’s heart ached. She was sobbing too much to speak.

“Sister Zijuan!” panted Daiyu after a while. “I feel uncomfortable lying down. Please help me to sit up.”

“But you’re not well, miss. If you sit up you may catch cold.”

Daiyu closed her eyes without a word but presently struggled to sit up and Zijuan and Xueyan had to help her, propping her up with soft pillows on either side while Zijuan sat by her supporting her. Though she was so weak that she felt the bed beneath her painfully hard, she stuck it out.

“My poems….” she gasped to Xueyan.

Xueyan guessed that she wanted her manuscript book which she had been going through a few days ago. She found it and gave it to her. Daiyu nodded, then glanced up at the case on a shelf; but this time the maid could not read her thoughts. Daiyu’s eyes dilated with exasperation till a fresh fit of coughing made her bring up more blood. Xueyan hastily fetched her water to rinse out her mouth over the spittoon, then Zijuan wiped her lips with a handkerchief. Taking it, Daiyu pointed at the case, gasping for breath again so that she could not speak. Her eyes had closed.

“Better lie down, miss,” urged Zijuan.

When Daiyu shook her head, Zijuan realized that she must want a handkerchief and told Xueyan to fetch a white silk one from the case. But at sight of it, Daiyu put it aside.

“The one with writing… ,“ she managed to whisper.

Then it dawned on Zijuan that she wanted Baoyu’s old handkerchief on which she had written verses. She made Xueyan get it out and passed it to her.

“For pity’s sake, rest, miss!” she begged her. “Why tire yourself out? You can look at it when you’re better.”

But not even glancing at the poems, Daiyu tried with all her might to tear up the handkerchief. However, her trembling fingers lacked the strength. Although Zijuan knew how incensed she was by Baoyu, she dared not disclose this.

“Don’t wear yourself out again, miss, being angry!” she pleaded.

Daiyu nodded weakly and stuffed the handkerchief up her sleeve.

“Light the lamp,” she ordered.

Xueyan hastily complied. After glancing at the lamp Daiyu closed her eyes again and sat there breathing hard.

“Bring the brazier,” she murmured presently.

Thinking she was cold Zijuan urged, “You’d better lie down, miss and put on more bedding. Charcoal fumes might be bad for you.”

As Daiyu shook her head, Xueyan had to light the brazier and put it on its stand on the floor. At a sign that Daiyu wanted it on the kang, she moved it there, then went out to fetch a low table.

Daiyu bent forward, supported by Zijuan’s two hands. She pulled out the handkerchief, looked at the fire and nodded, then dropped the hand­kerchief on it. This shocked Zijuan, who wanted to snatch it off but could not let go of her mistress, as Xueyan was still outside fetching the low table. By now the handkerchief was burning.

“Miss!” protested Zijuan. “Why do such a thing?”

Turning a deaf ear, Daiyu picked up her manuscript book and after glancing at it put it down. For fear she might burn this too, Zijuan hastily leaned against her to support her, thereby freeing one of her own hands. But Daiyu forestalled her by dropping the book on the fire out of her reach.

Xueyan coming in with the table saw Daiyu toss something on the fire and made a grab for it; but the inflammable paper was already smoulder­ing. Not caring whether she burned her hands or not, Xueyan snatched the book from the fire, threw it on the ground and trampled it with her feet. Too late — there was nothing but a charred remnant left.

Daiyu closed her eyes and sank back, nearly knocking over Zijuan who, her heart palpitating, hastily asked Xueyan to help lay her down. It was too late to fetch help; yet what if they called no-one and their young mistress should die during the night with only herself, Xueyan, Yingge and a few young maids in attendance? They sat up apprehensively till dawn, when Daiyu seemed a little better. But after breakfast she had a sudden relapse, coughing and retching again.

Fearing the worst, Zijuan left Xueyan and the others in charge while she hurried to report this to the old lady. However, she found the place quiet and deserted, except for a few old nurses and some young maids of all work left there to mind the house. Asked where the old lady was, they returned evasive answers. In surprise, Zijuan went into Baoyu’s room and found it empty too. The young maids there also denied any knowl­edge of his whereabouts.

By then Zijuan had a good inkling of the truth. “How cruel these people are!” she thought to herself, remembering that not a soul had called on Daiyu during the last few days. The more she dwelt on it, the more bitter she felt. In her indignation she turned and left abruptly.

“I’d like to see how Baoyu looks today,” she fumed. “Wouldn’t the sight of me shame him? That year when I told him a fib he fell ill, he was so frantic; but today he blatantly does a thing like this. It shows that all men’s hearts are as cold as ice — they really make you gnash your teeth!”

As she walked on brooding over this, she soon reached Happy Red Court. The gate was closed and all inside was quiet. It occurred to her then, “If he is getting married, he must have new bridal chambers. I wonder where they are?”

She was looking around when Moyu came flying along and she called to him to stop. The page walked over, grinning broadly.

“What brings you here, sister?” he asked.

“I heard Master Bao’s getting married so I came to watch the fun, but apparently the wedding’s not here. When exactly is it to be?”

“I’ll tell you in strict confidence, sister,” he whispered. “But don’t let Xueyan know. Our orders are not even to let you know. The wedding will take place this evening. Of course it won’t be here. His Lordship made Second Master Lian fix up new quarters for them. Well, is there anything you want me to do?”

“No, nothing. Off you go.”

Moyu darted off.

Zijuan remained lost in thought until she remembered Daiyu — was she still alive?

“Baoyu!” she swore through clenched teeth, her eyes swimming with tears. “If she dies tomorrow, you’ll get out of seeing her. But after you’ve had your pleasure, how are you going to brazen it out with me?”

She walked on in tears towards Bamboo Lodge and saw two young maids at the gate looking out for her.

At sight of her one cried, “Here comes Sister Zijuan!”

With a sinking heart she signaled to them to keep quiet: Hurrying to Daiyu’s bedside, she found her feverish, her cheeks hectically flushed. Knowing that this was a bad sign, Zijuan called for Daiyu’s old nurse Nanny Wang, who took one look then started sobbing and wailing.

Zijuan had hoped that old Nanny Wang with her experience would lend her courage; but the nurse’s reaction threw her into a tizzy till she bethought herself of someone else and sent a young maid quickly in search of her. Do you know who this was? Li Wan. As a widow, it was out of the question for her to attend Baoyu’s wedding; besides, she was the one in charge in the Garden. So Zijuan sent to ask her over.

Li Wan was correcting a poem for Lan when a young maid burst in.

“Madam!” she cried. “It looks as if Miss Lin’s done for! They’re all weeping and wailing there.”

Li Wan was horrified. Not stopping to ask any questions she sprang up and hurried out, followed by Suyun and Biyue. And on the way she reflected tearfully, “We’ve been as close as sisters here. Her looks and talents are truly so outstanding, one can only compare her to some god­dess in heaven. But poor girl, fated to die so young and be buried far from home! I didn’t like to visit her all because of Xifeng’s underhand plan to fob off a different bride on Baoyu — so I’ve let my cousin down. How tragic this is!”

Now, reaching the gate of Bamboo Lodge, she was unnerved not to hear a sound inside. “Perhaps she’s already dead and they’ve finished lamenting her,” she thought as she hurried inside. “I wonder if they had clothes, bedding and shroud ready.”

A young maid by the door of the inner room at sight of her announced, “Here’s Madam Zhu!”

Zijuan hastily came out as Li Wan walked in.

“How is she?” she asked urgently.

Zijuan choked with sobs and could not get a word out. Her tears falling like pearls from a broken string, she could only point at Daiyu.

The maid’s grief distressed Li Wan even more. Asking no further questions she went over to look at the dying girl, already past speaking. She called her softly twice. Daiyu opened her eyes slowly and seemed to recognize her. She was still breathing faintly, but though her eyelids flut­tered and her lips quivered, she could not utter a single word or shed a single tear.

Turning away, Li Wan saw that Zijuan had vanished and asked Xueyan where she was.

“In the outer room,” was the answer.

Li Wan hurried out and found her lying On the divan there, her face pale, tears flowing so fast from her closed eyes that a big patch of the silk-bordered flowered mattress was wet with tears and mucus. At Li Wan’s call she opened her eyes slowly and got up.

“Silly creature!” scolded Li Wan. “This is no time for weeping. Hurry up and get Miss Lin’s clothes ready. How long will you wait to change her? Are you going to expose an unmarried girl to set out naked to the other world?”

At this, Zijuan broke down and sobbed bitterly. Li Wan though weep­ing too was impatient as well. Wiping her own eyes, she patted the maid on the shoulder.

“Good child, your crying is driving me distracted! Prepare her things quickly before it’s too late,” she urged.

She was startled just then by someone rushing in. It was Pinger. Burst­ing in on this scene she stood rooted to the spot, speechless.

“Why aren’t you over there now? What brings you here?” asked Li Wan as Lin Zhixiao’s wife also joined them.

Pinger said, “Our mistress was worried and sent me to have a look. But as you’re here, madam, I shall tell her that she need only attend to affairs over there.”

Li Wan nodded.

“I’ll go in to see Miss Lin too,” added Pinger, already in tears as she entered the inner room.

“You’ve come in the nick of time,” Li Wan told Mrs. Lin. “Go out quickly and get some steward to prepare Miss Lin’s after-life things. When everything’s ready he’s to report to me — there’s no need to go over there.”

Mrs. Lin assented but made no move.

“Do you have other business?” Li Wan asked.

“Just now Madam Lian consulted the old lady and they want to have Miss Zijuan to help out there.”

Before Li Wan could answer, Zijuan interposed, “Please don’t wait for me, Mrs. Lin. When she’s dead, of course we’ll leave her. They needn’t be in such a hurry…. “Embarrassed by this outburst she went on more mildly, “Besides, nursing an invalid here I’m not clean. Miss Lin is still breathing and wants me from time to time.”

Li Wan helped her out by explaining, “It’s true. The affinity between Miss Lin and this girl must have been predestined. Though Xueyan’s the one she brought with her from the south, she doesn’t care for her much. I can see that Zijuan is the only one who can’t leave her for a second.”

Mrs. Lin had been put out by Zijuan’s reply, but she was unable to rebut Li Wan. Seeing Zijuan dissolved in tears, she smiled at her faintly.

“It’s all very well for Miss Zijuan to talk like that,” she rejoined. “But what am Ito say to the old lady? And how can I repeat this to Madam Lian?”

At these words, Pinger came out wiping her eyes.

“Repeat what to Madam Lian?” she wanted to know.

Mrs. Lin explained the situation, and Pinger lowered her head to think it over.

“In that case,” she suggested, “let Xueyan go instead.”

“Will she be suitable?” Li Wan inquired.

Pinger stepped closer to whisper something to her, at which she nod­ded.

“Very well, then. Sending Xueyan will do just as well.”

Mrs. Lin asked Pinger if she agreed, and the answer was:

“Yes, it’s the same.”

“Then please tell her to come with me immediately. I’ll report to the old lady and Madam Lian that this was your idea, madam, and Miss Pinger’s too. Later you can explain to Madam Lian yourself, miss.”

“All right,” said Li Wan. “But why should someone of your seniority be scared to answer for such a little thing?”

“It’s not that.” Mrs. Lin smiled. “But we can’t be sure what plan the old lady and Madam Lian have; and besides you and Miss Pinger are here, madam.”

Pinger had already called out Xueyan, who had been holding aloof these last few days as the others had been taunting her as a careless child; and in any case she would never dream of ignoring a summons from the Lady Dowager and Madam Lian. She hastily smoothed her hair and on Pinger’s instructions changed into colourful clothes, then went off with Mrs. Lin. Li Wan, after a brief discussion with Pinger, sent her to tell Mrs. Lin to urge her husband to get a coffin ready without delay.

Pinger left to attend to this and, rounding a bend, saw Mrs. Lin walk­ing ahead of her with Xueyan. She called to them to stop.

“I’ll take her there,” she said. “You go first to tell your husband to get Miss Lin’s things ready. I’ll report this for you to my mistress.”

Mrs. Lin agreed and went off, while Pinger took Xueyan to the bridal chambers and, having made her report, left to see to her own business.

Now that things had come to such a pass, Xueyan could not but grieve for Daiyu, though she dared not show her feelings to the old lady and Xifeng. “What do they want me for?” she wondered. “I’ll wait and see. Baoyu used to be so devoted to our young lady, why doesn’t he come out? Is he really ill or just shamming? He may be trying to put her off by pretending to have lost his jade and to be out of his mind, so that she’ll lose interest in him and he can marry Miss Baochai. I’ll slip in and see whether he’s really crazy or not. He can hardly be shamming today.”

She tiptoed to the door of the inner room and peeped in.

Now though the loss of his jade had deranged Baoyu, the news that he was to marry Daiyu seemed to him the most wonderful thing that had ever happened, and at once his health had improved, though he seemed less quick in the uptake than before. So Xifeng’s cunning scheme had succeeded completely. He could hardly wait to see Daiyu and go through with his wedding today. Beside himself with joy, although he sometimes talked nonsense he behaved quite differently from when he was demented. Xueyan saw this with indignation and distress, not knowing what was in his heart, then she slipped away.

Baoyu, seated in Lady Wang’s room, was pressing Xiren to help him into his wedding clothes and watching busy Xifeng and Madam You as he longed for the auspicious hour to arrive.

“Cousin Lin’s only coming from the Garden,” he said to Xiren. “Why should it take so long?”

Suppressing a smile she answered, “She has to wait for the appointed hour.”

Then he heard Xifeng say to Lady Wang, “Although we’re in mourn­ing and won’t have musicians outside, according to us southerners’ rule they must bow to each other and utter silence won’t do. So I’ve ordered our troupe of house musicians to play some tunes and liven things up a little.”

“Very well,” said Lady Wang, nodding.

Presently a big sedan-chair entered the courtyard and the family mu­sicians went out to meet the bride, while in filed twelve pairs of maids in two rows with Palace lanterns —a novel and distinctive sight. The Mas­ter of Ceremonies invited the bride to alight from the chair, and Baoyu saw a maid with a red sash help her out — her face was veiled. And who do you think the other maid assisting the bride was? No other than Xueyan!

“Why Xueyan and not Zijuan?” he wondered, then told himself, “Of course. She brought Xueyan with her from her home down south. Zijuan is one of our household; so -naturally she needn’t bring her.” Reasoning like this, he felt as jubilant as if seeing Daiyu herself.

The Master of Ceremonies announced the procedure. Bride and bride­groom paid their respects to Heaven and Earth, then invited the old lady to come out and receive four bows from them, after which they bowed to Jia Zheng and Lady Wang. Next they ascended the hall and paid their respects to each other before being ushered into the bridal chamber -where they went through other ceremonies such as “sitting on the bed” and “letting down the bed curtains,” in accordance with the old rules of Jinling.

Jia Zheng had never-believed that this wedding could cure Baoyu, but he had to go along with his mother’s decision. Today, however, he was pleased because Baoyu looked as if he had really recovered.

After the bride sat down on the bridal bed, she had to be unveiled. To be on the safe side, Xifeng had asked the old lady and Lady Wang there to keep an eye on things. Baoyu fatuously stepped over to the bride.

“Are you better, Cousin Lin?” he asked. “It’s so long since I’ve seen you! Why keep your face covered with that rag?”

He reached out to take off the veil, making the old lady break out in a cold sweat. But then Baoyu reflected, “Cousin Lin’s very sensitive; I mustn’t offend her.” So he waited till he felt he could wait no longer, then stepped forward and removed the veil, which the bridesmaid whisked away. At the same time Xueyan withdrew, and Yinger came in to wait upon her young mistress.

Baoyu looked at his bride and could not believe his eyes — she seemed to be Baochai. He shone the lamp on her face and rubbed his eyes. There was no doubt about it — it was Baochai! Splendidly dressed, soft and plump, her hair slightly dishevelled, fluttering her eyelashes and hold­ing her breath she looked as alluring as lotus dripping with dew, as bashful as apricot blossom moistened by mist.

Baoyu was stupefied by the realization that Xueyan had disappeared and Yinger had taken her place. At a loss, he thought he must be dream­ing and stood there in a daze till they took the lamp from his hand and made him sit down. Staring vacantly, he uttered not a word. The old lady, afraid he had lost his senses again, took charge of him herself while Xifeng and Madam You led Baochai to the inner room to rest. She, of course, remained silent too, lowering her head.

Soon Baoyu calmed down sufficiently to notice the presence of his grandmother and mother.

“Where am I?” he whispered to Xiren. “Is this a dream?”

“This is your wedding day,” she answered. “Don’t let the master hear you talking such nonsense. He’s just outside.”

“Who’s that beautiful girl sitting there?” he asked pointing inside.

Xiren put a hand to her mouth to hide her laughter, so amused that she could not speak.

“That’s the new Second Young Mistress,” she finally told him.

The others also turned their heads away, unable to keep from smiling.

“Don’t be silly!” cried Baoyu. “What Second Young Mistress do you mean?”

“Miss Baochai.”

“Then where is Miss Lin?”

“It was the master’s decision that you should marry Miss Baoehai, so why ask in that foolish way about Miss Lin?”

“But I saw her just now, and Xueyan too. How can you say they’re not here? What game are you all playing?”

Xifeng stepped forward to whisper, “Miss Baochai is sitting in the inner room; so don’t talk foolishly. If you annoy her, the old lady won’t like it.”

This bewildered Baoyu still more. Already deranged, after the myste­rious apparitions and vanishings of-this evening he knew even less what to think. Ignoring all else he just clamoured to go and find Cousin Lin. The ladies did their best to pacify him, but he would not listen to reason; and as Baochai was inside they could not speak out plainly. Indeed, they knew that explanations were useless now that his wits were wandering again. They lit benzoin incense to calm him and made him lie down. No one made a sound and presently, to the old lady’s relief, he fell into a lethargic sleep. She decided to sit up with him till dawn and sent Xifeng to urge Baochai -to rest too. Baochai, behaving as if she had heard nothing, lay down then fully dressed in the inner room. As for ha Zheng, being out­side he had no knowledge of these happenings and, in fact, felt relieved by what he had seen. Since the next day was the auspicious date to start his journey, he too rested for a while before receiving the congratulations of those who had come to bid him farewell. And when Baoyu was sound asleep, the old lady also returned to her room to sleep.

The next morning Jia Zheng bowed farewell in the ancestral temple, then came over to take his leave of his mother.

“Your unfilial son is going far away,” he said. “My one wish, madam, is that you will take care of your health at different seasons. As soon as I reach my post, I shall write to pay my respects. Please don’t worry about me. And Baoyu’s wedding has been carried out in accordance with your wishes. I beg you, madam, to admonish him from time to time.”

In order not to worry him on his journey, she did not tell him of Baoyu’s relapse.

“All I have to say is this,” she answered. “Though Baoyu was married last night he didn’t share the same room with his bride, so today we should make him see you some way on your journey. But as his wedding was to cure his illness and he’s only just slightly better, and as yesterday was a tiring day for him. I’m afraid he might catch cold if he went out. So I’d like to know your opinion. If you want him to see you off, I’ll send for him at once; but if you’re concerned for him, I’ll just have him fetched here to kowtow to you by way of farewell.”

“Why should he see me off? Provided he studies hard from now on that will please me more than having him escort me.

In relief, the old lady told him to sit down while she sent Yuanyang to fetch Baoyu and Xiren.

Presently Baoyu came. Told to pay his respects, he complied. Luckily his mind cleared for a while at sight of his father, and he made no gaffes, assenting to Jia Zheng’s instructions. Then his father dismissed him and went to his wife’s room to stress the need to discipline their son.

“You must on no account go on spoiling him,” he warned her. “Next year he must sit for the provincial examination.”

Lady Wang heard him out without mentioning what had passed and had Baochai fetched to wish her father-in-law a good journey. The other female members of the family saw him off at the inner gate, but she as a new bride could not leave the house. Jia Zhen and the other young men listened respectfully to his admonitions. Then having drunk a parting gob­let with him, the younger male relatives and his old friends accompanied him ten li beyond the capital, then bid him farewell.

We shall now leave ha Zheng travelling to his new post and return to Baoyu. After coming back he had a sudden relapse, becoming so de­ranged that he could not even take any nourishment. To know whether he lived or died, read the next chapter.

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