A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 98

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Chapter 98

Unhappy Vermilion Pearl’s Spirit

Returns in Sorrow to Heaven

Deranged Shen Ying’ Sheds Tears

in the Lodge of His Loved One

Baoyu returned to his room after seeing his father more dizzy, con­fused and listless than before. Without even eating his meal he drifted off to sleep. Doctors were called in again but their remedies proved ineffec­tual – he could not even recognize those around him, although when helped to sit up he looked normal enough. And this state of affairs contin­ued for several days.

The ninth day after the wedding had now come – the day on which newly-weds should visit the bride’s family. If they stayed away, Aunt Xue might well feel slighted; but how could they go with Baoyu so dis­traught on account of Daiyu? On the other hand, they feared that if told of her death he might die himself of chagrin. His bride could hardly rea­son with him either – for that, her mother was needed there. Yet if they neglected to pay this courtesy call, Aunt Xue would take offence.

The Lady Dowager consulted Lady Wang and Xifeng and proposed, “Baoyu may have lost his mind, but I can’t see that going out would hurt him. Let’s order two small sedan-chairs and have them escorted over through the Garden to keep up appearances; then we can invite Aunt Xue here to comfort Baochai, while we give our whole minds to curing Baoyu. Wouldn’t that be best on both scores?”

Lady Wang agreed and had preparations made without delay. As Baochai was a new bride and Baoyu was crazed, neither objected to being taken over; for although Baochai knew how things stood and at heart blamed her mother for this injudicious match, it was too late now to protest. True, Aunt Xue reproached herself bitterly when she saw Baoyu’s condition; still, they had to go through with the ceremonies in a perfunc­tory way.

On their return Baoyu took a turn for the worse. The next morning he could not sit up, and he wasted away day by day until he could not even take liquid nourishment. In panic Aunt Xue and the others searched ev­erywhere for good doctors, but not one was able to diagnose his illness until a certain Bi Zhan, a poor physician who lived in a ruined temple outside town, ascribed it to both internal and external factors: sudden transports of joy and grief depriving him of his senses and appetite and pent-up indignation resulting in congestion. He made out his prescription accordingly, and Baoyu took the first dose that evening. After the second watch, sure enough, he came to and asked for a drink of water. Their Ladyships in relief invited Aunt Xue and Baochai to the old lady’s room to rest.

Baoyu, now that his mind had cleared, was convinced that he was dying. As the others had gone, leaving only Xiren there, he called her over to him and clasped her hand.

“Tell me,” he sobbed, “what is Cousin Baochai doing here? I remem­ber my father choosing Cousin Lin to marry me, so how did she get driven out by Cousin Baochai? Why should she force her way in here? I don’t like to ask her for fear of offending her. And what news have you of Cousin Lin? Is she crying her heart out?”

Xiren prevaricated, “Miss Lin is ill.”

“I’ll go and see her then.”

He tried to get up, but after several days without nourishment of any kind he was too weak to move.

“I’m dying!” he exclaimed. “But I’ve one request which I beg you to pass on to the old lady. Cousin Lin will be sobbing herself to death too and T’m done for now anyway, so that’s two of us mortally ill in different places. If we die apart that’ 11 make more trouble for you, so why not turn out a spare room and move the two of us there? You can nurse us both together while we’re still living, and when we’re dead you can lay us out together. For the sake of our friendship these years, please do this for me!”

Xiren was so affected by his words that she sobbed convulsively. And Baochai, coming back then with Yinger, heard him too.

“Why talk in that unlucky way instead of resting well so as to re­cover?” she asked. “The old lady’s just feeling a bit easier in her mind, yet here you are starting fresh trouble. You’ve always been the old lady’s favourite, and now she’s over eighty. Though she’s not expecting you to win her honours, if you turn out well that will please her and the pains she’s taken over you won’t be wasted. As for your mother, it goes with­out saying she’s given her heart’s blood to bring you up, and if you die young what’s to become of her? And I, though I may be ill-fated, don’t deserve this. Because of the three of us, even if you want to die Heaven won’t allow it! So just rest quietly for four or five days till you’re over this chill and your vital forces are restored; then this disorder will natu­rally disappear.”

This silenced Baoyu for some minutes. Then he sniggered, “You stopped talking to me for so long, why start haranguing me now?”

“Let me tell you the truth.” she continued. “While you were in a coma for two days Cousin Lin died.”

He sat up abruptly.

“Is that true?” he demanded.

“Of course it is. I wouldn’t say such a fearful thing if it wasn’t. The old lady and your mother, knowing how fond of her you were, were afraid the news would kill you too. That’s why they didn’t tell you.

Baoyu burst out sobbing and fell back on his pillows. All before him was black and he could not make out where he was. He was feeling lost when he saw a figure approaching.

“Excuse me,” he blurted out. “What is this place?”

“The way to Hell,” was the answer. “But what are you doing here? Your span of life has not ended.”

“I just heard that a friend had died, and looking for her here I lost my way.”

“What friend?”

“Lin Daiyu of Suzhou.”

“Lin Daiyu in life was no ordinary mortal; in death she is no ordinary ghost,” said the apparition with a scornful laugh. “As she has no ghost, where can you find her? The spirits of men assume a form only when concentrated; when dissipated they change into vapour. In life they have a form; after death they scatter. So even ordinary mortals cannot be traced after death, let alone Lin Daiyu. You had better go back at once.”

Nonplussed by this Baoyu asked, “If you say the spirit is dissipated after death, why should there be a Hell?”

“Hell exists for those who believe in it,” was the disdainful answer. “Because the vulgar herd are afraid of death they tell cautionary tales about the wrath that Heaven visits on fools who are not content with their lot or senselessly cut short their lives by indulging in lust or running amok, making away with themselves for no good reason. So Hell has been dreamed up as a prison where such ghosts will suffer endless torments to expiate their crimes during their lifetime. By searching for Daiyu, you are courting death unjustifiably. The more so, as she has already returned to the Illusory Land of Great Void. If you want to find her, you must culti­vate virtue and you will have occasion to meet again. If you chafe at your lot and commit the crime of cutting short your life, you may see your parents again but never Daiyu!” This said, he took a stone from his sleeve and aimed it at Baoyu’s heart.

Terrified by this warning and a pain in the region of his heart, Baoyu longed to go home but did not know the way. He was hesitating when he heard his name and turned to find that the old lady, Lady Wang, Baochai and Xiren had gathered round, tearfully calling him, and he himself was still lying in his bed. The red lamp on his desk, the bright moon outside the window showed that he was still in this vain world, in the lap of luxury. Calming down, he realized that he had been dreaming. Though drenched with cold sweat he felt refreshed and clear-headed. Reflecting that there was in truth no way out for him, he heaved sigh after sigh.

Now Baochai had known from the start of Daiyu’s death, but the Lady Dowager forbade any mention of it to Baoyu for fear of making his illness worse, though she herself knew that his breakdown was due to his longing for Daiyu, the loss of his jade being only secondary. She had taken her opportunity to tell him to end his torment and bring him back to his senses, so that he could be cured. The old lady and Lady Wang not knowing her motive, blamed her for her impetuosity; but when Baoyu came to they felt relieved and at once summoned Doctor Bi from the outer study to examine him.

“Strange!” observed the physician after feeling his pulse. “His pulse is steady and there is no sign now of melancholia. We’ll give him a re­storative tomorrow, and can hope for a cure.” Then he left and the others dispersed, much easier in their minds.

Xiren, too, had been shocked by Baochai’s disclosure, though she could not very well say so. But Yin ger in confidence has taken her to task for her indiscretion.

“You don’t understand,” said Baochai. “Come what may, I’ll take the responsibility.”

She paid no attention to ill-natured gossip, but carefully probed Baoyu’s psychology and quietly needled him for his own good. And little by little he was growing more lucid, only lapsing into senselessness when he re­membered Daiyu. It was Xiren who reasoned with him most frequently.

“The master chose Miss Baochai for you because she’s so affable and good,” she told him patiently. “He thought Miss Lin eccentric and suspected that she hadn’t long to live. As for the old lady, she was afraid you might get worked up as you’d taken leave of your senses, so she had Xueyan brought over here to trick you.”

Still Baoyu’s heart ached and he often shed tears, tempted to kill himself. But he checked this impulse, remembering the warning in his dream and reluctant to hurt his grandmother and his mother. He took comfort too from the thought that, although Daiyu was dead, Baochai was a girl in a thousand and there might be something in the prophecy of a “match between gold and jade.” As he seemed unlikely to do anything drastic, Baochai felt easy enough in her mind to wait dutifully on Their Ladyships, devoting the rest of her time to amusing him. Though Baoyu was too weak to sit up for long, the sight of Baochai sitting by his bed rekindled his amorous proclivity. But she would urge him gravely:

“That can wait. We’re already husband and wife, but the main thing now is to recover your health.”

Reluctantly, he had to fall in with her wishes, for during the day his grandmother, mother and Aunt Xue took it in turns to keep him company, and at night Baochai slipped away to sleep elsewhere, leaving nannies sent by the old lady to wait on him. So he had to convalesce quietly. Moreover, Baochai’s gentle ways made him gradually transfer to her some of the love he had felt for Daiyu. But this is anticipating.

On the day of Baoyu’s wedding Daiyu lay in a coma, her life hanging by a thread, while Li Wan and Zijuan wept as if their hearts would break. That evening she recovered consciousness and feebly opened her eyes. She seemed to want something to drink. As Xueyan had gone, leaving only Li Wan and Zijuan there, the latter brought her a bowl of pear juice and dried-longan syrup and gave her two or three sips with a small silver spoon, after which Daiyu closed her eyes to rest again. Li Wan knew that this lucid interval and slight rallying were the prelude to the end, but think­ing that still a few hours away she went back to Paddy-Sweet Cottage to see to some business.

Meanwhile Daiyu opened her eyes and saw only Zijuan, her old nanny and some young maids. Clasping Zijuan’s hand she addressed her with an effort.

“I’m done for! You’ve served me for several years, and I’d hoped that the two of us could always stay together. But now…. ” Stopping to catch her breath, she closed her eyes in exhaustion.

Zijuan, whose hand she was still gripping, dared not move. Because Daiyu seemed better than earlier on she was still hoping for her recovery, and so these words struck chill into her heart.

“Sister!” continued Daiyu presently. “I have no dear one here, I have lived chastely…. Get them to send me home!”

Closing her eyes again, she clasped Zijuan’s hand even more tightly as she panted silently, breathing out more than she breathed in – at her last gasp.

Zijuan was frantically sending to fetch Li Wan when luckily Tanchun arrived.

“Look at Miss Lin, miss!” whispered Zijuan, her tears falling like rain.

Tanchun came over and felt Daiyu’s hand – it was chill and her eyes were glazed. Weeping, they called for water with which to wash her. Then Li Wan hurried in. The three of them had no time for civilities. They were washing Daiyu when she raised a sudden cry:

“Baoyu, Baoyu! How….”

Those were her last words. She broke out in a cold sweat. Zijuan and the others, holding her as she sweated, felt her body grow colder and colder. Tanchun and Li Wan bade her maids dress her hair and change her clothes. But her eyes turned up–alas!

Her sweet soul gone with the wind,

They sorrow at midnight, lost in fragrant dreams.

It was in the very same hour in which Baoyu and Baochai were mar­ried that Daiyu breathed her last. Tanchun, recalling Zijuan and the other maids wept bitterly while Li Wan and Tanchun, recalling her lovable ways, lamented her fate and sobbed too with distress. As Bamboo Lodge was far from the bridal chambers, their wailing could not be heard there. Pres­ently they caught the sound of distant music, but as soon as they pricked up their ears it vanished. When Li Wan and Tanchun stepped into the courtyard to listen, they saw only the wind – tossed bam­boos and the shifting moonlight on the wall – a scene of loneliness and desolation.

They sent for Lin Zhixiao’s wife, had Daiyu laid out and assigned maids to watch by her corpse, not notifying Xifeng till the next morning.

As Their Ladyships were so busy with ha Zheng leaving home that morning and Baoyu’s increased derangement making the whole house­hold frantic, Xifeng decided not to report Daiyu’s death for fear Their Ladyships would fall ill under this fresh burden of grief. So she went herself to the Garden. On reaching Bamboo Lodge, she could not hold back her tears. Then she was told by Li Wan and Tanchun that all prepa­rations had been made for the funeral.

“Well done,” she said. “But why didn’t you let me know before to save me worrying?”

Tanchun answered, “How could we, when seeing the master off?”

“At least the two of you took pity on her,” commented Xifeng. “Very well then, I must go back to cope with the lovesick one over there. What a to-do! Not to report it today would be wrong; but if I report it I’m afraid it may be too much for the old lady.”

“Do as you think fit,” said Li Wan. “If possible, you should report it.”

Nodding, Xifeng hurried away.

When she reached Baoyu’s quarters and heard that the doctor had pronounced him out of danger, to Their Lady ships’ relief, she broke the news to them about Daiyu without letting Baoyu know. The old lady and Lady Wang were consternated.

“I have her death on my conscience,” sobbed the old lady. “But the child was really too foolish!”

She was in a dilemma, wanting to go to the Garden to mourn Daiyu, yet reluctant to leave Baoyu. Lady Wang, suppressing her own grief, persuaded her to remain to look after her health, and the old lady agreed to her going instead.

“Tell her spirit from me,” she instructed, “it’s not because I’m heart­less that I’m not coming to see you off, but there’s someone closer here whom I have to see to. As my daughter’s daughter you are dear to me; but Baoyu is closer to me even than you. If any harm comes to him, how am I to face his father?” She wept again.

“You were very good to her, madam,” said Lady Wang soothingly. “But each one’s span of life is fixed by Heaven, and now that she’s dead there’s nothing we can do except give her the best funeral possible. That will show our feeling for her, and her mother’s spirit and hers can rest in peace.”

This made the old lady weep still more bitterly. And not wanting her to grieve too much, as Baoyu was still bemused Xifeng quietly sent some­one with the trumped-up message, “Baoyu is asking for you, madam.”

“Has anything happened?” she asked, no longer weeping.

“No, nothing,” Xifeng assured her. “I expect he just wants to see you.”

The old lady hurried out attended by Zhenzhu and followed by Xifeng. Half-way there they met Lady Wang, whose report on her visit to Bam­boo Lodge naturally caused the old lady fresh distress; but she swal­lowed back her tears because she was going to see Baoyu.

“As all the preparations are made, I won’t go over for the time be­ing,” she said. “Do as you think fit. Seeing her would make my heart ache. But mind you give her a handsome funeral.”

When Lady Wang and Xifeng had agreed to this, she went on to see Baoyu and asked what he wanted her for.

“Last night I saw Cousin Lin,” he said with a smile. “She wants to go back south. I’m sure you’re the only one who can keep her here for me, madam. Don’t let her go!”

“All right. Don’t worry,” she answered.

Then Xiren made Baoyu lie down again.

After leaving him the old lady went in to see Baochai, who having been married less than a week behaved shyly in company. She no­ticed that the old lady’s face was tear-stained. After she had served tea, she was told to take a seat and perched respectfully on the edge of a chair.

“I heard that Cousin Lin was unwell,” she remarked. “Is she any better?”

Bursting into tears the Lady Dowager answered, “I’ll tell you, child, but don’t let Baoyu know. It’s all because of your Cousin Lin that you’ve been so unfairly treated. Now that you’re married I can tell you the truth: your Cousin Lin died a couple of days ago at the very hour of your wedding. This illness Baoyu has is because of her. You used to live to­gether in the Garden, so I’m sure you know what I mean.”

Baochai blushed, then shed tears at the thought of Daiyu’s death. And after chatting with her a little longer, the Lady Dowager left.

After this, Baochai weighed the pros and cons carefully before hitting on a plan; but not wanting to act rashly she had waited till after her visit home on the ninth day after their wedding before breaking the news to Baoyu. And now that, sure enough, he was on the mend, they no longer had to keep things secret from him.

But though Baoyu was recovering steadily, he had not overcome his infatuation and he insisted on going to mourn for Daiyu. Knowing that the cause of his illness was not yet uprooted, his grandmother forbade him to give way to foolish fancies, but that only deepened his gloom and brought on a relapse. The doctor, however, saw that he was ill with longing and advised them to allow him to vent his feelings, for then the medicine would be more efficacious. Hearing this, Baoyu at once clamoured to go to Bamboo Lodge. They had to send for a bamboo chair and help him on to it, after which they set off, the old lady and Lady Wang leading the way.

The sight of Daiyu’s coffin in Bamboo Lodge made the old lady weep till she had no more tears to shed and was out of breath. Xifeng and the others urged her to desist. Meanwhile Lady Wang had wept too. And they shed tears anew even after Li Wan invited them to rest in the inner room.

Baoyu on his arrival thought back to his visits here before his illness. Now the lodge remained but its young mistress was gone. He gave way to a storm of grief. How close they had been, yet today they were parted by death! He felt his heart would break. Alarmed by his frenzied anguish, all tried to comfort him, but already he had almost fainted away. They helped him out to rest. Baochai and the others who had come with him also mourned bitterly.

Now Baoyu insisted on seeing Zijuan to ask her what Daiyu’s dying words had been. Zijuan had a deep grudge against him, but his misery softened her heart and in the presence of Their Ladyships she dared take no liberties. So she reported in detail how her young mistress had fallen ill again, how she had burned his handkerchief and her poems, and what her last words had been. Baoyu wailed again until he was hoarse and breath­less, and Tanchun seized this chance to repeat Daiyu’s dying request to have her coffin taken back to the south, reducing Their Ladyships to tears again. It was Xifeng with her persuasive tongue who succeeded in consoling them a little and urged them to go back. When Baoyu refused, his grandmother had to override his wishes.

Because the Lady Dowager was old and had been on tenterhooks day and night ever since Baoyu fell ill, this fresh access of grief made her so dizzy and feverish that although still worried about him she had to retire to her room to lie down. Lady Wang went back too in even greater anguish, leaving Caiyun to help Xiren, with the instructions:

“If Baoyu breaks down again, send us word at once.”

Knowing that his grief must run its course, instead of trying to console him Baochai made some cutting remarks; and suspecting that she was jealous he swallowed back his tears. So the night passed without mishap.

The next morning when others came to see how he was, they found him debilitated but less distracted. They nursed him devotedly till he slowly recovered. Luckily the old lady had not fallen ill; only Lady Wang was still suffering from her heart trouble. When Aunt Xue called she was relieved to find her son-in-law looking better, and she kept the young couple company for a while.

Some time after this, the Lady Dowager asked Aunt Xue over for a consultation.

“We own Baoyu’s life to you,” she said. “Now he seems out of danger, but we’ve wronged your daughter. As he’s convalesced for the prescribed hundred days and recovered his health, and as the mourning for Her Imperial Highness is over too, it’s time for them to consummate their marriage. Please make the decision and choose a lucky day for this.”

“You know best, madam. Why ask me?” replied Aunt Xue. “Baochai may look stupid but she had good sense you know what she’s like, madam. I only hope the young couple will live in harmony to spare you worry, and then my sister and I can be easy in our minds too. You settle on a date, madam…. Is there any need to notify relatives?”

“For Baoyu and your daughter, this is the biggest event in their whole lives. Besides, think of all the trouble we had before things turned out well. We must celebrate for a few days and invite all our relatives. For one thing, it’ll be a thanksgiving for Baoyu’s recovery; for another, drinking on this happy occasion will make up to us for all the worries we’ve had.”

Aunt Xue was naturally pleased by this proposal. She described the dowry she meant to give Baochai.

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” said the old lady, “as we were rela­tives before this marriage. Their rooms already fully furnished; but if there are any things Baochai specially likes you can bring them over, aunt. The child has never struck me as narrow-minded like Daiyu that was what made her die so young.” At this both of them shed tears. Just then Xifeng came in and asked with a smile. “What are you ladies discussing?”

“We were speaking about your Cousin Lin,” Aunt Xue told her. “That’s what upset us.

“Well, don’t be upset,” Xifeng urged them. “I’ve just heard a good joke which I mean to tell you.”

The old lady wiped her tears and said with a smile, “Whom are you making fun of this time I wonder? Go ahead and tell us. But if it isn’t funny, lookout!”

Xifeng, before she even started to speak, gesticulated with both hands and doubled up with laughter. If you want to know what she told them, read the next chapter.

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