The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 10


Widow Jin’s self-iinterest gets the better of her
righteous indignation
And Doctor Zhang’s diagnosis reveals the origin
of a puzzling disease

Outnumbered, and hard pressed by Jia Rui to apologize, Jokey Jin made a kotow to Qin Zhong, whereupon Bao-yu agreed to let the matter drop. Back in his own home, when school was over, he brooded with mounting anger on his humiliation.
‘Qin Zhong is Jia Rong’s brother-in-law: it’s not as if he were one of the Jia clan. He’s only an external scholar, the same as me; and it’s only because he is friends with Bao-yu that he can afford to be so high and mighty. Well, in that case he ought to behave himself, then no one would have any cause to complain. But he’s always carrying on in such a sneaky, underhand way with Bao-yu, as though he thought the rest of us were all blind and couldn’t see what he was up to. And now today he’s started making up to someone else and I happen to have found him out. So what if there were a row about this? I’ve got nothing to be afraid of.’
His mother, Widow Jin, overheard his muttering.
‘What have you been getting up to this time ?’ she asked. ‘Look at the job we had getting you into that school. All the talks I had with your aunt and the trouble she went to to see Mrs Lian about it. Suppose we hadn’t had their help in getting you in there, we could never have afforded a tutor. What’s more, you get free tea and free dinners there, don’t you? That has meant a big saving for us during the two years you have been going there. And you’re glad enough to have some?thing decent to wear out of the money saved, aren’t you? And another thing. If you hadn’t been going to that school, how would you ever have met that Mr Xue of yours? Between seventy and eighty taels of silver we’ve had out of him during this past year. I can tell you this, my boy. If you get yourself thrown out of there, you needn’t think you can get in anywhere else, because you could easier fly to the moon than find another place like that. Now you just play quietly for a bit and then go to bed like a good boy!’
Thus admonished, Jokey Jin swallowed his anger and fell silent. Before long he went to bed and to sleep, and next day was back at the school again as usual. Of him no more.

Jokey Jin’s aunt was married to one Jia Huang, a member of the Jia clan in the same generation as Cousin Zhen and Jia Lian. It goes without saying, of course, that not all members of the clan lived in the sort of style maintained by the Ning and Rong households. Jia Huang and his wife had only the income from a very small property to live on, and it was only by dint of frequent visits to the Ning and Rong mansions, where their flattering attentions on Wang Xi-feng and You-shi earned them an occasional subsidy, that they were able to make ends meet.
Today the weather was fine and sunny and Mrs Huang had nothing particular to do at home, so taking an old serving-woman with her, she got into a cab and went off to pay a call on her sister-in-law and nephew.
In the course of conversation Widow Jin soon got on to the subject of yesterday’s affair in the schoolroom and launched into a full account, from which no detail was omitted, of all those happenings. It would have been as well for her if she had not done so, for the effect was to kindle a dangerous anger in the bosom of her sister-in-law.
‘That little beast Qin Zhong!’ said Mrs Huang. ‘He may be related to the Jias, by marriage, but then so is your boy. What business has he to go throwing his weight about like that, I should like to know? Especially after the disgusting things he had been doing himself. Considering what he’d been up to, even Bao-yu ought not to have sided with him to that extent. Let me go and see Mrs Zhen about this. I shall ask her to let me have it out with Qin Zhong’s sister and see if we can’t get some satisfaction.’
‘Oh dear, I shouldn’t talk so much! I never meant to tell you this. Please, my dear, I beg of you not to speak to them about it! Never mind the rights and wrongs of the case, if this all gets out, they will make it too hot for my boy to stay on at the school; and if he had to stop going to the school, we should never be able to afford a tutor for him, quite apart from all the extra expense I should have of feeding him during the day.’
‘Never mind about all that!’ said Mrs Huang. ‘We’ll worry about that after I’ve spoken to them and seen what happens.’
Dismissing her sister-in-law’s entreaties, she sent the old servant-woman out for a cab, and getting inside, drove straight off to the Ning-guo mansion. But by the time she had reached it, driven in at the east end gate, dismounted from the carriage and gone in to see You-shi, the edge had already worn off her anger, and it was only after deferential inquiries about the health and comfort of her hostess and various other in-consequential matters that she got around to asking what had become of Qin-shi, who was usually in evidence during her visits.
‘I don’t know what’s the matter with her lately,’ said You?-shi. ‘It’s been more than two months now since she had a period, yet the doctors say she isn’t pregnant. And during the last few days she’s been getting so tired and listless in the afternoons: doesn’t feel like doing anything; doesn’t even feel like talking; all the spirit seems to have gone out of her. I’ve said to her, “Never mind about wifely duties. Just forget about the morning and evening visits and concentrate on getting better. Even when relations call,” I said, “I can see to them myself. And never mind what the older members of the family might say: I’ll do all the explaining for you.” I’ve spoken to Rong, as well. “You’re not to tire her out,” I told him, “and you’re not to let her get upset! She must just rest quietly for a few days and look after herself. And if there’s anything she fancies to eat, just come to my apartment to get it. Because if anything should happen to her,” I said, “you wouldn’t find another wife like that, with her looks and her good nature, if you took a lantern to look for her.” She’s such a sweet person, there isn’t anyone among our relations or among the older members of the family who doesn’t love her. I’ve been so worried on her account these last few days. And just to make matters worse, first thing this morning her young brother comes along—Silly little boy! he ought to have realized that his sister wasn’t well and not in a condition to listen to such things, even if he’d suffered ten thousand times the injustice!—It seems that yesterday there was a fight at the school. One of the external students—I don’t know which one it was—had been bullying him; and there were a lot of other very nasty things as well. So he had to go and tell all this to his sister. Well, you know how sensitive she is, my dear, in spite of the fact that she always seems so lively and full of fun to talk to. The slightest little thing can upset her and set her brooding on it for whole days and nights together. In fact, this illness has been brought on by too much worrying, I’m sure of it. Well, this morning when she heard that someone had been bullying her brother, it both upset her and at the same time made her angry. She was upset to think that those horrible boys at the school should be able to twist things round and say such ter?rible things about him, but she was also angry with him, because she said he must have been getting into bad ways and not giving his mind properly to his studies to have got into trouble of this sort in the first place. So of course, because of this upset she wouldn’t have any breakfast. I’ve just been round there trying to calm her. I gave her brother a talking-to and sent him round to see Bao-yu, and I stood over her while she ate half a bowlful of bird’s-nest soup. I’ve only just this minute got back. Oh, I’m so worried about her, my dear! We haven’t got a good doctor at the moment, either. It pierces me to the heart when I think about that child’s illness! I suppose you don’t happen to know of a good doctor, do you?’
Mrs Huang’s determination to have things out with Qin-shi, of which she had boasted so valiantly at her sister-in-law’s, had, in the course of this outpouring, fled to the far kingdom of Java. She hastened to own that she knew of no good doctor.
‘But hearing what you have said about this illness,’ she added, ‘I can’t help wondering if it may not after all be preg?nancy. You want to be careful they don’t give her the wrong treatment. If they give her the wrong treatment for that, there will be real trouble!’
‘I know,’ said You-shi. ‘That’s what I say.’
While they were still talking, Cousin Zhen came in from outside. ‘Isn’t this Cousin Huang’s wife?’ he asked You-shi, catching sight of the visitor. Mrs Huang dropped him a curtsey and a ‘how-do-you-do’. ‘You must ask our cousin to dinner,’ he said, going on into the room beyond.
The original object of Mrs Huang’s visit had of course been to complain to Qin-shi about Qin Zhong’s treatment of her nephew. Hearing of Qin-shi’s illness she had abandoned all thought of even mentioning the subject; and now that Cousin Zhen and You-shi were being so nice to her, her anger grad?ually gave way to pleasure, and after gossiping a while longer she went off home.
When she had gone, Cousin Zhen came in again and sat down.
‘What did she come about today?’ he asked You-shi.
‘Oh,’ said You-shi, ‘nothing in particular. When she first came in she appeared to be upset about something or other, then after we’d been talking for some time and I mentioned that Rong’s wife was ill, she gradually calmed down. When you invited her to dinner she knew she couldn’t very well stay on with sickness in the house and left after chatting a few minutes longer. She didn’t ask for anything before she went.
‘But let’s talk about that child’s illness. The thing is, you really must find a good doctor to look at her, before it gets too late. This lot we have around the house at present are com?pletely useless! Each one of them just listens to what you say and then gives it back to you with a few learned words thrown in. And they’re so terribly conscientious about it! We have three or four of them coming by turns every day, and some?times they’ll take her pulse four or five times in the same day. Then they have long discussions while they decide on a prescription. None of the medicine does her any good, and the only consequence of all this is that she is having to change her clothes four or five times in a day and be constantly getting up and sitting down to see these doctors, which is no good at all for a person in her condition.’
‘Oh, she’s a silly child!’ said Cousin Zhen. ‘There’s no need for all this dressing and undressing. Suppose she caught a chill on top of this other illness, that would be really frightful. Never mind about the clothes, for goodness’ sake, however good they are! It’s the child’s health that matters. Who cares if she has to have a completely new outfit every day? We can afford it.
‘What I was going to tell you is that I’ve just had a visit from Feng Zi-ying. He noticed that something was bothering me, and when he asked me what it was I explained that our daughter-in-law isn’t well and told him how worried we are because we haven’t got a decent doctor who can tell us for sure whether it’s pregnancy or disease, so that we don’t even know how serious it is. Then Feng Zi-ying told me about a scholar friend of his called Zhang You-shi. He and Feng were at school together. He is a man of very wide learning including, apparently, an excellent knowledge of medicine and the ability to tell with certainty whether a disease is curable or not. He’s up at the capital this year to purchase a place for his son and is at present staying in Feng Zi-ying’s house. It looks as if in his hands she might stand a good chance of getting better. Anyway, I’ve already sent someone round with my card and and asked him to call. It’s getting a bit late for him to come today, but he should definitely be round tomorrow. Feng Zi-ying promised to see him when he got back and put in a word for me to make quite sure that he agrees to come. So we’ll just have to wait and see what this Dr Zhang says.’
You-shi was delighted with this news.
‘And what are we going to do about Father’s birthday?’ she asked. ‘It’s the day after tomorrow.’
‘I’ve just been out to see him,’ said Cousin Zhen, ‘and I took the opportunity while I was there of asking him if he would come over on his birthday to receive everyone’s kowtows, but he refused. He said, “I’ve got used to the peace and quiet of the monastery and I’m not willing to go back into your quarrelsome world again. If you insist on celebrating my birthday it would be a hundred times better to have my tract on Divine Rewards written out by a good calligrapher and cut on blocks for printing than to drag me back to your house for a lot of senseless head-knocking.” He said, “If the family turn up tomorrow and the day after for my birthday, you can give them a party yourself. But don’t go sending me any presents,” he said, “and don’t come yourself! If it will set your mind at zest you can give me a kotow now and get it over with. But if you come round here the day after tomorrow with a lot of other people to pester me, I shall refuse to see you.” Well, after that I obviously can’t go again on his birthday. We’d better have Lai Sheng in and make arrangements for two days’ entertainment.’
You-shi called in Jia Rong.
‘Tell Lal Sheng to prepare the usual two-day party for Grandfather,’ she said. ‘Say we want a really good spread. We shall be asking Lady Jia.and Sir Zheng and Lady Wang and your Auntie Lian from the other house: you can go round yourself to invite them.
‘And by the way: today your father heard of a good doctor and has already sent someone to ask him round. He should be coming tomorrow. When he does, you had better tell him exactly what your wife’s symptoms have been during the past few days.’
Jia Rong promised to carry out his mother’s instructions and left the room, encountering, as he did so, the youth who had been sent to Feng Zi-ying’s house to request a call from the doctor. He had just got back from delivering his message and reported to Jia Rong as follows:
‘I took the Master’s card to the doctor at Mr Feng’s house and asked him to call. He said Mr Feng had already spoken to him about it, but he had been out visiting all day and only just got back and he simply didn’t have the energy to go out any more today. He said, “Even if I were to go round to your house now I shouldn’t be able to take the young lady’s pulse. It would take me all night to get my breathing regulated. However,” he said, “I shall definitely call round tomorrow.” And he said, “My knowledge of medicine is really too slight for a consultation of this importance, but as your master and Mr Feng are so pressing, I obviously cannot refuse. But I hope you will explain this to your master.” And he said, “As for your master’s card, that is an honour I really cannot accept”; and he made me bring it back. Will you please pass on this message for me, Master Rong?’
Jia Rong turned and went back into the room to tell his parents. Going out once more, he summoned Lai Sheng and gave instructions for preparing a two-day birthday party, which Lai Sheng duly proceeded to put into operation. But of that no more.
About noon next day one of the servants at the gate came in to report:
‘The Dr Zhang you sent for has arrived, sir’.
Cousin Zhen went out to receive the doctor and con?ducted him into the main reception room, where they both sat down. He waited until the doctor had taken tea before broaching the subject of his visit.
‘Yesterday Mr Feng was telling me about your great learning,’ said Cousin Zhen. ‘I gather that it includes a pro?found knowledge of medicine. I assure you I was very much impressed.’
‘I am only a very indifferent scholar,’ replied Dr Zhang, ‘and my knowledge is really extremely superficial. However, Mr Feng was telling me yesterday of the courteous and con?siderate patronage of scholars which is traditional in your family, so when I received your summons I felt unable to refuse. I must insist, though, that I am entirely lacking in real learning and am acutely embarrassed to think that this will all too soon become apparent.’
‘My dear sir, you are altogether too modest,’ said Cousin Zhen. ‘Do you think I could ask you to go in now and have a look at my daughter-in-law? We are relying on your superior knowledge to put us out of our uncertainty.’
He left the doctor in the charge of Jia Rong, who conducted him through the inner part of the house to his own apartment, where Qin-shi was.
‘Is this the lady?’ asked the doctor.
‘Yes, this is my wife,’ Jia Rong replied. ‘Do sit down! I ex?pect you would like me to describe her symptoms first, before you take the pulse?’
‘If you will permit me, no,’ said the doctor. ‘I think it would be better if I took the pulse first and asked you about the development of the illness afterwards. This is the first time .I have been to your house, and as I am not a skilled practitioner and have only come here at our friend Mr Feng’s insistence, I think I should take the pulse and give you my diagnosis first. We can go on to talk about her symptoms and discuss a course of treatment if you are satisfied with the diagnosis. And of course, it will still be up to you to decide whether or not the treatment I prescribe is to be followed.’
‘You speak with real authority, doctor,’ said Jia Rong. ‘I only wish we had got to hear of you earlier. Take her pulse now, then, and let us know whether what she has can be cured, so that my parents may be spared further anxiety.’
At this point Qin-shi’s women carried in a large arm-rest of the kind used in consultations, propped her forward with her arms across it, and drew back her sleeves, exposing both arms at the wrist. The doctor stretched out his hand and laid it on her right wrist, then, having first regulated his own breathing in order to be able to count the rate, he felt the pulses with great concentration for the space of several minutes, after which he transferred to the left wrist and spent an equal amount of time on that. This done, he proposed that they should withdraw to the outside room to talk.
Jia Rong accompanied him outside and sat with him on the kang. An old woman served tea, which Jia Rong invited the doctor to take, waiting until he had done so before asking him for his diagnosis.
‘Tell me, doctor, from your reading of my wife’s pulse, do you think she can be cured?’
‘Well, the lower left distal pulse is rapid and the lower left median pulse is strong and full,’ said the doctor. ‘On the right side, the distal pulse is thin and lacks strength and the median pulse is faint and lacks vitality.
‘Now, a rapid lower left-hand distal pulse means that a malfunction of the controlling humour of the heart is causing it to generate too much fire; and the strong lower median pulse means that the liver’s humour is blocked, giving rise to a deficiency of blood. A thin, weak distal pulse on the right side indicates a gross deficiency of humour in the lungs; and a faint right median pulse lacking in vitality shows that the earth of the spleen is being subdued by the woody element of the liver.
‘If the heart is generating fire, the symptoms should be ir?regularity of the menses and insomnia. A deficiency of blood and blockage of humour in the liver would result in pain and congestion under the ribs, delay of the menses beyond their term, and burning sensations in the heart. A deficiency of humour in the lungs would give rise to sudden attacks of giddiness, sweating at five or six in the morning, and a sinking feeling rather like the feeling you get in a pitching boat. And if the earth of the spleen is being subdued by the wood of the liver, she would undoubtedly experience loss of appetite, lassitude, and general enfeeblement of the whole body. If my reading of the lady’s pulse is correct, she ought to be showing all these symptoms. Some people would tell you they indicated a pregnancy, but I am afraid I should have to disagree.’
‘You must have second sight, doctor!’ said one of the old women, a body-servant of Qin-shi’s who was standing by. ‘What you have said exactly describes how it is with her; there is no need for us to tell you anything more. Of all the doctors we’ve lately had around here to look at her none has ever spoken as much to the point as this. Some have said she’s expecting; others have said it’s illness; one says it’s not serious; another only gives her till the winter solstice; not one of them tells you anything you can really rely on. Please doctor, you tell us: just how serious is this illness ?’
‘I am afraid my colleagues have allowed your mistress’s condition to deteriorate,’ said the doctor. ‘If she had been given proper treatment at the very beginning, when she first started her courses, there is every reason to suppose that she would by now be completely cured. But the illness has been neglected for so long now, this breakdown was almost bound to happen. I would say that with proper treatment she has about a one in three chance of recovery. We shall just have to see how she responds to my medicine. If, after taking it, she can get a good night’s sleep, her chances will be distinctly better: say fifty?-fifty.
‘From my reading of her pulse, I should expect your mistress to be a very highly strung, sensitive young woman. Sometimes, when people are over-sensitive, they find a good deal that is upsetting in what goes on around them; and of course, if things are upsetting them, they will tend to worry a lot. This illness has been caused by too much worry affecting the spleen and causing an excess of wood in the liver, with the result that the menstrual blood has been prevented from flowing at the proper times. If we were to ask your mistress about the dates of her courses, I am sure we should find that they tended to be on the late side, isn’t that so?’
‘Absolutely right,’ the old woman replied. ‘Her periods have never been early. Sometimes two or three days late, sometimes as much as ten days: but in any case, always late.’
‘You see!’ said the doctor. ‘There is the cause of the trouble. If she could have been treated in time with something to fortify the heart and stabilize the humours, she would never have got into this present state. What we have now, I am afraid, is an advanced case of dehydration. Well, we shall have to see what my medicine can do for her.’
He wrote out the following prescription and handed it to Jia Rong:

For a decoction to increase the breath, nourish the heart, fortify the spleen and calm the liver

Ginseng 2 drams
Atractylis (clay-baked) 2 drams
Lycoperdon 3 drams
Nipplewort (processed) 4 drams
Angelica 2 drams
White peony root 2 drams
Hemlock parsley 1? drams
Yellow vetch root 3 drams
Ground root of nutgrass 2 drams
Hate’s ear (in vinegar) ? dram
Huaiqing yam 2 drams
Dong E ass’s glue (prepn with powdered oyster-shell) 2 drams
Corydalis (cooked in wine) 1? drams
Roast liquorice ? dram
Adjuvant: Excoriate and remove pits from 7 lotus-seeds;
Item 2 large jujubes.
‘Most impressive!’ said Jia Rong, glancing at the pre?scription. ‘Tell me, though, doctor: just how serious is this illness? Is her life in danger?’
The doctor smiled. ‘You are an intelligent young man, Mr Jia. When an illness has reached this stage, it is not going to be cured in an afternoon. We must see how she responds to medication. As I see it, there is no real danger this winter. I should say that if she can get past the spring equinox, you could look forward to a complete recovery.’
Jia Rong was intelligent enough to understand the real import of what the doctor was telling him and did not question him further. Having first seen him out, he went in to show the prescription and written summary of the diagnosis to Cousin Zhen and gave both his parents a full account of what the doctor had said.
‘No other doctor has ever spoken so convincingly,’ said You-shi, turning to Cousin Zhen. ‘I am sure his medicine will do her good.’
Cousin Zhen smiled complacently.
‘This man is no medical hack practising for a living,’ he said. ‘It’s only because Feng Zi-ying is such a good friend of mine that he could be persuaded to come and see us. Perhaps with a man like this treating her our daughter-in-law stands some chance of getting better. I see there is ginseng in that prescription, by the way. You can use some of that pound of high-grade ginseng we bought the other day.’
Seeing that they had no more to say, Jia Rong went out and ordered the drugs for Qin-shi’s medicine to be purchased and prepared. But you will have to read the next chapter if you want to know what effect the medicine had on her when she had taken it.

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