The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 105

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CHAPTER 105

The Embroidered Jackets raid
Ning-guo House
And Censor Li impeaches
the Prefect of Ping-an

The day of the reception arrived. Jia Zheng was busily entertaining his guests in the Hall of Exalted Felicity, when Lai Da the steward hurried in to report that a Commissioner Zhao was outside, with a detachment of the Embroidered Jackets, the Imperial secret police:
‘He says he is making a social call, and when I asked for his visiting card he told me there was no need for any such formality, as he was on the best of terms with you, sir. Then he got down from his carriage and started walking straight in. I beg you, sir, to go out with the young masters and receive him at once.’
‘I’ve never had anything to do with this Zhao,’ mused Jia Zheng. ‘I wonder what can have brought him here? And at such an in?convenient hour. I can hardly abandon my guests to entertain him; and yet if I do not invite him in it will seem uncivil…’
He stood there thinking the matter over to himself, and Jia Lian urged him to hurry: ‘If you wait much longer, Uncle, they will be upon us.’
Even as he said these words, a servant entered to announce that Commissioner Zhao had indeed already passed through the inner gate, and Jia Zheng hurried out into the courtyard to receive him. Zhao soon came into sight, smiling but silent, and walked straight on and up into the hall. He was followed by five or six of his aides, some of whom were known to Jia Zheng, but although Jia Zheng greeted them, none of them said a word in reply. Jia Zheng could only follow them helplessly back into the hall and ask them to be seated. Some of the guests were acquainted with Zhao, but he passed them by with his head in the air and ignored everyone except Jia Zheng, whom he eventually took by the hand and engaged in vague small-talk, smiling inscrutably all the while. The guests scented trouble in the air, and either sneaked out into the private apartments at the back of the mansion, or stood stock-still where they were, in an attitude of apprehensive respect.
Jia Zheng managed to maintain an anxious smile, and was about to attempt a response to one of Zhao’s pleasantries when a flustered servant entered the hall and announced:
‘His Highness the Prince of Xi-ping!’
Jia Zheng hurried out once again, to find the prince already entering the courtyard. Commissioner Zhao moved smartly forward ahead of Jia Zheng to salute the prince, and then gave his own aides their orders:
‘His Royal Highness has now arrived; take your men and post yourselves at the front and rear gates of the mansion.
Zhao’s aides went off to do his bidding, while Jia Zheng and the other menfolk, filled with foreboding by this sinister turn of events, fell to their knees and kowtowed before the Prince of Xi-ping. The prince raised Jia Zheng with both hands and said with a reassuring smile: ‘I would not intrude on you at such a time did I not have special reasons: I am entrusted with an Imperial Edict for your brother, Sir She. But I see that we have come upon you in the midst of a private gathering, and as it would hardly be fitting to proceed while your friends and relatives are still present, I would ask them to leave. Only the members of your own household need remain behind.’
‘A most gracious gesture, I am sure,’ interposed Commissioner Zhao sharply. ‘But His Highness supervising operations at Ning-guo House is, I believe, taking this matter a little more seriously, and has already ordered every gate to be sealed.’
The guests learned from this that both mansions were in some sort of trouble, and began to fear that they themselves were trapped as well. The prince, however, seemed unperturbed, and announced smilingly:
‘Gentlemen, please consider yourselves free to leave. Send for some of my men to escort them out,’ he continued, addressing Zhao, ‘and tell your own officers that these are all guests and are not to be hindered or subjected to any kind of search, but are to be let through without delay.’
As soon as they heard this, the guests vanished like a puff of smoke, leaving only Jia She, Jia Zheng and the immediate family, who stood there trembling and pale with fear. Shortly afterwards, constables swarmed in and stationed themselves at every doorway, thereby denying freedom of movement to masters and servants alike. Zhao turned to the prince, his face positively venomous:
‘Will Your Highness be so good as to read the Edict, so that we can proceed with our task?’
The constables hitched up their robes, rolled up their sleeves, and stood smartly to attention to hear the Edict. The prince began his preamble with great deliberation:
‘I am hereby instructed by His Majesty to proceed with Com?missioner Zhao Quan of the Embroidered Jackets and to search, and take a complete inventory of, the property of Jia She.’
Jia She cowered prostrate on the ground as the prince mounted the terrace and, facing south, began the proclamation of the Edict proper:
“‘Hearken! Inasmuch as Our subject Jia She has connived with a provincial official and has used his influence to persecute a defenceless citizen, he has shown himself unworthy of Our favour, has disgraced his ancestors, and is to be deprived of his hereditary rank. By Imperial Decree.”
‘Arrest him!’ barked Zhao. ‘Take the others away and put them under close guard!’
This referred to the other Jia menfolk present – Jia Zheng, Jia Lian, Cousin Zhen, Jia Rong, Jia Qiang, Jia Zhi and Jia Lan. Bao-yu had somehow managed to slip out to Grandmother Jia’s apartment earlier, on the pretext of some indisposition or other, while Jia Huan hardly ever put in an appearance at such social gatherings.
Zhao also told his aides to issue the junior officers and constables with their orders at once: they were to divide up and search the mansion room by room, taking a detailed inventory as they went along. These orders, and the brisk matter-of-fact efficiency with which they were delivered, had a devastating impact on the morale of the Jia family, young and old alike. They looked at one another in terror as they were led away, while Zhao’s constables and personal lackeys began rubbing their hands in gleeful anticipation.
‘I understand,’ said the Prince of Xi-ping, ‘that Sir Zheng and Sir She maintain separate establishments. Since the Edict only empowers us to search Sir She’s property, the other apartments should be locked and sealed, until such time as I have received further in?structions from His Majesty.’
Zhao rose to his feet.
‘Your Highness, I should inform you that in point of fact Jia She and Jia Zheng do not maintain separate establishments. On the con?trary, I am given to understand that the affairs of both branches of Rong-guo Rouse are managed by one person, Jia Lian, who is the son of Sir She and the nephew of Sir Zheng. It is therefore imperative that we search the entire mansion.’
The prince was silent, and Zhao continued:
‘In view of this, I shall personally direct the search of the residences of both Jia She and Jia Lian.’
‘There is no hurry,’ said the prince. ‘Send word to the inner apartments first, and give the ladies time to withdraw. A few minutes’ delay is neither here nor there.’
But even as he was speaking, Zhao’s men, who had already led away the Jia menfolk, were dividing up into search parties and had begun their work, each taking one of the Jia servants to act as guide.
‘Let there be no rowdy behaviour now!’ cried the prince. ‘I shall be along presently to supervise the proceedings myself.’
He rose to his feet in a dignified manner, and addressed his own attendants:
‘Not one of you is to move. Wait here, and later we shall inspect the inventory together.’
Almost immediately one of Zhao’s men returned from the search and knelt before him:
‘Your Highness, restricted garments and skirts for palace use, and many other prohibited items, have been found in the inner apart?ments. I have given orders that these are not to be moved, pending Your Highness’s instructions.’
Presently another search party returned and pressed before the prince:
‘Two chests of property deeds found in the eastern side-compound, and one chest of promissory notes – all bearing illegal rates of inter?est?.’
‘Usurers!’ hissed Zhao. ‘They deserve to lose everything. Take a seat, Your Highness, and allow me to order the immediate confi?scation of the entire contents of the mansion. We can report to the throne for the necessary authorization afterwards.’
At that moment an aide-de-camp came in to speak to the prince:
‘The soldiers at the gate have sent word that the Prince of Bei-jing is here, as the special emissary of His Majesty, and will deliver a second Edict. You are requested to go out and receive him.’
Zhao welcomed this news.
‘It was just my luck,’ he thought to himself; ‘to have been lumbered with this first prince! Now he’s being replaced, and I should be able to get down to business!’
He went out to the front courtyard, to find the Prince of Bei-jing already facing south, and delivering the new Edict.
‘“For the Edification of Zhao Quan, Commissioner of the Em?broidered Jackets. Hearken! The men under Zhao’s command are to arrest no one, with the exception of Jia She, who is to be held for questioning. The Prince of Xi-ping will supervise all other aspects of the investigation according to Our Instructions.”’
The Prince of Xi-ping was delighted. He sat down with the Prince of Bei-jing, and told Zhao to take Jia She with him and return to his yamen. The search parties, having learned of the arrival of the new prince, had all congregated once more in the courtyard. They were most disappointed to hear that Zhao was being removed from the scene, and stood around, disconsolately waiting for their new orders. The Prince of Bei-jing selected two of the more honest-looking officers and a dozen or so of the older constables to stay behind, and dismissed all the others.
‘I was just beginning to get extremely annoyed with old Zhao,’ said the Prince of Xi-ping. ‘You arrived with that second Edict in the nick of time. If you’d been much later, I’m afraid it would have gone badly for the Jias.’
‘I heard at court,’ replied the Prince of Bei-jing, ‘that you had been entrusted with the original Edict, and that the investigation was in your hands, and I must say I was greatly relieved. I knew I could depend on you to see that things did not get out of hand. But I hadn’t bargained on that old rogue Zhao. Tell me, where are Sir Zheng and young Bao-yu? I do hope these men have not been creating too much havoc.’
‘Jia Zheng and the other gentlemen are being held under guard in the servants’ quarters,’ he was informed by the officers. ‘The men have turned the entire house upside-down in the course of their search.’
The Prince of Bei-jing turned to one of them:
‘Bring Sir Zheng here at once. I wish to speak to him.’
Jia Zheng was brought in, and fell to his knees, tearfully pleading for mercy. The Prince of Bei-jing stood up, took him by both hands and said:
‘My friend, set your mind at rest.’
When the prince went on to inform him of the new Edict, Jia Zheng wept with emotion, and faced in a northerly direction to kowtow his thanks to the throne. Then he came forward again to receive any further instructions. It was the Prince of Xi-ping who continued:
‘My friend, when Commissioner Zhao was here just now, his constables reported having found prohibited items of clothing, and promissory notes bearing excessive rates of interest. It will be hard to gloss all this over. The clothes were no doubt intended for Her Grace’s use – that I can state quite plausibly in my report. But these promissory notes – what are we to say about them? I think you, Zheng, had better go now with one of the officers and give him a complete account of all Sir She’s property. It is essential that you conceal nothing, or you will only make things worse for yourself.’
‘How could I dare to conceal anything!’ replied Jia Zheng. ‘But I beg to inform Your Highness that our family estate has never been formally divided between my brother and myself; individually we own only whatever we happen to have in our apartments.’
‘Very well,’ said the princes. ‘Proceed on that basis, and declare whatever is in Sir She’s compound.’
The officers were instructed to execute this task in an orderly and civilized fashion, and departed with Jia Zheng.

*

Let us return to Grandmother Jia’s apartments, where the ladies had been holding a party of their own that day. Bao-yu had come to join them, and Lady Wang asked him if he ought not to be with the men, for fear of angering his father. Xi-feng was also present, despite her illness, and she replied somewhat croakily on Bao-yu’s behalf:
‘I’m sure Bao-yu wasn’t afraid of the company, Aunt Wang, and I’m sure he wasn’t shirking his responsibilities. He just thought there were plenty of men to wait on the guests outside, and that he would be better employed helping us here – which is reasonable enough. If Uncle Zheng needs an extra hand, you can always send Bao-yu over later.’
Grandmother Jia laughed:
‘Fengie may be ill, but she still has a tongue in her head!’
The party was warming up and the conversation becoming quite merry, when suddenly one of Lady Xing’s maidservants came running in, screeching:
‘Your Old Ladyship! Your Ladyships! The most terr…. terrible thing has happened! Hundreds of bandits in big boots and hats have broken into the house, turned all the trunks and boxes upside down and started stealing our things!’
The ladies stared at her dumbfounded. Next, Patience hurried into the room, her hair dishevelled, dragging Qiao-jie by the hand and sobbing hysterically:
‘Lord have mercy on us! I was having my meal with Qiao-jie when Brightie was brought in, his hands tied behind his back. “Hurry, miss,” he told me, “go inside and tell Their Ladyships to hide. The prince is on his way in to search the house!” I nearly died of fright. I went into our apartment to rescue a few of the more important things, and ran into a gang of ruffians who pushed me Out of their way. You’d better hurry and collect together all the clothes and things you’ll need before it’s too late.’
Lady Xing and Lady Wang were utterly flabbergasted; Xi-feng listened wide-eyed as Patience told her tale, and then slumped onto the floor with her head thrown back; Grandmother Jia burst into floods of tears before Patience had even finished, and was too dis?traught to utter a word. The whole room was in this state of total disarray, and the servants were falling over each other in their panic, when suddenly more cries were heard from outside:
‘Ladies to withdraw! His Highness the Prince is approaching!’
Bao-chai and Bao-yu stood watching helplessly, as the maids and old nannies scrambled in every direction. The next they knew, Jia Lian came running in, panting:
‘All is well! The prince has saved the day!’
They wanted to ask him what had happened, but Jia Lian was himself too infected by the general hysteria to be of any service as an informant. First he caught sight of Xi-feng lying unconscious on the floor, and cried out in alarm; then he saw that Grandmother Jia had also fainted from shock, and feared the worst for her. Patience suc?ceeded in bringing Xi-feng round, and with the help of one of the maids helped her up onto her feet; while Grandmother Jia, when she finally regained consciousness, lay down sobbing on the kang, strug?gling for breath, as though she might faint again at any moment. Li Wan did her best to comfort her, and Jia Lian himself was at last sufficiently composed to tell them of the events that had taken place, and of the kindness shown them by the two princes – though he withheld the news of Jia She’s arrest, which he was afraid might prove too great a shock for Grandmother Jia and Lady Xing. He then went to examine the condition of his own apartment, and found chests and cupboards broken open and ransacked. There was almost nothing left. He stared around him aghast, and tears sprang to his eyes. He heard his name called outside, and went out to find Jia Zheng with the two princes and the officer taking the inventory. The items were being called Out one by one:
One Longevity Buddha in aloeswood
One Goddess of Mercy, ditto
One Buddha plinth
Rosary-beads in aloeswood, two strings
Golden Buddhas, one set
Nine gold-plated bronze mirrors
Jade Buddhas, three
Longevity and the Eight Immortals, a set of jade figurines
Four Ru-yi sceptres – two in gold and jade, two in aloeswood
Antique porcelain vases and jars, seventeen
Fourteen chests containing antique objets d’art and mounted scrolls
One large jade jar
Two small ditto
Large jade circular dishes, two pairs
Two large glass folding-screens
Two small kang screens
Four large dishes in glass
Four jade dishes
Two agate ditto
Four large dishes in solid gold
Gold bowls, six pairs
Eight howls with pattern in gold inlay
Gold spoons, forty
Large silver bowls, sixty
Silver dishes, sixty
Ivory chopsticks with triple gold inlay, four bundles
Gold-plated jugs with handles, twelve
Small spittoons, three pairs
Two saucers
Silver cups and saucers, one hundred and sixty
black fox-furs, eighteen
Sables, fifty-six
Russet fox-furs, forty-four
White ditto, forty-four
Mongolian lynx-skins, twelve
Partly tailored Yunnan fox-skins, twenty-five
Sea-otter skins, twenty-six
Seal-skins, three
Tiger-skins, six
Brown-and-black striped fox-furs, three
Otter-skins, twenty-eight
Red astrakhan-skins, forty
Black astrakhan-skins sixty-three
Partly tailored musquash-skins, twenty
Mongolian suslik, twenty-four squares
‘Swansdown’ velvet, four rolls
Grey squirrel-skins, two hundred and sixty-three
Japanese damask silk, thirty-two lengths
Imported worsted, thirty lengths
Serge, thirty-three lengths
Velveteen, forty lengths
Plain satin, one hundred and thirty bolts
Gauze silk, one hundred and eighty bolts
Corded silk-crepe, thirty-two bolts
Bombasine and camlets, twenty-two rolls each
Tibetan yak’s serge, thirty bolts
Dragon-robe satin, eighteen bolts
Cottons, assorted colours, thirty bundles
Sundry fur garments, one hundred and thirty-two
Various garments, padded, lined, unlined, gauze and silk – three hundred and forty
Nine pairs of belt-buckles
Items in brass and pewter, over five hundred
Clocks and watches, eighteen
Court chaplets, nine strings of one hundred and eight bands
Pearls, thirteen strings
Gold head-dresses, complete with jewels and precious stones, one hundred and twenty-three
Cushion covers and arm-rest covers in Imperial yellow satin, three sets
Palace dresses and skirts, eight sets
Two girdles in ‘mutton-fat’ white jade
Yellow satin, twelve bolts
Substandard silver, seven thousand taels
Pure gold, one hundred and fifty-two taels
Copper cash, seven thousand five hundred strings

All the furniture and properties bestowed by Imperial favour on the Rong-guo branch of the family had been itemized in a similar fashion, while property deeds and bonds for household servants had been put into separate covers and sealed.
Jia Lian followed this recital in detail, and was greatly puzzled to hear no mention of any of his own belongings. Presently one of the princes put an end to his bewilderment by asking Jia Zheng:
‘Among the items confiscated earlier, there were promissory notes bearing exorbitant rates of interest – who is responsible for these? You must tell the truth, Zheng.’
Jia Zheng knelt, kowtowed and said:
‘I have, alas, been insufficiently diligent in supervising my house?hold. I was completely unaware of these activities. My nephew Jia Lian can doubtless answer your questions.’
Jia Lian hurried forward and fell to his knees.
‘Since the chest containing these documents was found in my apartment, how dare I disclaim knowledge of them? I can only beg Your Highnesses’ mercy. My uncle was quite unaware of their exist?ence.’
‘Your father has already been arrested,’ said the princes to Jia Lian. ‘This offence can be dealt with at the same time as his. We commend you for having made a clean breast of it.’ They turned to their men: ‘Jia Lian must be detained. The others may be released, but are to be kept within the confines of the mansion.’ Finally they addressed Jia Zheng: ‘You, Zheng, must be more circumspect in future. Stay here and await His Majesty’s final Edict. We will now return to make our report to the throne, and in the meantime will leave guards here to keep watch over the house.’
They climbed into their princely sedans and were carried out of the mansion. Jia Zheng escorted them as far as the inner gate, where he knelt to see them off, and the Prince of Bei-jing stretched out a hand towards him as he passed, urging him to set his mind at ease. There was genuine concern written on the prince’s face.
After their departure Jia Zheng managed to compose himself somewhat, though he was still suffering from a deep sense of shock. When Jia Lian came and asked him to call on Grandmother Jia, informing him that she was indisposed, he roused himself at once and went in. At every doorway he encountered frantic maids and serving-women, all wondering what turn events would take next. Too preoccupied to stop and question them, he hurried on to Grand?mother Jia’s apartment, and arrived to find Lady Wang, Bao-yu and the others gathered around Grandmother Jia, their faces wet with tears; there was silence in the room, broken only by the occasional fit of convulsive wailing from Lady Xing. The appearance of Jia Zheng brought cries of ‘Heaven be praised!’ and they hastened to reassure the old lady:
‘The Master is safe and sound! He’s here with us! Please don’t fret any more, Grannie!’
Grandmother Jia gave a faint little gasp and opened her eyes a slit:
‘Oh my son! I thought I’d never see you again!’
As she spoke, she burst out sobbing, and everyone in the room immediately followed suit. Jia Zheng was afraid that all this emotion might injure the old lady’s health and checked his own tears:
‘Please calm yourself, Mother. I cannot deny the gravity of what has happened. But thanks to the Emperor’s generosity and the gra?cious favour of the two princes, we have been treated with great compassion. Brother She has only been taken for questioning, and when his case has been investigated I am sure His Majesty will deal with him leniently also. And so far, not a thing has been removed from the house.’
When Grandmother Jia learned that her elder son had been taken away, she broke down again, and it was a while before Jia Zheng could finally calm her spirits.
The first person to venture out of the room was Lady Xing. She went to inspect her own apartment, and found all the doors sealed with strips of paper and padlocked, and her maids and serving-?women held prisoner inside. There was nowhere for her to take refuge, and she let out a great howl of despair. Finally she made her way to Xi-feng’s apartment. Xi-feng’s side-rooms were sealed in a similar fashion, but the door leading into the main hall was still open, and from inside she could hear the sound of sobbing. She went in, and saw Xi-feng lying on her couch with eyes closed, her face ashen-pale; Patience stood by her side, quietly weeping. Lady Xing thought Xi-feng must be already dead and broke down again. Patience came up to her:
‘Please, Your Ladyship, don’t cry! We carried Mrs Lian back and she looked as good as dead. She had a sleep and then she woke up again and started crying. Now she’s more settled. Please try to be calm, Your Ladyship. How is Her Old Ladyship taking it?’
Lady Xing did not answer her question, but returned to Grand?mother Jia’s apartment. There she was surrounded by Jia Zheng’s family. She reflected on her wretched fate: her husband and son were under arrest, her daughter-in-law was at death’s door, her newly married daughter was suffering maltreatment, and now she herself had nowhere to turn. Her whole world seemed to be collapsing around her. The others took pity on her distress and did what they could to comfort her; Li Wan sent a servant to prepare temporary accommodation while Lady Wang deputed some of her own maids and serving-women to wait on her.
Jia Zheng meanwhile had returned to his outer study and was sitting there, stroking his beard and nervously rubbing his hands together, waiting in a state of great trepidation for the outcome of the princes’ report to the throne. He heard one of the guards shouting outside:
‘Which part of the house do you belong to, for goodness’ sake? Since you’ve turned up here, we’ll have to enter you in our book. Bind him and hand him over to the Jackets.’
Jia Zheng went out to the gate and found that the man in question was Big Jiao, the ‘trusty old retainer’ from Ning-guo House.
‘What the devil brings you here?’ he asked.
Stomping furiously on the ground and calling heaven to be his witness, Big Jiao cried:
‘Hadn’t I warned these good-for-naught masters time after time- and they always said I was agin them! But you, sir, you know the wounds I had at my master’s side! And now look what we’ve come to! Mr Zhen and Master Rong both put in chains by some prince or other; the ladies manhandled and locked up in an empty room by some men from the whatsit guards; the slaves all penned up together, sir, like the worthless pigs that they are! Everything taken out for inventory and pushed to one side, lovely old furniture broken up, china smashed to smithereens … And now they want to get their hands on me! In my more than four score years I’ve tied men aplenty for my master: but let ‘em do it to me – never! I gave ‘em the slip at first and said I was from Rong-guo House; but they wouldn’t believe it and dragged me in. And now I find things are just as bad here. Nothing left worth living for. Whole place gone to the dogs. Well, I’m damned if I’ll knuckle under now. I might as well go down fighting!’
He charged head-first at the guards, who, out of respect for his age, and not wishing to contravene the princes’ orders, handled him with restraint.
‘Calm down, old man. We’re here to carry out an Imperial Edict. Now just take it easy and wait to see what His Majesty commands.’
Throughout this Jia Zheng said nothing, though he was cut to the quick by the old man’s words.
‘So it has come to this!’ he finally exclaimed to himself. ‘We are finished! I never thought we should be brought so low!’
He returned to his study and a little later was still sitting there, anxiously awaiting news from the Palace, when he heard Xue Ke come running into the courtyard and call out breathlessly:
‘I got through by the skin of my teeth! Where’s Uncle Zheng?’
Jia Zheng stepped out to greet him:
‘I am so glad you were able to reach us. How did you persuade them to let you in?’
‘I just begged and begged for all I was worth, and promised them money, and in the end they let me pass.’
Jia Zheng told him of the raid and asked him to try to find out on their behalf what was going on:
‘We can’t communicate with our friends and relatives. It would be too dangerous. You are the very person to carry word through for us.’
‘I had heard of the charges brought against Ning-guo House,’ said Xue Ke, ‘but I had no idea things were so bad on this side too.’
‘But what are the charges?’ asked Jia Zheng.
‘Earlier today,’ replied Xue Ke, ‘I was at the Board of Punishments on business of my own. I was enquiring about Cousin Pan’s sentence, but while I was there I happened to hear of the indictments brought by two censors against Cousin Zhen. One was for corrupting the sons of noble families, encouraging them to gamble and that sort of thing. That was the lesser of the charges: the other was for forcefully taking as a concubine the fiancée of an innocent man; when she resisted, or so the indictment reads, he subjected her to physical violence and drove her to her death. To corroborate the charges, the censor concerned has arrested a servant of ours named Bao Er and has also brought as witness a certain Mr Zhang. Even the Chief Censorate may be in trouble, as this fellow Zhang originally appealed to them some time ago and had his appeal quashed.’
Jia Zheng stamped his foot before Xue Ke had finished speaking.
‘What have things come to! This is truly the end!’
He sighed, and his cheeks were wet with tears. Xue Ke tried to console him, and then went out again to gather more news.
‘Things look bad,’ he reported later that day. ‘At the Board of Punishments, I could discover nothing about the two princes and their report to the throne. But I did learn something else. Early this morning a censor named Li presented an impeachment against the magistrate of Ping-an, accusing him of toadying to a metropolitan official, of pandering to his superiors and of oppressing the common people – together with a whole string of serious related offences.’
‘What has that to do with us?’ replied Jia Zheng somewhat im?patiently. ‘What about our own people?’
‘The two cases are connected,’ said Xue Ke. ‘The metropolitan official referred to in Censor Li’s impeachment is in fact Uncle She: which means that he is implicated in a miscarriage of justice – which is a serious offence. His friends at court want to keep their hands clean if they possibly can, and there is no one even willing to keep us informed. It’s the same with the guests who fled from the party just now – they have either gone home, or found some other hiding place in which to lie low until the storm blows over. A few members of the clan are even publicly asking who will be the lucky one to get the title now that the family has been disgraced. They all have an eye on it …’
Jia Zheng stamped his foot and interrupted him again:
‘This is all the consequence of my elder brother’s folly! And of the disgraceful ways into which Ning-guo House had fallen! But enough of this. Who knows if Lady Jia and Lian’s wife are even still alive! You had best return and continue your enquiries, while I go and see how Lady Jia is. If you have any news, bring it as quickly as you can.’
As they were speaking, a confused cry was heard from within:
‘Her Old Ladyship is sinking!’
Jia Zheng hurried away in great alarm. To learn if she lived, you must turn to the next chapter.

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