The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 106

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CHAPTER 106

Wang Xi-feng feels remorse for the consequences
of her past misdeeds
And Grandmother Jia prays for the family’s deliverance
from further calamity’

Jia Zheng hurried straight in to Grandmother Jia’s apartment. The shock of the day’s events had finally taken its toll, and she was unconscious again and breathing fitfully. Lady Wang, with the help of Faithful and the other maids, eventually brought her round. They persuaded her to swallow one of her combined dispersant and sedative boluses, which brought some slight relief. But she remained tearful and distraught. Jia Zheng stood by her side and tried to comfort her and rally her spirits:
‘It is Brother She and I who have brought this misfortune on the family and caused you all this distress, Mother. Please try to take heart a little. We will do our utmost to set things to rights. If you should suffer in any way, our burden of guilt will be unbearable!’
‘I am over eighty now,’ replied the old lady, ‘and ever since the day I came here as a girl and was married to your father, I have led a sheltered life. I have been blessed and protected by the family an?cestors. I’ve never even heard of such terrible goings-on as these. I am too old for it all. I couldn’t bear to see you punished. I’d rather die, and be spared the ordeal.’
She burst into tears once again, and Jia Zheng grew more and more agitated about her condition. Suddenly a voice was heard outside calling:
‘News from court for the Master!’
Jia Zheng hurried out. The Prince of Bei-jing’s aide-de-camp was waiting for him in the main reception hall, and greeted him with the words:
‘Excellent news, sir!’
Jia Zheng thanked the aide for coming and begged him to be seated.
‘What are my instructions from His Highness?’ he asked.
‘My master and His Highness the Prince of Xi-ping presented a joint report to His Majesty, and spoke at some length on your behalf, sir, stressing your penitence and your great appreciation of the clemency shown to you by the throne. His Majesty was most sympa?thetic, and mindful of the recent demise of Her Grace, he has resolved not to punish you, but instead to restore you to your former post as Under-Secretary at the Board of Works. Of the family property held under restraint, only that portion belonging to Sir She is to be confiscated. The rest will all be returned to you. His Majesty urges you to resume your official duties with diligence.
‘The matter of the promissory notes will be investigated personally by my master. Any such notes referring to loans made at usurious rates of interest will be confiscated outright according to the relevant statute; notes negotiated at permissible rates, together with title-deeds of houses and land, will all be returned. Jia Lian is to be deprived of his position and rank, but otherwise will be exempted from further punishment and released.’
Jia Zheng rose from his seat and kowtowed in the appropriate direction for this act of Imperial clemency. He also bowed to the aide to express his profound gratitude for the prince’s intervention on his behalf.
‘Be so good as to convey my thanks to His Highness. Tomorrow I shall attend court in order to express my gratitude to His Majesty in person, and shall also present myself at His Highness’s palace to make my kowtow.’
The prince’s aide took his leave. Shortly afterwards a court official arrived to proclaim the Edict, followed by the officers entrusted with its execution, who supervised the proceedings scrupulously, confis?cating only what had been specified, and restoring everything else to its owner. Jia Lian was released, while Jia She’s domestic staff, men and women alike, were all taken away into public service.
Jia Lian’s position was not to be envied. Some of the promissory notes and documents were returned, and none of his other property had been officially confiscated, but his apartment had been ransacked and nothing but the bare furniture had been left in place. His initial relief at being set free and escaping the punishment he feared soon gave way to a profound sense of loss, when he beheld his own and Xi-feng’s possessions of a lifetime – altogether about sixty thousand taels’ worth – gone in a morning’s work. His father’s imprisonment, Xi-feng’s critical state of health: the strain was almost more than he could bear. And now he had to face Jia Zheng, who summoned him and berated him, barely suppressing a sob:
‘I have, alas, been too busy of late with my official duties, and have paid insufficient attention to family matters. I thought I could rely on you and your wife. I can hardly remonstrate with your father for his misconduct; but this usury that has come to light – who in heaven’s name is responsible for that? Families like ours simply do not dabble in such things. The documents have been confiscated, and both principal and interest are forfeit: but it’s not the money, it’s the appalling blow this will deal to our reputation!’
Jia Lian fell to his knees:
‘In managing our family’s affairs, Uncle, I have never acted with a view to private gain. All the accounts have been kept by the stewards- Lai Da, Wu Xin-deng, Dai Liang and the others. Please summon them and hear the truth from their lips. These past few years, our expenditure has far exceeded our income, and there have been deficits in the accounts that I have simply been unable to make good, despite the numerous unsecured debts I have had to negotiate. Aunt Wang will be able to tell you all about it. As for the money loaned out, even I have no idea where that has come from. You’d better ask Zhou Rui and Brightie.’
‘So, you are telling me you don’t even know what goes on in your own apartment, let alone the rest of the household! I shall not pursue this matter any further with you at present. Consider yourself ex?tremely lucky to have been let off so lightly. Now you’d better stir yourself and find out what’s happening to your father and Cousin Zhen.’
Jia Lian felt very hard done by, but swallowed his tears and departed in obedience to his uncle’s instructions.
Left alone, Jia Zheng ruminated on the family’s misfortunes, heaving many a heartfelt sigh:
‘It was in vain that my grandfather and my great-uncle served the throne so loyally, winning the family great honour and two hereditary titles. Now both our houses have been disgraced, both titles have been stripped from us. And if I look further ahead, I can see no respite, no rising star in the younger generation capable of stemming this tide of degeneration! Great Heaven! That our noble line should have come to this! Thanks to an act of exceptional clemency on His Majesty’s part, I have been spared, and my property has been restored. But both households must now look to me for their daily sustenance, and how can I hope to support them all? This latest revelation of Lian’s is another grievous blow; not only have we no reserves, we are seriously in debt. We have evidently been living under false pretences for years! And I have only my own stupidity to blame! How can I have been so blind? If only my eldest son were still alive! In Zhu I might at least have had some support. But Bao-yu, for all that he is my son, and now a grown man, can offer me no help whatsoever.’
Throughout this silent soliloquy Jia Zheng had been weeping despite himself, and the collar of his gown was damp with tears.
‘As for Mother – so far from supporting her in her old age, we have nearly driven her to her death. Whom can I blame for this calamitous state of affairs but myself?’
He was brooding like this, sunk in the deepest gloom and self-reproach, when a servant entered to announce the arrival of various friends and relations. Jia Zheng received them, thanking them each individually for their concern.
‘These misfortunes of ours,’ he said to them, by way of apology, ‘are the direct consequence of my own failure to inculcate proper standards in the younger generation.’
‘We beg to differ,’ replied one of them. ‘We have long considered Sir She’s conduct questionable. And Mr Zhen has been even more arrogant and dissolute in his ways. Now their misdemeanours have come to light and have brought them public censure. The fault lies entirely with them. It is most regrettable that their misdeeds should have rebounded on you, sir.’
‘I have known many cases of similar conduct,’ commented another, ‘but none of them involved an indictment like this. Mr Zhen must have somehow caused offence . .’
‘The intervention of the censor in this case can be easily explained,’ countered another. ‘It appears that one of your own household ser?vants and some of his less respectable friends have been spreading unpleasant rumours, and that these reached the censor’s ears. He wished to substantiate them before proceeding any further, and persuaded this same servant of yours to go along and give informa?tion. Knowing how generously you treat your staff, I find it hard to believe that such a thing could have happened.’
‘That’s the way with servants,’ remarked another. ‘They take advan?tage of their masters’ generosity. Since we are among friends here, I think I may be permitted to speak my mind. I know what an incor?ruptible man you are, sir; but while you were in Kiangsi, your reputation was somehow tarnished. That was your servants’ doing. You will have to be more cautious in future. Although you have escaped with your own property intact this time, if His Majesty should ever have occasion to question your integrity again, it might be considerably less pleasant for you.’
Jia Zheng seemed greatly perturbed by this.
‘What do you mean? In what way was my reputation tarnished?’
‘There is of course no shred of material evidence,’ came the reply, ‘but we have heard others say that during your time as Grain Intendant you instructed your servants to practise extortion.’
‘As Heaven is my witness,’ exclaimed Jia Zheng, ‘no such thought even entered my head! My men were cheating and bullying behind my back. Any more of this sort of gossip and I shall be finished!’
‘It’s no use fretting about the past,’ commented one of the com?pany. ‘But you should examine your present staff carefully. Weed out any refractory elements among them and deal with them severely.’
At that moment one of the janitors entered the room:
‘Sir She’s son-in-law, Mr Sun, has sent a servant with a message, sir. His master is too busy to come in person. This man is instructed to inform you that the Suns are expecting you to discharge Sir She’s debts.’
Jia Zheng looked gloomy and harassed, and gave a perfunctory acknowledgement. His friends laughed contemptuously:
‘This Mr Sun has a bad reputation; and it certainly seems well founded. When his father-in-law has his home raided and his property confiscated, so far from offering assistance, he comes hounding him for money. It’s preposterous!’
‘Let’s not talk of him,’ replied Jia Zheng. ‘That whole match was a blunder on my elder brother’s part. I should have thought my poor niece had suffered enough at this young man’s hands, without his having to torment me as well.’
As he was speaking, Xue Ke appeared.
‘I have learned,’ he reported to Jia Zheng, ‘that Commissioner Zhao is insisting on pursuing every detail of the indictment. I am afraid that Uncle She and Cousin Zhen will have a hard time of it.’
‘You must seek the prince’s help in this matter,’ Jia Zheng’s friends advised him. ‘Without his intervention, you may all be ruined.’
Jia Zheng thanked his visitors for their advice, which he said he would be sure to follow, and they all took their leave.
It was already lighting-up time, and Jia Zheng went to pay his evening respects to Grandmother Jia, who seemed slightly recovered. He returned to his apartment, and sat once more silently brooding over Jia Lian and Xi-feng’s reckless behaviour. Their usury, now that it had come to light, would damage the whole family and he blamed them bitterly for it. But he reflected also that Xi-feng was gravely ill, and had lost everything in the raid, which was sure to have been a great additional blow to her, and decided not to criticize her for the time being, but to contain his anger and say nothing. The rest of that night passed without further event.
Early next morning Jia Zheng went to the Palace to give thanks for the Emperor’s clemency, and afterwards to the palaces of the Prince of Bei-jing and the Prince of Xi-ping, where he kowtowed to them and begged them to intervene on behalf of Jia She and Cousin Zhen. The princes spoke reassuringly in reply. Jia Zheng went on to visit other friends and colleagues to enlist their support.

*

Our narrative turns to Jia Lian. He ascertained, from his enquiries in official quarters, that his father and Cousin Zhen were indeed facing a serious charge; and seeing that there was nothing he could do to help, returned despondently home. In his apartment, Patience sat weeping and watching by Xi-feng’s bedside, while Autumn could be heard in the side-room grumbling to herself. When Jia Lian came close to Xi-feng and saw how feeble she was, he could not bring himself to vent his resentment on her. Patience said to him with tears in her eyes:
‘Everything’s gone! We’ll never get any of it back. And look at Mrs Lian, sir. You must send for a doctor.’
‘Psh!’ spat Lian bitterly. ‘I’m only alive by the skin of my teeth; do you expect me to bother on her behalf?’
These words did not escape Xi-feng, and she opened her eyes and looked at Jia Lian in silence. Tears began to trickle down her cheeks. Jia Lian walked out of the room, and Xi-feng said to Patience:
‘You must be more realistic! Now things have come to this, you must put me out of your mind. I only wish I could die today and have done with it! If I still mean anything to you, then the one thing I beg of you is to look after little Qiao-jie when I’m gone. Do that for me, and my soul will thank yours in the next world.’
Patience burst into tears.
‘Come on,’ said Xi-feng, ‘you’re no fool! They may not have come here and said so to my face, but I know they blame me for what’s happened. It’s not true. It was others outside who started it. But I admit I was foolish to lend money and create trouble for myself. All my plans and schemes have come to nothing. My lifetime of striving has been in vain. I’m broken, I’m the lowest of the low. Cousin Zhen took Mr Zhang’s fiancée as a concubine and drove her to her death- that’s one of the charges, isn’t it? Well you know who he is, this Mr Zhang, don’t you? If You Er-jie’s story ever comes to light, Mr Lian will be disgraced. And then how will I ever face the world? I wish I could put an end to everything! But how? I can’t bring myself to swallow gold or take poison. And you talk of sending for a doctor! That’s not showing your love for me; that’s just prolonging my agony!’
Patience grew more and more distraught with every word of Xi-?feng’s. She felt deeply for her, and resolved to keep a closer watch on her, for fear she might give in to despair.
Luckily Grandmother Jia knew nothing of such harrowing scenes as these. Her own recovery and peace of mind were much aided by the knowledge of Jia Zheng’s reinstatement, and by the constant presence of Bao-yu and Bao-chai at her side. She had always had a soft spot for Xi-feng, and now she called Faithful to her and said:
‘Take these things of mine over to Mrs Lian. And give Patience some money, so that she can look after her properly. When she is well again, I shall go through the rest of my belongings carefully and see what else I can find for her.’
She also told Lady Wang to see to Lady Xing’s needs. The entire Ning-guo estate, including all their property and servants, had been inventoried and impounded. Grandmother Jia gave orders for a carriage to be sent to fetch You-shi and Jia Rong’s wife. These two forlorn ladies and Cousin Zhen’s two concubines, Lovey and Dove, were the only people left in the once luxurious apartments of Ning?guo House. Not a single servant had been spared. Grandmother Jia set aside an apartment for them next to Xi-chun’s, designated four old serving-ladies and two maids to wait on them, and ordered that their food and other daily requirements should be provided from the main kitchens. She also sent them clothes and other necessities, and instructed the accounts office to issue them the same monthly allow?ance as members of the Rong-guo branch.
But it was out of the question to squeeze money from accounts to cover the expenses (mainly bribes) now incurred in gaol by Jia She, Cousin Zhen and Jia Rong. Xi-feng was penniless and Jia Lian deeply in debt; while Jia Zheng, in his characteristically ineffectual fashion, could only say:
‘I have had a word with various friends, and am confident they will do whatever they can.’
Jia Lian could think of no way of raising the money. It was no use turning to Xi-feng’s side of the family; the Xues were bankrupt, her elder uncle Wang Zi-teng was dead, and the other Wangs were in no position to help. In the end, in desperation, he secretly sent a man to the Rong-guo country estates with orders to effect an urgent sale of one thousand silver taels’ worth of land. This money he used to provide for the family members in prison. When the servants saw their masters reduced to such measures, some decided to take advan?tage of the situation and themselves invented excuses for borrowing against the rent due from the family’s eastern estates. But we antici?pate a later part of the story.

*

Grandmother Jia saw the family stripped of its hereditary titles; she saw one of her sons and the two other men in gaol awaiting trial; she heard the incessant lamentations of Lady Xing and You-shi, and knew that Xi-feng was gravely ill. Bao-yu and Bao-chai were some comfort to her, but they could not relieve her of the sorrow and grief that constantly gnawed at her heart. One day towards evening, she sent Bao-yu back to his apartment, and struggling up unaided from her couch instructed Faithful and the other maids to go round the mansion and light incense before every statue of the Buddha. Finally she gave orders for a large bushel-shaped bundle of joss-sticks to he lit in the open, and leaning on her stick walked out into her courtyard. Amber knew that she must be intending to pray, and placed a crimson felt hassock for her to kneel upon. The old lady made her offering of incense, knelt and kowtowed several times. She chanted the name of Buddha, and with tears in her eyes began to pray:
‘Almighty Lord Buddha! I your humble servant, born into the family of Shi, and married into the house of Jia, earnestly beseech you to show your compassion. For many generations we have done no wrong, we have not trodden in the ways of violence or arrogance. I have done my humble and inadequate best to stay in the paths of righteousness, to support my husband and to assist my sons. But the younger generation have acted with wanton recklessness, they have incurred the wrath of providence, and now our home has been raided and our property taken from us. My son and two of the younger men are held in prison and must expect the worst. The blame for all of these misfortunes must rest on my shoulders, for having failed to teach the younger generation the true principles of conduct. Now I kowtow and beg Almighty Heaven to protect us. May those in prison see their sorrow turned to joy, may the ailing swiftly recover their health. May I alone be permitted to carry the whole family’s burden of guilt! And may the sons and grandsons be forgiven! Have pity on me, Almighty Heaven, and heed my devout supplication; send me an early death that I may atone for the sins of my children and grandchildren!’
As this mumbled prayer came to an end, Grandmother Jia broke down and began sobbing so pitifully that she all but choked. Faithful and Amber consoled her, helped her to her feet and escorted her back into the house.
Lady Wang came in shortly afterwards with Bao-yu and Bao-chai to pay their evening respects. Grandmother Jia’s tearful state moved them greatly, and they all three began crying aloud. Bao-chai had her own cause for grief. Her brother’s future was very precarious; no one knew whether his sentence would be reduced or whether he would be released from gaol. As for herself, although Jia Zheng and Lady Wang were not directly affected by recent events, Bao-chai could see that the Jia family was nevertheless crumbling around her, while her own husband continued to behave in as moronic and helpless a fashion as ever. As she contemplated her own plight, her sobs became more heart-rending even than those of Grandmother Jia and Lady Wang.
Bao-yu himself succumbed to despair.
‘Grandmother is crippled with care in her old age, Mother and Father are weighed down with sorrow. My sisters and cousins are gone, scattered like clouds on the four winds, and every day leaves me more alone, with nothing to sustain me but memories of past happiness, of the golden days of the poetry club in the Garden. Ever since Cousin Lin’s death, there’s been nothing I can do to shake off this lethargy and depression, and I only keep myself from perpetual weeping so as not to upset Chai, who worries herself about her brother and grieves for her mother, and rarely so much as lets a smile cross her face.’
Bao-chai’s inconsolable weeping affected him so deeply that finally he began wailing desperately himself, which in its turn upset Faithful, Suncloud, Oriole and Aroma, and soon all of them, each for their separate reasons, were sobbing profusely. Eventually this in?capacitating wave of grief spread to the other maids and there was no one left to play the part of comforter. A chorus of lamentation filled the room and reached the ears of the serving-women on night-duty outside, who sent urgent word to Jia Zheng.
Jia Zheng was sitting brooding in his study (as had become his wont) when the news reached him. He sprang up in alarm and hurried towards Grandmother Jia’s apartment. On his way he heard the sound of many voices wailing in the distance and feared the worst for the old lady. His heart sank as he hurried on into her apartment. He found her, however, to his great relief sobbing but alive and well.
He turned to the assembled family and reproached them:
‘At a time like this, you should be comforting Lady Jia, not making matters worse with all this crying.’
There was a sudden silence, during which they all looked round at each other in amazement. Jia Zheng said a few soothing words to Grandmother Jia, then spoke to the others again before leaving.
‘We came here to cheer Lady Jia up,’ they were thinking to them?selves. ‘We meant to comfort her. How could we forget ourselves like this and make matters worse!’
They were still in this state of bewilderment, when an old serving-?woman arrived with two women from the Shi household. Having curtseyed to Grandmother Jia and greeted all the others present, they delivered their message:
‘Our Master the Marquis, Her Grace the Marchioness and Miss Shi have sent us with this message: they have heard your news and want to assure you that this will be nothing more than a temporary setback. They were concerned that Sir Zheng and Their Ladyships might be unduly distressed, and asked us particularly to say that Sir Zheng should set his mind at ease. He himself is in no danger. Miss Shi would have come herself but she is being married in a few days’ time.’
Grandmother Jia felt a little awkward about expressing her grati?tude to these serving-women.
‘When you return,’ she said, ‘please convey my regards to your Master and Mistress. What our family has suffered was decreed by fate. Another day I shall call in person to thank the Marquis and Marchioness for their concern. As for Xiang-yun’s marriage, I’m sure they must have found her a fine young man for a husband. I should be so pleased to know a little about his family.’
‘His family is not a particularly wealthy one,’ replied the women. ‘But he is a very nice young man, and has such a gentle nature. We have seen him quite a few times, and he closely resembles your Master Bao. He also has considerable literary talent.’
Grandmother Jia was very pleased with this description.
‘It sounds most suitable I must say. Xiang-yun is a lucky girl. Her family and ours have always abided by the old Southern marriage customs, and that is why none of us have set eyes on the groom to this day. Only recently I was thinking about my own family, and particularly about Xiang-yun. She has always been my favourite. She used to spend over half the year with me when she was a little girl. I had meant to find a nice husband for her myself when she grew up, but with her uncle away from home I could hardly be the one to take the initiative. Well, fortune has smiled on her, and she has found a good match, so now I can set my mind at rest. I know that they’ll be married within the month, and I would have so liked to drink a cup of wine at the reception- but even that’s out of the question I’m afraid. This latest upheaval has quite taken my strength away. Please give them my regards when you return, and say that we all send our very best wishes. And tell Miss Shi she is not to worry on my account. I’m over eighty now, and if I die I shall have no cause to complain. I have had more than my share of blessings. My only prayer is that she and her husband may live happily together to a ripe old age. Then I shall rest content.
As she spoke, Grandmother Jia could not help weeping. One of the Shi serving-women replied:
‘Please do not distress yourself Lady Jia. Once Miss Shi is married and has celebrated her Ninth Day, I’m sure she and her husband will come here to pay you their respects. Then you will be able to see them yourself, and that will make you happy.’
Grandmother Jia nodded.
The women left. Bao-yu seemed to be the only person at all affected by the news of Xiang-yun’s impending marriage. He looked somewhat bemused, and thought to himself:
‘Why is it that girls have to get married as soon as they grow up? Once they’re married, they’re bound to change. Even dear Yun has to obey her uncle’s will. Now if we meet again, it will never be the same. She is bound to be distant towards me. What is the point of living, if I am to be forever shunned like this?’
He felt himself becoming tearful again. But for Grandmother Jia’s sake he endeavoured not to weep and instead sat there brooding silently to himself.
Jia Zheng was still concerned for Grandmother Jia’s health, and presently he came in to see how she was. Finding her somewhat improved he went out again and summoned the steward Lai Da, ordering him to bring the complete register of household servants employed in responsible positions. He went over this register with him entry by entry. Apart from Jia She’s servants, who had been taken away, there were more than thirty families on the register, with a total of two hundred and twelve male and female servants. Jia Zheng sent for the forty-one male servants at present employed in the mansion and interrogated them all about the accounts for the past years- checking with them the totals for income and expenditure in their various departments. The chief steward presented the ledgers for inspection, and Jia Zheng could see at a glance that none of the figures balanced. Expenditure outweighed income by far, and addi?tional expenses had been incurred over several years in connection with Her Grace the Imperial Concubine. There were several entries revealing irregular loans raised outside. When he looked at the rents from the family estates in the Eastern provinces, he could see that in recent years income had shrunk to less than half what it had been in his grandfather’s time, while the family’s expenses were ten times as great. This palpable evidence of mismanagement came as a great shock to him, and he stamped his foot angrily:
‘This is monstrous! I thought Lian was competent to handle these things! And now I find that we have been mortgaging ourselves up to the hilt in order to keep up an empty show! We’ve been living far beyond our means. This recklessness was bound to lead to ruin. And it is too late now for me to start introducing economies!’
He paced up and down with his hands behind his back, unable to devise a remedy for the family’s deep-seated economic infirmity. His servants knew that their master had no head for business, and that he would only agitate himself to no avail on this score.
‘It’s no use worrying, sir,’ they advised him. ‘Every household is the same. Even princes of the realm! If you could but see their accounts, you’d find that they fail to balance their books too. They just keep up appearances and muddle along from day to day as best they can. You should think how lucky you’ve been. The Emperor’s been kind and allowed you to keep your part of the family property. Mind you, even if everything had been confiscated, you would still have been able to get by somehow or other!’
‘What nonsense you talk!’ cried Jia Zheng angrily. ‘You servants are worthless rogues, every last one of you! When your masters prosper, you spend their money as you please; and when there’s nothing left to spend, you beat a retreat at the first opportunity. What is it to you if we live or die? You say we are lucky not to have had everything confiscated- but what do you know? Do you realize that with our reputation as it stands at present, we’ll be hard put to it to avoid bankruptcy. And with you putting on airs, acting as if you were rich, talking as if you were important, swindling people left right and centre, we don’t stand a chance. When calamity strikes, you are quite content to see us take all the consequences. I am informed that it was one of your number, a servant by the name of Bao Er, who spread the very rumours that have incriminated my brother and Mr Zhen. Why is his name nowhere to be seen on this register?’
‘Bao Er isn’t officially on our books, sir,’ came the reply. ‘He was originally on the Ning-guo register. Then he caught Mr Lian’s eye as a trustworthy sort of person, and both he and his wife were taken on by Mr Lian. His wife died, and after that he went back to Ning-guo House. Once when you were busy at the Board, sir, and Her Old Ladyship and Their Ladyships and the other young masters were all away mourning at the mausoleum, Mr Zhen came over to inspect things on this side, and brought Bao Er with him. Bao Er went back with him to Ning-guo House again afterwards. It is so many years since you were involved in matters of this nature, sir, and it is hardly surprising if such details slip your mind. You probably think his is the only name not entered on the register. The fact is that every man has several dependants- even servants have servants of their own!’
‘Preposterous!’ exclaimed Jia Zheng.
An immediate solution to these economic ills still failed to present itself to Jia Zheng’s mind, and he sent the servants away. He had already resolved what general course of action to follow, but decided to wait first to see the nature of the sentence passed on Jia She and Cousin Zhen.
A day or so later, he was in his study puzzling his head over some figures, when a servant came hurrying in to inform him that his presence was immediately required at court. Jia Zheng set off at once, in a state of extreme trepidation. To learn whether the outcome was favourable or otherwise, please turn to the next chapter.

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