The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 115

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CHAPTER 115

A private obsession revived confirms
Xi-chun in an ancient vow
A physical likeness verified deprives
Bao-yu of an imagined friend

Before Bao-yu had time to appease Bao-chai, Ripple came in and announced:
‘The Master wishes to see Bao-yu.’
Bao-yu did not wait for any second bidding.
‘I want to have a word with you, said Jia Zheng, when he arrived, ‘concerning your studies. You are still in mourning and it would therefore be improper for you to attend school; but you can and must revise your compositions. Over the next few days I shall have some leisure, and I want you to write me a few samples at home. I shall then be able to judge for myself whether in all this time you have made any discernible progress.’
‘Yes, Father,’ said Bao-yu rather miserably.
‘I have instructed your brother Huan and your nephew Lan to revise as well. I sincerely hope that your work will be better than theirs.’
‘Yes, Father.’ Bao-yu dared say nothing more, but stood rooted to the spot.
‘Off with you, then.’
As he withdrew from the study, Bao-yu passed Lai Da and the other stewards coming in with their registers.
He was back in his room like a flash, and communicated the substance of his interview to Bao-chai, who seemed rather pleased to hear it. Bao-yu himself groaned inwardly, but knew that it would be inadvisable to appear idle and was preparing to settle down and concentrate, when two nuns from the Convent of the Saviour King arrived to pay their respects to Bao-chai. She told a maid to bring them tea, but was otherwise decidedly offhand towards them, while Bao-yu, who would have liked to talk with the sisters, could tell that Bao-chai found their company distasteful and therefore refrained. The nuns for their part knew only too well that Bao-chai was un?sympathetic to their cause, and after sitting for a short time they excused themselves.
‘Won’t you stay a little longer?’ asked Bao-chai somewhat dis?ingenuously.
‘We have so many calls to make,’ replied one of them. ‘What with the masses we’ve been saying at the Temple of the Iron Threshold, we’ve been kept very busy and haven’t called on Their Ladyships and the young ladies in a very long while. Apart from your good self, we’ve already been to see Mrs Zhu and Their Ladyships, but we still have Miss Xi-chun to call on.’
Bao-chai nodded, and the nuns proceeded to Xi-chun’s apartment. They asked Landscape, who received them, where her mistress could be found.
‘My mistress hasn’t eaten for days,’ exclaimed Landscape, ‘and now she won’t even get up from her bed.’
‘Why? What’s the matter?’
‘Oh, it’s a long story. I’m sure she’ll tell you all about it when you see her.’
Xi-chun had heard them talking as they came in, and sat up at once.
‘How are you both?’ she asked. ‘I suppose you’ve stopped visiting us because our fortunes are so altered …’
‘Holy Name!’ came the pious ejaculation. ‘Benefactors are bene?factors, whether they be rich or poor. Our convent was founded by your family, and we were always most generously provided for by Her Old Ladyship. We saw Their Ladyships and the young ladies at Her Old Ladyship’s funeral, but we didn’t see you there, miss, and we were worried about you. That’s why we’ve come here specially to visit you today.’
Xi-chun asked after the young nuns at the temple.
‘Ever since that scandal,’ was the reply, ‘the gatemen won’t let them so much as set foot in Rong-guo House.’
‘Talking of scandals,’ continued the same nun, ‘is it true, what we heard the other day, that Sister Adamantina from Green Bower Hermitage has run off with a man?’
‘What utter nonsense!’ replied Xi-chun. ‘People who tell such tales should beware of having their tongues cut out in hell! The poor girl was kidnapped by a gang of ruffians! How can anyone have the heart to spread such malicious gossip!’
‘Sister Adamantina was a strange one all the same,’ said the nun. ‘We always thought she overdid it a bit. Of course, we don’t like to criticize her in front of you, miss. Who are we when compared with her, after all? Just ordinary, unrefined people; we chant our liturgy, say our prayers, make intercession for the sins of others, and hope to earn ourselves a little merit, a little good karma.’
‘What does good karma really mean?’ asked Xi-chun earnestly.
‘Well, miss, putting aside the truly virtuous families like your own, which have nothing to fear, of course – other noble ladies and young misses of good family can never be certain how long their prosperity will last. If calamity once strikes, then nothing can save them. Nothing, that is, except Our Lady of Mercy: if Our Lady sees a mortal suffering, her infinite compassion moves her to try to guide that mortal towards salvation. That is why we all pray to her and say: “Hail, Lady of Mercy, Bodhisattva of Boundless Compassion and Grace, Deliverer, Saviour, Hail!”
‘A nun leads a hard life, it’s true, harder than a young lady in a rich family. But we’re saved! Even if we can’t hope to become Buddhas or Saints, at least by keeping up our devotions we may one day in another lifetime be reborn as men. And that would be sufficient reward in itself. At least then we would escape the endless trials and silent tribulations of womankind. You are still too young to under?stand, miss; but let me tell you, when once a young lady leaves home and marries, it is all over with her. She must spend the rest of her days a slave to her husband’s will.
‘In the true religious life; it is sincere devotion that counts. Sister Adamantina always thought herself so gifted and sensitive, so supe?rior. To her we were always vulgar mortals. And yet ordinary folk like us can at least earn good simple karma, while look at this terrible thing that has befallen her.’
Their words found an all too receptive ear. Uninhibited by the presence of her maids, Xi-chun poured out the whole story of how badly You-shi had been treating her, and how she had been made to stay and look after the house, and the disastrous consequence. She showed them where she had already hacked off a part of her hair.
‘You think I’m just another worldling, trapped in the fiery pit of delusion! But you’re wrong. I’ve been wanting to be a nun for a long time myself. I just haven’t been able to think of a way of achieving my goal.’
The nuns feigned alarm:
‘Now, miss, don’t you ever say such a thing again! If Mrs Zhen were to hear, she’d give us the scolding of our lives and have us thrown out of the convent. Why, a young lady like yourself, bred in such a good family, you’re sure to marry a fine young gentleman and enjoy a lifetime of luxury and ease …’
The colour flew into Xi-chun’s cheeks:
‘What makes you think my sister-in-law can have you sent away, and I can’t?’
The nuns realized from this that she was in earnest, and decided to goad her on a little further:
‘Don’t take offence, miss. But do you honestly believe that Their Ladyships and the young mistresses would let you have your way? You will only stir up a lot of unnecessary trouble for yourself. It’s you we’re thinking of.’
‘We shall see,’ was Xi-chun’s brief comment.
Landscape thought this augured ill, and gave the nuns a meaningful glance. They took the hint, and too scared to lead Xi-chun on any further, made their farewells. Xi-chun did not detain them, but merely smiled scornfully after them and said:
‘Don’t imagine yours is the only convent!’
The nuns thought it wiser not to reply.
Landscape was worried by this latest turn of events, and fearing that she might be blamed if anything untoward occurred she crept off to inform You-shi:
‘Miss Xi-chun is still set on shaving her head and becoming a nun, ma’am. These past few days she’s not been ill, she’s been lying at home nursing her grievance. Perhaps it would be safer to take some precautions. If anything were to happen, we would be blamed …’
‘She doesn’t really want to leave home and take holy vows,’ said You-shi. ‘She just thinks she can take advantage of Mr Zhen’s absence to challenge my authority. Well, so far as I’m concerned, she can go ahead and good luck to her!’
Landscape continued none the less in her efforts to dissuade Xi-chun from her drastic course of action. But Xi-chun persisted in her fast, and her only thought now was to take the final step and cut off what remained of her hair. Landscape could bear it no longer, and went to tell Ladies Xing and Wang. They tried talking Xi-chun out of it several times, but their efforts were in vain. She seemed obsessed.
The two ladies were on the point of going to inform Jia Zheng when one of the servants outside announced the arrival of Lady Zhen and young Master Zhen Bao-yu. They hurried out to welcome their guests and escorted Lady Zhen into Lady Wang’s apartment, where they all sat down, formal greetings were exchanged and polite conversation was made, details of which we need not record. Lady Wang made a reference to the supposed resemblance between their two sons, the ‘two jades’, and expressed a desire to see Zhen Bao-yu for herself. He was sent for at once, but the answer returned that he was conversing with Sir Zheng in the outer study, and that they seemed to have struck up an immediate rapport. Bao-yu, Huan and Lan had also been summoned to take lunch in the study, and Master Zhen would call on Lady Wang afterwards.
Presently lunch was served for the ladies.
Jia Zheng, having witnessed for himself the physical resemblance between this Zhen Bao-yu and his own son, proceeded to test the young man’s literary and scholastic abilities and was most impressed by the fluent answers that he gave. He sent for his own Bao-yu and the other two boys, in order to exhibit to them this paragon of virtue, as both stimulus and admonition, and in particular to afford Bao-yu an opportunity for salutary self-comparison.
Bao-yu answered the summons promptly, and appeared in full mourning-dress, accompanied by Huan and Lan. When he saw Zhen Bao-yu for the first time, it seemed to him almost as if he were being reunited with an old friend, and the feeling of delight was apparently mutual. They bowed to each other, and Huan and Lan followed suit. Jia Zheng had been sitting on a mat on the floor, and had asked Master Zhen on arrival to sit at a chair, an invitation that Master Zhen had (very properly) declined, since his senior was seated at a lower level. Instead he installed himself on a cushion on the floor. Now that Bao-yu and the other two had joined the company, it would hardly be right for them to sit on the floor with Jia Zheng; nor on the other hand could they remain standing while Master Zhen, their contemporary, was seated below. Jia Zheng resolved the dilemma by standing up himself, and after talking with them for a few minutes, he instructed the servants to serve lunch.
‘I shall have to leave you now,’ he said to Master Zhen. ‘Please excuse me. I hand you over to the younger generation, who will learn much from you.’
‘It is I, sir,’ replied Zhen, with polite modesty, ‘who am most anxious to learn from these gentlemen.’
Jia Zheng said a few more words in reply, and then took his leave, politely preventing his young visitor from accompanying him, but allowing Bao-yu, Jia Huan and Jia Lan, who had preceded him and were waiting outside the threshold, to escort him into the inner study. They returned, prayed Master Zhen to be seated again, and there was a certain amount of conventional chat, with references to this ‘long-awaited and much anticipated meeting’, details of which we need not record here.
Jia Bao-yu, on seeing Zhen Bao-yu, had instantly been reminded of their earlier dream-encounter ‘in the mirror’. From what he knew by report of Zhen Bao-yu, he felt sure that this jade counterpart of his would be a person after his own heart, and that he was destined to find in him a true friend. However, since this was their first ‘real’ meeting, and since Huan and Lan were present, he felt the need to be somewhat discreet, and therefore addressed him in the polite hyper?boles customary on such occasions:
‘Long have I admired you from afar, but alas till now I have been denied the honour of a personal acquaintance. Today this great bless?ing is mine, and lo, I see before me a reincarnation of the Great Bard, a second Li Bo!’
Zhen Bao-yu had also heard a great deal about his namesake, and found that the reality conformed pretty much to his expectations.
‘He seems a passable companion in my studies,’ he thought to himself, ‘but hardly someone to share my aspirations. And yet he has my name, and looks so like me; we must be souls linked by some bond at the Rock of Rebirth. I have made some progress of late in the understanding of Higher Principles, and should therefore seek to impart to him something of what I have learned. Since this is only our first meeting, however, and since I am still ignorant where his sympathies lie, I should tread cautiously.’
He replied to Jia Bao-yu’s remarks in what he deemed to be a fitting vein:
‘Long have I known of your great gifts. I fear that, before a person of such egregious purity, refinement and grace, I am but an ordinary and foolish mortal, and that by sharing your name I do but tarnish its lustre.’
‘He seems a sympathetic enough character,’ pondered Jia Bao-yu upon hearing this. ‘But why does he flatter me almost as if I were a girl? We are both of us men, and therefore creatures of impurity.’
‘Your praise is alas undeserved,’ he said. ‘I am but a dull and foolish creature, a mere lump of senseless stone! How can I compare with a person of such quality and nobility as yourself? It is I who am unworthy of the name that we both bear.’
‘When I was young,’ mused Zhen Bao-yu aloud for his new friend’s benefit, ‘I was blind to my own limitations and entertained ideas far above my station. But then my family fell on hard times, and we have all spent the past few years in greatly reduced circumstances. As a result, although I can hardly lay claim to a comprehensive experience of life’s vicissitudes, I feel I may have acquired some slight knowledge of the ways of the world, some meagre understanding of human nature. You, on the other hand, have lived in the lap of luxury all your life, you have lacked for nothing, and you have, I am sure, been able to achieve great distinction in your literary compositions and in the study of public affairs, a distinction that has caused your honourable father to hold you in high esteem, and to view you with great pride and affection. I say again, you are worthy of the fine name that we both bear.’
Jia Bao-yu recognized by now the telltale rhetoric of the ‘career worm’ and fell silent, wondering how best to respond, while Jia Huan for his part began to feel uncomfortable at having been so entirely excluded from the conversation. Jia Lan, however, found Zhen Bao-yu’s little sermon most congenial:
‘You are altogether too modest, sir. Surely, in the fields of literary composition and public affairs of which you speak, it is precisely from long experience that true ability and knowledge are derived. I am of course too young to claim any knowledge of literary com?position, but a careful perusal of the little that I have read has led me to the conclusion that external grace and meretricious refinement are of little worth when compared with the cultivation of a good charac?ter.’
Jia Bao-yu found his nephew’s remarks nauseatingly priggish, and wondered where on earth he had picked up this way of speaking. He attempted to forestall a reply in like vein from Zhen Bao-yu:
‘I had always understood from what I had heard of you that you condemned vulgar and commonplace notions, and had formed your own personal view of the world. I was so happy to have had this opportunity of meeting you today, and of learning from you some?thing that would help me transcend this mortal realm we live in and enter a more spiritual plane. I felt sure that such an encounter would help to cleanse my heart of worldly desires, and open my eyes to a more profound view of life. Alas, it is clear from your words that you consider me a coarse creature, and have therefore treated me out of politeness to this rigmarole of worldly wisdom.’
Young Zhen reflected:
‘Clearly he has heard tales of me as a child, and therefore thinks that I was speaking out of mere politeness, masking my true nature. I must be frank with him. Who knows, he may even turn out to be a true friend.’
‘I fully appreciate the sincerity of your remarks,’ he began. ‘When I was young, I too abhorred anything that smacked of the platitude and the cliche. But I grew older, and when my father resigned from his post and had little further inclination for social entertaining, the role of host devolved upon me. In the course of my duties I observed that each one of the distinguished gentlemen whom I met had in one way or another brought honour and glory to his family name. All their written works or spoken words were of loyalty and filial piety, their entire lives were devoted to virtue and truth and were indeed a fitting tribute to the enlightened rule under which we live and a due token of gratitude for the kind and illuminating instruction bestowed upon them by their fathers and teachers alike. So gradually I cast off the intractable theories and foolish passions of my youth. I am still searching for teachers and friends of a like mind to instruct me and guide me out of my benighted ignorance, and I consider it a great blessing to have met you. I feel sure that I have much to learn from you. Believe me, what I said earlier was in earnest.’
The more Jia Bao-yu heard the more exasperated he felt. For politeness’ sake he mumbled something ambiguous in reply, and was saved from further embarrassment by a summons from the inner apartments:
‘If the gentlemen have eaten, would Mr Zhen please join the ladies?’
Bao-yu seized this opportunity, promptly inviting Zhen Bao-yu to lead the way, and they proceeded to Lady Wang’s apartment, followed by the other boys. Seeing Lady Zhen seated in the place of honour, Jia Bao-yu paid her his respects, Jia Huan and Jia Lan followed suit, and Zhen Bao-yu likewise paid his respects to Lady Wang. At last the two ladies and their two ‘jades’ were face to face. Although Jia Bao-yu was now married, Lady Zhen was old enough not to have to stand on ceremony on that account, especially as the connection between their two families was such a long-standing one. She saw how alike the two of them were, and could not help warming towards Jia Bao-yu; with Lady Wang it was the same, she took Zhen Bao-yu by the hand and plied him with questions, finding him rather more mature than her own son. She glanced at Jia Lan, and reflected to herself that he too cut a fine figure; though not quite on a level with the two ‘jades’, he could certainly hold his own in their company. Jia Huan’s uncouth appearance, on the other hand, aroused all her old antipathy.
When it became known that both ‘jades’ were present together, all the maids came to have a look.
‘How extraordinary!’ they murmured to one another. ‘It’s one thing for them to have the same name; but they even look alike – face, build, everything! Luckily our Bao-yu is dressed in mourning white or we’d never be able to tell them apart!’
Nightingale in particular seemed momentarily quite stunned. She was thinking of Dai-yu:
‘If only she were still alive! They might have married her to this Bao-yu. I think she’d have been willing enough…,’
Even as these thoughts were running through her head, she heard Lady Zhen say: ‘A few days ago, I believe my husband, who now considers our Bao-yu of an age to be married, asked Sir Zheng to look out for a suitable bride for him.’
Lady Wang was already much taken with Zhen Bao-yu and without any hesitation she replied:
‘I should be glad to act as a matchmaker for your son. Of our own girls, two have passed away, and one is already married. Cousin Zhen of Ning-guo House has an unmarried younger sister, but she is a few years too young for the match. I have another idea, though. My elder daughter-in-law, a member of the Li family by birth, has two cousins, both fine good-looking girls. The older of the two is already betrothed, but the younger is not and would make an excellent bride for your son. I will make the proposal on your behalf. I ought perhaps to mention that their family circumstances are somewhat reduced.’
‘You are being unnecessarily polite,’ said Lady Zhen. ‘Nowadays, we are nothing to boast about ourselves. In fact they may consider us beneath them.’
‘But your husband has been given this new commission,’ said Lady Wang, ‘and I feel certain that in the future he will not only be restored to his former prosperity, but will rise to new heights of glory.’
Lady Zhen smiled:
‘I only hope your predictions come true. Well, in that case, I should be most grateful if you would propose the match on our behalf.’
Zhen Bao-yu, on hearing them broach the subject of his betrothal, excused himself and was escorted by Jia Bao-yu and the other boys back to the study, where they rejoined Jia Zheng and stood for a while talking. Presently one of the Zhen servants came to summon Zhen Bao-yu:
‘Lady Zhen is leaving now, sir, and requests you to return.’
Zhen Bao-yu made his farewell, and Jia Zheng instructed Bao-yu, Jia Huan and Jia Lan to see him out. And there we must leave him.
Ever since his earlier encounter with Zhen Bao-yu’s father, Jia Bao-yu had been looking forward impatiently to the arrival of his supposed alter ego, hoping to find in him a true friend. Now that they had met, he was sorely disillusioned, realizing from their conversation that the two of them were poles apart, as far removed from each other as the proverbial ice and coal. He made his way back to his apartment in a mood of profound depression, said not a word, did not even smile, but stared vacantly into space.
‘Well?’ asked Bao-chai. ‘Is he your “living likeness” then?’
‘He certainly looks like me,’ replied Bao-yu. ‘But I could tell from the way he talked that he was a fool, just another career worm.
‘There you go, finding fault again!’ protested Bao-chai. ‘How can you suddenly know that he’s a career worm?’
‘He talked a lot,’ replied Bao-yu, ‘and there was nothing the slight?est bit profound or illuminating in what he said; he just spouted on at me about “literary composition and public affairs”, and “loyalty and filial piety”. Isn’t that the way a worm talks? It’s a shame that he looks like me; now that I know what he’s like, I wish I could look different …’
Bao-chai could see he was on one of his hobbyhorses again:
‘The things you say are really laughable! How could you possibly look different? What’s more, his ideas sound very right and proper to me. A man should want to set himself up in life and amount to something. Just because you’re so sentimental and wrapped up in your own feelings, does that mean that everyone else has to be too? You attack him for being a worm, when it’s really you who have no strength of character!’
Bao-yu had found Zhen Bao-yu’s sermon exasperating enough. With Bao-chai’s diatribe on top of it, he felt himself rapidly sinking into a slough of despond. A familiar feeling of overwhelming muz?ziness seemed to descend on him, and he could sense a relapse coming on. He said nothing, but smiled inanely, to the bewilderment of Bao-chai. She surmised that he was smiling to mask his annoyance with her harsh words, and therefore decided to ignore him. But for the rest of that day he remained in the same stupor, refusing to speak even if Aroma or one of the others deliberately provoked him, and when he rose the next morning he looked exactly as he had done before his recent convalescence.
Lady Wang meanwhile had finally concluded that she must inform Jia Zheng of Xi-chun’s determination to shave her head and take holy vows. You-shi had proved incapable of dissuading her and it seemed likely that any further opposition to her will would only drive her to suicide. They were keeping a watch on her day and night, but this was just a temporary measure. She and her aspirations could not be contained in this way forever. Jia Zheng sighed and stamped his foot:
‘Goodness only knows what Ning-guo House has done to deserve an end like this!’
He sent for Jia Rong:
‘Go and tell your mother that she must make one last determined effort to talk Xi-chun round. Then if the girl persists in her folly, we will simply have to act as if she is no longer one of our family.’
You-shi did as she was instructed, but her efforts had the very opposite effect, and only elicited more threats of suicide from Xi-chun.
‘I’m a girl and you know I can’t stay at home for the rest of life. What if I were to end up with a marriage like Ying-chun’s? Look at all the heartache she caused her parents, and Uncle Zheng and Auntie Wang, and then she died… If you love me, think of me as dead, let me go, let me at least try to make something pure of my life. I won’t be living away from home anyway, I’ll only be in Green Bower Hermitage, which is part of the Garden. Adamantina’s women are still living there. That can be my nunnery. You can look after my needs there. Please let me do this, and I shall think myself blessed. By continuing to go against me, you will be forcing me to put an end to my life. If I am allowed to follow my own chosen path, then when my brother returns I shall tell him plainly that I did it of my own free will. But if I die, he’s sure to say you drove me to my death.’
There had always been discord between You-shi and Xi-chun, and besides, You-shi could see the force of her argument. She went to report to Lady Wang. But Lady Wang was in Bao-chai’s apartment, where she had just discovered for herself the recent deterioration in Bao-yu’s condition, and was upbraiding Aroma:
‘You are altogether too careless! You should have told me at once when Bao-yu fell ill!’
‘But your Ladyship,’ pleaded Aroma, ‘Bao-yu is often ill–some days he may be better, then he’s worse again. He’s been visiting you and paying his morning duty every day and really he’s been quite all right until today, when he seems to have had a bit of a queer turn. Mrs Bao was going to come over and tell you, only she didn’t want you to scold us for making a fuss about nothing.’
This scolding of Aroma’s, and the fear that she and Bao-chai might suffer on his behalf, seemed to restore Bao-yu temporarily to his senses:
‘Don’t worry, Mother. There’s nothing the matter with me. I just feel a bit low.’
‘My child, you mustn’t forget you have a tendency to take ill. If only I’d known earlier, I could have sent for a doctor and had some proper medicine prescribed for you in time. If you allow yourself to sink into the dreadful state you were in after you lost your jade, you’ll cause us no end of trouble again!’
‘If you’re still worried, Mother,’ said Bao-yu, ‘then by all means send for a doctor and I’ll take some medicine.’
Lady Wang accordingly sent a maid to fetch a doctor, and was thus far too preoccupied with Bao-yu to think of Xi-chun’s pre?dicament. The doctor arrived presently, examined Bao-yu and made out a prescription, after the administration of which Lady Wang returned to her own apartment.
Over the next few days, however, Bao-yu seemed to become more of an imbecile than ever. He stopped eating completly, and his condition began to cause general concern. When the time came for the ceremony to mark the end of the formal mourning period for Grand?mother Jia, and since the family were especially busy at the temple, Jia Yun was called in to receive Bao-yu’s doctor; and because of the shortage of men in Jia Lian’s compound, Wang Ren also had to be asked to attend and help supervise there. Qiao-jie had made herself ill crying day and night for her mother, and in every respect Rong-guo House presented a picture of sad disarray.
When the family returned from the service at the temple, Lady Wang went at once to visit Bao-yu. She found that his condition had greatly deteriorated. He was unconscious, and the servants were in a helpless panic; some were standing there in tears, some had already gone to Jia Zheng’s, where they announced:
‘The doctor says it’s a waste of time to prescribe any more medi?cine, and we must be prepared for the worst …’
Jia Zheng heaved a bitter sigh and went to inspect for himself. Bao-yu indeed showed every sign of being at death’s door, and Jia Zheng ordered Jia Lian to make the necessary preparations. Jia Lian did not dare gainsay him, and reluctantly gave instructions for Bao?-yu’s last things to be prepared. He was just wondering how they could possibly raise the money for yet another funeral, when one of the servants rushed into the room in a state of great agitation, crying:
‘Mr Lian! Something terrible! Another disaster!’
Jia Lian had no notion what the man could be referring to and stared at him transfixed with fear:
‘What is it?’
‘There’s a monk at the gate and he says he’s brought back Mr Bao’s lost jade. He wants ten thousand taels for it…’
Jia Lian spat in the servant’s face:
‘Hng! I thought from the fluster you were in that it was something serious. Didn’t you hear about that last hoax? And even if this jade were genuine, what good could it do now, when the boy’s already past hope?’
‘That’s what I said myself, sir. But the monk swore that Mr Bao would be cured as soon as we paid him the money.’
As he was speaking, another servant rushed in crying:
‘The monk’s gone berserk! He’s crashing his way in and none us can stop him!’
‘This is unbelievable!’ exclaimed Jia Lian. ‘Send him packing this instant!’
When he learned what had happened, Jia Zheng was as flummoxed as Jia Lian. Meanwhile more cries came from within:
‘Bao-yu is sinking!’
Jia Zheng was growing desperate, when he heard the monk’s voice calling:
‘If you want the boy to live, just bring me the money!’
Jia Zheng suddenly thought:
‘It was a monk who cured Bao-yu’s earlier illness; perhaps this monk can save him after all. But if the jade is genuine, how will we ever raise the money for it?’
After a moment’s reflection, he concluded to himself:
‘Oh well, we can think of that in due course. Let’s cure him first, and bargain later.’
By the time he had reached this decision and despatched a servant with an invitation, the monk was already on his way, and without so much as a bow or a word of acknowledgement went striding into Bao-yu’s room. Jia Lian tried to restrain him, saying:
‘There are ladies in there! A tramp like you can’t go barging in!’
‘Any delay,’ cried the monk, ‘and it may be too late to save him!’
Jia Lian was too flustered to be able to do anything but follow him, calling out in confusion:
‘Quiet now! Stop your weeping! The monk has arrived!’
He continued calling out like this, but Lady Wang and the others were far too overwrought by Bao-yu’s condition to pay him any attention. When eventually they did look round, they were shocked to see the great burly figure of the monk descending on them, and at the last moment tried unsuccessfully to conceal themselves, while the monk made straight for the kang on which Bao-yu lay. Bao-chai withdrew to one side, but Aroma felt she should stay with Lady Wang, who had remained standing where she was.
‘Ladies, I have brought the jade,’ proclaimed the monk.
He held it up, as he continued:
‘Give me the money, and I can save the lad.’
Shock had utterly incapacitated Lady Wang, and she and the other ladies were certainly in no fit state to judge the authenticity of the stone exhibited to them.
‘Just save him,’ they cried, ‘and the money will be yours!’
The monk laughed.
‘I want it now!’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Lady Wang. ‘You shall have the money with?out fail, even if we have to pawn everything we have.’
The monk seemed to find this suggestion hysterically funny, and after a good deal of laughter he held the jade out in one hand, bent down and whispered in Bao-yu’s ear:
‘Bao-yu! Precious Jade! Your Stone has returned!’
No sooner had he spoken than Bao-yu opened his eyes a slit.
‘He lives!’ cried Aroma ecstatically.
‘Where is it?’ asked Bao-yu.
The monk placed the jade in Bao-yu’s hand.
At first Bao-yu clutched it tightly, then slowly he turned his hand palm upwards and brought the Stone up to eye-level. He peered at it closely and exclaimed:
‘Ah! We are reunited at last!’
Everyone began uttering fervent prayers to the Lord Buddha, and even Bao-chai now seemed oblivious of the monk’s male presence. Jia Lian came across to see what had happened, and the sight of a revivified Bao-yu brought momentary cheer to his heart too. Suddenly he slipped out, and without a word the monk raced after him and overtook him. Jia Lian had no choice but to escort the monk to the reception hall and then hurry over to inform Jia Zheng; who was enormously relieved by the news, and sent for the monk straight away, bowing to him and expressing his profound thanks. The monk returned the salutation and sat down. Jia Lian thought to himself apprehensively:
‘Now he won’t budge till he’s been paid…’
Jia Zheng scrutinized the monk. It was not, he concluded, one the two he had seen on the previous occasion.
‘From which holy establishment do you hail?’ he enquired. ‘And what pray is your reverend’s own name in religion? Where did you obtain my son’s stone talisman? How is it that the sight of it cured him so quickly?’
The monk greeted this stream of questions with an inscrutable smile:
‘Don’t ask me. I have not the slightest idea. Just give me my ten thousand taels, and we’ll call it a day.’
Jia Zheng could see he was dealing with rather a brusque sort of fellow, and was nervous of offending him:
‘The money? Why yes, of course you shall have it …’
‘I’d like it now. I’m in a hurry.’
‘Please be seated for a moment, while I go in and see whether it is ready.’
‘You’d better get a move on.’
Jia Zheng went in to the others. He said nothing of his interview with the monk but went straight to the kang where Bao-yu was lying. When Bao-yu saw his father coming, he tried to raise himself up, but was too weak to do so. Lady Wang held him down and told him on no account to move, while Bao-yu smiled from where he lay and handed the jade to his father, with the words:
‘You see, Bao-yu has returned!’
Jia Zheng was aware of the Stone’s reputedly supernatural prop?erties. He glanced at it and said to Lady Wang:
‘Now that Bao-yu has recovered consciousness, how are we to pay the monk?’
‘Pawn everything I own!’ replied Lady Wang at once. ‘That should be enough.’
‘I hardly think he wants money,’ put in Bao-yu. ‘Do you?’
Jia Zheng nodded thoughtfully:
‘I thought it rather strange, I must say. But he absolutely insists.’
‘You must go out and entertain him,’ said Lady Wang. ‘We’ll see what we can do.’
As Jia Zheng went out, Bao-yu began clamouring for food. First he consumed a bowl of congee and then he demanded some rice, which the old women even brought him. But Lady Wang forbade him to eat it.
‘It’ll be perfectly all right,’ protested Bao-yu. ‘I’m better now.’
He leant forwards and promptly tucked into a bowl of rice. His spirits seemed greatly revived. He wanted to sit up properly, and Musk came forward and supported him gently. Carried away by her excitement at his recovery she blurted out:
‘What a treasure that Stone of yours is! Just seeing it has made you better! Thank goodness you never managed to smash it to pieces!’
Her words caused a sudden change to come over Bao-yu’s face. He threw the Stone aside and slumped back. But to learn if he survived, you must turn to the next chapter.

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