The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 13



Qin-shi posthumously acquires the status
of a Noble Dame
And Xi-feng takes on the management
of a neighbouring establishment

After Jia Lian’s departure for Yangchow Xi-feng felt bored and unhappy, particularly in the evenings when, apart from chatting with Patience, there seemed little to do but sleep. On the occasion of which we write she had sat beside the lamp with Patience until late into the evening; then, the bedding having been well warmed, the two women had gone to bed, where they lay until after midnight discussing the stages of Jia Lian’s journey and attempting to calculate what point he was likely to have reached in it. By this time Patience was fast asleep and Xi-feng herself was on the point of dropping off when she became dimly aware that Qin-shi had just walked into the room from outside.
‘So fond of sleep, Auntie?’ said Qin-shi with a gentle smile. ‘I shall have to begin my journey today without you to see me off. But never mind! Since you cannot come to me, I have come to you instead. We two have always been so close, I could not have borne to leave you without saying good-bye. Besides, I have a last wish that you alone must hear, because I cannot trust anyone else with it.’
‘What is your wish?’ Xi-feng heard herself asking. ‘You can trust me to carry it out for you.’
‘Tell me, Auntie,’ said Qin-shi, ‘how is it that you who are such a paragon among women that even strong men find more than their match in you can yet be ignorant of the simple truths expressed in homely proverbs? Take this one:
The full moon smaller grows,
Full water overflows.

Or this:
The higher the climb, the harder the fall.

Our house has now enjoyed nearly a century of dazzling success. Suppose one day “joy at its height engenders sorrow”. And suppose that, in the words of another proverb, “when the tree falls, the monkeys scatter”. Will not our reputation as one of the great, cultured households of the age then turn into a hollow mockery?’
Qin-shi’s question made Xi-feng feel uneasy, though at the same time inspiring a deep respect in her for her niece’s fore?sight.
‘You are quite right to show concern,’ she said. ‘Is there any means by which we can keep permanently out of danger?’
‘Now you are being silly, Auntie!’ said Qin-shi somewhat scornfully. ‘“The extreme of adversity is the beginning of prosperity” — and the reverse of that saying is also true. Honour and disgrace follow each other in an unending cycle. No human power can arrest that cycle and hold it permanently in one position. What you can do, however, is to plan while we are still prosperous for the kind of heritage that will stand up to the hard times when they come.
‘At the moment everything seems well looked after; but in fact there are still two matters that have not been properly taken care of. If you will deal with them in the way that I shall presently suggest, you will be able to face the future without fear of calamity.’
‘What two matters?’ Xi-feng asked her.
‘Though the seasonal offerings at the ancestral burial-ground are at present regularly attended to,’ said Qin-shi, ‘no special income has been set aside to pay for them. That is the first matter. The second matter concerns the clan school. There again, there is no fixed source of income. Obviously there will be no lack of funds either for the seasonal offerings or for the school as long as we enjoy our present prosperity. But where is the money for them coming from in the future, when the family has fallen on hard times?
‘I am convinced that the only way of dealing with these two matters is to invest now, while we are still rich and powerful, in as much property as possible—land, farms, and houses—in the area around the burial-ground, and to pay for the seasonal offerings and the running of the school entirely out of the income from this property. Moreover the school itself ought to be situated on it. The whole clan, old and young alike, should be convened and a set of regulations drawn up whereby each family is made to administer the estate and look after the financing of the seasonal offerings and the clan school for one year in turn. By making the responsibility rotate in a fixed order you will remove the possibility of quarrels about it and also lessen the danger of the property getting mortgaged or sold.
‘Then even if the clan gets into trouble and its possessions are confiscated, this part of its property, as charitable estate, will escape confiscation; and when the family’s fortunes are in decline, it will be a place where the young people can go to farm and study, as well as a means of maintaining the ancestral sacrifices in unbroken succession. To refuse to take thought for the morrow on the grounds that our present prosperity is going to last for ever would be extremely short-sighted.
‘Quite soon a happy event is going to take place in this family, bringing it an even greater glory than it has enjoyed up to now. But it will be a glory as excessive and as transitory as a posy of fresh flowers pinned to an embroidered dress or the flare-up of spilt cooking-oil on a blazing fire. In the midst of that brief moment of happiness never forget that “even the best party must have an end”. For if you do, and if you fail to take precautions in good time, you will live to regret it bitterly when it is already too late.’
‘What is this happy event you speak of?’ Xi-feng asked her eagerly.
‘That is a secret which may not be revealed to mortal ears. However, for the sake of our brief friendship on this earth, I leave you these words as my parting gift. Be sure that you remember them well!

When the Three Springs have gone, the flowering time will end,
And each one for himself as best he may must fend.’

Xi-feng was about to ask her another question when she was interrupted by the sound of the iron chime-bar which hung in the inner gate.
Four strokes. The signal of death!
She woke with a start to hear a servant announcing, ‘Mrs Rong of the Ning-guo mansion is dead.’ A cold sweat broke out over her body and for a while she lay too stunned to move. Then forcing herself to get up she pulled on her clothes and went round to Lady Wang’s.
By this time the entire household had heard the news. All seemed bewildered by it and all were in one way or another deeply distressed. Those older than Qin-shi thought of how dutiful she had always been; those in her own generation thought of her warmth and friendliness; her juniors remem?bered how kindly and lovingly she had treated them; even the servants, irrespective of sex and age, remembering her com?passion for the poor and humble and her gentle concern for the old and the very young, all wept and lamented as loud and bitterly as the rest.
But we digress.
During the last few days, since Dai-yu’s return to her father had deprived him of her companionship, Bao-yu, far from seeking diversion in the company of the others, had kept to himself, going to bed early every night and sleeping dis?consolately on his own. The news of Qin-shi’s death came to him in the midst of his dreams, causing him to start up in bed with a jerk. A sudden stabbing pain shot through his heart. He retched involuntarily and spat out a mouthful of blood. Aroma and the maids clung to him, terrified, and asked him what was the matter. They wanted to tell Grandmother Jia and ask her to send for a doctor; but Bao-yu would not hear of it.
‘Don’t worry, it’s of no consequence!’ he told them. ‘Something that happens when a sudden rush of fire to the heart prevents the blood from getting back into the right channels.’
He climbed out of bed as he spoke and told them to bring him some clean clothes, so that he could see his grandmother and then go straight on to the other house. Aroma was still concerned for him, but seeing him so determined, allowed him to have his way.
Grandmother Jia did not want him to go, either.
‘It won’t be clean there,’ she said, ‘with her scarcely yet cold. And besides, there’s a nasty wind at this time of night. It will be soon enough if you go there first thing tomorrow.’
But Bao-yu would not be gainsaid, so she gave instructions for a carriage to be made ready for him and a numerous retinue of servants to attend him there.
Arriving in haste at the entrance of the Ning-guo mansion, they found the gates flung wide open and lanterns on either side turning the night into noonday. Despite the hour, a multitude of people were hurrying through it in both direc?tions, while from inside the house issued a sound of lamenta?tion that seemed to shake the very buildings to their founda?tions.
Alighting from his carriage, Bao-yu hurried through to the room in which Qin-shi lay and wept there for a while very bitterly. He then went to call on You-shi, whom he found ill in bed, struck down by a sudden attack of some gastric trouble from which she had occasionally suffered in the past. After leaving You-shi, he went to look for Cousin Zhen.
By now Jia Dai-ru, Jia Dai-xiu, Jia Chi, Jia Xiao, Jia Dun, Jia She, Jia Zheng, Jia Cong, Jia Bin, Jia Heng (I), Jia Guang, Jia Chen, Jia Qiong, Jia Lin, Jia Qiang, Jia Chang, Jia Ling, Jia Yun, Jia Qin, Jia Jin, Jia Ping, Jia Zao, Jia Heng (II), Jia Fen, Jia Fang, Jia Lan, Jia Jun and Jia Zhi had all arrived, and Bao-yu found Cousin Zhen in their midst addressing them, though well-nigh choked with tears:
‘Everyone, young or old, kinsman or friend, knows that my daughter-in-law was ten times better than any son. Now that she has been taken from us it’s plain to see that this senior branch of the family is doomed to extinction!’ and he broke down once more into incontrollable weeping.
The men present tried to console him:
‘Now that she’s gone, crying isn’t going to bring her back again. The important thing now is to make your plans for the funeral.’
‘Plans? What plans?’ Cousin Zhen cried, somewhat theatrically. ‘Just take everything I have—everything!’
As he was speaking Qin Bang-ye and Qin Zhong arrived, and various members of You-shi’s family, including her two younger sisters. Cousin Zhen deputed Jia Qiong, Jia Chen, Jia Lin and Jia Qiang from among the younger men present to look after them and any other guests who might arrive.
He also instructed someone to invite an expert from the Board of Astronomy to select dates for the funeral and the ceremonies preceding it. With the approval of this official it was decided that the lying in state should be for forty-nine days and that the notification of bereavement indicating the family’s readiness to receive official visits of condolence should be made in three days’ time. A hundred and eight Buddhist monks were engaged to perform a Grand Miseri?cordia for the salvation of all departed souls in the main reception hall of the mansion during these forty-nine days, while at the same time ninety-nine Taoist priests of the Quan?zhen sect were to perform ceremonies of purification and absolution at a separate altar in the Celestial Fragrance pavilion. These arrangements having been made, the body was moved to a temporary shrine in another pavilion of the All-scents Garden. Fifty high-ranking Buddhist monks and fifty high-ranking Taoist priests took turns in chanting and intoning before it on every seventh day.
Nothing would induce old Jia Jing to return home when he learned of the death of his grandson’s wife. Immortality was within his grasp and he was not going to impair his hard-won sanctity with the taint of earthly pollution. Accordingly he left all these matters to Cousin Zhen to order as he wished.
Free to indulge his own extravagant tastes, Cousin Zhen had inspected several sets of deal coffin-boards without finding any to his liking. Xue Pan heard of his problem when he came round to condole.
‘We’ve got a set in our timber-yard,’ he told Cousin Zhen. ‘It’s in a wood supposed to have come from the Iron Net Mountains. They say that a coffin made from it will last forever without rotting. It was brought here years ago by my father. Prince Zhong-yi was going to have it, but when he came unstuck it didn’t get used. It’s still locked up in store because no one has ever been found who could afford to buy it. If you are interested, I can have it carried round for you to look at.’
Cousin Zhen was delighted, and the timber was brought over at once for everyone to inspect. The planks for the base and sides were at least eight inches thick. The wood had a grain like areca palm and a fragrance suggestive of musk and sandalwood. When rapped with the knuckles it gave off a hard, ringing sound like jade or stone. Everyone was impressed and Cousin Zhen eagerly inquired the price. Xue Pan laughed.
‘I doubt you could buy a set like this for a thousand taels of silver cash down,’ he said. ‘Blow the price! Give the workmen a couple of taels for carrying it here and it’s yours.’
Cousin Zhen thanked him profusely and at once gave orders for the planks to be sawn up and made into a coffin. Jia Zheng doubted the propriety of using such material for the burial of a person not of royal blood and insisted that it would be sufficient to use the best quality deal; but Cousin Zhen refused to listen.
News was suddenly brought that Qin-shi’s little maid Gem, on hearing that her mistress was dead, had taken her own life by dashing her head against a pillar. Such rare devotion excited the wondering admiration of the entire clan. Cousin Zhen at once had her laid out and encoffined with the rites appropriate to a granddaughter and ordered her coffin to be placed in the Ascension Pavilion of the All-scents Garden side by side with Qin-shi’s.
As Qin-shi had died without issue, another of her little maids called Jewel volunteered to stand in as her daughter and perform the chief mourner’s duties of smashing the bowl when the bearers came in to take up the coffin and walking in front of it in the funeral procession. Cousin Zhen was very pleased and gave orders that thenceforth everyone was to address her as ‘Miss Jewel’ just as if she were Qin-shi’s real daughter. In the meantime she installed herself by the coffin and, comporting herself in the manner prescribed for an unmarried daughter, wept and wailed until she had almost lost her voice.
Following these preliminaries, the rest of the clan together with the family servants all proceeded to carry out their mourning duties according to long-established precedents and in a correct and orderly manner. The family’s respect for tradition was, however, a source of great unease to Cousin Zhen when he reflected on Jia Rong’s status: for Jia Rong was only an Imperial College Student — an absurdly insignificant title to write on a funeral banner; and the insignia to which Qin-shi was entitled would make a very poor showing when borne in the funeral procession.
By a stroke of luck the fourth day of the first seven-day period—the day on which official condolences were scheduled to begin — brought a visit from Dai Quan, the Eunuch Cham?berlain of the Da-ming Palace. Having sent his representative along well in advance with offerings for the departed spirit, he presently arrived himself, seated in a great palanquin and preceded by criers and men with gongs clearing the streets before him, to present his offerings in person. Cousin Zhen at once made up his mind to take advantage of the visit.
As soon as Dai Quan had made his offering, Cousin Zhen ushered him into the Honey Bee Gallery, invited him to be seated, and served him with tea. Then, entering into conversa?tion with his guest, he quickly found occasion to mention the fact that he was thinking of purchasing a place for his son Jia Rong. The eunuch guessed what was in his mind, and laughingly inquired whether it was not with a view to adding a little pomp to the funeral that he had conceived this notion.
‘My dear Chamberlain,’ Cousin Zhen readily agreed, you have hit the nail on the head!’
‘Well, by a lucky coincidence,’ said Dai Quan, ‘there is rather a good place going at this very moment. The Corps of Officers of the Imperial Guard, which has an establishment of three hundred, has got two vacancies in it. Yesterday Lord Xiang-yang’s younger brother “Sannikins” begged me for one of them and sent fifteen hundred taels of silver round to my house to pay for it. He and I have always been good friends, as you know, and in any case I felt I had to do some?thing, for his Grandpa’s sake; so I couldn’t very well refuse. “Piggy” Feng, the Military Governor of Yong-xing, has asked me if he can buy the remaining place for his son, but I haven’t yet had time to give him a reply. If our young friend here wants it, why not jot down his particulars and I’ll see what I can do.’
Cousin Zhen at once ordered someone to write out Jia Rong’s name, age and lineage on a sheet of red paper. The following description was hurriedly prepared and handed to Dai Quan for his inspection:

Place of Origin: (County) Kiangning; (Prefecture) Ying-tian-fu; (Province) Kiangnan.
Status: Imperial College Student
Age: 20
Great-grandfather: General Jia Dai-hua, C.-in-C. Metropolitan Barracks, hereditary noble of the first rank.
Grandfather: Jia Jing, Palace Graduate of the year 17—.
Father: Hon. Colonel Jia Zhen, third rank (hereditary).

After glancing through it quickly, Dai Quan handed it into the keeping of a young eunuch secretary at his side.
‘When we get back,’ he said to the latter, ‘give this to old Zhao, the President of the Board of Revenue, with my compli?ments, and ask him if he would kindly make out a commission for a captain in the Imperial Guard, fifth rank, and also the papers to go with it with these particulars filled in. Tell him I’ll call round tomorrow to pay in the money.’
The young eunuch bowed, and Dai Quan rose to go. Seeing that he could no longer detain him, Cousin Zhen showed him out as far as the main gate. As the eunuch was getting into his palanquin, Cousin Zhen asked him whether he should take the money to the Ministry or bring it round to Dai Quan’s own house.
‘Better bring a thousand taels, standard weight, to my house. If you go to the Ministry, they’re sure to fleece you.’
Cousin Zhen thanked him warmly.
‘When the period of mourning is over,’ he said, ‘I shall bring the young fellow round to your house to kotow his thanks.’
With that they parted. But no sooner had the eunuch gone than the sound of criers was once more heard in the street, this time heralding the arrival of the Marchioness of Zhong?jing, wife of Grandmother Jia’s nephew Shi Ding, with her little niece Shi Xing-yun. Lady Wang, Lady Xing and Wang Xi-feng received them in Cousin Zhen’s drawing-room.
Offerings from the Marquises of Jin-xiang and Chuan-ning and the Earl of Shou-shan were now on display, and those three gentlemen were shortly to be observed alighting from their palanquins outside. Cousin Zhen went out to meet them and conducted them up the steps into the main reception hall.
From then on there was a continuous stream of arrivals, and throughout the whole forty-nine-day period the street in front of the Ning-guo mansion was thronged with family mourners in white and mandarins in their’ colourful robes of office, milling in and out and to and fro all day long.
The day after Dai Quan’s visit Cousin Zhen made Jia Rong change out of mourning into a court dress and go to collect his commission. The furnishings and insignia in the shrine were all rearranged in a manner befitting a person of the fifth rank. The wording on the spirit tablet which stood on the table of offerings at the foot of the coffin now read.

Spirit tablet of the Lady Qin-shi of the Jia family
Gentlewoman of the Fifth Rank by Imperial Patent

The gate of the All-scents Garden opening on to the street was thrown wide open and booths for musicians were erected on either side of it, in which black-coated funeral bands played at fixed times throughout the day. To either side of them were displayed the insignia of rank: glittering rows of axes and halberds arranged in wooden stands. At each side of the gateway vermilion-painted boards inscribed in large golden characters boldly announced the status of the bereaved:

Honorary Captain of the Imperial Bodyguard
Inner Palace, Northern Capital Division

Inside the gateway, facing the street, a high staging was con?structed on which Buddhist monks and Taoist priests sat on opposite sides of an altar intoning their sacred texts. In front of the staging was a notice on which was written in large characters:




Senior great-great-granddaughter-in-law of
Jia Yan, Hereditary Duke of Ning-guo, and
wife of the Right Honourable Jia Rong, Captain
in the Imperial Bodyguard, Inner Palace:

in this favoured Country, situate in the centre-
most part of the four continents of the earth,
on which it has pleased Heaven to bestow the
blessings of everlasting prosperity and peace,

the Very Reverend Wan-xu, Co-President of
the Board of Commissioners having author?ity
over all monks and clergy of the Incorporeal,
EverAranquil Church of the Lord Buddha,

the Venerable Ye-sheng, Co-President of the
Board of Commissioners having authority
over all priests and practitioners of the Primordial,
All-unifying Church of the Heavenly Tao,

with all due reverence and care, prepared
offices for the salvation of all departed
souls, supplicating Heaven and calling upon
the Name of the Lord Buddha.

earnestly praying and beseeching the Eight?een
Guardians of the Sangha, the Warlike
Guardians of the Law, and the Twelve
Guardians of the Months mercifully to extend
their holy compassion towards us, but
terribly to blaze forth in divine majesty
against the powers of evil, we do solemnly
perform for nine and forty days the Great
Mass for the purification, deliverance and
salvation of all souls on land and on sea…

—and a great deal more on those lines which it would be tedious to repeat.

Although Cousin Zhen now had every reason to feel satisfied with his arrangements, there was still one matter which caused him uneasiness. You-shi’s unfortunate illness meant that she was unable to discharge any of her social obligations, and he was mortally afraid that with so many great ladies coming to the house on visits of condolence, some breach of etiquette might occur which would cause the family to look ridiculous.
Bao-yu once chanced to be sitting next to him when his mind was dwelling on this problem, and observing the gloomy and preoccupied expression on his cousin’s face, asked him why he should still be worried now that everything had been so excellently taken care of. Cousin Zhen explained that it was the present lack of a responsible female head of household which was the cause of his concern.
‘That’s no problem!’ said Bao-yu encouragingly. ‘I know just the person for this. Put her in temporary control here for a month, and I guarantee that you will have nothing further to worry about.’
‘Who?’ inquired Cousin Zhen eagerly.
Bao-yu deemed it imprudent to mention her name out loud in the hearing of so many friends and relations, so leaning across he whispered it in Cousin Zhen’s ear. Cousin Zhen’s reaction was ecstatic.
‘Yes, absolutely the right person!’ he cried. ‘Let’s see about it straight away!’
And seizing Bao-yu by the hand, he excused himself to the company and hurried round to the reception room in his own apartment.
It so happened that this day was not one of the seven on which masses were said, so visitors from outside the family were fairly few. In the inner apartments there was only a hand?ful of lady visitors, all of them close connections of the Jia family, whom Lady Xing, Lady Wang, Wang Xi-feng and various female members of the clan were keeping company. When a servant announced ‘The Master is here’, all these females jumped up with little shrieks of alarm and rushed off to hide themselves—all, that is, except Xi-feng, who rose slowly to her feet and imperturbably stood her ground.
Cousin Zhen had of late been feeling far from well. The debility his sickness caused him had been further aggravated by excessive grief and obliged him to support himself with a staff. Lady Xig was concerned to see the pitiflil figure he presented as he entered the room.
‘You are not well,’ she said, ‘and you have been doing too much now for days. You ought to be getting some rest. What do you want to come in here for?’
Clutching his staff in his hand, Cousin Zhen struggled down on to his knees, and having made his duty to his aunts, began thanking them for all their trouble. Lady Xing hurriedly ordered Bao-yu to raise him up and commanded a chair to be moved forward for him to sit on. But Cousin Zhen refused to be seated.
‘I have come to ask you three ladies a favour,’ he said, forcing his woebegone features into a smile.
‘What is it you want?’ Lady Xing asked him.
‘As you doubtless know,’ said Cousin Zhen, ‘my wife has been ill in bed ever since our daughter-in-law’s death, and with no one to run her side of the household it has been getting into a pretty deplorable state. I should like to ask Cousin Feng if she could possibly see her way to running things here for us during the coming month. It would be a great relief to me if she could.’
‘So that’s what you want!’ said Lady Xing with a smile. ‘Feng is now part of your Aunt Wang’s establishment. You’d better talk to her about it.’
‘She’s only a child yet; you know,’ Lady Wang put in hastily. ‘What experience has she ever had of this kind of thing? Suppose she proved not quite up to the task. We should all be made to look ridiculous. I think you had better trouble someone else.’
‘I can easily guess what is in your mind, Aunt,’ said Cousin Zhen. ‘You are afraid we should overwork her. For I assure you there is no question of her not being a good enough manager. Even in her childhood games, Cousin Feng had the decisiveness of a little general, and since she’s married and had some experience of running things next door, she is a thoroughly seasoned campaigner. I’ve thought the matter over carefully these past few days and am quite convinced that apart from Cousin Feng there really isn’t anyone else I can ask. If you won’t let her do this for my sake or my wife’s sake, at least won’t you let her for the sake of the one who has just died?’
And at this point he burst into tears.
Lady Wang’s only concern had been lest Xi-feng, who had had no experience of large-scale funerals, might find the task too big for her and perhaps end up by making a fool of herself. But Cousin Zhen’s moving plea caused her attitude to soften considerably and she eyed Xi-feng thoughtfully as though struggling to make up her mind. Xi-feng for her part had always loved managing things and enjoyed showing off her ability to do so. When Cousin Zhen first made his request, her mind had at once consented; and now, observing that Lady Wang appeared to be already half persuaded, she hastened to complete the process.
‘Cousin Zhen has spoken su eloquently. Oughtn’t we per?haps to agree, Aunt?’
‘Do you think you can do it?’ Lady Wang asked her in a low aside.
‘I don’t see why not,’ said Xi-feng. ‘Cousin Zhen has already seen to all the outside arrangements himself. It’s only a question of looking after the domestic side for a bit. And even if there is anything I don’t know about, I can always ask you.’
This seemed reasonable enough to Lady Wang, so she said nothing. Seeing that Xi-feng herself appeared to be willing, Cousin Zhen turned to her with a smile.
‘Actually there isn’t so very much to do,’ he said. ‘You really must let us persuade you to take this on. Let me make you a reverence now, to show my gratitude. Then, when this is all over, I shall come round to your place to thank you properly.’
So saying, he clasped his hands before him and made her a formal bow. Xi-feng hurriedly curtseyed back.
Cousin Zhen now ordered someone to fetch the tallies for the entire Ning-guo household and instructed Bao-yu to hand them to Xi-feng.
‘I want you to manage things whatever way you like,’ he told her. ‘Anything you want you can get by using one of these. There is no need to ask me for it. I have only two requests to make of you. First that you should dismiss from your mind any idea of trying to save me any money. The important thing is to put on a good show: the expense doesn’t matter. And secondly that you should treat our people here exactly as you treat the members of your own household. Don’t be afraid of upsetting them. Provided that you will observe those conditions, I leave everything in your hands with the utmost confidence.’
Xi-feng watched Lady Wang, not daring to accept the tallies without her approval.
‘You hear what your cousin says,’ said Lady Wang. ‘You bad better do as he asks. Only do not take too much upon yourself. If there are any decisions to make, be sure to ask Cousin Zhen or his wife first.’
Bao-yu had already received the tallies from Cousin Zhen and now thrust them at Xi-feng. For politeness’ sake she feigned a certain amount of reluctance, but was soon prevailed upon to accept them.
‘Will you stay here with us,’ Cousin Zhen asked her, ‘or will you be coming over every day from the other house? If you intend to come over from the other house every day, it will greatly add to your burdens. We have an apartment here with its own courtyard which we can very quickly place at your disposal. If you would care to move in for the next week or two, I am sure we could make you comfortable.’
‘Thank you, but it won’t be necessary,’ said Xi-feng with a smile. ‘I am needed at the other house too, so it will be best if I come here every day.’
Having accomplished his mission, Cousin Zhen stayed chatting a little longer and then left. Presently, when the visiting ladies had dispersed, Lady Wang asked Xi-feng what her plans were for the rest of the day.
‘Please go on without me, Aunt,’ said Xi-feng. ‘Before I go back myself I must first try to sort out exactly what this job is going to entail.’
Lady Wang accordingly left without more delay in the company of Lady Xing, and the two ladies returned to the Rong-guo mansion, where we must now leave them.
Alone at last, Xi-feng wandered into a sort of penthouse building where she sat down and tried to formulate the task that lay ahead. Five major abuses, long habitual in the Ning-guo establishment, presented themselves to her mind as being specially in need of attention, viz:
1.Because it was so large and so motley an establishment, things were always getting lost.
2.Because there was no rational division of labour, it always seemed to be someone else’s responsibility whenever a job needed to be done.
3.Because the household’s expenditure was so lavish, money was always getting misappropriated or misspent.
4.Because no distinctions were made between one job and another, the rewards and hardships were unfairly distributed,
5.Because the servants were so arrogant and undisciplined, those with face’ could brook no restraint and those without could win no advancement.
If you want to know how Xi-feng dealt with these abuses, you will have to read the chapter which follows.

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