The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 2


A daughter of the Jias ends her days
in Yangchow city
And Leng Zi-xing discourses on the Jias of
Rong-guo House

Hearing the clamour of yamen runners outside, Feng Su hurried to the door, his face wreathed in smiles, to ask what they wanted. ‘Tell Mr Zhen to step outside,’ they were shouting. ‘Hurry!’
Feng Su’s smile became even more ingratiating. ‘My name is Feng, not Zhen. My son-in-law’s name is Zhen, but he left home to become a Taoist more than a year ago. Could he be the one you want?’
‘“Feng” or “Zhen”, it’s all the same to us,’ said the runners; ‘but if you’re his father-in-law you’d better come along with us to see the magistrate.’ And they hustled him off, leaving the entire household in a state of panic, quite at a loss to know what the trouble could be.
It was ten o’clock before Feng Su returned, and everyone pressed him to give a full account of what had transpired.
‘It seems that the new mandarin is a Hu-zhou man called Jia. He used to be an acquaintance of Shi-yin’s in the old days. He guessed that Shi-yin must have moved to these parts when he saw our Lucky in the doorway buying silks. That’s why he sent the runners here. I explained what had happened to Shi-yin, and he seemed very upset. Then he asked me about Ying-lian, and I said she was lost while out watching the lanterns. “Never mind,” he said, “wait till I send some people out to look for her. We shall have her back in no time.” Then we chatted a bit longer, and lust as I was going, he gave me two taels of silver.’
Mrs Zhen could not help being affected by this account. But the rest of that night we pass over in silence.
Early next day a messenger arrived from Yu-cun bearing two packets of silver and four bolts of silk brocade for Mrs Zhen as a token of the sender’s gratitude. There was also a confidential letter for Feng Su commissioning him to ask Mrs Zhen for Lucky’s hand as Yu-cun’s second wife. En?raptured at the prospect of doing a good turn for a mandarin, Feng Su hastened to urge upon his daughter the importance of complying with this request, and that very night Lucky was bundled into a small covered chair and carried off to the yamen. Yu-cun’s delight goes without saying. Another hundred taels of silver were despatched to Feng Su, together with a number of good things for Mrs Zhen, to cheer and sustain her until such time as her daughter’s whereabouts could be discovered.
Lucky was, of course, the maid who had once turned back to look at Yu-cun when they were living at the house in Soochow. She could scarcely have foreseen at the time what singular good fortune that one glance would procure for her. But she was destined to be doubly fortunate. She had not been with Yu-cun more than a year when she gave birth to a son; and a mere six months later Yu-cun’s first wife died, whereupon Lucky was promoted to fill her place and became Her Lady ship. As the proverb says,

Sometimes by chance
A look or a glance
May one’s fortune advance.


When Yu-cun received the gift of money from Zhen Shi-yin he had left for the capital on the day after the festival. He had done well in the Triennial examination, passing out as a Palace Graduate, and had been selected for external service. And now he had been promoted to the magistracy of this district.
But although his intelligence and ability were outstanding, these qualities were unfortunately offset by a certain cupidity and harshness and a tendency to use his intelligence in order to outwit his superiors; all of which caused his fellow-officials to cast envious glances in his direction, with the result that in less than a year an unfavourable report was sent in by a senior official stating that his ‘seeming ability was no more than a mask for cunning and duplicity’ and citing one or two instances in which he had aided and abetted the peculations of his underlings or allied himself with powerful local interests in order to frustrate the course of justice.
The imperial eye, lighting on this report, kindled with wrath. Yu-cun’s instant dismissal was commanded. The officials at the Prefecture, when notice that he was to be cashiered arrived from the Ministry, rejoiced to a man. But Yu-cun, in spite of all the shame and chagrin that he felt, allowed no glimmer of resentment to appear on his face. Indeed, he joked and smiled as before, and when the business of handing over was completed, he took his wife and family and the loot he had accumulated during his years of office and having settled them all safely in his native Hu-zhou, set off, free as the air, on an extended tour of some of the more celebrated places of scenic interest in our mighty empire.
One day Yu-cun chanced to be staying in the Yangchow area when he heard that the Salt Commissioner for that year was a certain Lin Ru-hai. This Lin Ru-hai had passed out Florilege, or third in the whole list of successful candidates, in a previous Triennial, and had lately been promoted to the Censorate. He was a Soochow man and had not long taken up his duties in Yangchow following his nomination by the emperor as Visiting Inspector in that area.
Lin Ru-hai came of an aristocratic family and was himself fifth in line since his ancestor’s ennoblement. The original patent had been inheritable only up to the third generation, and it was only through the magnanimity of the reigning sovereign that an exceptional act of grace had extended it for a further generation in the case of Lin Ru-hai’s father. Lin Ru-hai himself had therefore been obliged to make his way up through the examination system. It was fortunate for him that, though the family had up to his time enjoyed hereditary emoluments, it had nevertheless enjoined a high standard of education on all of its members.
Lin Ru-hai was less fortunate, however, in belonging to a family whose numbers were dwindling. He could still point to several related households, but they were all on the distaff side. There was not a single relation in the direct line who bore his name. Already he was fifty, and his only son had died the year before at the age of three. And although he kept several concubines, he seemed fated to have no son, and had all but resigned himself to this melancholy fact.
His chief wife, who had been a Miss Jia, had given him a daughter called Dai-yu. Both parents doted on her, and because she showed exceptional intelligence, conceived the idea of giving her a rudimentary education as a substitute for bringing up a son, hoping in this way somewhat to alleviate the sense of desolation left by the death of their only heir.
Now Jia Yu-cun had had the misfortune to catch a severe chill while staying in his lodgings at Yangchow, and after his recovery, found himself somewhat short of cash. He was therefore already looking around for some more permanent haven where he could rest and recuperate, when he chanced to run into two old friends who were acquainted with the new Salt Commissioner and who, knowing that the latter was looking for a suitable tutor for his daughter, took Yu-cun along to the yamen and introduced him, with the result that he was given the job.
Since Yu-cun’s pupil was both very young and rather delicate, there were no regular hours of instruction; and as she had only a couple of little maids studying with her for company who stayed away when she did, Yu-cun’s employ?ment was far from arduous and left ample time for convales?cence.
A year or more passed uneventfully and then, quite un?expectedly, Lin Ru-hai’s wife took ill and died. Yu-cun’s little pupil helped with the nursing throughout her mother’s last illness and mourned for her bitterly after her death. The extra strain this placed on her always delicate constitution brought on a severe attack of a recurrent sickness, and for a long time she was unable to pursue her lessons.
Bored by his enforced idleness, Yu-cun took to going for walks as soon as lunch was over whenever the weather was warm and sunny.
One day a desire to savour country sights and sounds led him outside the city walls, and as he walked along with no fixed destination in mind, he presently found himself in a place ringed with hills and full of murmuring brooks and tall stands of bamboo where a temple stood half-hidden among the trees. The walled approach to the gateway had fallen in and parts of the surrounding wall were in ruins. A board above the gate announced the temple’s name:


while two cracked and worn uprights at the sides of the gate were inscribed with the following couplet:
(on the right-hand side)

As long as there is a sufficiency behind you, you press greedily forward.

(on the left-hand side)

It is only when there is no road in front of you that you think of turning back.

‘The wording is commonplace to a degree,’ Yu-cun reflected, ‘yet the sentiment is quite profound. In all the famous temples and monasteries I have visited, I cannot recollect having ever seen anything quite like it. I shouldn’t be surprised to find that some story of spectacular downfall and dramatic conversion lay behind this inscription. It might be worth going in and inquiring.’
But when he went inside and looked around, he saw only an ancient, wizened monk cooking some gruel who paid no attention whatsoever to his greetings and who proved, when Yu-cun went up to him and asked him a few questions, to be both deaf and partially blind. His toothless replies were all but unintelligible, and in any case bore no relation to the questions.
Yu-cun walked out again in disgust. He now thought that in order to give the full rural flavour to his outing he would treat himself to a few cups of wine in a little country inn and accordingly directed his steps towards the near-by village. He had scarcely set foot inside the door of the village inn when one of the men drinking at separate tables inside rose up and advanced to meet him with a broad smile.
‘Fancy meeting you!’
It was an antique dealer called Leng Zi-xing whom Yu-cun had got to know some years previously when he was staying in the capital. Yu-cun had a great admiration for Zi-xing as a practical man of business, whilst Zi-xing for his part was tickled to claim acquaintanceship with a man of Yu-cun’s great learning and culture. On the basis of this mutual admiration the two of them had got on wonderfully well, and Yu-cun now returned the other’s greeting with a pleased smile.
‘My dear fellow! How long have you been here? I really had no idea you were in these parts. It was quite an accident that I came here today at all. What an extraordinary coincidence!’
‘I went home at the end of last year to spend New Year with the family,’ said Zi-xing. ‘On my way back to the capital I thought I would stop off and have a few words with a friend of mine who lives hereabouts, and he very kindly invited me to spend a few days with him. I hadn’t got any urgent business waiting for me, so I thought I might as well stay on a bit and leave at the middle of the month. I came out here on my own because my friend has an engagement today. I certainly didn’t expect to run into you here.’
Zi-xing conducted Yu-cun to his table as he spoke and ordered more wine and some fresh dishes to be brought. The two men then proceeded, between leisurely sips of wine, to relate what each had been doing in the years that had elapsed since their last meeting.
Presently Yu-cun asked Zi-xing if anything of interest had happened recently in the capital.
‘I can’t think of anything particularly deserving of mention,’ said Zi-xing. ‘Except, perhaps, for a very small but very unusual event that took place in your own clan there.’
‘What makes you say that?’ said Yu-cun, ‘I have no family connections in the capital.’
‘Well, it’s the same name,’ said Zi-xing. ‘They must be the same clan.’
Yu-cun asked him what family he could be referring to.
‘I fancy you wouldn’t disown the Jias of the Rong-guo mansion as unworthy of you.’
‘Oh, you mean them,’ said Yu-cun. ‘There are so many members of my clan, it’s hard to keep up with them all. Since the time of Jia Fu of the Eastern Han dynasty there have been branches of the Jia clan in every province of the empire. The Rong-guo branch is, as a matter of fact, on the same clan register as my own; but since they are exalted so far above us socially, we don’t normally claim the connection, and nowa?days we are completely out of touch with them.’
Zi-xing sighed. ‘You shouldn’t speak about them in that way, you know. Nowadays both the Rong and Ning mansions are in a greatly reduced state compared with what they used to be.’
‘When I was last that way the Rong and Ning mansions both seemed to be fairly humming with life. Surely nothing could have happened to reduce their prosperity in so short a time?’
‘Ah, you may well ask. But it’s a long story.’
‘Last time I was in Jinling,’ went on Yu-cun, ‘I passed by their two houses one day on my way to Shi-tou-cheng to visit the ruins. The Ning-guo mansion along the eastern half of the road and the Rong-guo mansion along the western half must between them have occupied the greater part of the north side frontage of that street. It’s true that there wasn’t much activity outside the main entrances, but looking up over the outer walls I had a glimpse of the most magnificent and imposing halls and pavilions, and even the rocks and trees of the gardens beyond seemed to have a sleekness and luxuriance that were certainly not suggestive of a family whose fortunes were in a state of decline.’
‘Well! For a Palace Graduate Second Class, you ought to know better than that! Haven’t you ever heard the old saying, “The beast with a hundred legs is a long time dying”? Although I say they are not as prosperous as they used to be in years past, of course I don’t mean to say that there is not still a world of difference between their circumstances and those you would expect to find in the household of your average government official. At the moment the numbers of their establishment and the activities they engage in are, if anything, on the increase. Both masters and servants all lead lives of luxury and magnificence. And they still have plenty of plans and projects under way. But they can’t bring themselves to economize or make any adjustment in their ac?customed style of living. Consequently, though outwardly they still manage to keep up appearances, inwardly they are beginning to feel the pinch. But that’s a small matter. There’s something much more seriously wrong with them than that. They are not able to turn out good sons, those stately houses, for all their pomp and show. The males in the family get more degenerate from one generation to the next.’
‘Surely,’ said Yu-cun with surprise, ‘it is inconceivable that such highly cultured households should not give their children the best education possible? I say nothing of other families, but the Jias of the Ning and Rong households used to be famous for the way in which they brought up their sons. How could they come to be as you describe?’
‘I assure you, it is precisely those families I am speaking of. Let me tell you something of their history. The Duke of Ning-guo and the Duke of Rong-guo were two brothers by the same mother. Ning-guo was the elder of the two. When he died, his eldest son, Jia Dai-hua, inherited his post. Dai?hua had two sons. The elder, Jia Fu, died at the age of eight or nine, leaving only the second son, Jia Jing, to inherit. Nowadays Jia Jing’s only interest in life is Taoism. He spends all his time over retorts and crucibles concocting elixirs, and refuses to be bothered with anything else.
‘Fortunately he had already provided himself with a son, Jia Zhen, long before he took up this hobby. So, having set his mind on turning himself into an immortal, he has given up his post in favour of this son. And what’s more he refuses outright to live at home and spends his time fooling around with a pack of Taoists somewhere outside the city walls.
‘This Jia Zhen has got a son of his own, a lad called Jia Rong, just turned sixteen. With old Jia Jing out of the way and refusing to exercise any authority, Jia Zhen has thrown his res[omsiblities to thw winds and given himself up to a life of pleasure. He has turned that Ning-guo mansion upside down, but there is no one around who dares gainsay him.
‘Now I come to the Rong household—it was there that this strange event occurred that I was telling you about. When the old Duke of Rong-guo died, his eldest son, Jia Dai-shan, inherited his emoluments. He married a girl from a very old Nanking family, the daughter of Marquis Shi, who bore him two sons, Jia She and Jia Zheng.
‘Dai-shan has been dead this many a year, but the old lady is still alive. The elder son, Jia She, inherited; but he’s only a very middling sort of person and doesn’t play much part in running the family. The second son, though, Jia Zheng, has been mad keen on study ever since he was a lad. He is a very upright sort of person, straight as a die. He was his grand?father’s favourite. He would have sat for the examinations, but when the emperor saw Dai-shan’s testamentary memorial that he wrote on his death bed, he was so moved, thinking what a faithful servant the old man had been, that he not only ordered the elder son to inherit his father’s position, but also gave instructions that any other sons of his were to be pre?sented to him at once, and on seeing Jia Zheng he gave him the post of Supernumerary Executive Officer, brevet rank, with instructions to continue his studies while on the Minis?try’s payroll. From there he Jias now risen to the post of Under Secretary.
‘Sir Zheng’s lady was formerly a Miss Wang. Her first child was a boy called Jia Zhu. He was already a Licensed Scholar at the age of fourteen. Then he married and had a son. But he died of an illness before he was twenty. The second child she bore him was a little girl, rather remarkable because she was born on New Year’s day. Then after an interval of twelve years or more she suddenly had another son. He was even more remarkable, because at the moment of his birth he had a piece of beautiful, clear, coloured jade in his mouth with a lot of writing on it. They gave him the name “Bao-yu” as a consequence. Now tell me if you don’t think that is an extraordinary thing.’
‘It certainly is,’ Yu-cun agreed. ‘I should not be at all surprised to find that there was something very unusual in the heredity of that child.’
‘Humph,’ said Zi-xing. ‘A great many people have said that. That is the reason why his old grandmother thinks him such a treasure. But when they celebrated the First Twelve month and Sir Zheng tested his disposition by putting a lot of objects in front of him and seeing which he would take hold of, he stretched out his little hand and started playing with some women’s things –combs, bracelets, pots of rouge and powder and the like—completely ignoring all the other ob?jects. Sir Zheng was very displeased. He said he would grow up to be a rake, and ever since then he hasn’t felt much affection for the child. But to the old lady he’s the very apple of her eye.
‘But there’s more that’s unusual about him than that. He’s now rising ten and unusually mischievous, yet his mind is as sharp as a needle. You wouldn’t find one in a hundred to match him. Some of the childish things he says are most extraordinary. He’ll say, “Girls are made of water and boys are made of mud. When I am with girls I feel fresh and clean’ but when I am with boys I feel stupid and nasty.” Now isn’t that priceless! He’ll be a lady-killer when he grows up, no question of that.’
Yu-cun’s face assumed an expression of unwonted severity. ‘Not so. By no means. It is a pity that none of you seem to understand this child’s heredity. Most likely even my esteemed kinsman Sir Jia Zheng is mistaken in treating the boy as a future libertine. This is something that no one but a widely read person, and one moreover well-versed in moral philosophy and in the subtle arcana of metaphysical science could possibly understand.’
Observing the weighty tone in which these words were uttered, Zi-xing hurriedly asked to be instructed, and Yu-cun proceeded as follows:
‘The generative processes operating in the universe provide the great majority of mankind with natures in which good and evil are commingled in more or less equal proportions. In?stances of exceptional goodness and exceptional badness are produced by the operation of beneficent or noxious ethereal influences, of which the former are symptomatized by the equilibrium of society and the latter by its disequilib?rium.
King Wen,
King Wu,
the Duke of Zhou,
the Duke of Shao,
Dong Zhong-shu,
Han Yu,
Zhou Dun-yi,
the Cheng brothers,
Zhu Xi and
Zhang Zai
— all instances of exceptional goodness—were born under the influence of benign forces, and all sought to promote the well-being of the societies in which they lived; whilst
Chi You,
Gong Gong,
the First Qin Emperor,
Wang Mang,
Cao Cao,
Huan Wen,
An Lu-shan and
Qin Kuai
—all instances of exceptional badness—were born under the influence of harmful forces, and all sought to disrupt the societies in which they lived.
‘Now, the good cosmic fluid with which the natures of the exceptionally good are compounded is a pure, quintessential humour; whilst the evil fluid which infuses the natures of the exceptionally bad is a cruel, perverse humour.
‘Therefore, our age being one in which beneficent ethereal influences are in the ascendant, in which the reigning dynasty’ is well-established and society both peaceful and prosperous, innumerable instances are to be found, from the palace down to the humblest cottage, of individuals endowed with the pure, quintessential humour.
‘Moreover, an unused surplus of this pure, quintessential humour, unable to find corporeal lodgment, circulates freely abroad until it manifests itself in the form of sweet dews and balmy winds, asperged and effused for the enrichment and refreshment of all terrestial life.
‘Consequently, the cruel and perverse humours, unable to circulate freely in the air and sunlight, subside, by a process of incrassation and coagulation, into the bottoms of ditches and ravines.
Now, should these incrassate humours chance to be stirred or provoked by wind or weather into a somewhat more volatile and active condition, it sometimes happens that a stray wisp or errant flocculus may escape from the fissure or concavity in which they are contained; and if some of the pure, quintessential humour should chance to be passing overhead at that same moment, the two will become locked in irreconcilable conflict, the good refusing to yield to the evil, the evil persisting in its hatred of the good. And just as wind, water, thunder and lightning meeting together over the earth can neither dissipate nor yield one to another but produce an explosive shock resulting in the downward emission of rain, so does this clash of humours result in the forcible downward expulsion of the evil humour, which, being thus forced down-wards, will find its way into some human creature.
‘Such human recipients, whether they be male or female, since they are already amply endowed with the benign humour before the evil humour is injected, are incapable of becoming either greatly good or greatly bad; but place them in the company of ten thousand others and you will find that they are superior to all the rest in sharpness and intelligence and inferior to all the rest in perversity, wrongheadedness and eccentricity. Born into a rich or noble household they are likely to become great lovers or the occasion of great love in others; in a poor but well-educated household they will become literary rebels or eccentric aesthetes; even if they are born in the lowest stratum of society they are likely to become great actors or famous hetaerae. Under no circumstances will you find them in servile or menial positions, content to be at the beck and call of mediocrities.
‘For examples I might cite:

Xu You,
Tao Yuan-ming,
Ruan Ji,
Ji Kang,
Liu Ling,
the Wang and Xie clans of the Jin period,
Gu Kai-zhi,
the last ruler of Chen,
the emperor Ming-huang of the Tang dynasty,
the emperor Hui-zong of the Song dynasty,
Liu Ting-zhi,
Wen Ting-yun,
Mi Fei,
Shi Yan-nian,
Liu Yong and
Qin Guan;
or, from more recent centuries:

Ni Zan,
Tang Yin and
Zhu Yun-ming;
or again, for examples of the last type:
Li Gui-nian,
Huang Fan-chuo,
Jing Xin-mo,
Zhuo Wen-jun,
Little Red Duster,
Xue Tao,
Cui Ying-ying and
Morning Cloud.
All of these, though their circumstances differed, were essentially the same.’
‘You mean’ Zi-xing interposed,
‘Zhang victorious is a hero,
Zhang beaten is a lousy knave?’

‘Precisely so,’ said Yu-cun. ‘I should have told you that during the two years after I was cashiered I travelled exten?sively in every province of the empire and saw quite a few remarkable children in the course of my travels; so that just now when you mentioned this Bao-yu I felt pretty certain what type of boy he must be. But one doesn’t need to go very far afield for another example. There is one in the Zhen family in Nanking—I am referring to the family of the Zhen who is Imperial Deputy Director-General of the Nanking Secretariat. Perhaps you know who I mean?’
‘Who doesn’t?’ said Zi-xing. ‘There is an old family con?nection between the Zhen family and the Jias of whom we have just been speaking, and they are still on very close terms with each other. I’ve done business with them myself for longer than I’d care to mention.’
‘Last year when I was in Nanking,’ said Yu-cun, smiling at the recollection, ‘I was recommended for the post of tutor in their household. I could tell at a glance, as soon as I got inside the place, that for all the ducal splendour this was a family “though rich yet given to courtesy”, in the words of the Sage, and that it was a rare piece of luck to have got a place in it. But when I came to teach my pupil, though he was only at the first year primary stage, he gave me more trouble than an examination candidate.
‘He was indeed a comedy. He once said, “I must have two girls to do my lessons with me if I am to remember the words and understand the sense. Otherwise my mind will simply not work.” And he would often tell the little pages who waited on him, “The word ‘girl’ is very precious and very pure. It is much more rare and precious than all the rarest beasts and birds and plants in the world. So it is most extremely important that you should never, never violate it with your coarse mouths and stinking breath. Whenever you need to say it, you should first rinse your mouths out with clean water and scented tea. And if ever I catch you slipping up, I shall have holes drilled through your teeth and lace them up together.”
‘There was simply no end to his violence and unruliness. Yet as soon as his lessons were over and he went inside to visit the girls of the family, he became a completely different person—all gentleness and calm, and as intelligent and well-bred as you please.
‘His father gave him several severe beatings but it made no difference. Whenever the pain became too much for him he would start yelling “Girls! girls!” Afterwards, when the girls in the family got to hear about it, they made fun of him. “Why do you always call to us when you are hurt? I suppose you think we shall come and plead for you to be let off. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” But you should have heard his answer. He said, “Once when the pain was very bad, I thought that perhaps if I shouted the word ‘girls’ it might help to ease it. Well,” he said, “I just called out once, and the pain really was quite a bit better. So now that I have found this secret remedy, I just keep on shouting ‘Girls! girls! girls!’ whenever the pain is at its worst.” I could not help laughing.
‘But because his grandmother doted on him so much, she was always taking the child’s part against me and his father. In the end I had to hand in my notice. A boy like that will never be able to keep up the family traditions or listen to the advice of his teachers and friends. The pity of it is, though, that the girls in that family are all exceptionally good.’
‘The three at present in the Jia household are also very fine girls,’ said Zi-xing. ‘Sir Jia Zheng’s eldest girl, Yuan?chun, was chosen for her exceptional virtue and cleverness to be a Lady Secretary in the Imperial Palace. The next in age after her and eldest of the three still at home is called Ying?chun. She is the daughter of Sir Jia She by one of his secondary wives. After her comes another daughter of Sir Zheng’s, also a concubine’s child, called Tan-chun. The youngest, Xi-chun, is sister-german to Mr Jia Zhen of the Ning-guo mansion. Old Lady Jia is very fond of her granddaughters and keeps them all in her own apartments on the Rong-guo side. They all study together, and I have been told that they are doing very well.’
‘One of the things I liked about the Zhen family,’ said Yu-cun, ‘was their custom of giving the girls the same sort of names as the boys, unlike the majority of families who invariably use fancy words like “chun”, “hong”, “xiang”, “yu”, and so forth. How comes it that the Jias should have followed the vulgar practice in this respect?’
‘They didn’t,’ said Zi-xing. ‘The eldest girl was called “Yuan-chun” because she was in fact born on the first day of spring. The others were given names with “chun” in them to match hers. But if you go back a generation, you will find that among the Jias too the girls had names exactly like the boys’.
‘I can give you proof. Your present employer’s good lady is sister-german to Sir She and Sir Zheng of the Rong house?hold. Her name, before she married, was Jia Min. If you don’t believe me, you make a few inquiries when you get home and you’ll find it is so.’
Yu-cun clapped his hands with a laugh. ‘Of course! I have often wondered why it is that my pupil Dai-yu always pronounces “min” as “mi” when she is reading and, if she has to write it, always makes the character with one or two strokes missing. Now I understand. No wonder her speech and behaviour are so unlike those of ordinary children! I always supposed that there must have been something remarkable about the mother for her to have produced so remarkable a daughter. Now I know that she was related to the Jias of the Rong household, I am not surprised.
‘By the way, I am sorry to say that last month the mother passed away.’
Zi-xing sighed. ‘Fancy her dying so soon! She was the youngest of the three. And the generation before them are all gone, every one. We shall have to see what sort of husbands they manage to find for the younger generation!’
‘Yes, indeed,’ said Yu-cun. ‘Just now you mentioned that Sir Zheng had this boy with the jade in his mouth and you also mentioned a little grandson left behind by his elder son. What about old Sir She? Surely he must have a son?’
‘Since Sir Zheng had the boy with the jade, he has had another son by a concubine,’ said Zi-xing, ‘but I couldn’t tell you what he’s like. So at present he has two sons and one grandson. Of course, we don’t know what the future may bring.
‘But you were asking about Sir She. Yes, he has a son too, called Jia Lian. He’s already a young man in his early twenties. He married his own kin, the niece of his Uncle Zheng’s wife, Lady Wang. He’s been married now £or four or five years. Holds the rank of a Sub-perfect by purchase. He’s another member of the family who doesn’t find responsibilities congenial. He knows his way around, though, and has a great gift of the gab, so at present he stays at home with his Uncle Zheng and helps him manage the family’s affairs. However, ever since he married this young lady I mentioned, every?one high and low has joined in praising her, and he has been put into the shade rather. She is not only a very handsome young woman, she also has a very ready tongue and a very good head – more than a match for most men, I can tell you.’
‘You see, I was not mistaken,’ said Yu-cun. ‘All these people you and I have been talking about are probably examples of that mixture of good and evil humours I was describing to you.’
‘Well, I don’t know about that,’ said Zi-xing. ‘Instead of sitting here setting other people’s accounts to rights, let’s have another drink!’
‘I am afraid I have drunk quite a lot while we were busy talking,’ said Yu-cun.
Zi-xing laughed. ‘There’s nothing like a good gossip about other people’s affairs for making the wine go down! I’m sure an extra cup or two won’t do us any harm.’
Yu-cun glanced out of the window. ‘It’s getting late. We must be careful we don’t get shut out of the city. Why not continue the conversation on our way back? Then we can take our time.’
The two men accordingly rose from their seats, settled the bill for the wine, and were just about to start on their way, when a voice from behind called out, ‘Yu-cun, congratulations! I’ve got some good news for you.’
Yu-cun turned to look.
But if you wish to know who it was, you will have to read the next chapter.

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