The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 25

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CHAPTER 25

Two cousins are subjected by witchcraft to
the assaults of demons
And the Magic Jade meets an old acquaintance while
rather the worse for wear

We have seen how Crimson, after lying a long time a prey to confused and troubled thoughts, at last dozed off to sleep; and how later, when Jia Yun grabbed at her, she turned and fled, only to stumble and fall on the threshold of her room. At that point she woke in bed and discovered that she had been dreaming. She did not get to sleep again after that, but lay tossing restlessly throughout the night.
When daylight came at last, she got up, and shortly after was joined by the other maids who shared with her the early morning duties of sweeping the rooms and courtyards and fetching water for the others’ washing.
Crimson’s own toilet was a simple one: a brief look in the mirror while she coiled her hair, a quick wash, and she was ready to join the others in their sweeping.
Her encounter with Bao-yu had made a stronger impression on that impressionable young man than she realized. He had even thought of asking for her by name to wait upon him, but hesitated, partly from fear of offending Aroma and the rest, and partly because he did not know what she was really like and dreaded the unpleasantness of sending her away again if she proved unsatisfactory. The question still preoccupied him when he woke that morning. He rose quite early and sat musing silently on his own, making no effort to begin his toilet.
In a little while the paper-covered shutters were removed and he was able to see clearly through the silken gauze of the casement into the courtyard outside. He could see several girls there sweeping, all of them heavily made-up and with flowers and ornaments in their hair, but no sign of the quiet, neat girl of the day before. He went outside in his slippers to look around, pretending that he had gone out to inspect the flowers. He could see someone leaning on the balustrade in the south-west corner of the cloister-like covered walk, but she was half hidden by the crab-apple tree and he could not make out who it was. He approached and looked more closely. It was she, yesterday’s girl, standing there on her own, apparently lost in thought. He was a little shy of addressing her at that particular moment and was still hesi?tating when Emerald came up and asked him to come in and wash. He had to go in again without having spoken to her.
While Crimson stood there musing, she suddenly became aware that Aroma was beckoning to her, and hurried up to see what she wanted.
‘Our spittoon is broken,’ Aroma said. ‘Can you go to Miss Lin’s and ask them if they will lend us one until we can get a replacement?’
Crimson hurried off in the direction of the Naiad’s House. When she got to Green Haze Bridge, she stopped a moment to look around. She noticed that cloth screens had been set up all along the side of the artificial hill, and remembered that this was the day on which the workmen were coming into the garden to plant trees. She could just make out a knot of workmen digging a hole in the distance and Jia Yun sitting on some rocks supervising them. She would have liked to go over, but did not quite dare, and having collected the spit?toon, returned, in very low spirits, and lay down in her own room to brood. The others all assumed that she must be feeling unwell and took no notice.

*

Next day was the birthday of Wang Zi-teng’s lady. A mes?sage had already been received from that quarter inviting Grandmother Jia and Lady Wang to spend the day with her. Lady Wang would have liked to go but felt unable, even though the invitation was from her brother’s wife, because she could see that Grandmother Jia did not want to. Wang Zi-teng’s other sister, Aunt Xue, went instead, together with his niece Xi-feng, Bao-chai, Bao-yu and the three Jia girls. They did not return until the evening.
Not long before they returned, Jia Huan got back from school and Lady Wang gave him the task of copying out the text of that prolonger of life and highly efficacious prophylactic against sickness and misfortune, the Dharani of the Immaculate Diamond. He seated himself on Lady Wang’s kang, called for a candle to be lit, and, with a great deal of self-important fuss, began his copying, one minute calling for Suncloud to pour him tea, the next requiring Silver to trim the wick of his candle, and shortly after that informing Golden that she was standing in his light. The maids all hated Jia Huan and took no notice — all, that is, except Sunset, who had always had a soft spot for him. She poured him a cup of tea and, observing that Lady Wang was engaged in conversation with someone elsewhere in the apartment, quietly counselled some restraint:
‘Try not to throw your weight about so!’ she said. ‘It’s silly to put people’s backs up.’
Jia Huan scowled angrily:
‘I know what I’m doing,’ he said. ‘Don’t talk to me like a child! You’re friends with Bao-yu nowadays, aren’t you? You don’t like me any more. I know. I’ve watched you both.’
Sunset clenched her teeth. She stabbed the air above his head with her finger:
‘You ungrateful thing! You’re like the dog that bit Lü Dong-bin: you don’t know a friend when you see one.’
They were still exchanging words when Xi-feng came in, having just got back from the birthday party. Lady Wang wanted to know about the other ladies who had been invited, whether the plays had been any good, and what sort of things they had had to eat and drink.
In a little while Bao-yu, too, arrived, and after a few re?spectful words to his mother, asked the servants to take off his headband and gown for him and help him off with his boots. Disencumbered, he flung himself into his mother’s bosom to be fondled and petted by her, then, worming his way up and nuzzling affectionately against her neck, he proceeded to add his own amusing commentary on the day’s events.
‘You’ve been drinking again, child,’ said Lady Wang. ‘Your face is burning. All this romping about will make you sick. Lie down quietly for a while over there!’
She made them bring him a head-rest, and he lay down behind her, towards the back of the kang. Sunset was in?structed to massage him by gently patting his legs.
He tried to joke with Sunset as she knelt beside him, but she barely acknowledged his questions and answered frigidly, directing her eyes and all her attention upon Jia Huan. Bao-yu seized her hand:
‘Come, my dear! You must take notice of me if I speak to you!’
He tugged at her hand as he spoke, but she snatched it from his grasp.
‘If you do that again,’ she said, ‘I shall call out!’
Jia Huan heard every word of this exchange. He had always hated Bao-yu, and this flirting with Sunset — his Sunset — was the last straw. He must be revenged or burst. A moment’s reflection suggested the means. He had only to feign a slight clumsiness of the hand and it was done. The candle, brimming with molten wax, toppled straight on to Bao-yu’s face. There was a piercing cry, which made everyone else in the room jump. Quickly they brought standard lamps up from the floor below. By their light Bao-yu’s face was seen to be covered all over in wax. Torn between anguish for him and anger with Jia Huan, Lady Wang urged the servants to remove it as quickly as possible, while alternately berating the other boy for his carelessness. Xi-feng scrambled up on to the kang to help the servants, grumbling at Jia Huan as she did so:
‘Huan, you are the most cack-handed creature I have ever met! You are simply not fit for decent company. I don’t know why Aunt Zhao hasn’t taught you better.’
Her words reminded Lady Wang that she had been abusing a Master in front of the servants. She ceased rebuking Jia Huan at once and, summoning Aunt Zhao, directed all her wrath upon that luckless concubine:
‘This is a fine son you bore us, I must say! He is a black-?hearted little monster! You might at least try to teach him better. But no. Time and again I have overlooked this sort of thing, but instead of feeling sorry, you glory in it. You think that when I do nothing, you have got the better of me.’
Aunt Zhao was obliged to swallow her anger and endure these taunts in silence. She climbed up onto the kang and made a show of helping the others with the injured boy. She looked at his face. The whole left side of it was badly blistered. It was a wonder that the eye had not been damaged. When Lady Wang saw it, she was both full of anguish for her son and at the same time, when she thought of the questioning to which she would inevitably be subjected by Grandmother Jia and wondered what she would say, terrified on her own account. To relieve her fear she turned once more on Aunt Zhao. Then, after tongue-lashing the concubine, she comforted her beloved son and applied Antiphlogistic Ointment to the blistered part of his face.
‘It does hurt a bit,’ said Bao-yu when she asked him, ‘but nothing very terrible. When Grandma asks about it, we had better tell her that I did it.’
‘She’ll blame the rest of us for not looking after you properly, even if you say you did it yourself,’ said Xi-feng. ‘There’ll be a row, whatever you say.’
Lady Wang told them to see him back to his room. It was a great shock to Aroma and the other maids when they saw him.
Dai-yu had had a dull time of it with Bao-yu away all day, and in the course of the evening sent several times round to his room to inquire whether he was back yet. It was in this way that she heard about his scalding. She hurried round immediately to see for herself how he was.
She found him with a mirror in his hand, examining the extent of the damage. The entire left side of his face was thickly plastered with ointment, from which she deduced that the injury must be a serious one. But when she approached him to look closer, he averted his head and waved her away. He knew how squeamish she was, and feared that the sight of it would upset her. Dai-yu for her part was sufficiently aware of her own weakness not to insist on looking. She merely asked him ‘whether it hurt very badly’.
‘Not so bad as all that,’ said Bao-yu. ‘A couple of days and it will probably be all right again.’
Dai-yu sat with him a little longer and then went back to her room.
Next day Bao-yu had to see Grandmother Jia. Although he told her that he had burned himself through his own carelessness, the old lady, as had been predicted, berated his attendants for having allowed the accident to happen.
Another day went by, and Bao-yu’s godmother, old Mother Ma, called round. Mother Ma was a Wise Woman. Her special relationship with Bao-yu had been arranged in his infancy to ensure him the protection of her powers. She was shocked by her godson’s appearance and, on being informed of the cause, shook her head and tutted sympathetically. She made a few signs over his face with her fingers, muttering some gibberish as she did so, after which she assured them that he would soon be better the malignant aura that had caused the accident was of a transitory, impermanent nature. She turned to Grand?mother Jia:
‘Bless you, my lucky lady! Bless you dearie! You don’t know a half of the unseen harms and dangers the Scripture tells us of. All the sons of princes and great folks the moment they begin to grow up are followed round everywhere they go by troops of invisible little imps—spiteful little creatures who nip them and pinch them whenever they can. Sometimes they knock the rice bowl from their hands when they’re eating. Sometimes they push them over when they are walking. It’s on account of these creatures that so many young gentlemen of good family don’t live to make old bones.’
Grandmother Jia was anxious to know if the afflicted person could be freed from these unwelcome attentions.
‘Easily,’ said Mother Ma. ‘By doing good works. Giving a bit more to charity on the young person’s behalf. There is another way, though. According to what the Scripture says, there’s a Bodhisattva of Universal Light living in the Para?dise of the West who spends his time lighting up the dark places where these evil spirits lurk, and if any believer, male or female, will make offerings to that Bodhisattva in a proper spirit of devoutness, he will grant their children and grandchildren his holy peace and protect them from possession by devils and from the powers of darkness.’
‘What sort of offerings do you make to this Bodhisattva?’ Grandmother Jia asked her.
‘Nothing very special. Apart from the usual incense offerings, we take a few pounds of sesame oil each day and make what we call a “sea of light” by burning wicks in it. We believe that this sea of light is the trans-substantial body of the Bodhisattva. It has to be kept burning night and day and never allowed to go out.’
‘How much oil does it take to keep it burning for one whole day and night?’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘I should like to do this for the boy.’
‘There’s no fixed amount,’ said Mother Ma. ‘We leave it to our clients to decide how much they want to give. There are several members of the aristocracy among those I do this service for. Let’s see … There’s the Prince of An-nan’s lady. She’s my biggest subscriber. Her subscription is for forty-eight pounds of oil and a pound of lampwicks a day. Her sea of light is pretty nearly as big as a cistern. Then there’s the Marquis of Jin-xiang’s lady: twenty pounds of oil a day. Oh, and there’s some pays for ten pounds a day, some for eight pounds, three pounds, five pounds – all sorts. All of them I keep their seas of light burning for them, back at my house.’
Grandmother Jia nodded thoughtfully.
‘One thing I should mention,’ said Mother Ma (observing the thoughtfulness): ‘if the offering is for an older person — a mother or father, say — it doesn’t matter how much you subscribe; but if it’s an older person making it for a younger one, like as it may be Your Ladyship for Bao-yu, you don’t want to subscribe too much, or it would overload his luck and have the opposite effect. In the case of Your Ladyship subscribing for Bao-yu, I should suggest between five and seven pounds a day.’
‘Make it five pounds a day, then,’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘We’ll work out the total and send you a month’s supply every month.’
‘Amitabha, Merciful Buddha! Bless His Holy Name!’ said Mother Ma.
As a further precaution Grandmother Jia called in some of Bao-yu’s maids and told them that in future whenever Bao-yu went out anywhere his pages were to be provided with several strings of cash to give as alms to any itinerant monks or priests or any poor or afflicted persons they might meet upon the way.
After seeing Grandmother Jia, Mother Ma drifted round the mansion calling at various other apartments. Presently she came to Aunt Zhao’s room. After they had exchanged greetings, Aunt Zhao told her little servant to pour the old woman a cup of tea. Aunt Zhao was pasting pieces of cloth together for soling shoes with, and Mother Ma observed that the kang around her was piled with miscellaneous remnants of material.
‘I’m looking for something to make a pair of uppers out of, dearie,’ said Mother Ma. ‘I suppose you haven’t got an old bit of silk or an old bit of satin that would do? It doesn’t matter about the colour.’
Aunt Zhao heaved a long-suffering sigh:
‘Take a look at this lot! You won’t find anything much worth having here. Nothing worth having in this family ever comes my way. But you’re welcome to pick out a couple of pieces if you don’t mind the poor quality.’
Mother Ma rummaged around in the heap, and having picked out several pieces, stuffed them into her sleeve.
‘I sent someone round to you the other day with five hundred cash to pay for an offering to the Medicine Bud?dha,’ said Aunt Zhao. ‘Have you managed to make it yet?’
‘Oh yes. That was done days ago.’
‘Holy Name!’ said Aunt Zhao. ‘I’d do it oftener if things were a bit easier; but you know the saying: “my heart is willing but my purse is lean”.’
‘Don’t you worry about that!’ said Mother Ma. ‘You only have to hold out a few more years. When your Huan has grown up and got himself a job in the Service, you’ll be able to afford all the good works you want.’
Aunt Zhao made a scornful sound in her nose:
‘Hfn! Let’s not talk about it! It’ll be no different then from what it is now: Huan and I will never be able to compete with the Other One. It’s like the Heavenly Dragon appearing when he comes on the scene. Mind you, I don’t hold it against the child. He’s a good-looking boy, is Bao-yu, and you can understand the grown-ups being silly about him. No, this is the one I can’t stand.’
As she uttered the word ‘this’, she held up two fingers. Mother Ma guessed her meaning: ‘Number Two’ — the youn?ger of the Rong mansion’s two daughters-in-law.
‘You mean Mrs Lian?’ she said.
Aunt Zhao’s face assumed an expression of terror. Motion?ing agitatedly to the other to remain silent, she got up, went to the door, raised the door-blind, looked around, and having satisfied herself that there were no eavesdroppers, came back and sat down again, her face close to Mother Ma’s.
‘She’s a dreadful person — dreadful! If that woman doesn’t end up by carrying off every stick of property belonging to this family to line her own nest with, my name’s not Zhao!’
Mother Ma sensed interesting possibilities in this conver?sation, and was quick to explore them:
‘It doesn’t need you to tell me that,’ she said. ‘You surely don’t think I haven’t noticed that? I’ve often wondered why you all let her get away with it — though I suppose it’s probably just as well you do.’
‘My dear good woman,’ said Aunt Zhao, ‘we’ve no choice but to let her get away with it. Who would ever have the nerve to stand up to her?
‘Well,’ said Mother Ma, ‘I don’t want to seem a trouble-maker, but if you don’t mind my saying so, you do all seem to have acted a hit helpless about her — not that I’m blaming you, mind. But I mean to say, even if you daren’t stand up to her openly, there are things you could do in secret. I’m surprised you haven’t thought of it before.’
To Aunt Zhao the words seemed to contain a hidden promise. She concealed her pleasure.
‘What do you mean: “things we could do in secret”?’ she said. ‘I’m willing enough to do them: it’s just that I’ve never met anyone who could tell me how. If you would show me the way, I’d pay you. I’d pay a lot.’
Mother Ma could see that they understood each other, but she was taking no chances.
‘Holy Name! Don’t ask me about things like that! I don’t touch that kind of business. No, no, no. That’s wicked.’
There you are!’ said Aunt Zhao. ‘That’s all the help I ever get. And I thought you were such a kind person, always helping those in trouble. Are you prepared to stand by and watch me and my Huan being made mincemeat of by that scheming woman? I suppose it’s because you think I wouldn’t pay you.’
‘If you was to say that I am too tender-hearted to stand by and watch you and your boy being wronged,’ said Mother Ma, ‘you would be saying no more nor less than the truth. But I don’t know what you mean about pay. What have you got that you could tempt me with, dearie, even if I was willing to do it for pay?’
Aunt Zhao observed that her opposition to the very idea of helping her in the desired way had considerably weakened.
‘For someone so clever,’ she said, ‘aren’t you being rather stupid? If you help me and it works, with the two of them safely out of the way, everything in this household will be ours. You’ll be able to ask for what you like. Fancy not thinking of that!’
Mother Ma lowered her head and reflected for a while in silence.
‘When that time comes and you’re safely landed,’ she said eventually, ‘you won’t want to have anything more to do with me, dearie — not when I’ve got no proof to show what I done for you.’
‘That’s no problem,’ said Aunt Zhao. ‘I’ve got a few taels put by of my own savings, and I’ve got some dresses, and there’s my jewellery. You can take some of each to be getting on with and I can give you an IOU promising to pay you so much later on. We can have a witness too, if you like.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Why should I tell a lie?’ said Aunt Zhao, and summoned a trusted crone into whose ear she whispered instructions:
‘Ps-ps-ps-ps-ps-ps-ps-ps.’
The old crone nodded and went out, returning after a few minutes with a promissory note for five hundred taels of silver. Aunt Zhao made her mark on it and then went to the wardrobe to get out her savings. The white shine of silver and the signed and sealed IOU dispelled whatever residual doubts the Wise Woman may have entertained, for she seized and pocketed both with alacrity, giving hearty assurances of her aid as she did so; then, after rummaging for some time in the capacious waistband of her trousers, she fished out twelve little paper cut-out figures — ten of them demons with green faces and red hair and two of them plain human figures — and handed them to Aunt Zhao. Dropping her voice to a whisper, she instructed her to write the eight symbols of her victims’ nativity — two for the year, two for the month, two for the day and two for the hour — on each of the human figures, wrap five of the demons round each of them, and slip them some?where under her victims’ beds.
‘That’s all you have to do,’ she said. ‘I shall be doing other things at home to help you. It’s sure to work – no question of that. But you must be very, very careful. And you mustn’t be afraid.’
While she was still talking, one of Lady Wang’s maids came in looking for her.
‘Oh, here you are! Her Ladyship is waiting for you.’ Mother Ma went off in the company of the maid.
And there we leave her.

*

Because of the injury to his face, Bao-yu had stopped going out of doors since his accident and Dai-yu spent a good deal of time in his apartment talking to him.
One morning after lunch she had settled down to read, but after a couple of chapters grew bored with the book and did some sewing instead with the maids Nightingale and Snowgoose. When that, too, became boring, she stood for a while leaning against the doorway, vacantly looking out. The young bamboo shoots were just breaking through in the forecourt, and after inspecting them, she drifted out into the Garden. Everywhere the flowers were blooming, the birds were singing, and the water splashed and tinkled, but not a human soul was to be seen. Almost without thinking where she was going, she made her way to the House of Green Delights. A group of maids had fetched some water from the well and were watching the white-eyes in the gallery giving themselves a bath. A sound of laughter came from inside the house. Li Wan, Xi-feng and Bao-chai were there already. Their friendly laughter greeted Dai-yu as she entered:
‘Another one! Come in! Come in!’
‘What is this?’ said Dai-yu, joining in the good humour. ‘A party?’
‘I sent someone round to you the other day with two caddies-full of tea,’ said Xi-feng, ‘but you were out.’
‘Yes,’ said Dai-yu. ‘I’m sorry: I forgot to thank you.’
‘Have you tried it?’ said Xi-feng. ‘What did you think of it?’
‘I wouldn’t ask, if I were you,’ said Bao-yu, chipping in. ‘I thought it was rotten. I don’t know what the rest of you thought about it.’
‘I thought the flavour was all right,’ said Bao-chai. ‘The colour wasn’t up to much.’
‘That was tribute tea from Siam,’ said Xi-feng. ‘I didn’t like it at all. I thought it wasn’t as nice as the tea we drink every day.’
‘Oh, I quite liked it,’ said Dai-yu. ‘Your palates must be more sensitive than mine.’
‘If you really like it,’ said Bao-yu, ‘you’re welcome to have mine.’
‘I’ve still got quite a bit left,’ said Xi-feng. ‘If you really like it, you can have it all.’
‘Thank you very much,’ said Dai-yu. ‘I’ll send someone round to fetch it.’
‘No, don’t do that,’ said Xi-feng. ‘I’ll send it round to you. There’s something I want you to do for me. The person I send round about it can bring the tea as well.’
Dai-yu laughed mockingly:
‘Do you hear that, everybody? Because she’s given me a hit of her old tea, I have to start doing odd jobs for her.’
‘That’s fair enough,’ said Xi-feng. ‘You know the rule:
“drink the family’s tea, the family’s bride-to-be”.’
Everyone laughed at this except Dai-yu, who turned her head away, blushing furiously, and said nothing.
‘Cousin Feng will have her little joke,’ Li Wan observed to Bao-chai with a smile.
‘Do you call that a joke?’ said Dai-yu. ‘It was a silly, idle remark, and very irritating.’
She gave a snort of disgust by way of reinforcement.
Xi-feng laughed:
‘What’s so irritating about it? Look at him!’ — She pointed at Bao-yu – ‘Isn’t he good enough for you? Good looks, good family, good income. There are no snags that I can see. It’s a perfect match!’
Dai-yu rose and fled.
‘Oh, Frowner’s in a rage! Come back Frowner!’ Bao-chai called out after her. ‘If you go, it will spoil all the fun.’
She got up and went after Dai-yu to bring her back. At the doorway they ran into Jia Zheng’s two concubines, Aunt Zhao and Aunt Zhou, come to see Bao-yu. Li Wan, Bao-chai and Bao-yu made them welcome and invited them to sit down and talk, but Xi-feng and Dai-yu conversed with each other and rather pointedly ignored them.
Bao-chai was in the middle of saying something to the rest of the group when a maid arrived from Lady Wang’s to say that Wang Zi-teng’s wife had come and the presence of the young ladies was requested. Li Wan and Xi-feng rose to go. Aunt Zhao and Aunt Zhou hurriedly took their leave.
‘I can’t go out,’ said Bao-yu. ‘For heaven’s sake don’t let Aunt Wang come over here! – Cousin Lin!’ he called to Dai-yu. ‘Stay here a bit! There’s something I want to say to you.’
Hearing him, Xi-feng turned back to address Dai-yu:
‘Do you hear that? Someone wants a word with you. You’d better go back and see what he wants to say!’
She gave her a push in the direction of the house; then she and Li Wan went off, both laughing.
When they were alone together, Bao-yu took Dai-yu by the hand. He smiled and smiled, but said nothing. Dai-yu felt herself blushing, and tried to break away.
‘Aiyo!’ he said. ‘My head!’
‘Good!’ said Dai-yu. ‘It serves you right!’
Then Bao-yu let out a dreadful cry, jumped two or three feet into the air, and began to shout and babble deliriously. Dai-yu and the maids were terrified and ran to tell Lady Wang and Grandmother Jia. Wang Zi-teng’s lady was with them and hurried over with the rest to see him. By the time they arrived he had already tried several times to kill himself and was raving like a madman. His mother and grandmother were so stricken by the sight that for a few moments they stood mute and trembling. Then, breaking into loud weeping, they cried out to him piteously between their sobs: ‘my son!’, ‘my child!’, ‘my darling!’
Soon the news had spread to the other parts of the Rong household and to the household next door and Jia She, Lady Xing, Cousin Zhen, Jia Zheng, Jia Lian, Jia Rong, Jia Yun, Jia Ping, Aunt Xue and Xue Pan — not to mention Zhou Rui’s wife and a great bevy of domestics both high and low — came hurrying into the garden, adding numbers and confusion to the group of helpless spectators.
While they were still wondering what to do with Bao-yu, Xi-feng appeared, brandishing a gleaming knife in one hand and attacking whatever came in her path. She had already massacred several luckless dogs and hens and now, seeing people ahead, glared at them madly and would have rushed upon them too had not Zhou Rui’s wife and a few hefty and resourceful women servants advanced upon her while the others looked on helplessly, clasped her about the arms and body, wrested the knife from her hand, and carried her off to her room. Patience and Felicity wept piteously to see their mistress in such a state.
On this occasion even Jia Zheng’s customary impassivity seemed to have deserted him, as he turned this way and that, uncertain on whom to direct his attention. And if Jia Zheng was distraught, the state of the others can be imagined. Most remarkable, perhaps, was the. spectacle of Xue Pan fussing over his womenfolk, one moment afraid that his mother would be jostled in the crush, the next that Bao-chai might be ogled or Caltrop glad-eyed by some wanton male. Cousin Zhen, he knew for a fact, was a notorious womanizer. Then he caught sight of Dai-yu (whom he had never seen before) and forgot his anxiety in gawping admiration of that ethereal beauty.
Although no one knew what to do themselves, there were a great many opinions about what ought to be done. Some said an exorcist should be called in to expel the malignant spirits, some that it required a dancing medium to draw them out, some offered charm-sheets invoking the demon-quelling powers of the Heavenly Master and issued under the hand of the Taoist pontiff; yet in spite of prayers, incantations, divin?ation, and all the expedients that faith and physic could pro?vide, there was no visible improvement in the condition of the patients. At sundown Wang Zi-teng’s lady took her leave and went home.
Next day she made another visit to inquire after them. This was followed by visits from the wife of Grandmother Jia’s nephew the Marquis, from Lady Xing’s brothers’ wives, and from the wives of other marriage connections of the family. Bottled charm-water, wonder-working monks and Taoists and highly recommended physicians were also sent round to the mansion by various friends and relations.
But the cousins continued delirious and lay on their beds burning with fever and babbling incomprehensibly. At nightfall they became even worse, so that the maids and even the older women no longer dared go near them. The two of them had to be carried into Lady Wang’s room on their beds and set down there side by side so that Jia Yun and a group of pages could watch over them in shifts throughout the night. Grandmother Jia, Lady Wang, Lady Xing and Aunt Xue stayed near at hand, refusing to budge, though unable to do anything but sit by and weep. Jia She and Jia Zheng, afraid that their mother’s health would suffer, displayed their con?cern by keeping themselves and everyone else up throughout most of the night. There were lights burning everywhere and hardly anyone slept at all.
Jia She continued to hunt everywhere for monks and ex?orcists reputed able to cure diseases of the mind. Finally, Jia Zheng, who saw that their methods were all useless, lost patience with him and tried to make him stop:
‘Young people will die if they must. Nothing can alter fate. And that they are fated to die would appear from the fact that all efforts to cure them have been unavailing. I think we should allow them to die in peace.’
But Jia She took no notice, and the commotion continued as before.
By the third day the patients were so weakened that they lay on their beds motionless and their breathing was scarcely perceptible. The whole family had by now abandoned hope and were already making preparations for their laying-out. Grandmother Jia, Lady Wang, Jia Lian, Patience and Aroma had cried themselves into a state bordering on prostration. Only Aunt Zhao was cheerful — though she did her best to look miserable.
Early on the fourth day Bao-yu suddenly opened his eyes wide and spoke to Grandmother Jia:
‘From now on I can no longer stay in this family. You must get my things ready and let me go.’
To the old lady the words were a tearing of heart from body; but Aunt Zhao, who also heard them, had the temerity to urge their acceptance:
‘Your Ladyship shouldn’t take it so hard. It’s already all up with the boy. We should be getting his grave clothes ready so that he can go in peace. It will be better that way. If we won’t let him go now, when he’s ready, it will only make more suffering for him in the world to come…’
She would have gone on, but Grandmother Jia spat in her face. No empty gesture: it was a full gob of spittle.
‘Evil woman! May your tongue rot! How do you know it’s all up with him? You want him to die, don’t you? But if you think you will gain by his death, you must be dreaming; because if he does die, I shall hold you responsible. It’s your spiteful meddling that has forced him to do all this studying. You have reduced the poor child to such a state that the mere sight of his father makes him more scared than a mouse with the cat after it. You have done this, you and the others of your kind. And now I suppose, if you succeed in murdering him, you will be satisfied. But don’t imagine you will escape me — any of you!’
She railed and wept. Jia Zheng was close at hand while she was saying all this and was deeply distressed by it. Per?emptorily dismissing the concubine, he tried to calm his mother and reasoned against the injustice of her charges.
It was unfortunate that just at that moment a servant should have come in to announce that ‘the two coffins that had been ordered were now ready’. The words were as oil upon fire. The old lady blazed.
‘Who gave orders for those coffins to be made? Where is the man who made them? Go and get the man who made those coffins! Flog him to death!’
Suddenly, as she raged and stormed, the faint tock tock of a holy man’s wooden fish was heard upon the air and a high monotone chant that kept time with the beat:
‘Na-mah A-mi-ta-bha Bo-dhi-satt-va!
Mer-ci-ful de-li-ve-rer!
All a-fflic-ted and tor-men-ted,
All a-ttacked by e-vil spi-rits,
All de-mo-ni-ac po-sse-ssion,
I cure,
I cure,
I cure.’

Grandmother Jia and Lady Wang at once sent someone into the street to see who it was. The source of the chanting proved to be a disreputable-looking Buddhist monk. Stone describes him in the following quatrain:

A bottle nose he had and shaggy brows,
Through which peeped eyes that twinkled like bright Stats.
His robe was patched and torn, his feet straw-shod,
His unclean pate blotched with unsightly scars.

He was accompanied by a lame Taoist, for whom a similar quatrain has been supplied by our poetical Stone:

Up, down he hopped on his unequal legs,
From mud and puddle not a stitch left dry.
Yet, if you asked him where his dwelling was,
‘Westward of Paradise’ he would reply.

Jia Zheng had them invited in and asked them what monas?tery they were from. The monk was genially dismissive:
‘There is no need for Your Worship to waste time on formalities. Suffice it to say that I heard you had sickness in this house and have come to cure it.
‘Two members of this family have, indeed, fallen victims to some kind of witchcraft,’ said Jia Zheng. ‘Might one inquire what charm you intend to cure them with?’
‘Charm?’ The monk laughed. ‘You already possess in your own house a precious object capable of curing them. What other charm is necessary?’
Jia Zheng gave a start.
‘To be sure. My son was born with a piece of jade whose inscription makes some such claim – “Dispels the harms of witchcraft”. But as you see, it does not appear to possess the power it lays claim to.’
‘That is because the world and its temptations have confused it,’ said the monk. ‘It certainly used to have the power. If you will have the goodness to fetch it for me and allow me to hold it in my hand and say a wee prayer over it, I think I can undertake to bring the power back again.’
Jia Zheng took the Magic Jade from Bao-yu’s neck and handed it to the monk, who held it on the palm of his hand and addressed it with a sigh:
‘Thirteen years, old friend, since we first met under Green-sickness Peak! Time certainly flies. But you have not finished with this world yet, you know. Dear, dear, dear! You aren’t the Stone you were, are you?

—Time was you lived in perfect liberty,
Your heart alike from joy and sorrow free,
Till, by the smelter’s alchemy transformed,
Into the world you came to purchase misery.

By the bye, I am sorry you have been having such a disagree?able experience these last few days.

—Vain sensual joys the jade’s sheen have besmirched;
The poor bird droops, in its close prison perched.
From drunken dreaming one day you’ll recover:
Then, when all debts are paid, the play will soon be over.’

When the monk had finished apostrophizing the stone, he rubbed it and polished it between his hands and muttered some strange-sounding words over it.
‘There! Its power has now been restored.’ He handed it back to Jia Zheng. ‘But you must be careful that it does not become contaminated again. Hang it above the threshold of the bedroom and let no women apart from the patient’s own mother and grandmother go inside. If you will do that, I can guarantee a complete recovery in thirty-three days.’
Jia Zheng would have liked to detain the monk for tea and offer him some remuneration, but he and the Taoist slipped quietly away and could not be traced.
The monk’s directions were scrupulously followed. Lady Wang guarded the doorway in person and prevented any unauthorized person from getting into the bedroom. By evening the sufferers had regained consciousness and said they were hungry. This news, so precious to the ears of Lady Jia and Lady Wang, who at once had rice gruel brought in to feed them with, was relayed to the girls in the outer room.
‘Bless His Holy Name!’ Dai-yu murmured fervently.
Bao-chai laughed, but said nothing. The others were mystified.
‘Why do you laugh, Cousin Bao?’ Xi-chun asked her.
‘I was thinking how busy He of the Holy Name must be,’ Bao-chai said. ‘Apart from working for the salvation of all sentient beings, He has to protect the sick and hasten their recovery — not to mention watching over plighted couples to make sure that they marry and live happily ever after. What a lot He has to keep Him busy! Don’t you find the thought rather amusing?’
Dai-yu affected scorn, but was blushing hotly.
‘You are all horrid. Instead of following good examples, you all imitate Feng and make nasty, cheap jokes all the time.’
She raised the portiere and went out.
But if you wish to know more, you will have to wait for the next chapter.

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