The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 88

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CHAPTER 88

Bao-yu gratifies his grandmother
by praising a fatherless child
Cousin Zhen rectifies family discipline
by chastising two unruly servants

Xi-chun was puzzling over her Go Handbook when she heard someone calling outside:
‘Landscape!’
She recognized the voice as Faithful’s. Landscape went out into the courtyard, and reappeared with Faithful, fol?lowed by a younger maid carrying a small parcel wrapped in yellow silk.
‘What’s that?’ asked Xi-chun, her curiosity aroused. Faithful explained.
‘Next year is Her Old Ladyship’s eighty-first birthday, and since eighty-one is nine times nine, she has pledged herself to hold a nine-day mass, and to have three thousand six hundred and fifty-one copies made of the Sutra of the Immaculate Diamond. That has all been handed out to copyists. But there is a popular saying: “If the Diamond Sutra is the outer shell of the magic, its core is the Sutra of the Heart of Wisdom.” In other words, to enhance one’s merit, one should slip in a Heart Sutra too. So now Her Old Ladyship wants copies of that as well, and because of its greater importance as scripture and its connection with Our Lady of Mercy, she wants three hundred and sixty-five copies to be done by the young ladies and young mistresses of the family. Apart from Mrs Lian, who’s too busy running the household, and can’t write anyway, all the ladies that can write at all are being given a share in this act of piety and devotion, even Mrs Zhen and Mr Zhen’s other ladies in the Eastern Mansion. Of course, everyone in the inner family will be expected to take part.’
Xi-chun nodded.
‘Sutra-copying is one thing I can do with conviction. Leave it there, will you? Would you like some tea?’ Faith?ful deposited the little package on the table, and sat down with Xi-chun, while Landscape poured her a cup of tea.
‘Will you be doing some copying too?’ asked Xi-chun with a smile.
‘Don’t tease, Miss!’ answered Faithful. ‘Three or four years ago I might have, perhaps. But I’m so out of prac?tice now. When did you last see me with a brush in my hand?’
‘But think of the merit you’d acquire.’
‘I’ve already seen to that,’ replied Faithful. ‘Every day, after settling Her Old Ladyship down to sleep, I’ve been saying Lord Buddha’s name and counting my “Buddha Rice”. I’ve been collecting the rice-grains for more than three years and putting them by for just such an occasion as this, to dedicate them to Buddha and add my contribu?tion, my little act of charity and devotion, to Her Old Ladyship’s.’
‘It sounds as if when Lady Jia becomes Our Lady of Mercy,’ said Xi-chun, ‘you’ll have to be her inseparable companion, the Dragon King’s daughter!’
‘Oh no, Miss!’ protested Faithful. ‘That’s too grand for me. It is true though, I could never serve anyone but Her Old Ladyship. I must be bound to her by some karma from a past life.’
With these words Faithful rose to leave, bidding the younger maid untie the little parcel, and exhibiting its contents to Xi-chun.
‘This roll of plain paper is to be used for the sutra. And while you write,’ she went on, handing her a bundle of Tibetan incense-sticks, ‘you are to light one of these.’
Xi-chun nodded, and Faithful returned with the other maid to Grandmother Jia’s apartment, where she reported on her errand and stood watching the game of backgam?mon that was in progress between the old lady and Li Wan. Li Wan with her next throw removed several of Grandmother Jia’s pins to the bar, and Faithful had difficulty in keeping. a straight face.
They were presently distracted from their game by the arrival of Bao-yu, carrying in each hand a little bamboo-splint cage containing crickets.
‘I heard you weren’t sleeping very well, Grannie,’ he said, ‘so I brought you these to help you relax.’
Grandmother Jia laughed.
‘You naughty boy! Just because your father’s not at home…’
When he protested his innocence, Grandmother J ia asked:
‘Why aren’t you at school then? What are you up to with those things anyway?’
‘They weren’t my idea, Grannie,’ explained Bao-yu. ‘What happened was that a day or two ago Huan and Lan each had a couplet to complete in class, and as Huan got stuck, I whispered something to help him out. When he recited it, the Preceptor was impressed and praised him highly for it. Huan bought me the crickets as a thank-you present. I should like to give them to you.’
‘Hasn’t that boy been doing any work, for heaven’s sake!’ exclaimed Grandmother Jia. ‘Surely he can manage a couplet on his own? If not, then he deserves a good spanking from the Preceptor. It might teach him a thing or two. As for you, have you forgotten the state you got into when your father was at home and asked you for a few lines of verse? Don’t you go getting too full of yourself now. What a little rascal that Huan is! To go begging for help, and then look around for a nice present to butter you up with! He certainly seems precocious enough when it comes to cheating – he should be ashamed of himself! Heaven alone knows how he’ll turn out when he grows up…’
A ripple of laughter spread through the room.
‘But tell me about young Lan,’ went on Grandmother Jia. ‘How did he manage? As the youngest, strictly speak?ing he should have been helped by Huan…’
Bao-yu detected the note of sarcasm in her voice and laughed.
‘Oh no! He didn’t need any help. He could manage on his own.’
‘I don’t believe you!’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘It was you at your tricks again, I’ll be bound. Hark at you! A camel among sheep! Just because you re so grown-up now, and so good at your compositions…’
Bao-yu smiled.
‘No, seriously, Lan managed perfectly well on his own. The Preceptor was very pleased and said he had a brilliant future ahead of him. If you don’t believe me, Grannie, send for him and test him yourself.’
‘If that is the truth,’ said Grandmother Jia, ‘then I am overjoyed to hear it.. But I have a feeling that you are making it all up. If he really can do such things at his age, he may well distinguish himself when he grows up.
She looked at Li Wan, and thought of Lan’s father Jia Zhu.
‘What a consolation that would be for your elder brother’s death,’ she went on, addressing Bao-yu again. ‘And what a well-earned reward for all his mother’s efforts in bringing him up! In time he will be a pillar of support to the family, as his father would have been!’
The thought brought tears to her eyes. Li Wan was also moved, but seeing the old lady becoming somewhat emo?tional, she checked her own tears and said with a brave smile:
‘Whatever good fortune we may enjoy, Grannie, we owe it all to you. I only pray that Lan will live up to your expectations and bring fortune to the whole family. His progress should be a source of joy. Please don’t go upset?ting yourself.’
She turned to Bao-yu.
‘And please don’t you go giving him exaggerated ideas of his achievements, Bao. He is only a child, remember. He may take you seriously and not realize that you are only trying to encourage him; and then he will become proud and conceited and never do well.’
‘Well said, my dear,’ commented Grandmother Jia. ‘But remember too that he is still very young and should not be driven too hard. Children only have a certain amount of strength. Push them too soon and you can ruin them. Then they may never be able to study properly, and all your efforts will have been in vain.
Li Wan could contain herself no longer and burst into floods of tears. As she was hurriedly drying her eyes, Jia Huan and Jia Lan came into the room to pay their evening respects to Grandmother Jia. Lan then greeted his mother and returned to stand respectfully at his great-grandmother’s side.
‘I have just been hearing from your uncle Bao,’ said Grandmother Jia, ‘how well you did with your couplet, and what praises you won from the Preceptor.’
Lan smiled modestly. Faithful now came over to say that dinner was ready.
‘I want to invite Mrs Xue,’ said Grandmother Jia, and Amber promptly sent a maid over to Lady Wang’s apart?ment. Bao-yu and Jia Huan withdrew from the room, while Li Wan’s maid Candida and the younger maids came forward to clear away the backgammon pieces. Li Wan stayed to wait on Grandmother Jia, and Jia Lan stood at his mother’s side.
‘The two of you can stay to dinner with me,’ said Grandmother Jia.
‘Yes Grandmother,’ replied Li Wan. A minute or two later dinner was brought in, and the maid returned from Lady Wang’s apartment with the following message:
‘Her Ladyship says that Mrs Xue will not be able to come. She was only over on a short visit and went home after lunch.’
Grandmother Jia told Jia Lan to occupy the seat next to her. Our narrative omits any further details of that eve?ning’s meal. After dinner, when she had washed her hands and rinsed her mouth, Grandmother Jia reclined on her couch and chatted idly with her granddaughter-in-law and great-grandson. A junior maid came in and asked Amber to say that Mr Zhen (who, in the temporary absence of Jia Zheng and Jia Lian, had that day been supervising busi?ness at Rong-guo House) was waiting outside to pay his evening respects.
‘Tell him that I have been informed,’ said Grandmother Jia, ‘but that he need not bother to come in. He can go home and rest. He must be tired after the day’s work.’
The maid relayed this to the old women outside, Cousin Zhen was informed, and returned to Ning-guo House.

*
The following day he came over again to Rong-guo House, to see to the day’s business. After the pages on the gate had produced a series of miscellaneous matters for his attention, it was reported by another page that the farm-bailiff had arrived with the seasonal produce. Cousin Zhen asked to see the inventory, which was presented to him by the page, and he proceeded to read through the various items, mostly fresh fruit, with some game and vegetables.
‘Who usually looks after this department?’ asked Cousin Zhen.
‘Zhou Rui, sir.’
Zhou Rui was summoned and Cousin Zhen instructed him:
‘Check through all the items on this list and have them delivered. Have a copy made for my reference. And tell the kitchen to cook some extra dishes when they are pre?paring lunch for the servants. The bailiff is to have some?thing to eat before he goes, and the usual tip.’
‘Yes sir.’
Zhou Rui told the servants to carry the goods into Xi-feng’s courtyard, and gave instructions for them to be checked against the inventory. Then he went off, only to reappear shortly afterwards before Cousin Zhen:
‘Excuse me sir, have you checked the entries yet?’
‘Do you think I have time to do that?’ replied Cousin Zhen impatiently. ‘I have given you the list and leave the matter entirely in your hands.’
‘I have checked all the items through to the best of my ability sir, and everything seems in order. But perhaps you would like to send for the bailiff, as you have a copy yourself, to make sure the list is genuine.
‘What a lot of fuss over a bit of fruit!’ exclaimed Cousin Zhen. ‘It’s really not that important. I take your word for it.
At this moment Bao Er came into the room and kotowed to Cousin Zhen. (This Bao Er, it may be remem?bered, was the servant who had in the past been useful to both Cousin Zhen and Jia Lian. On this occasion he had come over for the day to assist Cousin Zhen.)
‘I beg to be released, sir,’ he said, ‘and put back on external duties.’
‘What is the meaning of this?’ asked Cousin Zhen, addressing Bao Er and Zhou Rui simultaneously.
‘What’s the point of my being here if no one listens to my opinion?’ replied Bao Er.
‘Who asked for your opinion?’ said Cousin Zhen brusquely.
‘I’m tired of spying for other people!’ muttered Bao Er to himself.
‘Sir,’ put in Zhou Rui promptly, ‘I have been in charge of farm rents and income here for years, and on average I should say around four hundred thousand taels’ worth passes through my hands each year, and I have never had a word of complaint from the Master or their Ladyships or the young mistresses about anything, let alone such a small matter as this. According to him, we are supposed to have made off with the family’s entire property and estates!’
‘It looks as if Bao Er has started some sort of quarrel,’ thought Cousin Zhen to himself. ‘Better get rid of him.’
‘Out of my sight!’ he barked. Then turning from Bao Er to Zhou Rui:
‘That is all. Carry on with your work.’
The two servants left.
Not long afterwards Cousin Zhen was resting in the study when he heard the most terrific din break out in the direction of the main gate. He sent a servant to inquire, who came back to report that a fight had started between Bao Er and an adopted son of Zhou Rui’s.
‘Who is this adopted son?’ asked Cousin Zhen.
‘He San is his name, sir,’ replied the servant. ‘A worth?less fellow who spends most of his time drinking and causing trouble. He sometimes comes round here and hangs about in the porter’s lodge. Apparently he got involved in the argument between Bao Er and Zhou Rui.’
‘This is the limit!’ exclaimed Cousin Zhen. ‘Have Bao Er and this He San character bound immediately! What about Zhou Rui?’
‘He disappeared when the fighting started, sir.
‘Find him at once! This is preposterous!’
‘Yes, sir!’
In the midst of this commotion, Jia Lian returned and Cousin Zhen told him what had happened in his absence.
‘What next!’ cried Lian. He sent an extra servant to help apprehend Zhou Rui, who soon realized that escape was impossible, gave himself up and was led before the masters.
‘Tie him up as well!’ ordered Cousin Zhen, and Jia Lian added, addressing himself principally to Zhou Rui:
‘Mr Zhen settled your petty differences once and for all. Why go out and start fighting all over again? And as if that wasn’t bad enough, you have to drag in this brat of yours, He San! And when you should have been bringing them to heel, you disappear and leave them to it!’
He dealt Zhou Rui a few hefty kicks.
‘It’s no good punishing only him,’ said Cousin Zhen grimly, and ordered his men to give Bao Er and He San fifty lashes each and send them packing. This done, he and Jia Lian sat down to discuss family business.
In the servants’ quarters this incident became the subject of many a private exchange of opinions. Some saw it as an attempt on Cousin Zhen’s part to cover up for incompe?tence; others said he was just inept at handling people; while others saw it as yet another instance of his un?pleasant character. ‘Wasn’t it he who recommended Bao Er to Mr Lian in that sordid business with the You sisters? What’s probably happened is that Bao Er’s wife won’t oblige Mr Zhen as she did Mr Lian, so now he’s taken it out on the husband…’ There were many differing interpretations.

Meanwhile the Jia clan lost no time in turning Jia Zheng’s promotion at the Ministry of Works to their financial advantage. Jia Yun was certainly not going to be left out, but went around promising work to contractors (and negotiating percentages for himself), and having bought a quantity of fashionable embroideries, made his way to the apartment of his erstwhile patroness.
Xi-feng, who had just learnt from one of her maids that ‘Mr Zhen and Mr Lian were in a temper and beating the servants’, was on the point of sending someone to discover the details when she saw Jia Lian himself walk in, and was able to hear the full story from him.
‘It may all have been over a trifle,’ she commented, ‘but we must put a stop to such behaviour at all costs’. If they think they can get away with it now, when the family for?tunes are supposed to be flourishing, what is going to hap?pen when the younger generation takes over? They’ll have a mutiny on their hands. I remember a year or so ago wit?nessing the most appalling scene at Ning-guo House – Big Jiao sprawled all over the steps, blind drunk and swearing sixteen to the dozen. None of us was spared. I don’t care if he has rendered distinguished services in the past. Ser?vants should know their place, and show a proper sense of respect. The trouble with Cousin Zhen’s wife – please don’t misunderstand me – is that she is much too unsus?pecting and lets her staff get away with anything. This Bao Er of theirs – or whatever his name is – is typical. Come to think of it, hasn’t he been rather useful to you and Zhen in the past? Aren’t you being a bit ungrateful to start flogging him now?:
Stung to the quick, Jia Lian sheepishly tried to change the subject. Presently he remembered a pressing engage?ment and left.
Crimson now came in to report the arrival of Jia Yun.
‘I wonder what he’s after this time?’ mused Xi-feng to herself. Then aloud to Crimson:
‘You’d better show him in.’
Crimson went out. She looked Jia Yun in the face and gave him a cheeky smile. He (swift on the uptake as ever) advanced towards her and said:
‘Did you tell Mrs Lian that I was here, Miss Crimson?’
She blushed.
‘I suppose you have a lot of important business, Mr Yun…’
‘On the contrary, I only wish I had had cause to come here and trouble you more often, Miss Crimson… I remember last year when you were employed at Uncle Bao’s…’
He was about to say more but Crimson, who was afraid someone might interrupt them, asked in haste:
‘Did you ever get my handkerchief?’
Her words provoked Jia Yun to such a pitch of excite?ment that he was ready to burst. But before he could say a word a maid came out from Xi-feng’s room, and he and Crimson were obliged to go in together at once. They walked side by side, close enough for him to whisper:
‘When I leave, be sure to see me out. I’ve something to tell you that might amuse you…
She blushed fiercely and flashed her eyes at him without a word. Going ahead to inform Xi-feng of his approach, she returned to usher him in, lifting the door-curtain and beckoning to him, while announcing in her most formal tone of voice:
‘Madam will be pleased to see you now, sir.’
With a smile Jia Yun advanced with her into the room and greeted Xi-feng. He conveyed his mother’s regards, which Xi-feng returned politely before asking:
‘And what brings you here today?’
Jia Yun embarked upon his speech:
Auntie’s great kindness to me in the past has been ever present in my mind and a source of endless gratification. I have been awaiting an opportunity to present a token of my esteem and have only held back for fear that you might consider such a gesture inappropriate. The forth?coming Double Ninth Festival finally seemed sufficient justification for my purchasing a little something which, though I know you have more than enough of everything here already, I humbly pray you to do me the honour of accepting as an earnest of my humble devotion.’
Xi-feng laughed.
‘Come on. Cut the cackle. What’s it all about? Sit down and tell me.’
Jia Yun took a perch and deposited his offering gingerly with both hands on the surface of an adjacent table.
‘I know you’re pretty hard up,’ Xi-feng went on, ‘so why go spending money like this? I have no need of such things and don’t expect them. Come on now, tell me what you have really come for.’
‘Truly for no other reason than my deep and hitherto unexpressed sense of gratitude…’
There was however by now a trace of a smile.
‘Come off it,’ said Xi-feng. ‘I am perfectly familiar with the state of your finances. Don’t expect me to go taking things from you for nothing. If you want me to accept your present then tell me the truth. If you carry on beat?ing about the bush like this, I shall certainly not accept anything from you.’
Jia Yun was forced to come to the point. He rose to his feet and donned his most obsequious smile.
‘I did entertain one modest and I trust not altogether unreasonable hope. It reached my ears a few days ago that Sir Zheng had been given the overall supervision of mausoleum construction at the Ministry, and as I have one or two friends with considerable experience in that line -extremely competent people, I might add – I would just like to ask if it would be at all possible for you to put in a word for them with Sir Zheng. If a job or two were to come their way I should be indebted to you for eternity. And need I add that my own services are always at your disposal should anything materialize in the way of work here at the mansion.
‘In most matters I know I have a certain amount of in?fluence,’ replied Xi-feng. ‘But when it comes to this sort of thing, the major contracts are completely in the pockets of the President and other senior officials, while the small?er jobs are handed out by the clerks and runners. No one else gets so much as a look in, I’m afraid. Our own people can only work for Sir Zheng as his personal staff. Even your uncle Lian only goes in when there’s something directly connected with the family. He has nothing to do with official business. At home, as soon as things are patched up in one place they break out in another – even Mr Zhen can’t keep order properly. A junior like you would never be able to cope. No, I’m afraid whatever jobs there might have been at the Ministry have nearly all gone. People are desperate for work. Surely there’s something you can turn your hand to at home, to keep body and soul together? I’m being serious. Go home and think it over. As for your gratitude, consider it expressed. And take these things back to wherever they came from.’
While she was speaking, a group of nannies had come into the room with little Qiao-jie, dressed in a colourfully embroidered smock and clutching an armful of toys. She went running over to her mother, laughing and prattling away, and J ia Yun stood up once more and swiftly transferred his attentions and unctuous smiles from Xi-feng to her daughter.
‘So this is my respected cousin? Now is there any little present you would like me to get you, dearie?’
A loud Waaah! burst from Qiao-jie’s lips and Jia Yun retreated hastily.
‘There, there, my darling! Come here!’ Xi-feng held the child closely to her. ‘This is your cousin Yun. Don’t be shy.’
Jia Yun tried again.
‘What a sweet little girl! Such a pretty face promises a lifetime of happiness.’
Qiao-jie turned her little head to take another peep at him and immediately burst out crying again. Jia Yun sensed that he was no longer welcome and rose to leave.
‘Don’t forget your things,’ insisted Xi-feng.
‘Oh please, Aunt Feng! Do me this one favour…’
‘If you don’t take them yourself, I shall send someone after you with them. Honestly Yun, this is not the way to go about things. You are not a stranger here. If something crops up I will certainly let you know. Until then there is nothing I can do, and there is nothing to be gained by wasting your time and money like this.’
Jia Yun could see that she was not going to relent. His face flushed as he took his leave.
‘I shall nevertheless continue to search for an acceptable present.’
‘Crimson, carry these things to the hall for Mr Yun,’ said Xi-feng curtly, ‘and see him out.’
‘People are right,’ thought Yun to himself on his way out. ‘She’s a real tyrant! Won’t budge an inch! Hard as nails! Serves her right if she can’t produce an heir. That little girl of hers gave me a queer feeling too… She seemed to take against me, almost as if we had some feud from a past life. What damnable luck! All that work for nothing!’
His rebuff came as a disappointment to Crimson too,
who picked up the parcel and followed him out. He took it from her and, when no one was looking, undid the wrapping, took out a couple of pieces of embroidery and gave them to her. At first she would not accept them and protested under her breath:
‘You shouldn’t, Mr Yun. Think how dreadful it would look for both of us if Mrs Lian found out.’
‘Don’t be silly. Keep them. She’ll never know. If you don’t, I’ll take it as a personal insult.’
Crimson smiled vainly and took them from him.
‘If you insist. But I don’t want them. I really don’t know what to think…’
Her face was burning again. Jia Yun laughed, and said:
‘It’s the thought that counts…’
By now they had reached the inner gate and Jia Yun concealed the remaining gifts inside his gown while Crimson urged him on his way.
‘You must go now,’ she said. ‘If ever you want any?thing here, contact me. Now that I’m in service with Mrs Lian, you can approach me directly.’
Yun shook his head bitterly.
‘She’s too much of a tyrant. I shan’t be coming back in a hurry. Don’t forget what I said just now though. If I do have a chance to see you again, I’ve more to tell you.’
Crimson blushed from ear to ear.
‘You’d really better go now. Come again as often as you like. If you’ve become distant from Mrs Lian, you’ve only yourself to blame.
‘All right, I understand.’
Jia Yun went on his way and Crimson stood in the gateway, – following him into the distance with a thought?ful gaze. Then she turned and werit inside again.
Xi-feng meanwhile was giving instructions for her din?ner, and asked the maids if they had cooked her congee. They hurried off to inquire, and returned after a short while to report that the congee was ready.
‘I should like a couple of dishes of those pickled vege?tables that have just come up from the South, to go with it,, Xi-feng said. Autumn took charge of this and detailed the other maids to proceed with service. Patience came in and said with a smile:
‘There’s something I forgot to mention earlier, ma’am. At midday, while you were over at Her Old Ladyship’s, one of the prioress’s women from Water-moon Priory came to see you, to ask for a couple of jars of southern pickle and for an advance of a few months’ allowance. The prioress has been in poor health, she told me. I asked what the matter was, and she said it had all started four or five days ago. She had been having trouble with some of the Buddhist and Taoist novices at the Priory, who despite several warnings kept leaving their lights on at night. Then one night she noticed the lamps still burning at midnight, and called to them several times. Hearing n6 reply and thinking that they must have fallen asleep with their lights on, she went herself to put them out. When she came back to her room, the strangest thing happened: she saw a man and a woman sitting together on the kang, and when she asked them who they were, had a noose slipped round her neck by way of reply. Her cries for help aroused the other sisters, who lit their lamps and came hurrying to the scene to find her prostrate on the floor and foaming at the mouth. Thank heavens they managed to bring her round. She still cannot eat proper meals, which is why she thought of asking for some pickles. Since you were not in) I felt I could hardly give her any on my own authority, so I explained where you were, said that I would mention it to you later, and sent her back to the Priory. I should have forgotten all about it if I hadn’t heard you asking for pickles just now yourself.’
Xi-feng stared thoughtfully for a moment.
‘There’s no shortage of pickles,’ she said at last. ‘Send her some by all means. You can see Mr Qin in a day or two about the money.’
As she was speaking, Crimson came in to report the
arrival of a messenger from Jia Lian. Business had de?tained him out of town, and he would not be back that night. This had received a perfunctory acknowledgement from Xi-feng, when suddenly there was a burst of crying from the back of the house and one of the junior maids came running breathlessly into the courtyard. Patience was already there and now several of the other maids gathered round and began whispering among themselves.
‘What’s going on out there.?’ asked Xi-feng.
‘One of the maids has had a bit of a fright,’ replied Patience. ‘She says she’s seen a ghost or something…’
‘Which maid?’ asked Xi-feng sharply. The maid in question entered the room.
‘What’s all this nonsense about ghosts?’ asked Xi-feng.
‘I was out at the back just now, ma’am,’ replied the maid, ‘asking one of the women for more charcoal to put on the braziers, when I heard this eerie noise coming from that small empty building. At first I thought it was just a cat chasing a mouse, but then I .heard it go whee like somebody sighing. I was very frightened and came run?ning back.’
‘Stupid creature!’ snapped Xi-feng. ‘I won’t have people talking such superstitious nonsense in my presence! I’ve never believed in such things. Go on – get out of my sight!’
The maid fled. Xi-feng sent for Sunshine and checked through the day’s remaining accounts. It was nearly nine o clock by the time they finished. She and the others sat for a while chatting, and then she sent the servants off duty for the night and went to bed herself. Just before eleven o’clock she was lying in bed still half-asleep, when suddenly her flesh begin to creep and she awoke with. a start. She lay there trembling in ever-increasing terror until she could bear it no longer, and called Patience and Autumn to come over and keep her com p any. Neither of them could understand the strange state slie was in.
Autumn had originally been rather hostile to Xi-feng, but she had fallen from favour with Jia Lian because of the part she played in the persecution of You Er-jie and had subsequently been drawn into Xi-feng’s camp, though her loyalty remained a matter of convenience and did not compare with the devotion of Patience. On this occasion, seeing her mistress in such a troubled state, she stood dutifully by the bedside and served her with tea. Xi-feng took a sip and said:
‘Thank you. You can go back to sleep now. I shall be quite all right with Patience here.’
But Autumn was eager to please, and protested:
‘Surely ma’am, if you can’t get to sleep, it would be best if we took it in turns to sit up with you?’
Xi-feng had already dozed off. The maids heard a dis?tant cockcrow and, seeing that Xi-feng was now fast asleep, both lay down fully dressed until daybreak, when they rose and busily began making preparations for her morning toilet. When she awoke, Xi-feng’s mind was still haunted by the terrors of the night. Despite her shaky state, her habitual determination to keep going at all costs prevailed, and with a great effort she struggled up. She was sitting rapt in thought when she heard a maid in the courtyard calling:
‘Is Patience in?’
Patience called out in reply, and the maid lifted the door-curtain and came in. It turned out that she had been sent by Lady Wang to summon Jia Lian.
‘There’s a messenger from the yamen on urgent busi?ness,’ she said, ~and as the Master has just gone out, Her Ladyship sent me to ask for Mr Lian to come over.’
Xi-feng caught her breath in alarm. To ascertain the nature of this urgent business, please turn to the next chapter.

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