The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 9



A son is admonished and Li Gui receives
an alarming warning
A pupil is abused and Tealeaf throws the
classroom in an uproar

In the last chapter we left Qin Bang-ye and his son waiting for a message from the Jia household to tell them when Qin Zhong was to begin school. Bao-yu was impatient to see Qin Zhong again and sent word to say that it was to be the day after next.
When the appointed day arrived, Bao-yu rose in the morning to find that Aroma had already got his books, brushes and other writing materials ready for him and was sitting disconsolately on the side of his bed. Seeing him get up, she roused herself and helped him to do his hair and wash. He asked her the cause of her despondency.
‘What’s upset you this time, Aroma? I can’t believe you are worried about being left alone while I am at school.’
‘Of course not!’ said Aroma with a laugh. Learning is a very good thing. Without it you would fritter all your life away and never get anywhere. I only hope that you’ll see to it that you are learning when you are meant to be and that, when you are not, you will be thinking about home and not getting into scrapes with the other boys; because then you would be in real trouble with your father. And though you talk a lot about the need for effort and self-improvement, it would really be better to do too little work than too much. For one thing you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew; and for another you don’t want your health to suffer. At least, that’s how it seems to me, so you mustn’t mind my saying so.’
Each time Aroma paused, Bao-yu answered ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. She continued:
‘I have packed your big fur gown for the pages to take. Mind you put it on if you find it cold at the school. It won’t be like here, where there is always someone else to think of these things for you. I’ve also given them your foot-warmer and your hand-warmer. You’ll have to see that they give the charcoal a stir from time to time. They’re such a lazy pack of good-for-nothings, they’ll be only too pleased to do nothing if you don’t stand over them. You could freeze to death for all they cared.’
‘Don’t worry!’ said Bao-yu. ‘I know how to do it myself. And don’t go getting gloomy, all of you, cooped up here while I am away. Try to spend as much time as you can with my Cousin Lin.’
His dressing was now completed and Aroma urged him to begin his visits to Grandmother Jia, Jia Zheng and Lady Wang. After a few parting instructions to Skybright and Musk, he went off to his grandmother’s, where he had to listen to more admonitions, then on to Lady Wang’s, and then outside to the study to see his father, Jia Zheng.
Jia Zheng was in conversation with his literary gentlemen when Bao-yu entered the room and made his salutation. Hear?ing him announce that he was off to school to resume his studies, Jia Zheng smiled sarcastically.
‘I think you had better not use that word “studies” again in my hearing, unless you want to make me blush for you. In my opinion you might just as well be left to fool around as before, since that is all you seem fit for. At all events, I don’t want you here. I find your presence in a place like this con?taminating.’
The literary gentlemen rose to their feet with nervous laughter.
‘Come, come, Sir Zheng! You are too hard on him! Two or three years from now our young friend will be carrying all before him! He has left his old, childish ways behind him now –haven’t you boy? Quite reformed. Come!’—two of the older men took Bao-yu by the hands and hurried him from the room—’I am sure it must be time now for your breakfast. To breakfast! To breakfast!’
Jia Zheng asked who was in attendance on Bao-yu. There was a ringing ‘Sir!’ from outside, and three or four strapping fellows entered the study and saluted Manchu fashion. Jia Zheng recognized the foremost one as Li Gui, the son of Bao-yu’s old wet-nurse, Nannie Li, and addressed himself to him.
‘You have attended Bao-yu during all his lessons in the past. What precisely has he been doing? Stuffing his head with worthless nonsense and acquiring a fine new stock of knavish tricks, I shouldn’t wonder! Wait until I have a little time to spare: I’ll have your hide off first and then settle accounts with that good-for-nothing son of mine!’
Li Gui sank terrified to his knees, snatched off his cap, and knocked the ground several times with his forehead.
‘Master Bao has read the first three books of the Poetry Classic, sir, up to the part that goes

Hear the happy bleeding deer
Grousing in the vagrant meads…

That’s the truth, sir. I wouldn’t tell a lie.’
This novel version of the well-known lines provoked a roar of laughter from the literary gentlemen. Even Jia Zheng could not restrain a smile,
‘If he read thirty books of the Poetry Classic,’ said Jia Zheng, ‘it would still be tomfoolery. No doubt he hopes to deceive others with this sort of thing, but he does not deceive me. Give my compliments to the Headmaster and tell him from me that I want none of this trifling with the Poetry Classic or any other ancient literature. It is of the utmost importance that he should thoroughly understand and learn by heart the whole Four Books before he attempts anything else.’
Seeing that Jia Zheng had nothing more to say, Li Gui and the other servants rose to their feet again and withdrew.
All this time Bao-yu had been waiting for them in the courtyard outside, scarcely daring to breathe. As they came out, dusting their knees, Li Gui said,
‘Did you hear that, young master? “Have my hide off first” he said. Some people’s servants are respected for their masters sakes, but not us. All we get is beatings and hard words. So spare a thought for us in future, will you?’
‘Don’t be upset, old chap!’ said Bao-yu. Tomorrow I’ll treat you all.’
‘Little ancestor,’ Li Gui replied, ‘nobody’s looking for treats. All we ask is that once in a while—just once in a while—you should do what you are told.’
They were now back at Grandmother Jia’s apartment. Qin Zhong had already arrived and was engaged in conversation with the old lady. As soon as the two friends had greeted each other they took their leave.
Bao-yu suddenly remembered that he had not yet seen Dai-?yu and hurried to her room to say good-bye. He found her by the window making herself up at the mirror. Her answer to his announcement that he was off to begin school was smiling but perfunctory:
‘Good. I wish you every success. I’m sorry I can’t see you off.’
‘Wait till I get back and have had my supper, cousin,’ said Bao-yu, ‘and I will give you a hand with that rouge.’
He chatted with her for quite a bit longer before finally tearing himself away. As he was going she suddenly called after him so that he stopped:
‘Aren’t you going to say good-bye to your cousin Bao-chai?’
Bao-yu smiled but said nothing and went straight off to school with Qin Zhong.


The Jia clan school was situated at no great distance from Rong-guo House. It was a charitable foundation which had been established many years previously by the founder of the family and was designed for the sons and younger brothers of those members of the clan who could not afford to pay for private tuition. All members of the clan holding official posts were expected to contribute towards its expenses and mem?bers of advanced years and known integrity were chosen to be its masters. As soon as Bao-yu and Qin Zhong arrived they were introduced to the other students and then set to work at once on their lessons.
From now on the two friends were inseparable, arriving at school and leaving school together and sitting beside each other in class. Grandmother Jia herself became very fond of Qin Zhong. She was always having him to stay for three or four nights at a time and treated him exactly as if he were one of her own great-grandchildren. And because she realized that his family was not very well off, she frequently helped out with clothes and the like. Within a month or two he was a familiar and accepted member of the Rong household.
Bao-yu had always been impatient of social conventions, preferring to let sentiment rather than convention dictate the terms of his relationships. It was this which now prompted him to make Qin Zhong the following proposal:
‘You and I are schoolmates and pretty much the same age. Let us in future forget all this “uncle” “nephew” business and address each other exactly like friends or brothers!’
Qin Zhong was at first too timid to comply; but as Bao-yu persisted and went on calling him ‘brother’ or ‘Jing-qing’ (which was his school-name) whenever he spoke to him, Qin Zhong himself gradually fell into the habit of addressing Bao-yu as an equal.
All the pupils at the clan school were either members of the Jia clan or relations by marriage; but as the proverb rightly says, ‘there are nine kinds of dragon and no two kinds are alike’. Where many are gathered together the wheat is sure to contain a certain amount of chaff; and this school was no exception in numbering some very ill-bred persons among its pupils.
The two new boys, Qin Zhong and Bao-yu, were both as beautiful as flowers; the other scholars observed how shrinking and gentle Qin Zhong was, blushing almost before you spoke to him and timid and bashful as a girl; they saw in Bao-yu one whom nature and habit had made humble and accommodating in spite of his social position, always willing to defer to others in the interest of harmony; they observed his affectionate disposition and familiar manner of speech; and they could see that the two friends were devoted to each other. Perhaps it is not to be wondered at that these observations should have given rise to certain suspicions in the minds of those ill-bred persons, and that both in school and out of it all kinds of ugly rumours should have circulated behind their backs.
When Xue Pan learned, some time after moving into his aunt’s place in the capital, that the establishment included a clan school plentifully stocked with young males of a certain age, his old enthusiasm for ‘Lord Long-yang’s vice’ was re?awakened, and he had hastened to register himself as a pupil. His school-going was, needless to say, a pretence—‘one day fishing and two days to dry the nets’ as they say—and had nothing to do with the advancement of learning. Having paid a generous fee to Jia Dai-ru, he used his membership of the school merely as a means of picking up ‘soul-mates’ from among his fellow-students. It must with regret be recorded that a surprisingly large number of the latter were deluded into becoming his willing victims by the prospect of receiving those ample advances of money and goods which he was in a position to offer.
Among them were two amorous young creatures whose names and parentage escape us but who, because of their glamorous looks and affected manners, were universally known by the nicknames of ‘Darling’ and ‘Precious’. Although their fellow-students much admired them and entertained towards them feelings not at all conducive to that health of mind which the Young Person should at all times endeavour to cultivate, they were deterred from meddling with them for fear of what Xue Pan might do.
When Qin Zhong and Bao-yu joined the school it was only to be expected that they too should fall under the spell of this charming pair; but like the rest they were inhibited from overt declaration of their feelings by the knowledge that Xue Pan was their ‘friend’. Their feelings were reciprocated by Darling and Precious, and a bond of mutual attraction grew up be?tween the four, which nevertheless remained unexpressed, except for the significant looks that every day passed between them across the classroom, or the occasional rather too loud utterance to a neighbour of some remark really intended for the ears of the opposite pair.
They were persuaded that these cryptic communications had escaped the notice of their fellows; but they were wrong. Certain young hooligans among their classmates had long since discerned the true nature of what was going on, and while the two handsome couples were engaged in their silent and (as they thought) secret communion, these others would be winking and leering behind their backs or becoming suddenly convulsed with paroxysms of artificial coughing.
It happened that one day Jia Dai-ru was called home on business and left the class with the first half of a fourteen word couplet to complete, telling them that he would be back on the morrow to take them over the next passage in their reading and putting his eldest grandson Jia Rui in charge of the school during his absence. Xue Pan had by now stopped coming in even for roll-call, and so on this occasion he too was out of the way. The opportunity was too good to miss, and Qin Zhong and Darling, after a preliminary exchange of glances, both asked to be excused and went round to the rear courtyard to converse.
‘Does your father mind what friends you have?’ Qin Zhong had got no further than this question when there was a cough behind them. The two boys spun round and saw that it came from their classmate ‘Jokey’ Jin. Darling had a somewhat impetuous nature which now, fired by a mixture of anger and shame, caused him to round sharply on the intruder.
‘What’s that cough supposed to mean? Aren’t we allowed to talk if we want to?’
Jokey Jin leered: ‘If you’re allowed to talk, aren’t I al?lowed to cough if I want to? What I’d like to know is, if you’ve got something to say to each other, why can’t you say it out openly? Why all this guilty secrecy? But what’s the good of pretending? It’s a fair cop. You let me in on your game and I won’t say anything. Otherwise there’ll be trouble!’
With furious blushes the other two protested indignantly that they did not know what he was talking about.
Jokey Jin grinned. ‘Caught you in the act, didn’t I?’ He began to clap his hands and chant in a loud, guffawing voice,

Let’s all have a
Bit to eat!’

Angry and indignant, Qin Zhong and Darling hurried back into the classroom and complained to Jia Ruj that Jokey Jin was persecuting them.
This Jia Rui was a spineless, unprincipled character who, as a means of obliging the boys to treat him, always displayed the most shameless favouritism in his settlement of class-room disputes. In return for money, drinks, and dinners, he had lately given Xue Pan a free hand in his nefarious activities—had, indeed, not only refrained from interfering with him, but even ‘aided the tyrant in his tyranny’.
Now Xue Pan was very inconstant in his affections, always blowing east one day and west the next. He had recently abandoned Darling and Precious in favour of some newly discovered sweetheart, just as previously he had abandoned Jokey Jin in favour of Darling and Precious. It followed that in this present confrontation Jia Rui, to his chagrin, could not hope to gain any rewards by the exercise of his usual par?tiality. Instead of blaming this vexatious state of affairs on Xue Pan’s fickleness, however, he directed all his resentment against Darling and Precious, for whom he felt the same unreasonable jealousy as motivated Jokey Jin and the rest.
Qin Zhong’s and Darling’s complaint at first put Jia Rui in somewhat of a quandary, for he dared not openly rebuke Qin Zhong. He could, however, give his resentment outlet by making an example of Darling; so instead of dealing with his complaint, he told him that he was a trouble-maker and followed this up with so savage a dressing-down that even Qin Zhong went back to his seat humiliated and crestfallen.
Jokey Jin, now thoroughly cock-a-hoop, wagged his head and tutted in a most provoking manner and addressed wound?ing remarks to no one in particular, which greatly upset Darling and Precious for whose ears they were intended. A furious muttered altercation broke out between them across the intervening desks. Jokey Jin insisted that he had caught Qin Zhong and Darling in flag rante delicto.
‘I ran into them in the back courtyard, kissing each other and feeling arses as plain as anything. I tell you they had it all worked out. They were just measuring themselves for size before getting down to business.’
Reckless in his hour of triumph, he made these wild al?legations, unmindful of who might hear them. But one heroic soul was moved to mighty anger by his wanton words. This was Jia Qiang, a member of the Ning-guo branch of the family of the same generation as Jia Rong. He had lost both his parents when a small child and been brought up by Cousin Zhen. At sixteen he was even more handsome and dashing than Jia Rong and the two youths were inseparable friends.
Any establishment as large as the Ning household always contains a few disgruntled domestics who specialize in tra?ducing their masters, and a number of disagreeable rumours concerning Jia Qiang did in fact begin to circulate among the servants which seem to have reached the ears of Cousin Zhen, for, partly in self-defence (since they involved him too), he moved Jia Qiang out of the house and set him up in a small establishment of his own somewhere in the city.
Jia Qiang possessed a very shrewd brain under his daz?zlingly handsome exterior His attendance at the school, however, was no more than a blind to his other activities, principal among which were cock-fighting, dog-racing, and botanizing excursions into the Garden of Pleasure; but with a doting Cousin Zhen to protect him on the one hand and Jia Rong to aid and comfort him on the other, there was no one in the clan who dared thwart him in anything he did.
Since Qin Zhong was the brother-in-law of his best friend, Jia Qiang was naturally unwilling to stand by and see him abused in so despiteful a manner without doing anything to help. On the other hand he reflected that there would be certain disadvantages in coming forward as his cham?pion.
‘Jokey Jin, Jia Rui, and that lot are all friends of Uncle Xue,’ he thought. ‘For that matter, I’m a friend of Uncle Xue myself. If I openly stick up for Qin Zhong and they go and tell old Xue, it’ll make things rather awkward between us. On the other hand, if I don’t interfere at all, Jokey Jin’s rumours are going to get quite out of hand. This calls for a stratagem of some kind which will shut the little beast up without causing too much embarrassment afterwards.’
Having thought of a plan, he pretended that he wanted to be excused, and slipping round to the back, quietly called over Bao-yu’s little page Tealeaf and whispered a few inflammatory words in his ear.
Tealeaf was the most willing but also the youngest and least sensible of Bao-yu’s pages. Jia Qiang told him how Jokey Jin had been bullying Qin Zhong. ‘And even Bao-yu came in for a share,’ he said. ‘If we don’t take this Jin fellow down a peg, next time he is going to be quite insufferable.’
Tealeaf never needed any encouragement to pick a fight, and now, inflamed by Jia Qiang’s message and open incitement to action, he marched straight into the classroom to look for Jokey Jin. And there was no ‘Master Jin’ when he saw him, either: it was ‘Jin! Who do you think you are?’
At this point Jia Qiang began to scrape his boots on the floor and make a great business of straightening his clothes and glancing out of the window at the sky, muttering to himself as he did so, ‘Ah, yes. Hmn. Must be about time.’ Going up to Jia Rui, he informed him that he had an engagement which necessitated his leaving early, and Jia Rui not having the courage to stop him, allowed him to slip away.
Tealeaf had by now singled out Jokey Jin and grabbed him by the front of his jacket.
‘Whether we fuck arseholes or not,’ he said, ‘what fucking business is it of yours? You should be bloody grateful we haven’t fucked your dad. Come outside and fight it out with me, if you’ve got any spunk in you!’
‘Tealeaf!’ Jia Rui shouted agitatedly. ‘You are not to use such language in here!’
Jokey Jin’s face turned pale with anger.
‘This is mutiny! I don’t have to take this sort of thing from a slave. I shall see your master about this’ —and he shook himself free of Tealeaf and made for Bao-yu, intending to seize and belabour him.
As Qin Zhong turned to watch the onslaught, he heard a rushing noise behind his head and a square inkstone launched by an unseen hand sailed past it and landed on the desk oc?cupied by Jia Lan and Jia Jun.
Jia Lan and Jia Jun belonged to the Rong-guo half of the clan and were in the same generation as the other Jia Lan, the little son of Li Wan and nephew of Bao-yu. Jia Jun had lost his father in infancy and was doted on by his widowed mother. Jia Lan was his best friend, which is why they always sat next to each other in school. Though Jia Jun was among the youngest in the class, his tiny body contained an heroic soul. He was extremely mischievous and completely fearless. With the impartial interest of an observer he had watched a friend of Jokey Jin’s slyly aim the inkstone at Tealeaf; but when it fell short and landed right in front of him on his own desk, smashing a porcelain water-bottle and showering his books with inky water, his blood was up.
‘Rotten swine!’ he shouted. ‘If this is a free-for-all, here goes!’ and he grabbed at the inkstone intending to send it sailing back. But Jia Lan was a man of peace and held it firmly down.
‘Leave it, old chap! It’s none of our business,’ he coun?selled.
Jia Jun was not to be restrained, however. Deprived of the inkstone, he picked up a satchel full of books and raising it in both hands above his head, hurled it in the direction of the assailant. Unfortunately his body was too small and his strength too puny for so great a trajectory, and the satchel fell on the desk occupied by Bao-yu and Qin Zhong. It landed with a tremendous crash, scattering books, papers, writing-brushes and inkstones in all directions and smashing Bao-yu’s teabowl to smithereens so that tea flowed over everything round about. Nothing daunted, Jia Jun leaped out and rushed upon the thrower of inkstones to smite him.
Meanwhile Jokey Jin had found a bamboo pole which he flailed around him: a terrible weapon in so confined and crowded a space. Soon Tealeaf had sustained a blow from it and was bawling for reinforcements from outside. There were three other pages in attendance on Bao-yu besides himself, all equally inclined to mischief. Their names were Sweeper, Ploughboy and Inky. With a great shout of ‘To arms! To arms! Down with the bastards!’ these three now came rushing like angry hornets into the classroom, Inky wielding a door-bar which he had picked up and Sweeper and Ploughboy brandishing horsewhips.
Jia Rui, in a frenzy of outraged authority, hopped from one to the other, alternately grabbing and cajoling, but none would take the slightest bit of notice. Disorder was now general. The more mischievous of the scholars mingled glee-fully in the fray, safe, in the general scrimmage, to land punches at chosen foes without fear of discovery or reprisal. The more timid crawled into places of safety. Others stood on their desks, laughing and clapping their hands and cheering on the combatants. The classroom was like a cauldron of still water that had suddenly come to the boil.
Li Gui and the other older servants, hearing the uproar from outside, now hurried in, and by concerted shouting eventually managed to call the boys to a halt. Li Gui asked them what they were fighting about. He was answered by a medley of voices, some saying one thing and some another. Unable to make sense of what he heard, he turned his attention to Tealeaf and the other pages, cursing them roundly and turning them out of the room.
Qin Zhong had fallen an early victim to Jokey Jin’s pole, sustaining a nasty graze on the head which Bao-yu was at this very moment mopping with the flap of his gown. Seeing that Li Gui had succeeded in restoring some kind of order, he asked to be taken away.
‘Pack up my books, Li Gui, and fetch the horse, will you? I am going to tell Great-uncle Dai-ru about this. We were shamefully insulted, and because we didn’t want to start a quarrel, we went along in a perfectly polite and reasonable manner and reported the matter to Cousin Rui. But instead of doing anything about it, he gave us a telling-off, stood by while someone called us filthy names, and actually encouraged them to start hitting us. Naturally Tealeaf stuck up for us when he saw we were being bullied. What would you expect him to do? But they all ganged up on him and started hitting him, and even Qin Zhong’s head was cut open. We can’t go on studying here after this.’
Li Gui tried to calm him.
‘Don’t be hasty, young master! Your great-uncle has gone home on business and if we go running after him to pester him about a little thing like this, he’ll think we don’t know how to behave. If you want my advice, the proper way to settle this affair is by dealing with it here, where it started. Not by rushing off and upsetting your poor old uncle.’ He turned to Jia Rui. ‘This is all your fault, Mr Rui, sir. While your granfer is away you are the head of the whole school and everyone looks to you to set an example. If anyone does anything they shouldn’t, it’s up to you to deal with it—give them a hiding, or whatever it is they need. Not sit by and let matters get out of hand to this extent.’
‘I did tell them to stop,’ said Jia Rui, ‘but they wouldn’t listen.’
‘If you don’t mind my saying so,’ said Li Gui, ‘it’s because you’ve been to blame yourself on past occasions that these lads won’t do what you tell them to now. So if this business today does get to the ears of your grandfather, you’ll be in trouble yourself, along of all the rest. If I were you, sir, I should think of some way of sorting this out as quickly as possible.’
‘Sort it out nothing!’ said Bao-yu. ‘I’m definitely going to report this.’
‘If Jokey Jin stays here,’ wailed Qin Zhong tearfully, ‘I’m not studying in this school any longer.’
‘There is no earthly reason to talk about leaving this school,’ said Bao-yu. ‘We have as much right to come here as anyone else. When I’ve explained to everyone exactly what happened, Jokey Jin will be expelled.
‘Who is this Jokey Jin, any way?’ he asked Li Gui.
Li Gui thought for a moment.
‘Better not ask. If I told you, it would only make for more unpleasantness.’
Tealeaf’s voice piped up from outside the window:
‘He’s the nephew of Mrs Huang on the Ning-guo side. Trash like that trying to scare us! I know your Auntie Huang, Jokey Jin! She’s an old scrounger. I’ve seen her down on her knees in front of our Mrs Lian, begging for stuff so that she could go out and pawn it. What an aunt! I’d be ashamed to own an aunt like that!’
Li Gui shouted at him furiously.
‘Detestable little varmint! Trust you to know the answer and spread your poison!’
Bao-yu sniffed contemptuously.
‘So that’s who he is! The nephew of Cousin Huang’s wife. I’ll go and speak to her about this.’
He wanted to go straight away, and called to Tealeaf to come inside and pack up his books.
‘No need for you to go, Master Bao,’ said Tealeaf as he swaggered in triumphantly to do his bidding. ‘Let me go for you and save you the trouble. I’ll just say that Lady Jia wants a word with her, hire a carriage, and bring her along myself. Then you can question her in front of Lady Jia.’
Li Gui was furious.
‘Do you want to die? If you’re not careful, my lad, when we get home I’ll first thrash the living daylights out of you and then tell Sir Zheng and Lady Wang that Master Bao was put up to all this by your provocation. I’ve had trouble enough as it is trying to get these lads calmed down a bit without needing any fresh trouble from you. It was all of your making, this rumpus, in the first place. But instead of thinking about ways of damping it down, you have to go throwing more fat on the fire.’
After this outburst Tealeaf was at last silent.
Jia Rui was by now terrified lest the matter should go any further and his own far from clean record be brought to light. Fear made him abject. Addressing Qin Zhong and Bao-yu in turn, ‘he humbly begged them not to report it. At first they were adamant. Then Bao-yu made a condition:
‘All right, we won’t tell. But you must make Jokey Jin apologize.’
At first Jokey Jin refused, but Jia Rui was insistent, and Li Gui added his own persuasion:
‘After all, it started with you, so if you don’t do what they say, how are we ever going to end it?’
Under their combined pressure Jokey Jin’s resistance at last gave way and he locked hands and made Qin Zhong a bow. But Bao-yu said this was not enough. He insisted on a kotow. Jia Rui, whose only concern now was to get the matter over with as quickly as possible, quietly urged him to comply:
‘You know what the proverb says:
He who can check the moment’s rage
Shall calm and carefree end his days.’
Did Jokey Jin comply? The following chapter will reveal.

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