The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 97

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CHAPTER 97

Lin Dai-yu burns her poems
to signal the end of her heart’s folly
And Xue Bao-chai leaves home
to take part in a solemn rite

We have seen how Dai-yu, on reaching the entrance of the Naiad’s House, and on hearing Nightingale’s cry of relief, slumped forward, vomited blood and almost fainted. Luckily Nightingale and Ripple were both at hand to assist her into the house. When Ripple left, Nightingale and Snowgoose stood by Dai-yu’s bedside and watched her gradually come round.
‘Why are you two standing round me crying?’ asked Dai-yu, and Nightingale, greatly reassured to hear her talk?ing sense again, replied:
‘On your way back from Her Old Ladyship’s,’ Miss, you had quite a nasty turn. We were scared and did not know what to do. That’s why we were crying.’
‘I am not going to die yet!’ said Dai-yu, with a bitter smile. But before she could even finish this sentence, she was doubled up and gasping for breath once more.
When she had learned earlier that day that Bao-yu and Bao-chai were to be married, the shock of knowing that what she had feared for so long was now about to come true, had thrown her into such a turmoil that at first she had quite taken leave of her senses. Now that she had brought up the blood, her mind gradually became clearer. Though at first she could remember nothing, when she saw Nightingale crying, Simple’s words slowly came back to her. This time she did not succumb to her emotions, but set her heart instead on a speedy death and final settle?ment of her debt with fate.
Nightingale and Snowgoose could only stand by helplessly. They would have gone to inform the ladies, but were afraid of a repetition of the last occasion, when Xi?feng had rebuked them for creating a false alarm. Ripple had already given all away, however, by the look of hor?ror on her face when she returned to Grandmother Jia’s apartment. The old lady, who had just risen from her midday nap, asked her what the matter was, and in her shocked state Ripple told her all that she had just witnessed.
‘What a terrible thing!’ exclaimed Grandmother Jia, aghast. She sent for Lady Wang and Xi-feng at once, and told them both the news.
‘But I gave instructions to everyone to observe strict secrecy,’ said Xi-feng. ‘Who can have betrayed us? Now we have another problem on our hands.’
‘Never mind that for the moment,’ said Grandmother Jia. ‘We must first find out how she is.’
She took Lady Wang and Xi-feng with her to visit Dai?yu, and they arrived to find her barely conscious, breath?ing in faint little gasps, her face bloodless and white as snow. After a while she coughed again. A maid brought the spittoon and they watched with horror as she spat out a mouthful of blood and phlegm. Dai-yu faintly opened her eyes, and seeing Grandmother Jia standing at her bedside, struggled to find breath to speak.
‘Grandmother! Your love for me has been in vain.’
Grandmother Jia was most distraught.
‘There now, my dear, you must rest. There is nothing to fear.’
Dai-yu smiled faintly and closed her eyes again. A maid came in to tell Xi-feng that the doctor had arrived. The ladies withdrew, and doctor Wang came in with Jia Lian. He took Dai-yu’s pulses, and said:
‘As yet, there is no cause for alarm. An obstruction of morbid humours has affected the. liver, which is unable to store the blood, and as a consequence her spirit has been disturbed. I shall prescribe a medicine to check the Yin, and to halt the flow of blood. I think all will be well.’
Doctor Wang left the room, accompanied by Jia Lian, to write out his prescription.
Grandmother Jia could tell that this time Dai-yu was seriously ill, and as they left the room, she said to Lady Wang and Xi-feng:
‘I do not wish to sound gloomy or bring her bad luck, but I fear she has small hope of recovery, poor child. You must make ready her grave-clothes and coffin. Who knows, such preparations may even turn her luck. She may recover, which will be a mercy for us all. But it would be sensible anyway to be prepared for the worst, and not be taken unawares. We shall be so busy over the next few days.’
Xi-feng said she would make the necessary arrange?ments. Grandmother Jia then questioned Nightingale, but she had no idea who it was that had upset Dai-yu. The more she thought about it, the more it puzzled Grand?mother Jia, and she said to Xi-feng and Lady Wang:
‘I can understand that the two of them should have grown rather fond of one another, after growing up together and playing together as children. But now that they are older and more mature, the time has come for them to observe a certain distance. She must behave prop?erly, if she is to earn my love. It’s quite wrong of her to think she can disregard such things. Then all my love will have been in vain! What you have told me troubles me.’
She returned to her apartment and sent for Aroma again. Aroma repeated to her all that she had told Lady Wang on the previous occasion, and in addition described the scene earlier that day between Dai-yu and Bao-yu.
‘And yet, when I saw her just now,’ said Grandmother Jia, ‘she still seemed able to talk sense. I simply cannot understand it. Ours is a decent family. We do not tolerate unseemly goings-on. And that applies to foolish romantic attachments. If her illness is of a respectable nature, I do not mind how much we have to spend to get her better. But if she is suffering from some form of lovesickness, no amount of medicine will cure it and she can expect no further sympathy from me either.’
‘You really shouldn’t worry about Cousin Lin, Grand?mother,’ said Xi-feng. ‘Lian will be visiting her regularly with the doctor. We must concentrate on the wedding arrangements. Early this morning I heard that the finishing touches were being put to the bridal courtyard. You and Aunt Wang and I should go over to Aunt Xue’s for a final consultation. There is one thing that occurs to me, however: with Bao-chai there, it will be rather awk?ward for us to discuss the wedding. Maybe we should ask Aunt Xue to come over here tomorrow evening, and then we can settle everything at once.
Grandmother J ia and Lady Wang agreed that her pro?posal was a good one, and said:
‘It is too late today. Tomorrow after lunch, let us all go over together.’
Grandmother Jia’s dinner was now served, and Xi-feng and Lady Wang returned to their apartments.

Next day, Xi-feng came over after breakfast. Wishing to sound out Bao-yu according to her plan, she advanced into his room and said:
‘Congratulations, Cousin Bao! Uncle Zheng has already chosen a lucky day for your wedding! Isn’t that good news?’
Bao-yu stared at her with a blank smile, and nodded his head faintly.
‘He is marrying you,’ went on Xi-feng, with a studied smile, ‘to your cousin Lin. Are you happy?’
Bao-yu burst out laughing. Xi-feng watched him carely, but could not make out whether he had understood her, or was simply raving. She went on:
‘Uncle Zheng says, you are to marry Miss Lin, if you get better. But not if you carry on behaving like a half-wit.’
Bao-yu’s expression suddenly changed to one of utter seriousness, as he said:
‘I’m not a half-wit. You’re the half-wit.’
He stood up.
‘I am going to see Cousin Lin, to set her mind at rest.’
Xi-feng quickly put out a hand to stop him.
‘She knows already. And, as your bride-to-be, she would be much too embarrassed to receive you now.’
‘What about when we’re married? Will she see me then?’
Xi-feng found this both comic and somewhat disturbing.
‘Aroma was right,’ she thought to herself. ‘Mention Dai-yu, and while he still talks like an idiot, he at least seems to understand what’s going on. I can see we shall be in real trouble, if he sees through our scheme and finds out that his bride is not to be Dai-yu after all.’
In reply to his question, she said, suppressing a smile:
‘If you behave, she will see you. But not if you con?tinue to act like an imbecile.’
To which Bao-yu replied:
‘I have given my heart to Cousin Lin. If she marries me, she will bring it with her and put it back in its proper place.’
Now this was madman’s talk if ever, thought Xi-feng. She left him, and walked back into the outer room, glanc?ing with a smile in Grandmother Jia’s direction. The old lady too found Bao-yu’s words both funny and distress?ing.
‘I heard you both myself,’ she said to Xi-feng. ‘For the present, we must ignore it. Tell Aroma to do her best to calm him down. Come, let us go.
Lady Wang joined them, and the three ladies went across to Aunt Xue’s. On arrival there, they pretended to be concerned about the course of Xue Pan’s affair. Aunt Xue expressed her profound gratitude for this concern, and gave them the latest news. After they had all taken tea, Aunt Xue was about to send for Bao-chai, when Xi?feng stopped her, saying:
‘There is no need to tell Cousin Chai that we are here, Auntie.’
With a diplomatic smile, she continued:
‘Grandmother’s visit today is not purely a social one. She has something of importance to say, and would like you t6 come over later so that we can all discuss it together.’
Aunt Xue nodded.
‘Of course.’
After a little more chat, the three ladies returned.
That evening Aunt Xue came over as arranged, and after paying her respects to Grandmother Jia, went to her sis?ter’s apartment. First there was the inevitable scene of sisterly commiseration over Wang Zi-teng’s death. Then Aunt Xue said:
‘Just now when I was at Lady Jia’s, young Bao came out to greet’ me and seemed quite well. A little thin perhaps, but certainly not as ill as I had been led to expect from your description and Xi-feng’s.’
‘No, it is really not that serious,’ said Xi-feng. ‘It’s only Grandmother who will worry so. Her idea is that it would be reassuring for Sir Zheng to see Bao-yu married before he leaves, as who knows when he will be able to come home from his new posting. And then from Bao-yu’s own point of view, it might be just the thing to turn his luck. With Cousin Chai’s golden locket to counteract the evil influence, he should make a good recovery.’
Aunt Xue was willing enough to go along with the idea, but was concerned that Bao-chai might feel rather hard done by.
‘I see nothing against it,’ she said. ‘But I think we should all take time to think it over properly.’
In accordance with Xi-feng’s plan, Lady Wang went on:
‘As you have no head of family present, we should like you to dispense with the usual trousseau. Tomorrow you should send Ke to let Pan know that while we proceed with the wedding, we shall continue to do our utmost to settle his court-case.’
She made no mention of Bao-yu’s feelings for Dai-yu, but continued:
‘Since you have given your consent, the sooner they are married, the sooner things will look up for everyone.’
At this point, Faithful came in to take back a report to Grandmother Jia. Though Aunt Xue was still concerned about Bao-chai’s feelings, she saw that in the circum?stances she had no choice, and agreed to everything they had suggested. Faithful reported this to Grandmother Jia, who was delighted and sent her back again to ask Mrs Xue to explain to Bao-chai why it was that things were being done in this way, so that she would not feel unfairly treated. Aunt Xue agreed to do this, and it was settled that Xi-feng and Jia Lian would act as official go-betweens. Xi-feng retired to her apartment, while Aunt Xue and Lady Wang stayed up talking together well into the night.
Next day, Aunt Xue returned to her apartment and told Bao-chai the details of the proposal, adding:
‘I have already given my consent.’
At first Bao-chai hung her head in silence. Then she be?gan to cry. Aunt Xue said all that she could jo comfort her, and went to great lengths to explain the reasoning be?hind the decision. Bao-chai retired to her room, and Bao?qin went in to keep her company and cheer her up. Aunt Xue also spoke to Ke, instructing him as follows:
‘You must leave tomorrow. Find out the latest news of Pan’s judgement, and then convey this message to him. Return as soon as you possibly can.’
Xue Ke was away for four days, at the end of which time he returned to report to Aunt Xue.
‘The Circuit Judge has ratified the verdict of man?slaughter, and after the next hearing his final memorial will be presented to the Provincial Supreme Court for confirmation. We should have the commutation money ready. As for Cousin Chai’s affair, Cousin Pan approves entirely of your decision, Aunt. And he says that curtail?ing the formalities will save us a lot of money too. You are not to wait for him, but should do whatever you think best.’
Aunt Xue’s mind was greatly eased by the knowledge that Xue Pan would soon be free to come home, and that there were now no further obstacles to the marriage. She could see that Bao-chai was unwilling to be married in this way, but reasoned with herself: ‘Even if this is not what she ideally wants, she is my daughter and has always been obedient and well-bred. She knows I have agreed to it, and will not go against my wishes.’
She instructed Xue Ke:
‘We must prepare the betrothal-card. Take some fine gold-splash paper and write on it the Stems and Branches of Bao-chai’s birth. Then take it to Cousin Lian. Find out which day has been fixed for the exchange of presents, and make all the necessary preparations for sending ours. We shall not be inviting any friends or relatives to the wed?ding. Pan’s friends are a worthless lot, as you yourself said, while our relations consist mainly of the Jias and the Wangs. The Jias are groom’s family, and there are no Wangs in the capital at present. When Xiang-yun was en?gaged, the Shis did not invite us, so we need not get in touch with them. The only person I think we should invite is our business manager, Zhang De-hui. He is an older man and experienced in such things, and will be a; help to us.’
Xue Ke carried out these instructions, and sent a servant over with the betrothal-card. Next day, Jia Lian came to visit Aunt Xue. After paying his respects, he said:
‘I have consulted the almanac, and tomorrow is a most propitious day. I have come here today to propose that our two families exchange presents tomorrow. And please, Aunt Xue, do not be too critical about the arrange?ments.’
He presented the groom’s notice, which bore the date of the wedding. Aunt Xue said a few polite words of acceptance and nodded her assent. Jia Lian returned at once and reported to Jia Zheng.
‘Report to your Grandmother,’ said Jia Zheng, ‘and say that as we are not inviting anybody, the wedding should be kept very simple. She can exercise her discretion over the presents. There is no need to consult me any fur?ther.’
Jia Lian bowed, and went in to convey this message to Grandmother Jia. Meanwhile Lady Wang had told Xi-?feng to bring in the presents that were being given on Bao?-yu’s behalf, for Grandmother Jia’s inspection. She also told Aroma to bring Bao-yu in to see them. He seemed highly amused by the whole business, and said:
‘It seems such a waste of everyone’s time, to send all these things from here to the Garden, and then have them brought all the way back, when it’s all in the family any?way!’
This seemed to Lady Wang and Grandmother Jia suf?ficient proof that, whatever anyone might have said to the contrary, Bao-yu still had his wits about him, and they said as much to each other in tones of some satisfaction. Faithful and the other maids could not help but smile too. They brought the presents in and displayed them one by one, describing them as they went along:
‘A gold necklace and other jewellery in gold and pre?cious stones – altogether eighty pieces; forty bolts of dra?gon-brocade for formal wear and one hundred and twenty bolts of silks and satins in various colours; one hundred and twenty costumes for the four seasons of the year. They have not had time in the kitchen to prepare the sheep and wine, so this is money in lieu.’
Grandmother Jia expressed her approval, and said softly to Xi-feng:
‘You must tell Mrs Xue not to think of this as an empty formality. In due course, when Pan is back and she has that weight off her mind, she can have these made up into dresses for Chai. In the meantime, we shall take care of all the bedcovers for the wedding-day.’
‘Yes Grandmother,’ replied Xi-feng, and returned to her apartment. She sent Jia Lian over first to Aunt Xue’s, then summoned Zhou Rui and Brightie to receive their instructions.
‘When delivering the presents,’ she said, ‘you are not to use the main gate. Use the little side-gate in the garden, that used to be kept open. I shall be going over myself shortly. The side-gate has the advantage of being a long way from the Naiad’s House. If anyone from any other apartment notices you, you are to tell them on no account to mention it at the Naiad’s House.’
‘Yes ma’am.’
The two men departed for Aunt Xue’s apartment at the head of a contingent of servants bearing the presents.
Bao-yu was quite taken in by all this. His new feeling of happy anticipation had caused a general improvement in his health, though his manner of speech remained rather eccentric at times. When the present-bearers returned, the whole thing was accomplished without a single name being mentioned. The family and all the staff knew, but were under orders from Xi-feng to maintain abs6lute secrecy, and no one dared disobey.
*

Dai-yu meanwhile, for all the medicine she took, con?tinued to grow iller with every day that passed. Nightin?gale did her utmost to raise her spirits. Our story finds her standing once more by Dai-yu’s bedside, earnestly beseeching her:
‘Miss, now that things have come to this pass, I simply must speak my mind. We know what it is that’s eating your heart out. But can’t you see that your fears are groundless? Why, look at the state Bao-yu is in! How can he possibly get married, when he’s so ill? You must ignore these silly rumours, stop fretting and let yourself get better.’
Dai-yu gave a wraithlike smile, but said nothing. She started coughing again and brought up a lot more blood. Nightingale and Snowgoose came closer and watched her feebly struggling for breath. They knew that any further attempt to rally her would be to no avail, and could do nothing but stand there watching and weeping. Each day Nightingale went over three or four times to tell Grand?mother Jia, but Faithful, judging the old lady’s attitude towards Dai-yu to have hardened of late, intercepted her reports and hardly mentioned Dai-yu to her mistress. Grandmother Jia was preoccupied with the wedding arrangements, and in the absence of any particular news of Dai-yu, did not show a great deal of interest in the girl’s fate, considering it sufficient that she should be receiving medical attention.
Previously, when she had been ill, Dai-yu had always received frequent visits from everyone in the household, from Grandmother Jia down to the humblest maidservant. But now not a single person came to see her. The only face she saw looking down at her was that of Nightingale. She began to feel her end drawing near, and struggled to say a few words to her:
‘Dear Nightingale! Dear sister! Closest friend! Though you were Grandmother’s maid before you came to serve me, over the years you have become as a sister to me…’
She had to stop for breath. Nightingale felt a pang of pity, was reduced to tears and could say nothing. After a long silence, Dai-yu began to speak again, searching for breath between words:
‘Dear sister! I am so uncomfortable lying down like this. Please help me up and sit next to me.’
‘I don’t think you should sit up, Miss, in your condi?tion. You might get cold in the draught.’
Dai-yu closed her eyes in silence. A little later she asked to sit up again. Nightingale and Snowgoose felt they could no longer deny her request. They propped her up on both sides with soft pillows, while Nightingale sat by her on the bed to give further support. Dai-yu was not equal to the effort. The bed where she sat on it seemed to dig into her, and she struggled with all her remaining strength to lift herself up and ease the pain. She told Snowgoose to come closer.
‘My poems…’
Her voice failed, and she fought for breath again. Snow-goose guessed that she meant the manuscripts she had been revising a few days previously, went to fetch them and laid them on Dai-yu’s lap. Dai-yu nodded, then raised her eyes and gazed in the direction of a chest that stood on a stand close by. Snowgoose did not know how to inter?pret this and stood there at a loss. Dai-yu stared at her now with feverish impatience. She began to cough again and brought up another mouthful of blood. Snowgoose went to fetch some water, and Dai-yu rinsed her mouth and spat into the spittoon. Nightingale wiped her lips with a handkerchief. Dai-yu took the handkerchief from her and pointed to the chest. She tried to speak, but was again seized with an attack of breathlessness and closed her eyes.
‘Lie down, Miss,’ said Nightingale. Dai-yu shook her head. Nightingale thought she must want one of her hand?kerchiefs, and told Snowgoose to open the chest and bring her a plain white silk one. Dai-yu looked at it, and drop?ped it on the bed. Making a supreme effort, she gasped out:
‘The ones with the writing on…’
Nightingale finally realized that she meant the handker?chiefs Bao-yu had sent her, the ones she had inscribed with her own poems. She told Snowgoose to fetch them, and herself handed them to Dai-yu, with these words of ad vice:
‘You must lie down and rest, Miss. Don’t start wearing yourself out. You can look at these another time, when you are feeling better.’
Dai-yu took the handkerchiefs in one hand and without even looking at them, brought round her other hand (which cost her a great effort) and tried with all her might to tear them in two. But she was so weak that all she could achieve was a pathetic trembling motion. Nightin?gale knew that Bao-yu was the object of all- this bitterness but dared not mention his name, saying instead:
‘Miss, there is no sense in working yourself up again.’
Dai-yu nodded faintly, and slipped the handkerchiefs into her sleeve.
‘Light the lamp,’ she ordered.
Snowgoose promptly obeyed. Dai-yu looked into the lamp, then closed her eyes and sat in silence. Another fit of breathlessness. Then:
‘Make up the fire in the brazier.’
Thinking she wanted it for the extra warmth, Nightin?gale protested:
‘You should lie down, Miss, and have another cover on. And the fumes from the brazier might be bad for you.’
Dai-yu shook her head, and Snowgoose reluctantly made up the brazier, placing it on its stand on the floor. Dai-yu made a motion with her hand, indicating that she wanted it moved up onto the kang. Snowgoose lifted it and placed it there, temporarily using the floor-stand, while she went out to fetch the special stand they used on the kang. Dai-yu, far from resting back in the warmth, now inclined her body slightly forward – Nightingale had to support her with both hands as she did so. Dai-yu took the handkerchiefs in one hand. Staring into the flames and nodding thoughtfully to herself, she dropped them into the brazier. Nightingale was horrified, but much as she would have liked to snatch them from the flames, she did not dare move her hands and leave Dai-yu unsupported. Snowgoose was out of the room, fetching the brazier-stand, and by now the handkerchiefs were all ablaze.
‘Miss!’ cried Nightingale. ‘What are you doing?’
As if she had not heard, Dai-yu reached over for her manuscripts, glanced at them and let them fall again onto the kang. Nightingale, anxious lest she burn these too, leaned up against Dai-yu and freeing one hand, reached out with it to take hold of them. But before she could do so, Dai-yu had picked them up again and dropped them in the flames. The brazier was out of Nightingale’s reach, and there was nothing she could do but look on helplessly.
Just at that moment Snowgoose came in with the stand. She saw Dai-yu drop something into the fire, and without knowing what it was, rushed forward to try and save it. The manuscripts had caught at once and were already ablaze. Heedless of – the danger to her hands, Snowgoose reached into the flames and pulled out what she could, throwing the paper on the floor and stamping frantically on it. But the fire had done its work, and only a few charred fragments remained.
Dai-yu closed her eyes and slumped back, almost caus?ing Nightingale to topple over with her. Nightingale, her heart thumping in great agitation, called Snowgoose over to help her settle Dai-yu down again. It was too late now to send for anyone. And yet, what if Dai-yu should die during the night, and the only people there were Snow?goose, herself and the one or two other junior maids in the Naiad’s House? They passed a restless night. Morning came at last, and Dai-yu seemed a little more comfortable. But after breakfast she suddenly began coughing and vomiting, and became tense and feverish again. Nightin?gale could see that she had reached a crisis. She called Snowgoose and the other juniors in and told them to mount watch, while she went to report to Grandmother Jia. But when she reached Grandmother Jia’s apartment, she found it almost deserted. Only a few old nannies and charladies were there, keeping an eye.
‘Where is Her Old Ladyship?’ asked Nightingale.
‘We don’t know,’ came the reply in chorus.
That was very odd, thought Nightingale. She went into Bao-yu’s room and found that too quite empty, save for a single maid who answered with the same ‘Don’t know. By now Nightingale had more or less guessed the truth. How could they be so heartless and so cruel? And to think that not a soul had come to visit Dai-yu during the past few days! As the bitterness of it struck her with full force, she felt a great wave of resentment break out within her, and turned abruptly to go.
‘I shall go and find Bao-yu, and see how he is faring! I wonder how he will manage to brazen it out in front of me! I remember last year, when I made up that story about Miss Lin going back to the South, he fell sick with despair. To think that now he should be openly doing a thing like this! Men must have hearts as cold as ice or snow. What hateful creatures they are!’
She was already at Green Delights, and found the court-yard gate ajar. All was quiet within. Suddenly she real?ized:
‘Of course! If he is getting married, he will have a new apartment. But where?’
She was looking around her in uncertainty, when she saw Bao-yu’s page boy Inky rush past, and called to him to stop. He came over, and with a broad smile asked:
‘What are you doing here, Miss Nightingale?’
‘I heard that Master Bao was getting married,’ replied Nightingale, ‘and I wanted to watch some of the fun. But I can see I’ve come to the wrong place. And I don’t know when the wedding is taking place, either.’
‘If I tell you,’ said Inky in a confidential tone, ‘you must promise not to tell Snowgoose. We’ve been given orders not to let any of you know. The wedding’s to be tonight. Of course it’s not being held here. The Master told Mr Lian to set aside another apartment.’
‘What’s the matter?’ continued Inky, after a pause.
‘Nothing,’ replied Nightingale. ‘You can go now.’
Inky rushed off again. Nightingale stood there for a while, lost in thought. Suddenly she remembered Dai-yu. She might already be dead! Her eyes filled with tears, and clenching her teeth, she said fiercely:
‘Bao-yu! If she dies, you may think you can wash your hands of her in this callous way: but when you are happily married, and have your heart’s desire, you needn’t think you can look me in the face again!’
As she walked, she began to weep. She made her way, sobbing pitifully, across the Garden. She was not far from the Naiad’s House, when she saw two junior maids stand?ing at the gate, peeping out nervously. They saw her com?ing, and one of them cried out:
‘There’s Miss Nightingale! At last!’
Nightingale could see that all was not well. Gesturing to them anxiously to be silent, she hurried in, to find Dai-yu red in the face, the fire from her liver having risen up?wards and inflamed her cheeks. This was a dangerous sign, and Nightingale called Dai-yu’s old wet-nurse, Nan?nie Wang, to come and take a look. One glance was enough to reduce this old woman to tears. Nightingale had turned to Nannie Wang as an older person, who could be expected to lend them some courage in this ex?tremity. But she turned out to be quite helpless, and only made Nightingale more distraught than before. Sud?denly she thought of someone else she could turn to, and sent one of the younger maids to fetch her with all speed. Her choice might seem a strange one; but Nightingale reasoned that as a widow, Li Wan would certainly be ex?cluded from Bao-yu’s wedding festivities. Besides she was in general charge of affairs in the Garden, and it would be in order to ask her to come.
Li Wan was at home correcting some of Jia Lan’s poems, when the maid came rushing frantically in and cried:
‘Mrs Zhu! Miss Lin’s dying! Everyone over there is in tears!’
Li Wan rose startled to her feet and without a word set off at once for the Naiad’s House, followed by her maids Candida and Casta. As she walked, she wept and lamented to herself:
‘When I think of all the times we have spent together – oh my poor cousin! So lovely, so gifted! There is hardly another like her. Only Frost Maiden and the Goddess of the Moon could rival her. How can she be leaving us at such a tender age, for that distant land from whence no travellers return… And to think that because of Xi-feng’s deceitful scheme, I have not been able to show myself at the Naiad’s House and have done nothing to show my sisterly affection! Oh the poor, dear girl!’
She was already at the gate of the Naiad’s House. There was no sound from within. She began to fret.
‘I must be too late! She must have died already and they are resting between their lamentations. I wonder if her grave-clothes and coverlet are ready?’
She quickened her step and hurried on into the room. A young maid standing at the inner doorway had already seen her, and called out:
‘Mrs Zhu is here!’
Nightingale hurried out to meet her.
‘How is she?’ asked Li Wan.
Nightingale tried to answer but all she could muster was a choked sob. Tears poured down her cheeks like pearls from a broken, necklace, as she pointed silently to where Dai-yu lay. Realizing With a pang what Nightingale’s piti?able condition must portend, Li Wan asked no more, but went over at once to see for herself. Dai-yu no longer had the strength to speak. When Li Wan said her name a few times, her eyes opened a slit as if in recognition of the voice. But her eyelids and lips could only make a trem?bling suggestion of a movement. Although she still breathed, it was now more than she could manage to utter a single word, or shed a single tear.
Li Wan turned around and saw that Nightingale was no longer in the room. She asked Snowgoose where she was, and Snowgoose replied:
‘In the outer room.
Li Wan hurried out, to find Nightingale lying on the empty bed, her face a ghastly green, her eyes closed, tears streaming down her cheeks. Where her head lay on the embroidered pillow, with its border of fine brocade, was a patch the size of a small plate, wet with her tears and the copious effusions of her nose. When Li Wan called to her, she opened her eyes slowly, and raised herself slightly on the bed.
‘Silly girl!’ Li Wan upbraided her. ‘Is this a time for tears? Fetch Miss Lin’s grave-clothes and dress her in them. Are you going to leave it till it is too late? Would you have her go naked from the world? Would you ruin her honour?’
This released a fresh flood of tears on Nightingale’s part. Li Wan wept herself, fretfully wiping her eyes and patting Nightingale on the shoulder.
‘Dear girl! Look how you are upsetting me now, and making me cry. Hurry and get her things ready. If we delay much longer, it will all be over.’
They were in this state of trepidation, when they heard footsteps outside, and someone came running into the room in a great flurry, causing Li Wan to start back in alarm. It was Patience. When she saw their tear-stained faces, she stopped abruptly and stared at them aghast for a while.
‘Why aren’t you over there?’ asked Li Wan. ‘What do you want here?’
As she spoke, Steward Lin’s wife also came into the room. Patience answered:
‘Mrs Lian was worried, and sent me to see how things were. As you are here, Mrs Zhu, I can tell her to set her mind at rest.’
Li Wan nodded. Patience went on:
‘I should like to see Miss Lin myself.’ So saying, she walked into Dai-yu’s bed-chamber, with tears on her cheeks. Li Wan turned to Steward Lin’s wife and said:
‘You have come just in time. Go and find your hus?band, and tell him to prepare Miss Lin’s coffin and what?ever else is necessary. When everything has been satisfac?torily arranged, he is to let me know. There is no need to go over to the house.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ replied Lin’s wife, but made no move to go.
‘Well? Is there something else?’ asked Li Wan.
‘Mrs Lian and Her Old Ladyship,’ replied the steward’s wife, ‘have decided that they ‘need Miss Nightingale in attendance over there.’
Before Li Wan could say anything, Nightingale spoke up for herself:
‘Mrs Lin, will you be so kind as to leave now? Can’t you even wait until she is dead? We will leave her then, you need not fear. How can you be so…’
She stopped short, thinking it inadvisable to be so rude, and changing her tone somewhat, said:
‘Besides, after waiting on a sick person, I fear we would not be fit for such an occasion. And while Miss Lin is still alive, she may ask for me at any time.
Li Wan tried to make the peace between them.
‘The truth is,’ she said, ‘that this maid and Miss Lin have an affinity from a past life. Snowgoose, I know, was Miss Lin’s original maid from home, but even she is not so indispensable as Nightingale. We really cannot separate them just now.
Lin’s wife, who had been considerably put out by Nightingale’s outspoken response, was obliged to contain herself when Li Wan came to the maid’s defence. Seeing Nightingale reduced to floods of tears, she eyed her with a hostile smile and said:
‘I shall ignore Miss Nightingale’s rudeness. But am I to report what you have just said to Her Old Ladyship? And am I to tell Mrs Lian?’
As she was speaking, Patience came out of Dai-yu’s bedchamber, wiping her eyes.
‘Tell Mrs Lian what.?’ she asked.
Lin’s wife told her the substance of their conversation. Patience lowered her head in thought. After a moment, she said:
‘Why can’t you take Snowgoose?’
‘Would she do?’ asked Li Wan. Patience went up to her and whispered a few words in her ear. Li Wan nodded, and said:
‘Well in that case, it will be just as good if we send Snowgoose.’
‘Will Miss Snowgoose do?’ Lin’s wife asked Patience. ‘Yes,’ replied Patience. ‘She will do just as well.’ ‘Then will you please tell her to come with me straight away,’ said Lin’s wife. ‘I shall report to Her Old Ladyship and Mrs Lian. I shall say that you are both responsible for the arrangement, mind. And later you can tell Mrs Lian yourself, Miss Patience.’
‘Of course,’ replied Li Wan curtly. ‘Do you mean to say that someone as old and experienced as you cannot even take the responsibility for a small thing like this?’
Lin’s wife smiled.
‘It is not that I can’t take the responsibility. It is just that Her Old Ladyship and Mrs Lian have arranged every?thing and the likes of us don’t really know what’s going on. In the circumstances, it seems only right to mention you and Miss Patience.’
Patience had already told Snowgoose to come out. Over the past few days Snowgoose had fallen rather into dis?favour with Dai-yu, who had called her a ‘silly, ignorant child’, and her feelings of loyalty towards her mistress had as a consequence been rather blunted. Besides there was no question of her disobeying an order from Her Old Ladyship and Mrs Lian. She therefore tidied her hair quickly and made ready to go. Patience told her to change into her smartest clothes and to go with Mrs Lin. Patience herself stayed on and spoke for a short while with Li Wan. Before she left, Li Wan instructed her to call in on Lin’s wife on her way and tell her that her husband should make the necessary preparations for Dai-yu with all possible speed. This Patience agreed to do and went on her way. As she turned a corner in the Garden, she caught sight of Lin’s wife walking ahead of her with Snowgoose and called to her to wait.
‘I will take Snowgoose with me. You go and tell your husband to prepare Miss Lin’s things. I will report to Mrs Lian for you.’
‘Yes, Miss Patience,’ said Lin’s wife, and went on her errand.
Patience then took Snowgoose to the bridal apartment, and reported there herself before going to see to her own affairs.
*

When Snowgoose saw the wedding preparations in full swing and thought of Dai-yu lying at death’s door, she felt a pang of grief. But she dared not show her feelings in the presence of Grandmother Jia and Xi-feng. ‘What can they want me for?’ she wondered. ‘I must see what is go?ing on. I know Bao-yu used to be head over heels in love with Miss Lin. And yet now he seems to have deserted her. I begin to wonder if this illness of his is genuine or just a pretence. He may have made the whole thing up so as to avoid upsetting Miss Lin. By pretending to lose his jade and acting like an idiot, perhaps he thinks he can put her off, and marry Miss Chai with a clear conscience? I must watch him closely, and see if he acts the fool when he sees me. Surely he won’t keep up the pretence on his wedding-day?’ She slipped in and stood spying at the inner doorway.
Now, though Bao-yu’s mind was still clouded from the loss of his jade, his sense of joy at the prospect of mar?rying Dai-yu – in his eyes the most blessed, the most wonderful thing that had happened in heaven or earth since time began – had caused a temporary resurgence of physical well-being, if not a full restoration of his mental faculties. Xi-feng’s ingenious plan had had exactly the in?tended effect, and he was now counting the minutes till he should see Dai-yu. Today was the day when all his dreams were to come true, and he was filled with a feeling of ecstasy. He still occasionally let slip some tell-tale imbecile remark, but in other respects gave the appearance of hav?ing completely recovered. All this Snowgoose observed, and was filled with hatred for him and grief for her mis?tress. She knew nothing of the true cause of his joy:

While Snowgoose slipped away unobserved, Bao-yu told Aroma to hurry and dress him in his bridegroom’s finery. He sat in Lady Wang’s chamber, watching Xi-feng and You-shi bustling about their preparations, himself bursting with impatience for the great moment.
‘If Cousin Lin is coming from the Garden,’ he asked Aroma, ‘why all this fuss? Why isn’t she here yet?’
Suppressing a smile, Aroma replied:
‘She has to wait for the propitious moment.’ Xi-feng turned to Lady Wang and said:
‘Because we are in mourning, we cannot have music in the street. But the traditional ceremony would seem so drab without any music at all, so I have told some of the women-servants with a bit of musical knowledge, the ones who used to look after the actresses, to come and play a little, to add a bit of a festive touch.’
Lady Wang nodded, and said she thought this a good idea. Presently the great bridal palanquin was born in through the main gate. The little ensemble of women-servants played, as it entered down an avenue of twelve pairs of palace-lanterns, creating a passably stylish im?pression. The Master of Ceremonies requested the bride to step out of her palanquin, and Bao-yu saw the Matron of Honour, all in red, lead out his bride, her face con?cealed by the bridal veil. There was a maid in attendance, and Bao-yu saw to his surprise that it was Snowgoose. This puzzled him for a moment.
‘Why Snowgoose, and not Nightingale?’ he asked him?self. Then: ‘Of course. Snowgoose is Dai-yu’s original maid from the South, whereas Nightingale was one of our maids, which would never do.’
And so, when he saw Snowgoose, it was as if he had seen the face of Dai-yu herself beneath the veil.
The Master of Ceremonies chanted the liturgy, and the bride and groom knelt before Heaven and Earth. Grand?mother Jia was called forth to receive their obeisances, as were Sir Zheng, Lady Wang and other elders of the fam?ily, after which they escorted the’ couple into the hall and thence to the bridal chamber. Here they were made to sit on the bridal bed, were showered with dried fruit and subjected to the various other practices customary in old Nanking families such as the Jias, which we need not de?scribe in detail here.
Jia Zheng, it will be remembered, had gone along with the plan grudgingly, in deference to Grandmother’ Jia’s wishes, retaining grave though unspoken doubts himself as to her theory of Bao-yu’s luck’. But today, seeing Bao-yu bear himself with a semblance of dignity, he could not help but be pleased.
The bride was now sitting alone on the bridal bed, and the moment had come for the groom to remove her veil. Xi-feng had made her preparations for this event, and now asked Grandmother Jia, Lady Wang and others of the ladies present to step forward into the bridal chamber to assist her. The sense of climax seemed to cause Bao-yu to revert somewhat to his imbecile ways, for as he approached his bride he said:
‘Are you better now, coz? It’s such a long time since we last saw each other. What do you want to go wrapping yourself up in that silly thing for?’
He was about to raise the veil. Grandmother Jia broke into a cold sweat. But he hesitated, thinking to himself:
‘I know how sensitive Cousin Lin is. I must be very careful not to offend her.’
He waited a little longer. But soon the suspense became unbearable, and he walked up to her and lifted the veil. The Matron of Honour took it from him, while Snow-goose melted into the background and Oriole came for?ward to take her place. Bao-yu stared at his bride. Surely this was Bao-chai? Incredulous, with one hand holding the lantern, he rubbed his eyes with the other and looked again. It was Bao-chai. How pretty she looked, in her wedding-gown! He gazed at her soft skin, the full curve of her shoulders, and her hair done up in tresses that hung from her temples! Her eyes were moist, her lips quivered slightly. Her whole appearance had the simple elegance of a white lily, wet with pendant dew; the maidenly blush on her cheeks resembled apricot-blossom wreathed in mist. For a moment he stared at her in utter astonishment. Then he noticed that Oriole was standing at her side, while Snowgoose had quite vanished. A feeling of helpless be?wilderment seized him, and thinking he must be dream?ing, he stood there in a motionless daze. The maids took the lamp from him and helped him to a chair, where he sat with his eyes fixed in front of him, still without uttering a single word. Grandmother Jia was anxious lest this might signal the approach of another of his fits, and herself came over to rally him, while Xi-feng and You-shi escorted Bao-chai to a chair in the inner part of the room. Bao-chai held her head bowed and said nothing.
After a while, Bao-yu had composed himself suf?ficiently to think. He saw Grandmother Jia and Lady Wang sitting opposite him, and asked Aroma in a whis?per:
‘Where am I? This must all be a dream.’
‘A dream? Why, it’s the happiest day of your life!’ said Aroma. ‘How can you be so silly? Take care: Sir Zeng is outside.’
Pointing now to where Bao-chai sat, and still whisper?ing, Bao-yu asked again:
‘Who is that beautiful lady sitting over there?’
Aroma found this so comical that for a while she could say nothing, but held her hand to her face to conceal her mirth. Finally she replied:
‘That is your bride, the new Mrs Bao-yu.’
The other maids also turned away, unable to contain their laughter.
Bao-yu: ‘Don’t be so silly! What do you mean, “Mrs Bao-yu”? Who is Mrs Bao-yu?’
Aroma: ‘Miss Chai.’
Bao-yu: ‘But what about Miss Lin?’
Aroma: ‘The Master decided you should marry Miss Chai. What’s Miss Lin got to do with it?’
Bao-yu: ‘But I saw her just a moment ago, and Snowgoose. too. They couldn’t have just vanished! What sort of trick is this that you’re all playing on me?’
Xi-feng came up and whispered in his ear:
‘Miss Chai is sitting over there, so please stop talking like this. If you offend her, Grannie will be very cross with you.’
Bao-yu was now more hopelessly confused than ever.
The mysterious goings-on of that night, c6ming on top of his already precarious mental state, had wrought him up to such a pitch of despair that all he could do was cry – ‘I must find Cousin Lin!’ – again and again. Grandmother Jia and the other ladies tried to comfort him but he was impervious to their efforts. Furthermore, with Bao-chai in the room, they had to be careful what they said. Bao?yu was clearly suffering from a severe relapse, and they now abandoned their attempts to rally him and instead helped him to bed, while ordering several sticks of gum benzoin incense to be lit, the heavy, sedative fumes of which soon filled the room. They all stood in awesome hush. After a short while, the incense began to take effect and Bao-yu sank into a heavy slumber, much to the relief of the ladies, who sat down again to await the dawn. Grandmother Jia told Xi-feng to ask Bao-chai to lie down and rest, which she did, fully dressed as she was, behaving as though she had heard nothing.
Jia Zheng had remained in an outer room during all of this, and so had seen nothing to disillusion him of the reassuring impression he had received earlier on. The fol?lowing day, as it happened, was the day selected according to the almanac for his departure to his new post. After a short rest, he took formal leave of the festivities and re?turned to his apartment. Grandmother Jia, too, left Bao?yu sound asleep and returned to her apartment for a brief rest.
The next morning, Jia Zheng took leave of the ancestors in the family shrine and came to bid his mother farewell. He bowed before her and said:
‘I, your unworthy son, am about to depart for afar. My only wish is that you should keep warm in the cold weather and take good care of yourself. As soon as I arrive at my post, I shall write to ask how you are. You are not to worry on my account. Bao-yu’s marriage has now been celebrated in accordance with your wishes, and it only remains for me to beg you to instruct him, and impart to him the wisdom of your years.’
Grandmother Jia, for fear that Jia Zheng would worry on his journey, made no mention of Bao-yu’s relapse but merely said:
‘There is one thing I should tell you. Although the rites were performed last night, Bao-yu’s marriage was not properly consummated. His health would not allow it. Custom, I know, decrees that he should see you off to?day. But in view of all the circumstances, his earlier illness, the luck turning, his still fragile state of convales?cence and yesterday’s exertions, I am worried that by going out he might catch a chill. So I put it to you: if you wish him to fulfil his filial obligations by seeing you off, then send for him at once and instruct him accordingly; but if you love him, then spare him and let him say goodbye and make his kotow to you here.’
‘Why should I want him to see me off?’ returned Jia Zheng. ‘All I want is that from now on he should study in earnest. That would bring me greater pleasure by far.’
Grandmother Jia was most relieved to hear this. She told Jia Zheng to be seated and sent Faithful, after impart?ing to her various secret instructions, to fetch Bao-yu and to bring Aroma with him. Faithful had not been away many minutes, when Bao-yu came in and with the usual promptings, performed his duty to his father. Luckily the sight of his father brought him, for a few moments, suf?ficient clarity to get through the formalities without any gross lapses. Jia Zheng delivered himself of a few exhorta?tory words, to all of which his son gave the correct replies. Then Jia Zheng told Aroma to escort him back to his room, while he himself went to Lady Wang’s apartment. There he earnestly enjoined Lady Wang to take charge of Bao-yu’s moral welfare during his absence.
‘There must be none of his previous unruliness,’ he added. ‘He must now prepare himself to enter for next year’s provincial examination.’
Lady Wang assured him that she would do her utmost, and without mentioning anything else, at once sent a maid to escort Bao-chai into the room. Bao-chai performed the rite proper to a newly-married bride seeing off her father-in-law, and then remained in the room when Jia Zheng left. The other women-folk accompanied him as far as the inner gate before turning back. Cousin Zhen and the other young male Jias received a few words of exhorta?tion, drank a farewell toast, and, together with a crowd of other friends and relatives, accompanied him as far as the Hostelry of the Tearful Parting, some three or four miles beyond the city walls, where they bid their final farewell.
But of Jia Zheng’s departure no more. Let us return to Bao-yu, who on leaving his father, had suffered an im?mediate relapse. His mind became more and more clouded, and he could swallow neither food nor drink. Whether or not he was to emerge from this crisis alive will be revealed in the next chapter.

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