The Story of the Stone – CHAPTER 99

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CHAPTER 99

Unscrupulous minions make use of their master’s virtue
to conceal a multitude of sins
And Jia Zheng is alarmed to read his nephew’s name
in the ‘Peking Gazette’

TO CONTINUE OUR STORY

We told in our previous volume how Xi-feng, finding Grandmother Jia and Aunt Xue somewhat cast down by the mention of Dai-yu’s death, had endeavoured to raise their spirits with a humorous anec?dote.
‘Who else could it be,’ she finally managed to say, after much incapacitating mirth, ‘but our newly married couple!’
‘Well what about them?’ asked Grandmother Jia.
Xi-feng began mimicking again.
‘Here sits one, here stands t’other .. . One bends this-a-way, one turns that-a-way … One …’
Grandmother Jia interrupted her with a loud laugh.
‘For heaven’s sake get on with the story! If we have to watch you any more, it’ll be the death of us!’
‘Yes, do stop all this monkeying around,’ said Aunt Xue, laughing in spite of herself, ‘and get on with your story.’
Xi-feng began again:
‘Just now, I was passing through Cousin Bao-yu’s apartment when I heard the sound of laughter coming from inside; and wondering who it could be, I took a peep through a little hole in the paper casement. There was Cousin Chai sitting on the edge of the kang, with Bao-yu standing in front of her, holding her sleeve and im?ploring her: “Oh, Coz! Why won’t you speak to me? A word from you and I know I should be completely cured!” But she turned away and seemed bent on taking no notice of him whatsoever. He bowed to her, and then came still closer and took hold of her dress, which she tugged away from him at once. You know how unsteady on his feet Bao-yu has been since his last illness well, with this tug he just tumbled right on top of her! She flushed and cried out: “You’re worse than ever! You haven’t a scrap of dignity!”‘
At this both Grandmother Jia and Aunt Xue burst out laughing again. Xi-feng went on:
‘Then Bao stood up and grinned. “At least I tripped you into speaking to me!” he said.’
‘My daughter certainly has her foibles,’ said Aunt Xue, with a good-humoured smile. ‘Now that they’re married there’s really nothing against a bit of harmless fun. If she could but see her cousin Lian and you, my dear, when the two of you get started…’
Xi-feng blushed.
‘Honestly!’ she protested laughingly. ‘I tell a story to raise your spirits and you turn it against me.’
‘Chai is quite right to behave as she does,’ put in Grandmother Jia with a chuckle. ‘I don’t deny that marriage should be based on affection; but there should always be a sense of proportion. I’m glad Chai sets such store by dignity, and it saddens me that Bao-yu should still be such a silly boy – though from some of the things you tell me it seems that he may be improving. Well – any more stories?’
‘Soon there will be no lack of them,’ replied Xi-feng. ‘When their marriage is consummated, and Bao-yu presents his mother-in-law with a grandchild…’
‘You monkey!’ exclaimed Grandmother Jia. ‘Thinking of your Cousin Lin’s death made us both feel sad, and it was thoughtful of you to want to cheer us up. But now you’re going too far. Would you have us forget her altogether? You’d better watch your step. She was never very fond of you while she was alive, and you’d be well advised not to go walking in the Garden alone after this, or her ghost may pounce on you and try to take its revenge!’
‘But she never bore a grudge against me,’ countered Xi-feng with a smile. ‘It was Bao-yu she cursed with her dying breath.’
Grandmother Jia and Aunt Xue took this to be another of her witticisms, and ignored it:
‘Don’t talk such nonsense. Now off you go and find someone to choose a lucky day for your cousin Bao’s party.’
‘Yes, Grannie.’ After a little more chat Xi-feng went on her way. She despatched one of the servants to consult the almanac; and on the chosen day, the family duly celebrated the (formal if not actual) ‘consummation’ of Bao-yu and Bao-chai’s marriage, and entertained their guests with a banquet and plays. But of this our narrative omits further details.


It turns instead to the convalescent Bao-yu.
From time to time Bao-chai would pick up one of his books and engage him in conversation about it, and on these occasions Bao-yu was sufficiently compos mentis to sustain a desultory dialogue of sorts. But his mind was unquestionably duller than it had been, a de?terioration he himself was unable to account for. Bao-chai argued with herself that the cause lay in the loss of his Magic Jade, but Aroma was less philosophical, and frequently took him to task:
‘Where have your wits fled to? If only it was that old weakness of yours that had left you! But you seem to have kept that and lost your wits instead!’
Bao-yu did not let remarks such as this rile him, and responded with an inane grin. If he ever showed signs of letting his wild streak get the better of him, he allowed himself to be restrained by Bao-chai’s good sense, while as time went by Aroma rebuked him less and less, and confined herself instead to ministering to his practical needs. His other maids had always respected Bao-chai’s quiet, demure manner, and now that she was their mistress her gentle and friendly nature won their willing obedience.
Beneath this apparent calm, Bao-yu continued to feel a deep sense of restlessness, and in particular a recurring desire to visit the Garden. Grandmother Jia and the other ladies were afraid that such an ex?pedition might expose him to a chill or fever of some kind, and that the Garden’s surroundings would have too gloomy and depressing an effect on his spirits. Dai-yu’s coffin was already lodged in a temple outside the city walls, but the Naiad’s House and the memories associated with it would be sure to cause him renewed distress and bring on a relapse. So they forbade him to go. Most of the Garden was now deserted. Of Bao-yu’s cousins, Bao-qin had already moved out to live with Aunt Xue, while Shi Xiang-yun had gone home on her uncle’s return to the capital, and seldom visited the Jias now that the date of her own wedding had been settled. She had been present on Bao-yu’s wedding-day and more recently on the day of the party, but on both occasions she had stayed with Grandmother Jia; and her awareness that Bao-yu was now a married man, and she herself betrothed, had inhibited her from indulging in any of her old high-spirited banter. When she saw the newly wed couple, she talked to Bao-chai but scarcely said more than a polite ‘hello’ to Bao-yu. Xing Xiu-yan had moved in with her aunt Lady Xing after Ying-chun’s marriage, while the two Li sisters only ever visited the Garden with their mother, and then would stay for a couple of days with Li Wan before returning home. The Only Garden residents proper were now Li Wan, Tan-chun and Xi-chun. Grandmother Jia had wanted the three of them to move in with her, but with Yuan-chun’s death and all the subsequent family excitements of one kind or another, she had not been able to find time to make the necessary arrangements; and now the weather was growing warmer daily and the Garden was beginning to seem less dreary, so she decided to leave things as they were until the autumn. But we anticipate.

*

Jia Zheng had set off for his new provincial posting, travelling by day and resting by night, accompanied by the various aides and secretaries he had engaged before his departure. On his arrival at the provincial capital, he reported to his superiors and immediately pro?ceeded to his new yamen to take ceremonial possession of the official seal and to assume office. His first administrative action was to take stock of the grain lying in all the granaries of the sub-prefectures and shires under his jurisdiction.
Jia Zheng’s previous experience as an official had been mainly in the capital, and had been restricted moreover to the theoretical aspects of the metropolitan bureaucracy. His one provincial appointment had been as an Examiner, and his responsibilities then were of a purely academic nature. He therefore had no first-hand knowledge of the practicalities of provincial administration, let alone of the forms of corruption widely tolerated – the cuts taken by middlemen, or the extortion practised on the ignorant peasantry, to mention but two. He knew of such things in theory only, as evils to be avoided, and was adamant that his would be an incorruptible administration. On arrival he consulted with his private secretaries and issued a public notice strictly forbidding malpractice of any kind, and announcing that any instance of it would be investigated and reported to the authorities.
At first the locally employed clerks were overawed and tried their utmost to ingratiate themselves with the new incumbent, only to discover that the man they were dealing with was totally inflexible. As for Jia Zheng’s family servants, they, after years of unprofitable service in the capital, had rubbed their hands with glee at the news of their master’s provincial posting and, on the strength of their anti?cipated profits, had borrowed money to buy clothes and equip them?selves in a manner befitting their new station. Money would fall into the laps of a Grain Intendant’s staff. Or so they had assumed. But now all their plans were being foiled by their master’s blind insistence on enforcing the regulations to the last letter and by his obstinate refusal to accept a single one of the bribes offered by the sub-prefects and magistrates.
The porter, head clerk and other local staff in the yamen made a few mental calculations:
‘If this lasts another fortnight, we’ll have pawned all our clothes, and our creditors will start to press for payment; what will we do then? There’s good money staring us in the face out there, if we could only lay our hands on it!’
When these locals voiced their concern to the newly arrived staff whom Jia Zheng had personally recruited in the capital, they met with an indignant response:
‘You haven’t staked your last penny on this venture – we’re the ones that should be complaining, not you! We paid money to get our jobs, and here we are after more than a month with nothing to show for it. At this rate we won’t break even. We might as well hand in our notices tomorrow.’
Which is exactly what they did. The following day they went in a body and tendered their resignations to a bewildered Jia Zheng, who commented somewhat naively:
‘Very well. You were free to come. You are free to return. If you find it uncongenial here, please feel under no obligation to stay.’
This group went grumbling on their way. The family servants next held a council of war among themselves:
‘It’s all very well for them. They’re free to go. But what about us? We can’t leave even if we want to.’
Among these servants was a porter by the name of Li Shi (Ten), who soon took a prominent part in the debate.
‘You chickens!’ he scoffed. ‘Don’t be so helpless! While that “contract” mob was here I wasn’t going to say anything; but now that they’ve pushed off I don’t mind showing you a trick or two! I’ll soon have that Master of ours eating out of the palm of my hand! But you’ve got to back me up. Stick together, and we can all go home with our pockets full. Of course, if you’d rather keep out of this, that’s all right by me. I can manage. I can get the better of you lot any day!’
‘Come on, Ten old mate! We’re depending on you!’ groaned the others. ‘You know you’re the one the Master trusts. If you won’t help us, we’re done for!’
‘All right. But you’ve got to trust me too. Don’t leave me to do all the dirty work and bring in the money, and then turn on me and say I’ve taken more than my fair share.’
‘No chance of that. You know we’re broke. Anything’s better than nothing.’
As they were speaking, the granary clerk came in, and asked for Mr Zhou. Ten, who was lounging complacently in a chair with one foot propped on his other knee and his chest puffed out, asked him what his business was with Mr Zhou. The clerk stood to attention with his hands at his sides and smiled uneasily.
‘The new Intendant has been in office more than a month now,’ he replied, ‘but not a single granary’s been opened to take in the tax-grain. The local magistrates have been made to feel uncomfortable by all his stern pronouncements. They’ve been quite put off from entering into the usual – how shall I put it? – negotiations. Now, if the grain is not going to be taken in and delivered on time, what’s the point of your being here at all?’
‘What a ridiculous question!’ said Ten. ‘Our Master the Intendant is a man of his word. Of course he’ll meet his commitments. As a matter of fact he was about to issue the Reminders a couple of days ago, but on my advice they were postponed. Now, tell me what you really wanted to see Zhou about?’
Clerk: ‘Oh, that was it … the Reminders. Nothing else ..’
Ten: ‘Nonsense! Don’t try to fool me with that, my lad! And don’t come sneaking in here with any nifty little plans, or I’ll tell the Intendant to beat you and take your job away.’
Clerk: ‘My family has served in this yamen for three generations; I’ve got a decent position here, I manage to make an honest living. I don’t mind going by the book until this Intendant gets promoted and moved somewhere else. I’m not like that beggarly lot who’ve just left.’
He took formal leave of Li Ten:
‘I’d best be going now, sir.’
Ten stood up, all smiles:
‘Come on now, can’t you take a joke? No need to get rattled by a few words ..’
‘I’m not rattled. I just don’t want to say anything that might compromise you, sir.’
Ten walked over to the clerk and took him confidentially by the hand:
‘Tell me, what’s your name?’
‘Zhan Hui,(* Homophone for ‘bribery’) sir,’ replied the clerk nervously. ‘I spent quite a few years up in the capital myself when I was a boy.’
‘Mr Zhan! Why, of course! I’ve heard of you. Come now, we’re all in this together. If there’s something you want to talk to me about, why not drop by this evening and we can have a nice little chat.’
‘We all know how capable you are, Mr Li,’ replied the clerk aloud, with a sigh of relief. ‘Why, you really had me worried there for a minute!’
He left amidst general laughter.
That evening Zhan returned and he and Li were closeted together deep into the night. The next day, when Li found some pretext to call on Jia Zheng, and hinted at some of the ‘measures’ he had in mind, predictably he received a stern reprimand.
The following day, Jia Zheng was due to pay a formal visit in the town, and he issued orders for his retinue to make themselves ready. A considerable interval of time elapsed, and the gong in the inner yamen was struck three times, but still there was no sign of anyone to beat the drum in the main hall. Someone was finally found to perform this duty, and Jia Zheng came walking out of his private chambers with measured stride, to find that there was only one attendant waiting for him, instead of the usual team of runners and criers. Resolving not to pursue this dereliction for the time being, Jia Zheng stepped into the sedan at the foot of the terrace and waited for his chair-bearers. Another long interval elapsed before these had all assembled and were ready to carry him out of the yamen, and the Intendant’s solemn departure was then announced by a single feeble report from the cannon, while a grand total of two members of the ceremonial band, a drummer and a bugler, put in a forlorn appearance on the bandstand. Jia Zheng was now extremely annoyed.
‘Things have been in perfect order until today. What’s the meaning of this shambles?’
His insignia-bearers, such as they were, straggled across the road in an unseemly fashion. Jia Zheng concluded his visit as best he could, and immediately upon his return summoned the defaulters and threatened them with a flogging. Some pleaded that they had been unable to attend because they lacked the requisite headgear, others that they had been forced to pawn their uniforms, while some claimed that they had not eaten for three days and were therefore too weak for heavy carrying duties. Jia Zheng vented his anger on them verbally, ordered a couple of them to be flogged and left it at that.
The next day the chief cook came asking for more money, and Jia Zheng had to provide him with some of the personal reserve he had brought with him from home. From then on, one such incident followed another and it soon became apparent that most departments of his provincial yamen were in total disarray. In the end he was driven to send for Porter Li, and asked him outright:
‘What’s come over my staff? You must try to instil some sense of discipline in them. And another thing: my reserve of cash has run out, and it will be some time before my salary arrives from the Pro?vincial Treasurer’s office, so we shall have to send home for extra funds.’
‘I’ve had words with the staff almost every day, sir,’ replied Li. ‘But I can’t do a thing with them. They seem to have lost all interest in their work. Gone to pieces, sir. As for the money, may I ask how much you will be requiring? I understand the Viceroy has a birthday coming up in a few days’ time, and the Prefects and Circuit Intendants are mostly giving four-figure donations. How much will you be sending, sir?’
Jia Zheng: ‘You should have told me of this earlier.’
Li: ‘With respect, sir, it’s the fault of the local mandarins. They’ve not kept you informed. It’s because we’re new here and haven’t made any effort to get to know them. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had an eye on your job and were even hoping you would fail to attend the Viceroy’s birthday altogether, sir …’
Jia Zheng: ‘That’s preposterous! I was appointed by His Majesty. I am hardly to be relieved of my post for not attending the Viceroy’s birthday!’
Li (with a smile): ‘That’s all very well, sir. The trouble is that with the capital such a long way off, His Majesty relies on the Viceroy for all his information. If the Viceroy speaks ill of a person, there’s not much hope of that person being able to defend himself, whatever the truth might he. Now I’m sure Her Old Ladyship and Their Ladyships want to see you do well for yourself here ..
Jia Zheng began to see what he was driving at:
‘Why couldn’t you have said all this before?’
Li: ‘At first I didn’t dare, sir. Seeing that you asked me, it would have been wrong of me not to speak up. But I’m sure what I’ve got to say is only going to make you angry.’
Jia Zheng: ‘Not if it is reasonable. Go on.’
Li: ‘Well, sir: the truth of the matter is that the staff in a Grain Intendant’s yamen expect to make a bit on the side. Your clerks and runners have all paid money for their jobs. They’ve got families to look after and livings to earn. And so far as they’re concerned, sir, since you’ve been here, all you’ve done is set the local people grum?bling.’
Jia Zheng: ‘What do you mean? Grumbling about what?’
Li: ‘The way the locals see it is quite simple. Officials all behave like that when they first arrive. The stricter they sound, the more certain it is that they’re on the squeeze, trying to browbeat the mandarins working in the district. When the time comes for the tax-grain to be collected, the yamen staff will repeat your instructions, they’ll swear that they’re not allowed to take a penny; and it will only mean a lot of unnecessary trouble and delay for the country people, who’d much rather have things the old way – pay up a bit and get the whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible. So, in short, instead of speaking well of you, they just complain that you haven’t understood their situation.
‘Look at that smart relation of yours, sir – that Mr Jia Yu-cun you’ve always been so friendly with. In a few years he’s done very well for himself, and all because he’s shrewd. He’s got a good sense of what’s what in the world, he knows how to handle his superiors and staff and how to keep everything running smoothly …’
Jia Zheng: ‘This is ridiculous! Are you suggesting that I possess no such sense? Harmony is one thing: but I draw the line at col?lusion!’
Li: ‘It’s only my concern for you that causes me to speak my mind, sir. If I stand by and let you carry on like this, if I don’t even warn you and if your career is ruined as a result, you’ll think very poorly of me.’
Jia Zheng: ‘Well: what precisely are you suggesting?’
Li: ‘My advice is to take immediate action; do the sensible thing, secure your own interests now, while you’re in your prime and still in favour at court, and while Her Old Ladyship still enjoys good health. Otherwise, before the year’s out, you may find you’ve used all your own funds to cover official expenses. No one in the government service will have the slightest sympathy for you then. No one will believe that you’re poor. They’ll all think that you’re sitting on a secret pile of money; and if anything goes wrong, none of them will come forward to help you. You’ll find it impossible to clear yourself, and by then it’ll be too late to wish you’d followed my advice.’
Jia Zheng: ‘In short, what you are saying is that I must allow myself to be corrupted! The consequences for myself of such a de?reliction of duty, even death itself, I consider as nothing compared with the disgrace that would tarnish my family’s honour.’
Li: ‘You’re a wise man, sir. If it’s family honour you’re bothered about, then think back for a moment to that group of officials who got themselves into such disgrace a few years ago; good friends of yours they were, good men, men you used to call “above corruption”. Where’s their family honour now? But certain other relatives of yours, men you used to call “downright rogues”, have done very well for themselves, gone from strength to strength. What’s been their secret? They just knew how to adapt. You’ve got to look after the common people, but you’ve got to look after the local mandarins as well. If your ideas came into general fashion and the shire or district man?darins were strictly forbidden to take even the tiniest squeeze, why, nothing would ever get done in the provinces!
‘You keep things respectable on the outside, and leave all the inside work to me. I’ll manage things so you don’t have to be personally involved. I am only trying to be helpful, sir. It’s the least I owe you after being with you all these years.
Jia Zheng hesitated. ‘I suppose I too must look to my own sur?vival,’ he said in the end. ‘Do whatever you must. But I will play no part in it.
He walked stiffly back into his private chambers.
Li Ten now came into his own and began to implement his plans with a vengeance. He had soon organized, behind Jia Zheng’s back, an elaborate squeeze Operation involving yamen staff and local mandarins. On the surface, day-to-day business in the yamen began running smoothly again, so smoothly that Jia Zheng allowed himself to set his mind at rest and, far from suspecting that anything was amiss, put absolute faith in Li. Any irregularities reported to his superiors were discounted by them in view of Jia Zheng’s record for scrupulous honesty. His private secretaries had a shrewder idea of what was going on and tried to caution him. When he refused to listen, some of them resigned, others decided to stay on for friendship’s sa ke. Thus it was that the tax-grain for that year was eventually collected and shipped to the capital without any apparent mishap.

*

One day, in one of his free moments, Jia Zheng was sitting in his study reading, when the chief clerk sent in a letter. It bore an official seal and the superscription:

From the Commandant of Haimen and surrounding Coastal Region
To the Yamen of the Kiangsi Grain Intendant
By Express Delivery

Jia Zheng opened the envelope and examined its contents:

Honoured Sir,
Last year when duty called me to the capital, I was privileged, on the strength of our common Nanking origin, to enjoy your hospitality on a number of occasions. At that time you graciously favoured my suggestion that the connection between our two families be further strengthened by a matrimonial alliance. I have since then had this constantly in the forefront of my mind, but was reluctant to press the matter after my transfer to maritime defence in this remote region. That circumstances should have put such an obstacle in the way of our plans has been a source of great regret to me. Now that the light of your noble presence illumines these southern skies, however, that obstacle has been removed. I had been thinking to write and send you my felicitations, when I received your letter.
From his bivouac an old soldier raises his hand in humble salute! Even on these distant shores, I feel myself basking in the genial warmth of your benevolence.
Dare I hope for your consent if I now propose this alliance once more? My son was favoured, I recall, with your gracious approval, and we have long anticipated the great joy that your daughter’s charming presence would bring to our household.
If you are kind enough to confirm your acceptance, I shall despatch a go-between without delay. Though the journey is a long one for your daughter, it can he accomplished by boat. And though I cannot offer much in the way of pomp and ceremony, I can at least send a suitably furnished barge to receive her.
This brief missive carries my most sincere congratulations on your new appointment. In eager anticipation of your favourable response, believe me to be, honoured sir, your most humble and respectful servant,
Zhou Qiong.

‘Fate seems indeed to play a decisive role in affairs of matrimony,’ reflected Jia Zheng to himself after perusing the letter. ‘I do remember suggesting this betrothal last year. There seemed to be several factors in its favour: Zhou was taking up an appointment in the capital, he and I were old friends and both from Nanking families, and his son was a good-looking enough young man. It was only a casual suggestion, and I never mentioned it at home. Afterwards he was transferred to Maritime Defence and the matter was dropped. And yet now an unforeseeable stroke of fate has sent me here to the provinces, and Zhou has broached the subject once more. Theirs seems a suitable family, and I think it would be a good match for Tan-chun. But I am here on my own, and I shall have to write home to consult them first.’
He was still deliberating, when one of the gate-attendants came in with an official despatch summoning him to a conference with the Viceroy, and he had to set out at once for the Viceroy’s seat. After his arrival there, he was awaiting further instructions and sitting in his temporary lodgings, idly leafing through a pile of Peking Gazettes that lay on the table, when his eye was caught by a report from the Board of Punishments:
‘In the case of Xue Pan, travelling on business, registered domicile Nanking…’
‘Good heavens!’ exclaimed Jia Zheng in some alarm. ‘Have they memorialized already?’
He read on more carefully. The gist of the report was that Xue Pan, having killed Zhang San ‘in an affray’, had connived with the relatives of the deceased and other eyewitnesses to get himself off on a charge of ‘accidental homicide’. Jia Zheng brought his hand down with a thump on the table.
‘He’s done for!’
He read the report through to the end:

The Metropolitan Govemor has forwarded the following abstract of the case:
Xue Pan of Nanking, while travelling through the town of Tal-ping, stayed at Li’s Inn. One of the waiters employed by Gaffer Li the proprietor was a certain Zhang San, with whom Xue was not previously acquainted. On the __ day of the __month of the year __ , Xue Pan placed an order with the proprietor for some wine, as he had invited Wu Liang (a native of Tai-ping) to drink with him. When his guest came, he sent the waiter Zhang San to bring them the wine. The wine was sour, and Xue Pan told him to replace it with something better. Zhang San argued that since that
particular wine had been ordered, it was impossible to change it. Xue Pan considered Zhang’s behaviour insolent and raised his cup to throw the wine in his face. Unfortunately he exerted too much force and the cup slipped from his hand just as Zhang lowered his head to retrieve a chopstick from the ground. The cup struck Zhang on the top of the head, there was a substantial loss of blood, and he died shortly afterwards. Gaffer Li hurried to the scene but was too late to be of any help. He informed Mrs Zhang, nee Wang, the deceased’s mother, who came to the inn only to find her son already dead. She called out the beadle and brought a plaint at the local yamen. The then acting magistrate held an inquest and the coroner completed the usual certificate. Two crucial facts were, however, omitted: first, that the bregmatic fracture was one and one-third inches long; and second, that Zhang had also sustained injuries in the small of the back. The case was then sent up to the prefectural yamen, where it was confirmed that Xue Pan had only intended to throw the wine, that the cup had slipped from his hand, and that he had therefore accidentally caused the death of Zhang San. He was dealt with according to the law relating to Accidental Homicide, and permitted to pay a fine in commutation.
The Board has investigated the evidence given by the accused, by the various eyewitnesses and by the relatives of the deceased, and has found it to be inconsistent. It has also consulted the detailed provisions of the code relating to homicide, wherein a fight is defined as a ‘struggle between two persons’, and an affray as a ‘struggle in which the parties strike one another’. There must be no evidence of such a fight or struggle if the offence is to be classified as accidental homicide. The case was therefore handed back to the office of the Metropolitan Governor to establish the exact facts, on the basis of which a final recommendation for sentence could be reached.
This is the substance of the Governor’s final findings: Xue Pan was already intoxicated when Zhang San refused to replace the wine. Seizing Zhang by the tight hand, he struck him in the small of the back. Whereupon Zhang began to abuse Xue Pan, who then hurled his wine cup at him, inflicting a severe wound on his skull. The bone was fractured, causing damage to the brain and immediate death. In other words, Zhang’s death was directly caused by the force with which Xue Pan threw the cup. Xue Pan should therefore pay for this crime with his life. In accordance with the code relating to Homicide by Blows, he should be kept in custody until the Assizes, and then executed by strangulation. Wu Liang should be flogged and sentenced to penal servitude.
The Prefectural, Shire and District Magistrates implicated in this miscar?riage of Justice should be dealt with as follows …

The report broke off at this point with the note ‘To be continued’.
Jia Zheng reflected that it was he who, at Aunt Xue’s request, had brought pressure to bear on the local magistrate to reverse the verdict in Xue Pan’s case. If that magistrate had now been cashiered, and an enquiry had been held, he could be implicated himself. It was very worrying. He read through the next issue of the Gazette, but there was no further mention of the case. He searched through all the remaining issues without being able to find the conclusion of the report. He began to feel more and more uneasy, and was deep in thought when Li Ten came in and said:
‘Will you please proceed to the yamen to attend on the Viceroy, sir? His attendants have already beaten the drum twice.’
Jia Zheng was miles away and heard none of this. Li had to repeat himself.
‘What can I do?’ muttered Jia Zheng to himself.
‘Is something the matter, sir?’ asked Li.
Jia Zheng confided to Li his anxiety about the report in the Gazette.
‘Don’t you worry too much about that, sir,’ said Li. ‘In fact, if you ask me, Mr Xue was quite lucky. Back in the capital I heard that he invited a lot of women along to that very inn and that they were all there together getting drunk and causing quite a rumpus on the very evening when he beat this waiter to death. And I heard that the local mandarin was not the only one to do the family a favour. Apparently Mr Lian spent a small fortune on the case, and sent bribes to every yamen concerned, to try to get Mr Pan off. It’s funny the Board hasn’t mentioned that in its report. I suppose in one way it’s only to be expected. Now this affair has come to light, the people involved must all be busy covering up for each other. They’re trying to sweep the whole thing under the carpet. They want to make it seem like a minor case of negligence. Then the worst that can happen to them is that they’ll lose their jobs. They’d never want to admit to bribes being taken. Much too serious. Don’t you worry about this one, sir, I’ll get hold of the inside story. We’d best not keep the Viceroy waiting any longer ..’.
‘You don’t understand,’ said Jia Zheng. ‘It’s the local magistrate I feel sorry for. For doing us this favour, he has forfeited his job. And that may not even be the end of it for him.’
‘It won’t do any good worrying about him, sir,’ said Li. ‘Your attendants have been waiting for a long time. You’d best be going in to see the Viceroy now, sir.’
To learn what it was the Viceroy wanted of Jia Zheng, please read the next chapter.

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