第14回 林如海灵返苏州郡 贾宝玉路谒北静王

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    第14回 林如海灵返苏州郡 贾宝玉路谒北静王

    第十四回  林如海灵返苏州郡 贾宝玉路谒北静王 
    
        话说宁国府中都总管赖升闻知里面委请了凤姐,因传齐同事人等,说道: 
     “如今请了西府里琏二奶奶管理内事,倘或他来支取东西,或是说话,小心 
    伺候才好。每日大家早来晚散,宁可辛苦这一个月,过后再歇息,别把老脸 
    面扔了。那是个有名的烈货,脸酸心硬,一时恼了不认人的!”众人都道:“说 
    的是。”又有一个笑道:“论理,我们里头也得他来整治整治,都忒不象了。” 
    正说着,只见来旺媳妇拿了对牌来领呈文经文榜纸,票上开着数目。众人连 
    忙让坐倒茶,一面命人按数取纸。来旺抱着同来旺媳妇一路来至仪门,方交 
    与来旺媳妇自己抱进去了。 
        凤姐即命彩明钉造册簿,即时传了赖升媳妇,要家口花名册查看,又限 
    明日一早传齐家人媳妇进府听差。大概点了一点数目单册,问了赖升媳妇几 
    句话,便坐车回家。至次日卯正二刻,便过来了。那宁国府中老婆媳妇早已 
    到齐,只见凤姐和赖升媳妇分派众人执事,不敢擅入,在窗外打听。听见凤 
    姐和赖升媳妇道:“既托了我,我就说不得要讨你们嫌了。我可比不得你们 
    奶奶好性儿,诸事由得你们。再别说你们 ‘这府里原是这么样’的话,如今 
    可要依着我行。错我一点儿,管不得谁是有脸的,谁是没脸的,一例清白处 
    治。”说罢,便吩咐彩明念花名册,按名一个一个叫进来看视。一时看完, 
    又吩咐道:“这二十个分作两班,一班十个,每日在内单管亲友来往倒茶, 
    别的事不用管。这二十个也分作两班,每日单管本家亲戚茶饭,也不管别的 
    事。这四十个人也分作两班,单在灵前上香、添油、挂幔,守灵、供饭、供 
    茶、随起举哀,也不管别的事。这四个人专在内茶房收管杯碟茶器,要少了 
    一件,四人分赔。这四个人单管酒饭器皿,少一件也是分赔。这八个人单管 
    收祭礼。这八个单管各处灯油、蜡烛、纸札,我一总支了来,交给你们八个 
    人,然后按我的数儿往各处分派。这二十个每日轮流各处上夜,照管门户, 
    监察火烛,打扫地方。这下剩的按房分开,某人守某处,某处所有桌椅古玩 
    起,至于痰盒掸子等物,一草一苗,或丢或坏,就问这看守的赔补。赖升家 
    的每日揽总查看,或有偷懒的,赌钱吃酒打架拌嘴的,立刻拿了来回我。你 
    要徇情,叫我查出来,三四辈子的老脸,就顾不成了。如今都有了定规,以 
    后那一行乱了,只和那一行算账。素日跟我的人,随身俱有钟表,不论大小 
    事,都有一定的时刻。横竖你们上房里也有时辰钟:卯正二刻我来点卯;巳 
    正吃早饭;凡有领牌回事,只在午初二刻;戌初烧过黄昏纸,我亲到各处查 
    一遍,回来上夜的交明钥匙。第二日还是卯正二刻过来。说不得咱们大家辛 
    苦这几日罢,事完了你们大爷自然赏你们。” 
        说毕,又吩咐按数发茶叶、油烛、鸡毛掸子、笤帚等物,一面又搬取家 
    伙:桌围、椅搭、坐褥、毡席、痰盒、脚踏之类。一面交发,一面提笔登记, 
    某人管某处,某人领物件,开的十分清楚。众人领了去,也都有了投奔,不 
    似先时只拣便宜的做,剩下苦差没个招揽。各房中也不能趁乱迷失东西。便 
    是人来客往,也都安静了,不比先前紊乱无头绪:一切偷安窃取等弊,一概 
    都蠲了。 
        凤姐自己威重令行,心中十分得意。因见尤氏犯病,贾珍也过于悲哀, 
    不大进饮食,自己每日从那府中熬了各样细粥,精美小菜,令人送过来。贾 
    珍也另外咐咐每日送上等菜到抱厦内,单预备凤姐。凤姐不畏勤劳,天天按 
    时刻过来,点卯理事,独在抱厦内起坐,不与众妯娌合群,便有女眷来往也 
    不迎送。 
        这日乃五七正五日上,那应佛僧正开方破狱,传灯照亡,参阎君,拘都 
    鬼,延请地藏王,开金桥,引幢幡;那道士们正伏章申表,朝三清,叩玉帝; 
    神僧们行香,放焰口,拜水忏;又有十二众青年尼僧,搭绣衣,靸红鞋, 
    在灵前默诵接引诸咒:十分热闹。那凤姐知道今日的客不少,寅正便起来梳 
    洗。及收拾完备,更衣盥手,喝了几口奶子,漱口已毕,正是卯正二刻了。 
    来旺媳妇率领众人伺候已久。凤姐出至厅前,上了车,前面一对明角灯,上 
    写“荣国府”三个大字。来至宁府大门首,门灯朗挂,两边一色绰灯,照如 
    白昼,白汪汪穿孝家人两行侍立。请车至正门上,小厮退去,众媳妇上来揭 
    起车帘。凤姐下了车,一手扶着丰儿,两个媳妇执着手把灯照着,撮拥凤姐 
    进来。宁府诸媳妇迎着请安。凤姐款步入会芳园中登仙阁灵前,一见棺材, 
    那眼泪恰似断线之珠,滚将下来。院中多少小厮垂手侍立,伺候烧纸。凤姐 
    吩咐一声:“供茶烧纸。”只听一棒锣鸣,诸乐齐奏,早有人请过一张大圈椅 
    来,放在灵前。凤姐坐下,放声大哭,于是里外上下男女接声嚎哭。 
        贾珍、尤氏忙令人劝止,凤姐才止住了哭。来旺媳妇倒茶漱口毕,方起 
    身,别了族中诸人,自入抱厦来,按名查点。各项人数,俱已到齐,只有迎 
    送亲友上的一人未到,即令传来。那人惶恐,凤姐冷笑道:“原来是你误了! 
    你比他们有体面,所以不听我的话!”那人回道:“奴才天天都来的早,只有 
    今儿来迟了一步,求奶奶饶过初次。”正说着,只见荣国府中的王兴媳妇来 
    了,往里探头儿。凤姐且不发放这人,却问:“王兴媳妇来作什么?”王兴 
    家的近前说:“领牌取线,打车轿网络。”说着将帖儿递上,凤姐令彩明念道: 
     “大轿两顶,小轿四顶,车四辆,共用大小络子若干根,每根用珠儿线若干 
    斤。”凤姐听了数目相合,便命彩明登记,取荣国府对牌发下。王兴家的去 
    了。 
        凤姐方欲说话,只见荣国府的四个执事人进来,都是支取东西领牌的, 
    凤姐命他们要了帖念过,听了一共四件,因指两件道:“这个开销错了,再 
    算清了来领。”说着将帖子摔下来。他二人扫兴而去。凤姐因见张材家的在 
    旁,便问:“你有什么事?”张材家的忙取帖子回道:“就是方才车轿围子做 
    成,领取裁缝工银若干两。”凤姐听了,收了帖子,命彩明登记;待王兴交 
    过,得了买办的回押相符,然后与张材家的去领。一面又命念那一件,是为 
    宝玉外书房完竣,支领买纸料糊裱,凤姐听了,即命收帖儿登记,待张材家 
    的缴清再发。 
        凤姐便说道:“明儿他也来迟了,后儿我也来迟了,将来都没有人了。 
    本来要饶你,只是我头一次宽了,下次就难管别人了,不如开发了好。”登 
    时放下脸来,叫:“带出去打他二十板子!”众人见凤姐动怒,不敢怠慢,拉 
    出去照数打了,进来回覆。凤姐又掷下宁府对牌:“说与赖升,革他一个月 
    的钱粮。”吩咐:“散了罢。”众人方各自办事去了。那被打的也含羞饮泣而 
    去。彼时荣宁两处领牌交牌人往来不绝,凤姐又一一开发了。于是宁府中人 
    才知凤姐利害,自此俱各兢兢业业,不敢偷安,不在话下。 
        如今且说宝玉因见人众,恐秦钟受委曲,遂同他往凤姐处坐坐。凤姐正 
    吃饭,见他们来了,笑道:“好长腿子,快上来罢。”宝玉道:“我们偏了。” 
    凤姐道:“在这边外头吃的,还是那边吃的?”宝玉道:“同那些浑人吃什么! 
    还是那边跟着老太太吃了来的。”说着,一面归坐。 
        凤姐饭毕,就有宁府一个媳妇来领牌,为支取香灯,凤姐笑道:“我算 
    着你今儿该来支取,想是忘了。要终久忘了,自然是你包出来,都便宜了我。” 
    那媳妇笑道:“何尝不是忘了,方才想起来,再迟一步也领不成了。”说毕, 
    领牌而去。一时登记交牌,秦钟因笑道:“你们两府里都是这牌,倘别人私 
    造一个,支了银子去,怎么好?”凤姐笑道:“依你说,都没王法了!”宝玉 
    因道:“怎么咱们家没人来领牌子支东西?”凤姐道:“他们来领的时候,你 
    还做梦呢。我且问你,你们多早晚才念夜书呢?”宝玉道:“巴不得今日就 
    念才好。只是他们不快给收拾书房,也是没法儿。”凤姐笑道:“你请我请儿, 
    包管就快了。”宝玉道:“你也不中用,他们该做到那里的时候,自然有了。” 
    凤姐道:“就是他们做也得要东西,搁不住我不给对牌,是难的。”宝玉听说, 
    便猴向凤姐身上立刻要牌,说:“好姐姐,给他们牌,好支东西去收拾。”凤 
    姐道:“我乏的身上生疼,还搁的住你这么揉搓?你放心罢,今儿才领了裱 
    糊纸去了,他们该要的还等叫去呢,可不傻了?”宝玉不信,凤姐便叫彩明 
    查册子给他看。 
        正闹着,人来回:“苏州去的昭儿来了。”凤姐急命叫进来。昭儿打千儿 
    请安。凤姐便问:“回来做什么?”昭儿道:“二爷打发回来的。林姑老爷是 
    九月初三巳时没的。二爷带了林姑娘同送林姑老爷的灵到苏州,大约赶年底 
    回来。二爷打发奴才来报个信儿请安,讨老太太的示下。还瞧瞧奶奶家里好, 
    叫把大毛衣裳带几件去。”凤姐道:“你见过别人了没有?”昭儿道:“都见 
    过了。”说毕,连忙退出。凤姐向宝玉笑道:“你林妹妹可在咱们家住长了。” 
    宝玉道:“了不得,想来这几日他不知哭的怎么样呢!”说着蹙眉长叹。 
        凤姐见昭儿回来,因当着人不及细问贾琏,心中七上八下,待要回去, 
    奈事未毕,少不得耐到晚上回来,又叫进昭儿来,细问一路平安。连夜打点 
    大毛衣服,和平儿亲自检点收拾,再细细追想所需何物,一并包裹交给昭儿。 
    又细细儿的吩咐昭儿:“在外好生小心些伏侍,别惹你二爷生气。时常劝他 
    少喝酒,别勾引他认得混账女人,——我知道了,回来打折了你的腿!”昭 
    儿笑着答应出去。那时天已四更,睡下,不觉早又天明,忙梳洗过宁府来。 
        那贾珍因见发引日近,亲自坐车,带了阴阳生往铁槛寺来踏看寄灵之所。 
    又一一嘱咐住持色空好生预备新鲜陈设,多请名僧,以备接灵使用。色空忙 
    备晚斋。贾珍也无心茶饭,因天晚不及进城,就在净室胡乱歇了一夜。次日 
    一早,赶忙的进城来料理出殡之事,一面又派人先往铁槛寺,连夜另外修饰 
    停灵之处,并厨茶等项,接灵人口。 
        凤姐见发引日期在迩,也预先逐细分派料理,一面又派荣府中车轿人从 
    跟王夫人送殡,又顾自己送殡去占下处。目今正值缮国公诰命亡故,邢王二 
    夫人又去吊祭送殡;西安郡妃华诞,送寿礼;又有胞兄王仁连家眷回南,一 
    面写家信并带往之物;又兼迎春染疾,每日请医服药,看医生的启帖,讲论 
    症源,斟酌药案。各事冗杂,亦难尽述,因此忙的凤姐茶饭无心,坐卧不宁。 
    到了宁府里,这边荣府的人跟着;回到荣府里,那边宁府的人又跟着。凤姐 
    虽然如此之忙,只因素性好胜,惟恐落人褒贬,故费尽精神,筹划的十分整 
    齐,于是合族中上下无不称叹。 
        这日伴宿之夕,亲朋满座,尤氏犹卧于内室,一切张罗款待,都是凤姐 
    一人周全承应。合族中虽有许多妯娌,也有言语钝拙的,也有举止轻浮的, 
    也有羞口羞脚不惯见人的,也有惧贵怯官的,越显得凤姐洒爽风流,典则俊 
    雅,真是“万绿丛中一点红”了,那里还把众人放在眼里?挥霍指示,任其 
    所为。那一夜中灯明火彩,客送官迎,百般热闹自不用说。至天明吉时,一 
    般六十四名青衣请灵,前面铭旌上大书:“诰封一等宁国公冢孙妇防护内廷 
    紫禁道御前侍卫龙禁尉享强寿贾门秦氏宜人之灵柩。”一应执事陈设,皆系 
    现赶新做出来的,一色光彩夺目。宝珠自行未嫁女之礼,摔丧驾灵,十分哀 
    苦。 
        那时官客送殡的,有镇国公牛清之孙现袭一等伯牛继宗,理国公柳彪之 
    孙现袭一等子柳芳,齐国公陈翼之孙世袭三品威镇将军陈瑞文,治国公马魁 
    之孙世袭三品威远将军马尚德,修国公侯晓明之孙世袭一等子侯孝康,—— 
    缮国公诰命亡故,其孙石光珠守孝不得来,——这六家与荣宁二家,当日所 
    称“八公”的便是。馀者更有南安郡王之孙,西宁郡王之孙,忠靖侯史鼎, 
    平原侯之孙世袭二等男蒋子宁,定城侯之孙世袭二等男兼京营游击谢鲲,襄 
    阳侯之孙世袭二等男戚建辉,景田侯之孙五城兵马司裘良。馀者锦乡伯公子 
    韩奇、神武将军公子冯紫英、陈也俊、卫若兰等,诸王孙公子,不可枚数。 
    堂客也共有十来顶大轿,三四十顶小轿,连家下大小轿子车辆,不下百十余 
    乘。连前面各色执事陈设,接连一带摆了有三四里远。 
        走不多时,路上彩棚高搭,设席张筵,和音奏乐,俱是各家路祭:第一 
    棚是东平郡王府的祭,第二棚是南安郡王的祭,第三棚是西宁郡王的祭,第 
    四棚便是北静郡王的祭。原来这四王,当日惟北静王功最高,及今子孙犹袭 
    王爵。现今北静王世荣年未弱冠,生得美秀异常,性情谦和。近闻宁国府冢 
    孙妇告殂,因想当日彼此祖父有相与之情,同难同荣,因此不以王位自居, 
    前日也曾探丧吊祭,如今又设了路奠,命麾下的各官在此伺候。自己五更入 
    朝,公事一毕,便换了素服,坐着大轿,鸣锣张伞而来,到了棚前落轿,手 
    下各官两旁拥侍,军民人众不得往还。 
        一时只见宁府大殡浩浩荡荡,压地银山一般从北而至。早有宁府开路传 
    事人报与贾珍,贾珍急命前面执事扎住,同贾赦贾政三人连忙迎上来,以国 
    礼相见。北静王轿内欠身,含笑答礼,仍以世交称呼接待,并不自大。贾珍 
    道:“犬妇之丧,累蒙郡驾下临,荫生辈何以克当。”北静王笑道:“世交至 
    谊,何出此言。”遂回头令长府官主祭代奠。贾赦等一旁还礼,复亲身来谢。 
    北静王十分谦逊。因问贾政道:“那一位是衔玉而诞者?久欲一见为快,今 
    日一定在此,何不请来?”贾政忙退下来,命宝玉更衣,领他前来谒见。 
        那宝玉素闻北静王的贤德,且才貌俱全,风流跌宕,不为官俗国体所缚, 
    每思相会,只是父亲拘束,不克如愿。今见反来叫他,自是喜欢。一面走, 
    一面瞥见那北静王坐在轿内,好个仪表。不知近前又是怎样,且听下回分解。

    CHAPTER 14

     

    Lin Ru-hai is conveyed to his last

    resting-place in Soochow

    And Jia Bao-yu is presented to the Prince of

    Bei-jing at a roadside halt

     

    When Lai Sheng, the Chief Steward of the Ning-guo mansion, learned that Xi-feng had been invited to take on the manage­ment of the household, he called his cronies together and addressed them in the following terms:

    ‘Well lads, it seems that they’ve called in Mrs Lian from the other house to run things here for a bit; so if she should happen to come round asking for anything or have occasion to talk to you about anything, be sure to do what she says, won’t you? During this coming month we shall all have to start work a bit earlier and knock off a bit later than usual. If you’ll put up with a little extra hardship just for this month, we can make up for it by taking things easy when it’s over. Anyway, I’m relying on you not to let me down. She’s well known for a sour-faced, hard-hearted bitch is this one, and once she’s got her back up, she’ll give no quarter, no matter who you are. So be careful!’

    There was a chorus of agreement from the rest. One of them did observe, half-jokingly, that ‘by rights they could do with someone like her to straighten things up a bit, consider­ing the state they had got into’. But just at that moment Brightie’s wife arrived on a mission from Xi-feng. She was to take receipt of some ledger-paper, buckram, and book4abels, and had a tally in her hand and a slip of paper specifying the quantities required. The men pressed round her offering her a place to sit and a cup of tea to drink while one of them hurried off with the list to fetch the needed items. Not only that, but, having fetched them, he carried them for her all the way to the inner gate of the mansion, only handing them to her then so that she could take them in to Xi-feng by herself. Xi-feng at once ordered Sunshine to make them up into stout workbooks for use in the office. At the same time she sent for Lai Sheng’s wife and asked her for the register of the household staff. She also told her to get in touch with all the married females on the staff and arrange for them to assemble first thing next morning to be told their new duties. Then, after roughly checking through the numbers in the ‘establishment’ sheet and questioning Lai Sheng’s wife on a few points, she got into her carriage and drove back home.

    At half past six next morning she was back at the Ning-guo mansion. By this time all the married women on the staff had been assembled. Not daring to go in, they hung about outside the window listening to Xi-feng discussing work-plans with Lai Sheng’s wife inside the office. ‘Now that I’m in charge here’, they heard her telling the latter, ‘I won’t promise to make myself agreeable. I haven’t got a sweet temper like your mistress, you know. You won’t find me letting you do every-thing just as it suits you. So don’t let me hear anyone saying “We don’t do it that way here”! From now on, whatever it is, you do it the way I tell you to, and anyone who departs by as much as a hair’s breadth from what I say is for it good and proper, no matter how senior or how important she thinks she is!’

    Having delivered herself of this formidable preliminary she ordered Sunshine to call the roll. One by one the women stepped into the office to be looked at. When she had looked at them all, Xi-feng proceeded to make her dispositions.

    ‘This twenty here. I want you to divide yourselves into two shifts of ten. Your job every day will be to look after lady visitors and serve them tea. That’s all you have to do. Nothing else.

    ‘This twenty here. I want you divided into two shifts like the others. Your job will be serving tea and meals to the family. Nothing else.

    ‘These forty. Again, two shifts. Your job is to look after the shrine: lighting fresh joss-sticks, keeping the lamps in oil, changing the drapes. You will also take turns by the spirit tablet, making offerings of rice and tea, kotowing when the visitors kotow, wailing when they wail. That is your job and nothing else besides.

    ‘You four are to look after the cups and plates and so forth in the ladies’ tea-room. If anything is missing, you share the responsibility between you and a quarter of the cost will be stopped Out of each of your wages.

    ‘You four here are to look after the dinner-ware: bowls, wine-cups and the like. Anything missing will be stopped out of your wages.

    ‘This eight here. I want you to take charge of all funeral offerings sent in from outside.

    ‘This eight. I want you to look after oil, candles, and paper-offerings. I’m going to put the whole lot in your charge; then whenever any is needed somewhere, you must go to wherever it is and supply them with whatever amount I tell you to.

    ‘This twenty here. I want you doing night duty by rota. You are to see that all the gates are locked and keep a look-out for fires. You’ll also be responsible for keeping the outside properly swept.

    ‘The rest of you are to be divided up between the different apartments. Each of you will be responsible for the things in your own apartment, from furniture and antique ware down to spittoons and dusters. If the tiniest sliver gets lost or broken, you will be held responsible and will be expected to make it good.

    ‘Lai Sheng’s wife will make a general inspection every day, and if she catches anyone idling or gambling or drinking or fighting or being difficult, she will at once bring them to me for dealing with. And there will be no favouritism. If I find you’ve done something wrong, I shan’t care whether you’ve been in service here for three or four generations, it will make no difference to me.

    ‘Well, now you all know the rules. Prom now on whenever any trouble occurs I shall know exactly who to hold respon­sible.

    ‘Those who are used to working with me at the other place always have a watch handy, and everything they do, no matter how small a thing it is, is done at a fixed time. You may not have watches, but at least there is a clock in your master’s drawing-room you can look at. So here are the main times to remember. At half past six I shall come over to hear the roll­-call. At ten o’clock I take my lunch. I shall see people with reports to make or tallies to collect up to, but not after, eleven o’clock. At seven in the evening, as soon as the paper-offerings have been burnt, I shall make a personal tour of inspection; and when I get back from it, I shall issue those on night duty with their keys. Then next day I shall be back here again at half past six.

    ‘I dare say we are all going to be a bit overworked during the days ahead, but I am sure your master will want to reward you all for your trouble when this is over.’

    Xi-feng now proceeded to supervise the distribution of supplies of tea, oil, candles, feather-dusters, and brooms to some of her work-parties, and to issue others with table­cloths, chair-covers, cushions, mats, spittoons, footstools, and other furnishings, an entry of the amount supplied being made in the book as each consignment was handed over.

    A clear record now existed of what individuals were in charge of which parts of the household, what items they were responsible for, and what duties they were expected to per­form. Gone now were the days when everyone picked the easiest tasks to do first and the less popular ones never got carried out; gone the convenient disorder in which objects had so easily strayed (no one ever knew how) from the rooms where they belonged. Even with the greatly increased coming and going occasioned by the bereavement, it was quieter now than it had been before, when muddle and confusion still pre­vailed. And the old idling and pilfering appeared to have been eradicated completely. Secure in her authority, respected and obeyed by all, Xi-feng might be forgiven for contemplating her achievement with a certain amount of satisfaction.

    Meanwhile You-shi was still unwell and Cousin Zhen too crushed by his somewhat disproportionate grief to think much about eating and drinking. Xi-feng accordingly had all sorts of invalid slops for You-shi and tempting little delicacies for Cousin Zhen prepared in the kitchens of the Rong-guo man­sion and sent over each day to the prostrate couple. Cousin Zhen reciprocated by instructing his own cooks to prepare dishes of the very highest quality exclusively for Xi-feng and having them carried round to her in her little penthouse office.

    Xi-feng seemed quite tireless in the discharge of her extra duties. Every morning she would be over at the appointed the roll-call and would sit there alone in her office, never once emerging to mix with the young Ning-guo women of her own generation. Even when lady visitors arrived she remained in the office and took no part in their reception.

    The Thirty-fifth had now arrived—an important day in the penitential cycle of seven times seven days preceding the funeral—and the monks in the main hall had reached a particularly dramatic part of their ceremonies. Having opened up a way for the imprisoned souls, the chief celebrant had succeeded by means of spells and incantations in breaking open the gates of hell. He had shone his light (a little hand-mirror) for the souls in darkness. He had confronted Yama, the Judge of the Dead. He had seized the demon torturers who resisted his progress. He had invoked Ksitigarbha, the Saviour King, to aid him. He had raised up a golden bridge, and now, by means of a little flag which he held aloft in one hand, was con­ducting over it those souls from the very deepest pit of hell who still remained undelivered.

    Meanwhile the ninety-nine Taoists in the Celestial Fragrance Pavilion were on their knees offering up a written petition to the Three Pure Ones and calling on the Jade Emperor himself in his heavenly palace. Outside, on their high staging, with swinging of censers and scattering of little cakes for the hungry ghosts to feed on, Zen monks were performing the great Water Penitential. And in the shrine where the coffin stood, six young monks and six young nuns, magnificently attired in scarlet slippers and embroidered copes, sat before the spirit tablet quietly murmuring the dharani that would assist the soul of the dead woman on the most difficult part of its journey into the underworld. Everywhere there was a hum of activity.

    Knowing that the day would be a busy one bringing a greater than usual number of visitors, Xi-feng had risen at four o’clock in the morning to begin her toilet. By the time she had completed it, paid her daily tribute to nature, washed her hands, drunk a few mouthfuls of milk, and rinsed out her mouth, it was already half past six and Brightie’s wife, at the head of the other female domestics, had been waiting for some considerable time in the courtyard outside. At last she emerged and stepped into the waiting carriage. Two horn lanterns inscribed in large characters with the words

     

    RONG-GUO HOUSE

     

    were borne before her as she went.

    The great gate of the Ning-guo mansion was hung with lanterns and there were rows of identical standard lanterns on each side of the gateway illuminating the entrance with the brightness of noonday and eerily emphasizing the whiteness of the mourning-clothes worn by the menservants lined up to receive the carriage. At their invitation it was drawn in through the centremost of the three gates. Then the men-servants retired and Xi-feng’s own women hurried forward and raised the curtain of the carriage for her to descend. She did so, leaning on the shoulder of her maid Felicity, and the two women with the lanterns led her in, lighting the way for her as they went, while her other women closed in behind her and the women of the Ning-guo household advanced to meet her, curtseyed, and chorused their morning greetings. Xi-feng walked slowly through the All-scents Garden until she came to the shrine in the Ascension Pavilion. As soon as she caught sight of the coffin the tears, like pearls from a broken necklace, rolled in great drops down her cheeks. A number of pages were standing stiffly in the courtyard outside awaiting the command to set fire to the paper offerings. Xi-feng gave orders for them to begin and for tea to be offered up inside the shrine. At once there was a clash of cymbals followed by the mournful strains of a funeral band. An arm­chair had already been called for and set down facing the spirit tablet. In this Xi-feng now sat, and raising her voice to a shrill pitch, wept with abandon, whereupon the entire house­hold, high and low, male and female, indoors and Out, res­ponded by breaking into loud and prolonged lamentation.

    Presently a representative of Cousin Zhen and You-shi arrived and begged Xi-feng to desist. Brightie’s wife poured out a cup of tea for her to rinse her mouth with, and when she had sufficiently recovered herself she rose to her feet once more3 took leave of various members of the clan who were present, and went off to her office in the penthouse.

    An inspection of the roster showed that all the members of her work-parties were present except for one woman belong­ing to the group responsible for the reception of friends of the family. Someone was sent to fetch her, and presently the woman arrived, flustered and fearful. ‘So it is you!’ said Xi-feng with a chilling smile. I suppose you thought that because you have a somewhat more lady-like job than the rest, you could afford to disobey my orders!’

    ‘Oh no, madam, indeed not!’ said the woman. ‘I’ve been coming extra early every day. It’s only today, because I over-slept, that I’m a bit late. Please let me off this once, madam! It really is the first time.’

    Just at that moment Xi-feng observed Wang Xing’s wife from the Rong-guo mansion, peeping round the door as if looking for a chance to speak to her.

    ‘Yes, what is it?’ she asked, turning away from the offender but giving her no indication that she might go.

    Wang Xing’s wife approached and said that she wanted a tally authorizing the purchase of silk cord to be made up into carriage trimmings for the funeral. She handed Xi-feng a slip of paper on which the order was written. It specified the number of network trimmings that would be required for two large sedans, four small sedans, and four carriages, and the number of pounds of silk cord that would be required for that amount of network. Xi-feng made Sunshine read it out to her, and having satisfied herself that the figures were correct, told him to enter them in his book and to issue Wang Xing’s wife with one of the Rong-guo tallies, whereupon the latter hurried off to complete her mission.

    Xi-feng was about to address the latecomer when four more servants from the Rong-guo mansion came in asking for tallies. She told them to hand over the order-slips and made Sunshine read them out to her. Two of them contained errors, and Xi-feng flung them down and told the bearers to ‘go away and come back when they had got their figures right’. The two of them went off crestfallen.

    Xi-feng next observed Zhang Cai’s wife hovering about at the edge of the room and asked her what she wanted.

    ‘It’s those carriage curtains, ma’am. We want the money for the tailor who made them up.’ Xi-feng took the bill and told Sunshine to enter the figures from it in his book. But she would not authorize Zhang Cai’s wife to pay for the tailoring until Wang Xing’s wife had returned the tally for the material used and the buyer’s receipt. There was a second piece of paper which Sunshine now read, requesting permission to purchase paper for the windows of Bao-yu’s outer study, which had just been redecorated. This too Xi-feng kept, and made Sunshine enter the amount in his book. She told Zhang Cai’s wife that the goods must be supplied first before any payment could be authorized.

    ‘Tomorrow another one will be late and the day after that it will be someone else,’ said Xi-feng turning to the still waiting offender, ‘and before we know where we are we shall have no one turning up at all. I should have liked to let you off, but if I’m lenient with you the first time, it will be that much harder for me to deal with someone else the second time; so I am obliged to make an example of you.’ Her face hardened as she pronounced sentence: ‘Take her out and give her twenty strokes of the bamboo!’

    Seeing that Xi-feng was really angry, the servants dared not show themselves slack in executing her command. The wretched woman was half-dragged from the room and the flogging administered in full view of the waiting throng, after which they came in again, the executioners to report that they had discharged their duty and their victim to thank Xi-feng for her punishment. Xi-feng threw down one of the Ning-guo tallies.

    ‘Take this to Lai Sheng and tell him to stop a month’s pay from her wages. If anyone is late tomorrow they will get forty strokes and the day after that it will be sixty. So if you enjoy being beaten you have only to come late for roll-call. Dismiss.’

    The servants, including the shamefaced and silently weeping victim, trooped off to their various duties.

    Now began a steady stream of servants from both house­holds collecting and returning tallies, each of whom Xi-feng attended to in a brisk and efficient manner. From that day onwards the staff of the Ning-guo mansion realized lust how formidable Xi-feng could he and went about their duties in fear and trembling, not daring to idle or delay.

     

    *

     

    But let us now turn to Bao-yu. On this particular occasion, fearing that with so great an influx of visitors Qin Zhong might find himself somewhat overwhelmed, Bao-yu brought him round to Xi-feng’s office for a quiet chat.

    ‘Did you smell the food?’ said Xi-feng with a laugh. (She was halfway through her lunch when they entered.) ‘Come up on the kang and have some!’

    ‘Thank you, but we have already eaten,’ said Bao-yu.

    ‘Here, or in the other house?’

    ‘Catch me eating here with those clowns!’ said Bao-yu. ‘No, back at home, with Grandmother.’

    He and Qin Zhong sat down, and presently Xi-feng finished her lunch. Just then a woman came in asking for a tally with which to obtain a fresh supply of oil for the altar lamps.

    ‘I calculated that you would be needing some by now,’ said Xi-feng with a smile. ‘I thought you must have forgotten. If you had forgotten, you’d have had to pay for it yourself. That would have suited me down to the ground!’

    ‘Oh no, madam! As you say, I just forgot. I only thought of it a moment ago, and I realized that if I didn’t hurry I should be too late to get a tally.’

    So saying, she took her tally and went. For a short while longer the handing over of tallies and registering of amounts continued.

    ‘Both your houses use these tallies for everything,’ said Qin Zhong, who had been watching these transactions with some interest. ‘Suppose some outsider were to forge one and use it to get a lot of money with?’

    ‘Not everyone is as crooked as you are!’ said Xi-feng good­ humouredly.

    ‘How is it that there is no one from our place coming in for tallies?’ Bao-yu asked.

    ‘At the time when they come,’ Xi-feng replied, ‘you are still fast asleep in bed. Now let me ask you something. When are you going to begin studying at night?’

    ‘I should like nothing better than to begin today,’ said Bao-yu. ‘But what can I do if they won’t get on with my study?’

    If you were to ask me nicely,’ said Xi-feng jovially, ‘I think I could undertake to hurry them up for you.’

    ‘Oh, you’re no good,’ said Bao-yu, ‘no more than any of the rest. They’ll get round to it in time. It’s just a question of waiting till they do.’

    ‘Whether they get round to it or not,’ said Xi-feng, ‘they still need materials for the job, and they can’t get the materials if I don’t choose to give them the tallies—I can tell you that for sure!’

    As soon as he heard this, Bao-yu twined himself round Xi-feng and began coaxing and wheedling her to give the workmen the tallies that would enable them to begin work on his study.

    ‘Stop it! Stop it! ‘ cried Xi-feng. ‘I am so tired that my bones ache. How can I stand up to being mauled about by a great-ape like you? You needn’t worry. They’ve just been round to see about paper for the windows. It would look pretty stupid if you were to send them off for something they have already got.’

    Bao-yu refused to believe her until she made Sunshine look up the entry in his book and show it to him.

    While Bao-yu was inspecting the book, a servant announced the arrival of Shiner, one of the boys who had accompanied Jia Lian to Yangchow. Xi-feng eagerly ordered him in. Shiner louted to his mistress in the Manchu fashion and hoped that she was well.

    ‘Why have you come back?’ said Xi-feng.

    ‘The Master sent me, ma’am. Mr. Lin died on the third at ten in the morning and the Master and Miss Lin are taking him to Soochow to be buried. They expect to be home by the end of the spring. The Master told me to bring back the news and to give everyone his regards, and he said I was to ask Her Old Ladyship for instructions. He also told me to see if you were getting on all right, ma’am; and he said would I take some fur-­lined gowns back with me for winter wear.’

    ‘Have you seen anyone else yet?’ Xi-feng asked him.

    ‘Yes, everyone,’ said Shiner, and withdrew.

    Xi-feng turned to Bao-yu with a smile:

    ‘It looks now as if your Cousin Lin will be staying with us permanently.’

    ‘Poor thing!’ said Bao-yu. ‘How she must have cried and cried during this past week or so!’ The thought of her crying made him knit his brows and sigh.

    Now that Shiner was back, Xi-feng was all agog to question him about Jia Lian but could not do so in any detail in front of the others. She would have liked to follow him back home, but her duties were by no means over, and she was obliged to hold out until evening. Then, back in her own apartment, she summoned him to her and asked him for full particulars of the journey. She looked out all Jia Lian’s furs, and she and Patience sat up into the night getting them ready and packing them -together with anything else which careful thought suggested might be needed—for Shiner to take back with him to his Master. Xi-feng gave Shiner minute instructions concerning his conduct towards the latter:

    ‘Mind you look after your master properly away from home, now. Try not to make him angry. And do always be on at him not to drink too much. And don’t encourage him to get mixed up with bad women. If, when you get back, I find out that you have done, I’ll break your legs!’

    Shiner laughingly agreed to abide by all her instructions. By the time they got to bed it was well past one in the morning. To Xi-feng it seemed as though she had barely lain down to sleep when it was dawn once more and time to get up again and wash and dress for another round of duties at Ning-guo House.

    The day of the funeral was now approaching and Cousin Zhen took an expert in geomancy with him in his carriage and drove out to the Temple of the Iron Threshold to inspect the terrain and personally assist in the selection of a suitable rest­ing-place for Qin-shi’s coffin. He gave detailed instructions to the monk4n-charge, Father Sublimitas, for the provision of a completely new set of hangings and altar furnishings for the funeral, and for the engagement of as many fashionable monks as he could think of to participate in the ceremony of receiving the coffin.

    Sublimitas hurriedly prepared a vegetarian supper for his visitors; but Cousin Zhen had little heart for eating, and, as it was by now too late to return to the city, presently retired to a bed that had been made up for him in the monk’s quarters, leaving first thing next morning in order to press on with arrangements for the funeral. On his return he sent some work­men out to the temple to refurbish the place he had chosen for the coffin. They were instructed to work on the job through­out the night in order to make sure that it was finished in time. He also sent Out a number of kitchen staff to cater for the funeral party on its arrival.

    Xi-feng, too, began to make her own careful preparations as the day of the funeral drew near. On the one hand she had to select coachmen and bearers from the Rong-guo staff for the carriages and sedans that Lady Wang and the other Rong-guo ladies would ride in in the procession. On the other hand, as she fully intended to take part in it herself, she had to find herself somewhere to stop at on the way as well as accommodation for the night after the funeral.

    The Dowager-duchess of Shan-guo happened to die just about this time and Xi-feng had to make the arrangements for Lady Xing and Lady Wang when they paid their visits of condolence and later when they attended the funeral. She had to see about birthday presents for the Princess of Xi-an. She had to write to her parents and get things ready to send to them when her elder brother Wang Ren returned with his wife and children to the South. And when on top of all this Jia Lian’s young sister Ying-chun fell ill and needed doctors’ visits and medicines every day, it was Xi-feng who had to puzzle over the diagnostic reports, discuss the patient’s symptoms with the learned physicians, and decide on the relative merits of rival prescriptions.

    Indeed, so multifarious had her activities become that it would be impossible to list them all. As a consequence she was far too busy to pay much attention to eating and drinking and could hardly sit or lie down for a moment in peace. When she went to the Ning-guo mansion she was followed around all the time by people from the Rong-guo mansion, and when she Went back to Rong-guo House, members of the Ning-guo establishment would trail after her. Yet although she was so busy, a passion to succeed and a dread of being criticized enabled her to summon up reserves of energy, and she man-aged to plan everything with such exemplary thoroughness that every member of the clan was loud in her praises.

    Wake night arrived—the night when no one in the family may go to bed—and Ning-guo House was crowded with friends and relations. Since You-shi was still confined to her room, it was left entirely to Xi-feng to do the honours. There were, to be sure, a number of other young married women in the clan, but all were either tongue-tied or giddy, or they were so petrified by bashfulness or timidity that the presence of strangers or persons of higher rank threw them into a state of panic. Xi-feng’s vivacious charm and social assurance stood out in striking contrast—’a touch of scarlet in a field of green’. She was in her element, and if she took any notice at all of her humbler sisters it was only to throw out an occasional order or to bend them in some other way to her imperious will.

    Throughout the whole of that night the Ning-guo mansion was ablaze with lights. There was a constant bustle of guests being welcomed or seen off the premises and all the liveliness and excitement that is customary on occasions of this sort.

    With the dawning of the day and the arrival of the hour deemed auspicious for its departure, sixty-four green-coated bearers arrived for the coffin, preceded by a great funeral banner bearing the following inscription:

    Mortal Remains

    of the

    Much Lamented

    LADY QIN-SHI

    of the

    House of Jia,

    Senior Great-great-granddaughter-in-law

    of the

    Duke of Ning-guo,

    Nobleman of the First Rank by Imperial Patent,

    and Wife of the

    Right Honourable Jia Rong,

    Honorary Captain in the Imperial Bodyguard,

    Inner Palace, Northern Capital Division.

    The costumes, insignia, and funeral trappings were all glitteringly new, having been specially made for the occasion.

    Jewel, acting in the capacity of unmarried daughter of the deceased, smashed a bowl on the floor at the foot of the coffin and as they bore it out walked in front with an impressive display of grief.

    Among the distinguished guests taking part m the proces­sion were:

    Niu Ji-zong (earl, hereditary first rank), grandson of Niu Qing, Duke of Zhen-guo,

    Liu Fang (viscount, hereditary first rank), grandson of Liu Biao, Duke of Li-guo,

    Chen Rui-wen (Maj.-General), grandson of Chen Yi, Duke of Qi-guo,

    Ma Shang-de (Maj.-General), grandson of Ma Kui, Duke of Zhi-guo,

    Hou Xiao-kang (viscount, hereditary first rank), grandson of Hou Xiao-ming, Duke of Xiu-guo.

    The grandfathers of the above, together with the Duke of Shan-guo, whose grandson Shi Guang-zhu was in mourning for the Dowager-duchess and unable to attend, and the Dukes of Rong-guo and Ning-guo, had formed the well-known group often referred to by their contemporaries as the ‘Eight Dukes’.

    The other mourners included:

     

    The grandson of H. H. the Prince of Nan-an,

    The grandson of H. H. the Prince of Xi-ning,

    Shi Ding, Marquis of Zhong-jing, nephew of old Lady Jia,

    Jiang Zi-ning (baron, hereditary second rank), grandson of the Marquis of Ping-yuan, Xie Kun (baron, hereditary second rank, and lieutenant-colonel, Metropolitan Barracks), grandson of the Marquis of Ding-cheng,

    Qi Jian-hui (baron, hereditary second rank), grandson of the Marquis of Xiang-yang,

    Qiu Liang (Chief Commissioner of Police, Metropolitan Area), grandson of the Marquis of Jing-tian.

     

    Also present were the Marquis of Jin-xiang’s son Han Qi, General Feng’s son Feng Zi-ying, General Chen’s son Chen Ye-jun, General Wei’s son Wei Ruo-An, and a large number of other young gentlemen of distinguished parentage.

    As for lady guests, there were ten or so large and thirty or forty small palanquins, which together with the palanquins and carriages of the Jia ladies brought the total number of equipages to at least a hundred and ten. These, with the in-numerable bearers of insignia and other funeral trappings up at the front, formed a procession altogether more than a mile long.

    The procession had not advanced very far when it began to pass the decorated ‘funeral bowers’ and tables of offerings put up along the sides of the street by friends and well-wishers of the family. From some of them the strains of funeral music struck up as it approached.

    The first of these bowers was the Princess of Dong-ping’s, the second was the Prince of Nan-an’s, the third was the Prince of Xi-ning’s, and the fourth that of the Prince of Bei-jing.

    Of the original holders of these four titles the Prince of Bei-jing had been highest in imperial favour by virtue of his great services to the Crown. As a consequence, the title and the style of ‘prince’ had been retained by his descendants. The present holder of the title, Shui Rong, was a youth still in his teens -a young man of great personal beauty and a modest and unaffected disposition. On receiving the announcement of the premature demise of the wife of one of the Duke of Ning-­guo’s descendants, Shui Rong was reminded of the friendship that had formerly existed between the Duke of Ning-guo and his own ancestor—both having fought in the same campaigns and shared hardships and triumphs together—and resolved to lay aside all considerations of rank in demonstrating his sympathy for the bereaved. Two days previously he had paid a visit of condolence and made inquiries about the funeral arrangements, and now, today, intending to make a libation to the coffin as it went by, he had had his booth constructed at the road side and had instructed a number of his staff to wait there in readiness for his arrival.

    At four o’clock that morning the prince had had to be present at the imperial palace for the early levée; but, as soon as his business there was over, he changed out of court dress and into mourning and after getting into his great palanquin, was borne through the streets, preceded by gongs and umbrellas of state, to the place where his funeral bower had been erected. There his palanquin was set down and the gentlemen of his household ranged themselves on either side of it. The street was kept clear of traffic and pedestrians while he waited.

    Presently the procession came in sight, advancing from the north end of the street like a great river, the hearse itself look­ing like some great silver mountain that crushed the earth beneath it as it moved. In a trice the forerunners had reported back to Cousin Zhen, who at once gave orders to the insignia bearers to halt, and hurrying forward with his Uncles Jia She and Jia Zheng, saluted the prince with full court etiquette. The prince received their prostrations with a gracious smile and a slight inclination of his person inside the palanquin, and when he spoke to them it was not as a prince to a subject, but using the form of address he employed when speaking to family friends.

    ‘Your Highness, I am quite overwhelmed by the honour you do us in graciously condescending to be present at the funeral of my daughter-in-law,’ said Cousin Zhen.

    ‘My dear friend,’ said the Prince of Bei-jing, ‘your excessive modesty does us both an injustice.’

    Thereupon he turned to the chamberlain of his household and ordered him to make offerings on his behalf. Cousin Zhen and his uncles made the correct ritual responses while this official performed them, then returned to the palanquin and bowed their thanks to the prince. The prince received their thanks with a most becoming modesty and by way of conversa­tion asked Jia Zheng a question about Bao-yu.

    ‘Which is the boy who was born with a stone in his mouth? I have long looked forward to the pleasure of meeting him. I am sure he must be here today. Can you not bring him to see me?’

    Jia Zheng at once withdrew to fetch Bao-yu. He made him first change into court dress before, leading him forward to meet the prince.

    Bao-yu had often heard about the Prince of Bei-jing. He had heard that he was very clever. He had also heard that he was as handsome as he was clever and that he was a quite jolly, un­conventional sort of person who refused to let either his royal birth or the conventions of official life constrain him. He had often wanted to meet him, but had been deterred by his father’s strictness from doing so. And now here was the Prince of Bei-jing asking to see him! A feeling of pleasant anticipation filled him as he hurried forward with his father. He peeped up at the prince as they advanced and saw that he was, as report had painted him, an extremely good-looking young man.

    But if you want to know about his interview with the hand­some prince, you will have to read about it in the next chapter.

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