August 1, 2017 at 5:32 am #1406ISCBJKeymaster
第八回 贾宝玉奇缘识金锁 薛宝钗巧合认通灵
Jia Bao-yu is allowed to see the strangely
corresponding golden locket
And Xue Bao-chai has a predestined encounter
with the Magic Jade
When Bao-yu and Xi-feng were back and had seen the others, Bao-yu told Grandmother Jia of his wish to have Qin Zhong admitted to the clan school. He pointed out that a congenial study-companion would stimulate him to greater effort and gave her a glowing account of Qin Zhong’s amiable qualities. Xi-feng was at hand to lend her support. She told Grandmother Jia that Qin Zhong would be calling on her within a day or two to pay his respects. Their infectious enthusiasm put the old lady in a high good humour, which Xi-feng took advantage of to ask if she would accompany her to the dramatic entertainment which her opponents had promised in two days’ time.
In spite of her years Grandmother Jia loved any kind of excitement and when, two days later, You-shi came to fetch Xi-feng, the old lady did in fact accompany them, taking Lady Wang, Dai-yu and Bao-yu as well. By about noon, however, she was ready to go back and rest, and Lady Wang, who disliked noise and excitement, took the opportunity to leave with her. This left Xi-feng as principal guest, and she moved into the place of honour and stayed there for the rest of the day, enjoying herself immensely and not returning until late in the evening.
After accompanying Grandmother Jia back to her apartment and seeing her safely settled down for her nap, Bao-yu would have liked to go back and watch some more plays but was afraid that his presence would be an inconvenience to Qinshi and his other ‘juniors’. Remembering that Bao-chai had been at home unwell during the past few days and that he had still not been to see her, he thought he would go there instead arid pay her a call, but fearing that if he went the quickest way through the corner gate behind the main hall he might meet with some entanglement on the way or, worse, run into his father, he decided to go by a more circuitous route.
The maids and nurses who attended him had been expecting him to change into his everyday clothes, but seeing him go out of the inner gate again without doing so, followed after him, assuming that he was going back to the other mansion to watch the plays. To their surprise, however, he turned left when he reached the covered passage-way instead of going straight on, and made off in a north-easterly direction.
But he was out of luck, for as he did so he found himself facing Zhan Guang and Shan Ping-ren, two of the literary gentlemen patronized by his father, who were walking towards him from the opposite direction. They descended on him gleefully, one of them clasping him round the waist, the other taking him by a hand.
‘Angelic boy! How seldom one has the pleasure! Is it really you, or is this some delightful dream?’
They prattled on for what seemed an age before finally releasing him. As they were going, one of the old nurses detained them a moment longer.
‘Have you two gentlemen just come from the Master’s?’
The two gentlemen nodded and smiled conspiratorially:
‘Sir Zheng is in his little study in the Su Dong-po Rooms, having his afternoon nap. All is well!’
They hurried off. Bao-yu smiled too, relieved that his father was safely out of the way. Turning once again, this time north-wards, he made his way swiftly towards Pear Tree Court.
Once more he was unlucky. The Clerk of Stores Wu Xindeng, a man called Dai Liang who was foreman at the granary, and five other foremen were just at that moment coming out of the counting-house together and, catching sight of Bao-yu, at once stood respectfully to attention. One of their number, a buyer called Qian Hua who had not seen Bao-yu for some considerable time, hurried forward, dropped on his right knee, and touched his hand to the ground in the Manchu salute. Bao-yu smilingly extended a hand to raise him up. The men all relaxed in smiles.
‘I saw some of your calligraphy in town the other day, Master Bao,’ said one of them. ‘It’s getting really good I When are you going to give us a few sheets for ourselves, to put up on the wall?’
‘Where did you see it?’ Bao-yu asked.
‘Any number of places,’ the men told him. ‘Everyone has been praising it no end. They even come to us asking for specimens.’
‘You can have some easily enough if you really want to,’ Bao-yu said. ‘You have only to ask one of my boys.’
He hurried on. The men waited for him to pass before dispersing about their business.
To omit further details of his progress, Bao-yu came at last to Pear Tree Court, and going first into Aunt Xue’s room, found her giving instructions to her maids about some embroidery. Her response to his greeting was to draw him towards her and clasp him to her bosom in an affectionate embrace.
‘What a nice, kind boy to think of us on a cold day like this! Come up on the kang and get warm!’
She ordered a maid to bring him some ‘boiling hot tea’.
Bao-yu inquired whether Cousin Pan was at home. Aunt Xue sighed.
‘Pan is like a riderless horse: always off enjoying himself somewhere or other. He won’t spend a single day at home if he can help it.’
‘What about Bao-chai? Is she quite better?’
‘Ah yes, of course!’ said Aunt Xue. ‘You sent someone to ask about her the other day, didn’t you? That was very thoughtful of you. I think she’s inside. Go in and have a look! It’s warmer in there than here. You go in and sit down, and I’ll be with you in a moment when I’ve finished tidying up.’
Bao-yu got down from the kang and going to the doorway of the inner room, lifted up the rather worn-looking red silk curtain which covered it. Bao-chai was sitting on the kang inside, sewing. Her lustrous black hair was done up in a simple bun without any kind of ornament. She was wearing a honey-coloured padded gown, a mulberry-coloured sleeveless jacket with a pattern in gold and silver thread, and a greenish-yellow padded skirt. All her clothing had the same sensible; rather well-worn look about it.
He saw no hint of luxury or show,
only a chaste, refined sobriety;
to some her studied taciturnity
might seem to savour of duplicity; but she herself saw in conformity
the means of guarding her simplicity.
‘Have you quite recovered, cousin?’ Bao-yu asked.
Raising her head, Bao-chai saw Bao-yu enter the room. She rose quickly to her feet and smiled at him.
‘I am quite better now. It was nice of you to think of me.’ She made him sit on the edge of the kang and ordered Oriole to pour him some tea. Then she proceeded to ask him first about Grandmother Jia, then about Lady Wang and then about the girls, while her eye took in the details of his dress.
He had a little jewel-encrusted coronet of gold filigree on the top of his head and a circlet in the form of two dragons supporting a pearl round his brow. He was dressed in a narrow-sleeved, full-skirted robe of russet-green material covered with a pattern of writhing dragons and lined and trimmed with white fox-fur. A butterfly-embroidered sash with fringed ends was fastened round his waist, and from his neck hung a padlock-shaped amulet, a lucky charm, and the famous jade said to have been inside his mouth when he was born.
Bao-chai’s eye came to rest on the jade.
‘I am always hearing about this famous stone of yours,’ she said smilingly, ‘but I have never yet had a chance of examining it really closely. Today I think I should like to have a look.’
She moved forward as she spoke, and Bao-yu too leaned towards her, and taking the stone from his neck, put it into her hand.
Looking at it as it lay on her palm, she saw a stone about the size of a sparrow’s egg, glowing with the suppressed, milky radiance of a sunlit cloud and veined with iridescent streaks of colour.
Reader, you will, of course, remember that this jade was a transformation of that same great stone block which once lay at the foot of Greensickness Peak in the Great Fable Mountains. A certain jesting poet has written these verses about it:
Nü-wa’s stone-smelting is a tale unfounded:
On such weak fancies our Great Fable’s grounded.
Lost now, alack! and gone my heavenly stone—
Transformed to this vile bag of flesh and bone.
For, in misfortune, gold no longer gleams;
And bright jade, when fate frowns, lack-lustre seems.
Heaped charnel-bones none can identify
Were golden girls and boys in days gone by.
The words which the scabby-headed monk had incised on the stone when he found it lying in its diminished shape under Greensickness Peak were as follows.
(On the front side)
Mislay me not, forget me not,
And hale old age shall be your lot.
(On the reverse side)
1. Dispels the harms of witchcraft.
2. Cures melancholic distempers.
3. Foretells good and evil fortune.
When Bao-chai had looked at the stone all over, she turned back to the inscription on the front and repeated it a couple of times to herself out loud:
‘Mislay me not, forget me not,
And hale old age shall be your lot.’
‘Why aren’t you pouring the tea?’ she asked Oriole. ‘What are you standing there gawping for?’
‘Because those words sounded like a perfect match to the ones on your necklace.’
‘So you have an inscription, too?’ said Bao-yu pricking up his ears. ‘I must have a look.
‘Don’t take any notice of her!’ said Bao-chai. ‘There is no inscription.’
‘Cousin, cousin,’ said Bao-yu entreatingly, ‘you’ve had a look at mine. Be fair!’
Bao-chai could not escape the logic of this entreaty.
‘There is a motto on it which someone gave us once for luck and which we had engraved on it,’ she admitted. ‘That’s the only reason I always wear it; otherwise it would be too tiresome to have a heavy thing like this hanging round one’s neck all the time.’
As she was speaking she undid the top buttons of her jacket and gown and extracted the necklace that she was wearing over the dark red shift beneath. Its pendant was a locket of shining solid gold, bordered with sparkling gems. There was a line of writing engraved on either side of it which together made up the words of a charm:
Ne’er leave me, ne’er abandon me:
And years of health shall be your fee.
He recited them a couple of times and then recited the word:
of his own Inscription a couple of times.
‘Why, yes I’ he cried delightedly. ‘The two inscriptions are a perfect match!’
‘A scabby-headed old monk gave Miss Bao-chai the words,’ said Oriole. ‘He said they must be engraved on something made of gold…’
Bao-chai angrily cut her short, telling her to mind her business and pour the tea. To change the subject she asked Bao-yu where he had just come from.
Bao-yu was now sitting almost shoulder to shoulder with her and as he did so became aware of a penetrating fragrance that seemed to emanate from her person.
‘What incense do you use to scent your clothes with, cousin?’ he asked. ‘I have never smelt such a delicious perfume.’
‘I can’t stand incense perfumes,’ said Bao-chai. ‘I could never see the point of smoking perfectly good, clean clothe:
over an incense-pot.’
‘In that case, what is this perfume I can smell?’
Bao-chai thought for a moment.
‘I know! It must be the Cold Fragrance Pill I took this morning.’
‘What’s a Cold Fragrance Pill ?’ said Bao-yu with a laugh. ‘Won’t you give me one to try?’
‘Now you’re being silly again. Medicine isn’t something to be taken for amusement.’
Just at that moment the servants outside announced ‘Miss Lin’ arid almost simultaneously Dai-yu came flouncing into the room. Catching sight of Bao-yu she let out a wail of mock dismay.
‘Oh dear! I have chosen a bad time to come!’
The others rose and invited her to be seated.
‘Why did you say that?’ Bao-chai asked her.
‘If I had known he was coming, I shouldn’t have come myself.’
‘What exactly do you mean by that?’
‘What do I mean by that ?’ said Dai-yu. ‘I mean that if I only come when he does, then when I don’t come you won’t have any visitors. Whereas if we space ourselves out so that he comes one day and I come the next, it will never get either too lonely or too noisy for you. I shouldn’t have thought that needed much explaining.’
Observing that Dai-yu was wearing a greatcoat of red camlet over her dress, Bao-yu asked whether it was snowing outside.
‘It’s been snowing for some time,’ said one of the old women standing below the kang.
Bao-yu asked someone to go and fetch his winter cape.
‘You see!’ said Dai-yu. ‘When I come, he has to go!’
‘Who said anything about going?’ said Bao-yu. ‘I just want them to have it ready for me.’
‘It’s no time to go now, while it’s still snowing,’ said Bao-yu’s old nurse, Nannie Li. ‘Much better stay here and play with your cousins. In any case, I think your Aunt Xue is getting tea ready for you. I’ll send a maid to fetch your cape. Shall I tell the boys outside they can go?’
Bao-yu nodded, and Nannie Li went outside and dismissed the pages.
By now Aunt Xue had finished laying tea, which included a number of delicious-looking things to eat, and invited the cousins to partake. While they were doing so, Bao-yu happened to mention the excellent goose-foot preserve made by his Cousin Zhen’s wife that he had eaten at the Ning mansion only two days previously. Aunt Xue at once hurried out and fetched some of her own for him to try.
‘This really needs to be eaten with wine,’ said Bao-yu.
Aunt Xue gave orders for some of the best wine to be decanted; but Nannie Li disapproved.
‘He shouldn’t have wine, Mrs Xue.’
‘Oh go on, Nannie I’ Bao-yu pleaded good-humouredly. ‘I shall only drink one cup.’
‘It’s no good!’ said Nannie Li. ‘I don’t mind if you drink a hogshead as long as your grandmother or your mother is there. But look at the trouble I got into the other day just because when I had my back turned for a moment some wretched person who ought to have known better gave you a sip or two to humour you! I didn’t hear the end of it for days after.
‘You don’t know how wild he can be, Mrs Xue,’ she continued. ‘And he gets even worse when he’s had something to drink. With Her Old Ladyship you can never tell. One day when she’s feeling high-spirited she’ll let him drink as much as he likes; other days she won’t let him touch a drop. But come what may, I’m always the one that gets into trouble.’
‘Poor old thing!’ said Aunt Xue with a laugh. ‘Have a drink yourself and stop worrying! I’ll see that he doesn’t drink too much. And if Lady Jia does say anything, I shall take full responsibility? She turned to one of the maids: ‘Come on’ now! Pour Nannie a nice warm cup of wine to keep the cold out!’
Nannie Li could scarcely sustain her objection after this and went off with the other servants to have her drink.
‘Don’t bother to heat the wine for me,’ said Bao-yu. ‘I prefer it cold.
‘Good gracious, that will never do! ‘said Aunt Xue. ‘You mustn’t drink wine cold, or when you write your hand will shake!’
‘I’m surprised at you, Cousin Bao!’ said Bao-chai with a smile. ‘With all your enthusiasm for out-of-the-way learning, fancy not knowing a thing like that! Wine has an exceptionally fiery nature, and therefore must be drunk warm in order to be quickly digested. If it is drunk cold, it congeals inside the body and harms it by absorbing heat from the internal organs. From this day on you must reform! No more cold wine!’
Dai-yu, who sat cracking melon-seeds between her teeth throughout this homily, smiled ironically. Just at that moment her maid Snowgoose came hurrying in with a little hand-warmer for her.
‘Who told you to bring this?’ Dai-yu asked her. ‘Very kind of them, I am sure. But I was not actually freezing to death here.’
‘Nightingale told me to bring it, Miss. She was afraid you might be cold.’
‘I am glad you are so ready to obey her. Generally when I tell you to do anything it goes in one ear and out the other; yet anything she tells you to do is followed Out more promptly than an Imperial Edict!’
Bao-yu knew perfectly well that these words were really intended for him, but made no reply, beyond laughing good humouredly. Bao-chai, long accustomed to Dai-yu’s peculiar ways, also ignored them. But Aunt Xue protested.
‘You’ve always been rather delicate and you’ve always felt the cold badly. Surely it was nice of them to think of you?’
‘You don’t understand, Aunt,’ said Dai-yu. ‘It doesn’t matter here, with you; but some people might be deeply offended at the sight of one of my maids rushing in with a hand-warmer. It’s as though I thought my hosts couldn’t supply one themselves if I needed it. Instead of saying how thoughtful the maid was, they would put it down to my arrogance and lack of breeding.’
‘You are altogether too sensitive, thinking of things like that,’ said Aunt Xue. ‘Such a thought would never have crossed my mind!’
Bao-yu had soon finished his third cup of wine and Nannie Li once more came forward to restrain him. But Bao-yu, who was now warm and happy and in the midst of a hilarious conversation with his cousins, was naturally unwilling to stop, and pleaded humbly with the old lady for a reprieve.
‘Nannie darling, just two more cups and then I’ll stop!’
‘You’d better look out,’ said Nannie Li. ‘Your father’s at home today. He’ll be asking you about your lessons before you know where you are.’
At these words all Bao-yu’s happiness drained away. Slowly he set down his cup and bowed his head in dejection.
‘Don’t spoil everyone’s enjoyment,’ said Dai-yu. ‘Even if Uncle does call for you, you can always say that Aunt Xue is keeping you. I think that old Nannie of yours has had a cup too many and is looking for a bit of excitement at our expense. She gave him a gentle nudge to encourage a more valiant spirit in him, muttering, as she did so, ‘Take no notice of the old fool! Let’s go on enjoying ourselves and not mind about her!’
Nannie Li knew only too well what Dai-yu was capable of.
‘Now Miss Lin,’ she said, ‘don’t you go taking his part! If you encourage him he’s only too likely to do what you say!’
Dai-yu smiled dangerously. ‘Take his part? Why should I want to encourage him? You are over-cautious, my dear Nannie. After all, Lady Jia often lets him drink; why should it matter if Mrs Xue lets him have a cup or two? I suppose you think he can’t be trusted to drink here because Mrs Xue is not one of us?’
Nannie Li did not know whether to feel upset or amused. ‘Really, Miss Lin. Some of the things you say cut sharper than a knife!’
Bao-chai could not suppress a giggle. She pinched Dai-yu’s cheek playfully.
‘Really, Miss Frowner, the things you say! One doesn’t know whether to grind one’s teeth or laugh!’
Aunt Xue laughed too.
‘Don’t be afraid, my boy! Heaven knows I’ve got little enough to offer you when you come to see me. You mustn’t get upset over a small thing like this, or I shall feel quite uncomfortable. Drink as much as you like; I’ll look after you! You may as well stay to supper, in any case; and even if you do get drunk, you can always spend the night here.’ She told a maid to heat some more wine. ‘There! Auntie will drink a cup or two with you, and then we shall have some supper.’
Bao-yu’s spirits began to revive a bit under his aunt’s encouragement.
‘Keep an eye on him,’ said Nannie Li to the maids. ‘I’m just going back for a few minutes to change my clothes.’ Then aside to Aunt Xue she said, ‘Don’t let him drink too much, Mrs Xue!’ and went off home.
Although two or three old women still remained after her departure, none felt very much concern for Bao-yu, and as soon as Nannie Li was out of the way they quietiy slipped off about their own concerns, leaving, of the attendants who had come with him, only two small maids, whose only anxiety was to please their young master by indulging him as much as possible.
Fortunately Aunt Xue, by exercising great tact and finesse, managed to spirit the wine away when Bao-yu had drunk only a few more cups, and to replace it with a hot, sour soup of pickled bamboo-shoots and chicken-skin. He drank several bowls of this with great relish and then ate half a bowl of green-rice gruel. After that, when Bao-chai and Dai-yu had finished eating, he drank several cups of very strong tea. At this point Aunt Xue felt sure that he would be all right.
As Snowgoose and the other maids had now finished supper too and were once more in attendance, Dai-yu asked Bao-yu if he was ready to go. He looked at her blearily through tired eyes.
‘If you want to go, I will go with you.’
Dai-yu rose to her feet. ‘We really ought to go. We’ve been here practically all day!’
The two of them began saying their good-byes.
A maid came forward with Bao-yu’s rain-hat and he lowered his head slightly for her to put it on. Holding the brim of the great saucer-shaped red felt top, she jerked it up and prepared to bring it down, aiming the inside part at his crown.
‘Stop!’ he cried impatiently.’ You have got to go easy with a great clumsy thing like that! Haven’t you ever seen anyone putting one of these things on before? You had better let me do it myself.’
‘Come here!’ said Dai-yu standing on the edge of the kang. ‘I’ll put it on for you!’
Bao-yu went and stood in front of her. Putting her two hands round the inner cap, Dai-yu eased it gently down until its rim fitted over his golden headband, so that the walnut-sized red woollen pompom of the headband was left quivering outside the cap on its flexible golden stem.
‘There!’ she said, after a few further adjustments. ‘Now you can put on your cape.’
Bao-yu took the cape from his maid and fastened it himself.
‘The nurses who came with you are still not back,’ said Aunt Xue. ‘Perhaps you had better wait a bit.’
‘We wait for them?’ said Bao-yu. ‘We have got the maids. We shall be all right.’
But Aunt Xue was not satisfied, and ordered two of her own women to see the cousins home.
As soon as they were back they thanked the women for their trouble and went straight in to see Grandmother Jia, who had not yet had her supper. She was delighted to learn that they had been with Aunt Xue, and observing that Bao-yu, had had more than a little to drink, she told him to go and rest in his room and not come out again, and instructed the servants to keep a careful watch over him. Remembering which servants usually attended him, she asked what had become of Nannie Li. The maids dared not tell her the truth, which was that she had gone home.
‘I think she must have had something to do,’ said one of them. ‘She came in when we did just now, but went Out again almost immediately.’
‘Why worry about her ?’ said Bao-yu over his shoulder, swaying slightly as he made his way to the bedroom. ‘She’s better looked after than you are! If it weren’t for her I might live a few days longer!’
Inside his room he found a writing-brush and ink laid out on the desk. Skybright was the first to greet him.
‘You’re a nice one!’ she said. ‘You made me mix all this ink for you this morning, sat down in a state of great enthusiasm, wrote just three characters, threw down the brush again, rushed out, and left me waiting here all day for you to come back and finish. Now you just sit down here and use this ink up, and perhaps I’ll let the matter pass!’
Skybright’s words awoke in Bao-yu a recollection of the morning’s events.
‘What became of the three characters I wrote?’
Skybright laughed. ‘You’re really drunk, aren’t you! This morning before you went to the other house you gave careful instructions that they were to be pasted up over the outside door. I was afraid that someone else might make a mess of it’ so I got up on a ladder and spent half the morning sticking them up myself. My hands are still numb from doing it.’
‘I’d forgotten.’ Bao-yu smiled. ‘If your hands are cold, I’ll warm them for you.’ He took both her hands in his own and led her outside to inspect the sheet of calligraphy newly pasted up over the doorway. Just then Dai-yu arrived.
‘I want you to tell me honestly, cousin,’ said Bao-yu. ‘Which of these three characters do you think is the best?’
Dai-yu looked up at the three characters above the door:
RED RUE STUDY
‘They are all equally good. I didn’t know you could write so beautifully. You must do one for me some time!’
‘You’re just saying that to humour me,’ said Bao-yu. ‘Where is Aroma?’ he asked Skybright.
Skybright shot out her lips and indicated the kang inside, on which Aroma, fully clothed, was lying fast asleep.
‘Just look at that!’ said Bao-yu with a laugh. ‘It’s a bit early for sleep, isn’t it?’
He turned once more to Skybright. ‘When I was having lunch at the other house today there was a plate of bean-cur’d dumplings. I remembered how fond you are of those things and asked Mrs Zhen if I could have some to eat in the evening. She had them sent over for me. Did you get them all right?’
‘Don’t talk to me about those dumplings!’ said Skybright.
‘As soon as they arrived I realized that they must be for me, but as I’d only just finished eating, I put them on one side meaning to eat them later. Then after a while Nannie Li came in and caught sight of them. “I don’t expect Bao-yu will want these,” she said. “I think I’ll take them for my grand children”; and she had them sent round to her house.’
While Skybright was talking, Snowpink came in carrying some tea on a tray. Bao-yu invited Dai-yu to have some, to the great merriment of the maids, who pointed out that she had slipped away some minutes before.
After drinking about half a cupful, Bao-yu suddenly thought of the tea he had drunk early that morning.
‘When you made that Fung Loo this morning,’ he said to Snowpink, ‘I remember telling you that with that particular brand the full flavour doesn’t come Out until after three or four waterings. Why have you given me this other stuff? This would have been just the time to have the Fung Loo.’
‘I was keeping it for you,’ said Snowpink, ‘but Nannie Li came and drank it all.’
With a flick of the wrist Bao-yu hurled the cup he was holding on to the floor, where it smashed noisily, breaking into innumerable pieces and showering Snowpink’s skirt with hot tea. He jumped angrily to his feet.
‘Is she your mistress that you should all treat her with such reverence? Merely because I drank her milk for a few days when I was a baby she is as spoiled and pampered as though she were some sort of divinity. Let’s get rid of the old woman now and have done with it!’
And he strode off without more ado to tell Grandmother Jia that he wanted his old nurse dismissed.
All this time Aroma had been Only pretending to sleep, hoping by this means to engage Bao-yu’s attention and provoke some coquetry between them. As long as the talk dwelt on calligraphy and Skybright’s dumplings there seemed no pressing need for her to get up; but when she heard him break a teacup and grow really angry she hurriedly rose to her feet and intervened to restrain him.
By this time someone had arrived from Grandmother Jia’s room to inquire what all the noise was about. Aroma pretended that she had smashed the cup herself by slipping on some snow while fetching tea. Having disposed of the inquirer, she then proceeded to exhort Bao-yu.
‘Dismiss her by all means, if you really want to! But we could all like to leave with her; so while you are about it, why not make a clean sweep and dismiss the lot of us? I am sure you will find plenty of other good servants to replace us with.’
Bao-yu had nothing to say to this, and Aroma and the rest helped him onto the kang and started undressing him. He kept trying to tell them something as they did so, but an object seemed to impede his tongue and his eyelids were growing increasingly hot and heavy. Soon the maids had him lying down between covers. Aroma took off the ‘Magic jade’, wrapped it in a piece of silk, and slipped it under the quilt, so that it should not be cold on his neck the next morning. By this time Bao-yu was already asleep, having dropped off as soon as his head touched the pillow.
While this was going on, Nannie Li and the other old women had arrived back at last. Learning that Bao-yu was drunk, they dared not approach him and soon went off again, having satisfied themselves by whispered exchanges that he was safely asleep.
Bao-yu awoke next morning to hear someone announcing that ‘Master Rong from the other house’ had brought Qin Zhong over to pay his respects. Bao-yu hurried out to receive them and conducted Qin Zhong into the presence of Grandmother Jia. Observing that Qin Zhong’s good looks and gentle demeanour admirably qualified him to become Bao-yu’s study-companion, Grandmother Jia was pleased, and made him stay for tea and then dinner, after which she sent him to be introduced to Lady Wang and the rest. Everybody loved Qin-shi and was delighted to meet this charming younger brother, and there were First Meeting presents from everybody waiting for him when he left. Grandmother Jia’s was an embroidered purse enclosing a little God of Literature in solid gold to signify that literary success was in the bag’.
‘Since your home is so far away,’ she said to Qin Zhong as he was leaving, ‘the weather may sometimes make it inconvenient for you to go back at night. In that case, do please stay here with us! And mind that you always keep with your Uncle Bao and don’t go getting into mischief with those young ragamuffins at the school!’
Qin Zhong received these admonitions with deference and then went home to report on the day’s events to his father.
Qin Zhong’s father, Qin Bang-ye, was one of the Secretaries in the Public Buildings Department of the Board of Works and a man in his middle sixties. He had lost his wife early, and finding himself still childless at the age of fifty, had adopted a boy and a girl from an orphanage. The boy had died, leaving only the girl Ke-er, or ‘Ke-qing’ as she was more elegantly renamed, who had grown up into an extremely charming and vivacious young woman and been married into the Jia family, with whom her adoptive father had long had a connection.
Qin Bang-ye fathered Qin Zhong when he was fifty-three and the boy was now twelve years old. His tutor had returned south the year before, and he had been revising old lessons at home ever since. Qin Bang-ye had himself been on the point of speaking to his daughter’s in-laws about the possibility of getting Qin Zhong admitted into the Jia clan school as an external scholar when the happy accident of Qin Zhong’s meeting with Bao-yu occurred. Bang-ye knew of Jia Dai-ru, the master in charge of the school, as one of the leading elder scholars of the day, under whose tutelage there would be every hope of Qin Zhong’s making rapid strides in his education and eventually obtaining an advancement. He was therefore delighted that the matter had been so easily concluded.
There was only one difficulty. Knowing the sort of style in which the Jias lived, Bang-ye realized that he would have to dip deeply into his pocket, and his official salary left that pocket only meagrely supplied. However, since this was a matter which concerned the whole future of his son, there was nothing for it but to strain his credit to the utmost. By borrowing a bit here and a bit there he was able to get together a sum of twenty-four taels of silver which he made up into a packet and laid reverently before Jia Dai-ru when he took Qin Zhong to the old teacher’s house to make his kotow. Nothing now remained but for Bao-yu to choose an auspicious day on which the two of them could begin school together.
Their entry into the school was the occasion of a tumultuous incident of which an account will be given in the following chapter.
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Next: Chapter 9
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