CHAPTER 6 (The Golden Lotus) The Funeral


The Funeral

When Ximen Qing left the old woman's house, it was broad daylight. Old woman Wang went out and bought a coffin, some paper offerings, incense, candles and paper money. When she came back, she lighted a lamp, and set it before Wu Da's body. The neighbors came to offer their condolences, and Pan Jinlian covered her lovely face and pretended to sob.

"How did the gentleman die?" the neighbors asked.

"There was something amiss with his heart, and, although we never expected anything like this, he got worse and worse and at last we saw that he could not get better. Last night, about the third watch, he died." Jinlian pretended to sob.

The neighbors thought that there was something mysterious about the manner of this man's death, but they did not venture to ask any more questions. They consoled Jinlian. "The dead are dead," they said, "but the living must live in peace. Do not grieve so much, Lady. It is too hot."

Jinlian thanked them, and they went away. Old woman Wang had the coffin brought, and went to see He the Ninth, the undertaker. She made all the arrangements, not only for the funeral, but for the household generally. She went to the Temple of Eternal Felicity and asked for two choirs of monks to come that night and sing a dirge for the departed.

He the Ninth sent some of his assistants in advance to set everything in order, and it was some time before he sauntered along himself. At the entrance to Amethyst Street, he met Ximen Qing.

"Where are you going, old Ninth?" Ximen said.

"I am just going to perform the last offices for Wu Da, the cake seller," said He the Ninth.

"Wait a moment, I want to speak to you." He the Ninth went with Ximen Qing till they came to a small wineshop at the corner of the street, and there they went into a small room.

"Take the upper seat, old Ninth," Ximen said.

"Who am I," said Ho, "that I should take the liberty of being seated in your presence?"

"Don't stand on ceremony, old Ninth; please sit down." They argued politely for a while, and then took their places. Ximen Qing ordered the waiter to bring a bottle of good wine. Refreshments were set out, and the wine warmed. He the Ninth wondered what was to come. "Ximen Qing has never taken wine with me before," he said to himself. "I wonder what he wants." They drank together for a long time. At last Ximen took from his sleeve a piece of pure silver, and put it down on the table before his companion.

"Old Ninth," he said, "do not think this too poor a present. I will express my thanks more worthily tomorrow."

"I have done nothing for you, Sir," He the Ninth said, making a reverence. "How can I take your silver? Any matter that you may care to entrust to me will naturally receive my most careful attention."

"Old Ninth," Ximen said, "don't behave as though you were a stranger. Please take it."

"Tell me what I can do for you," He the Ninth said.

"Only this. You are going to see about the disposal of Wu Da's body and, of course, his people will pay you for what you do there. But if in the course of your duties you should happen to notice anything, pay no attention, but cover him up with the bedclothes. That is all."

"I expected you to ask something really important," He the Ninth said, "and it is nothing more than this. It will be no trouble, and I couldn't think of taking your money."

"If you won't accept my money, I take it that you refuse to do this for me."

He the Ninth was aware of Ximen Qing's influence in official circles, and hesitated to offend him. He could not refuse to accept the money. They drank several more cups of wine, then Ximen Qing said to the waiter: "Put this down to my account, and come to my shop tomorrow for the money." They went downstairs and left the inn. As they took leave of one another, Ximen Qing said:

"Old Ninth, don't forget what I have told you, but not a word must be said about this. Later on, I will show my appreciation more tangibly." He walked away.

He the Ninth pocketed the silver. "I don't know what all this means, but it is evidently something to be kept quiet. Anyhow, here is the silver and if, as I expect, Wu Song has a few questions to ask when he comes back, I can produce it as evidence." A little later, he said to himself, "I need some money very badly just now, so I had better use this. When Wu Song comes back, I must think of something else." He came to Wu Da's house, where his men were all waiting for him at the door. Old woman Wang was also waiting anxiously.

"What did Wu Da die of?" He the Ninth said to his men.

"His wife says he suffered from pains at the heart, and died," his men said. He the Ninth pulled up the lattice and went in.

"We have been waiting a very long time for you," old woman Wang said, "and the Master of the Yin Yang has been here half a day. Why are you so late, old Ninth?"

"I had some business to attend to. That made me late."

Jinlian, wearing plain clothes, with a white covering on her head, sobbed as though her heart were breaking. "Do not grieve so, Lady," He the Ninth said. "Your husband is already on his way to Heaven."

"My sorrow is greater than I can bear," Jinlian said, drying her eyes. "My husband suffered from his heart and, after only a few days' illness, he died and left me inconsolable."

He the Ninth looked the woman up and down. "I have often heard people speak of Wu Da's wife," he said to himself, "but this is the first time I have seen her. So this is the lady Wu Da married. Ximen Qing is getting good value for his ten taels of silver."

He went to the bed and examined the body. By this time the Master of the Yin Yang had finished his ritual, so He the Ninth pulled aside the mortuary emblems and removed the white silk. He stared. Wu Da's fingers were green and his lips purple; his face was yellow, and his eyeballs protruded. The undertaker saw at once that a crime had been committed.

"Why is his face purple?" the two assistants asked. "What is the cause of these teeth marks and the blood on his lips?"

"Don't be silly," He the Ninth said. "It is very hot. How can you expect a corpse not to alter?" The men put the body into the coffin and nailed it up with two longevity nails. Old woman Wang asked He the Ninth to give his men a thousand cash between them.

"When is the funeral to be?" the undertaker asked. "The lady says," old woman Wang told him, "that we will take the body outside the city wall to be burned, three days hence." He the Ninth went away. That night, Jinlian prepared wine for the funeral supper, and the next day four monks came and read the funeral service. On the third day at the fifth watch the bearers came to carry the coffin, and some of the neighbors followed behind. Jinlian, dressed in mourning clothes, seated herself in a sedan chair and, all the way along the street, pretended to bemoan her husband. At last they came to an open place outside the city. Here the funeral pyre was, and word was given for the fires to be lighted and the coffin burned. Soon everything was consumed and the ashes thrown into a pond. All the fees at the temple were paid by Ximen Qing.

The woman returned home, and, in the upper room, set up a tablet with the words "In Memory of Wu Da, my beloved husband." Before it she placed a lamp, golden flags, paper money, and ingots of imitation gold and silver. That day, she sat with Ximen Qing and bade the old lady go home. So these two enjoyed each other's company without hindrance, not as before at the house of old woman Wang, where their pleasure had been as uncertain as that of a chicken thief. Now Wu Da was dead they were alone in the house. They were able to spend the whole night together without thought of consequences. At first, Ximen Qing was afraid the neighbors might discover what was going on, and he used to go to old woman Wang's house, wait there for a little while, and then go to Jinlian's back door. But afterwards they seemed to find it almost impossible to separate, and for three or five nights at a time he would not go home. His household was at sixes and sevens, and everybody was unhappy.

The days passed quickly, the sun and moon crossed and recrossed like a weaver's shuttles. It was now two months and more since Ximen Qing had first possessed the woman. It was the Dragon Boat Festival.

Ximen Qing was on his way back from the Temple of Yue and, calling at the old woman Wang's tea shop, he sat down there. The old woman quickly made him a cup of tea.

"Where have you been, Sir? Why haven't you been to see your lady?"

"I have just been to the Temple," said Ximen, "and as it is the Summer Festival, I thought of her and came to see her."

"Her mother, old woman Pan, has been here today," the old woman said. "I fancy she is still here, but I'll go and find out for you." She went to the back door and found Jinlian drinking wine with her mother. They asked her to sit down.

"Drink a welcoming cup," Jinlian said, smiling, "and have a lovely baby."

"But I have no husband," laughed the old woman. "Where shall I get a baby? You are still young. You're the one to have babies."

"The young tree bears no fruit; but the old tree bears well," Jinlian said, quoting an old saying.

"Do you hear your daughter making fun of me?" the old woman said, turning to Madam Pan. "She calls me old beggar, but she'll be glad enough of her 'old beggar' one of these days."

"She has always had a sharp tongue, Stepmother," old woman Pan said, "but you must not pay too much attention to it."

"Yes, indeed, your daughter is as clever as they make 'em. She is a good woman. Some lucky man will snap her up one of these days."

"You are a go-between, Stepmother," old woman Pan said, "and it rests with you." She set out a cup and chopsticks, and Jinlian poured out some wine. The old woman drank several glasses, and her face grew red. She was afraid that Ximen Qing would grow tired of waiting, so she gave a sly wink to Jinlian, said good-bye to them, and went back to her own place.

Jinlian understood that Ximen Qing had come and hurriedly sent her mother away. She tidied the room, burned some fine incense, took away what was left of her mother's food, and prepared some special dishes for Ximen Qing. Then she went down to the back door to meet him.

She took him into the room, made a reverence to him, and sat down. She had given up wearing mourning very soon after Wu Da's death, and had put his tablet aside with a sheet of white paper over it. She never dreamed of putting offerings of soup or food before it. Every day she painted her face, put on colored dresses, and looked very charming indeed. Ximen Qing had not been to see her for some days, and she scolded him.

"What a fickle rascal you are! Why have you run away from me? Have you another sweetheart hidden somewhere that you leave me in the cold?"

"I have been very busy these last few days," Ximen said, "but today I have been to the temple to buy you some ornaments, and some pearls and clothes."

This pleased her. Ximen called Daian and, unfastening the package, showed the things one by one to Jinlian. She thanked him and put them away. She no longer troubled to keep the matter secret from Ying'er, who was afraid of being punished, and told her to bring tea for Ximen Qing. She herself laid the table, and then sat down with him.

"You should not take so much trouble for me," he said. "I have given Stepmother some, money to go and buy a few things. Now that the Summer Festival is here, the only thing I want is to sit here with you."

"It was for my mother originally," said Jinlian, "but this is quite fresh. If we wait for Stepmother to come back with her purchases, we shall have to wait a long time. Let's eat some of this." She pressed her cheek close against his, entwined her legs with his, and, side by side, they drank their wine.

The old woman had taken a basket and gone to the street to buy wine and meat. It was the beginning of the Fifth Month, and the rain was incessant. At one moment the sun was bright in the sky, the next it was hidden by black clouds, and there came down a torrent like the emptying of a washbasin.

Lowering clouds gather from the four corners of the sky

A chain of mist binds the far distances.

Xi-la-la. The air is filled with flying drops that veil the sun.

Pit-pit. They beat upon the plantain tree.

The winds blow, and the old juniper tree is uplifted,

Uplifted and overthrown.

Once its topmost branches threatened the sky.

The crashing thunderclaps grow louder,

The mountains of Tai and Song are shaken as by an earthquake,

Yet now the sultry heat is washed away, its heaviness is banished.

The fields of young corn are fresh again

New water races down the four rivers.

The green bamboo and scarlet pomegranate

Are made clean once more.

The old woman had just bought a jar of wine and a basketful of green stuff and fruits, and was walking along the street when the downpour came. She ran under the balcony of a house and tied her kerchief over her head, but her clothes were wet through. She waited a while till the rain began to slacken, then rushed home like a flying cloud and set down her wine and meat in the kitchen. Ximen Qing and Jinlian were drinking wine.

"Yes, my Lord and Lady," cried she, laughingly, "you are drinking, but look at me! My clothes are drenched. I shall have to have a new dress."

"Oh, you old woman," Ximen said, "you are one of those spirits who always find somebody to throw the blame on."

"I am not a spirit at all," the old woman said, "but you will have to make me a present of a roll of the deepest indigo silk."

"Drink a cup of hot wine, Stepmother," Jinlian said.

The old lady drank three cups of wine with them and then said she must go to the kitchen to dry her clothes. When she had dried them, she made ready chicken, goose, and rice, carving and chopping till all was to her liking, set the other things on plates and dishes, and then took them into the room and warmed the wine. Ximen Qing and Jinlian again poured the wine and, close pressed together, drank from the same glass.

While Ximen was drinking, he saw a lute hanging on the wall. "A long time ago, I was told how well you play. You must play me a tune, and I shall enjoy my wine all the more."

"When I was a small child," Jinlian said, "I learned one or two bits of tunes, but none too well. Please do not make fun of me." Ximen took down the lute and made the woman sit on his knee. She placed the lute in her lap and, gently stretching her delicate fingers, slowly plucked the strings and sang in a low sweet voice:

I set no headdress on my brow; my idle hands refused to serve me.

Round and round I furled the silken tresses, black as night, the curls like clouds in shadow.

Golden pins, thrust crosswise, restrained the lowering masses.

"Oh, maiden, open wide the chests," I cried

And dressed in robes of whitest silk

I came forth from my tiring room, glorious as Xi Shi.

"Oh, maiden dear, throw back the lattice for me, come and burn a stick of evening incense."

This song sent Ximen Qing almost into ecstasy. He drew his loved one to him and put his arms about her white neck.

"I never realized how clever you were," he said. "I have often wandered through the haunts of singing girls, but never were their songs or music so exquisite as yours."

"It is kind of you to praise me, my Lord. I am ready to do whatever you wish. All I pray is that the time may never come when you forget me."

"How can I forget you?" Ximen cried, as he stroked her soft cheeks. Then, lazily, they played the game of rain and clouds, joking with one another and making merry. Ximen took off one of her embroidered shoes, poured a cup of wine into it, and drank.

"My feet are small enough," cried Jinlian. "Why should you make fun of them?"

Soon they had taken their fill of wine and, shutting the door of the room, they undressed and got onto the bed. Old woman Wang closed the gate, and sat down in the kitchen with Ying'er. Jinlian and her lover turned over and over, like the cock pheasant and his mate, and played as merrily as the fishes in the water. Her skill in the arts of love was a hundred times greater than that of any strumpet, and Ximen Qing himself was no mean performer. They were at the age when a woman's beauty is at its loveliest and a man's vigor at its highest. Youth was theirs.

Ximen Qing spent the whole day at his lover's house, and gave her several taels of silver for household expenses. At last she could not persuade him to stay longer; he put on his eyeshades, and went home. Jinlian pulled down the lattice and fastened the gate, then she and old woman Wang drank wine together, and went their ways.

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