CHAPTER 4 (The Story of the Stone-translated by David Hawkes)
- Posted on: 2023-11-27
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- ▸ The Story of the Stone
The Bottle-gourd girl meets an
unfortunate young man
And the Bottle-gourd monk settles a
When Dai-yu and the girls went to call on Lady Wang, they found her in the midst of discussing family affairs with the messengers from her elder brother and his wife and heard talk of their aunt's family in Nanking being involved in a case of manslaughter. Since Lady Wang was obviously preoccupied with this matter, the girls went off to call on Li Wan.
Li Wan's husband Jia Zhu had died young, but fortunately not without issue. He left her a son called Jia Lan who was now just five years old and had already begun his schooling. Like most of the Jia women, Li Wan was the daughter of a distinguished Nanking official. Her father, Li Shou-zhong, had been a Director of Education.
Up to Li Shou-zhong's time, all members of the clan, including the women, had been given a first-class education; but when Li Shou-zhong became head of the family, he founded his educational policy for girls on the good old maxim "a stupid woman is a virtuous one" and, when he had a daughter of his own, refused to let her engage in serious study. She was permitted to work her way through The Four Books for Girls and Lives of Noble Women, so that she might be able to recognize a few characters and be familiar with some of the models of female virtue of former ages; but overriding importance was to be attached to spinning and sewing, and even her name "Wan", which means a kind of silk, was intended to symbolize her dedication to the needle.
Thanks to her upbringing, this young widow living in the midst of luxury and self-indulgence was able to keep herself like the "withered tree and dead ashes" of the philosopher, shutting out everything that did not concern her and attending only to the duties of serving her husband's parents and bringing up her child. Whatever leisure this left her was devoted to her little sister-in-law and cousins, accompanying them at their embroidery or hearing them recite their lessons.
With such gentle companions to console her, Dai-yu, though a stranger and far from home, soon had nothing apart from her old father that she need worry about.
Let us now turn to the affairs of Jia Yu-cun, newly installed in the yamen at Ying-tian-fu.
No sooner had he arrived at his new post than a case involving manslaughter was referred to his tribunal. It concerned two parties in dispute over the purchase of a slave-girl. Neither had been willing to give way to the other, and in the ensuing affray one of the parties had been wounded and had subsequently died. After reading the papers in the case, Yu-cun summoned the plaintiff for questioning and received from him the following account of what had happened:
"The murdered man was my master, Your Honour. Although he did not realize it at the time, the girl he purchased had been kidnapped by the man who was selling her. My master paid him in advance, and arranged to receive the girl into his house three days from the date of purchase, the third day being a lucky day. The kidnapper, having already pocketed my young master's money, then quietly went off and sold her again to Xue. When we found this out, we went along to seize him and to collect the girl.
"But unfortunately this Xue turned Out to be a powerful Nanking boss, who evidently thought that by money and influence he could get away with anything. He set a crowd of his henchmen on to my young master and beat him up so badly that he died.
"Xue and his henchmen have now disappeared without trace, leaving only a few retainers who were not involved in the crime. But though it is a year since I first brought this charge, no one has yet done anything to help me. I beseech Your Honour to arrest the criminals and to uphold the course of justice! Both the living and the dead will be everlastingly grateful to you if you do!"
"This is monstrous!" said Yu-cun in a towering rage. "Am I to understand that a man can be beaten to death and the murderer walk off scot-free with nobody lifting a finger to arrest him?" and he took up a warrant and was on the point of sending his runners to seize the murderer's dependants and bring them to court so that they might be put to the torture, when he observed one of the ushers signalling to him with his eyes not to issue the warrant. His resolution somewhat shaken, he put it down again and adjourned to his private chambers, dismissing everyone except the usher, whom he ordered to remain behind in attendance.
When they were alone together the usher, with a broad smile on his face, came forward and touched his hand and knee to the ground in the Manchu salute.
"Your Honour has gone a long way up in the world during these past eight or nine years! I don't expect you would remember me!"
"Your face is certainly familiar," said Yu-cun, "but for the moment I simply can't place it."
The usher smiled again. "Has Your Honour forgotten the place you started from? Do you remember nothing of the old times in Bottle-gourd Temple?"
With a start of recognition, Yu-cun remembered. The usher had been a little novice in the temple where he once lodged.
Finding himself homeless after the fire, and bethinking himself that a post in a yamen was a fine, gentlemanly way of earning a living, and being furthermore heartily sick of the rigours of monastic life, the little novice had taken advantage of his youth to grow his hair again and get himself a post as an usher. Small wonder that Yu-cun had failed to recognize him!
"Ah, so it was an old acquaintance!" said Yu-cun, grasping him warmly by the hand and urging him to sit down for a chat. But the usher would not be seated.
"Come," said Yu-cun, "as a friend of my early, hard-up days you are entitled to. After all, this is a private room. Why not?"
The usher permitted himself to perch one of his haunches sideways on the edge of a chair.
"Tell me," said Yu-cun, "why did you stop me issuing that warrant just now?"
"Your Honour is new to this post. Surely you must have provided yourself before you left with a copy of the Mandarin's Life-Preserver for this province?"
"What is the Mandarin's Lift-Preserver?" Yu-cun inquired curiously.
"Nowadays every provincial official carries a private hand-list with the names of all the richest, most influential people in his area. There is one for every province. They list those families which are so powerful that if you were ever to run up against one of them unknowingly, not only your job, but perhaps even your life might be in danger. That's why they are called 'life-preservers'.
"Now take this Xue you were dealing with just now. Your Honour couldn't possibly try conclusions with him! Why do you suppose this case has remained unsettled for so long? It's a straightforward enough case. The reason is simply that none of your predecessors dared touch it because of the unpleasantness and loss of face it would have caused them."
While he was speaking he had been fishing for a copy of the Mandarin's Lift-Preserver in his pocket. This he now presented to Yu-cun for his inspection. It contained a set of doggerel verses in which were listed the big families and most powerful magnates of the area in which he was working. It went some-thing like this:
Shout hip hurrah
For the Nanking Jia!
They weigh their gold out
By the jar.
The Ah-bang Palace
Scrapes the sky,
But it could not house
The Nanking Shi.
The King of the Ocean
When he's short of gold beds,
To the Nanking Wang.
The Nanking Xue
So rich are they,
To count their money
Would take all day...
Before Yu-cun had time to read further, a warning chime from the inner gate and a shout outside the door announced the arrival of a Mr Wang on an official call. Yu-cun hastily donned the hat and robe of office which he had temporarily laid aside and went out to meet the visitor. About the length of time it would take to eat a meal elapsed before he returned and resumed his conversation with the usher.
"Those four families," said the usher in answer to a question from Yu-cun, "are all closely connected with each other. A loss for one is a loss for all. A gain for one is a gain for all. The Xue who has been charged with the manslaughter is one of the 'Nanking Xue so rich are they'. Not only can he count on the support of the other three Nanking families, he also has any number of family friends and connections of his own both at the capital and in the provinces. Now who are you going to arrest?"
"That's all very well," said Yu-cun with an uneasy laugh, "but how am I going to settle this case? Incidentally, I assume you know perfectly well where the criminal is hiding?"
"I wouldn't deceive Your Honour," replied the usher with a grin, "not only do I know where the criminal has gone but I also know who the kidnapper is and all about the poor devil who was killed. Let me tell you the whole story.
"The man who was killed was a poor country squire's son called Feng Yuan. His father and mother were both dead and he had no brothers. He lived off the income of a very small estate. He was eighteen or nineteen when he died. He was a confirmed queer and not interested in girls. Which shows that the whole business must have been fated, because no sooner did he set eyes on this girl than he at once fell in love with her—swore he would never have anything more to do with boys and never have any other woman but her. That was the idea of this waiting three days before she came to him. To make it seem more like a wedding and less like a sale.
"What he couldn't foresee, of course, was that the kidnapper would use this interval to resell her on the sly to Xue, hoping to pocket the money from both parties and then do a flit. Only he didn't get away with it. The two parties nabbed him before he could disappear and beat the daylights out of him. Both refused to take back their money, and both insisted that they wanted the girl. It was at this point that our young friend Xue called for his roughs to get to work on Feng Yuan. They beat him till he was hardly recognizable. Then they picked him up and carried him home. He died three days later.
"Now long before any of this happened, young Xue had made arrangements for a journey to the capital. So after killing Feng and carrying off the girl, he set off with his family, calm as you please, on the appointed day. There was no question of his running away because of the killing. In his eyes a trifling matter like taking another man's life was something for his junior clansmen or the servants to clear up in his absence.
"But never mind him. Who do you think the slave-girl is?"
"How in the world should I know?" said Yu-cun.
The usher smiled maliciously. "You ought to, Your Honour! She is your great benefactress - Ying-lian, the little daughter of Mr Zhen, who used to live next door to Bottle-gourd Temple."
"Good gracious!" said Yu-cun in astonishment. "I had heard that she was kidnapped at the age of five. But how did she come to be sold so long after the kidnapping?"
"This type of kidnapper specializes in kidnapping very young girls and rearing them until they are twelve or thirteen for sale in other parts of the country. When she was little we used to play with Ying-lian at the temple nearly every day, so I knew her very well; and when I saw her again, even though it was after an interval of seven or eight years, I could tell it was her. she'd grown into a little woman in the meantime, but her features were still the same; and to confirm it there was a tiny red birthmark right in the middle of her brow which I remembered.
"By a strange coincidence the kidnapper had rented one of my rooms, and one day when he was out I put it to her who she was. But she said she was scared of being beaten and nothing would induce her to talk. She just kept insisting that the kidnapper was her real father, selling her because he had no money to pay his debts with. I kept on at her, cajoling and persuading, and in the end she broke down and cried. Said she didn't remember anything about her childhood. But there's no doubt in my mind. It's her, all right.
"The day young Feng met her and paid out the money for her, the kidnapper got drunk, and she opened up to me a bit. She was feeling very relieved. She said, 'Today I think my tribulations are at last coming to an end.' But then later, when she heard that she wasn't to be installed until after another three days, she began to look worried and despondent again. I felt truly sorry for her, and sent the wife round to have a talk with her while the kidnapper was out and give her a bit of encouragement.
"The wife said to her, 'Mr Feng's insistence on waiting three days before taking you in shows that he doesn't intend to treat you like a servant. Besides,' she said, 'he's a very nice, handsome gentleman, and quite comfortably off. Normally he doesn't like the fair sex, yet here he is spending everything he has on your purchase. You can tell from that,' she said, 'how much he must care for you. You only have to be patient for another day or two,' she said. 'you've no cause to be downcast.'
"Well, that seemed to cheer her up a bit, and she began to feel that life was going to be worth living.
"But only the day after that, by the most accursed stroke of bad luck which no one could possibly have foreseen, she was sold to Xue. Now if it had been anyone else, it wouldn't have mattered so much, but this young Xue, whose nickname is the Oaf King, is the world's most bad-tempered bully; and having spent money like water on buying the girl only to find that she wasn't willing, he knocked her about until she was half unconscious and dragged her off with him more dead than alive. Whether she's alive or dead now, I have no idea.
"And young Feng is really to be pitied! After a brief moment of happiness, before anything had come his way, he spent all his money and laid down his life for nothing!"
Yu-cun sighed sympathetically. "Their meeting cannot have been coincidental. It must have been the working out of some destiny. An atonement. Otherwise, how is one to account for Feng Yuan's sudden affection for that particular girl?
"And Ying-lian, after all those years of ill-treatment at the hands of her kidnapper, suddenly seeing a road to freedom opening in front of her - for she was a girl of feeling, and there is no doubt that they would have made a fine couple if they had succeeded in coming together—and then for this to have happened!
"And even though Xue may be far wealthier and better-placed than Feng was, a man like that is sure to have numbers of concubines and paramours and to be licentious and debauched in his habits - quite incapable of concentrating all his affections on one girl as Feng Yuan would have done.
"A real case of an ideal romance on the one hand and a pair of unlucky young things on the other adding up to make a tragedy!
"But a truce to this discussion of other people's affairs! Let us rather consider how this case is to be settled!"
"Your Honour used to be decisive enough in the old days," said the usher with a smile. "What has become of your old resolution today? Now, I was told that your promotion to this post was due to the combined influence of the Jias and the Wangs; and this Xue Pan is related to the Jias by marriage. Why not trim your sails to the wind in your handling of this case? Why not make a virtue of necessity by doing them a favour which will stand you in good stead next time you see them?"
"What you say is, of course, entirely correct," said Yu-cun. "But there is, after all, a human life involved in this case; and you have to remember that I have only just been restored to office by an act of Imperial clemency. I really cannot bring myself to pervert justice for private ends at the very moment when I ought to be doing my utmost to show my gratitude."
The usher smiled coldly. "What Your Honour says is no doubt very right and proper, but it won't wash. Not the way things are in the world today! Haven't you heard the old saying 'The man of spirit shapes his actions to the passing moment'? And there's another old saying: 'It is the mark of a gentleman to avoid what is inauspicious'. If you were to act in accordance with what you have just said, not only would you not be able to show your gratitude to the Emperor, but also you would probably put your own life in danger. If I were you, I should think very carefully before you do anything."
Yu-cun lowered his head in thought. After a very long pause he asked, "What do you think I ought to do?"
"I've thought of a very good solution," said the usher. "When you open court tomorrow, you should make a great display of authority. Send out writs, issue warrants for arrest, and so forth. You won't, of course, be able to arrest the culprits, and the plaintiffs will certainly not allow the matter to rest there; so what you do then is to arrest some of Xue's clansmen and servants for questioning. But in the meantime I shall have got to work on them on the side and arranged for them to report that Xue has died of sudden illness. This can be supported by the affidavits of the whole Xue clan and the people living in the neighbourhood.
"Then Your Honour has it put about that you have a gift for the planchette. You have an altar set up in the court and a planchette board installed on it and you issue an open invitation to any members of the public who want to to attend a séance. Then you say, 'The spirit control gives judgment as follows:
"'The dead man, Feng Yuan, owed a debt of karma to Xue Pan from a former life and "meeting his enemy in a narrow way", paid for it with his life. The sudden, unexplained illness which struck down Xue Pan was caused by the vengeful ghost of Feng Yuan come to claim its own. Since the tragedy was entirely due to the behaviour of the kidnapper, the kidnapper should be dealt with according to the full rigour of the law; but apart from him, all other parties are exonerated...' and so on and so forth.
"I shall secretly instruct the kidnapper to make a full confession, and when the public see that the judgment given by the planchette tallies with the confession made by the kidnapper, they will naturally have no suspicions.
"Then you award the Fengs compensation to cover funeral expenses and so on. And since die Xues are rolling in money, you can say anything you like. Five hundred, a thousand—it doesn't matter. There's no one of any importance on the Feng side, and in any case they're mainly in this for the money. So once they have got their compensation, they shouldn't give you any further trouble.
"What about that for a plan, Your Honour? You just think it over!"
Yu-cun laughed. "Too risky! Let me turn it over in my mind a little longer. The main thing is to think of something that will stop people talking."
And with this observation the two men concluded their discussion.
At next day's session a group of well-known associates of the wanted man were brought in and subjected by Yu-cun to careful questioning. It emerged, as the usher had said, that the Fengs were few in number and had brought this action solely in the hope of gaining some compensation, and that it was only because the Xues had, with the arrogance of the very rich and very powerful, refused to pay a penny, that the case had been brought to a standstill.
By a judicious bending of the law to suit the circumstances, Yu-cun managed to arrive at some sort of judgment whereby the plaintiffs received substantial compensation and went off tolerably well satisfied. He then hurriedly drafted and sent off two letters, one to Jia Zheng and one to Wang Zi-teng, Commandant, Metropolitan Barracks, in which he merely stated that their "nephew's affair had been settled and there was no further cause for concern".
Fearful that the now usher and quondam novice of Bottle-gourd Temple might talk to others about the days when he was an obscure and impoverished student, Yu-cun for some time went about in great discomfort of mind. Finally, however, he managed to catch him out in some misdemeanour or other and have him drafted for military service on a frontier outpost, after which he felt able to breathe freely again.
But now no more of Yu-cun. Let us turn instead to Young Xue, the man who purchased Ying-lian and had Feng Yuan beaten to death. He was a native of Nanking and came of a refined and highly cultivated family, but having lost his father in infancy and been, as sole remaining scion of the stock, excessively indulged by a doting widowed mother, he had grown up into a useless lout. The family was immensely wealthy. As one of the official Court Purveyors they received money from the Privy Purse with which to make purchases for the Imperial Household.
Xue Pan, to give him his full name, was a naturally extravagant young man with an insolent turn of speech. He had been educated after a fashion, but could barely read and write. He devoted the greater part of his time to cock-fighting, horse-racing, and outings to places of scenic interest. Though an Imperial Purveyor, he was wholly innocent of business skill and savoir-faire; and though, for his father's and grandfather's sake, he was allowed to register at the Ministry and receive regular payments of grain and money, everything else was looked after for him by the clerks and factors of the family business.
Xue Pan's widowed mother was a younger half-sister of Wang Zi-teng, at that time Commandant of the Metropolitan Barracks, and younger sister of Lady Wang, the wife of Jia Zheng of the Rong mansion. She was now around fifty and had only the one son. Besides Xue Pan she had a daughter two years his junior called Bao-chai, a girl of flawless looks and great natural refinement. While her father was still alive she had been his favourite and had been taught to read and write and construe - all of which she did ten times better than her oafish brother; but when he died and her brother proved incapable of offering their mother any comfort, she laid aside her books and devoted herself to needlework and housewifely duties in order to take some of the burden off her mother's shoulders.
The well-known interest always shown by our present sovereign in literature and the arts, and the widespread recruitment of talent that this has stimulated, had recently, at the time of which we speak, led to an unprecedented act of Imperial grace whereby daughters of hereditary officials and distinguished families, apart from the possibility of being recruited to the Imperial seraglio by the customary procedures, were permitted to have their names sent in to the Ministry for selection as study-companions, with the rank and title of Maid of Honour or Lady-in-waiting, of the Imperial princesses and the daughters of princes of the blood.
This circumstance, coupled with the fact that, since the death of his father, the managers, clerks, and factors of the family business in its various agencies throughout the provinces had profited from Xue Pan's youth and ignorance of affairs to feather their own nests at the firm's expense, and even the family's enterprises in the capital, of which there were several, had shown a gradual falling-off, provided Xue Pan, who had long heard of the rich pleasures of the metropolis and was agog to taste them, with excuses for realizing his cherished ambition, viz:
1.They must go to the capital because he had to present his sister to the Ministry for selection.
2. They must go to the capital to look up their kinsfolk there.
3. They must go to the capital so that he might clear his accounts with the Ministry and take receipt of a new install-ment of funds.
(Needless to say, the sole substantial reason for going to the capital, Xue Pan's desire to see the sights, was unexpressed.)
Accordingly, their baggage had long been packed and souvenirs of Nanking for their friends and relations in the capital long been selected and a date for their departure long been decided on, when Xue Pan encountered the kidnapper and Ying-lian and, as Ying-lian was an uncommonly attractive slave-girl, resolved to purchase her and make her his concubine.
Then Feng and his servants came to seize the girl and Xue Pan, confident in his superior forces, shouted the command to his attendant roughs which was to have such fatal consequences for poor Feng Yuan.
Entrusting everything to his clansmen and a few old and trusty retainers, he then proceeded to depart according to schedule, in company with his mother and sister, on the long journey to the capital, accounting the charge of manslaughter a mere bagatelle which the expenditure of a certain amount of coin could confidently be expected to resolve.
Of the journey our story gives no record, except to say that on the last day, when they were about to enter the capital, they heard news that Xue Pan's uncle Wang Zi-teng had just been promoted C.-in-C. Northern Provinces with instructions to leave the capital on a tour of frontier inspection. The news secretly delighted Xue Pan.
"Just as I was worrying about Uncle cramping my style when we got to the capital and preventing me from having a really good fling," he reflected, "the old boy obligingly gets himself popped out of the way. Fortune is on my side!"
He then proceeded to reason as follows with his mother:
"We ve got several houses in the capital, but it's all of ten years since anyone has been to stay in them, so you can bet that the housekeepers will have let all the rooms out on the sly. We shall have to send someone on ahead to get things straightened out for us."
"Why ever should we go to any such trouble?" said his mother. "I thought the main purpose of our coming here in the first place was to see our relations. There must be lots and lots of spare room at your Uncle Wang's and at your Uncle Jia's place. Surely it. would be much more sensible to stay with one of them first? There will be plenty of time to send our people to get a place of our own ready after we are there."
"But Uncle's just been promoted to the Northern Provinces," Xue Pan expostulated. "They will all be making frantic preparations for him to go. What sort of stupid idiots shall we look like if we come scooting along with all our bag and baggage just at the very moment when he wants to leave?"
"Suppose your Uncle Wang has been promoted to another place," said his mother. "There is still your Uncle Jia. Besides, Uncle Wang and Auntie Jia have for years been sending us letters inviting us to come and stay with them. Now that we are here, even though Uncle Wang is busy getting ready to go, Auntie Jia will probably be only too glad to have us. I'm sure she would be most offended if we were to go rushing off to get our own house ready.
"But I know perfectly well what's in your mind. You think that if we are staying with your uncle or aunt you will be too restricted, and that if we were living in our own place you would be freer to do just as you liked. Very well then. Why don't you go off and choose a house for yourself to live in and let me and your sister go to Auntie's without you? I haven't seen her or the girls for years and years, and I intend to spend a few days with them now we are here."
Experience taught Xue Pan that his mother was in an obstinate mood and not to be shaken from her purpose, so he resignedly gave orders to the porters to make straight for the Rong mansion.
Lady Wang had just breathed a sigh of relief on learning that the affair of Xue Pan's manslaughter charge had been retrieved through the good offices of Jia Yu-cun, when the news that her elder brother had been promoted to a frontier post plunged her once more in gloom at the prospect of losing her main source of contact with the members of her own family. Several days passed in despondency, and then suddenly the servants announced that her sister, bringing her son and daughter and all her household with her, had arrived in the capital and was at that very moment outside the gate dismounting from her carriage.
Delightedly she hurried with her women to the entrance of the main reception hall and conducted Aunt Xue and her party inside. The sudden reunion of the two sisters was, it goes without saying, an affecting one in which joy and sorrow mingled. After an exchange of information about the years of separation, and after they had been taken to see Grandmother Jia and made their reverence to her, and after the gifts of Nanking produce had been presented and everyone had been introduced to everyone else, there was a family party to welcome the new arrivals.
Xue Pan, meanwhile, had paid his respects to Jia Zheng and Jia Lian and been taken to see Jia She and Cousin Zhen. Jia Zheng now sent a servant round to Lady Wang with the following message:
"Your sister is getting on in years and our nephew is very young and seems rather inexperienced and, I fear, quite capable of getting into a scrape again if they are going to live outside. Pear Tree Court in the north-east corner of our property is lying completely unoccupied at the moment and has quite a sizeable amount of room in it. Why not invite your sister and her children to move in there?"
Lady Wang had wanted all along to ask her sister to stay. Grandmother Jia had sent someone round to tell her that she should "ask Mrs Xue to stay with us here, so that we can all be close to one another." And Aunt Xue for her own part had been wanting to stay so that some sort of check could be kept on her son. She was sure that if they were to be on their own somewhere else in the city his unbridled nature would precipitate some fresh calamity. She therefore accepted the invitation with alacrity, privately adding the proviso that she could only contemplate a long stay if it was on the under-standing that they were themselves to be responsible for all their expenses. Lady Wang knew that money was no problem to them, so she readily consented, and Aunt Xue and her children proceeded there and then to move into Pear Tree Court.
This Pear Tree Court had been the Duke of Rong-guo's retreat during the last years of his life. Its buildings totalled not much more than ten frames; but though small and charming, it was complete in every respect, with a little reception room in the front and all the usual rooms and offices behind. It had its own outer door on to the street, through which Xue Pan and the menservants could come and go, and another gate in the south-west corner giving on to a passage-way which led into the courtyard east of Lady Wang's compound.
Through this passage-way Aunt Xue would now daily repair, either after dinner or in the evening, to gossip with Grandmother Jia or reminisce with her sister, Lady Wang. Bao-chai for her part spent her time each day in great contentment, reading or playing Go or sewing with Dai-yu and the three girls.
The only dissatisfied member of the party - to begin with, at any rate—was Xue Pan. He had not wanted to stay in the Jia household, fearing that his uncle's control would prevent him from enjoying himself, but what with his mother's obstinacy and the insistence of the Jias themselves, he was obliged to acquiesce in settling there for the time being, contenting himself with sending some of his people to clean up one of their houses outside so that he would be able to move there later on.
But, to his pleasant surprise, he discovered that the young males of the Jia establishment, half of whom he was already on familiar terms with before he had been there a month, were of the same idle, extravagant persuasion as himself and thought him a capital fellow and boon companion. And so he found himself meeting them for a drinking-party one day, for theatre-going the next, on a third day perhaps gambling with them or visiting brothels. For there were no limits to the depravity of their pleasures, and Xue Pan, who was bad enough to start with, soon became ten times worse under their expert guidance.
It was not that jia Zheng was a slack disciplinarian, incapable of keeping his house in order; but the clan was so numerous that he simply could not keep an eye on everyone at once. And in any case the nominal head of the family was not Jia Zheng but Cousin Zhen who, as eldest grandson of the senior, Ning-guo branch, had inherited the founder's office and emoluments and was therefore officially in charge of all the clan's affairs.
Besides, Jia Zheng was kept busy with public and private business of his own and, being by nature a quiet, retiring man who attached little importance to mundane affairs, tended to use whatever leisure time he had for reading and playing Go.
Then again, the Pear Tree Court was two courtyards away from Jia Zheng's compound and had its own private door onto the street by which Xue Pan could come and go as he pleased, so that he and his young cronies could enjoy themselves to their heart's content with no one being any the wiser.
Under these agreeable Circumstances Xue Pan gradually abandoned all thought of moving out.
But as to the outcome of these capers: that will be told in a later chapter.
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