The go-between who had concluded Prudence’s betrothal came one day at the instance of the P’ei family to ask that marriage might be hastened. But Liu had determined first to accomplish the ceremonies for his son, and accordingly took customary steps with this object in view, so that a day was at length fixed. But when the appointed time was drawing near, Virgin Diamond fell seriously ill. His father, Liu, wished to postpone the ceremony, but his mother argued that perhaps joy would cure him better than medicine.
“But if, by mischance, our son should die?” he insisted.
“We will send back the bride and all the gifts, and the family will have nothing to say.”
The doctor, like many men, was wax in the hands of his wife, and therefore her wish was fulfilled.
But it chanced that one of their neighbors had been slightly affronted by them, and had never forgiven them. He heard of Virgin Diamond’s illness, and spoke of it to the family of Sun.
Sun had no intention of compromising his daughter’s future; so he summoned and questioned the go-between who had arranged the betrothal. The poor woman was in a great quandary, fearing to offend either the one family or the other; yet she was compelled to admit the truth. In her anxiety she ran to the house of Liu to obtain a postponement of the marriage until Virgin Diamond’s recovery, and hinted that, failing this, Sun would send his old nurse to see the sick bridegroom.
Liu did not know what to do, and before he had come to a decision, the nurse arrived. He saluted her, not knowing what excuse to make. At last he said to the go-between: “Be so good as to entertain this venerable aunt for a moment, while I go and find my Old-Thornbush.”
He hurried into the interior of the house, and in a few words told his wife what was happening.
“She is already here and wishes to see our son. I told you that it would have been better to change the day.”
“You really are a decayed piece of goods. Their daughter has received our gifts, and is already our daughter-in-law. You shall see.”
Then she said to Prudence:
“Make haste and prepare our large room for a collation to the family of Sun.”
She herself went to the room where the nurse was, and asked:
“Has our new daughter’s mother something to say to us?”
“She is uneasy about the health of your honorable son, and has sent me to see him, thinking that it would be better to postpone the marriage if he were seriously ill.”
“I am gratified to receive this proof of her consideration. My son has, in fact, taken cold, but it is not a serious indisposition. As for choosing another day, that is not to be thought of. Our preparations are made, and a delay would involve too great a loss. Furthermore, happiness drives away every ill. The invitations are sent out. We might imagine that your family had changed its intention....”