☆ Chapter 95
The magistrate and his daughter came to apologize? Ruan Zhu thought for a moment then had Xing Yun take the guests to Liu Shuang Pavilion, where visitors were received. She then stepped inside Yi Zhu Cottage and let Nuan Chun tidy up her clothes and hairstyle so she could receive the visitors……
Shun Tian Hall’s magistrate, old man Liu, was around fifty years of age and came from a wealthy background. He had become accustomed to seeing large displays of nobility throughout his life but still became dizzy as the magnificence of Guan Ju Villa entered his eyes.
The father and daughter pair had been led by Xing Yun to the east and then the west. Along the way, they passed a wondrous standing stone forest; traveled on winding, remote paths; saw a pavilion with arched roofs……there were fantastic oddities of every description that made one associate them with the word ‘elegant.’ The bold ancient cedars, cypresses and pines on the mountains further increased the wild aspect of the mountain forest. The rock garden outside the paths were fantastically shaped; the lush green of the xiangfei bamboo; howthe plum blossom trees fell over each other in their eagerness to show off their splendor……seeing all of this, they were dazzled as it was truly a feast for the eyes.
The gardens of this era were still in the primitive stages. Ruan Zhu had drawn from the landscaping of the future so it was no wonder they were amazed.
The two people followed behind Xing Yun’s footsteps and arrived at Liu Shuang Pavilion. Immediately upon entering, they saw a long, snow white wool rug. Eyeing their muddy shoes, they froze, not daring to step inside. A palace eunuch came forward, offering them wooden sandals to change into and they finally stepped on the springy rug as some servants came in with some already-steeped tea.
“Sir, please take a seat. My family’s niangniang will arrive shortly.”
“Oh oh, all right……” Old man Liu had become a little nervous from seeing Guan Ju Villa’s exotic landscape as these kinds of things were also hard to find in the gardens managed by the Emperor. Hearing Xing Yun’s words, he sat down. The seat was incredibly soft, like he was sitting on a very thick wad of cotton. He poked at it a few times in curiosity, not knowing what it was made out of.
On the table were glass items that were worth who knows how much–really too extravagant. Looking at their surroundings, the more they saw, the more odd they found it and they couldn’t resist standing up.
“Pa, look.” His daughter pushed him.
Old man Liu turned around and saw a glass mirror over a meter tall embedded into a wall that clearly reflected the images of the people in the room. He also had a glass mirror in his family that was only the size of one’s palm yet its worth was over a hundred taels of silver. He had never seen a mirror this large before. Taking another look, he saw that the windows on all four walls were inlaid with transparent glass and those curtains all trailed to the ground with a color that was also extremely pleasing to the eye.
Liu Shuang Pavilion’s design was in accordance with Ruan Zhu’s idea of integrating the eastern and western styles into one.
The curtains were of a European design in beige and light brown, super aesthetic.
Hanging from the ceiling was a large, two square meter colored glass lamp. Its tassels were spread out in three layers. This era did not have wallpaper, but Ruan Zhu had servants glue a layer of silk patterned with silver butterflies against dark flowers on all four walls. When she examined it, it looked better than real wallpaper.
A circular paired-half-moon bogu rack was against one wall. The frame was made up of dozens of beautiful lattices, all extremely fine. Every shelf was filled with either curios, porcelain, or all kinds of other novel items.
The chair that old man Liu had just sat on was a classic chaise lounge stuffed with natural sponge from the Yellow Sea. It was something that did not exist in this period so it wasn’t surprising that he was so astonished.
Miss Liu was full of envy and admiration towards the large hanging lamp on the ceiling, the big mirror on the wall, and the chair she was currently sitting on. It was like she was Granny Lu visiting the Grand View garden[a] as she foolishly stared at everything around her, looking there, looking here, her insolent and haughty attitude yesterday on the stone bridge nowhere to be found.
Ruan Zhu led the servants into Liu Shuang Pavilion, where Nuan Chun took off her fox fur cloak, revealing her snow-white satin top and pale pink long skirt, all in a classical style, elegant and fashion-conscious. It was something that she had personally designed and had Nuan Chun make.
Two small palace eunuchs carried over two plates of fruit and set them on the glass side table. Old man Liu looked at them and became startled. On the plate were cut-up pieces of watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries……To be able to eat these fresh fruits in the middle of winter was inconceivable. He had long heard that Guan Ju Villa had a greenhouse that could grow fruits and vegetables of all four seasons and that it was all the Princess of Qi’s invention. She truly was a talented person; it was no wonder even His Majesty extremely favored this daughter-in-law. He had indeed been blind to offend her.
As for Miss Liu, her eyes had remained glued on the plates of fruit. Her elders were sitting, thus she did not have the right to sit as well. She had only been able to sit for a slight moment before Ruan Zhu had entered and had felt the wonderful sensation of the cushions, but she could only stand at this moment. Staring at the plate of fresh fruit, her hand couldn’t resist stretching forward but old man Liu shot her a quick glare and she could only pout and give up.
The several few small palace eunuchs all exposed mocking eyes.
“Idiot.” Old man Liu saw their looks and couldn’t resist lowly berating her as he became even more angry at his daughter’s rudeness. They were here to humbly apologize so how could he ignore manners?
Miss Liu snorted. Towards Guan Ju Villa, she was full of both hatred and envy.
“Greetings to niangniang, this lowly official humbly presents himself.”
Old man Liu lead his daughter in kneeling down and kowtowing. Normally, there was no need for him to formally pay his respects but this time was full of misery as he had offended this living ancestor. These few days had dragged by like it was a year and they were simply not days that a person could live through. The day before yesterday, he had been removed from his post of the magistrate of Shun Tian Hall by the Emperor and given a lower fifth-rank title without any authority or power to manage the Economic Bureau. That was fine, but while he was eyeing the approaching end of the year, he became isolated from the merchants in the capital and did not have any solution to the calendars he was supposed to gift to the Emperor and each branch of the government. He was afraid he would not be able to survive this next year.
Old man Liu had his daughter take out a gift box and deferentially raised it up.
Not even looking at it, Ruan Zhu sent Liu Shui to accept it.
“Sir magistrate is too courteous, please rise and take a seat if you have something to say!” Ruan Zhu had long known old man Liu had been demoted and she purposefully addressed him as such to not give him any face. She directed towards the palace eunuchs standing by at attention: “Liu Shui, pour some tea for sir magistrate.”
“Thanking niangniang.” Old man Liu once again sat on the soft sofa. He was really too curious and couldn’t help but to move his buttocks from side to side.
Ruan Zhu saw the old man’s behavior and knew she had achieved the effect she was going for. When faced with people that did not know the immensity of heaven and earth[b], one had to suppress their arrogance. The level of Liu Shuang Pavilion was extremely high, and ordinarily, only the Emperor and other such noble guests were qualified to enter. The Empress Dowager had visited once before and praised the chaise lounge without cease and had also demanded one for herself.
Ruan Zhu had then called the several craftsmen in the residence to make a few more and sent them into the palace. The Emperor, Empress Dowager, Empress, and a few privileged secondary husbands had received one. Currently, the ones in the palace could be proud of using sofas and spring mattresses, and even the Empress who had always been dismissive of Ruan Zhu, had changed her impression of her.
“Is there a reason why the noble and honorable sir magistrate, who has willingly fallen from grace, has come to my humble abode?”
Willingly fallen from grace! Old man Liu forced a bitter smile, not daring to take that description for himself: “It is this lowly one who had eyes yet failed to recognize Mount Tai. Lard had covered this lowly one’s mind, causing this lowly one to have been crude and contradicted niangniang. Begging niangniang to be a person of great moral stature and forget the offenses this one of low morals have committed; begging niangniang to forgive this lowly one once.”
Ruan Zhu showed off an innocent expression: “Why does sir magistrate say these words? I have not gone through anything?”
Old man Liu forced a smile: “Niangniang, the pot at this lowly official’s home can almost no longer be lifted as there is no one in the city that is willing to sell anything to this lowly official. But even then, the matter of food is easy to handle as it can be requested, and if none comes, then this lowly one can ask some relatives for help. However, the end of the year is almost upon us and the holiday gifts for the Emperor and each of the official branches has yet to be settled, may niangniang please look……”
Ruan Zhu was surprised: “Why is it like this? Is it that you do not have the coin? If so, I can assist you. Although I cannot give too much, I can still take out a thousand taels of silver.”
“Niangniang, it is not a question of coin; it is the merchants in the city who are unwilling to sell us anything.”
“Oh, so it is the merchants who are unwilling to work with you. However, that is not under my control as I am not one of those businessmen.” Ruan Zhu feigned difficulty.
Old man Liu sullenly said: “Niangniang, this lowly official’s daughter had injured your honorable body and the crime is deserving of death. When I returned home that day, I firmly taught her a lesson and also had the trouble-making Wei Jia sold into a brothel, may niangniang have a look……”
Ruan Zhu quickly glanced at the daughter of the magistrate who had been so insolent a few days prior and did not respond.
Old man Liu was helpless and yelled at his daughter in a stern voice: “You useless creature who only knows how to play with men all day long and invited disaster! Raising such a black-hearted evil like you has now affected this father! You still have the face to stand? Kneel down this instant!”
The magistrate’s daughter had been accustomed to being arrogant since small, so after being scolded by her father, she became enraged. Rolling her eyes at the Princess of Qi in the main seat, she kneeled on the ground in a huff.
Old man Liu was in such a rage his whiskers stuck straight out: “You evil creature, what had I told you at home? You still dare to cause trouble for this father?!”
If the magistrate’s daughter was here to apologize, not even one of the palace eunuchs standing by in attention would believe that and they revealed looks of disgust one after the other.
Ruan Zhu ignored the father-daughter pair and picked up her porcelain tea cup for a sip. Frowning, she threw the tea inside away: “Where did this tea come from? Why has it not been cooked to maturity?”
Liu Shui bowed in reply: “Responding to niangniang, it was what the Madam and daughter of the Imperial Hanlin Academy’s compiler Li Tong Ren sent over the day before yesterday especially for niangniang to try. Niangniang was not home that day and this slave believed it was just a small matter and did not mention it.”
The compiler of Imperial Hanlin Academy was a lower sixth-rank post and the servants of Guan Ju Villa had become accustomed to meeting all sorts of people. Their eyes now looked far ahead and they absolutely hadn’t considered that meeting as something significant.
“Someone coming to pay us a visit means our family’s relationships with others is good; this cannot be a small matter, correct?”
Liu Shui hastened to bow and replied: “This slave understands. However, this slave was not lacking in manners and took out three catties of fresh vegetables and fruits from the large shed as a return gift. When the madam of Li Tong Ren received it, she was very delighted.”
Ruan Zhu smiled: “You, this child, is still capable; handling it like that was very good. It is clear that you understand how to do things.” She swept a glance to the side, with the meaning being there were people present who did not understand how things were done!
Liu Shui naturally caught what niangniang was referring to and added: “What niangniang said is true; they truly are devoid of sense.”
Old man Liu was greatly embarrassed. There was no meaning in staying any longer, and he took the initiative to say goodbye.
Ruan Zhu did not wish to let the magistrate’s family off this easily; she wanted to first give them the cold shoulder for a few more months before deciding what to do. Seeing that they were leaving, she performed the rites towards them and had Xing Yun and Liu Shui prepare a pair of glass vases as well as two watermelons as return gifts and sent them to their carriage. Glass vases and watermelons were common items in her residence but they were extremely rare in others’. It was like old man Liu had received a great advantage as he hurriedly bowed in thanks.
“Eldest Miss, look.” Nuan Chun carried over the gift the magistrate had given for her to see.
Inside the box was a pair of porcelain bottles made from the Jun kiln. The glaze was very thick and the coloring was like smoke–with one glance, it was obvious it had been manufactured from a famous kiln: “Not bad, take it to the storeroom!”
Qu Gao and He Gua were currently Zong Zhi’s capable assistants and managed a large amount of businesses, including Tian Wang Embassy and Hua Nong Ying Glass Factory. Xing Yun and Liu Shui had then replaced their duty of serving others.
The Ruan family’s Steward Yang was still in charge of the Ruan clan’s matters.
Because Yun Shi Yi’s business had expanded, Yun Shan and Yun Feng had gone to help as his assistants.
The duty of managing Guan Ju Villa was currently Nuan Chun’s. He was loyal and did things in an orderly manner.
The year passed in a flash and she was incessantly busy from the first day of the new year to the fifteenth from participating in the palace’s banquets to visiting various clans. They also had to invite the colleagues of Zong Zhi’s and Min Zhi’s for a feast at their residence and Yun Shi Yi’s connections could also not be exempted. There were gatherings every day–one after the other–like a paper carousel lantern[c]. It caused Ruan Zhu to become to tired that as soon as she returned home each night, she would throw herself onto the bed, immediately falling asleep.
Entering the second lunar month, the weather gradually warmed.
Yun Shi Yi began preparing for his ocean voyage and recruited partners through all of Tian Chu in a join-stock manner. Visionary businessmen understood there were large benefits to be had in overseas trade; furthermore, there was also the imperial navy acting as an escort, and they did not need to worry about safety.
Prior to this, there had often been daring merchants who had braved the seas to sell their goods in the distant India and Persia but had then frequently been robbed by sea pirates and subsequently lost their lives. Now, the probability of danger had sharply decreased and quite a few people’s hearts were moved and they brought money, men, and ships as they joined the endeavor.
The time frame would be at least a year. In the month before Yun Shi Yi expected departure, Ruan Zhu resided with him. When she had free time, she carefully wrapped up his clothes for all four seasons as well as the brush, ink, paper, and inkstone he had become accustomed to using.
“Wife, think about what you want; I’ll bring it back for you.” Yun Shi Yi pulled his wife into his arms for a kiss. Thinking about how he would soon have to go, reluctance emerged in his heart.
“I want India’s chili peppers and spices and Persia’s sapphires.” Ruan Zhu’s eyebrows lowered as she thought for a moment: “Bring back all of the foreign books you see that discuss astronomy, geography, arithmetic, agriculture, and industry. Also bring back their respective translators. All of those are good items and crucial to the development of our country. They are much more valuable than silver.”
The future’s science and technology were all kept in some state of confidentiality and the ancient people had not yet realized the importance of science.
Yun Shi Yi was confused: “What are chili peppers? And what are spices?”
Ruan Zhu explained what chili peppers and spices were to him and drew out some pictures for him after finding a brush: “It can be assumed that the people of India also do not know how to eat chili peppers. They may view them as an ornamental plant and grow them in flower pots. You can just bring back the matured seeds.”
Yun Shi Yi brought her to the bed and stripped both of them of their clothes. Extinguishing the lights, he embraced her.
In the third lunar month, the weather was bright and sunny. On this day, over fifty large ships were gathered on the dock of Lan River.
Yun Shi Yi hugged and kissed his son Zhi Xi and then did it all over again before he very reluctantly let him go. Ruan Zhu tried her hardest to restrain her tears: “Be at ease, I will take care of our child and wait for you return.”
Yun Shi Yi’s eyes were filled with love: “Wife, I heard that Prime Minster Wang wants to send over one of his sons into our family. I have sent people to investigate that person’s background and reportedly, it isn’t bad. If there is the opportunity, you might as well accept him!”
Ruan Zhu remembered the man in blue on the stone bridge and responded: “This matter should still wait until you’ve returned.”
Yun Shi Yi sighed: “Don’t wait. Delay brings about change. There a quite a few eyes fixed on this position, hmm? In the case that a troublesome one enters, then it would be problematic.”
Ruan Zhu thought of Wei Rong and nodded: “Okay then!”
Once the sacrifices to the Heavens were made, the firecrackers were set off, and the ones going on the journey bid farewell to their loved ones as they successively boarded the ships.
The large ships left the harbor one after the other as they sailed towards their distant destination…….
When it was Yun Shi Yi’s turn to leave the port, he looked towards his wife and child on the dock, waving his arm nonstop as he incessantly looked at them, all the way until he could no longer see them……He then turned his head towards the vast sea where the edges couldn’t be seen…..
Without Yun Shi Yi by her side, the days seemed to have become tranquil.
During this period, Ruan Yu was visibly dejected When Ruan Zhu discovered something was wrong, she called Xing Yun and Liu Shui to set up refreshments in the Shui Xie Ark on Bi Qing pond .
Shui Xie Ark was an attraction of Guan Ju Villa. A highly elegant and unusual pavilion had been erected on top of the crystal clear pond. To the east of the pavilion was a suspended wooden walkway that was over fifty meters long and reached the shore in a straight line.
Ruan Yu elegantly entered Shui Xie Ark and sat down, silently drinking osmanthus wine. Ruan Zhu couldn’t help but to become puzzled: “Yu’er, what happened to make you, a honorable daughter who had never known of human suffering, to turn into a dumb goose?”
Ruan Yu remained silent for a good while. Looking at her sister, she finally spoke after another moment: “I know that person’s name.”
That person? Ruan Zhu stared blankly at her for a short period of time and then remembered the man that Ruan Yu had continuously liked. “What is that person’s background?” Seeing her younger sister remain taciturn, she couldn’t help from guessing: “Don’t tell me he is a pirate on the high seas? An escaped convict? A recurring flower thief?”
Ruan Yu’s face was not pleased: “It is nearly the same as a flower thief; he is a courtesan.”
A courtesan! “What is his name?”
“I’ve heard that it’s Shen Zhong Yun.”
Shen Zhong Yun of the Four Great Masters. She had heard this man was quite talented and his skill with the sword was very high. “Do you intend to give up?”
Ruan Yu dully repeated: “He is a courtesan.”
“There are also good courtesans, right?” Those talented and good-looking men were proud and arrogant for the most part and sold their skill instead of themselves. If it was the future, they would all be among the ranks of normal artists.
The Liu Shui standing at the side interrupted their conversation: “Niangniang, Second Miss, please forgive this slave for speaking out of turn. This Shen Zhong Yun’s origin, this slave knows a bit. He is not considered a genuine courtesan. His family opened a brothel and for the sake of having good business, they pushed him out as one of the Four Great Masters, when in reality, he does not do that sort of work.”
Ruan Zhu remarked: “Shen Zhong Yun’s parents are truly too terrible. Isn’t this ruining their son’s reputation for his entire lifetime?”
[a] 姥姥进大观园一样, saying that means a simple person being overwhelmed by new experiences and luxurious surroundings.
[b] 不知天高地厚, saying translated literally above that means, one has an exaggerated opinion of one’s own abilities
[c] 走马灯 is exactly like described–a paper lantern that rotates like a carousel that usually has horses drawn on it.
TN: lol YSY finally has the chance to decide who one of her concubines is