Settling Down Anxieties Within The Heart
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Bearing a dream of making another fortune, Song Jing-gong followed along after Yingtao while periodically directing a smile at Zhang Xiaobao that Zhang Xiaobao would respond to with an even cuter smile. With a peaceful atmosphere, the three people arrived outside that manor courtyard of the Zhang family. Having already received the report as well as subjective opinion of Wang Juan beforehand, Mrs. Zhang-Wang didn’t come out in welcome this time. Even if Song Jing-gong urgently requested it, it was still only Steward Zhang who came out as the representative.
“Little Mister, whose stuff is this that you [honorific] are holding in hand? We shouldn’t take someone else’s things. Quickly, return it.” According to his instructions, Steward Zhang spoke as planned upon catching sight of Little Mister. This caused Zhang Xiaobao to start for a moment. He clearly didn’t tell anyone beforehand that he would swindle money and items, how could Steward Zhang know of such a ‘status quo?’
Of course, Zhang Xiaobao wouldn’t return the money or items. Since they had come to swindle, then they should be conscious of being swindled. Fully playing along, he allowed Steward Zhang to take the silver coins and jade ornament from out of his grasp to hand over to Song Jing-gong while his gaze traveled along with the objects. Just as Song Jing-gong was happy that his own stuff was about to be returned, he suddenly blurted out: “Lie, lie…”
“Steward Zhang, you [honorific] look at what words you [honorific] are saying. Your Little Mister is so cute; I’m gifting this to him here. With such a little plaything, why be this way? To tell you [honorific] the truth, once I saw Little Mister, I felt like we share an affinity.”1 Song Jing-gong, seeing that when the items in this little kid’s grasp were gone, he would be called a liar again, how could he dare take the things back? He placed it into his hands to give to Zhang Xiaobao again.
Seeing that the other person’s Little Mister had regained his smile, he felt a full-body weakness from the fright he had suffered while Steward Zhang smiled as he nodded his head and said: “Mister Song, if that’s the case, then thank you very much. Oh, Mister Song has come from afar. Why not enter the courtyard house to rest for a bit before making any other plans?”
These words sounded like they had a bit of an intention of rejection but Song Jing-gong didn’t refute them one bit. He had arrived with a motive so he immediately struck while the iron was hot:2 “If that’s so, then I’ll be imposing. Coincidentally, I desire to discuss a great business deal with the person managing the affairs of your noble manor.”
Steward Zhang didn’t say anything else, only replying that he would return to make a report. After leading the person to the parlor, he turned to leave.
Zhang Xiaobao got down from Yingtao’s embrace as he walked back, step by step, wanting to find Steward Zhang to ask how they knew that he had swindled stuff.
In a room, Wang Juan was being held by Mrs. Zhang-Wang as she kept calling Mom [in-law] with each breath. To tell the truth, she didn’t like being this way. But for the sake of a good lifestyle, she must be wed to Zhang Xiaobao. She would not allow herself to be wed to an individual who couldn’t even keep up with her thinking when speaking to her. From now until growing up and marrying was a time for nurturing their feelings and understanding each other’s worlds. To have the same language and ideals, being together in the end wouldn’t be hard—she’d just treat it as an experience of this new dynasty era.
“Mom [in-law], even if that swindler is exposed, don’t report it to the officials. Don’t know how much money Xiaobao will swindle this time?” Wang Juan tried her best to make herself speak a bit more familiarly, even if she had no way of adapting to this identity.
“All right, I’ll listen to Juan-Juan. Can Juan-Juan tell Mom [in-law] how you knew Xiaobao would be able to swindle money?” Mrs. Zhang-Wang had already discovered that this future daughter-in-law and son were overly intelligent. But so what? Xiang Tuo became Confucius’ teacher at 7,3 Gan Luo became Senior Minister at 12;4 weren’t her own son and daughter-in-law allowed to be a bit bright?
“Ah? It was Xiaobao who told me before coming back.” Wang Juan replied in answer. She obviously couldn’t say that she understood this swindler and had done quite a bit of investigation so that if this kind of person didn’t cheat a swindler that they had met from head to toe, then that would only sully the reputation of an International Swindler.
Zhang Xiaobao wandered through a few rooms and asked the servants but he couldn’t find Steward Zhang in the end and could only return to ask Wang Juan. He trusted that Wang Juan absolutely could not avoid involvement with this. As expected, upon walking through the door, he saw Wang Juan, who was being carried by his mother, use lip-speech to ask him: “How much money did you swindle? Split it in half.”
Zhang Xiaobao could only sigh. Understanding each other too well wasn’t a good thing either as there were no secrets. Ignoring Wang Juan, he spread his little hands outward while walking toward his mother and cried out: “Mom, Xiaobao has returned.” His call was natural, ~ah, causing Wang Juan to be unable to avoid shuddering. Thinking of Zhang Xiaobao’s prior age, she secretly slandered him in that it must certainly be that his mind had issues.
At this moment, Steward Zhang was currently interrogating Xiaoqi who had been secured within a room while being accompanied by two house guards.
“Talk. Who sent you to spread rumors? What you signed was a death contract.5 If you don’t talk, there won’t be anyone investigating, even if you’re beaten to death.” Steward Zhang’s face had now transformed from the respect displayed in front of Mistress to a face that was as overcast as water.6 Being the Steward of Zhang Manor, he shared glory as one and shared ruin as one with the Zhang Family. This position had been passed down from generation to generation. At the manor, he had his own courtyard house with his parents, wife, and children. He forbade anyone else destroying this kind of happiness.
Xiaoqi didn’t have his own surname and didn’t know who his parents were, either. He had been an orphan ever since he could remember. Later, he had been captured by people and then sold to the Zhang Manor. Food, clothing, and housing didn’t require him to spend money and every month, he could even get 10-something wen [cash] in wage. This was treatment he only received after working for 10 years. Upon hearing the steward’s question and then looking at the other two people behind him bearing equally mean-looking expressions, he fearfully fell to his knees with a thumping sound.
“Steward Zhang, I didn’t. I’ve never spread whatever rumors. What things are you [honorific] talking about?” Xiaoqi simply didn’t know what wrong he had committed and even assumed that Steward Zhang was deliberately finding fault with him, ~ne.
“Looks like you won’t be telling the truth. Little Mister and Little Miss Wang are monsters—could it be that it wasn’t spread from your mouth? Let him know about formidability.” Steward Zhang stared at Xiaoqi and with a gesture, the two people behind him rushed forward.
Song Jing-gong waited in the parlor for an entire full hour before Steward Zhang finally returned.
“Mister Song, really beg your pardon. Just a moment ago, Mistress actually couldn’t be found so I went outside to look, only to return now as a result. Alas, Mistress experienced overexertion and so, after feeding Little Mister, has already retired. Don’t know what matter Mister Song has? This little one shall certainly inform Mistress of it.” Steward Zhang finished grilling Xiaoqi, then came to the parlor and spoke thusly to Song Jing-gong. This was also arranged beforehand.
Song Jing-gong had no way of guessing if these words were dependable or not. After considering it, he decided not to speak of it with this steward and could only seek out the next opportunity. He must come tomorrow. At the very least, he couldn’t spend that money and jade ornament in vain. So he said: “No harm. Since your noble manor’s Mistress is not in, I don’t know if I could see your family’s Master?” He was still unwilling to let his hopes die here.
“Master never bothers with the trifling affairs of the manor; everything that should be taken care of is managed by Mistress. Unless Mister Song is talking about matters of scholarship? Then naturally, you could seek out Master.” Steward Zhang’s reply was also airtight against any leaks.
“No, no, not scholarship. It’s business, big business.”
“Oh, is that so? Then, I request that Mister Song please come back the following day. Mister, drink tea.” Steward Zhang here was driving off a guest.
Waiting until Song Jing-gong had turned around and left, Steward Zhang gazed at that slightly reluctant back silhouette as he coldly laughed once and said to himself: “Dare to aim your attentions at my house? At that time, you’ll know formidability.”
“So, he’s not a villain who was dispatched by other people to the manor and was actually having an affair with a maid servant of the manor. This is easily handled—just drive them out of the manor is all.” Mrs. Zhang-Wang received the steward’s report. That Xiaoqi hadn’t been sent here by other people but had heard Master’s words and as a result of wanting to cajole a maid servant of the manor called Xiaohong,7 he blabbed these words to prove that he knew a lot of things.
Hearing the beginning and end of this matter at the same time, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan also breathed a sigh of relief. No one was willing to have fire break out in their own backyard when they were working hard to develop an enterprise. In regards to his mother’s approach, Zhang Xiaobao didn’t agree but could only suggest: “Mom can’t have Xiaoqi driven out. What if he harbored resentment and talked about this everywhere—that would be bad. Rather beat him dead than let him go.”
“Don’t need to beat him to death. Since he’s good with that Xiaohong or whatever, then just ask Xiaohong what they intend. If they’re both like this, then just betroth the two of them.” Wang Juan, seeing that Zhang Xiaobao wanted to commit murder for the sake of removing a hidden danger, quickly prevented it.
Mrs. Zhang-Wang looked at her son and then looked at her daughter-in-law before happily kissing their two faces again and again: “Good, we’ll listen to Juan-Juan. My son and Juan-Juan can actually say so many words like a grownup. Even if you’re monsters, Mom will accept it. Where would you go to find such dear monsters? It’s really all your Dad’s fault. He had to say that word. Wait a bit; Mom will go find your Dad to have a talk.”
Having finished talking and fed the two children, Mrs. Zhang-Wang really did go seek out Father Zhang. But she didn’t go by herself and called up Mom [in-law] and Old Master with a slight appearance of wishing to make a public trial of his crimes.8
Of course, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan didn’t care about other people as they lay down there, holding back the sleepiness overtaking them to discuss matters for later on.
“These ideas of yours are one after another. Do you intend to take them all out? Altogether, there are only two people working. How could Yingtao and Erniu know of so many things? They’ll get exhausted silly.” Wang Juan felt that if Zhang Xiaobao continued like this, the expansion would be too quick so she was giving advice there.
“It is a bit much. Then, just have Erniu’s family manage the affairs of that paste sauce, Yingtao will raise the chickens, the earthworms and other miscellaneous stuff will be given to Shiliu. But then, wouldn’t we have nobody by our side again? Actually, it isn’t that I want to expand so quickly. If we weren’t in the 2nd year of Kaiyuan right now and were 2 years earlier, I could still go slowly. But time doesn’t abide me,9 ~ah.” Zhang Xiaobao sighed as he spoke.
“I don’t believe it, ~ne. I feel that even if it were 2 years earlier, you would still say this. Just like how some people who would always say if I were only younger, I would be like this or that. Even waiting until they age bit by bit, they would still be like this.” Wang Juan basically treated Zhang Xiaobao’s words with disbelief.
Zhang Xiaobao turned over to lie there, pressing his face to the mat as he said with a hum: “Really, I’m afraid that Li Longji will take my family’s land. My family doesn’t pay any taxes on those 100 heads. If the land’s gone, what do the people of the manor do? Keep them? Those taxes are paid per head—how much money is required every day, ~ah! Don’t keep them; my Grandpa, Grandma, as well as my Dad and Mom, who’d wait on them? They’re people who’ve grown used to being waited on; I’m worried that they wouldn’t be able to take it.”
“Even if you have to earn it, you still want to buy such a big plot of land with this little money?”
“This money isn’t enough, of course. I need a foundation. At that time, there’d naturally be a way to get rich. I won’t speak of it with you beforehand. Otherwise, you’ll mourn the heavens and pity the people10 again. Anyway, it’s not by swindling.” Zhang Xiaobao continued explaining.
“Who cares? If you won’t speak of it, then don’t speak of it. Don’t tell me in the future ever again. Think on that Great Swindler Song, then.” Wang Juan said as if in a pique.
“What’s to worry about a swindler? It’s those of you who are officials that are formidable. How did I not think about using delays, ~ne? That is indeed bureaucracy. Delaying him a few days is fine. I’m impressed.” Zhang Xiaobao praised. This was because today’s delaying tactic was Wang Juan’s own idea. If it were up to Zhang Xiaobao’s thinking, they’d just be swindling each other directly.
“What do you understand? This is called battle strategy. Sleep, we still need to continue training in the afternoon.”
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The phrase Song Jing-gong uses here is “you yuan” (有緣), which can be translated as destined or fated. It can describe a romantic destiny but can also refer to serendipitous encounters that lead to lasting friendships. Since Song Jing-gong is trying to claim that he likes Xiaobao enough to want to befriend him in order to curry favor with the Zhang household, I chose to translate his turn of phrase as “sharing an affinity.” ↩
The expression Song Jing-gong uses is “da she sui gun shang” (打蛇隨棍上). This Chinese turn of phrase is essentially describing someone acting quickly like someone striking a snake with a stick before it can react. I replaced it with a roughly equivalent English expression as suggested by a reader. ↩
Mrs. Zhang-Wang is referencing a point in Chinese history where a 7 year old genius named Xiang Tuo (項橐) was so intelligent that Confucius treated the little boy as his teacher (項橐七歲為孔師). This anecdote is supposed to be an illustration of Confucius’ humility as he had already taught several students himself and was considered a master sage at this point in his life but he still wasn’t arrogant enough to assume that he knew more than a 7 year old child prodigy who had wisdom of his own. The historical veracity of this account is corroborated in terms of being mentioned in several Chinese texts of the period as well as in several classical histories. However, the actual details of the event and how it became well known enough to be recorded for posterity is unknown. It is likely a situation similar to how everyone knows Sir Isaac Newton first thought of the concept of gravity by having an apple hit his head even though that might not be what exactly happened. However, as this story is universally accepted as the truth in Chinese culture, Xiang Tuo became one of the oft-cited examples of a boy genius. ↩
Gan Luo (甘羅) becoming a Senior Minister at the age of 12 is another common example cited in Chinese history of a child prodigy (甘羅十二成上卿). Senior Minister is how I have translated the position of “shang qing” (上卿) that is mentioned in the phrase. Qing/卿 is a ministerial title that falls underneath the Three Lords and Nine Ministers governmental system of ancient China and was divided into upper (shang/上), middle (zhong/中), and lower (xia/下) graded ranks. Sometimes, Gan Luo is said to have become a prime minister or chancellor in a mistranslation or exaggeration of “shang qing” (上卿), usually for the purposes of drama. Historical mention of this event can be found in the 71st volume of biographies of the Records of the Grand Historian or “Taishi Gong Shu” (太史公書), which is also known as “The Scribe’s Records” (Shiji/史記) for short, authored by Sima Qian (司馬遷) of the Han Dynasty. ↩
Siqi/死契 is the term for a lifetime contract that remains valid until the death of the contractor. In this case, Steward Zhang is stating that Xiaoqi sold himself to the Zhang household for the duration of his lifetime. ↩
The expression used to describe Steward Zhang’s facial expression is “mian chen si shui” (面沉似水), which is comparing his facial expression to that of the deep or dark water surface. The adjective of chen/沉 in this phrase is also commonly used to describe gloomy or overcast weather, hence my translation choice. ↩
Xiaohong (小紅) means “little red.” ↩
“Xing shi wen zui” (興師問罪) is a Chinese idiom describing a situation when a crowd or mob of people, possibly incited or led by a leader, makes a big commotion over an alleged crime in a mock trial where they play judge and jury (and sometimes executioner), essentially holding a kangaroo court. ↩
The 4-character long expression that Xiaobao uses here is “shi bu dai wo” (時不代我), which I haven’t been able to find when looking it up in Chinese dictionaries or the internet but based on the meaning that I can gather from it, it likely shares a meaning along the same lines as the English expression “time waits for no one” as the Chinese characters literally translate to “time not replace me.” ↩
The 4-character idiom Xiaobao uses here is “bei tian min ren” (悲天憫人), which is typically used to describe when someone is being the equivalent of a “bleeding heart.” Obviously, this is Xiaobao needling Juan-Juan on her naivete since he is more cynical than she is.