Chapter 70: Personality
It was yet noon when Chen Sanlang’s carriage pulled up to Chen Rong’s courtyard the next day. “Ah Rong, let’s go,” a servant called in.
Chen Rong gave a reply and then carried her zither out.
When she got to the gate, she was surprised to find Chen Wei peering over from next door, curiously watching her and Chen Sanlang’s carriages. She appeared a little fearful of him, for her eyes were nervously darting around.
When Chen Rong approached, Chen Sanlang lifted his carriage curtain and gave the zither in her hands a glance. “Won’t so ordinary a zither make us look bad?” he commented with a frown.
He next leaned outward and handed an exquisitely made zither studded with jade and pearls to Chen Rong, smiling all the while: “Luckily, your third brother is well prepared. Ah Rong, use this one.”
Intentionally or not, his hand grazed the back of her porcelain one when he gave her the instrument.
Chen Rong held her zither with the same faithful appearance and took a step backward, faintly smiling: “You’re needlessly worried, third brother. Qilang has seen my zither before.”
Chen Sanlang paused to recall that Chen Rong had played ‘The Phoenix’s Love Song’ in front of everyone for Wang Qilang. He shook his head, mumbling: “Never mind, then. Do as you wish.”
He placed his zither back down and then glanced at Chen Rong’s full bosom, laughing as he did: “Ah Rong, come sit with me in the same carriage. We should let outsiders know just how close us siblings are.”
“Thank you third brother, but they’ve already prepared my ride,” said Chen Rong with a shake of her head and a smile. She then turned and walked toward her carriage.
Inadvertently, Chen Rong noticed Chen Wei peeking from behind the door with some envy.
Chen Rong withdrew her gaze, lifted her skirt and stepped inside, after which the two vehicles drove to the main gate, one following the other.
“I heard you and Wang Qilang had met on the road, is that right?” Chen Sanlang raised his curtain and smiled at Chen Rong. “And that was when you drew his attention?”
Behind the curtain came Chen Rong’s charming voice, which had an eerie allure just like her looks. Chen Sanlang squinted his eyes as he enjoyed listening to her reply. “Wang Qilang is quite the gentleman,” she said. “I’ve merely spoken to him once or twice.”
“The House of Wang ranks first among the nobility,” Chen Sanlang told her, “and their totem is Qilang. Meimei, it’s great luck for someone with your station to befriend him and receive his good opinion.”
Chen Rong could hear from his words that he thought she was reaching for the moon even if she were to become Wang Qilang’s concubine. But though she would only be a concubine, she’d be a favored one thanks to Wang Qilang’s good opinion of her.
She lowered her eyes in a secret sneer, but obediently replied, “Aye, you’re right.” Chen Sanlang watched Chen Rong’s graceful figure while his insides prickled with itches. None of the courtesans he had met could match this girl named Ah Rong, be it their figures or their faces. Not to mention she had the poise and air of the nobility so entirely different from those lowborn women. The girl before his eyes was such a stunner; pity she was a cousin.
After some time, he regrettably withdrew his gaze and, when he recalled his own affairs, smiled to say: “Ah Rong, do recommend your third brother to Qilang’s acquaintance when you see him.”
“That is of course,” Chen Rong docilely replied. do not steal this chapter
Amid the sound of rolling wheels, the two carriages left the Chen estate and entered town.
Restlessness permeated in Nanyang’s air. Chen Rong lifted her curtain to see the streets just as deserted as they had been in her previous life. The shops were especially empty, for many of them were closed.
A warmth neared her while she was lost in reverie. Chen Sanlang had directed his carriage closer to hers. Watching Chen Rong who was only an arm-length away, he gave a hearty laugh: “What are you looking at, meimei?” He next leaned over and took a whiff, grinning as he did: “You smell very nice. Who made your sachet?”
Chen Rong quietly moved away and dropped her gaze. “You tease me, cousin.”
She retreated to the other side of the carriage. do to steal this chapter
When he saw her move away from him, Chen Sanlang sighed and recited: “Prosperity can disappear in the blink of an eye. Like flowers in the spring, women are at their most beautiful for but a few days. No one knows what tomorrow holds in this troubled world. Why, then, do we not take pleasure here and now? Don’t you think so, too, meimei?”
He flashed Chen Rong a tender look.
The fluttering curtain revealed Chen Rong’s quiet countenance. She faintly smiled and answered, “It’s only natural that flowers bloom and die. That said, there are a few silly flowers that only bloom for someone someday.”
A rejection. go to moc.824retsmah
Chen Sanlang withdrew his smile when he said, “Someday? Are you still hoping to become Qilang’s wife?” He had sounded amused.
Chen Rong kept her head bowed dutifully. Not giving him an answer, she only slowly let her curtain down. Her movements were languid, with a trace of loneliness that seemed to have been engraved in her bones.
Chen Sanlang unblinkingly stared at her. “Wang Qilang’s a lucky man,” he suddenly remarked when her curtain dropped.
Chen Rong remained unspeaking. go to moc.824retsmah
The bumpy rides soon arrived at the lake on the east side of Nan’yang.
A dozen small boats were dotting the lake. Rippling waves spread into rings under the winter sun.
The playing of zither floated from one of the boats. It was clear and ethereal, as if it had descended from heaven.
Just then, a young man lifted his carriage curtain and asked, “Are you Ah Rong of the Chen house?”
“Good, very good.”
The lad laughed and waved his right hand.
Whoosh. Five carriages lined up to block Chen Rong’s way, the largest one completely obstructing Chen Rong’s view of the lake.
“Play a song for us, Ah Rong of the Chen house,” the lad said to her in her bewilderment. “If I like it, then you may pass through. If not, then I’m sorry, you can’t see your Qilang today.”
He had the cheek to ask this of her.
Chen Rong couldn’t help laughing. hamster428
She lifted her curtain to look at the vehicles lining in the front. “Very well,” she said with a smile.
She reached for her zither, gave a pluck and began the music.
Her playing was very much like herself in that the changing notes were exquisite and the intricate strumming was victorious.
But all of a sudden, the melodious zither came to a halt.
While the surprised lad was about to open his mouth, Chen Rong giggled and asked, “Are you Ah Lin of the Huan house, my lord? It’s said that Huan Jiulang (1) has an excellent memory. I haven’t the talent to continue the song. If you would, please resume what I was playing. All is well if your continuation proves to be satisfying. But if not, then I am sorry, I’ll sit right here and won’t go anywhere.”
Huan Jiulang = ninth son of the Huan clan
“Little miss, you know full well that I’m not a good zither player. Oh all right, never mind.”
He waved his hand and let the five carriages move out of her way.
Chen Rong and the young man came face to face.
“I hadn’t known you to be so ill-mannered, Miss Chen,” he frowned.
Chen Rong was greatly peeved. She glared at him and scoffed, “And I hadn’t known you to be so sickly, sir.” Despite his handsome features, Huan Jiulang was pallid and fragile, and had blue hues under his eyes.
He stilled, stared back and blurted, “Young miss, there is savageness in the crinkle of your brow. I can’t see how you are suitable for Wang Hong.”
His voice had barely landed by the time Chen Rong lifted her head, narrowed her eyes and stated: “I’m merely a concubine-born daughter from a subsidiary branch. My station is humble, my demeanor inferior to everyone else’s. If I don’t arm myself with savageness, I’d be letting others trample on me. A feeble young man who picks on others’ faults like you is just as loathsome!” There was something threatening in her tone unlike other young ladies.
Chen Sanlang was startled listening to her tirade. “Ah Rong, mind yourself!” he cried. “You must know who he is. He’s Jiulang of the Huan estate. His station is incomparable as their eldest son (2)! You ought not be so disrespectful!”
He is the ninth son overall, but likely eldest/heir based on legitimacy.
Waves of laughter reached them at this time.
A few boats appeared on the water; their arrival had been unnoticed until now. It had been Yu Zhi and another young scholar who were clapping and laughing.
“Excellent, well put,” Yu Zhi said in good humor. “I must agree that this sickly guy who likes to pick on others’ faults is really annoying.”
The other lad smilingly added, “Oh, there’s a whip hanging in Ah Rong’s carriage. Why don’t you take it down for a swing? Don’t go overboard, though. If he dies, the Huan estate is going to make a fuss. Ah Rong, just beat him partly dead and let him stay in bed for half a year.”
The pair’s laughter slightly flustered Chen Rong. She turned to look at them, meeting Wang Hong’s faint smile in the process. She blushed and turned her head away.
At this time, Huan Jiulang stroked his throat and wryly smiled at Wang Hong. “Just a stare from your woman has given me cold sweat. My throat feels so sore that I think I’m going to die.”
“Isn’t this great?!” Yu Zhi merrily interjected. “Whenever the ladies saw sickly you, they always spoke flowery words. It’s not often a lady can make you so terrified. What a pleasant turn of events.”
Wang Hong smiled at Yu Zhi’s loud exclamation. Under the sunlight, his eyes twinkled like the clearest and deepest jewels. “She’s already reined her temper, you know.” His gentle and mild voice had sounded very sure.
Chen Rong whipped around to look at Wang Hong. go to hamster428
Huan Jiulang cried in objection as he repeatedly asked, “Do you still want so crude a woman, Qilang?”
Wang Qilang didn’t have a chance to answer. An older scholar, who had been stroking his zither at the stern of the boat, slowly rested his hands with a sigh and said, “Just as the young lady said, her station is humble and her demeanors are inferior to everyone else’s. If she didn’t arm herself with savageness, she’d be trampled on by other people. Qilang, she’s just like us. She, too, has quite a personality. She may be feral, but that can be tempered.”
He had used a light tone to say these joking words. Once more, waves of laughter simultaneously rang forth.
The older scholar then glanced at Chen Sanlang who stood to the left of Chen Rong, frowned, flapped his long sleeves and said, “Whence hath the foul one come? Leave us. Don’t stand here and damper our mood.”
He was rather unceremonious with his words.
Chen Sanlang never thought he’d be snubbed after uttering only one line. His pale face momentarily flushed red. Not knowing what to say, he reluctantly smiled and bowed to the older scholar, explaining himself: “Lord Xie, do overlook my blunder.”
The scholar surnamed Xie did not care to give him a glance.
None of the people here had given Chen Sanlang a glance.
He stiffly turned to Chen Rong.
At this time, Chen Rong gave him a curtsy and quietly said, “Third brother, go on ahead.”
Seeing that she was willing to acknowledge him and thereby saving his face, he quickly replied, “Alright, I’ll go on ahead.”
Huan Jiulang gave a sigh the moment he left. “You may be a fascinating person, miss, but you nevertheless can’t help being common in the end!”
“How can I relieve myself from the common ways when I’m in someone else’s domain?” Chen Rong lightly replied without looking back. “As long as I’m true to myself, why must I care?”
Her response was rather cutting. Huan Jiulang paused and then instantly laughed out loud.
Chen Rong felt more at ease when she heard his laughter, for she knew she had passed the first hurdle. Everyone in front of her was a distinguished member of the literati. For them, there was only one type of person worthy of respect, and that was a genuine person. Always better a genuine knave than a dishonest gentleman.