Joy of Life - Chapter 257

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:47:54]
If you find missing chapters, pages, or errors, please Report us.
Previous Next

Chapter 257: In a Hurry

Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio

There was an awful racket. Fan Xian simply smiled, not looking the least bit arrogant, but instead entirely sincere. He had played his part as brother-in-law, and spent the appropriate amount of money as an official, letting all the bureaucrats see it. No one would have imagined that this matter, causing offence by scrambling to enter first, had been his idea.

Fan Xian had a natural advantage – he was a scoundrel with an honest demeanor, an insidious fellow, more than willing to offend and bully others, but on the surface he was completely accommodating. This had served him to great benefit, such as with the Eldest Princess, who Fan Xian had forced out of the palace with his leafleting campaign, but who still to this day did not know that her own son-in-law was responsible. She presumed that her son-in-law was willing to suffer in silence, and to take her at her word in the north, not daring to be hostile.

He had always believed in one thing – that it was fine to be gorgeous and arrogant, but it was better to be subtly gorgeous and take advantage in secret.

If one can move, then one should move. If one who cannot be moved were beaten to death, then he could not move either. The Great Prince was someone who could not be moved, and yet today he was jostling with him for entry. This was a betrayal of his usual interests. Naturally, no one knew that this was all being done simply as a show for the Emperor, and the Great Prince, who had shown his true temperament, was without a doubt the best audience for this show. Perhaps only that old fox Chen Pingping could have guessed this.

Finally the two parties came to an agreement mediated by the Crown Prince. The vanguard of the diplomatic mission and the Great Prince’s men would enter the capital together. This was not in keeping with custom, angering the Director of the Board of Rites, and making Ren Shao’an of Taichang Temple rather scared. How the ceremonial weaponry would be arranged became the greatest question.

The Crown Prince saw Fan Xian, staying quiet over on one side, and felt an unexplainable happiness. He pretended to scold him. “You are a troublemaker. It was clearly suggested that the diplomatic mission arrive in the capital the day after tomorrow. How could you suddenly bring it forward, leaving the royal court with no preparations and bringing about this mess?”

“I was anxious to return home,” said Fan Xian with a smile. “Please forgive me for this incident, Your Highness. It is possible that the imperial censors may summon me tomorrow.” In truth, he felt it rather odd. They had not seen each other in several months, and the Crown Prince now looked even better than before. He had lost his previous timid, gloomy air, and was all smiles. Something good must have happened to him, though Fan Xian wasn’t sure what.

Naturally, he was unaware that after the Eldest Princess had left the palace, returning to her fiefdom of Xinyang, the constant pressure upon the Crown Prince from the Empress and the Eldest Princess had suddenly relented. His mood brightened immediately, and the Emperor had been much more reassuring toward him this year. The Crown Prince had been enjoying life much more than before.

The bureaucrats always presumed that the Crown Prince had it easy, and the Second Prince presumably didn’t feel quite so comfortable. But at the city gates, when the onlookers saw the Second Prince preparing to welcome the Great Prince back to the capital, they had seen nothing out of place on the elegant nobleman’s face, and instead, the young boy beside him had drawn greater attention.

This was the youngest son of His Majesty the Emperor. The Emperor had sired four sons in total, and since the Crown Prince was not given a number, this one was the Third Prince, who had been raised deep inside the palace. This year, he had just turned nine years old. Now that the Great Prince had returned to the capital from his military expedition, the Emperor had ordered that all the princes in the capital go out to greet him, showing him the appropriate respect. At the same time, he had allowed the young prince, who had never appeared before the court councilors, the opportunity to make his first formal appearance.

Taking the little prince’s hand, the Second Prince bowed to the Great Prince. The Great Prince seemed to be on good terms with the Second Prince, coming forth and taking him in a bear hug, then tousling the little boy’s hair and speaking casually. “How did you get so tall?”

The young boy giggled, showing his real personality. “I’ll be as tall as you some day,” he replied, “and I’ll go and fight the barbarians.”

The mother of the young prince was the sister of Lady Liu of Fan Manor. In a roundabout way, he was somewhat related to Fan Xian. But looking at the youthful young prince’s innocent smile, Fan Xian’s heart skipped a beat. He could see a certain self-possession in that smile that was incongruous with his age, and he couldn’t help but give a slight smile himself. The young prince had started out by pretending to be innocent and bashful, and he had dared to play such a game in front of Fan Xian, naively attempting to win him over with his charms.

The Second Prince also knew what had happened previously. He forced a smile as he spoke with Fan Xian. “I say, brother-in-law, when will you stop causing so much trouble? I imagine all the officials in the capital will thank Heaven when that day comes.”

Fan Xian’s smile was even more pained. “In truth it was the Princess of Northern Qi’s idea. As a mere official, I would never be so bold.”

The Crown Prince frowned almost imperceptibly; he seemed unhappy with Fan Xian’s conversation with the Second Prince. “Brother, the ceremony has not yet finished. Behave in a manner that befits your position.”

His words were a little unreasonable. Previously, the Crown Prince had been happy to address Fan Xian warmly as “brother-in-law”, and yet he was not willing to permit the Second Prince to do the same. The Second Prince’s face stayed the same as ever. He chuckled in response and whispered something into Fan Xian’s ear. “Before the civil service exams, I asked you to go home and ask Chen’er how she would address me. Did you ask or not?”

Fan Xian thought back to that time, then shook his head and smiled. “As Your Majesty knows, something happened during the civil service exams, and I forgot. I shall return today and ask her.”

The Second Prince smiled and said nothing more. Taking his little brother’s hand, he followed the Great Prince and the Crown Prince before him and walked toward the city gate. Although the two men’s conversation was quiet, it still reached the Great Prince’s ears. The Great Prince, who had spent the year fighting in a different part of the country, couldn’t help but feel suspicious. Although he knew of Fan Xian’s reputation, he had not been in the capital, so he didn’t know what kind of power Fan Xian held. He was stunned to discover that both the Second Prince and the Crown Prince were conciliatory toward him in speech. It seemed that they feared that the officials present did not know of their close relationships with Fan Xian.

A mere official, and yet he was looked upon so fondly by both sons of the Emperor that they were willing to put rank aside. The Great Prince couldn’t help but frown unhappily.

Fan Xian was thinking about other things. He saw that the four princes – three grown, one only a child – were all adorned differently. They all wore yellow silk robes, and walked toward the pitch-dark city gate somewhat absent-mindedly. Would the day come when he stood between these four princes?

Autumn in the capital was indescribably beautiful. The pale white clouds hung high in the sky. The yellowing leaves drooped over the edges of the houses, lingering, unwilling to fall into the water. The canals along the side of the street were somewhat quiet, and at the end of the long road, in the distance, a corner of the eaves of the palace jutted out, imposing against the clear blue sky.

The Great Prince’s convoy had already departed in a huff, and the diplomatic mission’s convoy was taking pains to keep their speed down. Accompanied by an official from Honglu Temple, they made their way toward the palace. Since they had already entered the capital, Fan Xian was no longer quite so nervous. In any case, he couldn’t return home straight away; he had to make his report at the palace. So he finally had a little spare time to admire the scenery around him. He had only stayed in the capital for less than a year, so he wasn’t nearly as familiar with it as he was with Danzhou, but for some reason, the moment he entered the city, saw the houses all around him, and smelled the city’s unique scent, he felt a certain spiritual refreshment.

“You are anxious to return to the capital. Presumably there is business to attend to at home.” From the carriage to his side came the meek voice of the Princess of Northern Qi.

Fan Xian smiled slightly but did not reply. He knew full well that she was taking pains to make friends with this seemingly ordinary official who was in fact particularly important. But they had already talked plenty on their way back to the capital. Now that they were entering the city, there were eyes and ears everywhere, and it was best to avoid any further incident at this final stage. Besides, he knew that she was right, and yet he had no idea how to respond.

The House of Fan were now greatly favored within the city. Peace reigned in their household. Nobody around him could understand why he was so anxious. He urged his horse onward, trotting forward until he came to the side of Yan Bingyun’s carriage. “If you don’t want to cause me any more trouble,” he said in a low voice, “you need to take her away.”

Sitting inside the carriage, Yan Bingyun shook his head. He surveyed the results of his work, but still kept the same familiar expression that he always did. He couldn’t understand when Fan Xian had taken up matchmaking as a hobby. He sighed as he broached the subject. “Trying to jostle for entry into the city was not a wise move. The Overwatch Council has always remained neutral in struggles between the princes. You once said that you must verify everything that you hear. Both the Crown Prince and the Second Prince were awaiting your arrival. Since that is the case, then in order to remain neutral, you should not have provoked the Great Prince. It goes against the objectives of the Council.”

Fan Xian was silent. He knew that Yan Bingyun was right, and that as an official of the Kingdom of Qing – particularly as a commissioner of the Overwatch Council – he should not have such dealings with the princes. Since he had to associate with them, he had to treat them all equally, so as not to have the palace suspect that the Overwatch Council could not be impartial in their dealings with them.

But he wasn’t happy about it, because he knew that his status was not simply that of an official – having a degree of partiality toward one of the princes could at most make the Emperor suspect that he was making plans for his own future power and riches, and that his loyalty was not comparable to that of Chen Pingping. But if he were to remain truly neutral, making use of money and power in his occupation, then perhaps it would make the Emperor suspect… that he was not resigned to merely being an official.

This was Fan Xian’s biggest secret fear.

The convoy travelled down Xingdao Lane, no longer needing the city’s bailiffs to maintain order because it had already come to a relatively quiet area of offices and housing for officials. Naturally, there were no longer so many commoners lining the sides of the street. At that moment, a carriage in the convoy peeled away from the group, quietly making its way down a side alley where one could faintly see people waiting to meet it.

Although it was silent, the officials could see it clearly. They knew that the diplomatic mission was composed of numerous complicated parts. They presumed it was a matter for the Overwatch Council, and looking at Commissioner Fan’s rather solemn face, no one dared to ask about it.

Naturally, Fan Xian had a serious expression because he was about to enter the palace. Its red walls appeared before him.

A group of diplomatic mission members waited outside the palace gates to give their reports. The Emperor’s power was imposing, and no one dared to look as if they were relaxing. Instead, they constantly rushed around, tiring themselves out. After waiting for a long time, the order had yet to arrive. The gathered officials felt rather uneasy. But they had gone to Northern Qi in order to sort out carving up territory for the royal court, and Fan Xian had brought them honor in the royal court of the north. The carriage looked old and of little value, but they presumed that His Majesty would be happy to see them – how could he leave people such as themselves outside?

The official from the Ministry of Rites who was waiting outside the palace gates also began to gradually feel somewhat ill at ease. Ren Shao’an whispered something into Fan Xian’s ear. “I imagine His Majesty is meeting with the Great Prince. As officials, all we can do is wait.”

Fan Xian smiled, and said nothing. The Princess of Northern Qi’s carriage had already been ushered inside by the palace eunuchs. The most important issues had been more or less dealt with. But he had guessed why the members of the diplomatic mission were being left outside.

The imperial guards glared coldly at the officials, whose nervousness was clearly showing. The guards’ expressions did not change, and the eunuchs standing outside the palace gates did not look directly at them.

But Fan Xian’s status was different from the others. He was still a prince consort of the palace, and a particularly well-favored one, as well as a high-ranking official of the Overwatch Council. This diplomatic mission would no doubt lead to further plaudits being bestowed upon him, so a eunuch had already brought him a round stool and invited him to rest there for a while.

Fan Xian was somewhat stunned. “Is this the custom?” he asked.

As he was speaking, the head eunuch came up to him, helping him onto the stool, and said to him with a flattering tone of voice, “Master Fan, His Majesty has missed you dearly. It is only right that you rest upon this stool a while after making such a journey.”

“Oh, Eunuch Hou, how did you get here?” Fan Xian feigned amazement. The eunuch who stood before him was the one who he had seen when he accompanied Lady Liu and Ruoruo to the palace for the first time. He knew that he was on good terms with the Fan family, so his expression was an amiable one, and the eunuch had addressed him respectfully, wanting to maintain this mood of friendliness.

Fan Xian smiled in response. “I have come from afar, but it seems my path is blocked. There will be no honors bestowed upon me today.”

Eunuch Hou snickered. “Everyone knows that everything you touch turns to gold,” he whispered to Fan Xian. “And what’s more, you’ve even more gold coming in your future.” The old servant was ready for a chat, but he heard the palace gate creak open. A eunuch rushed out to convey His Majesty’s order. Fan Xian immediately moved away from the stool and kneeled alongside the crowd of officials at the palace gate.

To his surprise, the Emperor had indeed issued a rebuke to Fan Xian for relying solely on his talent, being inobservant, reckless, and so forth… He also said that the day’s events had left him tired, and that Fan Xian was to return to the palace to give his report tomorrow. Count Sinan would discipline him appropriately, and his reprimand would be severe. Finally, the diplomatic mission was to be commended nevertheless, with a formal message of praise to be sent in the days to come.

The officials looked at each other in dismay. They had not expected for the diplomatic mission to be treated this way on their first day back in the capital. They couldn’t help but sigh dejectedly. But some of the more cunning officials looked at Fan Xian. His heart beat like a drum, he had been thoroughly rebuked by His Majesty, but in the end, nothing had been done; Count Sinan was merely to discipline him later. It seemed that Fan Xian was indeed a favorite of the Emperor.

Fan Xian kowtowed in acceptance of the order. He looked somewhat embarrassed, but he was in fact rather pleased. He stood up, patted his buttocks, and turned around to see an old friend. It was Gong Dian, commander of the Imperial Guard. Gong Dian caught sight of the look of appreciation on Fan Xian’s face and was getting ready to chat with him. To his surprise, Fan Xian cupped his hands and bowed somewhat grudgingly, made an apology, then leapt up onto his horse, pressing his legs together, cracking his horsewhip, and galloping away from the grand plaza outside the palace walls, leaving behind a cloud of dust and nothing else.

Gong Dian was stunned. He and his subordinate guards stared blankly at the cloud of dust in the distance. Although he hadn’t been expressly told not to leave the palace, Fan Xian was perhaps the first official to have made such a swift getaway.

Autumn had yet to fully arrive. Fan Xian’s business with the Council had been sorted, and Gao Da and the other Tiger Guards had all been relieved of their duties. He galloped along the long street with the wind through his hair, and a little while later, he finally arrived in the south of the city. The sound of his horse’s hooves echoed off the stone lions at the entrance to Fan Manor.

It was already dark. The lanterns had been lit outside the various mansions of the wealthy nobles who lived along the street. They were not particularly bright; only the ones outside Fan Manor blazed brightly. The main gate opened, and the guards standing outside the entrance turned their heads to look. Inside, Lady Liu had gone about her parental duties, ordering the serving-girls to make tea in anticipation of Fan Xian’s arrival.

The news of the diplomatic mission’s arrival on the outskirts of the city had long since reached Fan Manor. They thought it best to stand on ceremony. They had squandered two days before finally being able to enter the city, but the young lady of the manor still said the same thing: “He will arrive today.” Everyone knew that Master Fan and Miss Lin were no ordinary people. Since she had said Fan Xian would arrive today, he would. So they all waited, exhausted.

They were still unaware of the news of his struggle with the Great Prince. Otherwise, they would undoubtedly have been rather worried.

“He’s here, he’s here.” The sharp-eyed servants saw him approach on horseback in the distance, and they rushed out to the stone steps, forming two lines.

With a stomping of hooves, Fan Xian brought his horse to a halt and vaulted down from it. He launched a soft kick at Teng Zijing’s buttocks as he waited to help him from the stirrups. “You’ve broken your leg,” he said, scolding him with a laugh. “You don’t need to take after the servants.”

“Welcome back, young master,” called the two lines of servants.

Fan Xian smiled and said nothing. He climbed up two stone steps, taking a hot towel from a servant girl to wipe his face, and then took a sip from a warm cup of tea that he had been offered. He knew that this was a necessary formality, and he didn’t think too much about it. Seeing all the familiar faces of the servants and maids made him feel quite happy. Even Lady Liu’s smile as she stood by the doorway appeared different from days gone past. It was more sincere than before.

“Your father is in his study,” said Lady Liu, taking the towel from his hand.

Fan Xian nodded, then suddenly frowned and shook his head. “Step…” he couldn’t bring himself to say the word “mother”. He smiled. “I shall visit Ruoruo and Wan’er first, and then I shall visit Father.”

Lady Liu knew that she could not control the young man with notions of filial piety, and so she had no other choice but to nod her head.

Fan Xian entered the mansion door, but the ruddy-faced fatty was the first to greet him. He couldn’t help but turn pale with fright, thinking of how he had not seen him in months, and now the young bookkeeping child prodigy had grown as robust as an iron tower. Yet he did not enquire after him, and simply yelled at him: “We need to go over the accounts! There are things I need to do!”

Fan Sizhe was stunned. He took a step back and scolded him. “You seem in a good mood today. If you are going to ignore me, then I don’t feel like discussing matters of accounting with you when you won’t understand them anyway.”

Fan Xian was also stunned. He chuckled. For some reason, he thought about the four princes that he had met outside the city gates. He took something out of his breast pocket and gave it to Sizhe, chiding him with a smile. “Accounting? It’s all meaningless to me. You should go enjoy yourself. We’re grown men; don’t give me all this just because we’ve not seen each other in so long.”

“It’s not like I feel like playing games with you anyway,” Fan Sizhe grumbled to himself, but as he stared blankly at Fan Xian as he entered the rear of the house, he felt a slight uneasiness.

After Fan Xian had gotten married, he had gotten his own house at the back of Fan Manor. The buildings were connected, so it was one residence with two houses. He was fond of his sister, and Wan’er and Ruoruo also got on well, so Ruoruo spent much of her time in their house.

On the day that Fan Xian returned home, his father was, naturally, in his study. But strangely, Wan’er and Ruoruo had not come out to greet him. This was rather odd. It made Fan Xian walk that much faster, and the servant girl beside him was unable to keep up. “The young lady is still here, as is the mistress,” she said, panting for breath.

Fan Xian frowned. The servant girl’s words sounded rather ominous. He didn’t know who had taught her.

He gently pushed the door of his bedchamber only to find that it had been locked from the inside. Fan Xian was surprised. Unsure what to say, he called out, but nobody answered. He was somewhat puzzled, and knocked harder on the door. If it weren’t for his respect for his wife, he would have already knocked the door down. A moment later, the servant-girl Sisi’s uneasy voice came from inside the room. “Master, the mistress is sleeping. Please don’t knock.”

Fan Xian’s frown deepened. He wasn’t sure what had happened. He had travelled a thousand miles, and yet Wan’er had closed the door, unwilling to see him.

He saw the dim lamplight coming from inside the door. He said nothing, and waving his sleeves, he walked into another room. This time he did not knock, but simply pushed the door open and entered. The young woman in the room was frightened. She stood up, and after seeing Fan Xian come into the room, the look of indifferent vigilance on her face gradually dissolved. There was a look of genuine happiness in her eyes. She kneeled down and spoke in a quiet, joyful voice. “Brother, you’re back.”

Fan Xian looked at Ruoruo, and his previous unhappiness completely vanished. He smiled warmly. “I’m back, aren’t you glad to see me?”

Fan Ruoruo smiled and approached him, taking his sleeve and leading him to a chair. “It’s not been that long,” she said. “Did you want me to hoot and holler? Would that make you happy?”

Fan Xian could only shake his head. “You’ve always been so calm and collected. I couldn’t bear to see that change.”

Fan Ruoruo laughed. “If I change, am I still Ruoruo?” she replied. She picked up a teacup as she spoke and carefully handed it to her brother.

Fan Xian took it but did not immediately drink from it. Instead, he looked at his sister’s not-particularly-beautiful, but completely relaxed face. For a moment, there was a strange silence in the room, as the two siblings, both thoroughly patient people, waited for the other to speak.

In the end, Fan Xian sighed, moved by his feelings toward his sister. “Why bother with this? It’s best to wait for my return before sorting things out.”

There was a momentary sadness in Ruoruo’s eyes. She knew her brother had already seen through her plans. “I intended to wait until you came back so I could see you, so it was delayed until today.”

Fan Xian stood up, walked over to her bed, and pulled out a package from underneath. From the wardrobe behind the bed, he pulled out an unremarkable-looking box, and emptied it out onto the table. A few banknotes fell out, along with a few beaded hairpins and some silver coins which clanked as they hit its surface. He frowned and looked at the objects on the table. “Leaving home and taking all this stuff with you… It’s nowhere near enough.”

Fan Ruoruo was silent for a moment, then withdrew a dagger from her sleeve.

Fan Xian was angry, pleased, and heartbroken all at once. He looked at his sister. “You are a young woman with money. What do you know of the hardships of this world? Even if you don’t want to get married, did you not think of the worry it would cause father, running away so hastily like this? Or me? Did you not think about how I would feel?”

Fan Ruoruo lowered her head, her hands grasping the corners of her sleeves. She was silent for a long while before she finally spoke. “When has father ever truly cared for me? And as for you… have you forgotten? Ever since I was a child, you taught me that I should make my own destiny, especially when it comes to marriage. That I shouldn’t just go along with what my family arranges.”

Fan Xian was struck dumb. In this world, the young women of noble families never even had thoughts of challenging the norm, let alone putting it into practice. Had his sister dared to bravely, impulsively run away because of the tales he had told her in her youth? Was it the morals of those stories – like the story of Cousin Mei – that had awakened her awareness as a woman? [1]

Uneasily, he tapped at the table, unsure what effect his past actions might have had on his sister. After all, this world was entirely different from that world, as were the ways of thinking. Perhaps the dagger might hurt him. He suddenly raised his head. “But it might not all be that bad,” he said gently. “You’ve never met Hongcheng. How do you know that your marriage will be an unhappy one?”

Fan Ruoruo kept her head lowered, but her tone remained guarded. “I’ve known the Crown Prince since I was young. I know what he’s like. I don’t like him.”

If anyone else had heard what she said, it might have scared them half to death – the young lady of the prestigious Fan family, outright stating what she thought of the matter. Fan Xian’s head was swimming, but he still tried to ease her anxiety. “Nothing’s set in stone. Just look at me and your sister-in-law. That was an arranged marriage, and now we’re very happy together.”

Fan Ruoruo suddenly looked up, a look of determined dedication in her eyes. “Xian, not everyone can be as lucky as you and Wan’er.”

Fan Xian was stunned. This was the first time he’d seen disapproval in his sister’s face. Ever since they were children, whenever Ruoruo looked at him, it was always with a sense of reverence and awe. This was the first time that Ruoruo had expressed opposition to him, and he couldn’t help but feel shocked at how much his sister had changed.

After a long silence, Fan Xian’s stiff facial expression softened, and finally he began to laugh. It was a bright, happy laugh that wasn’t faked in the slightest. He felt a sense of satisfaction – the silly little girl he’d once known had finally grown up, and at last learned how to stick to her own point of view.

“Ruoruo, do you trust me?” Fan Xian smiled at her with a look of encouragement.

Fan Ruoruo hesitated for a moment, then gave the same quiet and content smile that she’d given in those days, nodding her head.

Fan Xian looked at the items on the table and shook his head with a smile. “Since you trust me, don’t mess about. I’ll arrange things properly.”

Ever since she had learned of her impending marriage in the palace, Fan Ruoruo had sunk into silence. She knew that her own feelings were very much rebelling against custom, and that disobeying a royal order could have dire consequences. But ever since she was young, her brother had taught her with his stories. He had planted a seed in her spirit, and although it looked weak, it was the seed of strong-willed freedom. But she could never talk of such ideas to anyone. Deep in her heart, she feared that even her brother, who she trusted more than anyone in the world, would oppose her decision.

Hearing Fan Xian’s promise, the uneasiness that Fan Ruoruo had felt for the past month faded with the autumn breeze, and instantly disappeared. Her high-strung nerves that had been building up for the past month suddenly relaxed. Her brother had come back, and he would take care of things for her.

Some months had passed since the two siblings had parted, and naturally there were things to discuss. But Fan Ruoruo looked at him somewhat oddly. If her brother wasn’t speaking with their father in the study, then surely he should be with his wife. Why would he run to her room? As she thought about it, she couldn’t help but stifle a laugh. “Xian, when you were advising me before, you said that you and Wan’er were an arranged marriage but now you’re happy. Yet currently you are distressed. Why?”

Fan Xian’s heart skipped a beat. His sister and Wan’er were good friends, so of course she would know why Wan’er had shut her door and refused to come out. “What happened?” he asked nervously.

Fan Ruoruo gave a rarely-seen mischievous smile. “I can’t help you with that. You’d best go see her yourself.”

Fan Xian frowned. He was in the right; what did he need to see her about? As he pondered, he heard the voice of a servant girl. “Master, the mistress has awoken.”

Fan Xian shook his head. He knew his wife had a short temper, but Wan’er had always been a graceful and agreeable woman. How could she not take things seriously? She knew he had had an exhausting journey home. If she didn’t come to greet him, then fine. But how could she close the door on him?

As he thought about it while he walked toward the bedroom, he began to feel somewhat angry. But when he crossed the threshold of the door and heard a verse come from the room, the anger disappeared immediately, and was replaced by a look of wonder.

The voice was clear and sweet. It wasn’t Lin Wan’er’s, but someone else’s. And the verse sounded extremely familiar.

“Does she not know? Does she not know? Their green leaves should be blooming, the red flowers withered away.”

Fan Xian looked embarrassed. The poem by Li Qingzhao that he had used to get one over on Haitang was only known to the Emperor and the Empress Dowager of Northern Qi, and himself and Haitang. How could it have made its way south?

[1] Cousin Mei is a character in Ba Jin’s novel The Family. She marries, becomes a widow, falls ill, and dies. The Family is a criticism of the Chinese feudal system.