Joy of Life - Chapter 361[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:48:36]
Chapter 361: The Door Of The Palace Treasury
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
It was said that the 22nd day of the third month of the sixth year of the Qing calendar was a lucky day. So after Fan Xian arrived in Jiangnan, the first spring opening bidding of the palace treasury had been set for that date.
In the beautiful spring sunshine, a breeze brought warmth. The young Suzhou masters and girls all went out of the city for a walk. On the wide official roads, the not-yet grown grass was flattened by the birds startled into flight. The green hills and running streams outside the city became good places for men and women to meet. There was a light and wonderful atmosphere in the air.
Inside Suzhou, it was a different scene. About 250 meters toward the south of the Jiangnan governor’s manor was the permanent government manor of the palace treasury transport company. Usually it was very strictly guarded since it was one of the main areas to defend. Today, there were soldiers walking up and down the two ends of the street, each with long spears in their hands. There were also yamen bailiffs looking spirited and alertly watching for disturbances in all directions of the sleepy spring atmosphere.
This entire area of the city had become strictly controlled.
Every year the palace treasury opened, the scene was like this. One reason was because all the giant merchants from various locations carried so much silver with them. Second, other than the officials of the transport company hosting the opening of the palace treasury, there were also eunuchs sent from the palace to watch the proceedings. The governor of Jiangnan Road would also arrive to listen. At times like this, there would always be a group of officials from the Imperial Censorate who did nothing all day. Today, there were too much silver and too many important officials gathered here, so safety was paramount.
Fortunately, Suzhou was next to the Yangtze River. The military strength of the Qing Kingdom was powerful, and there was not another power that dared to do any kind of testing. Even the thieves had long been chased out of the city.
It was the perfect time to collect money.
By convention, the transport company empties out a large courtyard. It was incomparably wide with a row of individual rooms along the two sides of the main hall. It was said that it was the examination center for Jiangnan students in an earlier dynasty. When the Qing Emperor was inspecting the palace treasury, he found these separated rooms ideal for bidding. Thus the location was set here, creating a tradition. Usually, the courtyard was left empty in the highest level region inside the city. It was lent to the governor’s manor by the transport company as a place to manage accounts. It was only in March that it was returned to the transport company yamen.
The renovation and cleanup had started a dozen days ago, and now it was bright and clean.
Soldiers stood guard outside. Inside were a few normal looking guards standing beside the hall. The lighting inside the main hall was a bit dim, and the row of four imperial tutor chairs, placed behind the desk, could only faintly be seen.
When the Suzhou branch of the Jingdou South Street Xinfeng Restaurant had finished selling its jietang buns, the door to the courtyard finally opened.
The giant merchants from various locations did not rush. They walked up the stairs in great order and did not even look at the alert soldiers beside them. After a dozen years, they had long memorized the entire procedure.
Each merchant often represented a family behind them as well as a faction in the bureaucracy. The opening of the palace treasury was an important event, and so the representatives that had come today were all heads of their families. Only, there were not many people. These merchants all brought their long term servants and master of accounts, as well as chests and other tools relating to their accounts.
Walking at the head of the crowds was, of course, the representative of the Ming family.
Since the start of last year, the Ming family had placed much of its power into the hands of young master Ming Lanshi. The old Ming master rarely showed his face. However, today the crowd of merchants were shocked because the old master, Ming Qingda, had personally come to the courtyard.
Ming Qingda narrowed his tired eyes and raised his hands to greet various colleagues. He stroked his long beard and proudly walked through the door.
The Jiangnan merchant families informally considered the Ming family as its head. They quickly returned the greetings of the old master and followed behind him through the door. No one felt a thread of unease. s=Since it was the bidding of the palace treasury, of course it was the Ming family who went first. What everyone did not understand was why the Ming family was so cautious today, to the point of inviting out their old master.
Occasionally, someone would think of the newly arrived chief official of the transport company, that imperial envoy, and how the young master Ming had been secretly communicating non-stop with them all this month. Only then would they faintly realize that today’s palace treasury bid might not go as smoothly as it had in the past. And it wouldn’t be as beautiful and joyful as the spring sunshine.
The two rows of rooms under the eaves had long had names attached to them, and each family entered in order. The Ming family had been placed in the first room on the left hand size. It was a big room. They had they most people, a full 16 shopkeepers. Once they entered the room, servants arranged by the transport company came in with water and poured the tea. They handed out hot towels and delicately made pastries.
Although it was the government opening the bidding, they knew they had to look after these wealthy people well. Following the line that Fan Xian knew was said laughingly after previous biddings: If you want to kill the pig, of course you have to fatten it first.
Ming Qingda sat firmly in his chair. His narrowed eyes looked at the clear light outside pouring into the yard. Before he entered the yard, he had already communicated with the merchants with his eyes and knew that everyone was thinking the same thing. In front of benefits, no one wanted to anyone to inflate the price. Particularly these merchants did not dare to offend him.
Thinking of this point, Ming Qingda’s heart finally felt slightly more at ease. In a low voice he asked, “How much longer?”
Ming Lanshi stood with proper etiquette behind his father. He lowered his body and said, “Almost.” He stretched out a pair of white hands, bringing the tea to his father’s side. The pair of hands were so clean, it was like they had never touched blood.
Ming Qingda nodded. Since the court was still using open bids, there was no one under heaven that had the wealth to fight against him. It shouldn’t be too different from previous years, but for some reason, the corners of his mouth were dry. Perhaps as he was getting gradually older, his spirit was not as good.
Thinking of this point, a strange feeling welled up in the old master’s heart. His mother was already at such an advanced age, why was her body still so healthy?
Ming Qingda subconsciously swept his gaze across and easily determined the families the rooms represented. Although he rarely entered the market place himself these years, the friendship of the older generation was still there. Today, it was all the second generations who had come from those families. They probably knew very well that of the 16 palace treasury lots, they could fight for the portion the Cui family had made available. As for the eight the Ming family were set on, they would certainly not touch them.
Only…the door to the last room under the eaves on the opposite side remained closed. He didn’t know which family had handed in their bidding book but had yet to arrive
Ming Qingda drank a mouthful of tea to wet his throat and furrowed his brows. “Which family is B4? It’s about to start. How come no one has arrived?”
Ming Lanshi was surprised and unable to answer. He had already investigated very thoroughly, so why was that room still closed?
Some kind of warning began to grow in Ming Qingda’s heart. After Fan Xian had returned the 400,000 liang banknote, he had sunk into silence. Who knew what that imperial envoy was thinking. He glanced at his son, and said in a slight rage, “When doing things, they must be done perfectly. You haven’t even checked the people properly. If something goes wrong in a moment, what do we do?”
Ming Lanshi’s expression was slightly embarrassed. He could only admit his mistake. However, he was not satisfied. These people of wealthy and large families all had the same problem of their hearts and mouths not being aligned. He tentatively said, “Perhaps it is a salt merchant…they always do things strangely. Maybe they got greedy this time as well.”
Ming Qingda’s expression was dark. He shook his head and said, “It’s not a salt merchant. One, they had given us their promise. Two, Sir Xue also promised me.”
The master of the Ming family watched the empty room opposite. He stared at the tightly closed door and faint coldness exuding from the glass windows. A strong sense of unease welled up in his heart.
“It is such a waste this time.” An advisor in the Jiangnan governor’s study sighed. “The Cui family had left open six lots, but it is not convenient for us to interfere. We must watch as all that silver is once again divided by the Ming family and those wealthy local landlords. It is such a pity.”
Sir Xue Qing’s face bore a slight smile, but he didn’t say anything.
The advisor sitting on his other side also had an expression of sorrow and said, “Yang Jimei has come by a few times these days. He is hoping that Sir will speak for him in front of Sir Fan junior…his family has been in the salt business for generations. Now he sees the palace treasury as a piece of fatty meat. He’s very greedy.”
Yang Jimei was the biggest salt merchant, or private salt merchant, around the two rivers. He had always carefully curried favor with the governor.
Xue Qing thought about it and then said with a smile, “Greedy? Who isn’t greedy? Yang Jimei, that old bastard. That amazing Hua Garden…when I asked him for it, he just would not give it up. This time, he insisted on using my hand to gift it to Fan Xian as a residence. Am I not aware of what he is thinking? Is Sir Fan not aware in his heart?”
As the governor of Jiangnan, he controlled one seventh of the soldiers and civil administration. His power was very strong and solid, and he had many eyes and ears. Thinking of the matter, he couldn’t stop a sigh and said, “Sir Fan has to give Yang Jimei some face in the future, but in this palace treasury matter…he has no chance.”
The advisor asked curiously, “What exactly is the imperial envoy thinking? Of the six lots that are available, who is he preparing to hand them to?”
The smile on Xue Qing’s face gradually faded. “This question does not even need to be asked. Since the Emperor has sent him to Jiangnan, he is preparing these six lots to be taken, naturally, by him.”
He continued, smiling coldly, “Never mind those six. I think if the Ming family wants to keep their eight slots, it will be difficult.”
The advisor pulled his brows together tightly and said, “We just don’t know which family Sir Fan junior has chosen this time.”
Xue Qing gave a mocking life. He was the leader of the Jiangnan area, so he knew about Fan Xian’s doings. He smiled. “I fear none of you will be able to think of who he has chosen. This imperial envoy is quite incredible. He did not choose among the merchants for a representative, instead, he went to the wilderness to dig someone out. If those bastards dared to walk brazenly in Suzhou on a normal day, I would probably have to take them into prison and demand some tribute.”
The advisor did not know the inside story, so gave an awkward laugh. He still could not let go of the matter. He asked, “Concerning the matter of opening the palace treasury, did the imperial envoy…speak to you about it?”
Following the conventions of officialdom, such a piece of meat like the palace treasury could not swallowed by the officials of one faction. No matter how arrogant Fan Xian was, he would still have to make a gesture to the governor. Xue Qing’s position was special and deeply rooted in Jiangnan,
Xue Qing furrowed his brows slightly and shook his head. “Sir Fan junior has raised the matter. Despite his youth, his actions are very accommodating. Minister Fan and Director Chen have taught him well…however, I, most unfortunately, could only reject Sir Fan junior’s kindness.”
“Ah?” The advisor let out a startled sound. Reject the kindness? As long as Fan Xian made the offer, this little gesture was probably worth at least a few hundred thousand liang. When did the governor become so honest and possess such self-control? HaD he learned how to change his spots?
Xue Qing smiled self-deprecatingly. He stood and said, “Although we are close, we should still go early. Sir Fan junior is waiting in the courtyard, as well as that old white face[JW1] Guo Zheng. The eunuchs from the palace will also bring the edict. We should not be late.”
He did not explain to the advisor, who was closer to him than his wife, why he rejected Fan Xian’s kindness. Xue Qing knew that although the palace treasury appeared to be a competition between Fan Xian and the Eldest Princess, in reality, it represented a deeper layer of meaning. Those princes and which order they should be in had already begun to change into a thorny problem.
Xue Qing’s identity did not allow him to pick a side too early, otherwise the Emperor would be angry, so it was not convenient for him to join in the palace treasury feast.
Under the protection of his guards, the Jiangnan governor left through the front door of his manor. Xue Qing subconsciously turned his head to look at the sign in front of his manor and was momentarily blinded by the newly risen sun. A strong sense of unease welled up in his heart. The Emperor had been strange these few years. Everyone under heaven was watching Jingdou, guessing what the future will hold With this kind of unrest, it was definitely not a good thing for the Qing court.
If the people’s hearts are not set, what would the officials do?
Your Majesty, Your Majesty, what exactly are you thinking?
The merchants who had come to bid were already seated and waiting in their rooms. However, the host of the event, Fan Xian, was slowly drinking tea. The person drinking and talking with him was one of the eunuchs from Jingdou.
The palace treasury was the property of the royal family. According to the rules, it needed to be supervised by both the Taichang Temple and inner court. As Fan Xian was an official of Taichang Temple, the temple did not trouble themselves to send another person to Suzhou. It also lessened problems for Fan Xian. However, the eunuch had come, which was troublesome.
“What you say makes sense.” Fan Xian placed his tea bowl on the table and smiled slightly. “I also agree that is better to be silent than to act. Everything will be done with the same rules as previous years.”
Eunuch Huang was from the Palace and had a very high rank, otherwise he would not have been given such an important assignment. He had a fat head and big ears; the flesh on his cheeks was all piled together. At he listened to Fan Xian speak, he gave an insincere smile and said, “With you hosting this event, I am at ease.”
Eunuch Huang had long been deep in the inner Palace. Although he knew Fan Xian’s name well, he thought that with a royal decree on his person, he was not particularly be afraid of the other. On the contrary, he had been in Suzhou for a number of days, yet Fan Xian had not invited him to his manor to talk. The reality of this neglect made him feel ill at ease in his heart.
In their earlier conversation, Eunuch Huang had brought Fan Xian a piece of had news. More accurately, he was passing on the empress dowager’s verbal command. She wanted Fan Xian to host the palace treasury matter according to old rules and to not do anything rashly.
Do things rashly? According to old rules? Fan Xian laughed coldly in his heart. This naturally meant that what should be the Ming family’s, should stay that way, and the rest he could do as he wished. It seemed like after the Eldest Princess returned to the capital, the empress dowager must have felt heart sore for her youngest daughter and pulled a long face to request such a big favor.
He understood that the empress dowager was warning him to not go too overboard when doing things. He had to leave the members of the royal family some live income to spend. Thinking to this point, Fan Xian couldn’t resist wanting to smile. His Emperor was known as the Emperor of a generation, how come he was becoming more and more turned around as the years progressed? How was he allowing his old mother and sister to push his family business into his sons’ manors?
Of course he knew that the Emperor was not a simple figure, but he was becoming more and more confused as to why the Emperor was creating such a turbulent situation.
“To bring great peace, there must first be chaos?” He unconsciously furrowed his brows and said out loud.
“What?” Eunuch Huang beside him asked.
“Nothing.” Fan Xian smiled. “Thank you for passing on the edict.”
Eunuch Huang coughed a few times and said with some pride, “It’s only because the empress dowager trusts in one such as me, of course. I must also thank you for giving me such face.”
Fan Xian did not comment. He only smiled and looked at Eunuch Huang’s pig-like face. After a pause he said, “Your face?”
Eunuch Huang was startled.
Fan Xian smiled slightly and said, “Eunuch Huang, it is best if you put away those acts when you are in front of me. Lao Tao, Lao Dai, Lao Hou…know how to behave themselves better.”
Eunuch Huang was angry but quickly became shocked. The three people Fan Xian had mentioned were all powerful eunuchs in the Palace. Although Lao Dai had since lost power, other than head eunuch Hong Zhu who was recently transferred to the Eastern Palace, Lao Tao and Lao Hou all had much more face than himself. Thus Fan Xian saying this was showing that even Eunuch Tao and Eunuch Hou were respectful in front of him.
Eunuch Huang was very shrewd. He drew back his anger and smiled instead. “As you say, Sir.” In his heart, however, he lowered his estimation of Fan Xian. For a young and powerful official to plant enemies all around, he was unlikely to grow for long. Furthermore, he was someone close to the empress dowager, so his identity was a bit special.
Fan Xian gave a sly smile and said, “It is best if you behave yourself in Suzhou.”
Eunuch Huang lowered his face. “From where do you speak?”[JW2]
“I’m speaking from Jingdou,” Fan Xian said darkly. “I hate it the most when people use the empress dowager to suppress me. Other people may be afraid of you, but that does not include me. After you go back to the capital, you can say it where you like and then see what kind of situation it will be.”
Eunuch Huang lifted his head in a rage. How dare an official be so disrespectful to the dowager empress? Do you really not want your life?
For Fan Xian to say this, he had to have his reasons. He kept his expression cold and shook his sleeves before turning past a side corridor to walk toward the main hall of the courtyard. He threw down one last sentence. “Figure out your own identity. Your surname is not Hong!”
Other than old Eunuch Hong, who else was would Fan Xian be wary off in that cold Royal Palace?
Fan Xian stood coldly on the stone steps in front of the main hall. The merchants in the rooms under the eaves on the two sides quickly came out and bowed to him in greeting.
He gaze was focused solely on the main entrance. He didn’t even glance at the father and son of the Ming family in the first room closest to him.
The big door was pushed open with a creak.
A line of silent people walked in slowly. This line of people did not have the wealthy and noble air commonly seen on merchants; they also did not seem like officials. On the contrary, they were full of a sense of blood and wilderness.
With these people standing in the yard, it was like wolves had suddenly appeared in a flock of sheep. Like a pastry with a deer tail, it appeared out of place and abrupt.
Xia Qifei was wearing an outfit of light-green watered silk, yet it still did not hide the aura of blood on his body. Although his expression was calm, his narrowed eyes revealed a trace of excitement and nervousness.
Xia Qifei held his fist in one hand and greeted Fan Xian. “Sir, I have come late.”
“Not late,” Fan Xian said coldly. “It is fine as long as you are here.”
The giant merchants of Jiangnan often had shady business dealings, and there were many areas where they depended on the power of the wilderness. Xia Qifei, as the head boss of the Jiangnan water bandits, actually had some secret dealings with these merchants, even those of the Ming family.
Thus, there were some people who had seen Xia Qifei’s true appearance. He led his subordinates and brothers to stand in the yard and was immediately recognized by those with sharp eyes. The whispers gradually rose to become countless cries of shock.
Water bandits have come to the palace treasury to bid?
The giant merchants looked with faces full of fear at Xian Qifei in the yard. They couldn’t resist turning their glances on Fan Xian standing on the stone steps. They could not understand what was happening.
Water bandits as merchants? Then what were these merchants to do? Were they to be mountain thieves? The way of the world…seems to have become very strange ever since the appearance of Sir Fan junior. It was very difficult to understand. What made these Jiangnan merchants most curious was that even if Xia Qifei had been robbing everywhere, how could he pull together so much silver? Since these Jiangnan water bandits already entered the doors of the palace treasury, they must have paid the safety deposit in full. If being a water bandit was so lucrative, then why did they bother slaving away at their businesses?
Ming Qingda, standing at the door of the room closest to the stone steps, narrowed his eyes and watched the last person enter the yard. In a quiet voice he asked, “Who is this person?”
“It should be Xia Qifei,” Ming Lanshi leaned close to his father’s ear to say. “The head boss of the Jiangnan water bandits. We’ve had some contact before, but I’ve never seen him in person. I don’t know why he’s here today to join in the action.”
Ming Qingda’s eyes were narrowed tightly. It was almost impossible to see the cold pupil inside. He only faintly said, “It seems…this person is the piece the imperial envoy buried ahead of time.”
Xia Qifei slowly turned his head and met the gaze the master of the Ming family sent his way. He smiled slightly. The smile revealed an endless enmity and desire to devour blood.
The Seventh young master of the Ming family, whose mother was killed and his property stolen, finally, with the help of Fan Xian, had the opportunity to properly stand in the light and get his revenge.
[JW1]”老白脸” Translated literally, but have different meaning in Chinese slang.
[JW2]”钦差大人这是说的哪里话” Translated literally to better reflect the next line.