Joy of Life - Chapter 362[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:48:36]
Chapter 362: The Bandits Of Room B4
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
They didn’t need to wait for long before the Jiangnan governor, Xue Qing, arrived in a hurry, and the Imperial Censorate, Guo Zheng, who had been dawdling in the back garden entered the front hall. Finally, he four officials of the four offices hosting and monitoring the palace treasury bidding were gathered together. Guo Zheng was no longer the well-regarded Imperial Censor of the left in the Imperial Censorate, but as the inspector of each Road, he still had a certain measure of power. The old hatred between him and Fan Xian had not been resolved. When they met, it was inevitably awkward. When the four officials greeted each other, it always seemed that Fan Xian’s calm and cold gaze hid a few threads of danger.
Of the four officials gathered, Eunuch Huang represented the Palace; the Jiangnan governor, Xue Qing, represented the system of the court officials; the Imperial Censorate Guo Zhen represented Imperial Censor; and Fan Xian represented a number of powers, such as the palace transport company, Overwatch Council, and even the institution that managed the royal family, the Taichang Temple.
Everyone representing the court, represented the Emperor.
Fan Xian sat in the second chair and chatted with Xue Qing with a slight smile, however, he saw the situation today clearly. There were too many people watching this event. No matter who, no matter which power, it would be difficult for anyone to conduct deals under the table by themselves. The treasury palace opening procedure developed through history effectively promised fairness.
At least, the appearance of fairness. As long as merchants had money, they could all come and compete for the 16 slots to sell goods as an agent of the palace treasury.
He was thinking this way, and the other three were also thinking this way. Eunuch Huang met the eyes of Guo Zheng. Although they felt faintly uneasy, from their perspective, Fan Xian couldn’t get up to any fancy tricks in front of all these people. They just had to ensure that the Ming family was able to obtain the same portion as previous years.
Eunuch and Imperial Censorate were, historically, two levels that stayed apart like fire and water. Today, they were standing in the same camp in mutual understanding. However, these two did not know much of the inside situation or pay sufficient attention to the last person to enter the palace treasury, Xia Qifei.
Xue Qing was not the same. He had the attitude of being in the theater. His face was peaceful as he watched the people beside the giant merchants. Those watching the show were not afraid of the stage being tall; they are always more relaxed than the performers.
This one show had a number of performers.
The thick door to the courtyard was slowly closed again. The soldiers and Overwatch Council officials outside pulled a tight defense. In the palace treasury bidding of previous years, it usually ended in just one day. However, according to court rules, merchants were allowed two days to call out prices.
There was an enormous banging sound.
Fan Xian smiled as he covered his ears. He watched the spring thunder outside the yard shoot across the sky. It headed for the doom of the sky and exploded beneath the shallow clouds. The sound was bright and crisp, and traveled to the ground some distance away. It startled the spirits of countless people.
The girls in the brothels who had been hard at work the previous night in Suzhou were awoken by the roar of thunder. They cursed out some filthy words, burrowed back into their blankets, and fell asleep. A child, who was taking money from his parents to buy candy, thought the heavens were scolding him for being disobedient and punishing him with the thunder. The child was reduced to sobs in fear. The black dog in the back garden, peeing on the old tree roots with its legs cocked, shivered in fright from the sound. His front legs hit the ground, and he buried his head into the furry bag, imitating an ostrich.
The humans’ reactions were all different. This roar of thunder had other meanings in some people’s ears. Regardless of whether they were advisors and shopkeepers of each family that had gathered on the docks to the north of Suzhou awaiting orders, or the Suzhou people discussing the matter of the palace treasury opening, everyone tilted their gaze toward the south side of the city. They looked toward the courtyard they could not see and knew that the palace treasury bidding had started.
The palace treasury bidding in the sixth year of the Qing calendar actually went extraordinarily unsmooth from the beginning.
First, the palace treasury transport company summarized the profits and losses of each merchant in the last year. Naturally, there was no lack of positive words. The deputy of the transport company responsible for the speech, Ma Jie, finally reported, very severely, the results of the court’s investigation into the Cui family. This was a warning to all the merchants below the steps: Don’t think that the court is not watching you all.
These were old regulations, and no one cared. When Ma Jie spoke of the specific lots of today’s bidding, the courtyard exploded. The merchants all stood out to show their opposition. Even the four officials sitting in the main hall began to argue.
Because the transport company had suddenly decided the divide the original 16 lots into 34 small lots, and furthermore, bidding would no longer be bound together.
This change did not appear to be big, but for the merchants below, it was a completely unacceptable matter.
The reason was simple. Three months before bidding, these giant merchants of Jiangnan had began secret talks amongst themselves. They figured out the boundaries and territories between them. Each minded their own business to avoid damaging their relationships and raising prices that would damage their wealth. For example, the Lingnan Xiong family was sure to compete for the bid for the alcohol category to the North. While the Quanzhou Sun family wanted to have the right to sell porcelain goods overseas.
Although it appeared that everyone could still maintain their bottom line on the surface if they did as the transport company intended and split the 16 large lots into 34 small lots, after the eight large lots expected to belong to the Ming family—divided into two bound bids—were completely split apart, who knew whether or not there might be some merchant who suddenly became greedy and wanted to steal the Ming family’s portion. After all, without being bound together, the highest earning lots did not seem to need too much silver.
Once someone made a move on the Ming family’s portion, what would the Ming family do? They would certainly turn around and steal someone else’s portion. This was determined by a merchant’s natural pursuit of profit. The opening bidding of the palace treasury today was probably going to be a complete mess.
The Jiangnan merchants were most afraid of the chaos. The Ming family had already agreed that they would not interfere with the Cui family portion. These merchants could already eat many more bowls of meat, of course they didn’t want anyone to disturb their plans.
In their eyes, the imperial envoy made such a change to achieve two simple goals. First, he wanted everyone to compete with bloodlust and raise the price. Second, he wanted to minimize the necessary deposit after dividing the lots into smaller amounts, so Xia Qifei, the last man to enter the yard, would be able to have a small share.
These sly merchants had already noticed that the silent B4 room was the imperial envoy’s representative.
We can understand that you, the imperial envoy, wants to earn money, but you can’t use these seemingly fair but actually poisonous methods!
“Sir Fan, this idea is not appropriate.” Although Eunuch Huang had been severely humiliated by Fan Xian, he still appeared very steady and calm. His fat face squeezed into a smiling expression. “In the regulations of the previous years, 16 lots were just 16 lots. Why are they suddenly divided? This matter needs to be decided by the capital after all.”
Fan Xian furrowed his brows and said some words.He then turned his head and said in a low voice to Xue Qing, “Governor, the split into finely divided lots without binding together would only give more people the privilege to enter the field…this will only benefit the court.”
Xue Qing muttered irresolutely to himself. He appeared very awkward. “Although that could be said, it is no small matter. I think Sir Fan should report to the court. After the Palace has discussed it, it will not be too late to introduce it slowly next year.”
Seeing that Xue Qing was also opposed, Fan Xian felt unhappy. Looking at the chaotic and loud merchants below, a thread of hate flashed through his mind. In reality, the true reason for preparing to divide the lots today had nothing to do with what the merchants were thinking.
These merchants were thinking that the six lots the Cui family had left behind were already in their pockets, and so they would not compete with the Ming family. But, in a moments, Xia Qifei would definitely swallow up the six lots of the Cui family, so these merchants could only eat the two pitiful lots. An intelligence report came earlier saying that the Lingnan Xiong family and Quanzhou Sun family had both prepared large amounts of silver this time and were gearing up to take over the Cui family route. In a moment, when they end up with nothing, these merchants were going to suffer great losses.
Because of the fall of the Cui family, there were three times more merchants at the palace treasury opening bid than previous years. Fan Xian had originally been thinking to let these merchants have at least a bite, and so had made the suggestion of finely dividing the lots. Unexpectedly, no one accepted his kindness. Although he knew this was because these merchants did not know what was going to happen in a moment, and that was why they opposed it so strongly. But Fan Xian still found it difficult to quash his feelings of sullenness.
He fought a bit more with Eunuch Huang and Guozheng beside him and explained things to them for a bit. He found that the merchants were still determined to do things by the convention of previous years. The other three officials were also hanging tight to the word “regulations” and did not dare to let go. Fan Xian finally decided to give up; the so-called retreat to advance. Sometimes things just happened this way.
Deputy Ma Jie awkwardly turned around and glanced at Fan Xian, who waved his hand to signal putting aside the idea.
The merchants were overjoyed .They all bowed to him, saying the imperial envoy was wise. Fan Xian looked at these merchants with coldness in his eyes, He couldn’t help shaking his head. Just don’t cry in a moment.
Xue Qing sat beside him and stroked his beard with a slight smile. His gaze was actually focused on the room closest to the main hall and the room furthest away. When the place was in an uproar earlier, the quietest were these two rooms. He knew that Xia Qifei was Fan Xian’s man, but he didn’t know from where Fan Xian had gotten the silver or how the Ming family planned to respond.
The bidding had not gone on for long when there were already merchants beginning to regret. The master of the Xiong family from Lingnan became the first pitiful man to almost cry.
The official of the palace treasury transport company stood high on the stone steps and called out the lots, and then each room began to bid. Naturally, the bidding could not be like bidding on girls at a brothel, calling out – 50 liang! 100 liang! When the court did things, there always had to be rules and regulations. If there was interest in a bid, for example, after the official had called out the lot, the cotton merchant of Bei Road would make a detailed calculation with the old shopkeeper he brought, taking into account last year’s profits and current year’s trends. Then he would he write a precise number on a piece of paper and seal it into a leather bag. This would then be taken by an official of the transport company at the bottom of the stairs and handed into the Flower Hall to the left of the main hall.
The merchants had three opportunities to make an offer, and it was all open bids. Thus, if someone called a higher price than oneself the first time, these merchants still had the opportunity to raise their price, with the third price prevailing. It was a simple principal of bidding—the highest bidder wins. Following this, the merchant that had won the bid had to at the first possible moment, whether in joy or in pain, bring out 40 percent as deposit to be handed into the Flower Hall. There were accountants of the transport company in the Flower Hall, as well as an old official of accounts who was brought in from the Ministry of Revenue in Jingdou. They were responsible for comparing the numbers each merchant family came up with as well as examining the banknote the winning merchant family handed in. It had been many years since a merchant family stupidly brought a dozen chests of silver to a bidding.
In reality, the palace treasury bidding was not all that different from the bidding on girls at brothels, only the girls of the palace treasury were slightly more expensive. Whether it was the merchants or the busy officials, they were no stranger to this scene.
As the officials were busily running around with the sealed envelopes of the various families, the Overwatch Council officials watched everything with alertness, preventing any, already difficult to happen, cases of fraud.
It was currently the bid for the alcohol category in the North, and the third time the prices had been called.
Xion Bailing, from the Xiong family in Lingnan, was the current master of the family. He wiped at the cold sweat on his forehead. Seeing the two previous offers made by his opposition, the muscles on his face twitched. He felt a bit like crying but did not have the tears. The Lingnan Xiong family always operated their business in the South of the Qing Kingdom. Due to reasons of territory and opportunity, they never had the chance to extend their feet into the North, so it was difficult to expand their business situation. Since the Cui family had fallen, it gave these merchants the chance to take the right to sell as agents of the palace treasury in the North. Thus, Xiong Bailing needed to obtain this bid. Earlier, the person who most vehemently rejected Fan Xian’s finely divided lots was him.
Now he was starting to feel regret. He clearly already had his clan prepare sufficient silver, but in both the earlier bids, he had been forcefully pushed down.
Xiong Bailing’s eyes were red and anger attacked his heart. If he couldn’t take down this bid, it was not a matter of how much less money they would earn this year. Rather, it was that after the clan had gone around this giant mountain that was the Ming family, the steps of their army toward the North must be slowed. He truly hated the person who did not follow the rules and dared to compete with him for the bid to the bone. However, other than hatred, there was also plenty of fear. He knew that that person had the imperial envoy as their supporting mountain. But where did the other party get such much money?
“B4!” He glared with hatred toward the last and silent room in the back. Xia Qifei and his group in B4 had been very quiet. When making bids, they struck out ruthlessly. They also had some genius assisting them. They had calculated the profits of the right to sell alcohol in the North very clearly and made a good guess about the bottom line of his clan. The two previous times they had bid, each time was just a little ahead of his.
Xiong Bailing, for no discernible reason, felt a sense of defeat grow in his heart. Was he, from generations of merchants, not even as good as a bandit?
The old shopkeeper had an expression full of defeat. “Master, we can’t add anymore. If we add more…then there is nothing to make.”
“Straight for this price.” Xiong Bailin made a hand gesture and made the decisive decision to burn his boats and ground his teeth together. “Being a bandit, he doesn’t care about the money he stole…but there’s no need to lose money to compete with me for business.”
At this time, silence had fallen in the courtyard. It was the third time to bid. There was no one else participating. Everyone’s gazes were on the Lingnan Xiong family and room B4.
Although Eunuch Huang and Guo Zheng had some misgivings, they glanced at Fan Xian. They still did not take it seriously because this was just a small lot, so perhaps Fan Xian only wanted to skim some fat off the top. As long as it didn’t hurt the Ming family and their own interests, it was fine.
Two officials took two leather envelopes from the two rooms and silently entered the Flower Hall.
Everyone waited nervously for the result. Although this lot was not the most lucrative of the 16, everyone in the courtyard had, at this time, begun to realize the strangeness of room B4. Thus, everyone wanted to know if room B4 was here to bid or was a prop of the imperial envoy to raise the price?
“Room B4, Xia family, 370,000 liang, wins…”
The transport company official responsible for announcing the lots stood on the stone steps and announced the results without expression. He announced it so movingly that the last word seemed to float, giving it a hint of the theater.
The yard sank into a deathly silence. It took a moment before the people seemed to awaken from this shock and cry out in shock at the sky-high price.
370,000 liang! It was only to sell alcohol to the North. If this was calculated against last year’s figures, this price was certainly at a financial loss. The Lingnan Xiong family had bid 300,000 liang, which was already sacrificing everything for the bid. Who would have thought that they would still lose to room B4.
But after this incident, the merchants were clear on one truth. Xia Qifei was definitely not a prop of the imperial envoy here to raise prices. Rather, he was here to truly compete with them for business.
For a moment, no one knew whether this was a good or bad thing.
There soon came a muffled sound from the Lingnan Xiong family’s room, as if something heavy had fallen from the chair onto the ground.
Everyone watched the room with lingering fear in their hearts.
The master of the Xiong family, Xiong Bailing, climbed up from the floor and grabbed a cup of cold tea with difficulty before throwing it down his throat. Breathing hard he said, “That rotten bastard…he actually bid 370,000 liang. A bandit is just a bandit. Even when doing business they are full of aggression. You really are something.”
Fan Xian sat in the great chair in the main hall. He slightly lowered his head and was not happy in his heart about this price. This price was indeed too high. The first two rounds of bidding, Xia Qifei’s side had bid beautifully, just managing to push down the Xiong family’s a little. This last bid spent an extra 70,000 liang of silver.
No matter how much money he had, it couldn’t be spent like this. He sighed in his heart, but he also knew that bidding this price was not Xia Qifei’s decision. He himself had placed a few old and cunning officials from the Ministry of Revenue into room B4. They were experts that he had secretly asked for from his father in Jingdou. It seemed that those Ministry of Revenue officials still overestimated Lingnan Xiong family’s determination.
In barely a moment, room B4 had taken out an embroidered box and handed it to the Flower Hall for inspection. It was indeed a full 150,000 liang bank note, issued by Taiping money house. The seal was true; all was fair.
Everyone knew that in the quiet room B4 sat a merchant among bandits, and a bandit among merchants. He would not give a whit about other’s sentiments and face when competing for a bid. He would only be bloodthirsty and use his silver to crush people, and he did indeed have this much silver.
They just didn’t know how many more bids the bandit in room B4 was going to compete for.
This development made all but the Ming family feel completely hopeless. Xia Qifei beautifully made use of the bandit’s style. Using silver as knives and remarkable bids as fists, he forcefully cut a bloody path through the merchants surrounding him. Among the official on the stone steps announcements, embroidered boxes were endlessly handed into the Flower Hall. The people seemed to see countless beautiful sheaves of bank notes dancing through the air, and Xia Qifei holding a large knife and licentiously hooting out, “Who has more money than me?”
After two hours, other than missing one not very important small bid, Xia Qifei had won four bids in a row. Among these included three bids that were originally the Cui family’s Northern route. Not only did he bring Xiong Bailing to the ground, he also slaughtered the Quanzhou Sun family until their faces were pale. The other merchants had fear struck into their hearts. It turned out they weren’t here to compete for bids, rather they were here to watch the bandit slaughter people.
It was not until now that the merchants felt regret for not accepting Fan Xian’s earlier suggestion. If the lots were split, there would still be a dozen large lots later. Even if the Ming family eyed them like tigers eyeing prey, they would have the opportunity to take some away.
They would rather compete with the Ming family and fall out with them, than go up against the bandit in room B4.
Fan Xian sat with a calm expression on the imperial tutor chair and chatted on and off with Xue Qing, but in his heart he resented Xia Qifei. This fun game of using money to crush people. Why was it never his own turn to make up and take the stage to do so? Instead Xia Qifei got all the fun.
Eunuch Huang and Guo Zheng had already shaken off the shock from earlier. They met each other’s eyes with a not-quite-there smile. They were thinking the same thing. Where…did all of this money of Fan Xian’s come from? Perhaps that Minister of Revenue was not entirely clean.
The bidding for the fifth lot had begun. This was originally the Cui family’s glassware products that were sent North.
The door to room B4 was pushed open again and another sealed leather envelope was handed out.
At this time, there were no more merchants that wanted to keep playing with this bandit, so they all stayed silent. They only hoped that the bandit would be able to eat his fill early.
It was at this moment, the door to the long strangely silent room A1 was pushed open. The Ming family, for some reason, was making an early move.
“I don’t expect to win the bid, but we need to drag out the time. At least until the end of today,” Ming Qingda closed his eyes to rest and said to his son beside him. “The other party has made their name. We need to be careful. Leave ourselves a full night to respond.”
Ming Lanshi was silent. He knew that his father was beginning to worry about the seemingly bottomless amount of silver room B4 seemed to have and was preparing to raise more funds tonight.
Ming Qingda did not open his eyes, but he was thinking of the bandit in room B4. Why did he make him feel so uneasy?
That man named Xia Qifei, why did he look so familiar?