I love a gentleman who asks. <3 Zhousheng Chen and his “great love for research”…… LOL!
Chapter 6.3 – Beauty is Offered, but Whose Soul is Given? (3)
In this unfamiliar surrounding, it was difficult for her to immediately fall asleep.
This was especially so when coupled with that late night clamor that had suddenly occurred. Fortunately, Zhousheng Chen quickly returned to their courtyard wing. She could hear his voice echoing up from downstairs, so she treaded lightly over to the window and looked down.
In the moonlight, he was facing five or six men dressed in black, one of whom was one of the household managers who been present when they were trying dishes. His voice was not loud, and she could not hear specifically what he was saying. She only saw, shortly after, him make a waving motion, and then everyone dispersed.
Only he remained, alone in the courtyard.
The two girls who lived on the first floor and were responsible for waiting upon their day-to-day needs asked him the hour of the next day’s morning meal. He merely stated that it would be as usual and said something else in a low voice before proceeding upstairs. When Shi Yi stepped away from the window, she could already hear a knocking on her door.
Opening the door, she saw Zhousheng Chen standing there, his left elbow against the doorframe. He smiled, “I am back now and just wanted to let you know.”
She also leaned against the door. “Is there something serious?”
He hesitated briefly. “Last time, you saw a pregnant woman, a cousin-sister-in-law. She slipped and fell just now and possibly may be having premature labour.”
Her heart gave a leap, not expecting that such a misfortune would suddenly occur, and she asked a few more questions.
But what was strange was, why would he, a man, need to look after this matter? That really did not seem reasonable.
However, since he had not told her the entire story, there was no need for her to ask further. After all, she was not his fiancée right now, and even if she was, there perhaps was still a long way to go for her to truly become a member of this family.
While they were speaking, the girl, Lianhui, came up the stairs carrying a cup of tea. With a slight bow to the two of them, she brought the tea into Shi Yi’s room. After Lianhui had departed, Zhousheng Chen explained, “This is water soaked with dried lotus seed sprouts. Consuming some will help you sleep better. Be sure, though, not to drink too much. Should you wake up in the middle of the night, you can also sip small amount to moisten your throat.”
No wonder it had the light fragrance of lotus seeds.
Shi Yi’s heart seemed to soften a little, and she nodded again. As she lifted her head to say good night to him, he had already suddenly lowered his own. They were such a close distance she could even feel that the tip of his nose was touching hers, gently brushing against her skin, but he did not take things any further.
Her eyes widened with disbelief at this.
“A good night kiss? May I?” He tilted his head slightly to the side.
Shi Yi lightly breathed out a yes.
The two of them were so close they could feel each other’s breath on their face.
What if she had not said yes? What would he have done?
Her mind was jumbled from her overwhelming emotions, and she closed her eyes. She could feel something soft against her lips.
At first, she had thought it would be just a brief touch to the lips.
She had not anticipated it would be such a long, deep kiss. Their lips and tongues had the delicate fragrance of lotus seeds, which was also intermixed with the minty taste, although not very strong, of absinthe. There seemed to be something different from that other night, although why it was different or what was different about it, she could not say exactly. She felt the tip of his tongue caress the roof of her mouth, and it was like someone had touched the most fragile part of her. Instinctively, she tried to take a step back, but one of his hands reached down to clasp the back of her waist and she could not retreat.
He detected her reaction was different from normal, and this piqued his interest to investigate it further. Slowly, he started to try to find where that particularly sensitive spot was.
The feeling of even the slightest contact with that spot was unbearable. But when the touch was taken away, she would feel a sense of emptiness. Eventually, she could not figure out whether it felt good or bad. When he finally let go of her, her mind was somewhat in a blank daze, and she looked up at him with a disoriented expression.
“Are you alright?” He stretched out a finger and lightly brushed her cheek.
His finger slid downwards until it reached her lips. A little swollen already.
Shi Yi shifted slightly away from his touch and gave a nearly imperceptible “mm.”
She now finally understood what was different. Zhousheng Chen must have carefully researched how to kiss. Here before this man who had such a great love for research, she truly did not know whether she should laugh or cry.
Perhaps due to the tranquility of the mountains, she woke up more than half an hour later than her usual time.
Zhousheng Chen was not present, so she sat alone in the small dining hall leisurely eating her breakfast. Lianhui and Lianrong treated her with great respect, and it could even be said, rather cautiously. She could not help laughing. “Have you eaten breakfast yet? If you haven’t, you don’t need to stay here with me.”
“We’ve eaten already.” Lianhui was a little younger and she grinned impishly, “Miss Shi Yi must not be aware that, since Eldest Young Master began preparations for his betrothal, the hour of the morning meal became five o’clock. So, besides Miss Shi Yi, you, every single person here had partaken of their morning meal a long time ago.” Shi Yi lowered her head and smiled, continuing to have her porridge of black glutinous rice with lotus seeds.
He had never once mentioned this morning meal rule to her, allowing her to comfortably and naturally wake up and then peacefully have her breakfast. Shi Yi held the spoon in her hand and took a bite. The black glutinous rice suited her palate, and the lotus seeds were fragrant and sweet.
But neither of these was as intoxicating as his thoughtful attentiveness.
Originally, they had arranged that in the morning, he would accompany her to offer up incense at the temple.
She patiently waited until ten thirty, but Zhousheng Chen still did not turn up. Pulling out the book she had brought with her, she flipped through it to pass the time. Slowly, while she was absorbed in her reading, the hour hand of the clock made its way around. The ringing sound of the gong being struck in sync with the clock pendulum abruptly rang out, a very regular, deep sound that continued for eleven times before quiet was restored.
It was eleven o’clock?
She looked down from the window. Zhousheng Chen still had not come back yet. Inside the courtyard, Lianhui seemed to also be waiting for Eldest Young Master’s return as she paced back and forth, looking rather anxious. All of a sudden, a figure suddenly dashed into the courtyard. It was the slightly older girl, Liangrong.
The building she was in was not tall, and the sound of the two girls talking soon drifted up to her.
Lianrong sighed, “It’s getting more and more messy. She lost the baby.”
An “ah” escaped from Lianhui’s lips before she lowered her voice and repeated, “Lost the baby?”
“Yeah. They said she has a bad birth time eight characters and brought misfortune.”
“What do you mean, ‘brought misfortune’? Last night, it was obvious that woman surnamed Tang was exploiting her own pregnancy and started to throw insults first. You know, out of all the things to say, that woman just had to bring up in front of everyone how she had called off the engagement. If she had not broken off the engagement, maybe our Little Junior Young Master would have been born by now. Who would dare to speak so scornfully and disrespectfully then––“ The voices abruptly disappeared.
Apparently, one of the two remembered that Shi Yi was still upstairs, and very quickly, they ceased their discussion.
Shi Yi briefly savored those few words they had spoken, shocked by the baby’s death following its premature birth. She could still recall that time, during the lunch near Jinshan Temple, when the girl, Tang Xiaofu had suddenly barged in.
Shi Yi was unable to guess the identity of the “she” in their discussion who had supposedly brought misfortune upon Tang Xiaofu.
But it was evident that the person who had once been engaged to this “she” was Zhousheng Chen.
Her first thought was the fiancée she had heard about when she was in Xi’an. However, she quickly rejected that possibility because, according to Lianhui’s words, if this “she” had not ended her betrothal to Zhousheng Chen, they would have had the opportunity to have children long ago. According to that timeframe, it should have been something that was more in the distant past.
So, that meant there was still someone else?
She did not know what sort of story he had lived out in these past twenty-eight years.
The Zhousheng Chen she now beheld – scholarly and refined, always composed in every situation, seemingly not particularly enticed by romance – what type of past did he hold? He was like a mystery. The more contact she had with him, she realized, the more she did not know about him.
Shi Yi, you need to be patient, to slowly understand and know him.
In the afternoon, Zhousheng Chen finally returned. Today, he wore a deep blue dress shirt and black pants. Besides the silvery-gray sheen given off by his cuff links, his whole body was clothed in dark, somber hues. He quietly took a seat beside her, loosened his cuffs, and gently exhaled a breath.
“Are we going to pick up my dad and mom this afternoon?” Shi Yi poured a glass of water for him.
“There might be some change to the plans.” He seemed to be deliberating his choice of words. “Something has happened in the family. To be more exact, there has been a ‘white celebratory event’ [death] and it would not be appropriate to hold a ‘red celebratory event’ [marriage or events pertaining to] in these days.”
Shi Yi immediately understood.
This reason was certainly correct and proper, so Shi Yi nodded in agreement and did not question further.
Seeing that she was not surprised by the news, Zhousheng Chen was able to make his own deductions. “You heard Lianhui and Lianrong talk about it?”
Shi Yi stuck out her tongue impishly and then explained quietly, “I eavesdropped on them. Please don’t blame them.”
The hint of a smile could be seen in his eyes. “In this manor, there are a total of 68 courtyard wings and 1118 rooms. There are many people, and the types of people are varied as well. Therefore –– “
His words broke off. Shi Yi looked over at him puzzledly. “Therefore?”
“Therefore, it is inevitable that there would be idle gossip and irrelevant talk. Truths will be intermixed with falsehoods. After you have heard something, just let it be. Do not dwell too much on it.”
She laughed, “I know. Those big families you see in television dramas are usually portrayed that way.”
With the engagement being so hastily cancelled, even though she could understand the reasoning, she still needed to provide an explanation to her parents.
The two of them discussed the wording they would use.
Zhousheng Chen made a telephone call to her parents. In a very sincere tone, he provided his apologies and then, in just a few brief words, explained the situation. Fortunately, this was only an engagement. Mother also felt that since a funeral situation had occurred in the other side’s family, in any case, it would be inappropriate to hold an engagement and, furthermore, would be inauspicious. As a result, she quickly recovered from this news and cancelled their intended trip to Zhenjiang.
However, her mother still, to some degree, had some murmurs of criticism. Throughout the whole situation, Zhousheng Chen’s mother had not, even out of politeness, provided any explanation whatsoever and did not demonstrate in the slightest the behavior of someone who was about to become a relative by marriage. With a little laugh, Shi Yi vaguely said that his mother was overstricken by grief from this sudden loss, and in her emotional state, the proper etiquettes towards Shi Yi’s family slipped.
“Shi Yi,” her mother’s voice carried a slight sense of heartache, “Mom doesn’t need you to marry well. If you find that you cannot adjust to that type of family, it is still not too late. To tell you the truth, for you young people, marriage and divorce are just trivial things, like children’s games, much less engagement. You still have plenty of chances to think this over carefully. Even though I quite like that boy, I don’t want you to be in a situation where you are treated like you’re one class lower than other people.”
“I know, I know,” she laughed and said jokingly, “I will slowly build up my power and position. Women’s rule for the win!”
Mother broke out in laughter from this. She urged her not to forget her proper etiquette and to visit the relative who had had the unfortunate premature labour.
Her mother’s words reminded Shi Yi that she should pay a visit to Tang Xiaofu. After all, they had met once before. When she asked Zhousheng Chen, though, he told her that she had already left Zhenjiang, so Shi Yi had no choice but to forget about the idea.
Zhousheng Chen made last minute changes to the plans and prepared to bring her back to Shanghai the following day.
He needed to take care of some remaining matters that afternoon. Shortly after he left, Zhou Wenxing suddenly arrived and said that she was here on Big Brother’s insistent request that she take Shi Yi for a walk around. Shi Yi had already been interested in this immense and elaborate piece of old-style architecture, so she naturally was glad to go for a stroll.
The old manor houses of Jiangnan, like this one, all consisted of long corridor, open to the air, after long corridor, and courtyard wing adjoining another courtyard wing.
They were unlike the large manors in the northwest regions where each courtyard wing had its own distinct entrance and were very structured and rigid.
“My big brother said to make sure to take you to a place.” When Zhou Wenqing smiled, a pointy little canine tooth would show. It was terribly cute.
Shi Yi could not guess where they were going. “What sort of place? The ancestral hall?”
Zhou Wenqing burst into giggles. “That place is not easy to get into during normal times, and anyway, even if you go, there’s nothing fun there. I’m not going to tell you right now. When we’re there, you’ll know.”
They had walked far and the surrounding vegetation had gradually all been replaced by bamboo.
The bamboo stalks were not densely grown and could not be classified as a forest, but together with the sound of flowing water and the gentle breeze, they created a cool and refreshing feeling. They passed through a narrow doorway. The bamboo grove became thicker and lusher, but not far away, an old building, three levels high, could already be seen standing in erect silence.
“Look! It’s that old library tower over there.” Beside her, Zhou Wenxing was telling her, “My big brother said you had once asked him something about ancient-style library towers, so he guessed that you would like this place.”
A breeze blew through the bamboo leaves, creating a rustling sound.
She remembered, at Qinglong Temple, she had asked him whether he had been to one of those ancient-style library towers that had row after row of wooden shelves filled with countless books and scrolls. At the time, he had had an expression that looked as if he did not understand. He had only smiled faintly before giving an answer that seemingly addressed her question but actually did not truly answer it. He had said, the place he frequently spent time in had, on those row after row of wooden shelves, apparatuses used in science experiments..
She had not thought that there would actually be such a building here.
 See footnote  in chapter 3.3.
 白喜事 “bai xi shi.” A “white celebratory event” or “white happy occasion” is referring to a death by natural causes. In Chinese culture, the color white is often associated with death and funerals. Death that is not due to unnatural causes (accident, execution, homicide, etc.) is considered worthy to be celebrated, hence the idea of “white happy occasion.” In contrast 红喜事 “hong xi shi” or “red celebratory event” is referring to marriage or anything pertaining to marriage, such as engagement. In Chinese culture, the color red is considered good luck, celebratory, and happy.
 祠堂 “ci tang.” The ancestral hall/temple, is a place dedicated to worship of ancestors of a family clan/surname or sometimes, several family clans. Common folk would go to a communal ancestral hall while the wealthy would often have one within their own manor dedicated to their family line.
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