Jin Yu Wang Chao Volume 1 Chapter 5
Without any regard, he just kept walking forward. Bai Xuelan chased after him. Seeing that he was about to go out the main gate, he ran a few steps and reached an arm forward to grab his shoulder. Figuring that it would be inconvenient to converse while outdoors, he looked to the side and spotted a small wooden door.
Not caring whose servant’s room it was, he opened it and pulled Xuan Huaifeng inside. With his back to the door, he smiled. “After your stay in England, your temper sure has gotten fiery. Alright. Forgive me for my bad joke. If you’re not happy, you can yell at me, but there’s no need to run away like you just saw a ghost.”
Xuan Huaifeng took a good glance at his broad shoulders and calculated that his chance of pushing him out of the way to escape wasn’t high. With no other option left, he finally spoke, “Your so-called jokes bring suffering to people each time.”
Bai Xuelan quickly tsked. “You still hate me for that time?”
Xuan Huaifeng glared away.
Bai Xuelan sighed, raised his hands in a polite gesture, and beckoned, “I beg you. Let it go, please? How many times must I apologize? That day was an honest mistake. You can’t blame me either. I’m not good at holding alcohol so I shouldn’t have drunk, but the classmates at the restaurant instigated me to down a few shots. I couldn’t tell left from right, so how could I possibly discern whether it was your room or mine?”
Without looking at him, Xuan Huaifeng stared at a porcelain vase in the corner and replied, “What’s past is past. Let’s not bring it up ever again. Open the door. I need to leave.”
Like a nail stuck in the door, Bai Xuelan didn’t budge. Knitting his brows in displeasure, Bai Xuelan refuted, “You don’t mean that at all. From your tone, it’s clear that you’re still angry at me. What happened was that I mistook your room for mine and slept next to you side by side. Ancient people also did the same, lighting a candle and talking the night away. Besides, we were fully clothed. There was nothing shameful about the act. It wasn’t like I did anything else…”
“What else could you have done?! Were you not satisfied?!” Xuan Huaifeng snapped his head up.
Bai Xuelan’s expression froze. A moment later, he smiled and lowered his voice. “How could I have known that it would escalate that badly? I didn’t know that your father had come to see you and, without warning, barged into your room. He didn’t even knock…”
Xuan Huaifeng softly snorted. “Hmph. So it was my father’s fault. If back then I knew that you were such a person, I should’ve just let him execute you on the spot. That way, you can’t fault him after death.”
Bai Xuelan clasped his hands together and thanked him, “You’re right. I am grateful. I knew that your father had gravely misunderstood us and really wanted to kill me. Fortunately, you spoke on my behalf and my life was spared. How about this? To repay you for your kindness, I’ll treat you to a meal tomorrow. Let this be a new beginning, okay?”
Xuan Huaifeng coldly rejected him. “How about you just move aside and let this be the repayment?”
Bai Xuelan beamed at him.
Xuan Huaifeng looked at him and thought that he wouldn’t let him go. Just when he was about to open his mouth again, Bai Xuelan suddenly shifted his body, stepped to the side, and opened the path. Politely gesturing with his hand, he ended, “You’re welcome.”
Not wanting to talk to him anymore, Xuan Huaifeng swiftly left.
If he had returned back to the house to say goodbye to his sister and brother-in-law, who would have known what troubles would follow? Without a second’s hesitation, Xuan Huaifeng passed through the main gate and under the night sky, he hurried back to Tongren House.
He had successfully avoided them but not for long. On the next day when he came back from teaching, he could, from faraway, see the housekeeper stretching his neck and surveying around. Xuan Huaifeng wondered if his sister had called him. When the keeper noticed him, he hastily turned around and went inside.
How strange. Xuan Huaifeng walked no more than two steps forward and discovered someone from Tongren House running out. Heavens! It was Mrs. Nian herself.
Xuan Huaifeng could only go up to greet her. “Sis.”
“Finally! Waited for you for a long time. Your brother-in-law is so impatient. He even wanted to go to your school to search for you, but I convinced him not to. I’m afraid that you won’t be happy.” Mrs. Nian enthusiastically tugged him by the shoulder towards Tongren House and inquired, “Why did you leave last night without saying anything? Your brother-in-law questioned me all night, asking how you and Chief Bai know each other. Come to think of it, that Chief Bai’s not a bad person. He’s young with such a high ranking position, yet he’s not snooty at all like others of his age. He’s so polite and knows how to talk. Best of all, he’s not overbearing and doesn’t show off at all!”
Xuan Huaifeng allowed her to finish her prattle and then proceeded, “Sis, on what occasion did you come for today?”
“Related to Chief Bai of course! He’s too courteous, said that he felt guilty after eating and drinking at our party. His deputy called during the noon. Chief Bai had reserved a few private rooms and invited us to listen to an opera performance.”
After listening, his head felt a bit heavy and shook her hand off his shoulder. “You guys go. I’m not interested.”
“Relax. Listen to me.” Xuan Daiyun continued to hold onto him and turned her head to fully look at him. “It’s Yuliuhua’s performance. She’s very popular and it’s difficult to get tickets. She’ll sing “Confidential Plans”. Didn’t you love this particular scene in The Peony Pavilion*?”
Mortals must age,
plans go awry,
dreams end too soon.
Love too deep,
a shallow grave may hold,
‘neath westering sun.
After singing two phrases, her dewy eyes gazed up at Xuan Huaifeng. “Even if you don’t want to watch it, at least accompany me. That should be fine, right?”
Feeling helpless, he complained, “What opera?! Brother-in-law probably just wants to use this opportunity to network. This is his business, so why must you drag me in it?! I don’t understand these things!”
Xuan Daiyuan, frustrated yet amused, lightly pinched him in the arm. “How tart of you, unveiling his ulterior motive! Your brother-in-law needs to survive, and you don’t? With just a permission from Chief Bai, you can get any position in the government. His brother is the prime minister after all.”
Because they were busy chatting, they stopped at the tianjing*, just outside of his room. Suddenly, a loud honking noise was heard.
Xuan Daiyun uttered, “Ay! It must be your brother-in-law coming to pick us up. Hurry and get changed!” She shoved Huaifeng in and guarded the door from outside.
Knowing that he had nowhere to run, he randomly picked an outfit and got dressed. When he came out, Xuan Daiyun deeply furrowed her brows. “How can you wear something uncouth like this?! You’re a young man. Wear a suit, not this plain blue changshan. Pick again!”
He refused. “He’s a chief officer. How can we possibly compare our wear to his?”
“Honestly, you child… Other young people worry that they don’t dress impeccably enough, yet you are the opposite.” Not wanting to let him go, the car outside honked again. Xuan Daiyun had no choice. “Forget it. Your brother-in-law’s already very impatient.” She then dragged him out.
As expected, in front of the gate was a small car. Nian Liangfu impatiently paced back and forth, looking for the siblings. When they had come out, he rubbed his hands furiously and retorted, “Faster, faster! Come on, woman. What were you dawdling in there for?! I was about to go in and get you!”
“He needs to at least change into something decent.”
“Get in! Get in!”
The three of them hopped in and the driver quickly drove to Tianyin Pavilion.
On the way, Nian Liangfu ranted to his wife. She smiled and lightly patted him. “What are you so anxious about? It starts at 7. Don’t you think it’d be awkward if you had arrived there so early? Chief Bai would think so.”
“Woman, it’s not strange to be over-polite. What matters isn’t being there too early. It’s being late that is the problem. We can’t afford to be rude. Even if he doesn’t say it out loud, he’ll think that we aren’t any better.” Though disgruntled, Nian Liangfu was overall in quite a good mood. He wore an expensive suit and in his pocket was a silk handkerchief. He turned around and with a face full of joy, he asked, “Huaifeng, how are you and Chief Bai acquainted? Judging from you two, it seems like a close relationship.”
Wariness grew within him. He flatly queried, “Did he not go back to the living room last night? Why didn’t you ask him?”
Nian Liangfu responded, “I did. He laughed it off and said nothing. With so many people around and he being the chief, I couldn’t investigate further.”
Having confirmed that Bai Xuelan didn’t use this as an excuse to stir trouble, he calmly and coolly replied, “He and I attended the same class. We weren’t very close.”
Excited, Nian Liangfu exclaimed, “Wonderful! No bond can be stronger than that of classmates! Two little innocent beings!”
Speechless, Xuan Huaifeng explained, “It’s not what you think. At best, we only studied together for a short while.”
Nian Liangfu snarled, “A classmate is a classmate! There’s no such thing as ‘a short while’.”
Xuan Daiyun, listening on the side, interrupted, “Huaifeng. I know most of your classmates. How come I’ve never heard of Chief Bai? Can it be that Bai Pengzhen changed his name? But from his appearance, he doesn’t look familiar.”
“It’s not Bai Pengzhen.” Huaifeng informed, “Bai Xuelan transferred late. You were already married by then. Not to mention, I didn’t know him that well so I had never invited him over to play. We were classmates for 2 to 3 months and then… I was sent to England, remember? After that, we had never met. I can’t believe that he was able to recognize me after all this time.”
Xuan Daiyun chuckled. “You talk like an old man. You only stayed in England temporarily. It wasn’t like you were gone for decades. How could he have not recognized you? Besides, you have such an outstanding appearance. Even if he forgot everyone else, he shouldn’t have forgotten you. With this face of yours, it truly proves that you inherited mama’s good genes.”
As she spoke, Xuan Daiyun reached a hand over and teasingly pinched his cheeks. Afraid that she wouldn’t stop, he then turned to Nian Liangfu, faked interest, and asked, “Aren’t you in the Ministry of Education? Last night you guys said that Bai Xuelan is Chief of Customs. He doesn’t oversee Education so why do you want to network with him? Isn’t it better to network with your chief instead?”
Assessing his expression, he shook his head at the naive Huaifeng. “Shame on you for having studied abroad. How can you not understand something so simple? Even though both are chiefs in name, there lies a huge difference. It’s like comparing the Chief of Public Health to the Chief of Public Security. How much can one line up his pocket in the Ministry of Education? Customs is a whole new level. He administers the duties and the flow of banned goods. Can you imagine how much it’s worth just by seizing opium alone every month?”
Puzzled, he inquired, “Shouldn’t the opium be destroyed?”
“Whether they’re burned or sold, doesn’t he have the final say?” He snickered, wore a sly face, and harped, “At Customs, money streams in like the river. With it, what can’t be possibly done? Maybe the Ministry of Education has to ask Customs to sponsor them a little bit every year. All in all, Chief Bai only has to one word, and even Chief Liao can’t turn him down.”
Xuan Huaifeng listened without a peep coming out.
*The Peony Pavilion: a famous Chinese opera about the romance between a scholar and a ghost girl
T/N: People on father’s side are considered closer than mother’s side. The PM isn’t his blood brother but his cousin, dad’s older brother’s kid (堂兄).
*tianjing: see image here