Way of the Devil

 
 

Way of the Devil Chapter 45


"Brother Chen, may I be so brazen as to ask, this thing was dug out from a grave, wasn't it?" Feigning indifference, Lu Sheng asked casually.

Chen Jiaorong nodded, "Yea, it’s gotten from some grave. You still haven’t given me a reply. Like my sister asked, how well must both of you know each other to be considered well enough?" He again shifted the topic of conversation back to the matter of his sister’s marriage.

Lu Sheng had evaded it once earlier. Now that he was being asked again, he immediately sighed.

"Such matters can’t be rushed. Brother Chen, you’ll find out in due time. Moreover, I’ve only known Yunxi for such a short period… does your family really trusts me that much?"

"You know, originally, I had my reservations. But because of what you’ve just said, I can really put my mind at ease now." Smiling, he added, "If you agree to this, we can double the dowry!"

Lu Sheng smiled bitterly.

He knew that, on one hand, Chen Yunxi genuinely fancied him. On the other hand, the Chen family had been fretting over their unwed, unwanted daughter all this while. Now that a match has been painstakingly found, they weren’t going to let go no matter what.

"Let’s talk about this in the future. At least, wait for me to achieve an academic degree, then we’ll talk about this," Lu Sheng broached the subject of the Annual Examinations as an excuse.

Hearing this, Chen Jiaorong’s eyes shone with even deeper admiration. After all, their offer was extremely tempting--just a nod would guarantee instant acquisition of immeasurable wealth! If he were in Lu Sheng’s shoes, he would definitely have jumped at the chance without hesitation. Besides, after getting married, he could still find and marry many other wives and concubines. Even though his sister Chen Yunxi’s long legs were a physical defect that put her in the same category as disfigured women, she still had some redeeming qualities after all.

"In that case, it’s set. Brother Lu, you can make the decision after your Annual Examinations. Yunxi is no longer young; she’s at a marriageable age now… I truly hope that Brother Lu won’t delay."

Helpless, Lu Sheng could only nod. Both of them left the winery and split up. Seeing that it was already late, he turned to return home.

After a night’s rest, he headed again to the Institution the next day. Just as he seated himself, the sounds of a commotion could be heard from outside.

"What’s going on outside?" Lu Sheng looked at Song Zhenguo next to him, currently packing his scrolls.

Song Zhenguo’s face clouded over. He whispered in a low voice, "Wang Ziquan’s family members are here."

Lu Sheng saw that many people in the study hall rose to gather at the window and entrance, taking a look. The faint cries of women and children could be heard drifting from outside.

He stood up. He could hear many students sighing.

"Ziquan seems to have gone missing… there’s a young woman with two children from his family who are here. I heard that his old man went to report to the officials for help, but got a harsh beating by the yamen authorities. He’s suffered grave injuries and been bedridden at home since. Ai…"

"Why would the yamen authorities beat him up?"

"It's because his old man refused to believe that his son had drowned. He knelt in front of the yamen entrance and wouldn't get up. Who would know that the newly appointed Chief Constable loathes such insubordinate civilians the most…"

"The widow and orphans are most pitiful…"

"Yes, it’s really pitiful… from the looks of it, his old man won’t make it too…"

The more he heard, the more Lu Sheng felt disgusted. Wang Ziquan had come from a merchant family. Although their business was not flourishing, they were somewhat well off. Yet now, his family was broken apart by death.

Song Zhenguo could also hear the chatter in the surroundings. Shoving his way through the crowd, he stood next to Lu Sheng.

"It’s my fault. If I hadn’t asked him to go out that day…"

"Don't overthink it, it’s got nothing to do with you," Lu Sheng patted his shoulders. However, Song Zhenguo’s expression remained overcast as he kept silent.

Both of them walked out of the study hall, one in front of the other. They saw a pretty, young woman, apparently around eighteen or nineteen years of age. She had two young children in tow, both barely one or two year old. They knelt by the only path that led to the Institution, heads bowed, covered in white funeral clothing.

The throng of bystanders now numbered in the tens, and seemed to be growing bigger by the second.

"Come, let’s go take a look," Lu Sheng nudged at Song Zhenguo. He took the lead to walk over.

"No need! I’ll go alone. This is my fault! I’ll go alone!" Song Zhenguo pulled him back in a grip and said somberly.

Lu Sheng was stunned. He didn't even have the time to respond before Song Zhenguo quickly strode forward and stood in front of the young woman. He then started to converse with her in hushed tone.

Two teachers from the Institution also jostled their way into the crowd of students, enquiring about the matter. Very soon, Song Zhenguo promptly supported the young woman and children out of the Institution.

Lu Sheng followed closely behind. He also left the Institution as he caught up with both of them.

He barely went forward a few steps to catch up to them before he saw a yamen official heading in their direction. After speaking a bit with Song Zhenguo and the young woman, the few of them swiftly boarded a horse carriage and left.

As they pulled away, Song Zhenguo even gestured to Lu Sheng that he needn’t follow, instead urging him to get back to class.

"Don't delay your preparation for the Annual Examinations, go back! I’ll settle this!" Song Zhenguo hollered at Lu Sheng from a distance ahead, before boarding the carriage to leave as well.

Lu Sheng followed the departing black carriage with red patterns with his gaze. It was clear that that was the same model specially reserved for use by the yamen authorities.

He stood at the entrance of the Institution for a while longer. In the end, he turned around and headed back to continue attending the lesson.

The matter of Wang Ziquan’s family circulated around in the Institution for a period of time, but it was soon quelled. Oftentimes, Lu Sheng would find some government officials coming over to speak with a few of the academics in the Institution. Perhaps it was because of their pressure that talk of the matter was suppressed. As for Wang Ziquan’s family, no one else came to make any trouble.

Ever since Song Zhenguo made that trip that day, his face seemed more at ease and relieved. Likely, he had given some sort of compensation to Wang Ziquan’s family.

The missing person case calmed down very quickly after the initial uproar. Once the storm died down, the Institution returned to normal, as if the entire incident had never happened.

***

The Song Family.

Song Zhenguo chewed silently on the food brought over by the servant girl. A sumptuous feast of chicken, duck, fish and goose lay on the table, but he had no appetite. There was something weighing on his mind.

From outside his room, he could hear the faint footsteps and voice of his old man. However, he did not go out to greet him, remaining rooted in his seat instead. He heaved a long sigh.

They were one of the families which moved to the Mountain-Edge City. His old man had just started his business and was unusually busy. His temper was already poor; now with his stall business added to the equation, he was especially cantankerous.

"Why can’t Father just see the good in Jun’er? If she marries into the family, there’ll definitely be peace in the family and I’ll have a successful career in the future. With Jun’er’s help and a stable family, I’ll certainly accomplish a name for myself in the Annual Examinations…" Song Zhenguo heaved a long inward sigh.

"Flip-flap, flip-flap."

In the midst of mealtime, a black pigeon suddenly appeared again at the window. It glared at him with a pair of pink eyes.

"Cuckoo, cuckoo. "

The pigeon called out twice.

Seeing that, Song Zhenguo’s face instantly beamed with delight.

Making his way over in a few steps, he hurriedly grabbed the pigeon and removed a rolled-up note from its leg. He quickly opened it.

‘You don't need to worry anymore about what Jun’er said previously. After I threatened the boat master with my own life, he finally relented. The plan is for Elder Brother Song to come tomorrow during the festival with ten thousand taels of silver to redeem Jun’er. Elder Brother Song, you don't need to worry. Although ten thousand taels is a lot, Jun’er has also accumulated quite a bit in these few years; I can make up for at least half of that.

Tomorrow night, Elder Brother Song must promise to come alone. Jun’er will offer my body and my everything entirely to Elder Brother. Hope you… cherish it…’

After he finished reading, Song Zhenguo felt an insuppressible ecstasy bursting forth from the depths of his heart, which surged up all the way to his head. His face soon flushed bright red. He stood up and paced back and forth in his room, clutching the roll of paper in his hand.

"Jun’er… Jun’er… you are MINE! I will definitely bring you out of that pleasure boat, and leave that god-damned place. I’ll give you a status!" He muttered under his breath, his fists clenched tightly. Yet, he had entirely forgotten about Little Jun’s previous reminder--to not visit the pleasure boat during the Scented Satin Festival under any circumstances.

Song Zhenguo was worked up for a moment before gradually calming down.

‘But didn't Jun’er also previously say not to visit the pleasure boat during Scented Satin Festival? Lest I fall into a scam?’

He pondered over the matter. His expression slowly returned to normal as he stood there hesitating for a moment.

‘I’ll ask Jun’er why she didn't want me to visit the pleasure boat during Scented Satin Festival when I see her. Maybe there were some extenuating circumstances.’

His heart bursting with joy, Song Zhenguo started to prepare the silver notes. Ten thousand taels of silver was a large sum even to him. The funds he had accumulated over the years had all been depleted in this period by his expenditure on Jun’er. For him to amass such a huge sum all of a sudden posed some difficulty. Although Jun’er had said that she’d make up for half of it on her side, he wasn't the type of man to let his woman shoulder such a burden!

‘Heck it, I’ll go find Elder Sis to borrow some for now,’ leaving his food unfinished, he hurriedly scrambled to the entrance on his way out.

‘Such a happy occasion! Although Jun’er is shy and wants me to go alone, it’s such a joyous occasion! I have to share this with a couple of close friends for them to share in our blessings,’ Song Zhenguo again hurried back to his study desk. He prepared the ink and was about to raise his brush to write letters to his only two close friends.

But just as he prepared the brush and ink, he hesitated and lay down his brush.

‘Forget it, it’s best that I go alone. The more people there are, the more variables and greater the likelihood that something goes awry. It’s not too late to inform the others after things are settled.’

Hurrying on his way, he found his Elder Sis. He borrowed fifteen thousand taels of silver notes, which he said he needed as capital to do his own business. Very quickly, all preparations were made.

***

The Annual Examinations were getting nearer and nearer. Lu Sheng’s family had sent Qiao’er over, along with a thousand taels of silver to supplement his recent expenditure. [1]

However, Lu Sheng knew very well that his family was already selling away all sorts of properties and shops to prepare to relocate. Because of that huge explosion in Nine Links City a while ago, there were many people looking to relocate. As a result, the price for shops and property had depreciated greatly. Moreover, when the family needed to purchase other properties in the near future, that would also require plentiful funds.

Therefore, those one thousand taels were probably the last bit of money his family had on hand. After all, the Lu Family was currently in a stormy season.

After the waves had died down, Wang Ziquan’s incident also slowly sank to the back of Lu Sheng’s mind. He began to concentrate on upgrading himself, and was even sourcing for ways to earn a few bucks.

"In the northern mountains there’re springs, oh! In the red canals there’re yellow tulips! Out of White Sand Town there’re sparrows all over, oh! On Xin Zhao River turmeric flows!"

"Ah, Mountain-Edge City! My hometown ~~~~ Ah, Mountain-Edge City! My hometown ~~~~

Lalalala~~lalalalalala~~~~…."

"Lalalala~~lalalalalala~~~!"

"Lalalala~~lalalalalala~~~!"

Lu Sheng stood expressionless by the window, listening to the unbearable, high-pitched male voice.

He was woken up around three a.m. in the dead of the night, which also meant that his sleep was disturbed in the Yan hour. Then, he saw these groups passing by outside, without a break between them, all singing song after song. Some voices were high-pitched, others were low and hoarse. They passed by the street, seemingly without end.

Presently, a long line of people was blowing on the oboe and singing at the top of their voices. Dressed in red and blue garments, they were mostly aunties and uncles who were beating on their drums, pounding on their gongs, and yelling their chants. This was the warm-up folk song before Scented Satin Festival proper that was heading slowly but surely in the direction of the city center.

What really left Lu Sheng dumbfounded was that members of the public had gathered by the sides of the streets to soak in the atmosphere, not finding it bothersome in the least. Instead, they followed the groups in great earnestness, some even joining in the singing. There were even yamen officials who had been dispatched there to maintain order.