Translator : Casualtranslator
~ Enjoy ~
Act of courage
It was not Zhang Xiaohua’s first time participating in Lu town’s New Year celebration. It was after all the most crowded place in several li during this period of every year, and from as far as he could remember, he had always came here during the New Year. However, the only memories he had during those years were of candy sellers, snack sellers, and nothing else. He had even cleanly forgotten about how crowded it would be, or perhaps he thought that squeezing among the crowd was another game at that time. This time, as he was standing at the north entrance of the street, looking towards the crowd and store goods and novelties and stalls, Zhang Xiaohua regretted that he had not enough eyes to enjoy the sights of his surroundings.
The family of Zhang followed the flow of the crowd as they slowly moved from the north entrance towards the middle. Every time they pass by a store, they would want to squeeze into the store. Regardless of its merchandise, no matter if it was silk, antiques, or even medicine, they wanted to stop to take a look. The three brothers did not come just to window shop, there were more people here than they could ever see in their village, and everyone was dressed to the nines, so the brothers’ attention was drawn towards the especially pretty ladies. It was a pity that the three brothers had ordinary looks, and their clothes were simple, so whenever the ladies passed them, their sights would glaze over them and they not bother to spare the brothers any attention. Nevertheless, there were some ladies who could feel the particularly fiery gaze from these brothers, and would either move away immediately from shyness, or glare back at the brothers until the brothers felt embarrassed and looked away. While Zhang Xiaohua was looking mostly at the novel things which he had had ignored in the past, Zhang Xialong and Xhang Xiaohu were searching for the sake of their futures, they were hoping to meet an agreeable young lady that day, but it was apparent that most of the ladies would not spare them any attention.
In the middle of the street was a large store with a signboard “Rich People’s Clothes” affixed to it. Upon seeing the signboard, Zhang Cai eyes brightened and he called out the three brothers to follow while entered the store. The attendant at the door immediately walked up to welcome him, “Dear guest, may I know what are you looking for?” not seeming to mind Zhang Cai’s old clothes or shabby appearance.
When Zhang Cai entered the store, he did not walk straight to the counter, but stood by the door and looked at the crowd of male and female guests bustling around. Not knowing how to proceed, he recalled himself on hearing the store attendant’s greetings, and said, “I wish to get my children some clothes, and buy some clothes for their mother too.” Just as he replied, the three brothers walked in, and as it was not often that they would enter a such store, they felt unsure of how to behave or to perform a purchase. The store attendant overlooked their apparent discomfort, and smiled, “Would these guests like to come over to see if there is anything to their liking?”
After saying so, he lead them to a counter at the corner, and presented to them the clothes on display. There were fewer people in this counter than most others, having only two groups, the first group being two young ladies deciding among some colors and the second a family of three who have already selected their purchase while another attendant helped to wrap it up. Apart from this counter, there were many bright and colorful clothes of clearly better quality displayed around the shop, with well-dressed customers standing aside pointing towards the merchandise which caught their eyes. It seemed that the store attendant had been trained well to attend to the needs of their customers; upon looking at the Zhang household he could ascertain that they were looking for durable cloths over the more fanciful materials.
Even though the attendant had brought Zhang Cai to the appropriate place, there was a look for dismay on Zhang Cai’s face because on the previous occasions, it was the children’s mother who made the decisions, but since she was home taking care of their grandmother today, Zhang Cai was at a loss on which he should pick. Seeing the look on his father’s face, Zhang Xiaohu quickly went up and said to the attendance, “We shall look around ourselves; you can attend to other customers first.”
After the store attendant left, Zhang Cai admitted, “Look at my foolishness, I did not ask your mother before we left on what are the types of cloth to buy. It seems that we will have to go home empty handed for today’s trip.”
Coincidentally, the taller of the two ladies who was walking past Zhang Xialong while carrying a navy colored cloth, overheard Zhang Cai’s confession, and she walked back to her companion and signalled a look towards Zhang Xiaolong, before approaching Zhang Cai saying, “Excuse me mister, I would like to discuss a matter with you.”
Feeling confused, Zhang Cai replied “What is the matter lady?”
The taller lady replied “Mister, I was planning to pick a set of clothes for my elder brother who is not here today. Since this young master is of similar build, would it be okay if he helps us try on the clothes? I just overheard you say that you were facing difficulties choosing the appropriate clothe. In return, my sister and I can assist you to pick out some appropriate choices.”
Zhang Cai was overjoyed and he agreed immediately. Thus, Zhang Xiaolong ended up trying on several sets of clothes for the ladies, while Zhang Cai was also very satisfied because even the store attendant commented that the ladies had a really good eye. The only regret was that after the store attendants wrapped the ladies’ purchase, the ladies left immediately so he did not have the chance to ask for their names.
Zhang Xialong carried the cloth looking slightly depressed as he walked behind Zhang Cai out of the shop, but as he was about to enter the store across the street which sold farming tools, the sounds of drums and gongs suddenly arose. On hearing the sounds playing, Zhang Xiaohua jumped excitedly.
“Dad, come quickly, the show is beginning so let’s head over there.”
Just as Zhang Xiaohua shouted, a large group of people also went and squeezed towards the sound of the gongs. Zhang Cai then hurriedly called Xialong and Xiaohu to follow the flow of the crowd.
Lu town has a New Year tradition of erecting a stage platform at the New Year bazaar, with performances being held daily until the bazaar closes. To the farming households who could not enjoy such entertainment often, this was another important event in the New Year which they look forward to, so it was no wonder that Xiaohua was so excited.
The performance began just as the Zhang household reached the stage. There were three lines of the audience so it was fortunate that the stage was high enough for the people behind to watch the performance. Even though there were many people in the audience, it could not match to the number of people still bustling around in the stores.
A popular folk story was being staged, and the audience were enraptured in the performance, while Zhang Xiaolong being no exception as he gradually forgot his earlier regret.
Just as everyone was watching the performance, an argument suddenly broke out on the other side of the stage, and although it was loud, there were many people around the stage so most could not hear the specifics. However, Zhang Xiaohua could hear the argument, and he felt as though he could recognize the voice of the lady, perhaps she was one of their fellow village members? Coincidentally, there was a tree nearby, so Zhang Xiaohua climbed up to take a look at the commotion. He was able to recognize the lady in a glance; he then shouted towards Zhang Xialong, “Eldest brother, it is the lady who previously helped us picked the clothes. She seems to be in trouble!”
Upon hearing that, Zhang Xiaolong squeezed through the crowd immediately, even before consulting with his father, while Zhang Cai pulled Zhang Xiaohu’s hands while calling Zhang Xiaohua to come down from the tree and follow him.
After squeezing through the crowd with many difficulties, Zhang Xiaolong reached the other side of the stage and the scene immediately made his blood boil.
The stage platform was supported by tall pillars, and there were two pitiable ladies huddling each other at the bottom of the pillars, their faces were red, and they were holding a small package which seemed to be the clothes that they bought earlier. Standing before them were two short and fat men holding fans and dressed in luxurious clothes, muttering something while appearing to bully the ladies. Around the two fat men were seven to eight manservants with large sturdy bodies dressed in coarse attire, forcing the performance spectators to make way for them. Among these fiercely built manservants, some had mocking expressions on their faces as they looked on at their young masters’ despicable behavior, while the rest were glaring back at the crowd as if to challenge anyone to come forward and intervene on the ladies’ behalf. Even though there seemed to be people with the intention to help, they were deterred by these goons and thus could only watch from the side.
When Zhang Xialong rushed over and saw the current state of events, just as he was thinking of how to react, upon seeing the pleading eyes of the taller lady, even though the glance was not directed at him, he lost track of this thoughts and rushed forward. At this moment, Zhang Xiaolong was held back from behind, and when he turned around, he realized that his family has already caught up, and Zhang Cai was holding on to his wrist. Zhang Xiaolong frantically plead, “Dad…”
Zhang Cai said softly, “Xiaolong, do not be rash. The few of us are no a match for these people.”
Zhang Xiaolong replied, “But if we do not help them, these two ladies are going to be bullied.”
Zhang Xiaohua also quipped, “That is right, dad, those two ladies even helped us earlier.”
Zhang Cai then said, “It is right to help others in need, but we should also know when to step back if we are unable to alleviate the situation, and instead land ourselves in trouble. Look at the man in black who is carrying such a large blade.”
The three Zhang brothers looked over at the direction where their father pointed out, and there was indeed a muscular manservant in black, his hands crossed over his chest while holding a large blade, leaning against a tree and squinting his eyes as though he was sleeping. He appeared to be the two bullies’ bodyguard.
It also seemed that he was the main deterring factor for why most spectators are unwilling to intervene.
However, with no solution at hand, Zhang Xiaolong began to turn frantic.
Just as Zhang Xiaolong was hesitating, the scuffle at the tall pillars became even more severe, as the two short and fat young masters had managed to pry the two ladies away from each other, and were about to drag the ladies to a corner ally. Zhang Xiaolong could no longer contain his worries as he shrugged off Zhang Cai’s hands with great strength. Those rotten goons had already thought that they have scared off the bystanders and were already anticipating a “good show” to watch,thus, they did not expect anyone to rush out so suddenly. When Zhang Xiaolong reached the sides of the two village girls, he pulled them by their arms towards him, breaking off the grip of the two short and fat young masters whose strength could not compare, and shouted,
“What do you think you are doing?”
Seeing their prey escaped from their hands, their faces turn red with rage as they glanced towards each other, before the young master in orange said, “We are not doing anything. Who are you, and what do you want?”
Zhang Xialong froze for a moment, and then said, “I am their cousin. Why are you pulling them? Aren’t you afraid if I report this to the authorities?”
The young master in black laughed, “Report to the authorities? Sure, let us go together. In Lu town, this young master represents the authorities. Your cousin just stepped on my shoes, so I wanted her to compensate me, I just want to see on which side the authorities are going to stand by.”
At this moment, Zhang Cai and the rest managed to rush over. Zhang Cai immediately bowed towards the two men, and smiled obligingly, “Dear young masters, please be appeased. These two girls of mine are still insensible. Look at your shoes, we will pay for them. Since today is such an important day for celebration, please be magnanimous and spare us. A good deed will always be repaid in kind.”
The young master in orange laughed, “Well said, it seems that this old fogey knows what to do. I will stave off my hands, so you can just compensate me for this pair of shoes.”
Zhang Cai felt wary in his heart, and asked carefully, “Would this young master kindly tell me how much should I compensate?”
The young master in orange raised his arm and extended his palm. Zhang Cai then sighed in relief, “I see, so it is five coins. I will pay them right now.” Zheng Cai then took out five copper coins from his breast, but the man in orange did not bother to look at the coins and slapped them onto the floor, berating, “You old country fogey, do you think that my shoes are the same as your straw slippers and are worth only five copper coins. Listen carefully, I want five pieces of silvers!”
Zhang Cai’s heart flipped, and immediately smiled apologetically, “Young master, you must be joking, my household annual expenses are even less than three silvers, how could these shoes cost that much?”
The young master in black replied, “You old fogey, are you suspecting our sincere honest words?”
At that moment, the two village girls behind Zheng Xiaolong regained their courage and stuck their heads out from behind Zhang Xiaolong’s back, “Dear Uncle, we have been maligned. We did not step on their shoes, we just arrived to watch the performance, but before we could do so, these men surrounded us for no reason.”
Zhang Xiaolong also said angrily, “Father, these men are obviously out to coerce us. I think it is better to bring these ladies to the authorities to protect them.”
The young master in black laughed heartily, “You country bumpkins have not recognized enough of the world. You do not even recognize this great uncle Zhao in front of you, or else why would you mention about some little authority. Men, come over and teach them who the authorities are.”
With a wave of this Zhao young master hand, the manservants who were originally looking from aside started to walk over while rubbing their fists menacingly. Seeing that situation had turned sour, Zhang Cai said to Zhang Xiaohua, “Bring these two ladies to escape. The three of us will stay here to stall them.” After finishing his words, he led Zhang Xialong and Zhang Xiaohu to face against these manservants, while Zhang Xiaohua also pulled the two ladies and head towards the crowd.
Despite being famers who do manual labor every day and are able to face off these manservants on-on-one, Zhang Cai, Zhang Xiaolong and Zhang Xiaohu were currently outnumbered, and after a few rounds of struggling, they were thrown onto the floor and subjected to a flurry of kicks and punches. Zhang Xiaohua saw his father and brothers got hurt in front of his eyes, and just as they were to run off into the crowd, they were unexpectedly blocked by the bodyguard until the other manservants caught up. Finally, Zhang Xiaohua and the two village girls were captured and brought back to the young masters. Seeing his father and brothers being hit relentless as they scrambled on the floor, Zhang Xiaohua tried to rush towards them but was kneed in the chest and fell onto the ground, his body covered in mud. When he tried to get back up, two of the manservants came over and pressed him onto the pillar, mercilessly slapping him until fresh blood dribbled from the edges of his mouth. Seeing that Zhang Xiaohua was still young, they stopped their assault and only pressed onto his body to immobilize him.
No matter how much Zhang Xiaohua struggled, he could not free himself from the arms of the two burly manservants, and his tears started falling as he watched his father and brothers continued to be assaulted helplessly.