Translator : Casualtranslator
~ Enjoy ~
Leaving the villa
Just as Zhang Xiaohua’s patience was about to run dry, Ma Jing finally completed his necessary makeover.
The latter then waltzed around to collect the things he needed, took out some coins from the small cabinet at the head of the bed, weighed them in his hands before smiling lecherously.
Zhang Xiaohua was looking on from the side and he shook his head thinking, “That smile looks just like a yellow rat fox that is about to visit a pen of chickens.”
However, he suddenly became anxious. Looking at the coins in Ma Jing’s hands, he seemed to realize that he had forgotten something important. When they departed from Guo village, all the money was passed to Zhang Xiaohu for safe keeping, and since the he and his second brother split apart in Lotus escort, he had only brought his knapsack which did not contain any money with him. Since he did not require its use while living in the mountain villa, he had naturally forgotten about it. Now that he wanted to leave for the day, it was not a good idea to not carry any money at all.
Of course, Zhang Xiaohua immediately recalled that on his journey to the mountain villa, elder sister Qiu Tong seemed to have mentioned that working in the mountain villa would entitle him to three coins each month, only that he was unaware of the method to collect his pay. However, he could not look for Qiu Tong just for this matter, Zhang Xiaohua would have at least learnt that Qiu Tong resided in the inner courtyard of the mountain villa after staying in the mountain villa during this period, and that the inner courtyard was where all the females stayed so it was inappropriate for a servant to go over. Furthermore, Qiu Tong’s position in the mountain villa did not seem to be low, so instead of being impolite to find her over such a small matter, why not ask Ma Jing who was right in front of him?
As he thought up to here, Zhang Xiaohua smiled and said to Ma Jing, “Elder brother Ma, I have a question for you.”
Ma Jing slanted his eyes and said, “Just say it, brother. There is nothing elder brother not know in this mountain villa.”
However, when he felt Zhang Xiaohua’s gaze resting on the coins in his hands, his face changed immediately as he kept the coins in his breast and snapped back, “Except to lend you money.”
Zhang Xiaohua said, “That, elder brother Ma, the matter I wanted to ask is indeed about money.”
Ma Jing firmly insisted, “No, it is not.”
Zhang Xiaohua smiled and said, “Yes it is.”
Ma Jing was displeased and he said, “Look brother, elder brother has no money to lend you, and my words are the hard truth.”
Zhang Xiaohua saw that Ma Jing was unhappy so he stopped teasing the latter and said, “Elder brother Ma, little brother is not asking you to lend me money, but to ask you about the pay for this month.”
Ma Jing rolled his eyes and looked at Zhang Xiaohua’s expression to ascertain that the latter was not borrowing money, and he heaved a sigh of relief and said, “Alright, little punk, you have already learnt to make a fool of me after just a few days in the mountain villa.”
Zhang Xiaohua quickly smiled obligingly and said, “Look at what you said, elder brother Ma. If not for your tutoring, how would I be able to improve that fast? Which is why if someone asks me who am I most grateful to, the first person I will thank is elder brother Ma.”
Ma Jing walked over and patted on Zhang Xiaohua’s shoulders with force. Even though he did not put in much strength, Zhang Xiaohua’s shoulders shivered, and his heart shivered another time as he thought secretly, “Will he be making me wash his clothes now?”
After patting Zhang Xiaohua’s shoulders, Ma Jing said in satisfaction, “Xiaohua you have done well, elder brother will teach you another, that is if you want to express your gratitude, the first person does not have to be me, the second one will do.”
Zhang Xiaohua was surprised and he asked humbly, “Elder brother Ma, then should I put my parents first instead?”
Ma Jing answered in a solemn tone, “Wrong, Xiaohua. It is alright to be grateful to your parents, but you must thank the mountain villa first and foremost. Even though filial piety cannot be wrong, your heart must always have a place for the mountain villa, and always put it at the top of your priorities. Of course, if you mention elder brother, I will feel happy because it shows that you do not need moral education lessons, although there is still room for improvement. Oh right, you will have to thank the villa master, because she gave you the opportunity to be grateful to the mountain villa and elder brother, as well as the rights to be grateful to your parents.”
Zhang Xiaohua put on a studious, serious face as he nodded like a chick pecking on rice.
After finishing his sentence, Ma Jing turned his head around again and said, “Oh right, Xiaohua, what did you say just now, I did not manage to catch you.”
Zhang Xiaohua was exasperated as he said, “Elder brother Ma, I asked you previously that since I have worked here for more than a month and not collected my pay yet, what am I supposed to do to collect it?”
Ma Jing stared at Zhang Xiaohua from head to toe as though he had some opinion and said, “Xiaohua-ah, looking at your body, what should have grown has already grown, and you have probably passed your puberty so it is the appropriate time to think about certain things. However, elder brother must share his advice with you. The ladies in the drunken fragrance house would require a certain standard of payment before they meet their clients, and just based on one month’s pay is not likely to be enough. If you insist on going your own way, then there is still the option of borrowing some pay in advance from the supervisor’s room. However, while I have tried this before, you may not be able to because you are new here.”
Zhang Xiaohua did not know whether to laugh or cry and he explained, “Elder brother Ma, look at what you are saying. I do not have such an elegant hobby like you, I only…”
Ma Jing cut in without listening to Zhang Xiaohua’s explanation and said urgently, “Xiaohua, elder brother will share one more piece of advice with you. Even if you do not go to drunken fragrance house, you must avoid those small brothels along the dark alleys. There was one time when elder brother made such a misstep, also because I did not have enough money, and caught a dirty illness from there. The illness made death felt even more preferable, no I will stop my description at up to here, just even thinking about it makes my skin crawl. In short, it is really not worth the risk at all. Elder brother shall lend you some money now, so do not endanger your little body.”
After he finished his speech, Ma Jing reached out to the cabinet at the head of his bed but Zhang Xiaohua immediately pulled him back and said in a touched voice, “Can elder brother Ma listen to my explanation first? I was only thinking of drawing this month pay and going to Pingyang city to stroll and shop, you have though too far ahead.”
Ma Jing asked in an investigative tone, “Are you sure, Xiaohua? You do not need elder brother to lend you money?”
Zhang Xiaohua smiled and replied, “Elder brother Ma, I am very, surely, hundred percent sure.”
Even though Ma Jing has misunderstood the situation, his willingness to lend Zhang Xiaohua money made the latter moved beyond tears, and it diminished greatly the shadow of his smelly foot in Zhang Xiaohua’s impression of him.
Ma Jing then continued to explain to Zhang Xiaohua, “This monthly pay from the mountain villa is not given every month but stored in an account in the accounts room. If you need money, you can collect your pay at any time from the accounts room. If not, it will continue to accumulate until the day you leave the mountain villa when it will be settled in sum. Of course, you can also choose to collect your money and store it in your cabinet like what I do.”
Zhang Xiaohua pondered before deciding to withdraw his first month’s pay. If he did so, he could perhaps buy something which caught his eye in Pingyang city, and then give the remainder to his second brother Zhang Xiaohu. Even though he had no use for money in the mountain villa, perhaps his second brother has some need for it. At most, his brother could hold on to it, although it would be better if they found a way to send it back to their family at home.
When he thought up to here, Zhang Xiaohua asked Ma Jing again, “Elder brother Ma, do you know if there is any way to send the money from here to my home in Lu town?”
Ma Jing smiled and said, “That is possible of course. If you know anyone who is returning to Lu town, you can ask him to write a letter and help you bring the money back home. If not, you can go to the carriage station where they will do it for you. However, the carriage station will impose a fee for such a service, and I am unsure as to how much it will cost. They all have their own prices, you can find out more when you go over. But I have also heard that they may charge irregular prices, and the fees are quite expensive. Do you think that the authorities should do something about such lousy service, it is a menace to the society to have such a pricing system.”
“Oh right”, just as Ma Jing was about to finish his sentences, he added one last line, “You really do not intend to borrow some money to visit the drunken fragrance house? I am very familiar with that place and can introduce to you some good ones there.”
By the time Zhang Xiaohua stood back up, Ma Jing was done packing up and had walked out of the small room. Zhang Xiaohua chased after him although he was still dizzy from Ma Jing’s words.
Zhang Xiaohua then followed Ma Jing to the accounts room to withdraw his pay. The accounts room was at another side of the mountain villa and it took them quite a while to reach there. The man at the counter was an old pedant who upon seeing Ma Jing wrinkled his brow obviously and said, “Ma-Pi Jing (Horse fart demon), why have you come over again, haven’t you withdrawn your pay for the month? Do you want to borrow on credit again?”
“Ma-Pi Jing?” Zhang Xiaohua wanted to laugh when he heard the nickname, he thought that it really suited Ma Jing and was smooth on the tongue. When he thought back to Ma Jing’s behavior every day, he really did behave like a Ma-Pi Jing most of the time. However, why had he not heard of it yet after being here for so long?
Actually, this nickname Ma-Pi Jing had been used many times in the past, but as more of the older servants left and got replaced, the number of people using it naturally grew fewer. When Ma Jing came over to the accounts room and was called this again, he would usually feel a sense of intimacy but now that a new little brother was here this day, his face turned slightly red and he immediately went forward to say, “Look at what Mr Tong is saying, even though I, Ma Jing, am not an exemplary person, I would not come over to borrow money every so often, and when I do, it was because of difficulties in my life. I have come over to bring this new brother over to withdraw his pay, so stop staring at me like a criminal.”
Old Mr Tong muttered, “You are right, you don’t come every so often, you just come seven to eight times each year.”
He then turned his head to Zhang Xiaohua and said, “Little punk, what is your name? Are you here to withdraw part or all of your money?”
Zhang Xiaohua quickly went forward and said respectfully, “Old Mr Tong, my name is Zhang Xiaohua. I have only been here for a month, and since that is not a lot of pay, I would like to withdraw all of it today.”
Old Mr Tong looked at Zhang Xiaohua and said in an uncomfortable voice, “It is fine if I withdraw everything out for you since it is your money, but you have to be careful to spend it wisely.” After he said his advice, he turned his head back to Ma Jing.
Ma Jing seemed to have noticed old Mr Tong’s glare and he immediately raised his head to look at the ceiling in the accounts room, inspecting the large rose design carved on its surface.
Zhang Xiaohua lowered his brows and squinted his eyes to say, “Don’t worry, old Mr Tong. I planned to pass the money to my second elder brother to see if he has a need for it, and perhaps he will find a way later to post it back to our parents.”
Upon listening to his answer, old Mr Tong seemed very happy and he said, “Good, you are a good kid not like some other people who would take his hard earned money and spend it on frivolous things. Not only did he not raise his civility, he came back with some disease instead.”
Ma Jing’s face turned even redder as he inspected the ceiling design more closely.
The procedure to withdraw was very simple, one only had to sign or leave a thumbprint beside his name in the record book. Because it was Zhang Xiaohua’s first time, he left a thumbprint and not long later, everything was settled and he carefully placed his first ever paycheck into his breast before bidding the old man Tong farewell. Old Mr Tong seemed to have a liking for Zhang Xiaohua and he would throw some advice now and then in a warm tone like he was speaking to his own grandson. When he saw that Zhang Xiaohua was done, Ma Jing finished his inspection of the ceiling and pulled the former away as they vanished into a puff of smoke, leaving old Mr Tong behind with his jaws hung at the bottom.
When old Mr Tong turned around, he suddenly stopped in his tracks and said, “This is not right, how could Zhang Xiaohua’s allowance be higher than Ma-Pi Jing? Why did I miss that out just now? Could the supervisor have made a mistake?”
He then recovered his posture and walked slowly back into the room, thinking in his heart, “If the supervisor has made a mistake it is none of my business. I have followed to the letter and given Zhang Xiaohua his allowance as according to the books, and the boy seemed to be quite obedient so it is fine if he got more this month, serves them right for making a mistake.”
All these were naturally not known to Zhang Xiaohua and Ma Jing as they walked towards the entrance of the mountain villa.
The last time Zhang Xiaohua came up the mountain, he sat on a horse carriage and entered from a large back door. However, the accounts room was not on that route so Ma Jing led him to the exit from another direction. What Zhang Xiaohua was unaware of was that the accounts room was not far from the back door, and it did not take them long in the end before they reached the back door. However, this back door was always guarded, and even though Ma Jing had tried to befriend the guards, the other party had made their stance clear that he was not of the same status as them. Even though it was Zhang Xiaohua’s first time leaving the villa, there was already a record of his name in the book, and naturally had to follow a different procedure to leave. Zhang Xiaohua was finished very quickly, and the two received their respective waist token as they left the backdoor. The two had minute differences in their waist token but Ma Jing did not notice them, and Zhang Xiaohua was even more clueless as they kept the tokens into their breast.
As they exited from the door, Zhang Xiaohua became nervous and asked, “Elder brother Ma, this is not right. I remembered that this was not the door I came in from.”
Ma Jing smiled as he explained, “Our Huanxi mountain villa has five backdoors and one front door, how would I know which door you entered from previously, oh right, brother, you have to keep this waist token safe because it has to be returned when you come back. It will be very troublesome if you lose it so always be careful with it.”
Zhang Xiaohua nodded his head and said, “I naturally know this. However, elder brother Ma, what time will you return in the night? I would want to follow you back to the villa, if not, I am afraid that I will forget the way back here.”
Ma Jing pursed his lips and said, “Look at how cautious you are, isn’t it our familiar mountain villa after we pass through the back door, why will you still lose your way, I do not know when I will return in the night, you can wait in this door room if you like.”
Zhang Xiaohua answered with a bitter face, “Alright, elder brother Ma, you must remember to come back early.”
At that moment, Zhang Xiaohua had once again forgotten about Ma Jing’s smelly foot, or how he would try to avoid the man, and he behaved instead like a wife who was waiting for her husband to come back home.
It was already June then, and the weather was hot and sunny in the noon. Zhang Xiaohua raised his head to look at the scorching sun as he accused Ma Jing in his heart for taking so long to prepare, resulting in him having to journey across such a hot weather.
When he reached the straight highway again, Zhang Xiaohua assumed that Ma Jing would walk towards the shaded path along the highway, but the latter unexpectedly turned into a small alley road and went down from there. Zhang Xiaohua became anxious and he hurriedly chased after Ma Jing and said, “Elder brother Ma, you have gone the wrong way, we should walk by the highway.”
When he saw Ma Jing’s surprised face as he turned around, Zhang Xiaohua thought that he had made a mistake and immediately said, “Could it be that elder brother Ma is hungry, looking at the time now, it should be alright to eat something.”
When Ma Jing heard his words, he burst out into laughter and said, “Brother, you won’t be thinking of walking to Pingyang city right.”
Zhang Xiaohua wrinkled his brow and said, “Of course we have to walk to Pingyang city, we do not have our own carriage and the mountain villa does not provide us with one.”
Ma Jing laughed as he said, “Brother, you don’t mean to say that you also walked from Pingyang city to come here?”
Zhang Xiaohua said, “No, I sat on the horse carriage to come here. Oh, could it be that there is also a horse carriage station that travels between Pingyang city and our villa?”
Ma Jing did not answer the boy as he waved his hands and motioned Zhang Xiaohua to follow him.
Indeed, Zhang Xiaohua’s guess was on the spot. There was a huge courtyard at the end of the alley, and a large banner hung above which wrote “There must be a road to the mountain, and there will be carriages wherever they are roads.” While a smaller banner hung below which wrote “Biaochi”. It turned out that there was another branch of the horse carriage station which Zhang Xiaohua patronized to reach Pingyang city.
Zhang Xiaohua knew that he was lacking in the knowledge of the world so he kept his silence as Ma Jing settled their arrangements. Not long after, a small carriage which could seat two to three people travelled over and stopped at the entrance of the courtyard to wait for its passengers to board.
Seeing Zhang Xiaohua’s blank expression, Ma Jing pulled Zhang Xiaohua as they got up the carriage, while not forgetting to say, “Brother, since this is the first time you are going out with elder brother, this horse carriage fee will be on me. The next time we leave together, it will be your treat for the carriage.”
Zhang Xiaohua was filled with joy when he got on the carriage and did not bother about Ma Jing’s words. It had been a long time since he met his second elder brother and he wondered how the latter was doing in Lotus escort. On the day of his second brother’s recruitment test, he heard that his second brother had good aptitude in martial arts so he must have learnt many fist stances by now. As he thought back to his martial arts which were neither here nor there, Zhang Xiaohua looked forward to watching his second brother as the latter displayed his martial arts.
However, the carriage was indeed very comfortable, it was unbearably hot outside and when he thought back to the time he and his brother walked on foot to Pingyang city, he wondered why had neither of them thought of hiring a horse carriage instead? He also wondered if there were these horse carriages in Lu town, because if there was such, he would not have to borrow a wagon. Even from Guo village to Bali Gou, there would be a use for such a service so he would not have to wake up so early just to reach there by noon. Thinking of Bali Gou, he wondered how his eldest brother and sister-in-law have been doing. Has his eldest brother recovered fully yet? How were his parents’ health, and how were the fields in the household, and what about the little field he reclaimed himself. All these thoughts made him reminisce about home, and without realizing it, he was fully preoccupied with his thoughts.
When Ma Jing saw Zhang Xiaohua’s stillness, he assumed that the latter was resting as it was noon so he did not talk to the boy. Had he known what Zhang Xiaohua was thinking, he would be laughing until his teeth dropped.