Chapter 6: Departure
The Chen estate resumed their work. With about a dozen servants left behind, they began to load the horse-drawn carriages with what little clothes and rice they had left.
After Chen Rong had distributed her wealth, only ten carriages were needed to transport the rest of her assets. Three were used to hold rice and silk, one was filled with her clothes, and bamboo slips occupied the remaining six.
In the past, Chen Rong had used only one carriage to hold books – the books that hid gold leaves. The rest were used to carry other items. Because of this, she spent a decade after returning to the south being stigmatized for her vulgar ways. The scholars had criticized her for she would rather fill her carriages with clothes than to bring valuable books.
In an era where even the air was filled with ‘elegance and courtesy’, the stigma of a vulgar nature could completely bring down a noblewoman’s future. In the ten years since then, despite doing everything she could and using every means she knew, she had had no way to restore the reputation that’d been destroyed.
It had been too late.
The gate was tightly shut tonight at the Chen estate. With each change of night shifts, no unexpected guests came to visit through the whole of the night. It made sense, of course, since Chen Rong’s action of dispersing her wealth during the day had spread through town. What blind thieves would take the risk to rob what was now only a small fry?
The next day arrived in the blink of an eye.
Early in the morning, the Wang estate sent a servant to inform the Chens that they were to meet at the south city gate.
By now, the Chen house had finished loading their luggage. Chen Rong sat inside a horse-drawn carriage and marched toward the meeting place.
The streets were packed with carriages. In this hubbub, everyone was rushing to the south gate.
As Chen Rong’s carriage was running on the street, people would turn to look at her from time to time. Faint judging sounds came to her ears: “That’s Ah Rong of the Chen house.”
“What a beauty.”
“I heard she had distributed her family wealth to the servants yesterday. Look at her troop, the large Chen estate is now reduced to only a dozen carriages. Was the news true, then?”
“Of course it’s true. Even the godly Wang Qilang made a personal visit.”
“Only in times of crisis can we see people’s true nature. I heard that despite her young age, Ah Rong of the Chen house still chose honor over money in this turbulent time. That is indeed a difficult thing to do. Difficult thing to do indeed.”
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Amid the coming and going buzz, Chen Rong softly smiled and slowly withdrew her gaze.
She soon reached the south gate. Here, she saw the Wang clan’s procession, whose flying flags stretched to the end of sight. It was an impressive spectacle, all right.
As Chen Rong’s carriage approached, a man of about twenty rode near and raised his voice to ask: “Are you Ah Rong of the Chen house?”
The appellation ‘Ah Rong of the Chen house’ had spread like wildfire a day ago. Had this been any other time in the past, he’d surely only call her ‘Miss Chen.’
Chen Rong drew the carriage curtain and replied, “It is I, Chen Rong.”
The young man was dressed in a purple cloak, possessing fine facial features. He laughed and remarked, “I see it’s true you’re quite a beauty. Since the Chen estate has few people, you should join the middle of the queue. It will be safer this way.”
Gratefulness showed on Chen Rong’s small, beautiful face. She bowed to the man from her sitting position in the carriage, saying: “I thank you, Wulang.”
Wang Wulang’s bright eyes stared back at Chen Rong as he shook his head and observed, “According to Qilang, Ah Rong of the Chen house carries with her a graceful ease though she is a woman. I hadn’t expected to meet such a ceremonious Ah Rong.” While saying so, he repeatedly shook his head, seemingly disappointed.
Chen Rong gave a closed-lip smile as she thought to herself: But you’re not Wang Qilang either. If I lack etiquette in front of you, I would be shunned!
Under Wang Wulang’s guidance, the Chen carriages went toward the middle of the queue. The Wangs had so many carriages that one couldn’t see where they ended even if one tried. Compared to them, the Chen estate seemed rather pathetic.
Along the way, Chen Rong learned from the Wangs’ whispers that, this time, smaller families who wanted to join the Wang house were numerous in number. Many of them even offered items much more precious than Chen Rong’s coral, but all were refused by the Wang house.
As soon as the Chen carriages joined the group, they launched full speed ahead, kicking dust with each galloping hoof that gradually obscured the crowd in sight.
Chen Rong turned to look at the city walls that were receding farther and farther behind her. In her memory, the nomadic riders would be attacking this city within a month. Then, they would plunder those who did not leave the city before torching this bustling miniature Jiangnan to ashes.
She had lived in the City of Ping for fifteen years since her previous life, but it was to become just a name in her memory now. Only at night in her dreams would she ever see the familiar courtyard and its occupants again.
Upon this reflection, Chen Rong gave a soft sigh.
Suddenly, Wang Wulang’s chuckle gave rise: “Why does Ah Rong sigh?”
Chen Rong replied in a low voice: “My heart saddens to think I’ll never see this place again.”
Wang Wulang grew silent.
After four hours of traveling, Wang Wulang had exhausted the etiquettes required of him as the host. He bade goodbye and returned to the forefront of the team.
Chen Rong closed her eyes to rest. From afar, the Wang girls’ laughter could be heard ahead. These young ladies were raised in the privacy of their chambers; how far beyond the door could they have left? Although they were fleeing at present, in their hearts, this journey still felt more exciting than anything they’d yet encountered.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
At noon, the crowd began to eat.
Chen Rong sat in her carriage looking to the Wangs’ damask mats and satin cushions spread out on the grass. She quietly shook her head.
The fragrance of meat and wine wafted from the tables. She noted that in front of every young gentleman and lady were four tables, on which filled with food.
She knew these were people who would throw everything away if they didn’t finish it.
She gave some thought and bade Old Shang, who was driving the carriage: “Old Shang, go forward.”
As Chen Rong’s carriage pulled up during the Wangs’ mealtime, dozens of eyes turned her way. From the distance, Wang Wulang stood up, raised his glass toward Chen Rong and flashed a grin: “Is Ah Rong here? Come, come, come and eat with us.”
Chen Rong shook her head, gave him a slight curtsy, and then told Old Shang to drive the carriage toward the Wang patriarch, Wang Zhuo.
She gave a quick glance, but not detecting Wang Qilang, quickly withdrew her gaze.
She stepped down from her carriage, faced Wang Zhuo, who was having his meal, and said in her crystalline voice: “Good greetings, Sir Wang.”
Wang Zhuo was surprised to see her. A congenial smile emerged on his round face: “Ah Rong? Why are you here?”
“I have something I would like to say,” Chen Rong said, bowing again.
“On this trip south, there are also a large number of migrating commoners in addition to gentry folks like us. In my humble opinion, even if these commoners had brought all of their wealth along, what they could take would only last for half a month at most, if not ten days.”
The Wang clan was presently partaking their meal. At her sudden appearance and eloquent talk, all the young ladies of Wang house instantly frowned: It’s said that we do not talk during meals and sleep. This Ah Rong of the Chen house is already very rude for coming when others are eating. Now that she’s here, she has to speak of the dirty and crude commoners, how very inconsiderate. What was wrong with Qilang’s eyes that he praised this woman incessantly?
Chen Rong recognized the dissatisfaction in the eyes of the Wangs, but she just smiled and continued. “They say honor and disgrace can only be discussed after our stomachs are fed. In Ah Rong’s humble opinion, after those commoners finish their food, they might turn desperate due to hunger and cold.”
Chen Rong’s eyes gave a glance at the line of food heaping high on the tables: “I’m sure you’re not afraid of one or two refugees, but what if there are hundreds and thousands of them? At a time like this, I think meals can afford to be simpler.”
When she finished, she again bowed to Wang Zhuo and bade Old Shang to turn the carriage around.
As soon as her carriage made the turn, Chen Rong heard a ripple of disdainful laughter behind them: “Ah Rong of the Chen house is such a worrywart. She is the one who is afraid of the commoners. How could she point fingers at us when it was she who dispersed her wealth?”
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