Chapter 13: The Sensational Sonata
Chen Rong remained unspeaking. She knew her background was indeed too humble.
But what does that matter? I have started over again! Chen Rong clenched her hands and said to Old Shang: “Old Shang, go up a bit.”
Going forth was to squeeze in between these boys and girls.
As Chen Rong’s carriage approached, several youths turned to look in her direction. Their gazes forthwith turned agog as they stood silly in place.
Chen Rong’s looks were originally exquisite. After she was reborn, a maturity also existed in her youthful beauty. This maturity belonging to a woman combined with the innocence of a young girl made her particularly stand out among the group of adolescents.
A young man from the house of Yu gawked at her with bright eyes. “Whose house does this young lady belong to?”
Without waiting for Chen Rong to speak, Wang Wulang smiled and answered, “She belongs to the Chen house in the City of Ping. Her given name is Rong.”
The Chen House in the City of Ping? The moment this name was announced, every lad in the Yu house lit up. The Chen House in the City of Ping was only a small branch of the Chen clan – their daughters were not considered very high in status. Since she did not have a high status, the beautiful damsel in front of them was not difficult to obtain, whether as a wife or a concubine.
Under the appraising gazes of the Yu youngsters, Chen Rong’s mien remained as placid as water.
She stepped down from the carriage and took two steps forward. She next raised her head and, with eyes as black and bottomless as the midnight sky, she looked to Qilang of the Wang house, Wang Hong, who was currently being encircled by a group of girls.
Wang Hong was also looking in her direction.
Standing face to face, the handsome man who rarely smiled suddenly beamed. Against the sunlight, his snow-white teeth blurred one’s vision. Unconsciously, Chen Rong tilted her head to the side and looked away as she did the first time they met.
Suddenly seeing his smile, the congregation of girls swarming Wang Hong first went into a trance before erupting in delight.
The man next to Wang Hong was Yu Zhi. He appeared to be at most twenty years old, possessing a rectangular face and sword-like brows – a handsome young man in all respects. When he heard the squeals, he could not but turn around and follow Wang Hong’s gaze.
Facing the beautiful Chen Rong, Yu Zhi chuckled and said to Wang Hong: “So this is the kind of beauty you like.”
“She is Ah Rong of the Chen House I had told you about.”
Yu Zhi’s eyes lit up with interest. He again looked toward Chen Rong with appraising eyes before withdrawing his gaze.
Chen Rong had scarcely arrived but had already attracted the two handsome men’s attention, making the other ladies feel incredibly frustrated. They threw a look in Chen Rong’s direction and, in an instant, every single head and fluttering garment, and even several carriages had squeezed in and obscured Chen Rong’s sight so that she could not see Wang Hong and his friend anymore.
Chen Rong recovered her gaze and went back into her carriage.
As soon as she was inside, she retrieved the seven-string zither placed next to the carriage wall.
At this age in her previous life, she had indeed been unlearned.
But ever since she met that man, she had practiced the zither for a number of years to remove her ‘vulgar’ repute. Turning out to be quite a talent, she was able to grasp the zither’s secret after only two years of practice. Before her death, she had made a name for herself with just her zither playing.
Chen Rong bowed her head, placed the zither on its table, and then lightly plucked the strings.
With the birth of the soaring music, the noisy crowd momentarily quieted down.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Chen Rong did not look up.
She lightly plucked the strings to make music which flowed like wind and water. Like the moon in the sky, it quietly came and spilled over the sky.
All noises died out.
The group of girls turned around to look at Chen Rong.
At this time, Chen Rong’s focus was entirely on the zither. Her features were as tranquil as vernal water though glowing and radiant – a beauty which appeared to be woven from both serenity and light.
Unknowingly, the crowd had been enraptured by her performance.
With their backgrounds, these youngsters must have had an excellent education. Even if they were not proficient in the four arts (2), they must’ve been taught at least the basics.
The four arts are music, chess, poetry, and painting.
As soon as Chen Rong’s zither soared in the air, they knew her playing was extraordinary.
The zither has a tradition dating back to the times of Emperors Yao and Shun. Its sound is upright and elegant. It was the musical instrument most esteemed by contemporary scholars. Very few among the literati did not play this instrument. Without mentioning others, Qilang of the Wang house, Wang Hong, was an outstanding player.
Since their first meeting, from Chen Rong’s approaching footsteps, Wang Hong had known her to be a zither player.
But he never imagined Chen Rong could play so well! A fifteen-year-old girl having such techniques, changing her notes so quickly – notes as smooth as the wind, boundless and vast – as if she was confiding in him her longing during their separation and her joy when they reunited. What’s more, these feelings drifted like vernal wind and streaming water – at times affectionate, at times aloof – ’twas a sentimental piece.
That is to say, all scholars without exception wanted to express honor and elegance in their music. But this girl’s zither playing had a striking ardor different from everyone else’s.
Her playing was not any inferior to his.
Involuntarily, they all raised their heads. Wang Hong and a few others even closed their eyes to listen.
No one knew how long it lasted until those flowing zither notes gradually dissipated and vanished into oblivion.
Chen Rong slowly raised her head.
A ray of playful sunlight danced on her jade-white cheek as she quietly raised her midnight eyes to Wang Hong.
They locked gazes.
There were shyness and joy both in Chen Rong’s eyes. She next looked down and slowly said, “I’m very happy to see you again, sir.”
After these eight words, she drew her curtain closed. A muffled command was heard from inside, at which Old Shang steered the carriage and turned around again.
Amid whispering voices, Chen Rong’s carriage drove back to the middle of the queue.
Everyone, be he a Wang or a Yu, looked in the direction of Chen Rong. But no matter how they may stare, that curtain did not lift again.
At length, a Wang girl exclaimed: “When did she learn this level of zither playing?”
No one had an answer.
Wang Wulang at last recovered from his stupor. He knitted his brow while shaking his head, saying: “I’ve never heard anything of it.”
“Chen Rong’s zither is indeed pleasant. Unfortunately, she is nothing more than a concubine-born daughter of a subsidiary branch.” This sneer came from the 7th lady of the Wang house.
Her voice was rather loud.
Several people nodded in agreement at her words. Their bemused eyes instantly unclouded. Unconsciously, disdain once again returned to their proud faces — so what if she had extraordinary zither skill? So what if she was beautiful? A concubine-born woman from a subsidiary branch would always be beneath them. Somebody like that did not deserve their admiration.
The group regained their lucidity and promptly withdrew their gazes from Chen Rong.
At this point, a Yu girl hastily cried out: “Hey, where’s Hong Lang?”
The girls all turned their heads to look. After searching about, they discovered that Wang Hong and Yu Zhi had long returned to their carriages. What they could see was only a fluttering curtain.
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