Chapter 72: Sometimes, It’s All Right to be Ruthless
Presently well into winter, coldness seeped chillingly whenever the wind came even when warm sunlight is present.
None could stand it any longer after half an hour of sightseeing. After another round of wine, the physically weakest, Huan Jiulang, began to talk of going home.
Once they got off the boats, the crowd took turn to mount their carriages.
After two paces, Chen Rong told her driver to stop so she could turn to look at Wang Hong and his group.
All of these famous scholars boasted talents and excellent temperaments. Had this been her past life, she wouldn’t even be watching them from the distance let alone being in their company – the shame she had felt was too difficult to put into words. But perhaps because she had Wang Hong’s endorsement this time, Chen Rong did not feel their overwhelming superiority. Instead, she even felt comfortable to be with them, and time also seemed to have flown by.
As she was looking at Wang Hong in a daze, he turned his head in the middle of conversation with Yu Zhi, and smiled and waved to her: “Ah Rong, don’t feel sad for having to part with me. Go ahead and return home. If you miss me, you can always come to the Wang estate.”
He had barely finished speaking when he saw Chen Rong’s face flushing red; sparks were flickering in her bottomless eyes.
At this sight, Wang Qilang knitted his brow and quizically asked, “Darling, are you looking at me that way because you had meant differently?”
Chen Rong bit her lip and almost blurted out an expletive.
Yu Zhi and the others doubled over with laughter.
“Go,” Chen Rong turned and shouted to her driver.
The laughter boomed louder at her words.
Wang Hong did not laugh, however. He quietly watched Chen Rong’s hastily fleeing figure and only lazily turned his head around when the flying dust had obscured her from sight.
Chen Rong’s carriage directly pulled into her courtyard.
She stepped down and then raised her head to look around, calling with furrowed brow: “Nurse Ping?”
The nurse did not come out.
Slightly frowning, Chen Rong strode up the stairs and called: “Anyone here? Come out for a moment.”
After five or six calls, Old Shang rushed out from the backyard. He was covered in dirt and appeared to have been busy at work.
“Where’s everyone? Why is it so quiet today?”
Old Shang didn’t answer her, instead looking around and dashing over to whisper: “Let’s talk after we go inside.”
Surprised, Chen Rong nodded her head and went inside with him.
Old Shang glanced outside, gently shut the door, and then turned to Chen Rong while saying with a long face: “The lesser madam (1), Lady Li, has just come by. She said now that you’re the master’s ward, you are naturally under his wife’s authority. Your meals and accommodation will be just like Ah Wei’s. She also said that since you are still young, she would like to help you manage the grains. For that reason, she has sent people to move the grains from our warehouse. She’s also forcibly dismissed five of our servants; Nurse Ping was among those who were let go.” After a pause, he next whispered: “I’ve arranged them to stay in the stores that we bought. The others have gone to send them away and should be back soon.” As he said this, the old retainer watched Chen Rong with concern, fearing she would recklessly blow up as she had in the past. Do not steal this chapter from hamster428 because karma is a spiteful bitch.
Her title is 如夫人 which lit. means “like madam”, i.e. like the lady of the house, but not quite the lady of the house. It denotes that she’s a concubine, but presumably higher ranked than the others.
However, Chen Rong remained utterly calm even by the time he finished. At his surprised look, Chen Rong lowered her head to ponder for a while before quietly bidding: “Let them stay in the stores. That’s right, have you traded the seven carriages of grains for storefronts?”
He repeatedly nodded and said in high spirit: “Aye, aye. I’m so glad that you’ve thought ahead, else those seven carriages would’ve been taken away, too. As it turns out, everybody is caught in hysteria. So long as we use grains to trade, those stores are much cheaper these days compared to before. Seven carriages of grains used to only be worth three stores. But I’d gained twelve this time. There were only ten for sale on South Street. I bought them all up in addition to two on Main Street.”
Nodding, Chen Rong softly said, “Don’t disclose this matter. Go tell them that if anyone in the family asks, say the stores are under General Ran’s name.”
“Aye, miss.” Do not steal this chapter from hamster428.
“Go.” Because karma is a bitch.
Old Shang complied and then turned to leave. He took two steps, dithered, then turned back to ask: “Miss, you’re used to having Nurse Ping with you. Will you be all right without her here?”
“I know what to do. Go,” Chen Rong said and waved her hand.
Her brow increasingly creased while she watched Old Shang leave. She didn’t expect Lady Ruan and Lady Li to be so callous. Although their husband, Chen Yuan, was a knave, he at least took into account what other people say. These two, on the other hand, had openly taken away all of her grains and dismissed her servants! Fortunately, the fabrics Chen Shu had given her were considered her maiden assets, or else all of her living finances would be controlled by other people.
Things were still so good yesterday, why had the two of them turned so ugly all of a sudden? Chen Rong just couldn’t figure it out. She paced the room and suddenly thought of it: It must be because of Chen Sanlang! Those two must be blaming me for the scholars’ snubbing of Chen Sanlang! It seems everybody thinks they can walk all over me just because I don’t have anyone’s protection!
Chen Rong wasn’t quick-witted, but she was often quick-tempered. All along, she had tried to be patient knowing her weaknesses. Every time conflicts arose, she would do her best to avoid them. Were they telling her she needed to refrain herself even more than she had been?
She scoffed. It seemed she needed to stop these people from thinking they could push her around because she was weak.
At this thought, she stowed the dagger into her sleeve and went outside.
Soon, Chen Rong gracefully appeared outside of Lady Ruan’s courtyard.
She stood at the arched doorway and curtsied to a maid, quietly inquiring: “Is my aunt home? Ah Rong would like to see her.”
While the maid blankly stared at her, another came behind the first one and whispered something to her.
The first maid nodded and then returned Chen Rong’s curtsy. “Are you Ah Rong? Go on in.”
“Thank you.” Chen Rong gently said her thanks and gracefully walked inside.
She soon got to the stairs. “I’d like to see the Madam,” she said with a curtsy.
“Oh, is it Ah Rong? Come in.” Do not steal this chapter from hamster428.
“Aye,” Chen Rong walked inside. Because karma is a bitch.
Only the younger Lady Li was there. Four maidservants stood to her left and right.
She was bowing her head having a drink. When she saw Chen Rong come in, she slowly placed the cup down and smilingly said, “Ah Rong, come over and have a seat.”
“Aye,” Chen Rong took a seat on the divan to the right. She raised her eyes and peered inside, asking: “Is my aunt not home?”
Lady Li smiled and lightly said, “She is away on business. You can tell me what you need.”
“Aye,” Chen Rong put on a docile appearance. “My old servant has just told me that I’m to be treated just like my cousin Ah Wei per my aunt’s order. I’m very grateful and have specially come to express my thanks.”
Lady Li lifted her cup, blew at it and then took a sip. Without even looking at Chen Rong, she said, “It’s good that you understand propriety. Your aunt hails from a large clan and does not like to hear gossips from other people. Though you are from a different branch, since the master has taken you in you’ll be her daughter just like Ah Wei. I see you are prudent to have appreciated her caring actions.” Her tone was vague, having layered meanings in her speech.
Chen Rong neither paid attention to nor wanted to think about it. She innocently smiled, and then, slowly, her right hand made a waving motion.
Whoosh, a cold glint flashed from her sleeve.
The women gave a startled cry. Do not steal this chapter from hamster428.
Lady Li widened her eyes as she stopped the impulse to cry out loud. “Ah Rong, why are you brandishing a dagger here? What do you think you’re doing?”
Chen Rong innocently giggled with squinted eyes: “Don’t be afraid, ma’am. It’s only a short dagger. I had also taken it out to play with Qilang and Huan Jiulang just now. They both thought it was fun.” At this juncture, Chen Rong suddenly tossed the glinting blade into the air.
As it twirled, it caught a ray of sunlight and suddenly issued a dense coldness.
The women drew sharp breaths as color drained from their faces.
Chen Rong paid no attention to their dismay. She laughed and got on her feet. Glancing out of the corner of her eyes, she smiled quite murderously at Lady Li. “Where are my four carriages of grains? I would like to divide it amongst my five dismissed servants. What do you think, ma’am?” She walked over as she flicked her dagger. By the end of her sentence, she was only three paces away from Lady Li.
When Lady Li raised her brow and began calling for help, Chen Rong’s wrist slightly turned and cast the glaring sunlight into her eyes.
The older woman was so frightened that she fell backward onto the divan shrieking out loud.
Several maids and guards rushed into the room. They looked around in bewilderment at Lady Li’s slumping on the divan, then looked at Chen Rong who was putting away her dagger and waltzing back to her seat. They were startled for a moment before they cried out: “Ma’am, what happened?”
Lady Li tremblingly pointed at Chen Rong, stuttering: “She, she, she…” She couldn’t manage any other word. To be fair, Chen Rong hadn’t done anything. She was just playing with a knife.
Lady Li watched the servants who were watching her in confusion, then stared at Chen Rong and violently screamed: “Ah Rong, how dare you! You have no sense of order.”
Chen Rong tilted her head, blinking her large eyes blamelessly. She smiled and replied, “But I hadn’t done anything, Ma’am.”
After stumping Lady Li, she curved her lips and slowly muttered: “Just now Qilang said he would be giving third brother some help so that I wouldn’t be put in a difficult situation.” Her voice was audible enough so that Lady Li could vaguely hear her.
“What did you say?”
Chen Rong didn’t speak. Do not steal this chapter from hamster428.
Lady Li glanced at the full house of servants, waved, and shouted: “Nothing’s the matter, nothing’s the matter. Everybody’s dismissed. Leave us.”
“Aye.” They followed one another out and the hall quieted down again.
When she saw them gone, Chen Rong drew her lips in both a flummoxed and aggrieved fashion, saying: “I was just playing with a dagger. I had also played with it in front of Qilang just now. He even laughed and tried to steal it from me. Why are you so fainthearted, ma’am? You got so frightened!”
Lady Li was livid upon hearing her words. She stroked her chest in a low growl. “You, you…” After a few gasps, she decided to rest the matter for the time being. She leaned forward, asking: “Ah Rong, what did you say about your third brother?”
Chen Rong blinked and countered: “Ma’am, where are my four carriages of grains? My servants had come with me all the way to the south and had gone through life and death with me. Since the clan is willing to bear my expenses, I want to give the grains to them so that they won’t have to live on the street.”
Lady Li knitted her brow in a solemn expression. “Ah Rong, four carriages of grains are too valuable, and you’re too young. It’s best I keep them for you. Don’t say those kinds of things again… giving them to servants and what not.”
She finished speaking just as Chen Rong shot to her feet, screaming: “Why? They had protected me the entire way here. Do you want people to accuse me of being heartless? No, that won’t do. You must give me those four carriages of grains.” She was apparently beside herself. As she screamed, a blinding coldness again flashed from the dagger hidden inside her sleeve.
Lady Li was indeed afraid of the dagger, as she was likewise afraid of its owner who was completely disregarding the rules. She was especially afraid of her at this very moment, for her eyes were showing a kind of savage madness. When Chen Rong’s dagger again flickered under the sunlight into her eyes, she dropped to the floor and cried: “It’s yours, it’s yours, it’s all yours.”
“Send this mad girl Chen Rong outside,” she yelled.
By the time the servants ran into the room, Chen Rong had slid the dagger back into her sleeve. She quickly gave Lady Li a curtsy and quietly said, “No need to send me, I’ll go out by myself.”
She turned around and shouted to the servants: “Come along to load the grains with me.”
The servants paused to look at Lady Li. Do not steal this chapter from hamster428.
The older woman was suppressing her shock by pressing on her chest. She waved her hand, feebly saying with a wan face: “Do as she says, do as she says.”
At her words, the servants gave a bow and followed Chen Rong out.
Only until Chen Rong had gone far away did a maid recover to cry in disgruntlement: “How dare Ah Rong be so rude to her elders? Does she still care about social order?” She turned her head toward Lady Li and exclaimed: “Ma’am, you can’t let her go like this. It won’t do, we must punish her!”
The pallor on Lady Li’s face hadn’t gone away. She bit her lip and at long last said, “How are we going to punish her? She brandished a knife in front of her elders, but she was only playing around. She was also several steps away and had never pointed it at us. If people talked, they’d only laugh at us for being easily spooked. Besides, if you really want to quibble, she can say that she wanted the grains back for her servants. She was being righteous!” A pause. “Most importantly, she is Wang Qi’s in name,” she feebly added. “Even the master doesn’t dare offend Wang Qi. When the city knows she’s doing this to be charitable, they’ll only say she is good and kind. Whether anyone believes what we say is going to be the problem.” She felt more and more powerless the longer she spoke.
At length, another maid stuttered: “She’s crazy, that Ah Rong of the Chen house.”
The others pecked their heads in agreement and, looking in the direction Chen Rong had gone, involuntarily thought: The girl is mad; it’d be best to stay away from her in the future. “Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live (2),” teaches The Art of War. “Softness is daunted by hardness; hardness is daunted by foolhardiness; foolhardiness is daunted by recklessness,” someone else once said. There was something both murderous and ruthless in Chen Rong’s dagger dance that made her appear both foolhardy and reckless. Needless to say, it’d be best to stay far away from her.
This is the common translation for the phrase. I did not translate it myself.
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