“Meimei, this street has many rouge stores and jadeware shops. Girls are very fond of coming here on ordinary days.” Ming Cunfu lifted the curtains, allowing Jiuzhu to have a clearer view of the streets.
Jiuzhu pressed her head closer. She saw many young women strolling together. From time to time they would softly and laughingly say a few words to their companions, the pearl ornaments adorning their heads swaying in concert with their movements.
Men styled like scholars bowed to the young women from afar, their bearing free and easy.
When carriages and sedan chairs passed by, the servants all hung their heads in silence. Nobody displayed an overweening attitude.
A spotlessly dressed yachai* with a sword strapped around his waist was on patrol. Running into an acquaintance, he made some chitchat while handily fishing up a young child who’d fallen to the ground. The little kid, opening his mouth in preparation to wail, caught sight of the yachai’s sword. Snapping closed his jaw, he extended his pudgy hand, dirtied by his tumble, to carefully stroke the sword’s hilt.
*衙差 - I couldn’t find an exact definition, but as far as I can tell, these were officers who were in charge of public safety. Likely employed by yamen, local administrative offices in imperial China.
The yachai pretended to not notice the pheasant child’s* little actions. Handing the child over to an effusively grateful grownup, he walked into the crowd.
*雉童 - lit. pheasant child. Not quite sure about the meaning, but might have something to do with a folk tale about local officials and benevolent governance.
“We’ve arrived at the rouge shop.”
Jiuzhu recovered her senses: “We’re here?”
“We’ve here.” Ming Cunfu got down from the carriage and proffered a hand towards Jiuzhu. “Come, get down.”
Jiuzhu ducked down through the carriage doors. Just as she was about to give her hand to Ming Cunfu, she heard the clatter of a horse’s hooves.
Tilting her head to look over, she saw a handsome gongzi attired in purple robes* sitting astride on horseback. The white horse was spirited and dapper. The purple robes flapped upwards, a dash of vivid color splashing across the still street.
*紫袍 - purple qipao gown, the sign of an official position
The horse’s pace was languid and the purple-robed gongzi’s bearing was indolent, seeming as if nothing on this earth could enter his eyes.
“Meimei, what are you looking at?” Ming Cunfu followed Jiuzhu’s line of sight and saw a tailor’s shop: “Do you like the clothes?”
The purple-robed gongzi atop the white horse had already turned into a side-alley. Jiuzhu retracted her gaze: “Gege*, I am admiring the scenery.”
*哥哥 - older brother
Ming Cunfu was originally taken aback, but soon after became distressed. Having been raised in the wild for all these years, his younger cousin even regarded this ordinary and common street in the capital as scenic.
Stroking his purse, he gritted his teeth: “Let’s go, gege will take you to pick out clothes. We’ll buy whatever catches your eye.”
At home they were kept on tight reins. He’d expended much heart's blood to save a little money from his always scarce monthly allowance. But their family only had this one little sister; as the older cousin, he should be a bit more generous.
“Alright.” Jiuzhu nodded her head and leaped down from atop the carriage.
Ming Cunfu eyed his forlorn hand, and then eyed his younger cousin who was striding into the rouge shop with buoyant steps. Furtively taking a look around, he secretly heaved a sigh.
Never mind, as long as nobody noticed, it was not considered boorish.
The moment the two cousins entered the rouge shop, someone came up to converse with Ming Cunfu.
“Brother Ming*.” This was Zhou Shucheng’s first time seeing Ming Cunfu alone with a girl outside of the house. He bowed slightly, hands clasped in front**: “Brother Lin hosted a banquet at the imperial park today, how come Brother Ming did not attend?”
*兄 - elder brother (not blood-related); a courteous form of address between male friends
**作揖 - to bow with hands held in front. This is the gesture I am referring to when I simply say “bow.”
“Brother Zhou.” Ming Cunfu returned the salute: “I have been occupied with family affairs of late and have no time to attend to other matters. I ask Brother Zhou to express my regrets to Brother Lin on my behalf.”
Briefly mulling this over, Zhou Shusheng promptly caught on. A short while ago, Ming Cunfu’s father had received an imperial order to go on an inspection tour in the South. Worried that Ming Cunfu would backslide in his studies, the family handed him over to Ming Jingzhou to supervise.
The matter of the betrothal between Ming Jingzhou’s daughter and Chen wang had circulated in a buzz. It was no surprise that Ming Jingzhou had not gone out much in recent days.
“This young lady…”
“This is my family's little sister.” Ming Cunfu smiled: “She’s just returned to the capital city. As her older cousin, I naturally must keep her company.”
Zhou Shusheng smilingly agreed, bending down to bow at Jiuzhu: “Miss Ming, greetings.”
The three brothers of the Ming family had a close relationship. Back when Ming family’s eldest brother suffered the misfortune of being framed by a villain, Ming family’s second brother and third brother preferred to be implicated and imprisoned together rather than to renounce their eldest brother.
To be able to hold to their brotherly sentiments in the face of life and death, this exceeded many other families.
It was just that their fate was not very good. The next generation had borne a daughter with much difficulty, but she was to wed Chen wang.
Jiuzhu felt that the gaze this gongzi with the surname Zhou was directing at her was not quite right. It was like he was looking upon a rabbit nailed by an arrow that was on the verge of being skinned and roasted by someone.
“Guiren* take care.”
*贵人 - an honorific to refer to a noble or person of high rank
Hearing movement, Jiuzhu raised her head and looked up the stairs, her eyes meeting those of a young woman who was coincidentally coming down.
The young woman was at first disconcerted, but seeing Jiuzhu flash her a smile, the corner of her lips also hooked up slightly.
“Gege, I’ve chosen already.” The young woman walked to Zhou Shusheng’s side and made a slight curtsy towards the Ming family’s brother and sister: “Ming gongzi, Miss Ming.”
Here it came, here it came, again this expression of looking upon a rabbit on the barbecue grill.
When the Zhou family’s brother and sister had departed, Jiuzhu asked Ming Cunfu in a low voice: “Gege, does the whole capital city know that I was quite destitute in the past?”
If not, why would everyone use that sort of expression to gaze at her.
Ming Cunfu: “....”
No, they’re only showing you sympathy over your deviant marriage partner.
“Oh.” Jiuzhu sighed emotionally. It would’ve been great if she’d come across these compassionate people from the capital city a few years ago; they would definitely have been willing to donate incense money to the temple.
After choosing a few boxes of the most popular types of rouge of the moment, Jiuzhu followed Ming Cunfu to buy clothes.
The capital was prosperous and the fabrics used to manufacture clothes were of exquisite quality. Seeing that the majority of customers in the shop were female, Ming Cunfu quickly moved to the back of the store to have tea and refreshments, leaving the maid Chunfen to accompany her in trying on clothes.
Each and every tailor’s shop frequented by high officials and noble persons had set up places for male guests to rest. This was probably to allow the male guests to wait patiently while the female guests shopped with ease.
“Miss has a nice figure and looks good in everything.” The female shop assistant had a tongue like a blooming lotus flower. Every time Jiuzhu tried something on, she could proffer a different compliment.
“If this dress is matched with the latest style of buyao*, Miss will look just like an immortal maiden from the Palace of the Moon who has descended to this mundane world.” The shop assistant helped Jiuzhu arrange her skirts. “The third floor has jewelry and jade ornaments for sale, if Miss is interested you can go take a look.”
*步摇 - dangling head ornament worn by women
“Young Miss, Sixth Young Master is paying today, you absolutely must buy more.” Chunfen laughingly whispered into Jiuzhu’s ear: “Previously when Third Young Master was in the capital city, Sixth Young Master always let Third Young Master help him settle his accounts. You have to help Third Young Master spend it all back.”
Among the three Ming households, when ordered by seniority, Ming Cunfu was ranked sixth in his generation, and Jiuzhu’s birth brother Ming Jiyuan was ranked third. Although the siblings had never met, Jiuzhu had heard many stories of her brother from their parents.
“Isn’t this a bit excessive?” Jiuzhu’s mouth said this, but her feet were very honestly heading up the stairs.
There weren’t many younger sisters who would feel guilty when spending their big brothers’ money.
The female shop assistant smiled even more splendidly. Which shop assistant would despise it when customers bought more stuff?
Those twisting vine bracelets, vermillion dyed hair pins, ten thousand jade bead crowns*, if they weren’t bought by some pampered person, wouldn’t they feel lonely?
*花冠 - ornamental crown worn by a bride on her wedding day,
“Why are the hairpins, rings, and jewelry produced by your shop so tasteless recently? Gold twined flowers, red bead tortoiseshells and what not, they’re all intolerably tacky!”
Jiuzhu looked down at the gold twined flower hairpin in her hand; she found it utterly beautiful. Without a word, she turned her head to look at the young man who’d spoken.
“This jadeite bangle is the only thing that’s barely worth a look.”
Jiuzhu, who’d overlooked the bangle from the start: “...”
“Gongzi, these are the styles that are most in fashion right now.” The shop assistant explained with a smile: “If gongzi doesn’t like them, we will exchange them for other designs.”
“What “most in fashion,” isn’t it just that a certain guiren in the palace has developed a liking for these things lately so people in the capital city are starting to mimic her?” The man sneered, his manner holding a trace of contempt. He randomly pointed at a few objects: “Just these, the rest I don’t want.”
“Miss.” The female shop assistant pretended that she didn’t hear these remarks and asked Jiuzhu in a low voice: “Do you want to try it on?”
“Alright.” Jiuzhu handed the gold twined flower hairpin to the female shop assistant, holding up a bronze mirror to reveal her face.
Her hair was lush and dark as jet. With the gold twined flower hairpin half hidden in her hair, not only was it not tasteless, it actually resembled a star that had carelessly fallen atop her head.
Taking the jewelry case from the shop assistants’ hands, the young man had turned to leave when he caught sight of Jiuzhu who was examining herself in the mirror. “So tac...”
Actually, it didn’t look too tacky.
“It looks nice.” Jiuzhu caressed the hairpin. “I like it.”
Jiuzhu noticed that the gongzi who’d said that gold twined flowers were tacky was staring fixedly at her. Her eyes widened.
What, you find it tacky so won’t even let others buy?
“Miss has a good eye, when worn in your hair, this hairpin unexpectedly looks like a cassia branch from the Palace of the Moon, like a jade flower from Jasper Lake.” Returning to his senses, the young man coughed drily and bowed slightly at Jiuzhu.
His speech made it seem like she hadn’t heard those things he’d said before.
No wonder that, before coming to the capital, the two shifus had warned her that certain city dwellers had deep thoughts and enjoined her to shun those who talked intimately while being strangers.
“This inferior one is the heir* of Marquis Pingyuan’s noble house**, Zheng Wangnan. Which family’s treasured daughter is Miss?” Seeing that Jiuzhu had not responded, the young man moved forward a step.
*世子 - heir of a noble house
**府 - official residence, mansion
Marquis Pingyuan’s noble house, Zheng...
Wasn’t that the household of the little devil in the palace who’d called Noble Consort niangniang a demoness consort?
Jiuzhu stood up: “This inferior one likes tacky things and did not intend to disturb, I will take my leave.”
Kids who weren’t taught well, the adults in their families more or less all had brain problems. She should keep her distance -- who knows if mental illnesses could be transmitted to other people?
Watching the young girl’s hurriedly departing back, Zheng Wangnan got the vague sense that she was fleeing after taking a beating.
He twisted his head to ask his personal servant: “This heir is very ugly?”
“Heir, you are dignified in appearance with a face like jade.”
Zheng Wangnan turned back towards the shop assistant. “The hairpin that was worn by that young lady, I also want to buy one.”
“Young Master.” His servant reminded him in a small voice: “Didn’t you disdain its tackiness?”
“Have you heard this saying?” Zheng Wangnan arched his eyebrows, his expression full of profound mystery.
“All men are apt to change.”
“Indeed?” A lazy voice came through. “Then change for me to see.”
Zheng Wangnan’s eyes followed in the direction of the voice and the hand holding the jewelry box almost lost all its strength. He couldn’t help but goggle at the hidden side room. Why did no one inform him that this person was inside the secret room?
“Just now I overheard your countless criticisms of the guiren in the palace’s tastes.” The purple-robed gongzi fiddled with the horsewhip in his hands, languidly taking a seat. “Don’t know which guiren’s tastes leave Heir Zheng so unsatisfied?”
“This humble servant did not realize Your Highness was here and was discourteous.” Zheng Wangnan bowed almost to the floor.
“En.” The purple-robed gongzi lightly nodded his head: “It’s not your fault, blame me who shouldn’t have been here. It’s a pity that my mood isn’t good today, and I don't want to hear others speak of tacky things.”
The purple-robed man threw his horse whip onto the table. “What’s your full name again?”
Zheng Wangnan gnashed his teeth. He was Qi wang’s younger cousin*, Marquis Pingyuan’s eldest di son**. There was no way Chen wang didn’t know his esteemed name. This act was just to humiliate him.
*表弟 - younger male cousin on the female side
**嫡长子 -- legitimate wife’s eldest son
“Forget it.” The purple-robed man stood up. “Even if you said your name, benwang* wouldn’t remember it.”
*本王 - lit. this king; form of self-address used by princes
That said, he regarded Zheng Wangnan and his faintly trembling shoulders. He suddenly laughed: “Don’t be afraid, benwang has always been lenient with mediocre people.”
Zheng Wangnan shuddered even harder.
The last person you were “lenient” with was still moving boulders in the outskirts of the city.
You think I’m going to believe your nonsense?
T/L Note: So sorry for the very late update! My life suddenly got so much more busy... I hope you all enjoy this chapter and our first glimpse of our hero!