Man Xiang Restaurant or Xi Chun Hall?
This question seemed a little...
Long Er awkwardly cleared his throat with a bout of coughing. His thoughts were all a mess as he tried to come up with a good reply, but then a sudden flash of clarity crossed his mind, and he had an odd feeling about this.
It was a fact that he had been entertaining people until the late hours of night, he probably reeked of alcohol right now, and perhaps he even had some residual scent of the powder and perfume from being in close proximity with the serving ladies. So it was no surprise that she had been able to determine he had been to brothel. However, how had she known the names ‘Man Xiang Restaurant’ and ‘Xi Chun Hall’?
Ju Mu'er’s head was still slightly cocked to one side as she patiently waited for his reply. However, Long Er’s mind had already moved far past her initial query, and when he could no longer hold in his urge to know, he burst out, “How were you able to guess the specific names of those brothels?”
Ju Mu'er slowly explained, “The residual scent of perfume and powder on Second Master is slightly diluted with the aroma of liquor, so it is a bit subdued. However, I was still able to detect the scent of it and I recognised it as the one scent that the ladies of these two brothels are fond of using. If it were just the scent of the powder and perfume alone, my guess would definitely be more accurate.”
This reply sure gave Long Er some pause for thought, and his face began to turn green at her words. It could not be helped if those men who regularly frequented brothels, had the knowledge of which brothel’s ladies preferred which type of scent… But how could his Ju Mu'er know about this too?
“Ladies at the Yi Xiang Court mainly use the scent of plum blossoms, while Ran Cui Tower prefers to use the lily-flower fragrance. As for Hundred Flower Pavilion, the ladies there use jasmine-infused perfume, and the Elegant Fairies Court has a special liking for the fragrance of magnolias.” Ju Mu'er really was able to differentiate all the other fragrances commonly used by those ladies.
Now Long Er’s face truly did take on a greenish tint. “Mu Er, it seems like you’re even more knowledgable than I am about these brothels huh?” Ahh poor Long Er, it was almost impossible to ignore the acidic tone in which he said this.
Ju Mu’er nonchalantly replied, “Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to say I’m well-versed about brothels and their operations, but I can say with confidence that my knowledge of the ladies in these brothels, is definitely far greater than yours, Second Master.”
Long Er squeezed her hand in reply, and out of surprise, Ju Mu’er let out a squeak, “Ai~yo”. Long Er could not help but lament to her, “As a proper young lady of repute yourself, how did you come to make the acquaintance of those women amidst wind and dust?”
T/N: "Women amidst wind and dust"This phrase is often used to refer to prostitutes or women of ill-repute in Ancient China. The meaning behind it, is that as women living in brothels and pleasure houses, these ladies have to endure all the trials and tribulations of the world. (风尘女子 - Fēngchén nǚzǐ)
Ju Mu’er’s face was wrinkled as she mumbled her pain at being squeezed like that, then replied, “They sought me out for lessons in qin-playing.”
Long Er was quite taken aback by this answer, “Qin-playing?”
Ju Mu’er nodded her head, “Second Master, you must know that even the ladies of brothels, they too have a system of ranking amongst them. If they wish to obtain the assistance of the Matrons at the brothel, not only must they have exquisite beauty, but they must not be lacking in skills of art. Playing the qin, reciting poetry; these are the most basic of skills that fulfill the requirement of artistry. Those ladies do not need to become masters of these skills, all they need is some facade of capability, to fool their guests. However, if they seek the glory of being crowned Head Courtesan, then they naturally do need to have greater skills than the rest. Before I lost my sight, some of the courtesans would sneakily take lessons from me. Mainly because other qin-masters were unwilling to teach them, and the qin-masters inside the brothel only pick certain people to teach, that’s why some of them decided to try their luck with me.”
Long Er’s brow wrinkled, “And you taught them?”
“Mmhmm.” Ju Mu’er nodded her head in reply. “Initially I had no plans to teach them. But then I asked her why she wanted to learn to play the qin. She told me it was out of love for the instrument, but I could see no love for qin in her eyes, and I refused her offer. Later on, she came looking for me again, and once again, I asked her why she wanted to learn the qin. That time, she burst into tears, dropped on her knees onto the floor and she told me that she only wished to sell her skills not her body, but she had no skills then. In the end, I took her in and began to teach her.”
Long Er looked at her, he saw how expressionless her face was as she explained this, and his heart skipped a beat. It was not that he felt pity for that courtesan she was talking about, he had seen many people like her before, and he could not bring himself to pity them. However, this expression Ju Mu’er wore, he felt like there was more to the story.
And ultimately his senses proved true, as Ju Mu’er let out a bitter laugh, and she continued saying, “She was very clever, and learnt how to play well quickly. But… In the end, she sold not only her skills, but her body as well. She succeeded in becoming the Head Courtesan, her beauty and skills were incomparable and as a result of this her fame grew.”
“She lied to you?” Long Er felt immense dissatisfaction at this, his Ju Mu’er had a moment of kindness, and she had been used by someone? There were quite a few Head Courtesans in the city… Who knows which particular one this liar was?
“I can’t say for sure if she did lie with intent or didn’t, perhaps, being in that environment, the choice was never really hers?” Ju Mu’er let out a little puff of air before continuing. “Later on, it might have been her who let it slip that I taught her qin-playing, either way, more courtesans began to come looking for me. And much later, I lost my sight, but by then, even a madam of a brothel came looking for me. She wanted me to teach the ladies of her house how to play the qin, mainly because I could no longer see, and I was a woman. Both qualities which made me a better choice compared to a male qin-master. After all, those ladies would not have to worry about me recognising them. I’m sure you know, that some of them are not too comfortable about being in the public eye. And for others, resting on the laurels of their qin-skills means that they really do not want anyone to know that they have ever sought lessons from a qin-master etc.”
“If they’re renowned for their qin-playing, they why do they need to seek a tutor?”
“They’re merely well-known, after all many of the patrons of these brothels have unskilled ears…”
Long Er himself was one of those patrons with unskilled-ears, in fact he was one of the individuals of a more severe type, he was a qin-illiterate.
Deep inside, he tried to convince himself that Mu’er was not talking about him, but he still felt a little on-the-spot about it all. Quickly, he cleared his throat and tried to change the subject, “Then did you teach all of them too?”
“Mmm, I could earn silver from teaching them. And ever since I lost my sight, I had always been keen on earning more money to support myself. Plus, the madams and ladies were very generous with their money.” As Ju Mu’er continued explaining, her hands instinctively began to move as though they were plucking at the strings of a qin. The tips of her fingers were smooth as they lightly grazed Long Er’s palm. Long Er looked down at the movement, and relaxed his hand further, giving her more of his palm to work with.
“Second Master, to be honest, those ladies were not as I had imagined. Some of them were quite pitiful, and some were quite hateful. Those whom I found hateful I did not teach as much, and those I pitied I taught them a little more. Later on, once I got to know them better, they began to share lots of gossip with me.”
“Just like what type of powder they preferred using, or what flower fragrance?” Long Er was not in the least bit soothed by this, does this mean that in the future, when he goes to brothels, he would have to wash and change his clothes before he came to see her?
Ju Mu’er laughed, “Not just this, even things like which shops the ladies like to frequent the most, what styles of clothing are their favourite, what colour powder they prefer; the only thing is that I can’t see any of this. Every brothel has different preferences, some of them even know each other and they often run into each other in the small space of the courtyard where they learn how to play the qin. Sometimes, they even make me guess where they come from, and after spending so much time with them, I soon became capable of doing that.”
Long Er suddenly focused his gaze on her, his tone a lot more demanding as he pressed her, “They weren’t uncouth with you were they?”
“Mmm…” Ju Mu’er tilted her head sideways as she thought about the question, “They would often tell me of how generous in spending you were Second Master. And how the madams really did like you, but you never tipped any of them, so a lot of the madams and courtesans would often bad-mouth your lack of tipping… Does this count as being uncouth?”
In a manner of seconds, Long Er’s face flushed red, woe to his integrity and image as a man! To think that his fiancee had listened to all the gossiping and complaints from those courtesans about him not tipping them… What on earth were things coming to?
He made the decision to pretend he had not heard anything, the wind must have been quite strong just now, so strong, that now his ears had become a little faulty.
At this moment, Ju Mu’er suddenly reached out for Long Er’s hand, “Second Master, I heard a lot about you from them, and I think you’re a good person. That’s why when Qing’er ended up falling seriously ill from staying out in the rain, I decided to come to ask you for help, for your help to build a shade for the tea plantation.”
Long Er gave an awkward cough, he still felt a little like he was floating in air because of the ‘praise’ that Mu’er had just given him, “I already promised to fix it, and I have planned for it to commence next spring.”
Ju Mu’er laughed, “I know, Second Master is a man of his words.”
“But of course.” Long Er felt his chest puff up, “I also promised to marry you, and I will definitely marry you.”
Ju Mu’er began to laugh again, she was merely dressed in some cotton robes, and had a coarse ribbon cloth on her head. She should look bedraggled, but Long Er felt that instead, there was an aura of refined charm that was extremely soothing to him. Oddly, this made him think of Chen Liangze, now that was a man of similar, bookish charm, and at first glance, he did have a few similarities with Ju Mu’er.
Long Er felt the sudden urge to ask her just why she had initially turned down Chen Liangze’s offer of marriage. The other party was someone she had known for many years, and had not seemed to mind the fact that Mu’er was blind, so why had she insisted on declining the offer of marriage? In his mind, being blind would have been a period of time at which she was most in need of assistance, and she ought to have tightly clung onto Chen Liangze as a pillar of support instead, so why had Ju Mu’er acted in the opposite manner?
Long Er opened his mouth a couple of times, but managed to hold his tongue. She was about to marry him, so what was the point of talking about this with her?
The night wind blew gently over them, and a few stands of her hair blew across her face. He helped her brush them aside, and Ju Mu’er asked, “Second Master, after we get married, will I still be allowed to teach them how to play the qin?”
Instantly, Long Er had visions of a crowd of courtesans huddled around his wife, each with their arms around a qin. And in his mind’s eye, all of them were discussing things like which brothel Master Long Er had visited the night before, who had accompanied him there, which courtesan they had selected to accompany them, how much money they spent there, what the ladies had said to Master Long Er, how he had replied… Where Master Long Er had been felt up… And where Master Long Er’s hands had been placed...
Long Er felt a shiver run down the back of his spine, and instantly shot back, “Of course not. Y-you, you’re can’t continue communicating with those courtesans anymore.”
Ju Mu’er nodded her head, “That’s if we were to get married, and they found out that I married you… They might even begin to ask me about what you’re like at home, what things we talked about at home… Maybe even what we got up to at home! And just thinking of how loose their lips are, even though I don’t think I’ll answer much of their questions, but if they use this as ammunition for teasing me, then that truly will be more than I can bear.”
Long Er only felt like there was a swirling typhoon in his mind, he really had not thought of tha possibility. Not only were his day-time actions possible fodder for gossip, but even his private home-affairs would be at risk too.
He froze imperceptibly and finally managed to spit out another sentence, “To be honest, I rarely go to those sort of places… It’s mainly f-for, entertaining guests…”
Ju Mu’er laughed, “I know how much of a good man you are Second Master.”
Now listening to her say this made Long Er even more embarrassed, and he cleared his throat again, replying, “Of course I’m a good person.”
“Second Master, I’ve thought of a way for us to find the real murderer.”
Long Er’s thoughts paused, then he let out an inaudible sigh, this girl really shouldn’t change topics so quickly. Just as he was enjoying the warm, tender atmosphere around them, she suddenly brought up the issue of courtesans. Then just as he was feeling awkward about the gossiping nature of those courtesans, she suddenly switched back to the development of the case.
Talking with her was devoid of any moment of boredom, in fact, not only was it rarely boring, it was often nerve-wracking.
Long Er let out a long breath, before diving back into the discussion, “What were you thinking of?”
Love, Luna <3