Late updates this week. Sorry for the delay!
Feng Sheng’s face suddenly paled.
Prince Wei’s fit left her not the slightest bit of power to refute. Her eyes quivered, and she was rendered mute.
Prince Wei glanced at her, brushed away his sleeves, and flounced out.
For the rest of the day, Feng Sheng lapsed into a long silence. No one spoke to her, and neither did she take the initiative to open her mouth. Prince Wei would appear every so often, but each time he witnessed her behave like so, he would grow irate and end up bailing out.
As such, Feng Sheng no longer had the inclination to deal with him.
She could affirm that Prince Wei was tenacious in his approach. She also didn’t have the face to invert black and white. Insistent on pretending that nothing ever transpired, she could only keep her mouth shut.
Another month passed, and several maids were now familiar with her. Whenever they saw her sullen, they would cook up ways to cheer her up.
One day, they would drag her out to observe the fish. Another day, they would fix up some new and odd food. Novel objects would endlessly stream in from outside, all rarely seen trinkets from the market. Feng Sheng knew who sent them, but it was beyond her to express an apt reaction.
This day, the maid Du Juan brought a puppy with her.
The puppy was very tiny and white all over, the size of which fit right in Feng Sheng’s cupped hands, its small body very soft and plump. Its pair of round and black eyes gave away its timidity, misty as they gazed at Feng Sheng. It was so adorable that she wished she could offer it her heart.
Feng Sheng named it Lucky.1
With Lucky around, Feng Sheng finally had something to do every day. She fed Lucky, groomed it, and took it out to play in the garden. Little Lucky was so fat that it scurried around the courtyard like a ball of meat, eliciting from Feng Sheng laughter and amusement.
Once in a while, when things were calm, Feng Sheng would wonder, was she now considered a kept mistress Prince Wei was supporting?
Feng Sheng was aware of what a mistress was: a woman with no proper status and was kept outside. However, in general, a woman supported as a kept mistress was extremely favored, else, would there be a need to keep a mistress?
Thinking about it this way, she felt that she herself was also quite formidable. While posing as a man, she created a stir and inflicted great disorder under the heavens. When kidnapped, she brought upon the downfall of a gang. As a kept mistress, she was still particularly different from others.
She also mused, how should she behave as a kept mistress? The only example she could think of was the Ninth Concubine.
As opposed to the Ninth Concubine’s days, it seemed that hers weren’t so bad. She didn’t have to squabble with other women in the mansion to the point of disarray and was relatively freer. Treading even deeper into her thoughts, she pondered whether or not she should bear a child. But a child for Prince Wei? Conjuring his somber face in her head, she shuddered in fright and abruptly dismissed it.
Feng Sheng seemed to have resigned herself to her fate and began passing her days only eating, drinking, sleeping, and frolicking. Occasionally, when Prince Wei would grace her a visit, she would no longer be quiet and would even hurl some jests at him.
Yet instead of being pleased, Prince Wei grew even more dissatisfied. Feng Sheng could only sigh at how difficult to serve this man was.
One dark and windy night, Feng Sheng was suddenly roused by someone and awakened to discover that it was Prince Wei.
Prince Wei appeared to have drunk wine, emanating the smell of alcohol, both his eyes gleaming brightly.
“The sage once said that only women and small-minded men are hard to deal with. You have taken up both!”
What was it this time? Feng Sheng was a bit aggrieved and felt that she was being insulted.
“You don’t keep your own promises. Instead, you act as if this prince abused you. You’re obviously not happy, yet you pretend as though you are. Who are you pretending for?!”
Well, she was indeed unhappy, but she had taken great pains to entertain herself. What more could he want?
“Originally, this prince was already planning to write to the above, requesting a decree to grant you the title of a princess consort, but now this prince is unwilling. With this prince’s identity, this prince can choose any women from all over the country. Fang Feng Sheng, who do you think you are?! Tomorrow, this prince will let you go, but remember, the woman this prince doesn’t want, others can’t lay a finger on. So, stay away from Fan Jin Chuan, or else……”
Feng Sheng’s face was sprayed with wine, impelled to take in such abrasive words. Immediately after, the main cause of the disaster stormed out.
She was left awake all night.
The next day, someone came to arrange for her to leave.
Skimming around the piles of gold and jade in the room, as well as the clothes, jewelry, and antiques, Feng Sheng, apart from a bunch of clothes, took away only Lucky.
“He’s a man with an eccentric personality. He’s experienced too many good things to even care about you. If I don’t take you away, he may toss you aside to who knows where. But I won’t have time to accompany you every day.” After getting on the carriage, Feng Sheng said as she rubbed Lucky’s little head.
The carriage sent Feng Sheng to the Salt Distribution Commission.
When she alighted, she realized that they were truly in Yangzhou City. She pocketed Lucky in her sleeve, straightened her male clothes, and marched to the gate.
While still fabricating excuses about her disappearance in her head, Fan Jin Chuan had already burst out to welcome her.
Fan Jin Chuan was now darker and thinner. The skinnier him was a little less gentle and a little more sharp. He was awfully excited, staring at Feng Sheng with slightly reddened eyes. He had originally wanted to grab her arm without much thought, but he withdrew his hand.
“It’s great that you’re back! His Highness Prince Wei told me you were injured and could not be easily moved. I anxiously wanted to see you, but I didn’t have time to spare,” explained Fan Jin Chuan after they entered and sat down.
“Is that what His Highness Prince Wei told you?” In other words, he had never intended to hide her in that house of gold as a kept mistress and merely wanted to intimidate her.
“That’s what His Highness said. Is that not the case?”
Feng Sheng lowered her head and smiled, answering, “That’s not what I meant. I just wanted to say that this time was thanks to His Highness Prince Wei’s rescue; otherwise, I might not have been able to come back.”
Hearing this, Fan Jin Chuan looked ashamed and uneasy. If she hadn’t wanted to save him, she wouldn’t have been in danger. These days, this notion blazed like a fire in his heart, but he had no one to consult, so he could only silently endure the piercing feeling within him.
Now, she finally returned.
Fan Jin Chuan’s heart was agitated. He was about to say something, but this moment, Zhi Chun and Zhi Qiu darted out after receiving news of Feng Sheng’s return, anxious to see her, so he naturally he couldn’t go on.
Feng Sheng bade farewell to Fan Jin Chuan and returned to the residence with Zhi Chun and Zhi Qiu.
This courtyard was no different from the past, but it gave Feng Sheng a feeling that it was a world away. Both Zhi Chun and Zhi Qiu’s eyes were bright red from weeping. Uncle Yu was quite emotional when he saw her, glad that she hadn’t encountered any mishap this time.
No one asked Feng Sheng what happened to her in the tiger’s den. Everyone seemed to have a tacit understanding to shrug it off. Lucky’s appearance also diverted the attention of the two servant girls, ceasing their tears from overflowing.
Since her mother’s death, this was the first time Feng Sheng felt that women’s tears were so frightening.
Then, there was the matter of rest. Everyone seemed to be under the impression that she should get some rest, including Fan Jin Chuan, who had stopped bothering her. From Zhi Chun and Zhi Qiu, as well as from Uncle Yu, Feng Sheng learned the events that occurred after she left.
After the incident, the Jianping Emperor was furious. Needless to say, he sent down a command to investigate and seize the culprit. The private salt dealers in Liang Huai were miserable, and many suffered merely by being fish in the moat.2
On the other hand, Fan Jin Chuan turned his grief into strength and did not forsake the major undertaking the two had talked about. He continued according to the plan he had previously discussed with Feng Sheng. Moreover, after the incident, Eunuch Huo no longer dared to lambaste them with indiscreet remarks.
Eager to avenge Feng Sheng, Fan Jin Chuan, who seldom revealed his abilities, took advantage of the upheaval in Huainan and swept away countless filthy officials. For a time, the Salt Distribution Commission’s prison was overcrowded. With this as a suppression, Liang Huai’s new policy advanced more smoothly than expected. Now, everything fell into the right track, and they were only waiting to witness the effects.
As for the salt shops, Huang Jin Fu had nearly put them to order.
Using the name of government officials, he personally established official salt shops and transit warehouses in various places, especially on the coasts of the Yangtze River. The official salt shops were a combination of wholesale and retail. Once construction was completed, salt traders from all over the country wouldn’t need to flock to Liang Huai to distribute salt. They would only need to buy salt tickets and fetch salt nearby thereafter. They could probably conclude this matter by the end of the year.
As for rooting out the salt gang, according to Fan Jin Chuan, Prince Wei personally took charge.
He dispatched an undercover agent to infiltrate the salt gang. Coordinating with inside and outside offensives, he dug up the location of the salt gang’s base and conducted a clean-out operation, completely obliterating the entire salt gang.
Under this series of stratagems, those salt merchants were now hopeless and desolate, but they also dared not take rash actions. Recently, it was said Fan Jin Chuan’s people were always offered bribes whenever they went out. Unfortunately, Fan Jin Chuan was not one to eat from this pot.3 Although mishaps arose amidst the execution of their plans, they enigmatically and inexorably veered to the right path, even better than Feng Sheng had anticipated.
“The only exception is the Jiang family head. He was discovered to have bought the salt gang’s people, intending to commit murder to eradicate future trouble. But just when it was time to arrest him, he had already spent half his fortune buying his own life through some unknown person, so the matter is left unresolved this time”
Probably because hatred had deeply settled in his heart, Uncle Yu spoke with intense rage, which Feng Sheng found rather unsurprising.
“It seems that the one on top is really short of silver. Say, why did they send us a scourge?” Feng Sheng had sensed something fishy when she first encountered Eunuch Huo, and now it seemed like her conjectures were ascertained.
“Alright, after staying idle for such a long time, my body has grown moldy. Let’s go out for a stroll.”
“Young Master, what are you going out for?”
“Just walking around to take a look here and there, but this young master doesn’t plan on taking you. Just stay honestly at home watching Lucky.” Feng Sheng said, shaking her fan. Frustrated, Zhi Qiu pouted her small mouth.
Feng Sheng simply wanted to meander about.
She jaunted to the West Lake and the Wenchang Pavilion and was planning to wade to the eastern market to traipse around and shop. Exhausted, she found an opera house to sit down in and to watch the play.
As soon as she settled herself, the waiter poured tea and brought several melon seeds and fruit trays. Suddenly, someone perched on the empty seat opposite her.
Feng Sheng, holding the teacup, looked over. “Well, if it isn’t Master Chen. You’ve always been busy, so why are you here to watch a play? That seat is taken. I’ve set an appointment with someone else, so sitting there is no good.”
The Chen family head’s old face twitched.
Since the introduction of this new policy, his days had been growing worse than ever. Yangzhou’s top ten salt merchants could previously shake Yangzhou thrice with a single step. Now, however, the Salt Distribution Commission were now the ones who could stomp their feet, capable of quaking Yangzhou more than thrice.
Those who were good at nosing around had long since begun foraging for another way out. When they castigated Huang Jin Fu for being a loser, they ridiculed him for squandering his fortune and family properties, and that after his death, he wouldn’t be included in his family’s ancestral tomb. In the end, they were slapped in their faces. As it turned out, no one was as good as Huang Jin Fu. He had already hugged someone’s thigh, secured his silver in advance, and retreated from the scene. Now, it was said that Huang Jin Fu was in charge of the purchase of official salt shops. Needless to say, he was proud of his achievements, and the person behind it was the young fellow sitting across, who was only twenty years of age.
He had started out as a private advisor by Fan Jin Chuan’s side, but in just two years, despite not hailing from the regular path,4 he was conferred the title of a principal seventh-rank gentleman-litterateur. It was said that he was responsible for devising the new policy. With a mind so deep, this person had calculated all the people in Liang Huai without making a single sound.
Step by step, he slowly linked one trap with another. The process in between had long ceased being a hidden matter, and it was precisely under everyone’s eyelids that this matter was settled.
The success made everyone dumbstruck and gasp in amazement. In retrospect, they felt endless remorse, and they could only sigh at what they should have done back then. Their robes were soaked in cold sweat at the thought.
This person was skilled, and what he was most skilled at was open conspiracies. What he did to those people did not count as crafty plots and machinations, but rather as overt plots, an ability truly worthy of praise.
Looking at the other person now, he did not even move a single soldier or pawn. The Chen family head himself took the initiative to approach the other. He had to be grateful that he was not yet too old. He could still run fast, at least ahead of several others, such that he could lay out the Chen family’s last hope of recovery.
“Consider this an uninvited visit from an old and useless man, hoping my young friend doesn’t take offense.”
His young friend? This was a term used in a friendship between generations. Aware that the Chen family head was notorious for his spite and fatuity, him receiving an insult to his face was truly a rare sight to behold.
“This meeting is fated. Since it’s fated, let’s sit down and have a cup of tea.”
Was he willing to discuss with her?
No one took notice of the Chen family head sighing with lament, as the play had already begun on the stage.
The pounding of drums and the incessant vocals of the opera music thundered throughout the room, and from time to time, there would be applause from the crowd. The Chen family head’s state of mind was in turmoil, hating that he couldn’t wrap up the stage and drive all these people away.
However, this Lord Fang was different. Despite his status, he simply took a seat as he pleased in an opera house. As far as the Chen family head knew, this kind of play was merely a way for his servants to kill time.
The tea was poor, the fruit and melon dishes were coarse, and even the chairs they sat on were extremely crude and cramped, which made him lose his usual sense of calm.
But he only had this one chance, and the other party’s meaning was evident. He could already see the Liu family’s servant waiting by the door and the Cheng family’s servant sitting on the diagonal side. Perhaps outside, also waiting were the Bao family, the Wang family, and the Zhang family.
“Requesting Lord Fang to be magnanimous. Please give the Chen family a way out.”
As this place was quite clamorous and not apt for discussing serious matters, he was unsure whether the other party heard him or not.
Just as the Chen family head wanted to repeat his sentence in apprehension, Feng Sheng suddenly spoke.
“Liang Huai’s certified coasts are in Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hubei, and Henan, a total of six provinces. Huang Jin Fu alone cannot finish eating such a big pie.”
The implementation of the new policy might have dealt a blow to the salt merchants, but it wasn’t enough to shake their roots. The worst that could happen was that they would abandon their allies and switch to the new policy. In fact, without the numerous constraints behind them, if a multitude of salt merchants were given an alternative, they would willingly throw themselves at the new policy.
However, in these government-run businesses over the years, the top ten salt merchants abjectly involved themselves with officials to ensnare profit and to ensure their power. They constantly tackled knotty and deeply-rooted adversities, yet they lacked the fierce spirit to scrape poison off bones.6 No one dared to easily change their stance. However, it was now no longer a matter of whether to change their stance or not. Once the official salt shops were ultimately established, the top ten salt merchants would be like great mansions on the verge of collapse. When that moment comes, it would only bring upon their families death and destruction.
No one wanted to witness their families be subjected to such ruin.
“It seems that the Chen family head is also a man of understanding, so I won’t go in circles. I can share this pie with you, but you need to hand over your Chen family’s account book as compensation. I believe you understand what this account book is referring to. Not only can I give you a share of the pie, but I can also spare you from any menace from the rear.5 Do you think this is a good deal?”
The Chen family head originally looked very ugly hearing the words ‘account book’, but the sentence that followed struck him in a panic. If what the other party said was true, then the Chen family could completely free themselves from the quagmire.
“Does Lord Fang understand the meaning of ‘any menace from the rear’?” He gritted his teeth, his old face twitching as he uttered this. Those who didn’t know would think it was out of hostility, but in reality, it was just due to old age. He was incapable of controlling the flesh on his face and twitched whenever he got excited.
Feng Sheng laughed and shook her fan. “I naturally understand.”
1 The dog’s name is 吉祥 (jí xiáng), literally meaning lucky. I kept the english translation because it’s cute. Also, the gender isn’t specified, so I’ll be using the pronoun ‘it’.
2 池鱼之殃: disaster for the fish in the moat; trouble not of one’s own making
3 不吃这壶: lit. to not eat from this pot; take the bribe
4 正途: regular path to officialdom is through passing all levels of imperial examinations. This was mentioned before in Chapter 34, but putting it back here just in case.
5 后顾之忧: any menace from the rear; fears of trouble in the rear (idiom); family worries (obstructing freedom of action); worries about the future consequences
6 刮骨疗毒: lit. scrape bones to cure from poison. Refers to Guan Yu from the Three Kingdoms. Analogy for someone with a strong determination or ‘having a strong will’