Chapter 273: A Cold Stove
Translated by Gumihou
Edited by Vinisha
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“Who are you people? What are you all gathered here for?”
As the day edge towards dusk, after a whole day at the office, the little marquis headed straight for the Su family house with one large and one smaller bag with him. When he reached the entrance, he saw five or six women squatting about like monkeys around the gate. Unable to suppress his suspicion, he began to question them.
At the sight of him, the women began to jump about like half-dead fish that had been splashed with water. They all began talking at once, “Is this the Lord Heir of the An Ping Estate? We are here to look for work…”
Their voices blended so much that it was like trying to decipher the buzzing of flies. Luckily Duan Tingxuan was intelligent enough for the job and managed to catch a few relevant points of information from the din. It turned out that these people were here to sell themselves as slaves. However, Duan Tingxuan knew that the Duke of Ping had no intention of living lavishly and had rejected them all. Unexpectedly, these group of people refused to leave no matter how he yelled at them. Instead, they collectively throw themselves before Duan Tingxuan, blocking his way to the house.
One of them began to mutter, “We won’t leave, we want to serve now. If we don’t serve the master now when he’s down and out, once the old man regained his position as the duke, would we even be able to serve as rough labourers? Of course, he would not want us then, ah.”
Looks like there really was a reason for them to be so insistent, these small-town villagers certainly have some cunning to them.
Duan Tingxuan laughed out loud. Just then, he happened to see the Duke of Ping and his elder brother-in-law walking over, they were most likely on their way from work, and he went over to greet them. “Father-in-law, these people seem quite determined to serve you. Since there are not many people serving your estate, how about taking them in for now? You may use this time to observe their performance and keep those who work well and kick out the lazy ones.”
Duke of Ping glared back, “No. Even I am working for others now, so how can I be in a position to recruit servants? Commoners take care of themselves well enough without the presence of servants. Just ignore them. The sun is setting, they’ll probably leave by tomorrow.”
Then, happening to notice the bundles in Duan Tingxuan’s arms, he frowned and said, “What have you brought over again? You’ve already sent too many things over from your estate, we haven’t even eaten half of it. Why are you wasting money on us again?”
Duan Tingxuan laughed ingratiatingly, “I understand that father-in-law likes the flavours of Dong Xiang village, and brought some back on my way here from the office. How about we drink until we’re drunk tonight?”
The Duke of Ping’s glare grew even more intense, he said impatiently, “What’s this about drinking until we’re drunk? If I get drunk are you going take over the nightwatchman job and sound the gong in my place?
“What? Nightwatch? Sounding the gong?”
Duan Tingxuan was in shock, suddenly he grew grim and growled, “Just which disgraceful creature pulled such an awful trick? Just what kind of person is the father-in-law? How dare they get you to act as the nightwatchman and sound the gong? Are they tired of living?”
“Are you cursing me? Calling me a useless old trash who could not contribute to society?”
The Duke of Ping sneered at him. In the past, he used to be at odds with this son-in-law of his for the sake of his daughter and did not bother to give face to Duan Tingxuan even then. Though he knew that this son-in-law was not really at fault, how could he as a father let go of the anger after hearing how his daughter had suffered?
Duan Tingxuan was instantly frightened by his father-in-law’s sudden temper, “This son-in-law doesn’t dare. I was just vexed on father-in-law’s behalf. After all, father-in-law was once a duke, ah…”
At this, the old man gave a mocking laugh. Shaking his head, the old man said, “Why are you still bringing that up? It’s all in the past. I’m quite happy living as a commoner. Also, don’t look down on nightwatchmen and their work as timekeepers, though the salary cannot be compared to what a duke commands, the job is nice and leisurely. There is no need to wake at dawn to dress up for the day and rush for morning court. I’d say days like these are rather satisfying.”
As they spoke, the father and son proceeded to open the gate for the house. When he noticed Duan Tingxuan sticking close, the old man said suspiciously, “Are you still trying to get me to drink? Didn’t I say that it’s impossible? Why don’t you just go home? Though you might be good at the martial arts, the burdens of court settles differently on the body. After a busy day of politics, don’t you want to rest at home? Why are you still running around for?”
Duan Tingxuan was quick with his ingratiating laugh and said, “It’s not like I have anything to do at home. If father-in-law does not want to drink, you may treat it as me coming in to bum off a meal. I’d like to see Nuan Nuan too, especially now that she’s expecting… not that I have no confidence in father and mother-in-law, ah… I just… can’t be at ease until I’ve seen Nuan Nuan with my own eyes.”
At this, his elder brother-in-law laughed and said, “Father, Tingxuan is right to be concerned. After all, what woman would return to their maternal home while expecting? Though we don’t live that far away, for Tingxuan to let her come back it must mean that he really dotes on her, right? Would anyone else be so generous?”
Duan Tingxuan looked at his brother-in-law with grateful eyes. In the past, he used to despise this man as a useless silk pants young master, but after suffering hardships at Niu Tou Mountain, this brother-in-law of his seemed to have gained a better understanding about human relationships. The little marquis felt that he was a lot more pleasing to the eye than his past self.
The Duke of Ping harrumphed but said nothing. The little marquis considered this a win on his part and trailed after his in-laws into the house. When they entered the living room they saw Su Nuan Nuan and Madam Liu busily peeling some boiled peanuts at the dining table. At the sight of her son-in-law, Madam Liu stood up in surprise, “Why is worthy son-in-law here? You didn’t go home?”
Duan Tingxuan thickened his face and grinned, “Yes, since I don’t have anything major going on, I thought I’d stay here for one night.” He placed his bundles on the table and said, “I brought some Dong Xiang wine, I understand that father-in-law likes this one. If sisters-in-law don’t mind, please heat some up in the kitchen. It’s best when warmed.”
His eyes inevitably settled on Su Nuan Nuan. Somehow, he had the feeling that after a whole day of not seeing her, his heart had greyed out a little. However, with so many people in the room, he dared not be too presumptuous and could only indulge his eyes for the moment. In that instant, as husband and wife looked into each other’s eyes, time seemed to stand still as the outside world fell away.
Not so for the spectators, all of whom had to turn away and cover their mouths to chuckle into their sleeves. Finally, the Old Duke of Ping could not stand all the lovey-dovey looks anymore and cleared his throat pointedly. Su Nuan Nuan’s face reddened, making her look like a cloud at sunset. Even the thick faced little marquis was embarrassed to the point that he could not say anything.
Dinner without having servants to wait at them did not detract the pleasure of the meal. After suffering hardships for so long, the Duke of Ping had probably forgotten the rules of No Speaking During Meals and No Talking in Bed and proceeded to inquire after a few political matters with Duan Tingxuan. His two sons chattered together over some market gossips with their wives. Amidst the laughter and exchange of gossips, the little marquis’ appetite was so good that he even ate an extra bowl of rice.
After dinner, the whole family sat down to enjoy a cup of tea until the Duke of Ping had to leave for his nightwatchman job. His night job was a little different from others. It started in the late afternoon, and he was given time to come home for dinner in the evening but then had to return to work before the sky completely darkened. His job then consisted of prowling the streets the whole night and sounding the gong to mark the time. His shift ended when the sun came up. Though the hours were longer than those working as janitors and street sweepers, it paid better, so the Duke of Ping was quite satisfied with the job. This was, of course, what he told everyone. As to his real feelings, only the Duke of Ping himself knew whether he was truly satisfied to live like this.
As the sky grew darker, the family got ready for bed. There was no extra money for lamp oil and candles, so the whole Su family went to bed early. Duan Tingxuan escorted Su Nuan Nuan into the back of the house where her room was situated. Looking around the tiny room, he sighed and said, “No wonder you sent Hong Lian and Xiang Yun back to the estate. This room is really too small, if they hung around here, where would they sleep?”
[Gumihou: Ah, the life of a commoner]
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