The next day, Long Er got up at the crack of dawn. He soon remembered that he had forgotten to give Ju Mu Er her medicine to take home with her, so he ordered the servants to prepare the medicinal prescription as well as the necessary herbs. Then, he had his carriage drawn up for him, because he planned to send her the medicine himself.
Before he left, Butler Tie reported all the planned activities for the day, and after a quick perusal, Long Er made sure to take his abacus with him. He planned on going on his rounds throughout the business premises, but of course, only after he had sent the medicine, and, well… seen her. Now that Shopkeeper Lu was no longer an active presence at the teashop, he was forced to appear more frequently, and expend more energy towards taking care of it, just to prevent the shop-helpers from losing their wits and running away. The season right before the new year is often considered the peak season for business, so he could not grow lax now.
Later at noon, he was scheduled for a meal with Proprieter Liu from Yi City, and he would most likely have some time in the afternoon, to return home and review those papers again. At night, he would have to entertain a few highly-ranked officials at the Man Xiang Restaurant, mainly because they preferred the women there.
And with such a packed day ahead, his only option was to make use of the early morning so he could go and see Ju Mu Er.
Long Er was quite pleased with himself, his idea of taking a brief moment of time from his busy schedule to see her, would definitely move her! This way, she wouldn’t worry about him canceling their marriage, would she?
Alas, when Long Er finally arrived at the Ju Family’s Wineshop, he realized just how overly optimistic he had been. Lo and behold, that lazy young lady - Ju Mu Er, was still fast asleep!
Old Father Ju and two of the shop helpers had already had breakfast and were busy with their own tasks, yet that lazy girl was still in bed!
Long Er’s expression was mutinous.
To be fair, the main reason for his current mood, was not due to Ju Mu Er’s failure to wake up early, but because at the moment of his arrival, another young man had appeared to see her, and he had come bearing gifts too!
The young man seemed to be quite close to Old Father Ju, as could be seen from the familiarity of their expressions and how at ease they seemed while conversing. He had even brought with him, some fruits, light confectionery, etc., he did not bother to ask about whether they were suitable, it was almost as if he knew that Ju Mu Er enjoyed those things. And Old Father Ju did not refuse these gifts, instead, he gracefully accepted them all.
Finally, the young man cordially bid him farewell, merely leaving Old Father Ju with a reminder to pass a message on to Ju Mu Er once she woke up. He said to tell her to rest well and heal, and that he would come and visit her again as soon as he could.
Old Father Ju hastily promised to do so and escorted him right up to the entrance of the wineshop. He called out, “Liang Ze, walk slowly, and be sure to send my greetings to the rest of your family, and Ju Mu Er’s greetings to your mother.”
Liang Ze? The name struck Long Er as being quite familiar, but he could not recall where he had heard of it before. He shot an expectant glance at Li Ke, and as poor Li Ke battled a solemn expression and tried to come forward to clear his master’s doubt, Old Father Ju returned from the entrance.
With an expression of regret on his face, he turned to confide in Long Er, “Haih, it just wasn’t meant to be. That child, Liang Ze ah~, grew up together with Mu Er. They learned the qin together, studied together; both our families had thought they were a great match for each other, and we had even settled their betrothal! Who would have expected that Mu Er would injure her eyes… To be honest, I don’t know why she reacted this way, forcibly breaking off this betrothal. Haih… And now look at him, he’s already married, and his child is soon to be born.”
By now, Long Er’s face was as black as coal, and he was glaring daggers, all of them aimed at Li Ke of course.
Poor Li Ke, he was completely innocent in this issue, after all, he was not the one who was saying this, and that fellow - Chen Liang Ze was not here by his invitation either. What’s more he had not been the one to arrange for the betrothal of those two, there really was absolutely no connection to him at all ah! My dear master, your skill of blaming others, should not be too much! He was just a loyal and hardworking bodyguard ah!
Even at this point in time, Old Father Ju seemed to not have noticed anything, as he continued to ramble, “I always felt he was quite a good catch, it’s just that daughter of mine… When she lost her sight, she lost the ability to do many things lah~ Before that, she loved to read books, but now, all she can do is listen to the sound of pages being turned… She rarely plays the qin anymore too…”
As he continued talking to himself, he began to feel a bit emotional about the topic, and absent-mindedly rubbed his eyes, saying, “I can still recall, in the beginning, those qin masters would not even dare to teach her! They all said she was a better qin player than they were, and that if my Ju Mu Er was a man, then she could definitely vie for the name of “Number One Qin Player”. Alas, in the end, she has nothing at all, she can’t see anything and it’s just too pitiful. She even threw a tantrum so that their marriage could be called off. Back then, that child Liang Ze had said he did not mind her condition, and wanted to marry her anyway, but she just barrelled on, and the two families’ ties did suffer a bit after that. Luckily Liang Ze is kind at heart, and he did not take her actions to heart, now his days are carefree and blessed, and look, he even remembered to bring her things after hearing she got hurt. He really is so very considerate.”
On the side, Li Ke was helplessly trying to send Old Father Ju signals with his eyes, can’t you see that Second Master’s hands are already balled up into fists?! Can’t you see how taut the lines on Second Master’s face are?! And that his forehead is practically green in colour?!!
Old Sir ah~ Did you think that Second Master was here on a normal visit to relatives? Why on earth are you bringing up these ancient issues of being engaged, betrothed and then calling off those things? Second Master …Second Master, is, as of this moment in time, the CURRENT, PRESENT, AND ‘ACTING’ fiancee of Young Lady Ju okay? Is your endless rambling suitable right now?
After chatting non-stop for the better half of the morning, Old Father Ju seemed to have come back to his senses when he asked, “Second Master, would you like some tea?”
Long Er held his breath as he gritted out his answer, “No thank you.”
“Well then, would like some wine?” Old Father Ju was still quite cheery and chatty, after all of all the things his home might lack, wine was surely not one of them!
“No thank you.” Came Long Er’s brittle reply.
Li Ke did not give up on trying to send Old Father Ju eye signals, Old Sir! Now’s the time to wake Young Lady Ju up! Let her come and see Master, and smooth over his ruffled feathers ba~ What do you mean by having some tea, or having some wine ah? It’s still so early, Old Sir, are you alright?”
Finally, Old Father Ju seemed to have gotten the message, and the topic of the conversation began to focus on Ju Mu Er again. He said, “Mu Er has yet to get out of bed, so we’ll have to wait until she gets her fill of sleep before we make the next move. Second Master, do you wish to continue waiting here, or do you want to have lunch here first?”
Li Ke choked on the old man’s words, coughing audible as he did so. What difference was there in continuation of their wait here, and having lunch here first too?
“Not anymore, let her sleep!” Long Er got to his feet and strode out without a backward glance. Old Father Ju was close on his heels as he escorted him out.
Li Ke too followed behind the both of them, still lost in thought, he wondered if Old Father Ju could hear the grinding teeth behind everything that Second Master was saying.
Old Father Ju kept thanking him as they walked, he also mentioned his thanks to Second Master for coming to see Mu Er as well as collecting the medicinal herbs for her. He also mentioned that once Mu Er woke up, he would tell her that Second Master had come to see her.
Long Er’s face wore an expression of confusion, and was piqued by the turn of events that he could hardly speak. Just as he got up onto the carriage, he turned around and said, “Don’t tell her I stopped by.” He didn’t want to be like that fellow Chen Liang Ze. If Old Father Ju ended up telling Ju Mu Er - Liang Ze and Second Master came to see you earlier - and mentioned the two of them together, then wouldn’t that be just brilliant?!
And that’s why, he’d rather it not be mentioned at all! Not at all!
Old Father Ju was oblivious to his inner conflict, but still nodded in reply. Li Ke could not help but sigh inside, this old fellow really had no clue on how to soothe people. Just as this thought flashed across his mind, Old Father Ju suddenly leaned toward him, whispering to him, “Bodyguard Li, are your eyes feeling uncomfortable? I noticed that it seems like your eyes keep twitching on their own.”
Li Ke instantly felt his facial muscles freeze, as this comment caught him completely off-guard.
Old Father Ju continued, saying, “If they really are bothering you, you need to seek proper treatment, because matters related to one’s eyes are extremely important. Physician Qi Shi
In the city is quite well-known for his competency in treating eyes, perhaps you can visit him? Initially, Ju Mu Er’s eyes had also been treated by him, but it has been two years since then. I’m not sure if he has moved away, but just let me copy his address and I’ll pass it to you, you ought to get a check-up.”
In his heart, Li Ke knew that the elderly man was being kind, but, what was he thinking?! Recommending him a doctor who had failed to heal his own daughter’s eyes? And what more the fact that they had not seen the doctor in two years, and hardly knew if the poor fellow was still around?!
Li Ke’s expression was pained as he glanced at his master, but to his surprise his master’s face was no longer black. There really was some truth to that then, if he saw someone with even worse luck than he had, his master’s feelings would recover.
Under the earnest accompaniment of Old Father Ju, the servant and master duo finally left the premises. After a brief moment of travel, Long Er suddenly pulled the curtain screen to one side, asking Li Ke, “Tell me, you see the way Old Father Ju is, how on earth did he sire such a clever daughter like her?”
Li Ke did not reply to this, as he single-mindedly focused on controlling the horses. That was his master’s future father-in-law, he had no desire to make idle commentary. Just look, before this Master had described a certain someone as cunning and sneaky, but now they were clever. Previously Master was literally foaming at the mouth in irritation at her, but look at him now, up and about so early, and only because he wanted to catch a glimpse of that certain someone...
His Master’s heart was unfathomable… So what could he say?He truly had nothing left to say.
This day, Long Er found himself knee-deep in work, and because of his failure to see Ju Mu Er in the morning, and how he had met Chen Liang Ze instead; he decided that he would not go to see her anytime soon, as a form of rebuking her.
He instructed Li Ke to keep an eye on the prefectural magistrate’s office, and their progress on the investigation. He also urge the Long Family’s network of spies to continue looking for clues.
When night fell, as he had previously arranged, he accompanied a few high-ranking officials to have wine at the Man Xiang Restaurant. As it was getting close to the New Year, this form of socialization was important. Relationships that had to be revisited with warmth, needed his attention, and subsequently, his actions would not be without favors he could later make use of. This was a matter that Long Er was very sure of and knew how to navigate.
After almost three rounds of wine-drinking, a few officials began to show their true colors, and of course their inclination for alcohol and pretty companionship. They began to tease and act frivolously with the lady attendants. Long Er had imbibed quite a bit of wine too, for his mood today had been far from optimum, so as a result of the alcohol, he was currently a bit tipsy. The lady attendant leaning beside him had begun to tease him, hoping she could convince him to stay the night like the others, but Long Er did not have interest in doing so.
He pushed the lady attendant away, and decided to go out to refresh his mind. He randomly caught hold of one of the serving attendants outside, and asked him what time it was. After deciding that he had accompanied the officials for long enough, he came to the decision of going home first.
Long Er called for the mómo of the restaurant, leaving instructions for the expenses of those individuals to be placed on his tab, as well as making sure to remind her to treat them well, to which the mómo earnestly promised to do so.
Long Er returned to the private room, making sure to take his leave from his other guests. The two lady attendants who had been serving Long Er had their lips pursed out of unhappiness, but the men who were busy lavishing attention on the ladies could not care less about Long Er’s absence. After all, Long Er was definitely not who they wanted in their arms so it hardly mattered if he stayed or left.
Long Er tidied up his belongings and returned to his residence.
Along the way the carriage swayed from side to side, worsening his nausea, and ultimately his mood too. Truth be told, he did not enjoy this sort of responsibility - entertaining people - because some people had mouths and faces that would make him feel like re-enacting what Ju Mu Er had done to him, and throw a cup of tea in their faces. Alas, he knew better than to do so.
At the very least, he did not throw tea with abandon, he would consider the person’s identity, their background and the connections they had...
Long Er let out a sigh as he relaxed against the wall of the carriage. Everyone always felt that his life was glamorous, but they never saw the fatigue he experienced.
And that was how he made it home, rocking away. The moment he entered the residence, Li Ke appeared to report on his assigned tasks. He mentioned that the prefectural magistrate’s office had managed to clear one line of investigation, the money inside Zhu Fu’s purse had indeed been stolen, and it seemed like in an effort to disguise the true nature of the crime, the perpetrator had left behind some bits of silver. However, both the shop helpers at Da Sheng Restaurant and Fu Yun Lai Inn were able to testify that they had seen two large ingots in his purse.
Long Er nodded his acknowledgment, and asked about whether there were any new developments, like if they had a new suspect? But Li Ke answered there were none.
Long Er’s footsteps halted, “She stopped by?”
“She said she was here to see Second Master, and after waiting a long time for Second Master to come back, she eventually returned home.”
Long Er’s drunken stupor almost instantly disappeared as he asked, “Did any of you tell her where I was?”
Li Ke hastily denied saying, “We didn’t say anything, only that Second Master had business matters to attend to outside. Yu mómo did spend quite a bit of time with her, but to my knowledge, she did not ask much about Second Master’s business.”
Long Er could not help but think, the two of them were a right pair, from mayhem in the morning to night, neither of them had managed to meet each other. He let out a pent-up sigh, and was just about to return to his personal chambers when he asked after her, “When did she leave? Was she sent by carriage?”
“We prepared a carriage to send her, it just left.”
Long Er’s footsteps halted as he asked, “Just now?”
“That’s right, the moment Second Master came back, she had just left.”
Long Er stood stock still, and after a moment’s thought and a brief internal struggle, from behind clenched teeth he instructed, “Prepare my horse.”
Long Er got back on his horse and began to chase after Ju Mu Er. He had just exited from the city doors when he finally managed to catch up to her. With horse and carriage stopped by the side of the road, he barged right into the carriage.
Ju Mu Er looked more alert than yesterday, but the moment he got on to the carriage, her brow wrinkled, and then her entire face seemed to crumple.
Long Er’s mood was uplifted as he lowered his voice and asked, “Why do you wrinkle your brow at seeing me?”
Ju Mu Er answered, “I don’t see you, but I can smell you. Second Master, you’re even smellier than I am!”
Long Er squeezed beside her as he shot back, “Then let me stink up the place.”
Ju Mu Er’s mouth scrunched up, but she did not even budge an inch. After a while, she pushed at him before saying, “Second Master, let’s go to the Bamboo Patio and talk alright?”
Long Er harrumphed, even though he was miffed that she found him smelly, he was also excited at the thought of going to spend some time alone with her on the Bamboo Patio. He signaled for the carriage to move ahead toward the Bamboo Patio, and followed them on his own horse. Once they reached, he helped Ju Mu Er down from the carriage, and led her inside.
The leaves rustled in the night wind, as the white moonlight bathed their surroundings in a silvery glow; the scenery from this Bamboo Patio was quite magnificent. Long Er broke the silence, “What did you come to see me for?”
“I wanted to come and ask about the progress of the investigation… But I didn’t expect that Second Master would not be here, so I’ll be on my way now.”
Long Er clasped her hands, and noticing the slight chill of her fingers, decided to place her bamboo staff by the side, and warm both her hands up with his own hands.
Long Er shared with Ju Mu Er everything that Li Ke had reported back to him, and after a moment’s thought, decided to share his own movements saying, “I need to entertain people more in the period before the new year.”
Ju Mu Er nodded, answering, “I understand.”
Long Er was quite pleased with her reaction, and her small hands began to feel warmer as they were enclosed by his own hands, which also greatly satisfied him. However, just as he was smiling, he suddenly heard Ju Mu Er ask, “Where did you go? Was it Man Xiang Restaurant or Xi Chun Hall?”
Long Er’s smile instantly froze.
End of Chapter
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