# 54. *Jiehu*[^1] Xu Xinnian remained silent, and Xu Pingzhi looked at the middle-aged man intently, as he shook his head “Merely a ragged verse he waved out of thin air. I heard that gentleman say that he was unfamiliar with calligraphy, and so asked this young man to write it for him.” Uncle Xu was an old veteran of the business, and from the start made as if he was merely a bystander, and had nothing to do with his son and nephew. Everyone immediately looked towards Xu Xinnian. He laughed haughtily, with a standoffish cold attitude, not deigning to respond. His attitude instantly made the middle-aged man feel angry, embarrassed, and he waved his sleeve, returning to his seat. Xu Pingzhi, originally intending to stay in the pavilion for the night, sneakily gave his son a look, and the two of them left, one after another. “We can’t stay in there any longer, if anyone sees that us three have any relation, then things would be awkward.” Xu Pingzhi lectured his son. “I know.” Xu Xinnian nodded. Afterwards, he shivered in the cold wind. The room was warmed by fires, but as soon as one came outside, due to the huge difference in temperature, one could not resist but shiver. Xu Pingzhi looked at his son, saying “If we stayed in the Reflecting Plum Pavillion, one of those maids … one tael of silver would be sufficient. “Now we can only go to different courtyards to find women… and if they aren’t maids, then the lowest price is five taels, including the drinking price.” When he got to here, Xu Pingzhi paused, seeing his son not responding with his usual sharp tongue, asking how he would know this so well. Simultaneously, he let out a sigh of relief. Uncle Xu grabbed an ingot of official-stamped silver from his robe. A standardised ingot of silver, one ingot was five taels. “Erlang, take this.” Because of the tax silver case, the Xu family had nearly faced bankruptcy. Even after a month, where Xu Pingzhi had acquired a good amount of silver from legally grey avenues, the family’s coffers were still rather tight, And Uncle Xu did not think his son had five taels on him. Xu Xinnian’s expression shifted, as he asked quietly, “What about you, dad?” Uncle Xu laughed casually, “Your dad stopped being afraid of the cold when he was in Refining Body. Even if I were to sleep at the side of the street, it wouldn’t matter. Your bones can’t take the cold night wind.” Both of Xu Xinnian’s hands were in his sleeves, as his body was slightly bowed, bearing the cold winter wind. He looked dazedly at the five tael ingot, and after a long while, said with a somewhat cold voice: “I don’t want it.” Uncle Xu insisted his son take it. In the back and forth, there was a clack, as from Xu Xinnian’s robes fell an ingot of government-stamped silver, exactly five taels in weight. … Father and son looked at the silver on the ground, and fell silent. Over in the pavilion, the maid pushed open the door, and gestured to Xu Qi’an to enter. She herself did not want to go in. “Master Yang, please enter!” The instant the door was open, a warm gust of perfume rushed out. On the ground was laid an expensive silk rug. Not only was it expensive, but required a tremendous amount of human labour. The rug was embroidered with numerous blue water lilies, and patches of auspicious clouds. A woman walking on top, every step would sprout a flower. A great official walking atop, every step would be on azure clouds. A delicate, and ingeniously wrought piece. A three-segment room divider, bearing a copy of a famous painting, *Rain falling on lotus banana trees*, divided the sleeping quarters from the living area, and a stunningly beautiful young woman knelt on a soft cushion in front of the divider, one hand on a phoenix-tail qin. She wore a thin chiffon dress, her jade-like skin barely visible within, and her face wore a smile as she looked towards the door. Their eyes met, and she slightly lowered her head, a shy smile on her face. *That softness in her lowered head, like the beautiful shyness of a water-lily bowing to a cool breeze…* this line of poetry floated up in Xu Qi’an’s mind. When she was playing commander, she was cultured like an unmarried woman of a rich family, but sitting on the cushion, her charm plucked at man’s innermost desires. Only the women of the Jiaofangsi could cultivate such an aura. Of Xu Qi’an’s two heads, one got bigger. “Master?” The oiran laughed chitteringly, “Why is the Master looking in that way towards me?” *Because you’re too beautiful…* Xu Qi’an sighed, “I have long heard that Miss Fuxiang was a one-of-a-kind beauty, a thing most rare in the world. I did not believe then, but I do now. If they say that Miss Fuxiang is the most beautiful woman under heaven, I’d believe that.” “Please, don’t make fun of me like that,” Fuxiang pursed her lips, shyly lowering her head, but her eyes carried a smile, and she was very much pleased. … In the neighbouring tea room, Master Zhao drank an entire pot of tea. His bladder protested, twice, and at the third time, he could no longer hold it in. Was he here to drink tea? Master Zhao left the tea room with a stomach full of complaint, and walked towards the master bedroom. However, he was stopped by the maid. “I have been waiting in the tea room for a long time, why does Miss Fuxiang still not see me?” Zhao asked. “Master Zhao, please do not blame me, but the Madam has already picked another person.” “!!!” Zhao felt as if two and three bolts of lightning had just struck his head in quick succession. What came after was fiery rage, as he shouted, “Miss Fuxiang clearly picked me, why did she suddenly change her mind, is she deliberately playing a trick? If you don’t give me a proper response, then do not blame me for not being as polite.” His indignant tone and fierce words scared the maid, and she instinctively wanted to shout for the pavilion’s bouncers. “Ping’er, as Master Zhao is not leaving, hand over that poem for him to read.” From inside the room came the voice of the oiran, laden with charm. The maid looked cautiously at Master Zhao, as she opened the door only wide enough for one person to slip through, and quickly entered. After a few seconds she came out, and handed over a piece of calligraphy paper. Zhao took it, and scanned it over, the angry expression on his face suddenly freezing, as it slowly melted, to be replaced with surprise, shock, and disbelief… He stood there dazed for a long time, as his fingers loosened, allowing the paper to float down towards the floor. … The guests outside were shocked to find that Master Zhao had come out. They’ve done already!? But the expression on Zhao’s face made them instinctively realise something was not right — he was shooed out. “Brother Zhao, what’s up?” A young man of the same age, also in scholars’ dress, immediately came forward, looking sincere and caring, but really just wanting gossip. First that maid called in that one surnamed Yang, and not long after, Master Zhao had come out in a dazed trance. It was clear to see, that he had been Jiehu’ed halfway there, and had had his flourishing peony taken plucked away before his eyes. The azure-robed Master Zhao, slowly looked around at the room, and muttered “I’ve lost, lost fair and square.” “Why, what happened? Lost? Tell us the whole thing.” “Brother Zhao, that person wrote a poem, right? What sort of poem would make Fuxiang break her own rules?” “C’mon, you gotta say, I’m bursting.” The guests all gathered around him. Master Zhao seemed to not even hear, as he walked outside, whilst muttering: “*Among the multitude of fallen flowers, its shining beauty warms…*” Everyone suddenly snapped to attention; they knew he was reciting that poem. “*…full of grace, centre of attention, it leans into a little garden.*” Master Zhao had already walked into the courtyard, as the other guests unconsciously followed him, listening. “*Delicate, tilting branches reflected on clear and shallow water; its subtle fragrance drifts with the rising moon at dusk.*” They did not follow any further, stopping where they were. The surroundings fell into silence. For a long time, there was not a voice. Finally, a student’s eyes welled up with tears, as his mouth trembled, “When this poem gets out, it will shame all plum poets to the end… everyone, this young scholar will take his leave, I must go elsewhere to join other rounds, and spread this poem far and wide.” “I also take my leave. How could the spreading of this poem in the circles of the Great Feng not include me.” The guests all scattered, itching to partake in other drinking games, and then to throw out this poem, and stun their audience. --- [^1]: 截胡 Jiehu, a concept in Mahjong where both you and the preceding player win, but because of the rules, they ultimately get the victory