Chapter Twenty Four First Cousin
Wanting to influence the state of a business just with a sentence was a business miracle. It was something that would only occur in extreme situations. even in Ning Yi’s past life when he had an enormous intelligence network and a large group of advisors. Also, it was delusional to change a business decision already made without any previous effort. However, the situation just now was not the same.
Ning Yi was able to sense these things partly because of his acute sensitivity but more because these things were the He Family’s close interests. Ning Yi could guess some things, but they already had suspected. Maybe before Ning Yi and Su Tan Er came to visit, these people had been struggling and speculating. Ning Yi’s random words immediately gave them the signal that the “Su Family already knew the situation.” But Su Tan Er had not detected it all and was certain that the business with the He Family would fail.
Ning Yi had a helpless expression as the situation developed. He found that his reflexes were so extraneous. He was insane about business and could not avoid considering business in his life. Su Tan Er was puzzled but she thought it was good that there was a reversal. She went back into to talk business. Ning Yi, who had originally wanted to go to the east of the city for the bookshop, could not leave. He waited until sunset when everyone split up to go home. In the carriage, Su Tan Er still had a puzzled expression.
The days passed like this. The Su Family grew livelier when it was closer to December. While the snow was falling heavily, it was close to the end of the year, and the Su family shopkeepers from cities closer to Jiangning were gathering. They came to describe their accomplishments. So, some of the Su Family cousins had come over to celebrate the new year together. They left and entered the residence in large numbers everyday.
There were many rich households in Jiangning. The scene this year was not novel. In the last few days, Su Tan Er was busy with the He Family at the same time she started to check the entire year’s account books. She also had to deal with the relatives she had not seen recently. Even the three servant girls were busy all the time. The snow was still falling as Su Tan Er returned. There was a line of carriages stopped outside the mansion gates. Su Tan Er was coming through the main gates due to business and had her carriage go to the side door. There were some servants moving large boxes in through the main gates so she and Xing’er waited outside the gates.
Su Tan Er was dressed in a snowy white fox fur jacket. The furry collar contrasted against her beautiful face and caused her to look youthful but she also had an independent and composed presence. She had some fame in the business world of Jiangning now. Before she had married, she had worn male clothing many times, but she had not concealed her identity as a female. Other people would lament, if she was not a businessman, she would be a learned miss of a scholarly family. She did not show her edges when discussing business, but people would sigh over how skilled this woman was afterwards when they saw the whole situation. They even said that if she was born a man, the top cloth business of Jiangning would not be the Wu Family.
In this era where women were lower than men in status, Su Tan Er’s identity was inconvenient. But the men would be unadjusted to some degree when discussing business with a woman. They may feel it strange, be dismissive or be happy. She was stronger than others in being able to turn this unfamiliarity into an advantage to her, and find some advantage from the disadvantages she could not change. In Ning Yi’s view, this was a struggle to be loved. Of course, other people could not feel this kind of pitiful adorableness in the struggle. People in the Su Mansion were used to this second miss’ aura, her clever side, her beautiful side, her soft side, or her silent side as she took control of the main branch of the Su Family.
Seeing her stand outside, a nearby steward ran over quickly. “You people, move aside quickly, don’t you see Second Miss is here!”
The steward waved his hands for other people to hurry up. Su Tan Er walked over with a smile and said, “No, no, Uncle Qi, have them enter first, they are halfway through. If they come out, it will be more work. Let them enter first …”
She had spoken, so the steward she called Uncle Qi could only let these people enter slowly. Su Tan Er asked, “Uncle Qi, why are they not going through the side gates?”
“Third Master has bought some things, decor he says will be used for the new year’s celebration. These are going to be placed in the front hall. I saw there likely would not be anyone visiting soon so I had them carry them in. Right, Second Miss, Prefect Song has arrived today. Right now, he is over by the library tower and testing the students …”
“Oh, the prefect official has arrived?”
The Su Family had been in business for a long time. While they could not be called a scholarly family, they naturally had connections with all kinds of officials. These relationships were not very close, but they did have some connection to the present prefect of the Shen Prefecture, Song Mao. This was because Song Mao and the wife of Second Master Su Zhong Kan were cousins. The Song Family had produced some minor officials, and the Su Mansion had worked for Song Mao to obtain his position. Due to this, this Song Mao could be considered one of the Su Family’s strongest supports. While the influence of the prefect could not stretch to Jiangning, the Su Family had a much easier time conducting business in the Shen Prefecture.
Also, this Song Mao had exceptional knowledge and talent in order to have reached the position of prefect. In the last few years, the Su Family had wanted to develop as scholars. Whenever, Song Mao visited each year, Old Grandfather Su would arrange for the young students of the family to gather, and find some teachers he knew to test the student’s learning. Song Mao was famed for his direct personality. While he did not have many good words during the test each year, with his breadth of knowledge, what he said was the most reliable evaluation.
With such a support in government, he would leak some of his connection to the Su Family when he visited the other officials in Jiangning. This was also another benefit to the Su Family’s business. But Song Mao’s connection was best with Second Uncle.
Su Tan Er only nodded and was not very joyful. The results of the tests were pretty much the same every year. The Su Family most likely didn’t have the fate to produce scholars. Also, her husband was just doing nonsense over at the school. In the past, the teachers would want to spend all day teaching, but Husband would only have them study for two hours, with the rest of the time spent telling stories. The stories were good, but she could not understand what benefit they would have for learning. She would only hope that the students would not be scolded this time.
The big boxes had been quickly carried in. Then Juan’er, who had stayed in the compound, ran out panting, “Miss, you finally returned. Cousin Master and Cousin Miss have returned. Cousin Miss is waiting for you … oh, Shopkeepers Xi and Luo have also just arrived. It seems the matter with the He Family has been finalized and they came to report the good news … hee, Miss, isn’t this twice the happiness.”
The Su Family had many cousins but there was only one family that Juan’er would call so. Su Tan Er had been the only child of the main family during her childhood. Su Bo Yong did not have a son and had felt at least some anger towards his own child who didn’t “have a handle.” Su Tan Er had not been frequently scolded and beaten, but she could not avoid burst of care and neglect After understanding, Su Tan Er had been antisocial for a period of time and also went through a rebellious period. Other than the three servant girls, only the eldest daughter of her uncle Su Yun Song, who was the Jiangning shopkeeper during that time, was her friend.
Su Yun Song’s daughter was named Dan Hong. She was half a month older than Su Tan Er and been as lively as a boy during childhood. When she started to grow up, she slowly became gentle. Later, Su Yun Song went away to manage another location, and his wife and daughter had followed. But each year, when they returned, the cousins would gather together to speak of the past and future. Last year, Cousin had married, and was living happily with her husband, a young shopkeeper in the Su Family cloth business. When Su Tan Er had gotten married this year, she had been in the middle of giving birth to a boy, and hadn’t participated. Su Tan Er became happy hearing Juan’er say that her cousin had arrived. “Great, where is Elder Cousin?”
“Over in the yard. She encountered Shopkeepers Luo and Shi just now and talked to them. Chan’er is also over there.”
Su Tan Er thought for a moment. “Alright, I will go over there. Juan’er, you and Xing’er deliver these ledgers. The ones on top are for the accounts office, the bottom ones for Master.” Xing’er walked from behind with a large stack of ledges. Su Tan Er split up with her two servant girls. She tightened the silver fox fur jacket she wore and walked into the courtyard with a smile.
When two women got together, the topic of their gossip would not be certain. When two newly married cousins that had not seen each other for a long time got together, they would gossip about their husbands.
On the paths that crossed through courtyards and gardens, before even reaching her courtyard, Su Tan Er saw her cousin. As though corresponding with her beautiful name, the beautiful and gentle woman was still dressed in red after her marriage. After exchanging some greetings, she started asking about Su Tan Er’s husband Ning Yi.
“Elder Sister has been wanting to see this brother-in-law a long time ago. But I could not travel when you were married. I heard some things later on, but … ha, how is my brother-in-law really?”
Su Tan Er flushed slightly when she talked about her husband with such a close friend that she could not brush off with pleasantries. “It is hard to say. Sister Hong has not seen Li Heng yet?”
“No, didn’t he go out with you? We can just ask Xiao Chan. I saw Xi Jun Yu and Shopkeeper Luo just now …”
Su Tan Er thought for a moment and said, “Oh, just now, Prefect Zhou came over and was testing the students at the library. Li Heng is a teacher of the school now and is probably over there.”
“Honestly speaking, I assumed a few years ago that Uncle would have Xi Jun Yu marry in …” Cousin said thoughtfully. Seeing Su Tan Er frown slightly with a puzzled expression, she laughed. “We won’t talk about this. This sister has heard some things about my brother-in-law. That Prelude to the Water Melody. This sister has heard it sung every day in the Hang Prefecture. I thought that this was just a person with the same name as Brother-in-law, and later learned that it was the same person… But honestly speaking, I heard some strange things when I came here …”
Opinions on Ning Yi would naturally not spread of their own accord in society, but if people with connections wanted to investigate, they could find all sorts of sayings. With the other’s status, she could learn a lot about how Su Tan Er and Ning Yi acted. The two cousins were very close, and she was truly concerned about what Su Tan Er thought. She said, “What I’ve heard cannot be trusted. Disregarding whether Brother-in-law Li Heng has talent and abilities or not … Young Sister, what do you think. This sister really wants to know.”
She was experienced and she asked this subtle question because she needed to know what Su Tan Er thought before she could speak. Su Tan Er was silent for a moment. Then she laughed, her head down.
“Elder Sister, you know Tan Er’s thoughts in the past, Husband … his talents are hard to say. But his personality is aloof. In terms of suitability, he truly is the most suitable for Tan Er.”
Cousin looked at her and then smiled. “You seem to have accepted it …”
“In the past, I would daydream when idle, and naturally hoped that my future husband would be talented in the martial and literary arts and would not stop me from inheriting the family. But that is a dream. From these past days, if this can continue, it would not be bad. Husband … he may have some talent, but he is aloof. Sometimes, he will do strange things but he will not conceal them. He is an open and honest person …”
As she spoke, she lifted her head. Snow was falling down. “On my wedding day, I felt afraid and angry when I thought of the future so I left Jiangning. I had to grit my teeth and decide to return. But when I think now, if this continues, I will not find it difficult. I think that maybe this is so, maybe I have accepted my fate but … I do not dislike it …”
The snow shrouded the entire Su Compound and also Jiangning City. A woman in red and a woman in white walked among the snow. After a moment of silence, the gentle woman laughed and moved away from this serious question.
“So it seems that he has no talent in business …”
“No … uh, he does not seem to care …”
“No literary talent …”
“He doesn’t have, but … ha, he does what he wants when teaching. His students are among those being tasted. I fear they will be scolded …”
“Ha, if this is so … my husband wins!”
” …. how, how can they compete … I will not compete with you.”
The laughter disappeared among the dance of white snowflakes. Let our viewpoint move past the chains of courtyards and gather in front of the library in the Su Compound. Stoves burned in the surroundings, and a test of learning with great meaning to the family was ongoing here …
Translator Ramblings: Cousin Hong’s hong is red, hence her red robes.
There’s a bit of a name dump confusion of people with Su names but over time, the important ones will float to the surface, and the other ones fade away.
This familial relationship with the prefect (essentially the leader of a provincial/state) is a major coup for the Su Family, even if Song Mao and the wife of Su Tan Er’s second uncle are not full-blood siblings and just cousins. Actually, if Song Mao did have a sister, being married to the Su Family would be a huge down since the social strata is scholar-farmer-artist-merchant.
That leads me to another aspect of the social structure going on the story. Ning Yi is a scholar, though a poor one. If Su Tan Er had married him rather than the other way around, she would increase in social status even though Ning Yi is poorer. But Ning Yi married in, and to a merchant family. The change in social status doesn’t matter much to this Ning Yi but Elders Qin and Kang do view it as a great step down and loss of future, especially since Ning Yi shows such potential.
But on the other hand, the Su Family is not a little merchant family, but more like a big family corporation. So while they are “merchants,” they do have power through money and are aspiring to become a “scholar” family.