Last time on Zhui Xu: Prefect Song is very impressed with Guye‘s students. Ning Yi is still nowhere to be found.
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Chapter 27 – How Many Floors High
“Business is not very good …”
At the snowy intersection, Ning Yi smiled as he ate the crêpe in his hand. At the side, Nie Yun Zhu gazed at the unsold crêpes on the cart and pressed her lips together. Then she clapped her hands helplessly. “It’s a snowy day, no one is coming.”
“I told you to wait until the start of spring to consider these things, no? Now you have a loss.”
“I finally managed to think it through and make a decision. Of course I have to do this quickly. If I wait a few months, I don’t know if I will become lazy and what other thoughts I have then.”
“Oh, I think you just want to try out the feeling of having a stall …”
Even though Ning Yi had not come here after Nie Yun Zhu started her stall, Ning Yi still persisted in exercising daily. Each morning, the two of them would talk for a while on the steps of her little house, and they grew at ease between themselves. Nie Yun Zhu’s crêpe business was not good. Ning Yi knew of this. Early on, he would say some comforting words, but after a while, he couldn’t help but tease.
Just like he said, the reason Nie Yun Zhu started this stall wasn’t out of need for survival — of course it was part of the reason — but it was more an effort for Nie Yun Zhu to accustom herself to a more ordinary life. Her money had not truly reached poverty. At least for this period of time, she was happy to enjoy it.
“… … Yesterday, I saw some people fall down on the other street. Then they almost started fighting, saying they were from a bodyguard establishment … Also, a few days ago, the sign from the shop over there fell down and almost hit someone … Hu Tao was going to come with me but Er Niu visited so I had them go buy rice and flour. I said those things so they have to walk from her to the eastern market and let them be alone together longer …”
Ning Yi ate his crêpe as Nie Yun Zhu rambled on about what she had seen recently. Ning Yi would exchange a few words with her. After a long time, no one came to visit this crêpe stall. Ning Yi smiled and dusted off the snowflakes. “Close the stall. Your business is only somewhat good in the morning, no need to stay here.”
He picked up a small stool off the ground and threw it into the cart. Nie Yun Zhu waved her hand. “No, maybe I can sell a few more. Also, this cart … I am unable to push it. It’s snowy. Er Niu comes to move it every morning and night …”
“I can push it.”
“Young Master Ning … you really do not care about our appearance. No scholar does this …”
“I do not care about appearances…” Ning Yi smiled. “Also, the matter I asked you to help with is about ready. I have time now to go see the results. If the results are good, maybe your crêpe stall will be saved.”
“Just some salted duck eggs, and you even put less salt …” Nie Yun Zhu curled her lips and said with a smile. However, when she heard Ning Yi say this, she stopped objecting. She went to an old woman nearby who was selling pastries to leave behind a word and then started to pack up with Ning Yi. After a moment, she spoke proudly of her reasons to Ning Yi.
“Honestly speaking, Hu Tao and I are not familiar with these matters. We need to explore for a long time to sell well and reach the day we make money. So I was thinking if we do it during the winter, sell less each day, we will waste less grain. Maybe, when spring starts, we will earn money. If we start in spring, we will waste more, and only become familiar in summer. So it’s better to start early.”
“You know a lot.” Ning Yi smiled. “I think you just want to marry off Hu Tao as soon as possible.”
“There is also that consideration.” The two of them pushed the small cart on the snow-covered road back in the direction of home. Nie Yun Zhu laughed softly. “A few years ago, I thought that we sisters should rely on each other. But it cannot be like that. Since she has found her home, I am happy for her. Ha, when she first got together with Er Niu, she wanted to hide it from me. I only knew when Er Niu gathered his courage to ask my permission for marriage. She worries that I cannot take care of myself so she isn’t willing to marry. I think of her as my younger sister, and naturally won’t delay her for too long.”
“Haha, I fear that you may likely marry Er Niu together with Hu Tao…”
Nie Yun Zhu did not mind this joke and laughed. She seemed to seriously think about the idea and then shook her head. “I fear not. Er Niu has an honest personality, and is a good person, but we have nothing to talk about. If I marry him, I fear we will treat each other as respectfully as guests in the early years. But after a while, it will be scolding and beating. At that time, Hu Tao would be stuck in the middle.”
“Disparity.” Ning Yi nodded.
They moved along the road, passing through the steaming and busy market. The courtyard walls and gates of residences were wrapped in snow. The Qinhuai River had silver trees and ice flowers on its shores. The pleasure boats were all docked by the shore, and with their icicles hanging down, they looked like underground water palaces. The amount of passersby gradually decreased. The two of them chatted idly like a young couple who were returning home after working at their stall. The husband was a pedantic scholar who could not work. Even when helping out, he wore a beautiful long robe. The wife was hard-working and virtuous, selling crêpes each day to supplement the family income, hoping for the husband in the home to pass the exams and get an official position to bring glory to the ancestors … As they were passing by a street, a carriage quickly came behind them. The driver of the carriage swung his whip, “Go, go … move aside, move aside … don’t block the way –” Ning Yi pushed the small cart and moved with Nie Yun Zhu to the side of the road. When the carriage was passing, the driver glared at Ning Yi. Ning Yi exhaled and said, “Then I~ should~ apologize~” Nie Yun Zhu bowed her head and laughed softly.
Humming a messy tune, Ning Yi continued to push the small cart. Nie Yun Zhu gazed at his back for a while, and then hurriedly followed to help push as well.
“I frequently hear Young Master Ning humming. What kind of tune is this?”
“Random, just like what people in the mountains sing. Uh …. Folk song …”
Nie Yun Zhu described it, and Nie Yun Zhu laughed. “The folk songs of common people. I learned this in the past … Ha, Elder Brother, why are you not here yet … These are not the same as Young Master Ning’s tunes …”
She lowered her voice to sing. Her voice was as clear as water and extremely pleasing. The street wasn’t a place to sing these things so she had to lower her voice. She blushed and then smiled, covering her mouth.
Ning Yi nodded and then looked at her. “Right, you are skilled in singing and playing the qin, right?”
In the past, when the two talked, Nie Yun Zhu called herself entertaining people with her beauty and did not seem to hold much dislike. But Ning Yi could see that she did not like such entertainment and never mentioned such matters. Ever since he came here, he had never gone to those pleasure towers and brothels. While he guessed that Nie Yun Zhu would be one of the famed courtesans, he could not imagine how “famous” she was. Only now, when there likely wasn’t much of a concern did he ask this question. Nie Yun Zhu nodded. “Yes, I spent a lot of effort.”
“You mean… you are very good? A master?”
“Ha… probably…” Other people could not ask the way Ning Yi did. Nie Yun Zhu felt it was interesting and laughed out loud. Then she kept her face stern and nodded seriously. “Yes, this servant is a master!”
“Oh, to what degree?”
The other’s tense expression immediately broke. “Several floors high…” Thinking of the joke Ning Yi had made in the past, Nie Yun Zhu responded in the same manner. “Why?”
As they talked, the small cart had reached the street with Elder Qin’s residence. Unexpectedly, Kang Xian was visiting today, and his sedan had just stopped by the road. Elder Qin was also outside the gates. The two were looking over oddly and then they laughed. Ning Yi didn’t know what they said and just waved a hand in greeting. Kang Xian said, “Li Heng, what is this for? Do you need help?” His servants were just there and could come over if help was needed.
Ning Yi stopped the cart a few meters away and shook his head. “No need.” He nodded at the woman next to him. “Nie Yun Zhu… Elder Qin, Elder Kang… If we have free time, we play weiqi…” He introduced. Nie Yun Zhu bowed and the two sides exchanged greetings. Ning Yi asked, “Elder Kang will be here later?”
Kang Xian nodded. “I brought several good things over. I should be here all afternoon. Li Heng, if you are free, you can come with this Miss Nie later and admire some books and paintings.”
Ning Yi smiled. “Ah, such a coincidence. I will bring over something good as well that we can study.”
“That is great.”
After speaking, Ning Yi bid farewell and pushed the cart away. Nie Yun Zhu’s smile stopped when they turned the corner of the street. “The music that Young Master was just asking about …”
“Oh, I was thinking if I have some songs that can be sung, could you help and create a music chart?”
Nie Yun Zhu nodded and gave a confident smile. “That should be no problem. At least on this matter, whether they are lyrical songs or folk songs, if Yun Zhu cannot accomplish this, I fear that not many in Jiangning can do it.”
“Woah, you are really several floors high…” Ning Yi finally had a general understanding of the other’s skill and looked sideways to express his new respect.
“Really, at least four or five floors. So high people will die if they fall off.”
“Then I am reassured.” Ning Yi thought and then added, “However, the lyrics are somewhat strange. They can only be sung between few people. I fear they cannot be heard in public. You need to be mentally prepared.”
Nie Yun Zhu nodded. “Yes.”
Then they were close to the little house near the river.