Chapter 6 – You Shall Not Pass!
Jingzhou is a city south of Xiangxi city, at the juncture of the main roads connecting Guizhou and Guangxi. West to the city, there is a flying mountain, described as “dangerous, high, wonderful and elegant”. It was a mountain praised as “Southern Chu Number One Peak”. On the opposite of it, stood “Five Old Men Peak”, with its five peaks side by side, similar to five old men.
Not only was Jingzhou magnificent and beautiful, but the scenery was also charming. Since it was situated along the main roads, numerous merchants could be seen. It was an extremely flourishing city. Since the locals are often in contact with foreigners, they spoke mandarin like in the Capital, giving the impression of an abundant big city.
Ye Xiaotian came from the Capital, as someone who lives right under the Emperor, not only was his expectations high, even his state of mind was above average. No matter how big the city he passed through during his journey, in his eyes, it was merely a rural area and the people living there were rustic. Only Suhang and, perhaps, Jinling were places that could be considered on par with the Capital.
Because of this kind of attitude, Ye Xiaotian was naturally calm, undisturbed and hardly timid during his travel to Jingzhou. He caught sight of a white-haired old man with an unsteady gait, being pulled along by his granddaughter, a little girl with two pigtails. Ye Xiaotian respectfully interpellated him immediately for directions, “Elder, do you know where is Yang Mansion? Hehehe! The Yang family head, Yang Lin, is an official in the Capital. You must know where his mansion is located.”
The elderly man answered, “ሀላሕራሶቔቖቘቯተቀትⶸ…….”
Ye Xiaotian asked, “Uh… Elder, can you speak the officials’ language?”
The old man shook his head. He could obviously understand but was unable to speak it. Ye Xiaotian bitterly smiled as he retreated in defeat. Then, he went and stopped a scholar. He clasped his hands and said, “Ah! This gentleman! May I ask where is the Yang Mansion in Jingzhou? The Yang family head is an official in the Capital. His surname is Yang and first name, Lin…”
The smiling and courteous scholar suddenly became angry. He even went as far as spitting saliva before walking off without a second thought. Ye Xiaotian shook his head while exclaiming, “As they said, at home, a thousand days, all is well; Away from home, a thousand things, all goes wrong. The elders and local people in Jingzhou are too unfriendly!”
Ye Xiaotian braced himself and went everywhere to inquire. Finally, after a long time, he was able to get the exact location of the mansion. After searching continuously, he arrived at a secluded and long alley. The building occupied more than half of the alley. He passed through a memorial arch and proceeded until he finally reached the front doors. He merely saw vermillion painted doors with copper knockers with a lion face. The ground was paved with blue bricks and the stairs were made of white stones. It gave the place an imposing aura.
By the entrance, two stone lions stood guard, one on each side. Near each stone lion, six hitching posts were placed, all of them completely sculpted from white marble, with the finishing touch being a sculpted monkey on top. This was a visual play of words which meant “Rise to prominence at speed light”.
At this moment, at all 12 hitching posts, horses were tied there, and, at the foot of the wall, numerous carriages were parked. It appeared many people were visiting the Yang.
Ye Xiaotian looked at the broad and imposing entrance of the Yang’s compound. His steps came to halt and for a moment, his heart was overwhelmed with emotions. After going through thousands of sufferings and ten thousand dangers, and overcoming 9981 disasters, he finally reached the West- Ah! No, no, no, he finally arrived at the Yang Mansion!
When Ye Xiaotian was in the Capital, he once heard a storyteller narrating “Journey to the West”. At this moment, he felt as if he was Tripitaka, who finally obtained the sutra, and was immersed in the joyous feeling that came after going through bitterness and numerous ordeals to reach his goal!
In high spirits, Ye Xiaotian was just about to knock on the doors, but suddenly the doors opened with a rumbling sound. A birdman suddenly flew out with both arms soaring to the clouds, harnessing the mist along the way. Then, with a loud bang, he crashed down at Ye Xiaotian’s feet, scaring him. The man spat out a mouthful of blood. Ye Xiaotian raised his leg hastily to avoid dirtying his shoe.
A scrawny servant in black clothes and wearing a small hat waddled out. He put both hands on his waist and came to a halt on the stairs. Immediately after, a group of four burly slave-servants followed. Every one of them was carrying a long wooden stick.
The hat on the skinny servant swayed and bobbed on his head as he loudly scolded, “Old Man, if you want to extort, you have to look at where you are. Did you think our Yang Mansion is easy to bully?”
The one who was tossed out ruthlessly to the bottom of the stone stairs was a middle-aged man. He curled up like a shrimp on the ground with his hands clutched on his abdomen. It took him a very long time before he could slowly take in deep breathes, before spitting out another mouthful of blood. He weakly said, “I… I really am Lord Yang’s old friend. I was passing by the region, and since my travel money is completely used up, I’m only seeking for courtesy money gifted to a traveling friend.”
The black-clothed servant glared as he shouted loudly, “Ptui! Since when did our Lord make friend with unworthy people like you? Did you get confused with begging instead? You, rogue, still dare to quibble. Go and give him a good beating! Beat him hard until he withdraws his previous words!”
Immediately, one of the burly slave servants dashed down the stone steps. He took off his shoe; grabbed the man by his collar and slapped the man’s face with his shoe sole. Left-right, right-left! Shaking similarly to a rattle-drum. Ye Xiaotian was stupefied at the scene. He felt akin to a tiny boat in the stormy sea.
The black-clothed servant stood on the stone steps while speaking with an air of complacency, “Do you know what the common people in Jingzhou called me, the Yang family senior housekeeper? Cheapskate! To use that kind of crooked plan on me, Yang Sanshou.”
At this moment, a flock of wild geese flew over. Their cries could be heard from here. Yang Sanshou pointed towards the sky and proudly said, “I, Yang Sanshou, don’t go grab feathers from a flying goose. But, there are people who didn’t have eyes and thought of taking advantage of our Yang family. Tell me if you deserve to be beaten or not?”
“S-stop… hitting! Stop hitting! I-I… I don’t have the slightest relation with Lord Yang…”
The middle-aged man couldn’t escape. His cheeks were extremely swollen and red, deforming his original face. He had no other choice but to cry and howl for mercy. Yang Sanshou chuckled and said in a complacent tone, “You haven’t the coffin so you can’t shed tears. Your kind of people is annoying!”
“Get him out of here!” Yang Sanshou ordered. He twisted his butt and pompously turned back into the Yang Mansion.
The slave servant who slapped the middle-aged man put back his shoe before kicking the middle-aged man on his butt. He loudly shouted, “Quickly scram! If we see you again, prepare for another beating!” When he was finished, he glared at Ye Xiaotian with his ox-like eyes. When he was almost at within reach of Ye Xiaotian, he fiercely shouted, “What are you doing here?”
Ye Xiaotian flinched in fear. He hurriedly took back two steps, staying at a safer distance. Then, he squeezed out a cordial smile. “I’m just a passerby! I happened to pass by here!”
When the slave-servant heard Ye Xiaotian’s accent which told of his foreign origins, he waved his hand and said, “Then, go away! Be careful you don’t get mistaken for a thief!”
Bang! The entrance of the mansion was heavily closed. Ye Xiaotian trembled when he heard the doors closed loudly. Then he looked at the middle-aged man still lying on the ground with a bloody nose, swollen cheeks, and blood dripping out of his mouth. The lingering fears inwardly let him feel cold. He thought to himself, ‘Yang Lin you devil! You’re making me suffer!’
Seeing the middle-aged man’s miserable appearance, how could Ye Xiaotian still dared to visit the Yang family. Suddenly, he thought about what Yang Lin said. He and his main wife always had a stormy relationship. They appeared united but were divided at heart. After Yang Lin was put into jail, most of his family was indifferent and uncaring. Ye Xiaotian’s heart immediately turned cold. “Madam Yang have estranged feelings with her husband. She loves money like her life. Then, the letter…”
That middle-aged man crawled up. He turned his head towards Yang Mansion and ruthlessly spit out blood and saliva before walking away wobblingly. Ye Xiaotian pondered for a moment before he decided to beat in retreat. His eyebrows were tightly locked with worry. “If I were to visit in my current state and asked Madame Yang to divide some of the family property to her unloved concubine-born daughter, and demanded 500 taels of silver for a reward, it’s very likely that I will end up as miserable as this man.”
“Yang Lin, ah, Yang Lin! Not only you failed as an official, you even failed at acting with integrity. Why do you have to drag me into this trap? I travel thousands of kilometers to reach Jinzhou. A journey not easier than Tripitaka’s journey to the West. But unlike Tripitaka, even at the end of my journey, I still can’t touch that 500 taels of silver. How can I resign myself to leave like this?”
The more he thought about it, the more unwilling he was. He continued to walk a bit. Suddenly, he noticed a man selling pears under an archway. A basket of glistening and yellow pears was put on display in front of him while he was sitting lazily on the ground. He listlessly watched the people passed by him.
Ye Xiaotian shifted his sight. He walked up to the man and squatted down. He took out a pear and bit in it with a crunch. He spoke with his mouth full, “How much for the pears?”
The pear seller saw there was a business to be made, so he sat upright and stated, “Three coins for one.”
Ye Xiaotian fetched out the coins and gave it to him. Then, he took two of the biggest pears and put them in his chest pocket. Next, he sat on the stone base of the monumental archway. He leaned comfortably on the pillar and pointed his chin toward the Yang Mansion and asked, “How come there are so many carriages?”
The pear seller replied, “I heard the patriarch of Yang Family is dead. So, friends from everywhere came to offer their condolences.”
Ye Xiaotian thought to himself, “Hum! I came all the way here but was a step later than the government messenger. The news of Yang Lin’s execution must have already spread.”
Ye Xiaotian blurted out a question, “When are they going to bring back Lord Yang’s coffin?”
The pear seller’s mouth twitched before he sneered, “I heard that Madame Yang wasn’t in a hurry to go to the Capital. After all, she’s a woman who loved money like her life. Heh! Her greed doesn’t lose out to her husband the slightest! She will still arrange a funeral for him. Otherwise, how else would she received the condolence gifts?”
At first, the pear seller didn’t dare to say these words, but when he heard Ye Xiaotian’s foreign accent and saw how Ye Xiantian wasn’t too deferential to the Yang Family, the pear seller had no qualm blurting out the truth.
Ye Xiaotian conversed with him. His tone alluding to a deeper meaning. “I see. I heard the man, who was tossed out, is Lord Yang’s old friend. I don’t know if it’s true, but the Yang Family didn’t put on white gloves when treating him.”
The pear seller exclaimed, “Who said he wasn’t. The Yang Mansion is such a big household, but if they could mistreat their young miss, mistreating a stranger is a matter of course.”
Ye Xiaotian was just thinking on how to draw the topic to the Yang family’s miss, but lo and behold, the pear seller took the initiative to broach the subject. He immediately followed suit with a question, “What is going with their family’s miss?”
The seller raised his chin in a direction and said, “There! See that lane over there? That’s a dead end. It was created when they built a tiny courtyard at the edge of the main courtyard. That’s where their eldest miss lives nowadays. She was driven out of the Yang Mansion more than two years ago. They barely gave her enough brown rice every month for subsistence. Sigh! The most poisonous is the heart of a married woman…”
Ye Xiaotian was overjoyed at the news. He was like a drowsy person who got offered a pillow. He heard everything he needed, and for free no less. After conversing for a moment, he found an excuse to leave. Then, he lurked in the vicinity for a bit, ensuring no one saw him before he slipped quickly into the dead end.
He already experienced many hardships on his way to Jingzhou. During his journey, the only thing that kept him from giving up and pushed him to march on was the 500-taels reward. He kept his mind occupied, thinking about what to do with that much money. It was the only way to keep his spirits high through the arduous travel. He already planned everything carefully, even visualizing how he will spend the rest of his life. Hence, how could he easily give up just like that?
Learning that Madame Yang wasn’t the virtuous kind of woman, he thought about the Yang’s young miss. Both of them would greatly benefit from dividing the family properties. He planned to seek out Miss Yang. When he will submit Yang Lin’s testament to the official to arbitrate in the law court, she will become his strongest ally.
In case the matter doesn’t conclude peacefully in court, Madame Yang wouldn’t be able to do anything even with her domineering character. After all, Yang Lin was the family head and his words had more weight. At that time, he could earn his reward as planned and immediately leave Jingzhou. Madame Yang might be a local tyrant, but, even if she was angry at him, what can she do when he leaves her territory?
His brain worked quickly and incorporated the new factors into his plan as he continued to further into the dead at a steady pace. He quickly reached the dead end and saw a dilapidated courtyard. The stoned rampart was as tall as a person and within the courtyard, the weeds had grown unchecked. Although it looked clean and tidy, there was no vitality.
Ye Xiaotian finished eating his pears and threw away the cores before wiping his mouth. He then raised his voice and called out, “Excuse me, anyone home?”