Today, Prince Yu came early to the Su manor, and asked Mei Changsu why he had come to the imperial Yu residence the day before. Since it was all now water under the bridge, Mei Changsu only answered that he had gone to pay his new year’s greetings, and did not mention any other reason, waiting until Prince Yu himself brought up the murder case before lightly and casually reminding him not to intercede for Meng Zhi again.
Because he had returned very late from Meng manor the previous night, had been unable to fall asleep for a long time after he had gone to bed, and had also gotten up early today to receive his guest, Mei Changsu was very tired and was finding it difficult to sustain his attention. Prince Yu saw that he was looking poorly and so did not stay long, only chatting for an hour before rising to take his leave.
Since it was still early, although he had invited Yan Yujin to bring the Xie brothers over today, Mei Changsu figured they would probably not arrive until the afternoon, and so he left some instructions for Li Gang and then returned to his room to sleep.
Li Gang had been worried ever since Mei Changsu had gotten up that morning looking so unwell, and with this nap, he immediately panicked and forbade anyone from making noise anywhere near the room, and even Fei Liu was coaxed and tricked into playing in the outer courtyard.
So Mei Changsu did not know that, on this morning, a girl with her face covered in a light gauze veil came quietly to the side door asking to see him.
“My apologies, Miss Gong Yu, but the Chief is asleep and cannot be disturbed at the moment.” Li Gang was finding it difficult to stop her. “Do you have something important to report?”
“I……wanted to come to bring the Chief my new year’s greetings in person……”
“If it is only this, then I fear it is not possible……you know as well as I that the Chief has always been in poor health, and the physician says he needs his rest. He left instructions that he had matters to deal with this afternoon, and asked us to wake him at noon. So you see, he only has these few hours to sleep, and it would really not be proper to disturb him only for new year’s greetings from one of our own……how about waiting in the outer courtyard and going in to see the Chief after he wakes up?”
Beneath the thin veil, only the girl’s snow-white skin and bright eyes were visible, and her expression could not be seen. After a few moments of silence, a light sigh sounded. “Never mind, I did not tell Mister Shisan I was coming here, so I cannot wait long. Please, Li dage, do not tell the Chief that I came….”
“Ah?” Li Gang was a bit confused. “Didn’t Miss come to see the Chief?”
“I thought, if I could only see the Chief, then I wouldn’t mind being scolded by him, but now that I cannot see him, then why anger him for no reason? The Chief ordered us before not to come to this place without his permission….”
Li Gang still didn’t quite understand, but he at least knew that a young girl’s heart was difficult to fathom so he did not question her any further, only smiling and escorting her out.
Gong Yu had just left when another round of guests appeared from different manors bringing new year’s greetings. Li Gang hurried over to receive them, and as he busied himself over the daily affairs of the manor, Gong Yu’s visit was quickly put aside.
After the noon hour, Mei Changsu woke without being called and got up to clean his face and arrange his hair, then changed into a brightly-coloured robe, and his whole person appeared so much healthier that when Physician Yan came over for a look, he seemed reasonably satisfied. Of course, he did not know that Mei Changsu had snuck out the previous night, or he would certainly have spent another hour scolding him.
The young friends he had invited indeed arrived in the afternoon, and aside from the three familiar faces, they had an eighteen or nineteen-year-old young man with them, who could only be the third young master of the Xie family, Xie Xu.
Perhaps it was because he had been spoiled as the youngest son, or because his youth made him arrogant, or because he had not traveled the jianghu like his oldest brother or been involved in matters of the court like his second brother, but whatever the reason, the third son of the Xie family appeared even more like the typical child of a rich and powerful noble family. He was conceited and contemptuous, looking down on everyone around him, and the look in his eyes betrayed his impatience at being dragged to see this title-less, sickly commoner by his older brothers, as if he wanted to say, “If there is anything impressive about you, show it to me now, or I will consider you a fraudulent show-off with nothing but an undeserved reputation and unwarranted fame.”
But Mei Changsu seemed uninterested in appeasing this young noble, and aside from the initial courteous greetings, he did not pay much mind to Xie Xu, spending most of his time talking warmly and affectionately to Xiao Jingrui instead.
“There are so many people in your Xie and Zhuo families, it must have been very lively on New Year’s Eve.”
“It was lively indeed, but the rituals also become a headache to follow with so many people, and it was almost midnight by the time we finished going around paying each other our New Year’s greetings according to age and seniority.” Xiao Jingrui saw that Mei Changsu was in a good mood, and he was delighted in turn, and so began telling him about the new year celebrations at his home. Although he was not as naturally talkative as Yan Yujin, he was actually quite an eloquent speaker, and as he sketched out the vivid scene, it was almost as if his audience were experiencing the events as he spoke.
“What’s there to talk about? What noble household does not celebrate the new year according to these kinds of rituals?” Xie Xu was feeling indignant because he had been ignored, and so now broke in to say mockingly, “Has Mister Su never celebrated the new year like this before?”
“Third Brother!” Xiao Jingrui and Xie Bi reprimanded in unison.
“Oh, sorry,” Xie Xu immediately assumed an abashed expression. “I forgot, Mister Su comes from a different background, and so passes the New Year carefree and leisurely, unlike us, constrained by all these rules we have to follow….”
Xiao Jingru’s face darkened and he looked as if he was about to explode, but Mei Changsu raised a hand lightly to stop him, saying blandly, “Extravagant households indeed have many rules and rituals to follow for the new year, it must be tough for the Third Young Master to have to learn them all at such a young age.” He then changed the subject, casually asking Yan Yujin when he would be taking Fei Liu out to play.
Since Mei Changsu had been so magnanimous and generous, Xiao Jingrui couldn’t very well discipline his little brother while they were guests at someone else’s home, and seeing that Xie Bi had already forcefully pulled Xie Xu over to sit by him, he did not say anything more.
“Brother Su really trusts me to take Fei Liu out?” Yan Yujin grinned. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll bring a Fei Liu out with me, and return with a feng liu¹?”
Xie Bi laughed at this. “Would you only return with a feng liu? I’d be impressed if you didn’t return with a xia liu².”
“Bullying me again I see, if you’re so skeptical, come with me to Miaoyin House, and we’ll see who Miss Gong Yu pays more attention to.” Yan Yujin waggled his eyebrows. “But you’re already taken, so I guess you’ll have to exercise a little restraint.”
“What, does Xie Bi have a happy announcement to make?” Mei Changsu picked up the cue, smiling at Yan Yujin.
“Don’t listen to Yujin’s nonsense……there’s still half a year until……” Xie Bi flushed.
“And whose family does the lovely lady belong to?”
Xiao Jingrui thought he really did not know, and said hurriedly, “She’s the daughter of my Zhuo dad, so she caught the eye of Second Brother a long time ago.”
Mei Changsu smiled warmly. “Since there is feeling between the two of you, it will grow into loving affection after marriage. But Jingrui, you are the older brother, how could you let Xie Bi climb ahead of you?”
“I……” Xiao Jingrui lowered his head, his cheeks growing a little pale. “I’m not in a rush….”
“Don’t mind him, his standards are too high.” Yan Yujin lightly changed the subject. “Now that Brother Su has recovered, why don’t we find a day to go to Spiral Market Street? Even without considering all the other houses, the music of Miaoyin House is truly out of this world, and Brother Su is such an expert, you must come and listen.”
Mei Changsu smiled and was about to answer when Li Gang appeared outside the door with a stack of cards in his hand. “Chief, these are the greetings card that have just arrived by mail, will you look at them now?”
“Put them over there,” Mei Changsu glanced at a bookshelf at the side of the room. “I’ll answer them later.”
Li Gang came in respectfully, arranged the cards carefully on the shelf and then retreated out of the room.
Yan Yujin was sitting nearest the bookshelf and so he looked over curiously, and when he saw the signature on the pale envelope at the top of the pile, his eyes widened. “That…that…that is a greeting card handwritten by Mister Moshan….”
“Oh, is it?” Mei Changsu glanced over. “It’s arrived so soon? I thought, since I’m in the capital this year, it would not arrive until the fifth day of the new year at least.”
“Mister Moshan sends you a greeting card every year?” Yan Yujin moved over for a closer look. “He signed the card, ‘Elder Brother Moshan’, he addresses you as his equal….”
“Brother Moshan treats me so kindly, it would be impolite of me to refuse the honour. In truth, we simply exchange a few letters every year, and it is only a correspondence between gentlemen, nothing more.”
“How many people in this world could correspond with Mister Moshan?” Yan Yujin let out a sigh and gave Xie Xu, who was sitting to one side looking as stunned as a wooden chicken³, a meaningful look. “And Mister Moshan’s Songshan Academy only accepts the most outstanding and talented young men……that’s right, Xie Xu, aren’t you studying at Songshan Academy? It looks like you’re Brother Su’s junior by rank then….”
Mei Changsu looked at Xie Xu’s reddening face, and thinking that he was still young and not wanting to make things difficult for him, he only said lightly, “There is no relation between us, why argue over rank?” He did not look at Xie Xu again, but turned to smile warmly at Xiao Jingrui, saying, “I haven’t seen Jingrui’s sword dance in such a long time, since we happen to have some time today, care to show Brother4 how you’ve improved?”
Although Xiao Jingrui had been furious over Xie Xu’s rudeness, he couldn’t bear to see his younger brother embarrassed now, and hearing Mei Changsu’s words, he knew he was lightening the atmosphere on purpose, so he got up hurriedly and cupped his hands with a grin, saying, “It has truly been a long time since I benefited from Brother Su’s instruction, shall we go out to the courtyard?”
¹someone promiscuous, basically a playboy
²it means like vulgar or obscene (…they’re just…making puns…)
³this was too good not to translate literally
4he uses the same word they normally use to call him i.e. the formal word for ‘older brother’ (兄)
All the talk of juniors and seniors is really in terms of a Chinese term (輩) which translates roughly to ‘generation’, but is a little more complicated. It’s like a mix of seniority in terms of both age and rank. So since Mister Moshan addresses MCS as his equal, he is putting him on the same 輩 as himself, and since Xie Xu is Mister Moshan’s pupil, he is naturally one 輩 below Mister Moshan, which by extension also puts him one 輩 below MCS.
But it’s not like you can make a whole list of 輩s, if you know what I mean. It doesn’t stack up. It’s really only used to distinguish between those who are your 上輩 (‘upper 輩’) i.e. seniors, and your 下輩 (‘lower 輩’) i.e. juniors. And the significance, of course, lies in how you address them and the amount of respect / deference etc. you are expected to show to them.
MCS treats the Sunshine Boys as his 同輩 (same generation), which is why Yan Yujin is (justifiably!) poking at Xie Xu a bit in saying that he is technically MCS’s 下輩.
(One of my favourite examples of this is back in Chapter 56, when Zhou Xuanqing thinks of Mu Qing as “an adorable little 下輩”.)