Though Gu Langhua’s a merchant, he was fond of poetry. It was his fervent hope that Gu Jiusi would study hard, take the imperial examination, and earn an official position.
Alas, he never had much interest in his studies, preferring instead to have fun, an inclination that he’d had since childhood. To motivate Gu Jiusi to work harder, Gu Langhua would often cite Ye Shi’an as the model example to learn from. By and by, Gu Jiusi’s impression of Ye Shi’an became abysmal. Now that Gu Jiusi knew Ye Shi’an was going to marry a cunning yet ordinary looking girl like Liu Yuru, he couldn’t help but feel rather pleased over his misfortune.
He smiled, thought for a beat, prodded Chen Xun with his fan, and said to him, “Get someone to keep an eye on Liu Yuru for me.”
“What for?” Chen Xun asked, stared in confused silence for a moment, then opened his eyes wide. “Jiusi, have you fallen for Liu Yuru?”
“What is this nonsense you’re spouting?!” Gu Jiusi snapped as he whacked Chen Xun on the head with his fan. “Am I such a tasteless person? I’m telling you, even if every other woman in the world drops dead, there’s no way I’m marrying her!”
“Then why would you ask Chen Xun to watch a girl like her?”
Yang Wenchang was alarmed; he always felt that Gu Jiusi was capable of anything. Gu Jiusi raised an eyebrow and said, “Am I to let things slide after what she put me through today? Are you two just gonna sit by and do nothing? Let me tell you, she’s currently Ye Shi’an’s fiancee. Ye Shi’an oppresses us, and now she has dealt such a slap to our faces. Retaliation is the only recourse. How can we call ourselves men otherwise?”
Yang Wenchang and Chen Xun thought his argument was very persuasive.
Ye Shi’an was the premier object of hatred among the wealthy and idle young masters of Yangzhou. Ye Shi’an oppressed them on account of his excellent academic results, and now his fiancee bullied them too. Enough was enough, they had to strike back!
The three quickly came to a consensus. Chen Xun’s street ruffians were immediately ordered to keep Liu Yuru’s house under constant surveillance. Not even the slightest whiff of activity would go unnoticed.
As the trio discussed how to deal with Liu Yuru, Liu Yuru raced back to the courtyard while pulling Liu Siyu along.
Liu Yuru explained the situation to Liew Siyu. After Liu Yuru had calmed Liew Siyu down in the Liew manor, Liu Yuru returned home.
Sitting in the carriage, she began to feel troubled.
It looked like Liew Siyu’s not going to marry Gu Jiusi after all. Judging by Gu Jiusi’s temper, there was no way he’d marry Liew Siyu. Given how much his family doted on him, they wouldn’t force him to marry against his wishes. However, Gu Jiusi now had a grudge against her.
She’d always been cautious, yet she offended a major menace like Gu Jiusi the one time she got a bit reckless. Well, at least I’m getting married soon…
The thought comforted Liu Yuru, and she heaved a sigh of relief.
Her marriage was imminent. Once she’s married to Ye Shi’an, Gu Jiusi would have to take the Ye family into consideration before he acts. No matter what he might have against her, there’d be nothing he could do. Probably.
The Gu family could look down on the mercantile Liu family, but the Ye family had gentry roots, so they would still have to give them some face no matter what. Besides, she was just a young girl. Surely a grown chap like Gu Jiusi would find it too embarrassing to pick a fight with her.
A twinge of uneasiness still remained. All she could do was hope for Ye Shi’an to return quickly and settle their marriage once and for all.
Liu Yuru spent the next couple of days looking forward to Ye Shi’an’s return, inquiring about Ye Shi’an’s news, and putting the Gu family manor under watch. Not two days later, Yinhong smiled as she came into her room and said, “Miss, have you heard? Yesterday, Old Master Gu got so worked up that he chased Master Gu down to the main street.”
Hearing Gu Jiusi’s name made Liu Yuru’s hand tremble. She looked down as she sewed her flowers, and feigning indifference, asked, “Why’d he do that?”
“They say it’s because of his marriage.”
Yinhong tidied up the table and said idly, “Master Gu was heard shouting all over the streets that he had the final say in his marriage. Without his approval, any marriage brokered by his parents was invalid. Old Master Gu was in such a rage, they say he picked up a stick in his house and chased after him with it.”
Everyone laughed when they heard this. Liu Yuru also cracked up despite herself.
She was involuntarily reminded of that dream again.
Gu Jiusi couldn’t be considered a bad person. He’s just too outlandish at times. He had not done anything that was truly heinous. Rather, he’s often the butt of jokes in Yangzhou. Annoying as he might be, a fate like the one she’d dreamed of was just too terrible and sad.
Liu Yuru sighed. She didn’t know if those events that happened in her dream meant anything. Even if they came true, what could she do?
She thought for a very long time. Beside her, Yinhong, who was done arranging the flowers, noticed Liu Yuru staring dazedly into space. She smiled and asked, “Miss, are you bored? How about hitting the streets? You could buy some rouge.”
Liu Yuru came to her senses at once. She remembered now, she’d run out of rouge recently. Su Wan, too, could do with some additional supplies. She considered for a moment, got to her feet and said, “Well then, let’s head out for a stroll.”
Now that she had grown up, the days where she had left in the manor were dwindling day by passing day. She wanted to treat Su Wan better and buy more things for her while she could. It was also her way to show filial piety as a daughter.
With this thought, she set out for the streets after obtaining permission from Zhang Yue’er.
The moment she took a step out, the little beggar planted by Chen Xun hastened to snitch on her movements. Gu Jiusi, Chen Xun, and Yang Wenchang were at the gambling house. Gu Jiusi stopped gambling right away the moment he heard that Liu Yuru was out. Dragging Yang Wenchang and Chen Xun along, he made an aggressive beeline for Liu Yuru.
They had a plan: Whatever Liu Yuru did to Gu Jiusi, he would return the favour in kind.
Since Liu Yuru told Liew Siyu to act like the sort of person he hated the most, Gu Jiusi would act like the sort of person Liu Yuru hated the most!
But what did Liu Yuru hate the most?
Gu Jiusi pondered for a while. He didn’t know much about anything else, but one thing’s for certain: Liu Yuru hated him very much.
After all, Liu Yuru said it herself— “If I had to marry him, I would want to throw myself into this lake immediately.”
Since she hated him this much, he would repulse her as soon as he could.
The frivolous young masters’ thought process was very simple—they went straight to where Liu Yuru was. When they arrived, Liu Yuru was choosing rouges in the rouge store. She was this store’s regular customer. The shopkeeper knew she was not wealthy, but she was good-tempered and good-natured, unlike those arrogant and wilful ladies from rich families. Hence their relationship was good even though she wasn’t a huge spender. The shopkeeper introduced the latest products to her while making conversation.
The latest rouge product caught Liu Yuru’s eye. She was very taken with it, but its price gave her pause. Just as she was having an internal debate over it, someone called out loudly from outside the store: “Yuru-meimei!” (TL note: meimei; younger/little sister, can also be used to refer to a younger female)
The voice sounded affectionate, sweet, as if filled with honey. Liu Yuru stiffened. She looked over automatically and saw three young masters entering the rouge store. Leading the way was Gu Jiusi, who was dressed in a scarlet robe with gold threaded embroidered cloud patterns, and on his head was a golden crown adorned with pearls. Bearing a folding fan in his hand, he wore a bright smile that was as pretty as peach blossoms. Trailing behind him, each waving their fans, were Yang Wenchang in a blue robe, and Chen Xun in a bamboo green robe.
In this place filled with women, the three men showed not a whit of embarrassment on their faces. Spooked, the other female customers quickly covered their faces with their circular fans and made themselves scarce. Though Liu Yuru’s reaction speed was half a beat slower than the rest, she quickly recollected herself, turned away, and strode briskly towards the store’s inner hall.
Chen Xun reacted quickly. He took large strides and was in front of Liu Yuru in no time.
Liu Yuru pivoted swiftly. Yang Wenchang immediately blocked off Liu Yuru’s other escape path. Liu Yuru and her maid were surrounded by the three large fellows. Gu Jiusi leaned bodily against the nearby cabinet and drawled indolently, “Yuru-meimei. Buying some rouge?”
Gu Jiusi was good looking.
If others had tried replicating that casual movement of his, they would’ve just looked lethargic and soft-boned, but when he did it, there was a languid elegance to the way he moved, a certain pleasing charm.
Yinhong was so frightened by this posture that she started to tremble. Liu Yuru willed herself to stay composed, quickly turned to the shop owner and said, “Excuse me, I should think it inappropriate for men to be about. Wouldn’t you agree?”
The shop owner immediately flashed Gu Jiusi a polite smile and said, “Master Gu, this is a rouge store. With you here, my customers—”
“Oh, not to worry,” Gu Jiusi cut in. He lifted his gaze, shot the shopkeeper a warning look and continued, “I’ll buy out the rouges you have here today. Your customers won’t be affected.”
Gu Jiusi turned his head to look at Liu Yuru, his voice dropping to a gentle tone, “Yuru-meimei, feel free to pick out whichever rouge that catches your fancy. This gege will buy them all for you.” (TN: Gege; elder brother, can also be used to refer to an older male)
“Master Gu, please watch your words!”
Yinhong finally blurted out, her voice quivering, “My lady is an innocent maiden from a respectable family. By doing this, you’re— you’re—”
“I’m what now?” Gu Jiusi returned gleefully. “Go on, girl, what about me?”
Liu Yuru put on an aggrieved, frightened, and slightly embarrassed expression. “I do not know the reason why you’ve come looking for me today. The great difference between our status notwithstanding, we are ill-acquainted. If my brothers or family members have offended you in any way, I entreat you to please forgive us.”
Liu Yuru understood that Gu Jiusi was set on making trouble for her today. Hiding was useless. The top priority was to protect her reputation. It would be unthinkable for others to think that she had illicit relations with Gu Jiusi. Hence, the first thing to do was to clarify their relationship and hint to everyone that her family members were the ones who had offended Gu Jiusi; she was but a victim.
Her demeanour grated on Gu Jiusi like a toothache. But before he could open his mouth, Liu Yuru went on, “Master Gu, they say that a greater man notes not of a lesser man’s faults, that anyone can make mistakes, so one should strive to be forgiving. I apologise on behalf of my brothers and family members, so can you please stop putting me in a spot?”
Liu Yuru’s eyes reddened promptly. To outsiders, she looked just like a virtuous woman being bullied.
Next to her, Yang Wenchang and Chen Xun grew flustered as their conscience began to condemn them. They even made her cry. Could they have gone too far?
Gu Jiu was well aware of Liu Yuru’s little scheme. He scoffed in spite of himself. “Quite the act you’re putting up there.”
“Master Gu…” Liu Yuru’s tears promptly began to fall.
Yang Wenchang said in an abashed voice, “Jiusi, let’s just drop it…”
A fire lit within Gu Jiusi as he regarded the traitor beside him.
This woman…This woman!
It was more than he could take. He took a deep breath and steeled himself. It was time to bring out the mutually destructive ultimate move—he smiled, a terrifically indulgent look on his face as he spoke gently, “Yuru-meimei, why are you crying? I wasn’t trying to make things difficult for you. I like you.”
Liu Yuru’s brain stopped working.
She looked up blankly. Watching the one before her play the lovestruck man, a desire to slap him seized her, but she focused on schooling her expressions instead—wearing a shy, confused, and slightly scandalised expression, she cried out, “Master Gu, please do not jest!”
“Yuru-meimei,” Gu Jiusi took a step forward as Liu Yuru took a step back. Looking at her pretentious mannerisms, Gu Jiusi suppressed the urge to throw her into the lake outside. “That was no jest,” He said tenderly. ”The first time we met, I fell in love with you at first sight. Now seeing you again, my feelings for you have only grown stronger. I have decided: in this lifetime, I shall take no one but you as my wife!”
Liu Yuru: “…”
She felt as if she’d lost.
In a battle of shamelessness, she had to admit she was not his match.
Seeing Liu Yuru’s pretence on the verge of crumbling, Gu Jiusi beamed smugly.
It became apparent to Liu Yuru just how petty Gu Jiusi was. She fell silent for a while. If she kept this up, Gu Jiusi would just dig his heels in till the bitter end.
She sighed and said softly, “Master Gu, I do apologise for what happened last time. I only did so for want of a better solution; a woman’s reputation is of great consequence, you see. The fault is all mine. Today you came to collect your debt, and collect your debt you did. Would you be so kind as to call it quits? Please?”
Gu Jiusi smiled mirthlessly. “Didn’t you say you’d jump into a lake if you had to marry me? I’ve proposed to you, so hurry up now. Time and tide wait for no man, Yuru-meimei.”
He lifted his chin and whispered, “The moat is right behind you. Go ahead and jump.”
Gu Jiusi considered.
In truth, the sight of Liu Yuru shaking in anger, coupled with her legitimately respectful apology, had worked off the bulk of his anger.
Since he was no longer that mad, he’d also lost the desire to make fun of her. So after a moment’s deliberation, he grinned, rubbed his chin and said, “Well, actually no, that’s not quite necessary. What you do have to say is ‘Ye Shi’an is a huge bastard. He’s not as refined, handsome, suave, quick-witted, or upstanding as Gu Jiusi.'”
Those were the compliments that his father had heaped on Ye Shi’an in the past.
Liu Yuru fell into stunned silence for a few moments. She opened her mouth, tried to recall the adjectives he’d just used, and spoke quietly in a stiff voice, “Yes, Master Gu. Ye….Master Ye is a huge bastard. He’s not…not as refined, handsome…”
“Suave,” Gu Jiusi reminded her.
“Right,” Liu Yuru nodded and continued with difficulty, “handsome, suave, quick-witted, up…”
“Yes, upstanding.” Liu Yuru continued to nod. She hurried to add, “You sir, are a righteous gentleman with outstanding moral character. Which is why you certainly would not make things difficult for a young girl like me.”
Gu Jiusi let out a “pft” at her words. Then he said, “You’ve certainly got a way with words. Alright,” He picked up a box of rouge and tossed it between his hands. “You can go.”
Liu Yuru spun toward the exit, moving with the swiftness of one who had just received a great pardon.
She had lifted the train of her skirt and had barely taken a few steps out when Gu Jiusi called out to her, “Hold it.”
Gu Jiusi eyed the ladies in the inner hall who had been keeping their faces hidden with their fans. He announced, “Everyone, pick a box of rouge of your liking. They’ll be on me.”
At this, the ladies exchanged glances and considered his offer. A couple of them stepped forward boldly.
With these ladies taking the lead, everyone soon began to pick and choose. Gu Jiusi wordlessly held his fan. After giving some further orders to his pageboy and leaving some money, he called out to Yang Wenchang and Chen Xun and gestured for them to leave. He walked over to Liu Yuru, looked her up and down, raised his chin and said, “What are you standing around for? Choose.”
Liu Yuru hesitated. Gu Jiusi cocked an eyebrow. “You look down on me?”
“I wouldn’t dare to. It’s just…”
Gu Jiusi chucked a box of rouge towards her before she could finish. “Take this, then choose a couple more. After you’re wed to Ye Shi’an,” he lowered his voice to a whisper, his pretty eyes twinkling, “sort him out for me, will you?”
Then he grinned broadly and swept off with his people.
Liu Yuru stood rooted to the spot. Holding the box of rouge in her hand, she dazedly recalled the scene of Gu Jiusi cocking his eyebrow again.
This was the box of rouge that she couldn’t bear to buy earlier.
As Gu Jiusi walked out of the shop, Yang Wenchang asked quizzically, “Why’d you give them rouges?”
“It’s not easy,” Gu Jiusi answered as he fanned himself.
Chen Xun was confused. “What’s not easy?”
Gu Jiusi sighed and said sympathetically, “When she abruptly changed her tone to apologise to me, she suddenly didn’t seem that disagreeable anymore.”
He raised his hand and turned over the fan to shield himself from the sunlight overhead. He looked up at the windchimes hanging from the pointed eaves of Spring Wind House, his brows furrowed as he continued, “It occurred to me that it’s rather uncharitable to bully her like this. After all,” Gu Jiusi pursed his lips. “She doesn’t have an easy life.”