Ban Hua was in a daze as she gazed at the man standing under the roof of the winding corridor.
Ay, and a gifted prince have we.
Polished, as by the knife and file.
The graving-tool, the smoothing-stone!
Ay, and a gifted prince have we.
Rare costly stones his ears adorn.
Gems on his bonnet starlike shine!
Ay, and a gifted prince have we.
Pure as gold or tin refined.
Sound as the sceptre in his hand!
Ban Hua who had never liked studying suddenly had these flashing in her mind. She didn’t remember the origin or the author of the poem, only those three verses appeared out of nowhere at the sight of Rong Xia.
She lightly smiled and tilted her head. Turned out she was still capable of reciting a poem or two, she just had never been in the right situation that could incite her to do so.
When the beauty comes upon the eyes, anyone is a poet, for example …. herself.
Being aware that Ban Hua’s attention was on himself, Rong Xia straightened his back and patted his robe, he walked up to Ban Hua and Yan Zhen, “Are you two leaving?”
Yan Zhen had picked the time to meet Ban Junzhu while everyone else was supposed to be enjoying poems and flowers or riding and playing balls, he didn’t expect someone would still come to disturb them. He stared at Rong Xia beelining towards them in bewilderment, only after a while did he reacted and gave Rong Xia a salute.
“Count Rong.” Yan Zhen hated so much he couldn’t drive Rong Xia away but he couldn’t say it.
“Yan-gongzi.” Rong Xia returned his salute, then turned to Ban Hua, “Junzhu, won’t you stay to enjoy the fun a while longer?”
Ban Hua shook her head, “It’s not early anymore, I have to go back.”
Yan Zhen looked up, it was less than an hour past noon and the sun was still at it’s warmest, how could it be not early anymore? Suddenly realising that Fule Junzhu must be feeling bored, he hurriedly said, “There is a place with good view not far from here, if Junzhu doesn’t mind, I will accompany you there.”
For Rong Xia the sun had shone too brightly today, it made him uncomfortable and his heart felt parched. He put his hands behind his back, his eyes fell on the edges of Ban Hua’s skirt. The peacock tails pattern embroidered on it reflected glorious lustre under the sunlight. As if in a trance, he saw Ban Hua had turned into a beautiful and proud peacock, her whole body glowing.
“I think better not,” Ban Hua brushed her skirt, with a slight smile she said, “The clothes I am wearing today is not suitable for walking far.”
Yan Zhen stared blankly at the smiling Ban Hua, he was completely blown away, “You, you are very beautiful.”
“Thank you.” Ban Hua touched the hairpin at her temple, accepted the compliment without humility.
“I, that…..” Yan Zhen’s face abruptly turned red as if it was bleeding, “I am not lying.”
“En.” No girl would refuse a compliment on her looks, Ban Hua smiled at Yan Zhen, “Yan-gongzi, is there anything else you want to say to me?”
“I…..” Yan Zhen turned to Rong Xia and bowed, “Count Rong, I have something to say to Junzhu.” Can you please move away?
“Apologies.” Rong Xia smiled at him, then said to Ban Hua, “Junzhu, I am just over there.”
Ban Hua returned his smile with a wide one of her own, was Rong Xia worried about leaving her alone with Yan Zhen so he pointedly said so?
What they said was right, Rong Xia was really a rare gentleman.
Ban Hua didn’t tell her maids to move away. After Rong Xia was far, she said, “Yan-gongzi please speak.”
“Junzhu, since the Royal Hunting Ground last time, I can’t forget Junzhu’s gracefulness.”
Yan-gongzi bowed to Ban Hua, “I wonder what Junzhu thinks of the matter Madam Zhou spoke of a few days ago?”
Ban Hua moved one step to the side to avoid Yan Zhen’s bow.
“Yan-gongzi, your words are a bit improper.”
This person was the proof of studying too much and become dumber. Who would suddenly run up to a woman and said ‘after I saw you, I feel like marrying you, will you marry me’.
“I am also aware what I said is a bit offensive.” Yan Zhen smiled bitterly, “I don’t know when it started, but I can’t forget.”
“If Junzhu would marry me, I will be very good to Junzhu. There won’t be any concubine or tongfang, I won’t mistreat you my whole life.” Yan-gongzi firmly believed one love for one’s lifetime. “Please Junzhu consider.”
Such a confession was extremely bold. If Yan family knew their son had made such an explicit speech to a girl, according to the family custom, Yan Zhen would be made to kneel in front of ancestors’ memorial tablets. He knew he was being ridiculous, but he was afraid. Afraid that if he didn’t say it today, Fule Junzhu wouldn’t pay him even the slighest bit of attention, and Ban family wouldn’t consider the marriage between their families.
At Yan Zhen’s words, Ban Hua inexplicably remembered the story Count Rong told when sending her home a few days ago. When the scholar was proposing to the young lady, he had also promised to be good to the girl for a lifetime, but she couldn’t give birth to a son so her mother-in-law pestered her to death, then the scholar married again to the daughter of an official, and the mother-in-law was ennobled.
The moral of the story was men’s words were unreliable.
“I don’t really understand what Yan-gongzi said.” Ban Hua slowly walked towards a pavillion on her maid Ruyi’s hand, the pavillion was closer to the where Rong Xia was standing.
“We have never had any contact, how are you so sure that we can stay together for a lifetime?”
“Junzhu, maybe you didn’t realise, but when I saw you at the hunting ground on a horse clothed in red, everyone else had turned pale in my eyes. If I can ask Junzhu to marry me, even if I have to die then I will die without regret.” Yan Zhen trailed behind her, continuing his heartfelt story.
If you plan to die, then what do I marry you for? So I can be a widow?
Ban Hua lifted her jeweled embroidered shoes and stepped on the white marble steps, she walked inside the pavillion to sit down. Propping her cheek on one hand, she saw Rong Xia at the end of the nine-curved corridor cupping his hand for a salute from afar. Ban Hua laughed and retracted her eyes, she turned to Yan Zhen who was still shooting burning eyes at her.
“If your esteemed mother doesn’t like me, and insist on you taking concubines, what would you do?”
“Mother wouldn’t do that.” Yan Zhen shook his head, “She has always loved me.”
“Let’s say I can’t give birth to a son, and she insists on it?” Ban Hua asked, “What will happen to me then?”
Yan Zhen was still shaking his head, “No, she won’t do that.”
Ban Hua laughed lightly, she no longer looked at Yan Zhen, “I thought Yan-gongzi would say you would protect me, and you wouldn’t let me suffer at all.”
Yan Zhen was stunned. He had never thought of the possibility that his wife and his mother could be in a conflict. His mother was very gentle and generous, the servants were all disciplined and very careful in serving the masters, how could Junzhu imagined an impossible conflict?
Apparently Yan Zhen had never thought this far. Ban Hua came to feel Yan Zhen was very cute, as cute as a child.
“Yan-gongzi possibly doesn’t know me very well.” Ban Hua threw him a careless smile, “Since I was small, all my clothes are from the best materials, I have more than ten cooks at home catering to my taste. I am used to luxurious clothing, excellent food, and being the focus of service. I have nothing to do with poetry and songs1T/N: probably refers to the ancient standard of training for young ladies., virtue and morality, or housekeeping management.”
Yan Zhen had always been surrounded by virtuous women, he had never met such a unorthodox woman like Ban Hua. But looking at the indolent Ban Hua, his heart kept beating hard. He thought in a daze that such a beautiful woman, even kneeling down to take off her shoes, he was willing to.
Luxurious clothing, excellent food, gold silver and gems, this kind of woman deserved to live a queenly life without a shred of suffering.
If she was willing to look at him twice, he was willing to give her everything.
“I am willing.” Yan Zhen anxiously spoke, “I am really willing.”
Ban Hua regarded the man….. no, the youth, in front of her who was stammering with a red face. Suddenly she covered her mouth and laughed, “Thank you, but very sorry, I don’t think we are a good match.”
“Why not?” Yan Zhen fervently asked, “I will try hard to achieve what you need, I am really willing to do it for you.”
“I know.” Ban Hua knew Yan Zhen was sincere, however it was for the present moment. This young man was raised in a family with strict learning and education. He had never been around women, he had been thoroughly focused on his study in order to become the ideal and promising son for his parents.
He was infatuated with her because she was different from all the women he had ever known. Someone who was used to eating white rice and one day came across roast meat from the West, he would instantly felt it was utterly delicious, no other food could compare.
But someone who was used to eating white rice, even if he was momentarily infatuated with roast meat, would start to miss the taste of white rice after eating enough roast meat.
Roast meat was just a stimulation to his senses, but white rice was the real habit engraved in his bones.
“Yan-gongzi, perhaps you haven’t really understood what I am saying.” Ban Hua rose, she gently curtseyed to Yan Zhen.
“One day you will understand. What you like is not me, but the novelty I made you feel. If I didn’t have this face, or if I was as abiding to rules as other ladies, you wouldn’t have noticed me.”
“This little woman is grateful at the esteemed gentleman’s intention, but I am sorry that I can’t accept it.” Ban Hua smiled, “Wishing the gentleman would soon find the lady who is of the same mind and harmonious with you.”
At her words Yan Zhen felt like a clump of hemp was being squeezed into his heart, it was bitter and painful. He wanted to tell her that he wouldn’t like other woman, noone in the world could compare to her. But the way she looked at him was very detached, even her smile was extremely polite.
She didn’t like him, not a little bit.
“Farewell.” Ban Hua walked past Yan Zhen. Halfway down the steps, she ran into Shi siblings who were walking up.
“Fule Junzhu?” Shi Feixian saw Ban Hua, and Yan Zhen who was standing in the pavillion, her face showed some understanding.
“Shi-daren, Shi-xiaojie.” Ban Hua nodded to the two of them. “Thank you for the hospitality, I am taking my leave.”
“Won’t you stay for a while?” Shi Feixian glanced at Yan Zhen a few times, smiling at Ban Hua, “Could it be that we didn’t entertain well enough?”
Ban Hua shook her head, “No, it’s not that.”
“Then let me see Junzhu off.” Shi Jin smiled at Ban Hua, “Please follow me.”
Suspicion appeared in Shi Feixian’s eyes at the way her brother treated Ban Hua.
“There is no need. I am going the same way with Junzhu, so there is no need to bother Shi-daren.” Rong Xia suddenly appeared from nowhere, smiling gently and courteously.
“How can that be, Junzhu is an honoured guest of my humble house, I can’t neglect Junzhu.”
“There are so many honoured guests. I can’t let the other honoured guests be neglected just for the two of us.” Rong Xia turned to Ban Hua, “Junzhu, don’t you think so?”
“Ah?” Ban Hua perplexedly nodded, “Yes, what Count Rong said is correct.”
“Men and women should keep their distance. I am afraid people will talk if Master Count and Junzhu are seen alone.” Shi Feixian smiled sweetly, “Let me see Junzhu out.”
Note for the poem:
Looked like at this point Ban Hua had grown a sudden admiration of Rong Xia that she turned oddly poetic (is this the beginning of a special feeling towards Rong Xia…. ?).
These 3 lines of poem praises someone’s learning and character. I have zero interest in poetry/classics so they are taken verbatim from The Book of Songs 诗经, part 《国风·卫风·淇奥》. It was published in 1891 so the language sounds like something from LOTR books. You can read further on that link if you like, 383 pages in total. The Book of Songs is often mentioned in cdrama, just last night in an episode of The Imperial Coroner, I watched the protagonists used it to solve the mystery of hidden letter of a dead man.
- 1T/N: probably refers to the ancient standard of training for young ladies.