Qiao-Shi’s jewelry wasn’t exchanged for that much silver.
Those pieces were expensive to make, but when being pawned off they couldn’t even get thirty percent of the value.
They got around three hundred silver taels. Qiao-Shi didn’t let the injured Ruan Siyi go this time, and instead changed into an unremarkable outfit before going with Chun Tao and Matron Chen.
After two days, they finally bought a small residence in the slums of the outer city.
The day they moved in, Qiao-Shi chattered as she explained to Ruan Siyi that there wasn’t much silver and the city residences were all expensive. This sort of place still cost two hundred silvers.
The residence was very small, and looked old on the inside and the outside. However, it was extremely tidy. It was a one compound pavilion. The main building had two rooms: one living room and one bedroom. There were two tiny buildings on either side. One was a side room and one was the kitchen. There was a well in the courtyard and a latrine behind the house. Despite it being small, it had all the necessities.
Then, they started to pass their days properly.
There was no furniture when they purchased the place. Qiao-Shi went with Matron Chen and Chun Tao to buy some furniture. This time Ruan Siyi was too ashamed to remain behind, and went with them.
They changed into ordinary clothes and Matron Chen borrowed a handcart from their neighbor. Under the neighbor’s kind guidance, they found their way to the market, and picked out a few pieces of furniture to bring back.
The cart was filled up and Ruan Siyi overestimated his own stamina. In the end, all four of them had to push together to make it back.
They bought furniture, things for the kitchen and some provisions. Qiao-Shi didn’t have much silver remaining. After another two days, Qiao-Shi pawned off some of their better clothing with gritted teeth. Although it didn’t bring them much silver, she figured they wouldn’t be wearing them anyway. There was no need to wear fine silk in such a place.
Living in the capital wasn’t easy.
This concept was foreign to both Ruan Siyi and Qiao-Shi. They were both born to wealth, and grew up with golden spoons in their mouths. They ate exotic delicacies, wearing and using the finest things. Why would they care how much a bag of rice cost?
But now things were different. Because they had no income, Qiao-Shi had to meticulously budget their remaining dozen silvers.
She thickened her skin and started networking with their neighbors on the street. She made inquiries about where the vegetables were freshest and cheapest, and learned from them to make tasty yet inexpensive dishes. She also learned from the wives to buy vegetables at a cheap price right before the market closed.
Qiao-Shi was no longer like a noblewoman at all, and had become very ordinary and unremarkable. However, her face was rosy and she was extremely spirited.
In contrast, despite wearing cloth outfits, Ruan Siyi still exuded a noble and elegant demeanor. However, he was taciturn and moody, and slowly started withering away…..
After suffering from pent-up frustrations for a period of time, Ruan Siyi finally fell ill.
He remained bedridden and a flustered Qiao-Shi brought a doctor over. Dose after dose of medicine was taken but things didn’t improve….
The silver grew less and less……
Chun Tao had once said she would accompany Qiao-Shi all her life. However, she suddenly said someone in the alley was willing to marry her. Despite that person being almost forty and also having a child, he was a good man. Chun Tao said she wasn’t good looking as was quite old already, so she might as well get married like this….
When Chun Tao spoke, Qiao-Shi was crying very sorrowfully. She knew Chun Tao didn’t do this because she wanted to get married, but because she knew they couldn’t afford another mouth to feed….
Matron Chen also cried. She cried and said she didn’t have any relatives and only had young mistress. She was old and useless….
Qiao-Shi hugged her and cried, and said she wouldn’t let her leave even if they starved.
The next day, Ruan Siyi forced himself to sit up. He swayed and trembled as he asked about food.
Two days later, he was able to get up but was still extremely thin. When he was able to get out of bed, he would exercise in the courtyard daily.
Suddenly one day, Ruan Siyi vanished.
Qiao-Shi looked everywhere in a panic without success. Just as she was about to despair, Ruan Siyi walked into the courtyard.
“Where did you go?”
“I just went for a walk outside.”
Ruan Siyi started talking a walk outside every day. Qiao-Shi didn’t feel at ease and wanted to come along, but he didn’t let her.
Actually, Ruan Siyi didn’t do anything, and merely wandered about the area aimlessly. He had no starting point and no goal. He merely walked…..
On this day, the sun was so bright he couldn’t open his eyes. Ruan Siyi left the house, but before walking a few steps he froze.
“You are man from the Ruan household?”
An old man sat outside his house close by, looking at him with a benevolent expression.
Ruan Siyi nodded blankly.
“Come, come take a seat. It doesn’t seem like you plan on going anywhere.” That old man took out a small stool and patted it.
He walked over blankly and sat down.
That stool was very small and short. He had never sat in something like this before. As he sat, he suddenly felt himself become very small and tiny, and extremely insignificant. A few people walked passed them occasionally. They were clearly dressed in rags, but in his eyes, they had become very large.
Ruan Siyi was at a loss…..
That old man was weaving a basket. His hands were very rough, and the sharp bamboo strips seemed to be nothing in his hands as he carelessly pulled and pushed, weaving upwards one loop at a time. Ruan Siyi felt that if he were the one doing it, his hands would definitely be stained with blood. But this old man didn’t have any problems.
“We’ve been neighbors for so long but I rarely see you come out. I’ve heard from your wife that you were ill. How is it, are you feeling better?”
Ruan Siyi wasn’t suited to such idle chatter, and he stammered: “I’m better.”
“It’s good that you’re better. We poor people can’t afford to be sick. During the period you were sick, I saw your wife in a fluster every day. Ai….men are still the backbone of a family. As long as the man is present, the family has some support…..”
“You give off the air of a scholar. You’re an intellectual right? Scholars are good, you can bring honor to your family in the future. I’m preparing to have my young grandson learn to read. If he can become a top scorer on the exam in the future, this old man would be smiling in my sleep.”
Ruan Siyi looked distressed and lowered his head, “Scholars are useless at all things except one……”
“How can you say that? Confucius says that it’s good to be well-read….of course, it’s not easy for us poor people to raise a scholar. Ai, saying it is one thing, but living is still the most important. If we can’t even fill our stomachs, there’s no use in thinking about anything else. Right, what does your family do for income?”
“There’s, there’s no income.”
The old man looked at the tender scholarly individual in front of him and nodded his head in understanding. “No wonder you say that a scholar is only good for one thing….actually this way of thinking is a bit off. Our street also has some scholars. They spend their days helping others write letters or copy some books, and can make a living that way. It’s a hard life though. They study hard, and if they’re able to pass the exam then they can turn things around.”
Ruan Siyi froze.
After a long time, after Ruan Siyi left, that old man let out a sigh.
That Ruan family’s wife was quite pitiful. Her man was a scholar and was too aloof. It was hard to maintain their living situation. She felt that saying such things herself would harm her man’s dignity, and actually asked him to give the speech.
After thinking a while, that old man stopped thinking.
Everyone had their own path to follow. Only after failing and suffering will one understand. Hopefully this young man can think things through.
Ruan Siyi started wandering about with a hesitant heart. This time, he had a goal.
After observing for several days, he had some ideas in mind. When he returned home, he dug through his things.
“Husband, what are you looking for?”
Ruan Siyi froze and said softly: “I remember we had some ink, brush and paper when we moved here.”
“You mean these things?” Qiao-Shi turned and opened a box, taking out a pile of things. “Look, it’s all here.”
There was an ink stone missing a corner, two brushes with tips crusted in ink and a pile of writing paper.
Ruan Siyi liked to be sophisticated, and there had been all sorts of books and calligraphy in his study. When those people stole things and ran off, the valuables had all been taken. In the end, they started stealing things from his study. After everyone was gone, Ruan Siyi only had these few things remaining.
Ruan Siyi touched the things with a complicated expression and didn’t speak.
The next day, he asked Qiao-Shi for two silver tales. He didn’t say what for and Qiao-Shi didn’t ask.
That night, he brought back a special trunk. This trunk was half the height of a person and about a foot and a half wide. It could be carried on the back and can also be used as a small table.
The next day, he took the case, ink and paper before leaving.
It was easy to think about but hard to put it into action.
Ruan Siyi didn’t feel anything when he took the trunk out. By the time he reached his chosen spot, he stood there frozen for a long time without putting it down.
This was a crowded street. Small stalls and peddlers were calling out for business. He had to start making a living in such a place.
Ruan Siyi stood there, a thick sense of humiliation and shame filling his inner soul.
“Hey, scholar. Are you planning on setting up shop or not? I still have things to do after getting this letter done.”
He turned his head and saw a woman in her fifties standing there, looking at him impatiently.
“I’m setting up, I’m setting up.”
He placed the trunk down and took down the small stool on top of it. He then placed a thin board on top of the trunk, before taking out a brush and paper from the side compartment.
He had ground the ink in advance, and walked carefully to avoid spilling it. He unfolded a snow-white piece of writing paper and took a deep breath, asking the woman what she needed to write.
That woman seemed to send letters often, and swiftly spoke the contents.
Ruan Siyi poured the ink as he listened, and after wetting his brush, he wrote his first letter for someone else. After writing, he copied what he saw others doing, and read it aloud for the woman to verify.
After she listened, she said anxiously: “Hey, scholar. Do you know how to write a letter or not? What on earth are you writing? I don’t understand a word! If you don’t know how to write, I’ll find someone else.”
Ruan Siyi’s ears turned red, and didn’t know what to say.
He was a little confused, and didn’t understand where he went wrong. He was good at verse, poetry and song. How could he fail to write a letter properly?
He thought back to the woman saying she “didn’t understand” and suddenly things cleared up. He hurriedly said: “This madam, let me rewrite it for you.”
“Then you won’t charge for this piece, right?”
Normally when writing for someone, they would charge by the paper. If one provided their own paper, it would cost three coins. If one didn’t, it would cost five.
Ruan Siyi smiled bitterly and said: “I naturally won’t.”
As he spoke, he hurriedly wrote, and in a few breaths of time, produced another letter. This time, he used colloquial language.
That woman saw his writing speed and was a little astonished, “You didn’t make any mistakes, right? I didn’t even open my mouth to dictate and you’ve already finished?”
Ruan Siyi naturally understood her meaning. His memory had always been good, and he wouldn’t forget what to write in this brief period of time.
Seeing her disbelief, he held the letter and read it back to her.
After she finished listening, she looked at him in pleasant surprise: “Hey scholar, you’re pretty good. Good memory. You know, my daughter married out of the capital and I send a letter every few days. I’ve tried all the writers on this street before, and they always need me to repeat several times to finish a letter.”
Ruan Siyi felt both pleased and bitter in his heart: “Thank you madam for your praise. This isn’t a big deal.”
That madam took out a common envelope and handed it over. “Help me wrap it up. Write “To: Sun Yue Jiao” on it.”
The woman took the letter and left happily, leaving behind five copper coins.
Ruan Siyi looked at these five filthy copper coins and was dazed for a long time…