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Published at 24th of November 2022 12:25:32 PM


Chapter 76

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A 16-year old boy that did nothing else but study since he was a child, had just returned to the capital from the backwoods and didn’t even understand how to take care of the accounts…..to come across such an employer, should they cheat him, cheat him or cheat him?

Without much thought, the three stewards made up their minds.

Cui Dahui, the shopkeeper of the Southern goods store was the most spirited of the bunch, scrambling a step closer than the rest as he stood in front of Cui Xie, his hand resting on his chest as he sighed: “Young Master is unaware, but our Southern goods store has to transport fresh fragrant candy, tea leaves and flowers, the Four Precious Seafoods (abalone, sea cucumber, shark fin and fish maw), ham and dried meats, as well as oil, salt, soy sauce and vinegar on a seasonal basis…..If there is no circulating cash, then there will be no fresh commodities to sell. There are also those we hired to use their boats, carriages and horses for transport that are still waiting for us to settle the payments, and those are absolutely payments we cannot be behind in.”

He spent tremendous strength to squeeze out a few tear droplets, looking at Cui Xie with old, turbid eyes: “It is not that this old slave is not thinking of the difficulties in the residence, but despite my willing heart, I am powerless. I have to thicken up my old face and request that Young Master allocate some money for us to maintain the store for a year. Next year, there will be less losses and we can slowly revive and make profits after a year or two. At that time, it will be possible to earn two or three hundred silver taels a year.”

Cui Xie silently gave him a negative score——the tears were too fake, the speed of tears shed was extremely slow and when tears couldn’t be squeezed out, a stage prop wasn’t even prepared in advance, not at all dedicated to one’s work.

It was not up to par compared to Cui Xie’s expressive display of seriously designing scenes and molding characters. Cui Xie insipidly asked: “How much money is needed for the turnover?”

A hint of shrewdness flashed in Cui Dahui’s eyes. Wiping the corners of his eyes, he said: “This old slave knows that the residence is in dire straits, and does not dare to ask for more. As long as the Young Master can pool together two hundred taels, it will be enough. The merchandise in the store is a little outdated, and they need to be replaced with new ones in order to sell well; silver most also be paid to the boatmen chartering the ships as well as for any toll fees; there are also the monthly payments for the store’s clerks, as well as the silver needed to organize documents on government’s side and mountain pass checkpoints…..”

Cui Xie shook his head: “It is too much, it really will not do….”

Cui Dahui was in a hurry to ask for funds and no longer cared about pretending to weep and complain. He moved closer to Cui Xie and unleashed words like a barrage of gunfire, “Young Master must not be unwilling to take out the money upon hearing the amount. It must be kept in mind that this silver has a source and a destination. In order to run the business, one must be sharp and scramble to buy the goods that will sell well. If we are unable to provide good commodities with our own money, who will be willing to buy it?”

Cui Liangdong also persuaded: “This Southern goods store merely has a temporary cash flow problem at the moment. When business is good, four or five hundred taels of silver can be entered into the accounts annually!”

Cui Xie smiled, “When the business is good, four or five hundred taels can be entered into the accounts. When business is bad, one must fork out two hundred taels and lose money instead of making profit. Then why not just close the store and rent out the storefront instead? The old courtyard in Qian’an could be pawned off for one hundred taels and the one in the capital also has a storefront. If it were to be rented out, it would be about two or three hundred taels of silver a year, don’t you think?”

This squandering Young Master!

The Southern goods store earned more than just four or five hundred taels a year ah! Even when the Laoye and Xu furen had been in charge of the household, the shopkeeper and accountant had earned so much that the money basins would be overflowing. He had wanted to take advantage of the Young Master’s ignorance and put a few more taels back in his pockets. Who knew that this Young Master could be so ignorant, that he didn’t even want to run this store anymore!

This time, Cui Dahui was truly angry from the bottom of his heart and he almost pounced over to Cui Xie to shake his shoulder, raising his voice to yell: “There are still goods worth hundreds of silver left in the store. If you rent the store out, you will be bound to sustain some losses. Please reconsider Young Master!”

The Young Master replied impatiently, “Disdain for not having too few goods, you are the one who said they were worthless and you now also are the one saying they are valuable. Which one of your claims should I listen to? I see that you have not made any real achievements, not one bit like a proper shopkeeper.”

Cui Dahui glared at Cui Xie until his eyes were big and round. He opened his mouth to refute.

Cui Xie glanced at him, picked up the account books of the satin shop and beckoned to the shopkeeper, Cui Jinzhi: “Tell me, does this satin shop earn a lot of money?”

Cui Jinzhi had assimilated the bitter lessons of those who spoke before him and calmly said, “Although a lot of profit cannot be made at the moment, the inventory can still be sold for quite a while. The profits earned will be delivered to the south next month to commission for some raw silk muslin, damask and other such light and graceful materials. After reselling the inventory a few times,  the shop can be restored to its prime. When it comes to earning money, I’m afraid that it must wait until the end of the year. Not to mention the ones sold and bought in the store, doesn’t the household need to tailor new garments for the four different seasons?”

Cui Xie had an indifferent look on his face, no one could tell what he was thinking. After his engrossed daze, he asked Cui Ting, the shopkeeper of the cosmetics shop: “How about your shop? Does it also need to be compensated for losses or not?”

Cui Ting had been waiting for this question for a long time. He hurriedly squeezed out a smile on his face and said, “No loss, no loss! Not only do we not require the residence to subsidize us, we must not tarry in providing the Old furen, the two concubines and the rest of the ladies with cosmetics and silk flower hairpins!”

He looked at Cui Xie’s expression, careful to please and boasted vigorously: “The lead powder used in our shop is all imported from Guilin, superior white powder refined by proper Buddhist monks….”

Cui Xie faintly smiled. Cui Ting thought he had struck a favorable chord within Cui Xie’s heart and after praising the lead powder, he praised the rouge, saying that the shop’s cosmetic rouge was made from genuine white wax secreted from scale insects (Ericerus pela).

Cui Xie pressed on something in the empty air in front and told Cui Ting to stop momentarily. He called Cui Liangdong over and said: “What the three shopkeepers said are reasonable. It is just that I am usually not the person making the decisions. Just hearing you all talk about these things, I cannot discern anything from it. I will hand over these matters for you to take charge of ——”

“The household does not have money and cannot support all three shops at the same time. I intend to sell off one in exchange for money in order to survive. As for the remaining two shops, we must look after their future prospects: Whichever one does good, merge all the staff together to run it fully; As for the inferior one, one might as well rent it out for a few years until it stabilizes. Later on, we can analyze if there are any other suitable businesses that can be done.”

Cui Dahui’s intuition told him that his own shop would be sold first and a fierce look appeared on his face. Secretly clenching his fists, he looked at Cui Xie and said, “Eldest Young Master is still young and cannot understand certain matters just yet. How can people like us just sell our properties? Once we choose this path, the shopkeeper and the clerks below us will be heartbroken, how will any of us happily work for you then! What’s more, the Eldest Young Master is young, this household is not to be run by yourself…..”

Cui Xie nodded, “This household does not only belong to me, and I will not jump to conclusions after just listening to what you guys have to say.As I mentioned earlier, the five-year plan. Each shop should make one and be as detailed as possible. I will then take it back to the Old Patriarch, Old furen, two older sisters, Third Brother and family’s yiniangs to have them take part in evaluating the details comprehensively. Once everyone comes to a consensus, we will decide what stays and what goes.”

He saw that this group of people had stunned expressions, so he simply asked a young manservant, Songyan, to grab some pen, ink and draft paper. He then individually wrote down the shop’s name and questions about the construction circumstances, address, property or cash held in reserve, amount of personnel, daily customer flow, the shop’s yearly income, the shop’s condition on loans, payment for goods, personnel salary, accidentally wasted inventory and other such items….he then ordered them to fill in the corresponding information and numbers according to the form and then use it to predict the business operations for the next five years.

The three shopkeepers bitterly grimaced and said, “How can this be done accurately? No one can predict what it will be like in five years. In the case that us subordinates do more or do less, when the moment comes that there are any mishaps with the revenue, we will not be able to shoulder such responsibility.”

Cui Xie replied: “What will happen in the future has to do with the future. Right now, I only want you to write a plan. If you refuse to write it, then you must not have the heart to do anything. In that case, you might as well pick  a few people who are willing to make the plans and have them take over instead….”

Please don’t!

The shopkeepers of the cosmetic and satin shop repeatedly assented: “Don’t worry Young Master! We will do it! We will do it!”

Cui Dahui from the Southern goods store wanted to give it another go. Gritting his teeth, he said to Cui Xie, “The Young Master disdains that the Southern goods store is slow in returning profits, but those two shops also rely on the high quality goods that the Southern goods’ manpower and boats shuttle back and forth, in order to raise their prestige. If the Eldest Young Master only desires to save money and is unwilling to invest in the travels, then we can only sell some shop-worn goods from the capital, which will not earn much!”

Cui Xie answered: “I am busy with my studies and cannot go to the store personally to take a look. Tomorrow, you all can bring me a few samples of the top-quality goods in each store and I will check the quality.”

After saying that, his gaze swept toward the Head Steward and he said insipidly, “Shopkeeper Dahui does not know how to make plans. Find someone to take care of these shopkeeping matters on his behalf. For the blanks on the form that ask for numbers, have the shop’s clerks check the inventory. In the future, the figures for the next five years will be calculated according to the previous calculations. It should be written clearly and simply, everyone in the family will read them.”

When he had to write their graduation thesis then, they had to write it all by themselves and they even had to go on the CNKI database to check for plagiarism. Who dared to say they were unhappy and that they wanted to stop writing? He had already provided so many key points for the form, yet the others had a problem with their attitude, still dragging on and unwilling to complete the task!

The Head Steward saw that there was a chance for him to meddle with the store’s operations and disregarded Cui Dahui’s unsightly expression, smiling: “Young Master can rest easy, this subordinate will keep an eye on them and it will be definitely completed properly.”

Cui Xie nodded: “No need to rush. Ask the employees in the store to each help out a little bit and you can return the forms to me ten days later.”

After putting the asset appraisal assignment in order, he dismissed the steward, shopkeepers and manservant. He then spread out paper and began to paint in his small study.

He had already completed several drafts in the past few days when he had entered the capital, but he had been afraid that Cui Que would find out about it and cause trouble for him, so he hadn’t touched the pen at all. He had endured until this Laoye had gone to Yunnan to take office and he didn’t want to delay this matter any further. He took out drawing paper that was cut to the same size as《The Six Talents and the Three Kingdoms》. He first used a straightedge to mark out the borders and then traced out the perspective lines for the background, arranging the layout of the furniture according to the perspective lines, first drawing the scene of Official Zhou vomiting blood.

Cui Xie had already drawn this scene countless times in his mind and now that he actually started it, every stroke was finished in one go, and the lines did not need to be modified. Zhou Yu’s sorrowful and unresigned expression as he vomited blood and Xiao Qiao’s emotional gaze unfolded under his brush. He altered the composition and had Xiao Qiao stand by Zhou Yu’s side, reaching out a hand to help support him. The couple’s fingertips mutually made contact with each other, yet seemed like their grasped hands were not fully gripped, as to display the feeling of Zhou Yu’s dying strength as he approached his end.

This kind of color portrait was easy to color in, simply coating the pigment on, layer by layer on the flat surface. Since he was not in Qian’an anymore, he could not wait for the printed samples to come out and instruct the artisans on how to adjust the colors. Instead, he took another piece of paper and divided it based on the different components used, labeling the colors out on sheets and layers, indicating whether the printed result should be gentle or more robust.

It took nearly twice as much work as usual to make such a portrait. However, if the artisans could print the painting to meet his requirements, without having to send people from Qian’an to deliver samples back and forth for color corrections, it would save a lot of time.

In fact, the best way was to directly move the bookstore to the capital. But, the artisans used in the workshop were all Qian’an locals and he was afraid they would be unwilling to move.

What Cui Xie hoped more now, was to take control of that north to south commerce that the Cui Residence had established, so that he could recruit skilled artisans from the south, purchase suitable engraved printing blocks and construct a flagship store for the Peace of Mind study in the capital. At that time, the three studies in Beijing, Tongzhou and Qian’an would be strung together, which would not only facilitate the transportation of goods, but one could also exchange engraved printing blocks and the speed of printing would also be upgraded.

In the future, more books would be printed and they would be able to sell color-printed books to the south through this familiar and safe trade route. On the trip home, one could bring a few boats full of new books from the south….

The slightly cold night wind blew in from the open window, cooling his mind ——the day after tomorrow was a holiday and Cui Qi should be arriving at the Imperial College to pay him a visit. It was useless to continue this train of thought and he drew two more manuscripts for Cui Qi to take back.

As such, borrowing the lights from the candles, he drew the outline draft of Wo Long (Zhuge Liang) Paying a Condolence Call. The next morning, when it was not quite light out yet, he got up and colored it in. Fortunately, everyone in the funeral hall scene was wearing raw white silks and the coloring was not complicated. Even after painting in a couple of layers, it was finished in about two hours.

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Today was the day when Cui Xie would officially start attending the college and he needed to be in time for the Court Academician’s lecture. He didn’t dare to be late, so he headed out of the Residence an hour earlier while mounted on a horse, clopping towards the capital’s main streets at the speed of a bicycle. He entered the lecture hall in about the time one would have finished a cup of tea.

The morning lecture was presided over by Fei Yin, the Director of Studies of the Imperial College. The contents of the lecture was discussing the chapters of 《Mencius·Li Lou》. Director Fei was only a few years older than Teacher Lin, but he had been born in Huiyuan. His knowledge was extremely proficient and the teaching level was clearly higher than Teacher Lin by quite a lot. When he lectured, he did not just perform a wooden word-by-word reading of the Confucian scriptures from the Song Dynasty, but instead drew extensive justifications from the scriptures and history. Every character and sentence had its origin and after listening to it, it made people feel that they also had such a wealth of knowledge.

Cui Xie took a stick of handmade wood charcoal and took notes while listening, wishing that he could just copy the lecture word for word. It was a pity that there was no ppt or blackboard in this era. Otherwise, the teacher could write on the board and the students could copy it down below. Wouldn’t it save a lot of effort?

Once he became the Imperial College’s Chancellor in the future, he would certainly give an order to have blackboards installed in the Imperial College’s lecture halls and study classrooms!

Secretly making the vow in his heart, the words written became increasingly more leisurely and the meaning of the scriptures that were recited was only written by using the first and last words in order to represent each sentence. When he wrote down the words he had not learned yet, he severely wished he could just change to a horizontal layout to speed up his notetaking. But, a few of the students sitting beside him were already looking at him and even the Director of Studies had given him two glances. He didn’t dare to show off and act special, so he could only continue to write honestly.

Director Fei had talked incessantly all morning and didn’t even have a lesson plan in mind. Everything was stored in his mind. No matter how remote the historical material was, he talked about each one with great aplomb. There was absolutely no time for stagnation or contemplation. By the end of his long lecture, his face did not show any signs of weariness. With a flick of his sleeves, he descended from the podium confidently and freely, and dismissed the students.

Naturally, the students did not dare to leave, so they all stood up to send him off. Only a young student followed behind him.

Cui Xie quietly mixed in with the crowd to see him off. Unexpectedly, the Director of Studies suddenly halted as he walked by and took a few glances at Cui Xie’s notebook and pen, asking, “That’s all you remembered just now? Aren’t you worried that solely preoccupying yourself with taking notes will interfere with listening to what my lecture was about?”

Taking notes in class everyday was a good habit for students . Otherwise, how would they know what to memorize before the exam?

He had taken such notes at Teacher Lin’s academy before and Teacher Lin hadn’t corrected him. He had just followed his habit, but he did not want Director Fei to be unhappy because of this.

He had always been honest in front of teachers, so he lowered his head and explained: “This student’s fundamentals are not good. Hearing the Director talk about things I don’t know, I wanted to write it down so I can go back and check it slowly. If I do not take the notes, I am afraid I will forget them later.”

Director Fei didn’t appear to really want to blame Cui Xie. He flipped through the few pages of notes and nodded: “Knowing your own shortcomings, it is good to be ambitious in improving oneself and learning. It is just that by taking such meticulous notes, I am afraid that you will just concentrate on copying. Some things you must listen to, those one must think deeply about will be neglected and one will lose the original meanings explained in the lecture.”

Cui Xie repeatedly complied.

Fei Yin set down the notes and gently said: “If there is something you do not understand, you can just ask the Teaching Assistant assigned to this hall, or, you can come and find me when I am here. No need to be so overly cautious. The books that you do not have at home can be borrowed from Yilun Hall. If you have the will to learn, you should read a few more books, so as to not fail to live up to your young age.”

Fei Yin flung his sleeves, sauntering out the hall. The younger student following behind Fei Yin actually halted to look at Cui Xie a few more times,  but didn’t open his mouth. He just raised his hands in a cupped fist salute and hurriedly caught up with Fei Yin, also exiting the lecture hall.
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