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Published at 24th of November 2022 12:25:29 PM


Chapter 78

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The last time he told Cui Yuan to head to Beijing to send gifts, Cui Xie had noted down Colonel Xie’s address.

Originally, he was supposed to visit the other after entering the capital, but he had come back this time because of the case. Upon Cui Xie’s return, if it wasn’t performing ceremonies at the Ministry of Rites, then it was entering the Imperial palace or going back to his hometown to worship his ancestors….In addition, there had been a Cui Laoye wandering about in the Cui Residence and Cui Xie feared that a new branch would grow out of a knot[1], so he had kept delaying the visit to no avail.

Now that Advisor Cui had taken office in Yunnan and it was also the Imperial College’s school holiday, it was precisely the day to pay a visit. It was not too late to put off their bookstore’s matters for discussion until later.

Cui Qi and the Assistant Shopkeeper Ji had arrived by carriage and Cui Xie simply transferred the gifts over to their carriage and then sent the other carriage driver home.  Since Cui Xie had said he was going to give gifts to Colonel Xie, the Assistant Shopkeeper thought his gifts were not lively enough and did not look like proper gifts. As such, he helped Cui Xie buy a basket of fresh chayote, two incense burners with the longevity character engraved on it, four cases of light refreshments and a few engraved ivory ornaments.

Ji Duyuan also wanted to buy a rhinoceros belt and Cui Xie helped to choose a few. But, they were not very satisfactory so it was better to draw a few examples from the movie and then have the workers making the clothes choose a matching set. He then dropped the idea of the belts and instead bought a pair of rhinoceros horned cups. Then, Cui Xie brought the two subordinates with him and led them to the gates of the Xie Residence.

Although the doorman did not recognize them, his eyes lit up after seeing the words “Cui Xie, a student of the Imperial College” on the post, “So it turns out to be Cui anshou, the author of 《Antithetical Couplets from the Four Books》. Please come in and take a seat, my residence’s da-ren headed over to the Administrative Division this morning and will be returning soon.”

Cui Xie weighed out a few taels of silver as a tip to the doorman and sent Pengyan (Cui Qi) to hand it over. The doorman hurriedly declined: “Our da-ren has always thought highly of anshou’s work and is constantly thinking of your well being. How can we take your money?”

The two parties exchanged a few more pleasantries and only then did the doorman agree to accept the money. The doorman then led them to the main hall to rest. Most of the people in the Xie Residence had heard of Cui Xie before and knew his general situation. When they saw the doorman leading a 16-or 17-year-old jiansheng, a good-looking youth, inside, everyone immediately began to conjecture whether his surname was Cui.

Xie Shan recognized him, so he greeted him from a distance and shouted, “Young Master Cui, what brings you to see our Laoye?”

Cui Xie smiled, “So it turns out to be Xie da-ge. I have been in the capital for so long but have yet to visit the Colonel. Hence, I called to pay my respects today.”

Cui Qi also laughingly called out an “Uncle Xie Shan” and only the Assistant Shopkeeper had yet to meet him before. Standing in the Jinyiwei’s courtyard, there was still some overcautiousness as the Assistant Shopkeeper bowed his head and greeted respectfully.

Xie Shan’s entire face was radiant with happiness as he returned the courtesies. How many times had been run back and forth between the capital and Qian’an? Now that Cui Xie personally came up to their door, he knew that he would no longer have to make such trips in the future. He secretly recited “Amitabha” a few times in his heart and greeted them with extra enthusiasm. 

The Old Steward of the Xie Residence also wanted to come and see what the child prodigy, who had hooked Colonel Xie on his books, looked like. He personally led servants to present the guests with tea and fruit. He then sat in the side hall and exchanged a few words with Cui Xie, asking him why he wanted to see their Colonel.

Cui Xie grinned, “I should have come to visit the Colonel earlier, but it is just some things that happened at home and have been unable to have the chance. Now that the Imperial College is on holiday, I have bought some gifts to pay my respects. I also hope that the elder will help me transfer them to the Colonel on my behalf.”

Cui Qie presented the newly written gift list on Cui Xie’s behalf and the Old Steward rose from his seat, accepting it with a smile that spread from ear to ear: “Cui anshou is too polite. Once the da-ren returns, this old man will show him everything one at a time and must not fail to live up to the anshou’s good intentions.”

The Old Steward swept a glance at the list and saw they were all things that could be bought from the market, and didn’t have any of those books or paintings that had been gifted before. He could not help but feel it was a pity.

The two paintings sent before were much better than these common things and their Colonel had also been fond of them. This Young Master Cui loved to send paintings when he was in Qian’an, how could he stop sending them after entering the capital?

Wholeheartedly thinking of Xie Ying and based on his age and as a Xie family member, he used his old face to inquire, “ Actually, our Colonel prefers the anshou’s paintings and books. The two paintings sent previously have already been hung up in the inner study to appreciate. Later on, the《Antithetical Couplets from the Four Books》was even harder to part with. This old servant must shamelessly ask, is there any new work from Cui anshou?”

Cui Xie’s heart moved and seized the opportunity to say, “I am not very busy with my studies right now and am learning to draw large-scale character portraits. If the Colonel does not mind, I am willing to paint him one. It is just that, based on my two eyes, it might not accurately estimate his physique and I am afraid it will turn out hideously and be unworthy of him.”

Seeing that he was willing to draw such a big portrait, Old Steward Xie delightedly persuaded, “I have his measurements written down! Just let me write it down for you….the horse-riding picture you painted last time was very beautiful. It would be even better if you could draw a painting of him wearing an official uniform, wearing silver flowers and a jadeite python belt as well as holding a jade tablet.”

Cui Xie shook his head and professionally commented, “Everyone wears official uniforms for portraits, and it will not look as outstanding if painted. For people like Colonel Xie, it is better to dress magnificently. I will draw him with plait-line robe clothes as well as a fastened cloak. It is guaranteed that wearing it will improve one’s appearance and even if others try to do the same, they will not be able to compare.”

Old Steward Xie replied: “How can a plait-line robe look good? It is better to wear straight-bodied official robes. It is dignified and just like when Gu Changkang [2] paints people, add a few whiskers of a beard to increase one’s imposing aura.”

How was adding a beard aesthetically pleasing? The reason why Gu Kaizhi added a beard to the portrait when painting Pei Kai was because the artist did not use realism, focusing instead on the spirit and not the actual figure; Cui Xie was a realist, what Colonel Xie looked like, he would draw!

At most he would smooth the skin and add a filter, nothing more…..

In other words, as an artist, he could not yield to the other party!

Cui Xie refused to mention the beard and sternly said, “This elder is incorrect. Wearing official robes is much too restrictive and not suitable for younger people.  It would be more appropriate to wait until the Colonel is older to paint something like that. At his age, he must wear elegant and suave garments. Painting a portrait will take too long, later, I will ask someone to make a set of robes first and send it over. Once you ask him to wear it, you will realize. I can guarantee that you will be unable to find anyone that is more good-looking than him in the capital…..”

“Cough.”

A light cough suddenly rang out and came in from the direction of the doorway, interrupting the two’s artistic debate. Cui Xie turned his head to look and saw a silhouette dressed in a bluish green yesa standing outside the entrance. Contrasting against the light, a handsome and familiar face was looking at him.

Cui Xie’s unceasing torrent of comments suddenly got stuck in his throat and seeing the man, he went speechless. Old Steward Xie hurriedly stood up and awkwardly asked, “Da-ren has returned?”

Xie Ying had just heard the two heatedly discussing whether they should add a beard or not in the courtyard and upon walking to the door, he heard Cui Xie’s words, “cannot find anyone more good-looking than him in the capital”, clearly entering into his ears. 

The servants accompanying him took the initiative to fall behind a few steps, lowering their heads to pretend as if they had not heard anything. Xie Ying stood at the entrance, looking at the people inside. Seeing Cui Xie stop talking, he nodded to the three standing as he strided into the hall. He then looked down at Cui Xie to ask, “Why did Cui anshou pay a visit to my poor residence?”

Cui Xie subconsciously felt his cheeks, but they did not feel hot. He then laughed naturally and arose from his seat, cupping his hands in greeting, “Colonel Xie is too polite. In front of the da-ren, I will always be that same Cui Xie you met from the start. Da-ren can just address me by my first name. Today’s meeting was delayed and I should have visited much earlier to thank Xie da-ren for your previous protection and kindness.”

This one “previous” covered the entirety of the Cui family’s case, from start to finish.

Seeing the meaningful glance passed on, Colonel Xie understood tacitly and shook his head as his lips curled up, “Worthy little brother Cui always addresses me as da-ren, isn’t this also being too polite? Since you are still willing to get close with a military man like me, I will no longer treat you as an outsider. Since I am a few years older than you, you can just call me Xie xiong.”

Cui Xie immediately called out “Xie xiong” and after bringing up his intentions to draw a portrait and make clothes for him, he clarified, “I didn’t mean to offend Xie xiong just now. It is true that Xie xiong is young and handsome, you ought to dress more casually at home.”

Grinning, Xie Ying replied, “I am inferior to my worthy little brother’s elegance, at such a young age, you should make a few sets of good garments for yourself to wear.”

Cui Xie had such a hard time in Qian’an and dressing like that given his circumstances had been fine. How come after returning to the capital, Cui Xie hadn’t commissioned any clothes made of satin sprinkled with bright colors and instead came to visit people wearing the Imperial College’s uniform? This robe was loose on the shoulders and one could faintly see that the cuffs and waist showed signs of modification. They hadn’t made a new uniform for him?

Xie Ying was unaware that Cui Xie’s robes had been newly issued yesterday and there hadn’t been enough time to make a new one according to his measurements. After class ended, Cui Xie went straight to see him after school and was unwilling to waste time changing his clothes.

Xie Ying secretly sighed and instructed the servants, “I will go back to change robes. Bring the Young Master into the main hall.”

Old Steward Xie led Cui Xie into the drawing room of the main hall and Xie Shan stayed to accompany the Assistant Shopkeeper and Cui Qi for some conversation. After Xie Ying changed clothes and returned, he greeted Cui Xie again and asked, “Worthy little brother Cui is here to give gifts again, right?”

Replying, Cui Xie said, “Precisely so. Now that I have returned home, I have much better things on hand compared to when I was in Qian’an.I have picked out some fresh flowers, and flower dew to fumigate Xie xiong’s room. And then……”

“And then worthy little brother Cui is going to make me a casual and elegant set of clothes.” Laughing, Xie Ying pressed Cui Xie into a chair on the left and then swiveled around to take a seat to the right of him. Separated by a small side table, he said, “My residence is not lacking in these yesas, plait-lined robes or sleeveless jackets. On the other hand, when we parted last time, my worthy little brother said that he would write a poem for me. Are you able to do it now?”

The corners of Cui Xie’s mouth twitched downwards and he quickly and firmly smoothed it flat: “Actually, I can compose poetry now.”

The corner of Xie Ying’s mouth held in a thin smile, looking as if he didn’t believe what Cui Xie said. Having Xie Ying face him with such an expression, on the contray, it gave birth to a competitive spirit within Cui Xie and he stubbornly continued, “Really can do it now. When I was summoned into the palace by the Emperor last time, I was ordered to compose a poem in front of the Imperial throne and I was able to do it. Now that I think about it, composing poems is not all that hard, at most it is just not very good….”

Composing good poems was difficult but it was not difficult to compose bad ones. In any case, as long as he followed the level and oblique tones and followed the rhymes in the poem, the Emperor still hadn’t killed him. Then could others kill him for this?

What Cui Xie said was quite reasonable and Xie Ying was left speechless. However, officials could not be shoulder to shoulder with the Emperor and Xie da-ren was in no hurry to accept Cui Xie’s poetic talents. Xie Ying shook his head and grinned, “You are quite open-minded. But, there are talents from all over the world gathered in the capital. Secondly, there are also those of the Imperial College and there are still some child prodigies that have passed the county examination in the Hanlin Academy. At present, they are all refined and worldly people. If someone wants to compete with you in the future, if you are unable to compose a good poem, it will not look good for your face.”

As he spoke, Xie Ying pointed to his face, his eyes curved like crescents and his plump lower eyelids protruded out. His expression was gentle and soft, but also familiar. It was as if he was chatting with a friend and had known each other for a long time.

When Cui Xie was at school, he was long accustomed to joking around with his fellow students and seeing that the other was about the same age as him, sitting at the same table, cracking jokes and bantering, the other seemed just like a fellow student. He could refrain but show some of his natural personality as Cui Xie stroked his own chin and said, “That is not serious, my face is good-looking.”

Xie Ying’s hand halted in midair and he burst out into genuine laughter.

Only after laughing for a while was Xie Ying able to restrain himself and there was a smiling expression contained in his eyes. Looking at Cui Xie, he said, “In the past, I only knew you were good at painting in the past, only today did I realize that your words are also reasonable. I think in the future, I don’t want your paintings anymore. No need to go to the trouble of delivering outfits during the New Year either, just come over and talk about some sensible arguments.”

Cui Xie’s eyes almost bulged out of their sockets and he treated it as if he hadn’t understood that the other was teasing him.

Seeing the other propping up his chin with his hand, Cui Xie’s gaze evasive and dodging his own, Xie Ying could not help but want to tease him again. Just tracing his gaze downwards on that hand that was blocking Cui Xie’s chin, Xie Ying suddenly saw that the cuff’s welt seam had not been ironed down very well and the sides of the flap were turning upwards. The good mood in Xie Ying’s heart somewhat faded and he pinched onto the sleeves and said, “The cuffs on your sleeves are sticking out a bit, take it off and have someone iron it.”

Xie Ying clapped his hands and a young manservant waiting in the veranda entered upon hearing his command. Cui Xie pressed against his sleeves and replied, “This is not urgent, I can ask people at home to iron it later…..”

Xie Ying said, “Later, you will be having a meal and it is inconvenient to wear such a robe. I have a few garments that were made for me when I was younger and I never ended up wearing them. Put it on and it’ll be more convenient to wear at home.”

At that time, it had been just when his father had passed away and any brightly colored clothes had been buried to the bottom of the trunk. Cui Xie’s current figure was about the same size as Xie Ying back then, so he should be able to fit into them.

Xie Ying ordered someone to iron the clothes and then had Cui Xie change behind a screen. He then took Cui Xie’s large robe, which had been roughly tailored and shrunk by an unknown number of inches, to be re-sewed and ironed. One didn’t know what kind of coincidence it was, but the clothes consisted of a crimson plait-lined robe sprinkled with gold flecks and a pleated skirt-like hemline scattered below in addition to a sleeveless white jacket on top as well.

This was the first time Cui Xie had worn such a free flowing hemline and it was so fashionable that he didn’t even know how to walk. It always felt like the skirt was catching the wind as he walked and he could not help but drag the hem of the skirt downwards, whispering and sighing, “This type of dress is truly for nobility, us ordinary people are not used to wearing it ah.”

Xie Ying watched him from the side, his lips unhurriedly curving upwards: “Looks quite good, can’t find another person so good-looking in the capital.”

Footnotes:
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