The Plough – Chapter 42

This was the third death threat letter received.
This was the third death threat letter received.

He Youan looked at the paper spread out in front of her, feeling extremely anxious.

The paper was a high-quality rice paper, called Golden Floral Paper1金花笺 jīnhuājiān – I’ve translated literally but yeh just the name of this xuan/rice paper. All you need to know is that it is a really nice high quality paper that is used for drawing and calligraphy. Also durable – a lot of famous paintings and poems written back in Tang Dynasty have been able to be preserved due to using this paper back in the day.

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During the flourishing Tang dynasty2Tang Dynasty was from 618 to 907 but it largely considered the era Chinese culture flourished especially in poetry, so you’ll often hear of Li Bai who was a Tang dynasty poet, poems and paintings were written and drawn on this paper depicting golden flowers and used to bestow upon consorts and officials as a custom.

Nowadays, there are some bookshops who tried to imitate the ancient and sophisticated style of golden floral paper, this was commonly known as Fake Golden Floral Paper3仿金花 fǎngjīnhuā lit. translation. – 仿 fǎng means imitation/copy but I’ll just call it Fake, not very original name lol, which was very popular among the rich daughters of noble families as well as those hopeless romantics.

Right now, this piece of ‘Fake Golden Floral Paper’ had a painting upon it.

There was a beautiful woman wearing a cheongsam who pushed the door to come out. The entrance was surrounded by greenery, but most of it was withered, and flower petals had already fallen, the bushes only had a couple of branches left, the ground was just yellow and withered and a complete mess with no one to clean it up.

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There are also two small lines of poetry running along the edge, which were very strange and had not been handwritten, but had been cut out of newspapers and glued on.

Pity the poor servant girl’s life, as she heads to death for her master4FYI It doesn’t actually say ‘master’ as such, the word used is quite archaic, the word can mean minister or official, it was a way for the Emperor to address his officials. It is also a dated term of endearment between a married couple or close friends but I chose master to make it clearer.

The face of the woman wearing the cheongsam in the painting could not be seen, but her charm and figure, it was discernible and unmistakably like He Youan.

Inside the house.

Aside from He Youan, there were two other people present.

Shen Shiqi was pacing back and forth with his arms crossed.

Teng Siping, the owner of a film company, was sitting opposite He Youan.

“Could you not be so flustered? It’s just a painting and a poem, what can you even discern from that!”

Shen Shiqi was very impatient. His uncle had called him this morning and given him a good talking to and his words were stern. The Shen family’s greatest reliance was his uncle. The latter’s position in the Shen family was incredibly high and he rarely interfered with trivial matters. But this time he actually called Shen Shiqi to personally tell him off, making him tuck his tail between his legs, telling him to not make trouble for the Shen family all the time. Shen Shiqi was told off to the point of being in utter fear and annoyance that naturally he was not in a good mood now.

He understood what he had done to be told off, but he didn’t think that the Yue family would raise an army5兴师动众 xīngshī dòng zhòng – expression to get a great number of people involved (in carrying out some task) for a mere Ling Shu, running to the Yue family’s lao-da6老大 – lit. big old – I guess it’s the eldest bro to step in and teach him a lesson through his own uncle.

Shen Shiqi became more and more irritated, neither daring to talk back to his uncle, nor daring to settle things with the Yue family, so he could only vent all his anger on someone weaker.

“I’m sorry, maybe I was too nervous.”

He Youan forced out a smile, her brow still knitted tightly.

There was something about a beautiful woman when she was sad, even more compelling than usual.

Shen Shiqi pursed his lips and also regretted a little.

If he didn’t like He Youan, he wouldn’t have kept her by his side all this time. It’s just that there is a disparity in their status, and Shen Shiqi had always boasted saving He Youan from the slums and single-handedly raising her up to fame and fortune. Plus with He Youan’s gentle voice and the fact that she never acted arrogantly, Shen Shiqi naturally went a step ahead and became even more arrogant and domineering.

But, that didn’t mean he didn’t like He Youan anymore.

Teng Siping has a compassionate heart and could not bear to see her being talked to like this after being frightened, so he said, “Mr. Shen, if you are busy, you should go first. I will find someone to investigate, it should just be a prank, it is not a problem. Miss He had a great fright yesterday, so she is inevitably still startled, and has a lot of confusing thoughts in her mind, so I will arrange for two of my men to follow and protect her.”

Shen Shiqi’s expression eased a little, and although his tone was still not very pleasant, it was finally not as harsh as before.
“That works, I’ll have my driver drive you to Yong’an Department Store later, buy whatever you want, put it all on my tab, and I’ll come back tomorrow, ok?”

He cupped He Youan’s chin and lifted it slightly, as if to observe her reaction.

He Youan replied with an “en”, soft and gentle, mellow and mild-mannered, like a docile sheep nestling in its master’s arms, completely at the mercy of its master, not resisting one bit.

But such a meek beauty can sometimes make it more and more desirable to act harshly.

Shen Shiqi’s heart skipped a beat, but due to the presence of Teng Shiping, he didn’t say anything, he only gently hooked his fingers around He Youan’s fair and soft chin and slid downwards.

He Youan trembled slightly, it was very slight, but Shen Shiqi noticed it.

He smiled proudly.

Once Shen Shiqi left, Teng Siping looked at her sad and miserable face and he really couldn’t bear it.

“Don’t be afraid, I’ll find someone to follow you around later. The first two times were just coincidences, no need to overthink things.”

Teng Siping felt that the way he was consoling her was as if he was just going through the motions, but that was all he could do as the boss of the film company. Everyone knew that He Youan was the forbidden property of Shen Shiqi. Even if he wanted to help, he still had to make sure to avoid arousing any suspicion, otherwise if Shen Shiqi got wind of it, even ten stone lions might not be able to hold him back.

He Youan nodded absentmindedly.

In order to stop her thinking of this artwork, he reached out and took the “fake golden floral paper”, and before He Youan could stop him, he had already torn the painting into several pieces and lit a match to burn it, as if this would drive away the lingering and ominous air.

He Youan sighed softly.

She had received a total of three strange letters like this.

The envelopes were the same, but the content inside varied.

The letters were followed by a succession of strange occurrences.

The first time was three weeks ago.

He Youan remembered clearly that it was snowing heavily that day, she had just finished shooting a film, and her driver dropped her off downstairs at her apartment. The maid was waiting to pick her up at the door downstairs. She was all tired and dusty, ready to go upstairs to take a shower and sleep. She had just walked into the bathroom when she saw a white cloth bag on the windowsill.

She was curious at the time and thought the maid had left something behind, but when she opened it, there was actually a dead cat inside.

She was so shocked by this incident that even Shen Shiqi knew about it, but the latter did not think anything of it and believed it was a disgruntled and malicious revenge of her maid, and immediately tried to get rid of the maid, but He Youan stopped him.

The bathroom window faced out into the alley, remote and unoccupied, during the day the servants often opened the bathroom window here for ventilation, so anyone could climb up to the second floor.

It was so easy that it was almost impossible to find the perpetrator.
Plus, it was just a dead cat, at most it could only be considered as trying to frighten her, so even if He Youan went to the police to report it, there wouldn’t be much the police could do about it.

It did not take long for He Youan to receive another letter.

Again, this is on fake golden floral paper, upon it was only a short poem of a few lines:

“Hence I cannot help myself from feeling anxious for your rosy face. There will be one day that you will enter the discarded heap, since beauty and fragrance will leave you soon. You will shortly see others grow, whilst you wither.”

He Youan was at the Yingze Pavilion of Bao Feng House as she read out the poem in a soft voice.

There were two people sitting across the table from her.

Ling Shu and Yue Dingtang.

Since Western culture had been growing in Shanghai, many Western restaurants had gradually sprung up everywhere. In the International Settlement, there were even more Japanese restaurants, making this place like an exhibition of restaurants from all over the world, with a wide range of different cuisines to choose from.

However, there was still a market for local old-fashioned restaurants. After all, there are many different types of cuisine from all over China alone, so it was necessary to cater to the local palate as well. Treasure Phoenix House7宝凤楼 bǎofènglóu – lit translation opened during the late years of the reign of Guangxu8光绪 guāngxù reign name of penultimate Qing emperor Guangxu(1875-1908), it had been in operation for several decades but had already gone through three generations of owners. It was a family business passed on through the generations and a well-known spot.

The private rooms were named and ordered using the 《Thousand Character Classic》- Heaven is dark, earth golden; the cosmos is vast and diffuse, Sun and moon wax and wane; the stars are fixed in their constellations9This is just the first two lines of the Thousand Character Classic – you can read the full translation here. This “Yingze Pavilion”9盈昃阁yíng zè – wax and wane was next door to “Riyue Pavilion”10日月阁 Sun and moon, so yeh these two characters come after yíng zè. It was Treasure Phoenix House’s best room out of their four private rooms.

The Eight Immortals table was made of yellow rosewood. It appeared a bit aged, but it must have been polished day in and day out. The corners of the table were surprisingly bright. The walls, corridors and pillars had all been re-painted white not long ago, all the landscape paintings upon the walls carried the signatures of famous contemporary artists.
On her slender fair wrist was a jade bracelet, as He Youan gently turned her hand, the jade and the marble tabletop made a clear clinking sound, as if it were adding footnotes to a story.

The precious sound echoing in spirals and a beauty in front of their eyes.

If this situation hadn’t involved a death threat, it could have still been considered a wonderful moment.

She recounted stopping and starting, recalling bits and pieces from time to time, and then finally laughed in embarrassment at the end.

“It seems to be a foreign poem, I don’t speak a foreign language so I asked someone to translate it. I only remember the meaning roughly, but I don’t think there is much difference.”

Yue Dingtang took the piece of paper she handed him.

On a sheet of fake golden floral paper, there was some elegant English prose written upon it.

The calligraphic style was very natural and flowing, and could be called beautiful.

It was just a few lines from an English poem, the Chinese meaning was indeed similar to what He Youan had told them.

Ling Shu poked his head over to see.

“The poem you just read out should be a Chinese translation of Shakespeare’s sonnet, the translation habit and phrasing can vary from person to person, but the meaning is not far off.”

He Youan: “The man who helped translate it said the same thing, but what does the poem really mean?”

Ling Shu: “Nothing in particular, Shakespeare wrote many such poems in his life, either celebrating love or praising beauty, but when linked to the assassination attempt, it becomes quite interesting.

He Youan nodded, “Shortly after I received this letter, the assassination attempt happened.”

Yue Dingtang asked, “So before you received the dead cat, did you receive clues prior to this?”

He Youan: “It was only after the assassination attempt that the maid was remembered that we had also received a bouquet of flowers with a few words written inside before we found the bag with the dead cat on the bathroom windowsill.

At the time she thought it was from a fan and she can’t read, so she didn’t take it to heart because I often get bouquets from fans and most of them will write a couple of sentences of well-wishes on the card with the flowers, I can’t open every single flower bouquet I receive and read the card.”

Yue Dingtang: “If there are so many bouquets of flowers, why did she think of this particular one?”

He Youan: “Because when fans send flowers, most of them will send roses or carnations, but this bouquet was different, it was Blackberry Rose. It was also a dried flower bouquet so the maid thought someone had sent me the wrong one or was pulling a prank on me.”

The flowers are in full bloom11开到荼蘼花事了 – This is a line from a poem by Song Dynasty poet Wang Qi. Blackberry rose blossoms represent the end of a woman’s youth or the end of affections between two people..

Blackberry Rose stands for stranger, not to mention the flowers were dried.

If it was a fan expressing their appreciation for their favourite movie star, why would they send dried rambling roses?

“The first incident was blackberry roses with a card, then the dead cat.”

“The second incident was a sonnet, and then the stabbing at the film premiere.”

“And now, it’s a painting which has you pushing open the door and all the flowers and plants around you are dead and withered. What are you worried will happen?”

“Pity the poor servant girl’s life, as she heads to death for her master. Although I am of humble talent and shallow learning, I can still just about understand these two lines.”

He Youan smiled bitterly.

“I’m worried that it’s the people around me who will suffer.”

“Who the hell is it, who wants to mess with me in this way? No, he doesn’t just want to just mess with me, he wants my life and the lives of the people around me.”

“Mr. Yue, Mr. Ling, I’m not going to lie to you, I’m very afraid.”
Translator Note:

Kinda creepy huh..
05/10/21 – Updated footnotes.

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