Dong Lin had intended to conceal himself. He did not expect to take a trip away. He had found the account book from Huadi’s dresser, with her redemption price1 carefully delineated on it.
He decided to make one last trip.
The Jiaolong’s appearance on the coast of the Eastern Sea was said to be a sign of a treasure in the mountains. There was no treasure in the world that Dong Lin did not dare to steal, but he did not want to steal this last round. So, he packed his bags and hurried towards the Eastern Sea. Before leaving, he reined Chen Ren in yet again.
“I won’t leave before I get the money.” Dong Lin kept his voice low and said. “I’m still watching you. You’d better watch out.”
Chen Ren nodded his head in a panic. Dong Lin kicked him again.
“Tell your woman to be careful too.” Dong Lin added. “If any of her actions annoy me, I’ll skin her alive.”
To date, Chen Ren still did not know who this man was. But this man knew the contents of his pillow talk with Zhou. As long as he cussed or hit anyone, the man would drag him to the corner of the alley and beat him up. After several times, Chen Ren did not dare to be impetuous. Now, he would speak in a soft voice whenever he returned home.
Dong Lin climbed over the wall and disappeared. Chen Ren crawled up from the ground and rubbed his lower back as he cursed under his breath. He stumbled into the house. When Zhou saw his injuries, she exclaimed, “He’s here again?”
“Shut up!” Chen Ren jostled her. “Bring me some medicine. This son of a bitch… He’d better not let me find out who the fuck he is.”
“Zhou glanced around as she went to take the medicine. She whispered. “What should we do? We can’t just let him snoop on us like this! Think of something!”
“He comes and goes like the wind…” Chen Ren applied pressure on his injuries. Not daring to continue, he glanced around suspiciously. “Money, money, money. Why don’t you give me money?! This matter will be settled the earlier we give him the money and send him on his way.”
“You’ve emptied father-in-law’s pension. Where can we find more money?! This wouldn’t have happened if you had not gambled! Now you have dragged everyone in the family down with you. I’ve suffered ever since I married you, do I still have to pay with my life?!” Zhou hurled the medicine bottle at him. “I don’t have money! You want money? Not unless we sell Caoyu!”
She had yet to finish speaking when Chen Ren booted her. He bellowed. “What are you yelling for? Do you want him to find out?!”
Zhou knocked against the table and covered her face to sob. Unwilling to let the matter rest, she stomped her feet and shouted, “Then what can we do? Can’t I even just talk about it now?! She’s a child from our household. Isn’t how we get rid of her our family affair? How can an outsider interfere?! If you are not selling her, then are you going to sell me?! Chen Ren, if you dare to get ideas about me, I’ll fight you to the death! How are we going to live like this?!”
Chen Ren was fuming. The ruckus this shrewd was creating as she stomped her feet vexed him. He hurled her up, wanting to slap her. Zhou cried out. “You want to hit me? You dare to hit me?!”
Chen Ren made a show of releasing his hand, then tidied his clothes and said, “Go. Call Father back.” He took a few steps and listened intently. When he saw no movement, he walked back and slapped Zhou so hard she had to support herself with the table. Nothing happened.
Chen Ren’s eyeballs darted all over the place as he whispered, “Shout again, and I’ll beat you to death!”
The rooftop was silent. There was no stone being thrown down as usual. Chen Ren clapped his legs and cussed, “That son of a bitch scared me!”
Zhou covered her face and said, “He… He’s not here.”
Chen Ren quickly pulled the door open and urged Zhou on. “Quick! Quick! This is a rare opportunity! Call father back. It’ll be too late if that man returns later!”
A few days later, Caoyu climbed up to peer through the crack in the woodshed. Four of the Chens were gathered in the inner chamber, deep in discussion. Having been confined in the woodshed all night, she was now cold and hungry. She could sense that this did not bode well. A little while later, Old Man Chen lifted the door curtain and came out to place a pot of soup at the door of the woodshed. Caoyu kneeled and shuffled over to the hole to peek at his expression.
“Eat.” Old Man Chen rubbed a few handfuls of snow and said, “There won’t be your portion for the next meal.”
Caoyu stuck close to the crack and looked at him. Old Man Chen knocked on the wooden plank and squatted nearer to her.
“Did you say anything to outsiders?”
Caoyu shook her head.
Old Man Chen forced a smile and said, “Are you itching to be beaten? If you said nothing, why would Qian Weishi get suspicious? Was he not the one who applied those ointments for you? My good grandchild. You have been living off us. You should be grateful to us for not killing you to feed the dog when your mother gave birth to you.” He touched Caoyu’s arm, weighed the meat on her and said, “Ungrateful fool.”
Caoyu struggled to pull her hand out. The old man tightened his grip on her and yanked her thin arm through the gap. He cursed, “Your mother is another ingrate! I’ve raised and fed her for nothing! She had to go and do that shameless deed when she should have repaid my debt! And now you are taking after her. How dare you?! Who does that Qian Weishi thinks he is? If he dares to report to the authorities, I’ll accuse him of taking money and ruining your honor. Is he scared now? That’s why he thought he could intimidate me by seeking help from someone of a dubious background? I’m telling you, not a chance!”
Caoyu cried out in horror. The world seemed to her to be full of demons as she looked out beyond this gap. The old man’s rough skin hung on his mouth as his saliva splattered all over, reeking of decay.
“… Uncle Dong…” Caoyu choked on her sobs as she cried out. “… Uncle Dong…”
Old Man Chen was hard of hearing and could not hear her well. He released his hand and slapped the curtain aside as he entered the building. Before Caoyu could catch her breath, she saw Chen Ren emerging. By this time, it was getting dark. Chen Ren sneaked his way to the woodshed, opened the door, and made his way in.
Caoyu gave a shrill cry and clambered away. Chen Ren grabbed the little girl by her foot, yanked her back, and pinned her down beneath him. He undid his trousers and slapped her.
“Who are you calling out for? Who?! It’s all your fault! You made me suffer so much! How can I live it down if I don’t pay you back?”
Caoyu’s lips bled from the blow. She struggled violently and bit down on Chen Ren’s arm. Chen Ren slapped her again. The impact was so strong she nearly passed out. She shrieked. “Uncle Dong! Uncle Dong…”
“What is going on?” The old widow tiptoed to look across the courtyard wall. Her eyes met Chen Ren, and her voice turned small as she muttered. “Such a din…”
Caoyu raised her head and sobbed, “Grandmother… Help me…”
Chen Ren covered Caoyu’s mouth and looked up at the old widow calmly. “If you keep watching, I’ll strangle that little bastard of yours! You still haven’t returned the rice you borrowed from us last time, have you? Mind your own business.”
The old widow faltered and trembled as she tapped her crutch and returned to her house. She murmured. “It’s none of my concern… I can’t see clearly… Hong-er! Don’t lean against the wall… This is too disgusting.”
Ah Hong stood on the stone to watch. Chen Ren gave him a couple of strange cackles. When Ah Hong saw Caoyu looking at him, he spat out the melon seeds in his mouth and said to Caoyu, “Bah!”
Chen Ren continued and said, “You’ll be sold in a few days, and then you’ll be gone! Before your next father arrives, let me enjoy myself first. That way, I wouldn’t have raised you all these years for nothing.”
Caoyu cried out aloud, “Uncle Dong…”
Chen Ren pinched her cheeks and was about to bend over when he heard a bellow behind him.
“What are you doing?!” Qian Weishi scrambled over the wall. The Fuzi picked up a piece of firewood and waved it at Chen Ren. “What are you doing?! Are you a beast?! Get away from her! I’ll report you to the authorities at once!”
On seeing Qian Weishi, Ah Hong shrank back. He sucked on the only broken bit of candy left in his pocket, thinking he would demand more candies from the Fuzi later.
Chen Ren clucked his tongue in frustration as his desire died down. He pulled up his trousers, got out of the woodshed and fastened his pants as he smiled at Qian Weishi. “What am I doing? Can’t you see? What are you doing here? I’m the one who should report you for trespassing!”
Qian Weishi could scarcely breathe. He gritted his teeth and charged up to Chen Ren to beat him up. He said, “What kind of man are you? You’re not human!”
Chen Ren easily pushed him over to the ground. He grabbed Qian Weishi’s stick and used it to clobber the latter, saying, “I’m your father. You still want to interfere in my affairs?”
Chen Ren did not hold back at all. He hit Qian Weishi so hard the latter could only curl up on the ground, unable to get up. Chen Ren kicked Qian Weishi and circled him once. Then, he weighed the stick and struck Qian Weishi on the side of his waist.
“And what kind of a good egg are you? I want to report you to the authorities too! I’ll take you to court for using sweets to coax my niece into committing dirty acts! What a fair-faced hypocrite! I’ll accuse you until your reputation is ruined! So go. Go on!”
Chen Ren dragged Qian Weishi a few steps to the side of the courtyard entrance. Lifting the lid of the jar2, he shoved Qian Weishi into the water. Then he thumped Qian Weishi on his back and continued, “Go report me!”
Qian Weishi choked on the water and shook his head. Chen Ren lifted him and said, “Shame on you.”
Having said so, he dunked Qian Weishi back into the water. Qian Weishi choked as he was submerged under the water. He could not breathe.
Qian Weishi repeated his curse as he dug his fingers into the edge of the jar.
The corpse energy thousands of miles away stirred, revealing the eyes of the Luocha bird.
Qian Weishi coughed out water as he was thrown to the ground. His eyes were empty. The sky was completely dark by now, and the snowstorm started to pelt snow on his face. Qian Weishi repeated, “Go die…”
Chen Ren stomped on him a few more times. Zhou descended the steps to look at him. Worried, she asked, “He’s half dead. What should we do if he reports to the authorities tomorrow?”
“How dare he!” Old Man Chen was sitting in the inner chamber looking for his pipe. He faced the window and said, “If he dares to lodge a report, then we’ll just say he had tarnished Caoyu’s innocence. Doesn’t he love to be around children? So many people are watching. Let’s see how he can clear his name if we stick to our words.”
“That’s right!” On the bed, Old Woman Chen clapped her hands together. “We can still ask him to compensate us with silver. He wouldn’t dare refuse with the officials watching!”
“How much money would a poor scholar have?” Chen Ren spat with contempt and said to Zhou, “Hurry and take Caoyu inside the house.”
Zhou reluctantly moved and dragged Caoyu out of the woodshed, leaving a trail of footprints in the fresh snow. Zhou lifted the curtain and pushed Caoyu onto the bed.
“We have to burn more charcoal3 if there are more people in the house. Can’t you just finish your business outside then come back in? At the end of the day, I’m the one who has to suffer.” She yanked Caoyu by the hair and swore at her, “Slut! Look at how mesmerized your uncle is with you!”
As Caoyu fell onto the bed, she knocked over the sewing kit on Old Woman Chen’s knees. The old woman cried out in annoyance and stood up to whack Caoyu on the back. She said, “Hurry and pick them up! The needles are all sticking into the bedding!”
Caoyu hid the small scissors and hastily tidied up the needles and rolls of thread. Then, holding the kit in her arms, she shrank back into the corner of the wall.
Outside, Chen Ren was still humiliating Qian Weishi. The snow intensified, and Chen Ren shivered as he blew hot air on his hands. He hauled Qian Weishi over to the door.
“Scram now. Tomorrow morning, don’t let me…”
The courtyard door opened with a creak. Chen Ren fell back as if he had seen a ghost. He staggered and scrambled up the steps, stumbling over his words. “How, how…”
In the heavy snow, the courtyard door closed.
Dong Lin stepped in. There was the indistinct ringing of the copper bell. His steps were so light that even the sound of the blade scraping against the ground was louder than his footsteps.
“Hero, hero…” Chen Ren slipped and fell onto the ground. He hurriedly retreated as he raised his hand to stop Dong Lin’s approach. “We, we can talk it out!”
Dong Lin swiftly moved in and hauled Chen Ren up without giving him the chance to explain and flung him through the door. Chen Ren toppled over and tumbled as he cried out in pain. It was chaos inside the chamber with the women screaming. Old Man Chen gripped onto the pipe as he shouted out a reprimand. “What are you going to do?!”
However, the old man had yet to finish his words when he heard Chen Ren scream. Blood splattered. Chen Ren covered his abdomen as he crawled in an attempt to hide.
“Save me! Save me!”
His voice broke as Dong Lin grabbed his legs from behind. There was the sound of bones shattering as he crushed both of Chen Ren’s knees. Chen Ren’s howls turned into odd whimpers permeating the snowy night. Zhou covered her mouth as she cried out in horror and pushed Old Woman Chen to hide behind her. Old Woman Chen’s vision was bad and she could not tell the directions. Scared out of her wits by the shrieks in the room, she groped around. Dong Lin stood up. He kicked Chen Ren aside and entered the house.
“If you want money, we can talk about it!” In a moment of desperation, Old Man Chen tore a hole in his cloth bag. Copper pearls tumbled all over the floor. He fell to his knees in a panic to grab the beads, then held them up to Dong Lin with both hands. “Let’s talk about it! Here you are. I give them all to you!”
Dong Lin took off his hat, and his sweaty and clammy hair tumbled down. He turned over the hand that was holding on to the blade and used the back of his hand to wipe away the beads of sweat.
“I don’t want your money.” Dong Lin paid no heed to Old Man Chen’s terror. “I want your lives.”
- 赎身价 Redemption price; a fixed (and jacked up) price where those who have been sold into trades, e.g. slaves and courtesans (i.e. prostitutes), need to pay to redeem their freedom. Otherwise, they had to keep ‘working’ until they have earned enough to pay it off, or when someone else pays it off for them or buys them.
水缸 water jar; it’s a big jar used to hold water in the old days. It’s usually big enough to contain a child and sometimes even a person inside.
- Common folks in those days use charcoal or firewood to keep the house warm during cold weathers.