AIP - Chapter 19: Entering the Estate
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
It turned out that when Qin Yuan said 'wait', Tang Jie would end up waiting for several months.
It was the sixth month when Steward Qin finally came with the good news: there was a vacancy.
A few days ago, the fellow responsible for caring for the gardens of the Wei Clan had come down with a sudden illness and died, and this vacancy needed to be filled. When the news got out, the stewards of the Wei Clan all recommended candidates. Steward Qin had recommended Tang Jie.
The next morning, Steward Qin brought Tang Jie to the Wei Estate.
As one of the five great clans of Canglong Prefecture, the Wei Clan's estate was extraordinary.
The estate on its own took up more than half of Azure Cloud Street. It had more than four hundred rooms and six gardens, and it served as the residence for nearly three hundred people.
The ones in the Wei Clan with the greatest seniority were naturally Venerable Master Wei and his wife, Venerable Lady Wei.
This couple had produced two sons and two daughters, all of whom were already married.
The eldest son, Wei Danbai, was the current patriarch of the Wei Clan. He had one wife and two concubines. His principal wife, Wei Shufeng, née Zheng, had given birth to two sons and a daughter. Her eldest son, Wei Tianzhi, was currently attending Basking Moon Academy. The secondborn, her daughter Wei Qing'er, had gone to Illusory Heart Academy of the Thousand Passions Sect. Her youngest son was Wei Tianchong. There was also one son and one daughter who were born from concubines. They had no right of inheritance and no chance at entering an academy. In some aspects, they were worse off than the servants.
The names 'Tianzhi' (Aspiring to Heaven) and 'Tianchong' (Charging at Heaven) indicated the Wei Clan's aspirations: ascending to the heavens.
When Wei Danbai had his first son, the Wei Clan was flourishing in Canglong Prefecture, so he had stopped thinking about how to make money and instead thought about how to cultivate and attain the Dao.
Alas, their foundations were still shallow, and the clan still could not claim to have a cultivator that was truly its own, only Spirit Masters it had employed at heavy price—far inferior to the Jins, Zhangs, and Gus. So long as the Wei Clan could produce a Spirit Master, its prosperity would be ensured for a hundred years. If it produced a Celestial Heart Realm expert, then the Wei Clan would no longer be 'the Canglong Prefecture Weis', but 'the Ling Province Weis'.
As for the kingdom-level clans, that required many Celestial Heart Realm experts, and the clan would need its own legacy that could be passed down.
Putting aside Wei Danbai, the Venerable Master's second son, Wei Qingsong, also had a son and daughter. The elder son was called 'Wei Ming', and the younger daughter was called 'Wei Die'.
Wei Ming had entered the academy last year, but just like Wei Tianzhi, he had a low aptitude, having opened few gates, and cultivation was proving difficult. Wei Qingsong could not afford to give as many resources to his son as Wei Danbai could to his, so the Venerable Master had not had much hope in that line. Thus, the Wei Clan's hopes primarily rested on Wei Tianchong.
The Wei Clan valued men over women, and there was little drive to have its daughters cultivate—after all, there was no reason to waste precious resources on another clan's daughter-in-law.
This was also why there were few women in the cultivation world. It wasn't that they lacked aptitude, but their clans were far more willing to support the boys. It was said that Wei Qing'er had possessed incredible talent and had been picked out by the Thousand Passions Sect. Otherwise, she probably would have still been in the clan, waiting to be married off.
The Wei household consisted of several hundred people, and one could say that all of them were there to serve at the behest of the Wei Clan's members. The gardener position that Tang Jie was applying for managed the Meditation Garden, which was where the younger son, Wei Tianchong, resided.
It was for this reason that the competition for this position was particularly fierce.
Chief Steward Qin Yuan had brought Tang Jie, and the second steward and third steward had brought their own candidates. Besides that, a few outer house stewards of the Wei Clan had recommended their own candidates. There were eighteen boys in total, and at this time, they were standing in front of the lady of the Wei Estate, Zheng Shufeng. All of them bowed and greeted her together.
At least this era was not as repulsive as the Qing Dynasty, where the servants needed to call themselves 'slaves' and needed to prostrate upon seeing any member of the household.
In truth, this era was more comparable to the Earth's Tang Dynasty. The mood was more open, and while there was still some semblance of hierarchy, at least servants were not untouchables and had their own dignity.
After all, a world in which one could cultivate was one bursting with opportunity. Even the poorest person had a chance to soar into the heavens.
As she was selecting a servant for her son, Lady Wei was treating this occasion with great solemnity and had come to make the choice herself.
She was seated in front of the hall, wearing a dress of red satin depicting butterflies among the flowers. A hairpin of green jade beads was thrust into her hair, and behind her, two maids lightly fanned her.
She took a sip of tea, and then slowly said, "First, step up and state your names."
The eighteen boys began to say their names while the secretary on the side wrote them down.
The lady then said, "If you can read, raise your hand."
All eighteen boys raised their hand, and the secretary thus made a check next to all their names, indicating that they had all passed this trial.
In truth, for the most part, the boys of poor families in Canglong Prefecture did not know how to read.
But these people were mostly recommended by elders in the estate, and they understood the estate's standards.They would never pick anyone that could not pass the grade.
Even Tang Jie had had to go through several rounds of questioning from Qin Yuan before the steward had confirmed that he met the standards.
Tang Jie had begun to read in Little River Village. He already had an excellent educational foundation and learned very quickly. In his time with Xu Muyang, whenever he was free, he would practice his calligraphy.
Xu Muyang had fretted that if he couldn't even write well, how could he draw talismans?
He had originally believed that a few of the eighteen might not know how to read, but surprisingly, they all met that standard.
The lady then said, "If you know arithmetic, raise your hand."
This time, a few people did not raise their hands, but a majority of them still did.
Lady Wei said, "If you have worked in a wealthy or major clan before, raise your hand."
Even fewer raised their hand this time, only Tang Jie and two other boys.
Lady Wei questioned the three of them on their experience. Tang Jie had already fabricated his experience back with the Wu couple, and after half a year of perfecting this lie, he had a firm grasp of the details.
Once she was done, Lady Wei asked, "What flowers have you planted before? Let me hear it."
She got silence in answer.
The Wei Clan cared little about ordinary flowers, so there was no point in bringing them up. As for those rare and precious flowers, impoverished boys were not worthy to touch them.
They all looked at each other, and when they saw that none of them were raising their hands, they collectively sighed in relief.
But after some thought, Tang Jie raised his hand and said, "This little one has cared for the thousand-cup flower before."
The other boys instantly paled.
"Oh?" Lady Wei appeared interested. "Speak—tell me about this flower."
Tang Jie composed himself and answered, "The thousand-cup flower is a needle-type flower, its roots, stem, and leaves all bearing thorns. It is an extremely drought-resistant plant, and its stem can be used in medicine. If it can be raised for ten years, it can gain some spirituality. As it has many needle-like leaves, when the flower blooms, it appears like a thousand flowers blooming at once. Thus, it is called 'the thousand-cup flower'."
"Good, very good!" Lady Wei nodded in satisfaction. "Did you learn this while at the previous family you worked for?"
"Yes," Tang Jie replied. "The thousand-cup flower does not like humid environments, so while it is not rare in houses of the north, it is seen much less often in Canglong Prefecture."
In truth, when he had bought the house, the previous owner had left this flower behind.
Tang Jie had heard that the thousand-cup flower was beautiful when it bloomed, so he had taken care of it. Alas, after half a year, the flower had not bloomed. He had not expected to use the information he had learned back then to answer this question.
The Wei Clan's gardens couldn't have just this one flower, but knowing one was better than knowing none.
"Correct. For this reason, you must look after it with even greater care." The lady smiled and then turned to the other boys. "You are not to be blamed for having never taken care of any valuable flowers before. If the Wei Clan did not plant flowers different from those of ordinary households, we would be lowering our status. Thus, there is no need for any of you to worry. If you do not know, you can learn. The Wei Clan has people who can teach you."
Everyone sighed in relief at these words.
Tang Jie couldn't help but feel that this was unfortunate. Though he had not hoped to get selected purely because of this point, it was still a pity that this small point of advantage was not playing much of a role.
The lady had a good personality, asking question after question. It appeared that she wanted to thoroughly understand these boys.
In terms of performance, none of the other boys could compare to Tang Jie.
But Tang Jie knew that his greatest problem was his background.
Though he had the guarantees of the Wu couple, he still couldn't compare to these local boys whose backgrounds were there for everyone to see.
Fortunately, he had a plan for this. Rather than worried that the lady would be too focused on this subject, he was worried that she wouldn't be focused enough.
After asking a battery of questions, the lady finally asked, "If you entered the Wei Clan, how much pay would you find appropriate?"
This was an exquisitely asked question.
Fortunately, these boys were ready. A clever one stepped up and said, "Naturally, it is my lady who will decide this. Whatever the lady decides is how much I will make."
"Yes, yes! To serve the Wei Clan is this little one's blessing. How could I state a price?"
There was one boy who was so desperate to get in that he shouted, "So long as I can work for the Wei Clan, this little one is willing to go without pay!"
None of these boys was very old, but all of them seemed very mature and experienced. Tang Jie knew that most of them had probably been instructed by the adults of their homes to do this.
As the other boys made their cases, Tang Jie thought it over and answered, "If my lady is willing, Tang Jie hopes to be paid three strings of cash every month."
Three strings of cash was three thousand copper coins, the equivalent of three taels of silver.
This also meant that Tang Jie was asking for a salary of three thousand yuan a month.
In the other world, this salary would have been reasonable, but for the boy servants of the Wei Clan, it was an astronomical sum.
No one had ever dared to ask for such a high salary!
All the boys stared in shock at Tang Jie, and Qin Yuan was also aghast. Had this boy gone mad? He was asking for three strings of cash from the Wei Estate?
Even Lady Wei looked at Tang Jie in shock. "You want three strings of cash?"
Tang Jie appeared conflicted, clenching his teeth and saying, "Yes! My lady, please forgive me. While this little one is seeking work so as to climb the high branch of the Wei Clan, even more important is to make money for the household expenses of my adopted parents."
"For the Wu couple? Do they lack for money?"
"That is not the case," Tang Jie answered. "But my adopted parents are old in years, and manual labor in their youth planted the seeds of illness. Now, on rainy days, their bones and muscles ache, and their bodies are listless. Canglong Prefecture is a city with abundant water and a long rainy season, so this little one hopes to buy my parents some spirit medicine, but spirit medicine is extremely expensive…"
Tang Jie did not continue, but the lady already understood.
"I see now." The lady nodded. "I have heard from Qin Yuan about you. It is truly a coincidence that you would freeze and collapse in front of the Wu couple's home. You treat the two elders very well, and the neighborhood is rather admiring of your efforts. You are a good child, one of the rare ones who knows how to return kindness with kindness."
Saying this, the lady laughed. "Alright, that's it for today. You are all dismissed. When the selection is made, you will be informed."
The eighteen boys all left.
When Tang Jie got back to the Wu home, the couple hastily asked Tang Jie what had happened, and Tang Jie replied to all their questions.
When they heard that Tang Jie had asked for three strings of cash, the two elders moaned. Granny Wu grumbled, "Boy, you're normally so clever, so how could you be so foolish today? Those families want to send in their kids for free, but you wanted three strings of cash. Really, really… you're hopeless."
Tang Jie didn't explain, smiling as he said, "If there's no hope, there's no hope. Serving my two elders is fine as well."
The two elders sighed, but there was nothing they could do.
The eighteen boys had gone, but Lady Wei was still looking over their files. The two maids behind her, seeing that no one was around, had begun to converse with each other.
This one said that the Li boy wasn't bad, while that one said that the Liu boy was a better fit. One remarked, "I think I saw you blush. It seems like you've taken a shine to one of them," after which the two started quarreling.
Lady Wei found this all rather amusing. Shaking her head, she lightly coughed, upon which the maids shut their mouths, but one of them failed to stifle a giggle.
Lady Wei asked, "What are you giggling about?"
The maid replied, "My lady, I was thinking about that boy Tang Jie. He dared to ask for three strings of cash! He's got quite the mouth on him."
"Yes, yes. He really thinks that the Wei Clan is just begging to let him in."
As they spoke, Steward Qin came in, and their words caused his face to redden. He bowed and said, "My lady, the boys have all been sent back."
After some thought, Qin Yuan added, "My lady, please do not take what Tang Jie said today to heart."
"Take what to heart?" the lady replied. "What are you referring to?"
"This… the three strings of cash," Qin Yuan answered.
The lady took a sip of her tea. "What? You think that my Wei Clan can't take out a few strings of cash to employ someone?"
"Of course I don't. It's just that that boy doesn't understand…"
"I think that he is very understanding," the lady replied. "The Wu couple saved his life, so he decided to risk it all to try and care for them. From this, I can see that he is kindhearted and loyal. To understand that filial piety is the foundation of all virtues at such a young age is a good thing."
Lady Wei sighed. "You must understand that not everyone in the world will reciprocate kindness with kindness. Are there not many people in this world who forget favors and violate justice? Thus, when selecting servants, one must look to loyalty first and foremost. While it is good to be smart and clever, a sincere nature is even more important!"
Qin Yuan was delighted, knowing that there was a chance.
But one of the maids argued, "But that boy's background is ultimately rather shallow. You can know a person and know his face, but you can't know his heart."
Qin Yuan was mentally infuriated, but he did not dare to talk back. However, the lady scoffed and said, "Did you get something from the Li family to speak on their behalf? What does it matter if he has only lived here for a short time? And it's not like everyone needs a clean background. Brothers by blood can turn against each other, and the kindness of a single meal can result in a fountain of gratitude. Did I not overrule all other objectors to make Qin Yuan the chief steward precisely because he knew to repay kindness with kindness, because he was a reliable person? While this Tang Jie's background is somewhat unclear, he has a sincere nature and a good temperament. In my view, he's even more reliable than those with their roots here."
"Then don't we have to pay him three strings of cash a month?" the other maid grumbled.
The lady rolled her eyes and jabbed the maid's forehead with a sharp fingernail. "Look at how petty you are! What's a few strings of cash? The master can pay out one million taels of silver to get a Spirit Master for the Wei Clan! You truly lack experience. Besides, that Wu Xing is studying with Tianzhi. If he finds out that we chose the boy from his family over all the other boys, he will think that we are taking care of his family ahead of time, right? So, it's decided then. I choose Tang Jie!"
"My lady is wise!" Steward Qin bowed until his head touched the floor.