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T/N: Most readers seem to be okay with the comments section as it is, so I’m relieved. ε-(´・｀) ﾌ Phew. Thank you to everyone who replied and to everyone who left such kind and encouraging comments. You’re a great motivation to me. Now onwards with the story!
Chapter 19 - Engagement
The An family, before An Chang Fu and An Chang De parted ways, was also considered a scholarly family.
The Old Master* was a ju ren**. In the Da Ya Dynasty, this achievement was enough to name him an official. But the Old Master chose to return to his hometown and did not accept any official post. This status made him a fish back in the water*** in the An Yuan County. Even the county magistrate had to give him face.
[*T/N: An Zi Ran's grandfather]
[**T/N: 举人 ju ren: graduate / a successful candidate in the imperial provincial examination]
[***T/N: "Like a fish back in water" is an idiom meaning: glad to be back in one's proper surroundings.]
The Old Master placed great expectations on his two sons. Although he was a ju ren, he was unable to go beyond ju ren. His life wish was for the An family to produce a jin shi*. In the end, he pinned his wish on his two sons. Of the two, only An Chang De had a little talent, and An Chang Fu was not scholarly material.
[*T/N: 进士 jin shi: palace graduate / successful candidate in the highest imperial civil service examination]
However, even if this were the case, the An family already had a bit of reputation and fame in An Yuan County.
The Old Master was an elegant scholar with literary talent. His specialty was not poetry but painting. There was a certain charm to each one of his paintings. Someone once said if he were willing to sell his work then they would fetch a very high price.
But the Old Master was an obstinate person. He viewed paintings as something noble. It was for cultivating the passion of a beautiful hobby. Therefore, he was resolutely unwilling to measure it in terms of monetary benefits. For precisely this reason, he became famous.
When he was sixty years old, he met a tourist passing through An Yuan County.
The tourist claimed to be a businessman who wanted to settle in Jun Zi City* with his family. Jun Zi City was the capital of Da Ya. It was very prosperous. It was a place where many businessmen and scholars longed for.
[*T/N: 君子城 jun zi cheng. Literally "gentleman city"]
At first, the Old Master did not like the other person because he was a businessman. Although he was not particularly prejudiced towards businessmen like the other literati, he still did not like to get too close to them, especially since his younger son seemed to be interested in business.
However, when the other person revealed his literary skills, the Old Master sat up and took notice.
After that the two soon became friends. They were both around the same age and also shared a common subject of conversation. In the end they became sworn brothers. The other party was very interested in the Old Master's paintings. So the Old Master sent him several pieces of art that were his masterpieces.
The other party knew that these paintings were the painstaking efforts of the Old Master and was greatly moved by the gesture, thus he gave half of a jade pendant as a return gift.
[T/N: The businessman is not being cheap here when he only gave half of the pendant. Think of it as friendship or couple necklaces where each party keeps one half of the jewelry as a sign of their close relation.]
The jade pendant was a family heirloom, meant to be given to the family's future daughter-in-law. It was very precious and expensive. After knowing this, the Old Master refused to accept the jade pendant, thinking that his paintings could not be compared to the worth of this jade pendant. As the result, the other party said that he was leaving it as a token for his future daughter-in-law.
And thus, a marriage engagement was formed between the two families.
Only Steward Su knew of this matter. At the time, Steward Su was already serving at the Old Master's side. He told Steward Su not to spread this matter about. Not even his two sons were told.
The Old Master's intention was to observe the daughters of his two sons and see which one was most suitable to marry into the family of his good friend.
He attached great importance to this marriage engagement. From the behavior and speech patterns of his friend, he could tell that their private tutor was very strict. So he wanted to pick the best granddaughter to fulfill the engagement promise.
Originally, the Old Master had his heart set on a daughter of his eldest son, because his eldest son was a literati. The daughter of his eldest son should at least receive some handed-down teachings from her father. In the end, the daughter of the main wife was a beautiful one, but she was unkind. He immediately eliminated her from consideration and turned his attention to his second son's daughter, An Yu Zhi.
An Yu Zhi was educated and well-balanced. She had a shy personality and often stayed within her boudoir. Although her literary knowledge was not high, she was still a learned person. Brought up under the guidance of Liu Mei Xiang, the young miss knew a few poems, was pretty, and docile. Though lacking any outstanding characteristics, she was the best choice out of the entire An family.
Therefore, the Old Master decided on An Yu Zhi.
He handed the jade pendant and a fragrant pouch to Steward Su, so that one day, when his friend or his friend's family comes to uphold the marriage agreement, Steward Su can then tell his second son and his wife about this matter. If his friend doesn't show up, then they were to pretend that this never happened.
Steward Su always faithfully followed the Old Master's orders. Up until An Yu Zhi's fifteenth birthday, nothing was said. At that time, Steward Su finally guessed what the Old Master was worried about. The other party never came to fulfill the promise. They might've even treated it as a joke.
He intended to bury this secret forever, but he did not expect the An family would be met with this kind of misfortune. The young master seemed to believe the situation was not that serious, thinking that it would be fine to just transfer the assets, but Steward Su knew that those people would destroy his young master first.
The young master now was no longer the young master of before. He didn't want to see those people frame his young master and ruin his life forever. So after some hesitation he finally decided to tell the young master and let him make the decision.
"Steward Su, you are thinking that that family in Jun Zi City is reputable and prestigious, so you want me to go find them and have them uphold the marriage contract. Like this, uncle and aunt would not dare to make a move against the An family. Is that right?" An Zi Ran was silent for a while. When he opened his mouth he immediately pinpointed the thoughts in Steward Su's head.
Steward Su said, "Young Master is correct. That is exactly what I was thinking. Although that person said he was businessman, the Old Master had already seen from his speech and behavior that he was not an ordinary businessman. Those who aspire to live in the capital cannot be simple*."
[*T/N: The original sentence is 若是大老爷知道安家攀上都城的人，多少应该会忌惮一些 and it makes absolute zero sense to me. If I translate it piece by piece it is something along the lines of: "If Old Master knows that An family climb capital people, more or less should be afraid of the consequences." Is the Old Master afraid of the An family going to the capital because it is a treacherous place…? But based on context I think my interpretation makes more sense. Basically the entire conversation is saying the other family must have some measure of power to be able to pressure An Chang De and Wu Zhi.]
An Zi Ran looked at him calmly. "But you should also be worried about whether or not the other party has forgotten this promise. Otherwise, you would not wait until now to bring it up, correct?"
"Young Master is really smart. You've guessed everything that I am thinking." Steward Su was not embarrassed, instead he felt so pleased that he started praising, every word hit the nail on the head.
"It's not that I am smart. This fact is obvious," An Zi Ran said.
If the other party really cared about this marriage then they would've shown up long ago.
Steward Su looked pale and worried. "Young Master, then… Should we still look for them to carry out this marriage engagement?"
With a firm look in his eyes, An Zi Ran's lips raised slightly. "Of course we're going to find them. Even if they really forgot, with this half of the jade pendant in our hands, I won't let then repudiate."
Regardless of whether things succeed or don't succeed, he had already decided to use them as a stepping-stone to safeguard the An family.
T/N: The engagement promised in the summary is finally brought up. Next chapter: Enter the Capital