It was dusk, before sunset, when Jinshi went back. Perhaps due to having slept, his complexion was good that he also ate three bowls of congee when he woke up.
Would it be meddlesome to wonder if Suiren will get angry at him if he skips dinner when he gets back?
He firmly put on the mask, and Maomao sent off his carriage. When she did so, she felt some sort of gaze. She turned back to take a look, and there was a scantily clad courtesan smoking a pipe while leaning against the first-floor guardrail. It was Pairin, one of the Three Princesses. Her voluptuous body was spilling out from the openings of her clothes.
“How about you give up soon?”
“Give up what?”
Maomao ignored the smirking older sister and returned to the pharmacy.
The pharmacy closed with the lighting of the Rokushoukan lanterns. There won’t be decent customers coming at night for business, and it was a waste of lantern oil price.
After Maomao counted the shop proceeds, she turned it over to the madam. If she were to hold a large amount of money in the dilapidated shack she lived in, she will be targeted by robbers. It was better to store it properly no matter much money she earned. She put the kindling coal and medicinals to order and locked up the small shop.
“Oi, we’re going back—”
Maomao, while grabbing the reluctant Chou’u by the scruff of his neck, returned to their shack. The house that was just behind the Rokushoukan was draughty and very cold.
She lit up the kindling coal with the burning paper from the stove. She added firewood when the fire grew.
Chou’u seemed cold – he had wrapped himself up with the futon and was curled up on the sleeping straw.
Maomao warmed up the broth as she stirred the pot on the stove. It was a mixture of the vegetables and arrowroot harvested from the garden in dried meat stock. Since it’s cold, she also added in some ginger slices.
“Oi, you eating?”
She dropped a fist onto Chou’u who was rolling around like a caterpillar. She tugged away the futon and threw a padded shirt at him instead.
(I want another set of winter clothes.)
Though she received enough money, she had no intentions of squandering it away. Chou’u was complaining, but as far as he was in Maomao’s custody, she planned to educate him that those who do not work do not eat.
She poured the broth into a chipped bowl and passed it to Chou’u. He sipped the broth while sitting on a chair with his knees drawn up.
“Add more meat—”
“Then go earn money.”
Maomao slurped the soup. There was no congee, she got bread instead. She hung the stock of bread across the stove and warmed it, then cut it in half and added the simmered vegetables inside.
“Freckles–, you earn quite a bit already, so how about we eat something better–?”
Though he complained, Chou’u reached out for his second helping of bread.
“Stuuupid, I’m renting that shop from that gran. How much do you think the rent is?”
“Then move somewhere else—.”
“Heyy. There are a whole lot of other things if I work elsewhere too.”
Saying that, Maomao soaked the bread into the rest of the broth and threw it into her mouth.
It should be possible to think about being little more extravagant. But there were also reasons not to do so.
“…tomorrow, I’m going clothes shopping, so come along. It’ll be cold at this rate, right?”
Maomao said only that, and began to tidy up the dishes.
“Yay,” Chou’u spread his limbs out widely and fell off the chair. Was it because half his body is paralysed, he couldn’t catch himself properly and was now writhing around.
Maomao watched him with cold eyes and put the bowls in the bucket.
The next day, they went to the market. The main street that divided the capital into east and west is set up with a market every day. If you go north, it is lined up with splendid shops, and the grade lowers as you go south. The pleasure district is in the south of the capital, so the starting point of the market began with only crude goods on woven mats without a tent.
Also, if you go into the side roads, suspicious carts are common too. Perhaps with the pleasure district being nearby, there aren’t few shops selling strange drugs. Of course, Maomao, being a doctor, won’t get caught in this kind of things. The merchants also don’t call out to her, as they don’t consider her a customer.
As she grabbed the scruff of Chou’u’s neck, who kept walking about, Maomao headed to the centre of the capital. There is a saying that buying cheap goods is a waste of money. The padded shirts in the stalls were certainly cheap, but the materials were crude. It’ll end up getting torn by the brat if he runs around that way.
Even it was somewhat expensive, she can have a peace of mind from the reliable goods from the stores. Since they were trading in a settled plot of land, they place importance on trust.
Maomao entered her regular shop among the row of shops. It was a clothing shop aimed at the masses, but they also handled second-hand goods.
They passed under the sunshade, entering the shop. Clothes hung down from the ceiling. The shop owner was yawning as he mended clothes inside. The brazier beside him was cracking with the popping of embers. It was enclosed so the clothes won’t catch sparks.
“Ehh—, second-hand goods really?—”
“Don’t be extravagant.”
Chou’u is still small. He’ll be growing quickly from here on. It will be more convenient to buy clothes he can change out of quickly.
Are there no padded shirts for children? She looked at the goods, and suddenly something caught her eyes.
“What is this?”
The sharp-sighted Chou’u came over. It was the dress that was hanging on the wall. A long aoqun(襖裙, a type of ruqun/traditional Han female dress popular during the late Ming dynasty.). It was white both top and bottom, so it looked tasteless. Resembling the outfit of some foreign tribe, it was emanating a strange air. The sleeves caught her eyes -it had embroidery that looked like ivy.
“It’s kinda shabby.”
The honest brat spoke what he thought. The shop old man must have heard him – she slapped his head but what they heard was his laughter.
“Hahah, do you think that’s shabby?”
“But isn’t it? Shouldn’t a girl’s outfit use more showy colours?”
“I guess so.”
The shop owner stabbed a pin into the pincushion and came towards them while relaxing his stiff shoulders.
And then he squinted up at that dress.
“That, you know, is the dress worn by a celestial maiden.”
Chou’u bent forward in fascination. As if he couldn’t keep standing for long due to the numbness on his body, he was sitting on the dresser before long.
While amazed, Maomao continued to search high and low in the shop. The owner talking to his customers like that, is wasting time. She didn’t know how much of his words were true. However, she recalled how her adoptive father Ruomen often ended up getting caught up in things and wasting half a day of work.
(Let’s decide quickly and return quickly.)
It is perfect that Chou’u is engrossed in the story, let’s decide during then. However, she had no choice in hearing the owner’s story inside the narrow shop.
Let’s see. This garment is an article brought in from the west.
In a certain village in the west, a villager had rescued a girl who had lost her way. The girl was beautiful, so the villager was charmed by her.
The girl was a mysterious girl; the thread she spun was different to any thread – she repaid the villager by weaving many clothes with that. The clothes that were embroidered with a mysterious design sold many times more than other fabric.
The girl wanted to return to her hometown many times, but she didn’t even know where she lived. The villager proposed to her many times, and the girl finally accepted.
But you see, the timing was bad. It was about that time, that the girl’s family who have come to find her visited the village. The village, who finally obtained the girl, didn’t want to part with her. He hid her, and all the villagers feigned ignorance.
The girl’s family returned once, but it seemed they found it suspicious. That’s why, the villager decided to speed up on finishing the wedding ceremony and marry the girl. If she married once, her family won’t be her family anymore.
The girl refused, but the villager didn’t know about that. She decided to bathe in the village spring and cleanse her body, and quickly perform the wedding ceremony.
The girl cried as she bathed. At least, the wedding dress she wore was what the girl had made of her hometown.
How sorrowful was the girl? Even when she changed into her wedding dress, her tears never ceased and continued to soak her entire body.
As everyone celebrated, the girl headed for the alter to pledge with the villager. However, it seems the girl couldn’t forget about her family.
I want you to return me to my family, she petitioned.
If that is no good, the girl doused herself with the oil that was at the place. Then she tipped the torch flame onto her body.
The girl, who burst into flames, ran through the confused villagers. And then she disappeared into the spring.
What was left was a single sheet of cloth – the veil the girl wore on her head.
The girl who was covered in flames was gone, perhaps she returned to the heavens, the villager thought.
The girl’s family had also disappeared. They have returned to the heavens with the girl, so everyone agreed.
“And this is the dress that was woven by the celestial maiden.”
Chou’u was in awe.
I wonder if it really is such a thing, Maomao compared the several padded shirts she picked up with Chou’u’s back.
“Hey, Freckles. This is amazing. It’s amazing. How about we buy it?”
Chou’u asked, his eyes glittering.
“That’s right. Lass must be around the same age as the celestial maiden. I’ll lower the price for our friendship.”
So he said, but the abacus he flipped was one digit off. Maomao almost snorted.
“Oi oi, you don’t believe the legend of the celestial maiden? You’re not romantic at all.”
“What a pity,” the shop owner spread his hands and shook his head. Maomao squinted and looked at the dress that was woven by the celestial maiden or something.
“Can I touch it a little?”
“Yeah. Just don’t dirty it.”
She stared at the embroidery on the sleeves and touched it to make sure. And then she grinned.
“Owner, can you sell it at this price?”
“…Wh-what are you talking about? Of course I can sell it.”
Considering all that, he was trying to sell it off to Maomao. If it is really the dress of the celestial maiden, it should be fine to have the price that is different by yet another digit.
Maomao picked up the dress in her hands.
“Hey, owner, how about you sell this at ten times this price?”
“Ten times? Haha, I’ll be happy if that’s the case. The dress you’re holding, I’ll just give it you.”
He said it jokingly.
“Hohoh, is that so? Chou’u, did you just hear that?”
“I heard, but there’s no way you can sell it for ten times, right? What are you talking about, Freckles.”
Even Chou’u said like she was a fool.
Maomao curled her lips and held the brazier coal with metal chopsticks.
“Owner, I’m going to borrow this dress and charcoal for a bit.”
“Oi! What are you doing!”
Maomao took out her coin purse from her bosom and placed it on the dresser with a thud. It was all the money she had, but it should make up for one of this garment.
Giving the silenced shop old man a backward glance, she took the dress and charcoal outside the shop.
Then, Maomao threw the dress onto the street.
She knew nothing about the shop owner’s face contorting.
And then, she dropped the coal she was grabbing with the chopsticks onto the dress.
“Freckles—, it’s kinda hot—“
Chou’u, who was wearing several layers of padded shirts, said. He was wearing so much that his figure looked like a daruma.
“Then take it off.”
It was Chou’u who had worn it, saying that he hated carrying it. Maomao was holding her new clothes in her right hand.
Maomao would have preferred something with more subdued colours, but she had no plans to nit-pick on something that was just given to her.
“Hey, Freckles. Why didn’t that dress burn?”
Chou’u asked, his head tilted.
The article the shop owner had called the celestial maiden’s dress, Maomao unintentionally snorted. That thing had a better name.
The robe of the fire rat(The fire rat is an imaginary creature of Ancient China, said to live in the volcanoes of the South China Sea and have fireproof fur. The third impossible gift requested by Princess Kaguya to the five princes who wanted her hand in marriage in the Bamboo-cutter’s Tale.), Maomao had mentioned. From the start, the thing Maomao, who had whispered that into the shop owner’s ear, had said, but–
The dress didn’t catch fire even when the burning coal was placed on it. Instead, there wasn’t even a scorch mark.
“Chou’u, did you know what material are clothes made from?”
“Cotton and linen? I heard that is mostly made from plants.”
“That just then, was made from rock.”
Chou’u’s expression transformed to interest.
“Rock, from rock, you say! How is that possible?”
“Rock has many forms.”
Fibrous rock can be made into fabric. It is rare but this is something that has been around since olden times. It is called asbestos cloth. That was slightly tasteless, so she loaned the name used in the island country of the east.
“It won’t burn because it’s rock.”
However, what would the people who see that think? Even if they knew about the existence of asbestos cloth, it should mostly be people who see it for the first time. With the help of that rarity, there would more or less be whimsicals who would buy it even with an inflated price.
And so, Maomao could get her hands on clothes as it is.
“Heh, is that so. Then, what about the celestial maiden story?”
“That would have to be—“
Half-truth and half-lie.
The embroidery on the sleeves of the dress, Maomao had recognised. It is the western script that Ruomen, her dad, had often written in. The cursive script must look like an ivy design.
She guessed that the girl that was called a celestial maiden was a western race or a traveller. In rural villages, as consanguineous marriages continue, the offspring will weaken so they would be in need of new blood from elsewhere. She didn’t know if the girl really was lost or that she had been abducted, and if there had been such a girl, they wouldn’t think of parting with her.
The girl, wholeheartedly wishing to return to home, made clothes. Using unusual rock fibres as material, and embroidering with the script that the villagers cannot read as the pattern, she secretly called for the people of her hometown to save her.
In the event of the wedding ceremony, the girl must have worn wet underclothes under her asbestos garment. Her hair was also wet; she had covered that with the veil.
“Did you know? There is a method to not make wooden bowls catch fire.”
You put water in the bowl. In doing so, that wooden bowl will not burn until the water has completely dried up. As long as there is water, if the temperature is constant, the wood will not burn at that temperature.
The asbestos dress over the wet underclothes – she had also worn an outfit that doesn’t burn easily on top.
Before she gets burned, she could just jump into the lake.
If the escape method was recorded in the design of the garment, the girl must have been saved afterward. Of course, she cannot guarantee that went well, but as far as what she heard from the shop owner’s story, it looked like it succeeded.
Chou’u was in awe, his face foolish.
“Why didn’t you tell the old chap of the store that?”
“Romance is important, right?”
There’s no need to destroy it that much, Maomao said, and Chou’u laughed with a face of amazement.