Great Tang Idyll - Chapter 47
Transplanting Cucumbers To The County Seat
Father Zhang was currently speaking with enjoyment, ~ne, when the constable dashed inside with his head full of sweat. In this not so warm weather, this really was hard for him to do. Once he came in, he offered that document up and then recounted the county magistrate's words as originally spoken like he had been instructed to.
After the arrangements were made for the constable to withdraw, Father Zhang looked at the document and, assuming that the two children couldn't read it, explained it to them. This lesson could only stop then as Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan both returned to their own room to consider ways to deal with this.
’’Xiaobao, that county magistrate said to have us transfer a portion. What do you think?’’ Wang Juan contemplated the consequences of doing this. It seemed that those cucumbers plants that were transferred wouldn't easily survive.
’’I agree. Transfer them away. Have the cucumbers in one room be moved away and transplant them to someone else's land with cucumbers from the summer. Do it today. Don't pick the cucumbers and just place them like that.’’ Zhang Xiaobao assented.
’’They'll be frozen dead.’’
’’Right, ~ya, let the cucumbers plants freeze to death. That will be the lucky auspice. Those that are remaining, we'll continue eating and we can even eat for quite a long time, ~ne.’’ Zhang Xiaobao said while blinking his eyes at Wang Juan.
’’Smart! People who can be swindlers are just not the same. If that house is seen by the person, then it'd need to be broken down. But it's too large of a project. Shifting away plants from a portion of the land will mean less money is lost, ~ne. Right now, it's the time when there is no yellow or green to be seen.’’1 Wang Juan understood here now as she reached out to pinch Zhang Xiaobao's face while she praised him.
Zhang Xiaobao didn't move one bit, his face expressionless as it was pinched. It was only after a good while that he did open his mouth to speak: ’’Tell those peasants of the manor to not leak this in spite of challenges,2 threats, or bribes from other people. You make the arrangements on this matter since you're an expert at it.’’
’’All right. But that day, there were also children from Ge Manor watching there, ~ne. What to do?’’ Wang Juan was actually rather familiar with these matters and suddenly thought of those people from the outside manors on that day.
Zhang Xiaobao also smacked his head in regret. What a lapse. Back then, he hadn't been making so many calculations. Those children would definitely talk to other people upon their return and the adults would then also know. What if the people coming to investigate were so idle with nothing to do that they went off and asked the people of Ge Manor? Then what would they do? This was all very possible.
’’So what to do?’’ Wang Juan also couldn't think of a solution.
’’Yeah, what way is there, ~ne? How should it be dealt with, ~ne? Buy up Ge Manor? Not easy, ~ah. Got it. Those cucumbers plants had already been brought over to the constabulary in advance by the Lord Magistrate so just plant them there, ~ne. Let's do it like this.’’
That small hand of Zhang Xiaobao's continually tapped his leg. This was a habit of his. Whenever he encountered a difficult issue, he was like this. Finally, he thought of a solution and Wang Juan also nodded in agreement.
’’The county magistrate has already......? Fine, understood. Then, just do it like this. Have that one house completely moved over there. Prepare an extra two carts. Right now, there are places where the snow has started to melt. Have the county magistrate find a better piece of land to stick the cucumbers in. Pay attention to keeping them warm. Once the people from above have arrived and there are still cucumbers plants surviving, then that'd be even better.
The entire matter will have no relation to our manor. If there really are people coming over to the manor to look, then I'll burn it all up in a fire. Whatever else is said, this method can't be leaked unless it can be exchanged for a gain that can tempt us. Not only cucumbers can be grown with this method.’’
After the two of them made the decision, they had people go seek out that constable. Today, they wouldn't treat him to a meal but gave him 2 silver taels and had him immediately return to relay this matter to the county magistrate and have the county magistrate make all of the arrangements on this business.
The constable also knew that this matter was a bit hard to do. So taking the money and drinking a belly full of water, he mounted the horse that still hadn't completely recovered to hurriedly dash back again.
After the constable had left, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan also began to get busy. There was no way to predict on this matter, especially under the precondition of Zhang Xiaobao not having any acquaintance with the people coming down from the prefecture.
One bundle after another of firewood was piled up on the side on the land in back. If there was any bad news that was relayed, then this firewood would be lit. Also, someone had already placed some logs up against the wall so that by then, the wall could be demolished.
Once everything had been properly prepared for, the sky had already darkened. Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan both could be considered to have released their breaths as they lay down on the kang [bed-stove] and didn't even read but took an early rest.
Inside the constabulary of Sanshui County here, Magistrate Cheng also learned of the events over there. After thinking on it, he outlined a portion of land in the area by the river. He first had people get rid of the snow and then dig out the soil underneath. Using fire to warm up the frozen soil on the very bottom, the soil that had been dug up was processed slightly before it was replaced back again. Only then was everything considered to be complete.
The second day, the peasants of Manor Zhang here all began to move out as they helped to carefully dig up one cucumber vine after another from within the dirt with the bottom still carrying soil. The frames up top were repositioned like new and placed into carts that had cloth wrapped around them to block the view. Then one cart after another began to be hauled towards the county seat over there.
The items on the carts were as precious as gold so the speed that the carts travelled at was slow and even slower still. The result was that after an entire day, they hadn't reached their destination yet. When night had fallen, they even had to look to see if there were any people in the surrounding area before lighting a fire to keep the cucumbers plants on the carts warm.
On this mission, Song Jing-gong and the Wang Family's steward personally came to hold down the line. The two of them also didn't dare to sleep and could only sit by the fire to keep the evening watch.
’’Steward Wang, thirsty? Eat a cucumber.’’ Song Jing-gong picked 2 large cucumbers from within one of the carts. Not even washing it and simply using his hands to rub on it to get rid of the thorns, he opened his mouth to take a bite, chewing on it with a loud gaba-gaba sound.
Steward Wang received the cucumber but also looked in concern at that cloth-covered cart that Song Jing-gong had just opened so thinking for a moment, he asked: ’’Mister Song, will the wind chill get inside that cart?’’
’’Who cares if it will, ~ne? Actually, for these things to be brought over there, transporting them back again isn't to be expected. It's for the sake of dealing with a few people. It's fine as long as several survive.’’ Song Jing-gong spoke without a care as he continued chewing on the cucumber. If one didn't listen carefully, his voice was unintelligible.
Steward Wang contemplated it for a bit before nodding his head: ’’Mister Song speaks so. In the end, since it won't be brought back, then that's perfectly fine. The coachmen will get one each.’’
That cart that had just been opened up by Song Jing-gong was once again opened up. The coachmen used the quickest speed to find and pluck the larger cucumbers before handing them out.
These people surrounded the fire, chatting as they ate. After waiting for the horses to rest up a bit, they were kitted out once again and herded in front of the carts. It would be the middle of the night before they'd reach the location.
Song Jing-gong and Steward Wang originally assumed that they'd have to stay outside for a night before talking the next morning, ~ne. But who knew that once the cart team arrived, there were people from the constabulary coming to receive them as one torch after another lit up to go directly towards where that land by the river had been plotted out.
This side already had people waiting there. Magistrate Cheng had also personally come over. He had never really seen cucumbers plants before though he had eaten quite a few cucumbers these days. Seeing that the cart team had come over, he bade people to have the surrounding area properly watched over and to not permit any other people to approach.
After the cloths of one cart after another were rolled up, those cucumbers plants appeared in front of their eyes. Eating cucumbers and seeing plants sprouting with cucumbers were two separate matters. Upon seeing the plants with so many cucumbers still hanging down from them, other than the people who brought them over, everyone else including Magistrate Cheng all displayed expressions of surprise.
’’It surely isn't common. Just the sight of them is comfortable and makes a person eager to personally pluck one to get a taste of it.’’ Magistrate Cheng said with feeling. The surrounding constables and the deputy magistrate also all nodded their heads, especially the deputy magistrate he had already decided that he would bring his mother over to see them tomorrow when it was light out. This kind of exuberant vitality in the midst of snow really gave people too much of an impact.
After a command from the county magistrate, the constables began to place one plant after another into the holes that had already been dug out. They lightly sprinkled on top some water that had come from indoors and wasn't that cool, then used the cloths that had been brought over with the carts to wrap around them so that the top was also blocked from view.
After doing all of this, they still weren't done as a circle of fire had been lit up outside of the cloth and a person had been assigned every 5 paces to keep watch to ensure that the fire didn't burn the cloth.
’’Milord, it's already done here. The chill is heavy late at night so one should return to rest for a bit.’’ The deputy magistrate found two articles of heavy clothing to wrap himself up in, having decided to keep watch here as he urged Magistrate Cheng to go back.
Cheng Lingxiang nodded and made ready to leave. After taking a few steps, he then returned: ’’Never mind. If I go back, I still won't be able to sleep. Have someone go get a bit of something to eat and drink. I'll wait here and keep watch.’’
Cheng Lingxiang really couldn't relax. Today was only the 11th and there were still 4 days' time. The most worrisome was this first night. If they made it through, then everything was easy to deal with as they'd just act the same accordingly tomorrow. If they didn't make it through, then there'd be a bit of trouble when the people from above came by.
Song Jing-gong's group was rather uncaring as they each found a place to rest. After having continuously rushed on their journey, their people were sleepy and the horses were fatigued.
The second day, when that dazzling sun that had no way of letting people feel much warmth from it rose, Magistrate Cheng rubbed both of his bloodshot eyes and pulled open the cloth a crack to look inside. Even after a few glances, he still couldn't tell if they had succeeded or not so he could only call over a person who knew about the farming trade. This person simply swept it with a glance and was clear on its rough status.
’’Milord, estimate that 3/10ths of the plants will die within 3 days or so. It's not so easy to tell for the remainder. For roughly 2/10ths to be able to survive over the next 10 days would be quite good.’’ This person considered carefully before speaking to Magistrate Cheng.
’’Good, good, that's good. If 3/10ths die, then let 3/10ths die. By that time, for whichever one is about to die, pluck all of the cucumbers on top. Keep the large ones to make dishes with while the small ones will be pickled.’’
Upon hearing that there were plants that could still endure for a very long time, Cheng Lingxiang could be considered to have his mind completely set at ease. Halfway shutting his eyes, he had people send him back to the residence in back of the constabulary and handed all other matters over to the deputy magistrate.
Seeing that he was the highest official here, Deputy Magistrate Zhang Mingsheng was reassured enough to nap for a bit, too. Once the sun was a bit higher, he would have someone return to bring his mother over to see.
After a while of work, Mother Zhang arrived. The old lady's age wasn't high as she wasn't even 60 yet, ~ne, but her health wasn't that well. She was helped down from the carriage by Deputy Magistrate Zhang Mingsheng. Then, looking left and right, she asked:
’’My son, for what matter have you called Mom over for? Have you caused trouble? Rest assured. Mom is here. Mom will take care of it for my son. If it really isn't fine, Mom will go begging to your uncles.’’3
From these few words, Song Jing-gong, who had already come over by their side, knew that this old lady came from a scholarly background.4Thinking of how he had no relatives at all, he couldn't help sighing. If his own Mom were still here, she would definitely protect him like this, too.
’’Mom, your child didn't cause trouble. It's good news. Mom, the respected you should follow your child. Your child is bringing the respected you to see something good.’’ Deputy Magistrate supported his mother to walk bit by bit towards that area that had been blocked off with cloth and lightly pulled it open a crack to allow his mother to see inside.
’’Cucumbers, so many cucumbers. My son, how can this be real? Who has such great ability to plant cucumbers in this season? It is the blessing of our Great Tang, ~ah.’’ Once Mother Zhang took a look inside, those eyes that had originally been muddy immediately brightened up a lot as she spoke excitedly.
’’Qing huang bu jie’’ (青黄不接) literally translates to ’’green and yellow not connected’’ with the green referring to crops that have yet to ripen and yellow to crops that are ripe. This idiom refers to the time of year when the fields are fallow and nothing is growing at all. It can also be used to refer to a shortage in general without referring specifically to food or greenery since it can denote a sudden break in a connected flow of events or things like a lack of heirs in the line of succession.
I've roughly translated ’’ji jiang fa’’ (激將法) as ’’challenge or dare’’ but it's an imperfect word choice since it is referring to behavior where an implicit challenge is issued by the speaker when they make a claim deliberately designed to goad the listener into action to disprove the speaker's claims to the contrary. In this case, Xiaobao is likely describing a possible situation where the peasants could be tricked into letting something slip by being told that they don't really know anything important so that in defending their pride, they do reveal something that they otherwise wouldn't have. The term literally means ’’incite general method’’ because it has its origins in a quote from Journey to the West that basically translates to ’’inviting a general doesn't compare to inciting a general (to action)’’ (請將不如激將).
’’Jiu jiu’’ (舅舅) is the way to address one's maternal uncles. Contrary to the terms used to address paternal uncles, maternal uncles are addressed the same way regardless of whether they are older or younger than the mother. But similarly to how the terms for paternal uncles can be confusingly modified to become the term that brother-in-laws or a husband's brothers are addressed by the wife, jiu/舅 can also be used by a husband to address his wife's brothers. So context can greatly modify terms of address.
I translated ’’shu xiang men di’’ (書香門第) as ’’scholarly background’’ but that doesn't fully translate the connotations of this expression. This term literally means ’’book fragrance pedigree’’ with the characters of ’’men di’’ (門第) for pedigree or status literally breaking down to mean ’’door rank’’ as a residence's doors or gates visually represented the face of a family and reflected their social rank. There is the implication that such families had a history so steeped in scholarship that the fragrance of books wafted from their doors or gates. So considering the history of the civil exams and an ideal of a meritocracy through education as well as the sheer difficulty in acquiring books back then before printing en masse was invented, someone born and raised in such a family would be highly ranked or respected.