An Old Busker from Hengshan, part 5

   “So you two are really fellow apprentices disguised as grandfather and granddaughter to carry out some scheme in Fuzhou,” he thought. But why did they save him? Maybe they would know of his parents’ whereabouts.

The waiter cleaned the table and brought out some hot tea. The old man saw the seven half-cups on the table beside them and could not help but utter a cry of surprise.

   “Little Apprentice Sister, look!”

   “Amazing! Who could have cut these seven cups?” the young girl was also quite surprised.

   “Little Apprentice Sister, let me pose a riddle: One thrust seven directions, powerful enough to cut gold and jade. Who do you think cut these seven cups?” the old man asked the girl in a low voice.

   “I wasn’t here when it happened; how should I know who…?” the girl started to protest, when suddenly, she started clapping her hands in glee. “I’ve got it! I’ve got it! It’s one of the thirty-six moves of ‘Wind-twirling Geese-falling Sword,’ the seventeenth move ‘One Thrust Drops Nine Geese.’ This must be the work of Liu Zhengfeng, Master Liu,” she proclaimed triumphantly.

   “I am afraid that Master Liu’s skills have not progressed to that level yet; you’ve only got it half right,” the old man shook his head with a smile.

   “Hold on! Don’t say it!” The girl pointed at him with a big grin. “I know who it was. It…it…it was ‘Night Rain of Xiaoxiang’ Great Mr. Mo!”

All of a sudden, the sounds of applause and laughter came from seven or eight different directions. “Good job, Little Apprentice Sister!” Several people shouted.

Lin Pingzhi was startled. “Where did all these people come from?” He glanced up from the corner of his eyes again and saw that the two dozing men had stood up, and there were five others who just walked out from the teashop’s back room. One was dressed like a porter; one held an abacus in his hands, and looked like a merchant; another had a small monkey perched on his shoulder and looked like a street performer.

   “Ha, so you dirty tricksters were all hiding. You almost gave me a heart attack! Where’s Big Apprentice Brother?” the young girl grinned.

   “We’ve just met, and you’re already calling us dirty tricksters?” the man with the monkey said with mock seriousness.

   “Well, you hid yourselves and tried to scare me, didn’t you? So of course you’re dirty tricksters,” the girl retorted with a grin. “Why isn’t Big Apprentice Brother with you?”

   “How come you don’t ask about anything else but your Big Apprentice Brother?” The man with the monkey laughed teasingly. “We’ve barely spoken two sentences and you’ve already asked about your Big Apprentice Brother twice. Why don’t you ask about your sixth apprentice brother?”

The girl stamped her foot on the floor. “Bah! You’re standing here in perfect shape, safe and sound Monkey-boy. Why should I bother asking about you?”

   “Well, Big Apprentice Brother is also safe and sound. Why are you asking about him then?” the man with the monkey shot back with a grin.

   “I am not talking to you any more,” the girl exclaimed. “Fourth apprentice brother, you’re the only gentleman of the bunch! Where’s Big Apprentice Brother?”

Before the man dressed as porter could answer, several others began to protest. “Ho! Only your fourth apprentice brother is a gentleman, and we are all villains? Hey, Number Four, don’t answer her.”

   “Don’t answer then!” the girl exploded in a huff. “If you don’t want to tell me, fine! But don’t expect me to tell you one word about the strange and interesting things that happened on our way here when I was with second apprentice brother.”

The man dressed as porter did not participate in any of the joking and bantering. He seemed to be a simple and straightforward person.

   “We departed with Big Apprentice Brother yesterday at Hengyang,” he said. “He told us to come first. By now he is probably already sober, and will be here soon.”

   “He got drunk again?” the girl frowned slightly.

   “Yep,” the man dressed as a porter answered.

   “This time he really drank his fill,” the man with the abacus cut in. “He drank from morning till noon, and then from noon till dusk. He probably drank at least twenty to thirty liters of good wine!”

   “That’s not good for his health! Why didn’t you talk to him?” the girl admonished.

The man with the abacus stuck his tongue out and made a face. “If Big Apprentice Brother would listen to other people’s advice, then the sun would have risen from the west. But I guess if Little Apprentice Sister tried to stop him, then he might drink one liter less.” Everyone laughed at these words.

   “Why did he start drinking like that? Was he celebrating something?” the girl asked.

   “You’ll have to ask him about that,” the man with the abacus replied. “I think he figured he would see his Little Apprentice Sister when he came to Hengshan town and felt really happy about it, so he decided to celebrate.”

   “Nonsense!” the girl sniffed, yet she sounded quite pleased.

Lin Pingzhi listened to the joking among these fellow apprentices. “It seems this girl really likes her Big Apprentice Brother very much,” he thought. “But if that second apprentice brother is already so old, the Big Apprentice Brother must be even older. The girl is only sixteen or seventeen, how could she fall in love with someone so old?” He thought a bit longer and then found an answer. “Ah, yes. The girl has pox-marks all over her face. She is way too ugly. No one else would take her, so she has to love an old drunkard.”

Then he heard the girl asking again, “So Big Apprentice Brother started drinking since yesterday morning?”  (To be continued)

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