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9 Taels For the Fourth Miss

    The crowd burst into loud words again after hearing the man- or boy- declare that he was willing to pay forty whole taels for the painting.

    "It's a fraud, boy!"

    "Don't be foolish; listen to your elders! We've been experienced through painting, and plenty of other paintings are worth your silver, not this fraud of a drawing."

    "Your parents must cut you too much slack. How could you be so wasteful?"

    Ignoring the words of the people around him, the man continued to examine the painting carefully, thoroughly admiring it. "I haven't seen a style like this in ages." He smiled a bit, nodding appreciatively. "A fraud would not be able to mimic such wonderful strokes and balance. And the way the fog and trees are set- they create a beautiful framing effect. This is a true work of art, unlike what others-" he paused, staring at the others, "- who are clearly unexperienced and making fools of themselves, claim."

    The crowd erupted yet again, but he looked up to Hui'er. "You said that your old master painted this? How much is it going to sell for?"

    Hui'er stuttered in her speech a little, shocked by the fact that the painting was going to sell when before, she expected the crowd to tear the work up. "It'll be... fifty- fifty tales, sir."

    "Hm..." He thought about the price, but clearly, it was still difficult for him. "How about this?" Leaning a little closer, the young man whispered to Hui'er, "I actually bluffed about the forty taels- I only have thirty-five on me." He gave an awkward laugh. "Truthfully, I'm looking for someone to paint a unique picture for me- I'm getting married half a year later, and I really want to give a gift to my bride to show my dedication. And, I feel like a special painting may do that. I'm willing to pay up to a hundred taels in total, so how would your old master feel if I bought the painting for the thirty-five on me, and then commissioned him for sixty-five?"

    The proposition was interesting- Hui'er would give him credit for that. Besides, she doubted that her Fourth Miss would get any others buyers if she rejected this young man, so perhaps thirty-five would have to do for now. The other sixty-five taels would not hurt, either, since the Fourth Miss was looking for ways to make money too.

    Without thinking much, Hui'er agreed. The young man seemed content with that, and he quickly handed over a sack of heavy taels. Carefully, Hui'er rolled up the painting, tying it with a silk ribbon, and giving the scroll to him.

    With that, the exchange was completed.

    ...

    "Miss, I'm back!"

    Excitedly, Hui'er entered Yujia's room, but her speech paused when she saw the state that the Fourth Mises was in. She was lying on the floor, attentively holding a thin and long stick of wood, shaving at it with a spare blade, almost as if she was sharpening the point. The Fourth Miss's appearance was a mess, her hair tangled up from the typically neatly combed state, and her clothes were stained with a bit of dirt while a few leaves clung onto the folds of fabric. The room was in disorder too, drawers all pulled open as if someone was looking through them.

    A million scenarios ran through Hui'er's head of what exactly happened to her Fourth Miss for her to land in her current state. But, upon seeing Hui'er, Yujia's eyes lit up, dropping the blade and stick in her hand with a clatter and grinning.

    "Hui'er, do you have the fifty taels?" She brushed a strand of her hair back. "I've been waiting for you for forever... what took so long at the market? It's almost evening already."

    "Ah..." Hui'er decided to not question her Fourth Miss's appearances for now. "Well, there's a long story..."

    She began reciting to Yujia the exact details of what happened, and Yujia listened angrily yet carefully. At the end of the set of events, Yujia exclaimed her thoughts offensively.

    "These men- what fools! Calling me, Yang Yujia, a fraud? What fraud? They are frauds!"

    She had an art degree in college! By all means, she was educated, compared to them! The elements of art, perception, composition, theories.... How could they call her work a fraud?

    This was more frustrating than having no one buying her work!

    While Yujia ranted, Hui'er looked nervously at the sharpened spear-esque stick in the corner along with the blade. Was this the reason why her Fourth Miss was sharpening the wood...? To avenge those who cursed her work? But how did she know beforehand that this event was going to happen?

    Even more ideas entered Hui'er's mind.

    After a few more angry sentences, Yujia finally calmed down and patted Hui'er soundly on the shoulder. "Now, say, you mentioned some guy who would pay?"

    "Yes!" Hui'er quickly distracts herself from her thoughts, fishing out the heavy satchel from her side. "Miss, here is thirty-five taels."

    "Thirty-five? Only thirty-five? I thought there was fifty!"

    Hui'er looks apologetic while she explains. "Well, Miss, we came to an agreement that he would pay thirty-five for this painting, and then, he would specially commission you for a sixty-five tael painting as a present for his future bride."

    Yujia takes the satchel from Hui'er's hands and pulls it open, pulling a few silver taels to make sure that she wasn't scammed. "You agreed to it?"

    "Of course, Miss!" Hui'er nods earnestly. "I figured that since you were trying to sell your work, and this buyer was willing to give you another opportunity, then it was a good solution! Plus, since he's paying one hundred taels total, that would be fifty taels per painting... a good deal, isn't it?"

    Hui'er's advice goes through Yujia's mind as she turns around, walking slowly across the room to place the satchel of silver in a safe place. This was certainly a good opportunity, but she originally decided to sell her painting for fifty taels, not thirty-five. If this man wanted to pay only sixty-five for a commissioned painting, that would be no better than her just selling two random paintings for fifty! Surely her work wasn't worth so little...

    After pondering for a moment, Yujia returns to Hui'er's side, giving her maid an answer. "Hui'er, let's raise the price by, say, twenty more taels. Eighty-five for the commission, and I'll agree."

    "Twenty more?" Hui'er was becoming concerned. One hundred taels in total was already a tremendous amount. Wasn't asking twenty more silvers a little shameless and greedy?"

    "Are you doubting my words, Hui'er?" Yujia raised her eyebrows.

    "No, I don't doubt what you're saying, Fourth Miss!" Hui'er quickly shook her head.

    Although she disagreed, on the inside, she was feeling a bit resentful. After all, it was because she didn't doubt her Fourth Miss's words that she ended up in such an inconvenient scenario with a bunch of enraged men cursing her. Why shouldn't she doubt the Fourth Miss's words now?

    Yujia, nevertheless, was completely unaware of what Hui'er was thinking, satisfied with the idea that Hui'er agreed with her words. "Alright then, Hui'er, go ahead and inform the man. I assume you have an arrangement with him on how to contact each other?"

    "Yes!" The young man and Hui'er decided to meet up this evening by the market again if things went well with informing her 'old master' about the commission.

    Hearing so, Yujia nodded and waved her hands, squatting back down on the floor and picking up the blade again. Hui'er didn't move, however, looking puzzlingly at the Fourth Miss, who continued scraping at the stick, the tip becoming sharper and sharper.

    Curiosity forced Hui'er to hastily ask, "Miss, what are you making? I've been wondering since I came in."

    Yujia looked up, surprised as if she expected Hui'er to be gone already. She held up the blade in her hand, which Hui'er recognized to be a thin metal piece that her Fourth Miss used to use to slice fabrics and strings, not to... carve wood. "This?" Yujia raised her eyebrows once more. "You'll see, Hui'er. You'll see."

    A mischievous smile appeared on the Fourth Miss's face, and Hui'er shuddered on the inside. She didn't know what the Fourth Miss was planning to do, but by the look on the Fourth Miss's face, Hui'er's suspicions about the spear-for-revenge appeared again.

    It couldn't be... right?

    If the Fourth Miss was making a weapon, why would she use such a thin stick? Still, Hui'er didn't linger longer in the room, quickly exiting after hearing the "you'll see". To Hui'er, her Fourth Miss's aura was just too intimidating, sort of the kind of feeling that she wasn't carving a stick but rather sharpening a large kitchen knife! She didn't want to stay there for a moment longer, and no longer wished to figure out what the threatening stick of wood was for.
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