Proofreaders: happyBuddha, Kai, Lee, m@o, Marcia
Till Death Do Us Part chapter 19
It was Monday the next day. Shen Liangsheng went into the office as usual and went out for dinner with Kobayakawa. When he returned home at ten o’clock, a servant told him Mr. Ch’in had dropped something off in the afternoon. Shen Liangsheng already knew the man would come while he was absent, so he only nodded his head in acknowledgement.
The servants dared not misplace whatever Mr. Ch’in had brought, so they left it on the coffee table in the lounge. Shen Liangsheng walked over to find not only the property contract but also an eyeglass case. The latter more or less took him by surprise, for he had nearly forgotten he was the one who had given Ch’in Ching that pair of glasses.
Well, things turned out like this, and there was no use dwelling on details. Without much thought, Shen Liangsheng locked both the contract and the case into a drawer in his study that he rarely used. As for transfer of ownership, it had not even crossed his mind. The heart was made of soft vulnerability, and no matter how he might have appeared on the outside, his heart was bound to hurt for some time. Shen Liangsheng did not regret anything, but he did not wish to speak of Ch’in Ching or be reminded of anything about the man – out of sight, out of mind.
The servants did not know about the entire ordeal and only thought their boss had a fight with Mr. Ch’in. It didn’t seem like a small one either, and so they stayed wary for the next couple of days in fear of tempting Shen Liangsheng.
Then, after a few days, they still did not face Shen Liangsheng’s fury. He looked just like before, and although he had a stern face all day long, he was not hard to serve. Therefore, they all relaxed and returned to their normal routines.
A month passed without much drama. In mid-September, Shen Liangsheng received a letter from Jenny Wang in the States. Incidentally, she had already sent a telegram not long after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, but she probably had felt that was insufficient and wrote this letter to say everything she wanted.
It was no short letter, taking up several pages, but the main message did not stray far from this: she could not return due to the situation in the country right now, and all she could do was worry. Luckily, her family were all well, but she had not been able to reach one of her friends in Peip’ing and that drove her crazy with concern. She also wondered if Shen Liangsheng was well, if Ch’in Ching was well. She wanted them to send her a telegram if anything happened to them.
While thinking that sending her a telegram wouldn’t help anything, Shen Liangsheng did see her worry. He suspected that the faint blots on the pages were from her tears, so he wrote a few words of comfort and said he was doing well. Then, after a pause, he continued.
“Ch’in Ching is also well. He wants me to ask how you are doing and tell you to take care and not worry about us too much.”
The truth was that Shen Liangsheng had no idea whether Ch’in Ching was doing well or not. It was just that there was no need to explain to Jenny that they had not been in touch. However, there was also no need for him to tell such white lies.
Shen Liangsheng read his reply once after completing it and kind of wanted to write a new one. However, after staring at the two sentences, he sealed the envelope without making any changes and placed it with two other letters waiting to be sent.
It was autumn by mid-September. The heat had left, but the chill had not set in because it had not rained yet. It was Sunday, and Shen Liangsheng was home for once. After writing the letter, he sat for a while.
The window in the study was open, and the room was filled with the mild warmth of early autumn. However, somehow it felt as though it was winter. Shen Liangsheng always had strong self-control. He had already wiped away the pain in the beginning and did not miss the man much. But perhaps because of the letter from an old friend, or because of his little white lie, the door to his heart opened just a crack. As he sat there, he could almost hear the laughter and joy from the distant past. The end of the happy times glided over with the fresh chill of the previous winter and took a stroll through his inner house before gently floating away.
Finally, the rain hit a few days later, and the temperature dropped. It started raining in the middle of the night. Ch’in Ching had not closed the windows and only had a light blanket, so the cold kept him from sleeping well. Amidst the drowsiness, he realized he had forgotten something very important, something to do with the weather.
It was cold. And autumn had come… Oh no! Ch’in Ching suddenly remembered that Shen Liangsheng had told him his birthday was in July. Then, all that stuff happened in July and he completely forgot about it.
Surely, Shen Liangsheng would be upset that he’d forgotten about his birthday, right? He should visit the shopping centre tomorrow after school and get the man a present to make up for it.
Ch’in Ching didn’t realize until he was contemplating the choice of gifts that he didn’t need to buy anything – they’d already split, and they had nothing to do with each other.
Ch’in Ching flipped to the other side. He wanted to get a thicker cover but was too lazy to move. The rain grew from a drizzle to a downpour. He pulled the thin blanket tighter around himself and fell asleep listening to the rain. When he woke the next morning, his nose was a bit stuffed like the beginning of a cold. His eyes were a bit puffy and wouldn’t open as though he had wept, but his pillow was dry.
The temperature continued to drop. One day, Shen Liangsheng came home, had dinner and went upstairs. Soon, he came back down again.
“Who laid out the rug in the den?”
The servant he asked was not entirely sure and replied saying she laid it out because it had gotten cold.
“Was it sent in for dry cleaning?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t me….”
“Fine. Thank you.”
The servant walked away confused, wondering why the boss was suddenly interested in the interior decor when he never had been before. She was afraid that the rug was a taboo for Shen Liangsheng, but then she thought that the expensive rug would be a waste gathering dust in storage.
When Shen Liangsheng visited his father at the end of October for one of their usual talks, he noticed that the older man’s voice was hoarse. He asked if it was a cold and if so, if he had taken any medicine.
Shen K’echen waved his hand in dismissal. “It’s been like this for a while now. It hurts whenever I swallow.”
He told his son that he had taken quite a lot of traditional medicine, but it did not help much. He thought the incident this summer caused him too much stress, and the anxiety built up, so it would take more than a day or two to get his body back to normal. He let out a long sigh. “This is what old age does to you.” With that said, he actually did appear older.
“Maybe Western medicine will do you some good instead. I’ll ask Louis to come by tomorrow.”
Louis was a doctor trained in Western medicine and Shen Liangsheng’s personal friend. He had been recommended by Shen Liangsheng to be Shen Sr.’s family doctor, but Shen K’echen thought Western medicine was toxic and not as mild as Chinese medicine. In the end, he never really called for Louis’s expertise.
The next day, Louis came and recommended Shen Sr. have a laryngoscopy after hearing of the long-lasting symptoms. Shen K’echen was not too willing but consented to it after some persuasion on his son’s part.
However, nothing significant came back on the results, and the ordeal ended with the prescription of some anti-inflammatory drugs. Then, nearly a month later, Shen Sr.’s coughing worsened to the point he coughed out blood one day. Only then did he panic and undergo a complete examination.
This time, the doctor only told Shen Liangsheng the results, and this gave the older man some warning ahead of time. The doctor explained the illness, avoiding the horrible details. Laryngeal cancer was difficult to detect in its early stages, and surgery could be a possible option to consider.
Tired of the euphemistic talk, Shen Liangsheng interrupted him and asked for specific information on the risks of surgery. In the end, he decided resolutely, “Then let’s have the operation.”
To his father, Shen Liangsheng left some of the condition unsaid, saying there was a small tumour in his throat that just needed to be removed. But Shen Sr. was not stupid and knew more or less exactly what it was.
Shen K’echen might have become fearful in recent years, but he had been a man who had been through hell and high water. In the face of trouble, he became rather calm and accepted the proposed operation with an implicit and optimistic sense of hope for recovery.
After much inquiring, Shen Liangsheng hired an American surgeon from Shanghai at a high price, and the results were satisfactory. The illness appeared to have come under control. Shen K’echen thought that it was the light at the end of the tunnel and was fairly high-spirited after the surgery.
The Provisional Government of the Republic of China was established in Peip’ing in December that year, and after a branch was set up in Tientsin, the Peace Preservation Committee was dissolved. Kobayakawa still wanted to persuade Shen Liangsheng to join politics and work for him, but Shen Liangsheng had been busy arranging for his father’s operation. The latter first said he was not in the mood for this, and then he asked to push the issue until his father’s health had recovered. One thing led to another, and the matter stayed unaddressed even by February in the next year.
However, not all of his words were excuses. Technically speaking, his father’s illness meant that Shen Liangsheng was one step closer to what he wanted, but he didn’t feel a single hint of happiness.
As they say, dying men don’t lie. However, what was running through his mind as he waited outside the operating room while his father went under the knife was not how Shen K’echen had mistreated him in his childhood, but how good he was to him afterwards.
Spring came again in March, the time of rebirth, but Shen Sr.’s condition took a turn for the worse. This time around the doctor did not recommend a second operation, nor was Shen K’echen strong enough to undergo another. The only way he could stay alive was through intravenous medication day in and day out.
Shen Liangsheng moved back to the old mansion, and his brother began dropping by every day, too. As for whether his brother was sincerely concerned or just doing it for the estate, only he himself knew.
Shen K’echen knew he was going to meet his end, but he didn’t want to see it as karma. He believed in the afterlife, and if this were karma, then he would have to suffer in the next life as well. Shen Liangsheng read his father’s thoughts and hired an enlightened Buddhist monk to read him scriptures. The monk spoke consoling words to him, all but promising him a good reincarnation and next life.
While he was still conscious, the cautious Shen Sr. invited trusted confidants to Tientsin in addition to hiring lawyers in preparation for his will. His elder son, though greater in age, was lesser in brains and began snooping around trying to find details of the will. Meanwhile, Shen Liangsheng stayed put. The mediators were all loyal to their old man. How could his older brother pick up any clues if Shen Liangsheng hadn’t already?
Expectedly, Shen K’echen found out about his son’s sneaky behaviour almost right away. He was so enraged that he was slapping the bed, but because he was too weak to make much sound with his hands or to scold anyone with his voice, he ended up wheezing. Louis quickly gave him a shot of tranquilizer and made sure the man was all right before leaving.
When the man woke up the next morning, he could just about make out the silhouette of the person by his bed, a silhouette that he loved. He reached out feebly for the person’s hand and breathed in a raspy voice, “Chen-chen.”
Shen Liangsheng was sitting by the bed when he felt his father’s hand on his. He did not catch what the older man said, and he leaned down, asking softly, “What was that?”
But his father did not answer. The man only shook his head as tears streamed down his face. Then, he closed his eyes tiredly and seemed to slip into slumber once again.
It had been two days since Shen Liangsheng last went into the office, so he had to go today. He called over the nurses after watching his father for a few minutes. Walking out of the room and down the stairs, he lit a cigarette.
Halfway down the staircase, Shen Liangsheng stopped in his tracks when he realized what his father had said – he had nearly forgotten that his mother’s Chinese name had the character “chen” in it.
It was in this moment that Shen Liangsheng finally admitted he was alone. The people in his life left him one after another, and he thought he didn’t care to the point he had almost forgotten his mother’s name.
Perhaps one day he might actually forget all their names, the names of those who had left and those who had yet to leave. However, he now felt afraid in this empty house filled with death, afraid that his mind would one day become empty as well.
He finished his smoke on the staircase. For just a second, he wanted to drive to see someone just to tell him that he missed him.
However, he only drove to the office in the end. On the way back to his father’s mansion, he dropped by his own manor on Cambridge Road and grabbed from the study Sonnets from the Portuguese, the only thing of his mother’s that he had left.
If he had to miss someone out of all the people who had left him or had yet to leave him, it would be his mother.
Shen Liangsheng placed the slightly worn poetry collection by the pillow. He flipped to a random page that night before bed and began reading from there. He stopped at the end of a certain poem and read it over several times before closing the book, locking away the words that brought forth memories that had nothing to do with his mother.
“But I look on thee – on thee –
Beholding, besides love, the end of love,
Hearing oblivion beyond memory;
As one who sits and gazes from above,
Over the rivers to the bitter sea.”
The end of June, Shen Sr. finally went to meet his maker. When Ch’in Ching saw the obituary, he sat there clutching the newspapers, repeating to himself: “You were the one who ended this relationship. You cannot go back to see him.”
Hsiao-Liu had seen the obituary too, but he did not mention anything about the dead man when he visited Ch’in Ching that night. He brought over a meal for his friend whom he nagged, “What the hell are you doing these days? You always say you can’t come over for dinner, and I always have to bring you the food.”
His words were harsh, but the thought behind them was good. Hsiao-Liu added after making sure his friend ate his food, “You weren’t even gonna eat if I didn’t bring it for you. Just look at yourself. I’m three times your size!”
“Horizontally or vertically?” Ch’in Ching laughed as he tidied up the dishes to wash in the kitchen.
Seeing that his friend could still make jokes, Hsiao-Liu felt more or less relieved and tossed away the idea of persuading him to go see Shen Liangsheng. He was actually happy to see them split. Although Ch’in Ching had lost a lot of weight in the past few months, he was in good spirits. As they said, better a finger off than always aching, and life could readily go on without that finger.
The reason for the schoolmaster’s weight loss was actually his busy schedule. Things were looking bad in Tientsin, but Peip’ing had it worse, and all the nationalist organizations in Northern China relocated to Tientsin last year. All schools in Tientsin refused to stop Chinese lessons and to modify textbooks in defiance of the Japanese attempt to enslave China through education. Sheng Kung was a girl’s school and had few students to begin with, but now things were even harder. But in the words of Lao-Wu, the lessons had to go on, and the bigger the better. No way in hell were they going to let Chinese children speak the tongue of the devil.
For the past few months, Ch’in Ching had been helping out at the Student Union while working for Lao-Wu, secretly distributing anti-Japanese pamphlets and the Anti-Japanese Tabloid published by the Communist Party in Tientsin. When it got to the point when no one would print the pamphlets and papers anymore, they began copying them by hand.
Many years had passed. No one called him Ch’in-sao anymore; the author of The New Year’s Sacrifice had passed away, too. However, he left behind words that would last for generations:
“What is a path? It is what we create with our feet from where there is no path. It is what we establish from where there are only thorns and bramble.”
At their father’s funeral service, Shen Liangsheng, dressed in a black suit, was behind his brother, not shedding a single tear. Meanwhile, his brother was wailing, as though the more he cried the more of the estate he would get.
The contents of Shen K’echen’s will were not surprising. The man was not going to let his elder son suffer no matter how much he hated him for being a good-for-nothing. Although he did not give him the executive rights to the family business, he passed on half of his real estate. If the son could just quit gambling, he would not have to work a day for the rest of his life.
The elder son had no problem with this decision. He knew the properties were not liquid, but he had not been part of the family business for some time and was content with this settlement.
On the other hand, Shen Liangsheng was not exactly discontent, but if he was correct in his judgement, his brother was a leopard who could not change its spots – the houses and the land would not stay long in his hands. Shen Liangsheng had not done much to his brother when their father was alive, even going as far as occasionally helping him out. That was because he knew that their old man was watching and that it wasn’t the right time.
Now that the old man was dead, there was nothing holding Shen Liangsheng back from tearing apart his own blood. The things he did in the light and in the dark in the following months were so despicable that the late Mrs. Shen would surely push open the gates of hell and take Shen Liangsheng down with her if she found out.
Shen Liangsheng had had no intentions of exacting revenge for his mother when he came back to China, but six years later, he did exactly that. Shen Liangsheng’s brother died in the end of that year from opium addiction. As for how he became addicted and how he died from it within a mere few months, it was a secret that only one man knew.
Shortly after Shen Sr.’s death, Li Wan-hsien returned to her own family in a rampage and finally ended her meaningless marriage as she had wished. Afterwards, when she heard the news of her ex-husband’s passing, she realized she had left him too early and did not receive as much of his estate as she could have. However, after the initial regret, she got the chills when she thought about the spooky matter more carefully. That ex-brother-in-law of hers likely had something to do with the death, and she finally understood for the first time the true meaning of a heartless devil.
The January of Year Twenty-Eight was especially cold. The skies had been continuously overcast, signalling an imminent snowstorm.
Shen Liangsheng returned home one day and was taking off his coat and hat when the servant told him there was a Miss Ts’ui looking for him. “She wouldn’t leave, and it was really cold outside, so I let her in.”
The reason why the maid made this explanation was because of the boss’s established rule to ask all strangers to leave and not let just anybody into the house.
Shen Liangsheng could not think of a Miss Ts’ui that he knew.
“Where is she?” he asked with a frown.
“Right there in the lounge.”
It was only then that he noticed a person sitting on the couch. The lady was sitting there in silence. She was supposedly here for Shen Liangsheng, but she was on the verge of tears clutching a teacup in her hands while her mind was completely in another world.
Shen Liangsheng examined her as he approached and was certain he had never seen this person. But he did understand why the servant had let her in – her belly was round, and it simply was not right to let a pregnant woman stay out in the cold.
The lady did not realize until Shen Liangsheng was in front of her. She shot up from her seat and looked at him with anxious eyes, forgetting to even greet the man.
“How can I help you?” Although she was a stranger, it would be rude to kick her out. He sat down, and when she remained standing, he added kindly, “Take a seat.”
“I am Ts’ui….”
“Yes, please sit.” Seeing that she had only managed to get three words out after so long, Shen Liangsheng could only try to be patient and inquire again. “How can I help you, Miss Ts’ui?”
“Young Master Shen….”
Still standing, she managed to say another three words before tears began trickling down her face. She could not speak well through the sobs and made it seem like Shen Liangsheng was the one at fault here for knocking her up.
Though confused, Shen Liangsheng knew he had never done such a thing. Still, he could not do anything but ask the maid to fetch her a handkerchief. With his limited patience, he kept asking questions and eventually figured out the situation.
Miss Ts’ui was not a Tientsin local. Her name was Chao-ti, a name so common that it could not be any more common. Her appearance was nothing extraordinary, just a fair-skinned girl, but her soft disposition made her seem extra pitiful.
She had come to Tientsin with her master as a servant. Shen Liangsheng’s brother took a liking to her and kept her as a mistress in secret from Li Wan-hsien. The man had just about abandoned her before he had even died, and now that he was dead, he left behind a pregnant woman with no legitimate claim to his estate. She had managed by pawning her belongings for two months. Her landlord was going to take back her house soon, and with the risk of not having a roof over her head, she finally gathered the courage to look for Shen Liangsheng.
Shen Liangsheng did not know if the baby was really his brother’s – it didn’t matter to him either way since he had already disposed of the man – and he cut to the chase. “Name your price.”
“No, I don’t want any money.” Ts’ui Chao-ti was destined for a hard life because of her soft nature. Somehow she ended up staying with Shen Liangsheng’s brother after he had taken advantage of her. Now she was all tears, saying she didn’t want money but was not really sure herself what she wanted instead.
Shen Liangsheng was ruthless towards his own brother but did not want to bully a woman. He let her cry to her heart’s content and smoked in silence from his seat. In the end, he suggested gently. “Don’t cry. Let us have some food first.”
He showed such kindness to her for no reason other than something that he didn’t want to admit himself. It was nothing more than the small mole by her eye. She looked nothing like that certain someone, but because of the mole, he couldn’t bear to feel annoyed at her as tears fell from her downcast eyes.
“I…I don’t want much….” After hearing the man’s gentle invitation, she stopped sobbing, but the words coming from her mouth were still jumbled. “I’ll raise the child myself. I’ll be the best mother…. I just want a ticket home.”
Ts’ui Chao-ti never went to school and didn’t speak or act in a logical manner. She did not come looking for the Shens for two months because she had thought they would take the child away from her to raise as their own. She had paid someone to write a letter to her family to the south of the city, and her mother had agreed to take her back. She now had a way out of this, but then she found that she had no money for a ticket back home. She didn’t want to ask her family for it but had nowhere to borrow money. Only then did she look for Shen Liangsheng. Asking around for his address was probably the bravest thing she had ever done.
Hearing her story, Shen Liangsheng found the rare urge to be kind. This time it had nothing to do with the certain someone but rather with the urgent tone in which she spoke about her unborn child. No matter who the father was, hearing a mother’s concern for the child tugged at Shen Liangsheng’s heartstrings. After he found out that she had nowhere to stay, he decided to go the entire way. He planned to have her stay in a guestroom for a few days until he bought a ticket and found someone to escort her back.
Ts’ui Chao-ti was not a strong-willed person and went along with whatever the young master had decided. She settled in the manor with her small bag of clothes, never stepping out of her room unless necessary. Eating at the same table with Shen Liangsheng was naturally out of the question, too. However, she sincerely thought he was a good man unlike his older brother.
Of course, Shen Liangsheng was far from a good man. He hadn’t expected this when he killed the man, and with that, he had indirectly brought this upon her. All he could do was to compensate her monetarily.
At first, she didn’t take it, but Shen Liangsheng insisted. “Just take it.”
Thus, she did, and her opinion of him grew even better.
The train ticket was for the twenty-second of January. A heavy snowfall hit the city on the night of the twenty-first which the Wong Lik predicted perfectly as Tahan.
The twenty-second fell on a Sunday, and Shen Liangsheng, with nothing better to do, tagged along for the ride to the station.
The escort that Shen Liangsheng had found was a secretary whose home was also to the south. He was absolutely delighted after hearing that he was off all the way through to Chinese New Year, and best of all, he was still getting paid full wages. On the day of departure, he arrived with two bulky suitcases in tow and a beaming smile. Even Shen Liangsheng teased him. “Are you moving out to the countryside?”
“Of course not. Just bringing some things back to the family.”
The secretary was an outgoing man in his early twenties. He was going to spend the rest of the trip with Miss Ts’ui, so he began talking with the lady and even helped her with the luggage without waiting for the chauffeur. The truth was she had little luggage, but Shen Liangsheng added a few things for her after knowing she had pawned all of her winter clothes.
She might have been pregnant, but she had only just turned nineteen. Too shy to talk but too embarrassed not to reply the young man, the poor girl kept her head down and would only reply when spoken to.
Seeing this from the side, Shen Liangsheng thought the two looked a bit like adorable newlyweds. He was turning twenty-eight that year, but he felt old all of a sudden. Watching them was like watching the next generation and made him feel like their elder.
They got into the car after the bags. The secretary sat in the passenger seat while the boss accompanied Ts’ui Chao-ti in the back.
“Take care on the road,” Shen Liangsheng added like the elder he felt he was.
The girl nodded. The vehicle drove past the manor gates and had made a left turn when Shen Liangsheng suddenly twisted around to look back the way they had come.
“Stop the car!” he commanded.
The chauffeur stepped on the brakes, but due to the snow, the car slid for several yards before stopping. Caught off guard, Ts’ui Chao-ti lurched forward, and her hands flew to protect her bulging stomach.
She had no idea what had happened. Though she had not spent much time with Shen Liangsheng, in her mind she had already placed this man on a pedestal like a bodhisattva in the temple. He was high above in the sky, in the light, above the mortals, devoid of all emotions.
She watched this man nearly stumble as he hurried out of the car only to stand stiffly by the vehicle. She found the rare burst of courage from the shock and edged closer to the window, straining to get a look.
They had left early in the morning to catch the train, and Cambridge Road was a quiet street to begin with. Aside from their car, there was only one man standing at a corner further up the street.
She guessed Shen Liangsheng was looking at that person. It must have been someone he knew, but then why was he just standing there? Why didn’t he go up and greet the man?
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For more information:
Provisional Government of the Republic of China
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ayszhang: School started for me in Tokyo on Wednesday! Things are looking good so far, but I'm taking a larger courseload than last term, so the translations might be a tiny bit slower than before >_<
Till Death Do Us Part - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.