On a warm and breezy afternoon with a hint of chill in the air, it was the perfect time for a nap.
Yue Dingtang was in the midst of writing a paper comparing the legal systems of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
He had collected all the necessary materials and now all that was left was to organize the sentences in his mind and put them down on paper.
He had written quite a bit when he reached for his cigarette box, only to find it empty.
As soon as the craving hit, all his inspiration shattered into pieces and Yue Dingtang became restless, wishing he could immediately hold a cigarette in his hand and take a puff.
"Can you go buy me a pack..." he started to say, but when he looked up, he was speechless.
Ling Shu was sound asleep, his head resting on his arm and his mouth slightly open, ready to drool at any moment. He couldn't even tell what he was dreaming about.
When Yue Dingtang looked over, he saw a mysterious smile on Ling's face, as if he was drowning in a pile of money and sleeping on top of it.
Yue Dingtang sighed and walked over to him, tapping on the table.
Tap, tap, tap.
Ling Shu didn't react.
Yue Dingtang reached out and pushed him.
Ling Shu let out an unsatisfied sneeze from his nose, shifted his position, and continued to snore.
Yue Dingtang leaned in close to his ear and spoke in a magnetic, charming voice, almost like whispering sweet nothings:
"Today is payday."
It took Ling Shu about three seconds to process the information and wake up. He suddenly sat up straight, his shoulders emitting a painful crack from being hunched over for so long.
Ling Shu winced in pain.
"What payday? Did I hear you correctly?" he asked.
"You heard me right. I received my salary and bonus this month," replied Yue Dingtang.
Ling Shu looked confused. "What about mine?"
Yue Dingtang looked at him as if he hadn't woken up yet. "Didn't you just receive yours?"
Ling Shu's official position was as a secretary assistant for the city bureau, with a fixed monthly salary. However, Yue Dingtang also held a position as a professor at a university, allowing him to receive double the salary.
Ignoring Yue Dingtang's family background, his two jobs combined provided him with a comfortable life in Shanghai.
In comparison, Ling Shu had to live on a tighter budget.
When He You'an left them that money, Yue Dingtang thought that Ling Shu would split it with him.
But to his surprise, Ling Shu didn't touch a single penny and left it in the safe deposit box at 7708. He said he would wait until He Lixin grew up before giving it to him.
Ling Shu continued to be stingy and haggle with the boss even when it came to breakfast, trying to get more tofu pudding for the same price.
"My salary was just brought home yesterday, but it was sniffed out by my sister's dog and confiscated," Ling Shu said, stretching and yawning heavily, feeling drowsy and about to slump onto the table again.
Yue Dingtang quickly grabbed his collar. "Go buy me a pack of cigarettes, Hademen." He pulled out a big bill. "You can keep the change."
The office fell silent once again.
As he thought about the cigarettes that would arrive soon, Yue Dingtang reluctantly suppressed his addiction and tried to focus on the initial draft of his paper.
However, he kept writing and stopping, and before he knew it, half an hour had passed. He knew that Ling Shu, with his long legs, could easily make it back from the cigarette vendor across the street from the police station in just a few moments.
Ling Shu had been gone for almost an hour, which was a miracle in itself, unless he had encountered some unexpected event on the way.
Yue Dingtang had seen Ling Shu being accosted by female students before. This was an era where even students dared to pursue their teachers for love.
With Ling Shu's charm, he was like a peach blossom tree that could attract passionate and clingy women wherever he went. If he encountered someone like He You'an, it would be fine, but if he ran into someone like Miss Zhen from the Zhen family, it would be a disaster.
Although this wasn't a school, the female students should be in class at this time.
Yue Dingtang stood up, afraid that if he didn't go out and find the person, he wouldn't be able to smoke today.
Ling Shu was chatting with a cigarette vendor.
Northeasterners call this "telling big stories," while Sichuanese call it "setting up a dragon gate formation to chat."
But Yue Dingtang had never seen someone chat for half an hour while buying a box of cigarettes. As he approached, he realized that Ling Shu was bargaining with the vendor.
One box of Hademen cigarettes cost a few copper coins, and the vendor didn't have enough change.
Ling Shu insisted on buying ten boxes and demanded that the vendor give him one for free. The vendor only agreed to give half a box for free, and the two of them chatted away.
The vendor met someone who was eloquent and knowledgeable, and he talked about the origin of the name "Hademen" and whether the tobacco company would raise prices soon.
In the end, they settled on a price of half a box of cigarettes plus two extra cigarettes.
Yue Dingtang was amazed.
Ling Shu bought ten packs of cigarettes in one go, even though he couldn't possibly smoke them all.
Every time Ling Shu was sent to buy cigarettes, he would be given a big bill, and after doing this ten times, he would have earned a lot of extra money without having to go out each time.
It was a time-saving, effortless and money-saving strategy.
But it was also a bit embarrassing.
As a university professor and consultant for the city bureau, with a secretary and assistant, who had stooped so low as to haggle on the street.
Yue Dingtang couldn't bear to watch and reached out to pat Ling Shu's shoulder.
The latter was happily counting his cigarettes.
"Hey, don't pull me, wait a minute! Who is it?" Ling Shu turned his head and lowered his voice.
"You've had a good haul today!" Yue Dingtang grinned.
"It's not bad, not bad!" Ling Shu laughed and pulled him away. "We made a small profit today. I'll treat you to lunch and we can go for a walk!"
Yue Dingtang replied, "With just one silver dollar, what can we eat?"
Ling Shu said, "Plenty! You're a wealthy young master who never touches cheap food. Besides the famous restaurants, there are also street vendors and bakeries where you can eat your fill for just a few cents. But I do have to be careful with my spending. As you know, my salary was just cut and confiscated by my sister. I have to be frugal with what's left."
Yue Dingtang thought that being diligent and frugal was not a bad thing.
The Ling family's current financial situation was indeed different from before, and it made sense for Ling Yao to confiscate Ling Shu's money to prevent him from spending recklessly.
Although Yue Dingtang didn't believe that Ling Shu would honestly turn over every penny without keeping some for himself, he didn't criticize him when he heard the sadness in his tone.
Little did he know that Ling Shu would make his way through the bustling streets, passing by many steaming bowls of lamb soup noodles and braised pork rice, and finally arriving at a small shop in a corner of the alley.
The shop was pitch black and filled with flies, leaving Yue Dingtang with a terrible first impression.
It was also the only impression he had.
"Don't judge this place by its poor environment, the taste is really good. Last time, I brought Chief Huang's nephew's cousin's neighbor here, and he had the same disgusted expression as you. But after he tried the food, he asked me to bring him here again and even said he wanted to introduce it to his whole family..."
Yue Dingtang couldn't take it anymore and interrupted his endless chatter.
"We'll have lunch at De Xing Guan, my treat."
Ling Shu decisively muted himself and gave Yue Dingtang a thumbs up.
"Yue Dingtang, you're a real man, so straightforward!"
Yue Dingtang felt that Ling Shu had never even eaten here, but he didn't want to delve into the truth. He just wanted to leave this uncomfortable place as soon as possible.
A plump green fly flew past Yue Dingtang's nose, emitting a deafening buzzing sound that made his face turn even paler.
He pulled Ling Shu's wrist tightly, without looking back, and ran away quickly.
Ling Shu's lips curled up slightly, and he immediately wiped away the uncontrollable curve, maintaining his innocent and inexplicable expression.
He could now freeload and enjoy a big meal.
Having lunch at De Xing Guan was naturally a feast.
Everyone in old Shanghai knew that this was a restaurant that could accommodate people from all walks of life.
Even ordinary people couldn't afford to eat here, but whether it was the leader of the Qing gang or the high-ranking officials, they could all find their own bold and spicy or elegant and stable dishes here.
The most popular dish at the time was the dumplings filled with shepherd's purse and bamboo shoots. Add in a serving of braised pork trotters and crispy radish cakes, and you have a satisfying meal.
Sure, you could have a couple more bowls of soup to make it more extravagant, but the difference between having a little less soup is negligible.
However, Ling Shu felt that the soup made by the chefs at Yue's family was just as good as the master chefs at De Xing Guan.
After finishing his meal, Ling Shu didn't forget to ask about the son of his old friend.
"How has Lixin been doing lately?" he inquired.
Yue Dingtang replied, "Professor Li and his wife have been taking good care of him. They even take him along when they go out to explore architecture and nature. Perhaps because he's seen more of the world, the child has become more outgoing and willing to talk about simple things."
Just two days after Ling Shu brought Lixin back to his home to stay temporarily, Yue Dingtang had already contacted Professor Li.
The Li couple had lost their beloved daughter and had been searching for a son to adopt for many years.
However, adoption is a matter of fate, and sometimes even a slight difference in first impressions can make all the difference.
Yue Dingtang and Ling Shu thought that He Lixin was too quiet and timid, and Li couple might not be satisfied with him.
But to their surprise, Professor Li and his wife immediately fell in love with He Lixin and even promised to let him decide whether to change his surname back to He or not after he turned sixteen.
After spending a few days together, Yue Dingtang and Ling Shu saw that He Lixin did not show any obvious resistance.
With his consent, they officially handed over the adoption to Li couple.
From then on, He Lixin became Li Lixin and officially became a member of the Li family.
"Although He You'an and Narita have both met their end, the matter regarding her should come to a close. However, it's hard to say if someone will dig deeper and uncover this child, especially since he bears a resemblance to He You'an. That's why I agreed to change his surname," said Yue Dingtang.
"I understand. If anyone asks, just say he's my illegitimate child. With my outstanding appearance, no one will doubt it," replied Ling Shu.
Yue Dingtang smirked, wanting to say something to diminish Ling Shu's arrogance, but decided against it.
He didn't see the need to argue with this uncouth fellow.
After dinner, Yue Dingtang had the driver take them to the school.
Ling Shu had nothing else to do, so he tagged along for the ride. A lazy bum like him would rather spend an afternoon at school with Yue Dingtang and hitch a ride home than walk all the way back.
However, as soon as they arrived at school, Yue Dingtang received a letter from the postman. It was sent from Northeast China and addressed to Guan Shi in Fengtian.
Ling Shu only glanced at the few words on the envelope before making an excuse to go for a walk. He met some beautiful female students and chatted with them for a while, even sat in on a few classes, until it was almost dark before he strolled back.
The school office was an open space shared by several professors in the department, unlike the police station where Ling Shu had his own desk.
With his silver tongue, Ling Shu could easily get along with anyone if he wanted to.
However, he didn't enjoy listening to those professors who had returned from studying abroad in Europe and America, constantly advocating for the establishment of a constitutional system in the Western style and completely rejecting all local products.
Therefore, he didn't feel like joining in the fun at Yue Dingtang's office.
Those people were polite to Yue Dingtang, but they didn't necessarily hold him in high regard.
Yue Dingtang had almost finished writing his paper and had no intention of working overtime. When he saw Ling Shu return, he tidied up his papers and put them all in the drawer.
"Let's go, come to my house for dinner tonight."
He rarely took the initiative to invite Ling Shu to his house for a meal, which made Ling Shu a little surprised.
"Aren't you going to write for a while longer?"
Yue Dingtang replied, "No, let's go back first."
Ling Shu had a feeling that Yue Dingtang's behavior was related to the letter he had received earlier, but Yue Dingtang didn't say anything and he didn't ask.
Although he was curious, he never went looking for trouble without reason.
Sure enough, when Ling Shu returned to the Yue Manor, he saw Yue Dingtang busy upstairs, making several phone calls in a row. He didn't even come downstairs for dinner, and the old housekeeper had to urge him repeatedly before the food was brought up to him.
It wasn't until Ling Shu finished his meal and was ready to have the driver take him back that Yue Dingtang came down from upstairs.
"Don't leave yet," Yue Dingtang said. "I'm planning to go to the northeast. I'll be leaving tomorrow."
"What happened?" Ling Shu asked.
"My uncle passed away," Yue Dingtang replied.
Yue Dingtang nodded.
Yue Dingtang's mother's surname was Guan, but she was not Han Chinese, but Manchu. The Guan family was one of the Eight Great Clans of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, and had produced many founding fathers, prime ministers, and imperial concubines.
However, times change and even the most prosperous families can fall. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, revolutionaries rose to power by opposing the Qing.
To hide their identities or make things easier, many elderly and young people changed their surnames, including the Guan family.
Since the changing times, the Guan family moved from Beijing to Tianjin, and then back to their hometown of Fengtian. They settled there and Yue Dingtang's mother passed away early on.
He lost contact with his extended family soon after and occasional letters were exchanged with gifts of local products.
However, even these occasional communications eventually ceased.
When Yue Dingtang's mother passed away, no one from Fengtian came to pay their respects.
Instead, they sent a message saying that the old master of the Guan family was also on his deathbed and too weak to attend the funeral. They asked the Yue family to handle it themselves.
Now the Guan family has sent a letter, saying that the maternal uncle of Yue Dingtang's mother has passed away and asking the Yue family to send someone to offer condolences.
"So, it seems that the relationship between the Yue family and the Guan family is not very good?" Ling Shu concluded after hearing this.
Yue Dingtang said, "It has never been good. Originally, the Guan family had arranged a marriage for my late mother with a member of the former Qing imperial family, but my mother was not happy and broke off the engagement herself. She then married my father, which caused a rift between the Yue and Guan families for a while."
Ling Shu praised, "Your late mother was truly a heroine among women, a pioneer of women's liberation!"
Yue Dingtang gave him a sideways glance and continued, "After that, the relationship between the two families became cold, which is understandable. This time, the deceased uncle was the oldest elder of the Guan family in Fengtian and also the ancestor of the Guan family. It is said that it was his decision to move the Guan family to Fengtian."
Ling Shu bowed and said, "I understand. You will represent the Yue family to pay your respects tomorrow. I wish you a safe journey, smooth sailing, and success in all your endeavors. May you rise to great heights and have a blessed life with your loved ones. It's getting late, so I won't bother you any longer. Farewell!"
He said it all in one breath and got up to leave.
"Come with me," Yue Dingtang said from behind him.
Ling Shu stopped and turned around, looking distressed.
"Please don't ask me to. It's a long journey, taking several days and nights on a train. Besides, it's still Japanese territory over there, and I feel uncomfortable speaking and acting there. Moreover, as you can see, I'm frail and could be blown away by a gust of wind. It's not suitable for me to travel long distances."
Yue Dingtang said, "The Guan family is a big business with a lot of wealth. According to my father, when they give rewards to their servants, they don't use copper coins, but instead use gold and silver leaves. Each room has a small kitchen, and there are seven or eight dishes for every meal, plus a chef who used to work in the imperial kitchen..."
Ling Shu put on a smile and took a few steps forward.
"Oh, where would you like to go? Just give the order and I'll follow you wherever you go!"