As the day began, guests started arriving at the Guan family's home. Some had come down from the mountain to keep watch over the old master's wake.
One of them was Old Yuan. According to what the steward said, Old Yuan was not just any ordinary servant.
He had always been by the old master's side, not only as a follower but also as a bodyguard and confidant.
Legend has it that the old master trusted Old Yuan more than his own sons, and he never avoided him in any matter.
Even when it came to opening the storage room after his death, the old master had Old Yuan stand by as a witness. Every box in the storage room was locked, and only Old Yuan had the key.
It was only then that Yue Dingtang realized that his uncles were eagerly waiting for Old Yuan to return, not out of brotherly love or loyalty to their father's promise, but for the key in Old Yuan's hands. Apart from Old Yuan, there were several foreign guests that had not been seen before.
As soon as Ivanov entered the door, he was greeted with curious stares from the entire Guan family, big and small.
Although there were foreigners in Fengtian City, most of them were still dark-haired and dark-eyed Asians. There were also blond-haired and blue-eyed foreigners, but young men as handsome and outstanding as Ivanov had never been seen before.
His hair was a golden brown, shimmering like gold in the sunlight. He had fair skin and light blue eyes.
The Guan family had never heard of foreign fairy tales, nor did they know that Ivanov was tailor-made for the word "handsome prince".
They only felt that this foreigner was different from the fat, alcoholic ones they had seen before, and the women in the family couldn't help but take a few more glances.
Ivanov not only had no airs, but was also polite, bringing two bottles of wine as a gift.
The respectable guest made the Fourth Master feel proud, who introduced Ivanov as a long-time business partner in China, an old friend with excellent character and noble background.
"Fourth Brother, you've lived in Fengtian your whole life, what do you know about nobility? Russia has long been extinct, just like the Qing Dynasty, they've all been executed or poisoned, where are the nobles? They're all just a bunch of fugitives!"
Upon entering the room, Fifth Master immediately heard Fourth Master's talk about noble background and scoffed, refuting him out loud.
Fourth Uncle sneered, "Oh, Fifth Brother, just because you went out and had a few sips of foreign ink, you think you can sever ties with the family? Let me tell you, our family is also made up of noble Qing dynasty officials, with many respected elders and descendants of great figures. If you want to be a loyal subject in this new era, you still have to rely on others to give you that opportunity!"
Fifth Brother replied, "Fourth Brother, you don't have to worry about me. Just take care of yourself. Stop arguing with our eldest brother all the time. Our father is no longer with us, but he can rest in peace knowing that we are all doing well."
Eldest Master had been listening intently the whole time and immediately jumped up in anger, looking like an enraged rooster with feathers standing on end.
"Fifth brother, you unfilial son! When your father passed away, you didn't come back to pay your respects. As soon as he took his last breath, you came back to fight for the inheritance. You've been studying for so many years, but it seems like it's all gone to waste. Check your conscience, does it still feel warm? Does it hurt?"
"Big Brother, don't come picking on me just because you didn't get anything from Fourth Brother. I was still on a ship at that time, how could I have rushed back? Did my soul fly back? And what about you? You're always dabbling in those spiritual practices, claiming to be devout. When it's time for you to show your powers, you can't do it?"
"Both of you, shut up!"
The Second Master shouted, finally managing to silence both of them. "Usually it's fine to make noise, but today we have guests and it's also the big day for opening the warehouse. Can you all be quiet? Once the warehouse is opened and everything is distributed, you can make as much noise as you want! Where is Old Yuan? Has he arrived yet?"
Steward He hurriedly stepped forward and said, "Second Master, Old Yuan went to invite Third Master. With him there, Third Master will definitely come!"
Second Master snorted, "If Third Master dares not to come today, I'll break his legs!"
He then turned to Yue Dingtang and said, "Dingtang, don't go up the mountain today. Wait until everything in the warehouse is distributed, then before you leave, go and kowtow to the old master. It's the same thing. Otherwise, if the warehouse doesn't open for a day, the family members will be uneasy. Even if the old master is in the afterlife, he won't be able to rest in peace."
Yue Dingtang nodded.
Guan Shizhi said coolly, "Second Brother is so powerful. Is this the demeanor of the head of the family?"
The Second Master spoke with great sincerity: "Fifth brother, I know that none of us are willing to back down, including myself. As the second eldest, it's not really my place to intervene. I'm not the head of the family, I just want everyone to sit down and calmly discuss this matter. Our late father always emphasized the importance of brotherly love and unity. He's still watching over us from above, and for the sake of two simple words, can't we all just put aside our tempers and focus on what's important?"
His words were reasonable and faultless, and finally, Fifth Master remained silent.
As the others spoke, Yue Dingtang observed from the sidelines, noticing that the brothers of the Guan family all had their own thoughts and were not on the same page.
As soon as the Second Master finished speaking, the Eldest Master immediately showed a look of dissatisfaction.
It was as if the Second Master had stolen his lines, leaving him as the ugly duckling with no spotlight.
The Fourth Master, on the other hand, had a face full of schadenfreude.
As for the guests brought by the other masters, Yue Dingtang's gaze fell on the young man next to Fifth Master Guan Shizi.
This person was probably a few years older than Guan Shizi, dressed in a three-piece suit with white gloves holding a civilized cane. He had a gentle and polite demeanor, with a smile on his lips.
Yue Dingtang was not unfamiliar with this kind of dress in Shanghai, Beijing, or abroad, having been exposed to modern civilization.
The other party noticed Yue Dingtang's gaze and took a step forward, extending his hand towards him.
"Hello, my surname is Kagesawa, and I'm also known as Akikatsu. I am a classmate of Shizhi." With fluent Mandarin, he was almost indistinguishable from a native Chinese speaker.
Yue Dingtang shook his hand and said, "Mr. Kagesawa looks a little older than my fifth uncle, and speaks Chinese very well."
"Yes, when I was young, I was playful and refused to go to school. It wasn't until I was in my teens that I realized the importance of hard work. My father hired an English teacher for me, and after studying for a few years, I went to England to study and met Shizhi. This time, I came back to China with him because I heard that his father was seriously ill. I followed him back to see if there was anything I could do to help. I didn't expect..." Kagesawa sighed, clearly expressing his regret.
"I didn't expect his father to pass away, and Shizhi didn't get to see his father for the last time. He has been very upset these past few days, and I can only accompany him and offer some comfort," Kagesawa continued.
Yue Dingtang said, "You are very thoughtful."
With a slight smile, Kagesawa didn't seem to be trying too hard. His expression was full of compassion rather than sorrow, making people feel a pang in their hearts and a sense of closeness, as if they could confide in him.
With these people around, Ling Shu's presence didn't seem out of place.
"Third Master has arrived!"
Someone exclaimed, and the servants of the Guan family who were gathered at the door quickly made way for him.
The two men stepped into the courtyard, one in front and one behind.
One had white hair and a face full of wrinkles, making him look like he was in his sixties or seventies.
The other had a face that looked like it had been hacked with an axe, with long crow's feet extending from the corners of his eyes, as if they were about to reach his temples.
However, there was a large burn scar on the right corner of his mouth that had destroyed his entire face.
In addition, his eyes were filled with a fierce light, and wherever his gaze fell, people would avoid him and no one dared to look him in the eye.
But this was only true for the people of the Guan family. At least the guests brought by Second Master and Fourth Master, as well as Yue Dingtang and Ling Shu, not only did not feel uneasy, but also carefully scrutinized him.
As they observed him, he was also examining the outsiders in the courtyard.
Yue Dingtang noticed that the man's gaze lingered on Ling Shu for a second or two longer than the others.
And Ling Shu...
Ling Shu seemed to be taken aback for a moment, then nodded and smiled at the man.
The man's expressionless face shifted his gaze away, as if he had never met Ling Shu before.
"This is Third Master Guan from our Guan family, and this is Old Yuan, the late master's attendant," introduced Steward He.
Third Master actually looked older than the Eldest and Second Masters, and with his appearance, it was likely that some people would believe he actually the Old Master Guan.
Second Master seemed to notice the surprise of the crowd, so he added a few more words. "Third brother is not in good health and doesn't like to be in the sun. He spends most of his time in the yard pursuing his hobbies and rarely receives guests. Third Brother, let me introduce you to Dingtang..."
But before he could finish, Third Master waved his hand and interrupted him with a hoarse voice.
"No need, let's take care of the business that the old master entrusted to us first. I still have some carpentry work to finish."
Third Master didn't greet anyone and came in with an attitude of not being interested in anyone.
Second Master felt embarrassed and no one was there to help him save face, so he had to do it himself.
"Come, let's go inside and talk."
The inner room was the place where Ling Shu and his companions spent the night.
The armchairs and bedding had been taken away, and some tables and chairs were placed inside for guests to sit.
The Second Master took the seat of honor without hesitation, and the Eldest Master raised his eyebrows, ready to make trouble.
But the Second Master spoke first in front of everyone.
"Old Yuan, come over here and sit on my right. Today we need to act quickly. Big brother lost his key, and now we don't have enough keys to open the warehouse. After discussing it last night, we decided to use an axe to break it open. What do you think, Old Yuan?"
Old Yuan looked at the Eldest Master and asked, "How could the key be lost?"
The Eldest Master was not happy. "I was pushed by the fourth brother during the day, and then found the key missing at night. I always carried that key with me. How could I lose it? You should ask my fourth brother!"
The Fourth Master stood up suddenly!
Old Yuan raised his hand and said, "Fourth Master, please calm down. Let's not investigate for now. Since the key is lost, as Second Master suggested, let's use an axe to break open the storeroom!"
Second Master slapped his thigh and exclaimed, "Exactly! That's what we've been waiting for. Bring the axes!"
Two strong servants quickly brought two axes and started hacking at the storeroom door with all their might. However, the wooden door was too sturdy, and after a long time of chopping, they only managed to create a three-finger-wide crack.
The two men were already panting from exhaustion.
After drinking three pots of tea and visiting the restroom, Kagesawa couldn't help but suggest, "Why don't we use explosives to blow it open?"
"Absolutely not!" Second Master replied, "We're afraid of damaging the valuable items inside the storeroom."
If it were precious porcelain or paintings, the power of explosives could not be controlled, and everything would be destroyed.
Kagesawa thought about it and decided to remain silent.
The morning passed quickly as the servants of the Guan family took turns selling with all their might.
In order to motivate them, Second Master Guan even dug into his own pocket to reward them.
He knew that if he asked his brothers for money, it would likely lead to endless bickering. He also thought about the good things that Grandfather Guan might have left for everyone, so he gritted his teeth and considered it a necessary sacrifice.
Ling Shu watched Second Master's face, which was full of excitement, and found it amusing.
He couldn't take his eyes off him.
Yue Dingtang couldn't help but poke Ling Shu's waist, trying to be subtle.
Ling Shu turned his head.
Yue Dingtang lowered his voice and said, "Wipe that look of amusement off your face."
Ling Shu also lowered his voice and replied, "If I'm not watching the show, then what am I supposed to watch?"
Yue Dingtang was speechless for a moment, then pulled out a bag of garlic-flavored green beans from his pocket and handed it to him.
"Eat your beans with your head down."
Ling Shu chuckled, "Old Yue, you're too good at understanding people. Alright, I won't look at Second Master, I'll go look at Ivanov. He's really handsome, not at all like the Westerners I know. His skin is as white as porcelain. Do you think a Westerners would believe in Fourth Master's possession ritual? And he's a regular customer, maybe he already knows everything about the Guan family and deliberately got close to Fourth Master?"
Yue Dingtang said, "I don't know if he really believes in Fourth Master's ritual, but I know he follows the Eastern Orthodox Church."
Ling Shu asked, "How do you know?"
"Just now, I caught a glimpse of the ring on his hand. If I'm not mistaken, it should have the five-colored emblem representing the Eastern Orthodox Church," Yue Dingtang replied.
Ling Shu said, "Believing in the Eastern Orthodox Church doesn't prevent him from wanting to further understand and befriend Fourth Master after seeing his supernatural abilities."
Yue Dingtang said, "You must have noticed his demeanor and behavior."
Ling Shu replied, "Very arrogant."
"More precisely, it's the innate sense of superiority that comes with being a noble," Yue Dingtang explained.
"But there are no more nobles in Tsarist Russia. Even if there were, they would only be fallen nobles," Ling Shu retorted.
"He's wearing clothes and accessories that are probably more expensive than all five of my uncles combined," Yue Dingtang added.
This comparison was amusing, and Ling Shu couldn't help but chuckle and toss a few green beans into his mouth to hide his amusement.
"But that might be the only thing he has to show off. I've heard that some Tsarist nobles, even after being exiled, still try to maintain their former extravagance. But they are forced to bow down to the increasingly dire circumstances of their lives and eventually sell everything, becoming destitute. It's hard to say if Ivanov is one of them."
Yue Dingtang asked, "Do you know how much it costs to ask my fourth uncle for advice once?"
Ling Shu replied, "I heard it's given as fate decides?"
"It's said to be fate, but the more you give, the more you can win the favor of the Fourth Master. This Mr. Ivanov, according to the Guan family's servants, has probably spent several hundred taels on asking for advice from the Fourth Master," Yue Dingtang explained.
Ling Shu was so surprised that he forgot to chew his green beans. "He really is generous. Most wandering aristocrats don't have that kind of money."
"Open it, open it!" they heard cheers coming from the warehouse.
Ling Shu looked over and saw that almost everyone had gathered at the door of the warehouse.
The sun was shining outside, but inside, dust was flying and mice were scurrying to avoid the light.
The warehouse was quite empty, but not completely empty.
There were still a few boxes. The boxes were all very small, probably only the size of one person's embrace, which was not what everyone had expected.
Many people showed obvious disappointment on their faces.
How could such small boxes possibly hold books, paintings, porcelain, antiques, and treasures?
Old Yuan walked up to the steps and faced the crowd.
"Gentlemen, there are a total of seven boxes here, each with a name and surname. The old master had ordered that one box be used for public expenses. If you insist on dividing the estate, then the contents of this box can be divided among you."
"These five boxes are for the five gentlemen, from the eldest to the fifth, with labels on each box to avoid confusion." He pointed to the smallest box.
"This box is for the young master of the Yue family."