If the box given to Yue Dingtang was bigger than the others, the Eldest Master would have jumped up in anger. But now, seeing the small box, although he felt uncomfortable, he reluctantly accepted it.
The label on the box, as described by Old Yuan, was a metal plate directly nailed to the top.
It was distinguished by the words 'Qin, Qi, Shu, Hua, Shi, Yue', in the order of the Eldest to Fifth masters, and Yue Dingtang.
The Eldest Master and the rest naturally recognized it as the handwriting of the old master himself, and the possibility of forgery was extremely low.
The Eldest Master had wanted to complain a bit, saying that the old master had saved up his whole life, so how could the box he left behind be so small and so few?
But seeing that no one else spoke up, he didn't want to be the one to stick his neck out and silently swallowed his complaints.
Fourth Master remained silent, but his actions were not slower than anyone else's. He quickly walked over and lifted his own suitcase into his arms.
"Why is it so light?" He looked at Old Yuan with suspicion written all over his face.
Old Yuan didn't say a word, but found the key to Fourth Master's suitcase and opened it.
It was then that Fourth Master realized that the suitcase was filled with land deeds and silver notes, without a single solid item. No wonder it was so light.
"Thirty acres of prime land in the nearby village, a mansion in Fengtian, rouge and rice shops..." Fourth Master picked up each document and read them one by one before looking up.
"Is that all?" he asked.
Old Yuan didn't answer, but instead said, "The Old Master left a letter for each of you, personally handwritten by him. The contents of the letters are all the same. You gentlemen may want to open and read them." As he spoke, the others began to open their own boxes one by one.
Yue Dingtang was the last to go and retrieve his box.
As soon as he picked it up, he felt that it was a bit heavy, unlike what the others had described as light.
He didn't show any signs of struggle, but instead added a bit of strength and carried the box in his arms as he walked out of the warehouse.
The contents of the boxes belonging to the boss, second, third, and fifth brothers were similar to that of Fourth Master Guan's, consisting of land deeds and silver notes.
These items, big and small, added up to quite a sum.
In fact, to Ling Shu, the wealth of an average small landlord's family would probably only amount to what one of the Guan brothers had received.
It was clear that Yue Dingtang had not lied to him earlier - the Guan family was still incredibly wealthy despite being taken advantage of by the brothers.
If they were to live frugally, they could still potentially expand their family business even further.
But from the expressions of several old masters, it was clear that they were not satisfied.
Even the Eldest Master stared at Old Yuan and gruffly asked, "Why did the old master leave us with so little? Tell us honestly, did you sneakily take his antiques and paintings to sell them?"
Old Yuan remained calm and said, "During my many years at the Guan family, my character was well known to the old master and all of you. These things were all arranged by the old master himself, and I never interfered. As for the antiques and calligraphy, the old master did indeed collect many, but some were genuine and some were fake. One day, when he was feeling well, he called me over and asked me to take all the fakes to the outskirts to burn them. You all saw me taking them out to the car that day, and even Second Master didn't believe it and followed me to see the fakes being smashed and burned."
Second Master nodded, showing a pained expression. "I saw it too, but why did the old master prefer to smash and burn the items instead of leaving us with some? Even if they were fake, they could still be worth something..."
Old Yuan interrupted him sternly, "The old master said that these counterfeit goods will only harm others. Although the Guan family is not a family of accumulated virtue, we are not a family of deceit and harm to future generations. Think about it, if you sell these counterfeit goods to someone who is powerful and influential, in the end, won't it bring disaster to the Guan family?!"
Fifth Master Guan was a little unconvinced, "How do you know it's a counterfeit? I haven't even seen it. Maybe the old master mistook pearls for fish eyes!"
Old Yuan said, "The identification of these counterfeit goods was done by the old master himself, who selected them and then invited the reputable pawnshop in Fengtian to authenticate them. The genuine items they identified were immediately auctioned off by the old master and exchanged for silver dollars, which were then stored in the bank or used to buy propertt. They are now in your boxes, gentlemen. You were abroad at the time, so you naturally weren't present, but the Eldest Master and the Second Master were both there."
The Second Master murmured, "I thought father would keep some, but I didn't expect him to sell them all..."
Among the members of the Guan family, only the Third Master had a blank expression.
He didn't open his box and just rested his hand on it, closing his eyes as if waiting for Old Yuan to announce the end of the meeting so he could leave immediately without delay.
Yue Dingtang's gaze fell on the box in front of him.
His intuition told him that the contents inside the box were definitely not silver bills or deeds.
Yue Dingtang didn't consider himself a hesitant person, but now he felt that it might be better to take the box back and open it again.
Suddenly, Old Yuan's voice rang out.
"You haven't opened the box yet."
Instantly, everyone looked at Yue Dingtang.
"Since the old master's will didn't specify who should open the box, it doesn't have to be opened in public, right?" Yue Dingtang said.
Old Yuan replied, "Second Master, why don't you read the letter in your own box?"
After a moment of contemplation, Second Master opened the letter and read it aloud.
Since the old master left the same letter for everyone, there was no need to be cautious.
The contents were not lengthy, and the old master didn't express any sentimental feelings.
He simply stated the facts.
The gist of it is that the Guan family had to move to Fengtian out of necessity due to the turbulent times.
In order to settle their family business, they had spent a lot of money on social connections over the years.
Their family fortune was once abundant, but now it had been spent almost entirely.
The old master knew his time was limited, so he had been sorting through his possessions and found that most of what he could leave to his descendants were antique objects that were more ornamental than practical, and difficult to price.
Therefore, to prevent any disputes among his children and grandchildren after his passing, he decided to take action while he was still able to do so. He quickly sold or destroyed these objects and distributed the proceeds equally among his children.
In addition to individual boxes, one is for public expenses. If the children do not divide the family, the expenses will be taken from this trunk. If they want to divide the family, the contents of the trunk will be evenly distributed.
The other trunk is for Yue Dingtang's mother, Lady Guan. The old master said that Lady Guan left in anger and the Guan family did not give her a dowry.
He felt guilty in his heart, even though he never said it to Lady Guan's father. Therefore, the things left for Lady Guan are considered to make up for the missing dowry.
No one, except Lady Guan and her descendants, is allowed to touch them.
After he passed away, the keys to these trunks were kept by Old Yuan. The key to the storeroom would be distributed among the five brothers of the Guan family. The storeroom could only be opened when the people from the Yue family and all the members of the Guan family were present.
Each trunk must be opened in front of everyone to confirm that everything is correct before they can leave, to avoid any future disputes.
As for the old mansion of the Guan family, even if the family members insist on dividing it, it cannot be sold.
This is because the ancestral tablet of the Guan family is enshrined here. If it is sold, it is equivalent to throwing away the ancestors. The future generations cannot commit such an unfilial act.
After the Second Master finished speaking, everyone digested his words in their own way, with various emotions that cannot be described to outsiders.
Old Yuan said to Yue Dingtang, "Young Master Yue, now you can open it as per the late master's wishes."
Before Yue Dingtang could make a move, the Third Master, Guan Shuzhi, opened his own box first.
As expected, it contained land deeds, silver, and other items.
Guan Shuzhi's face showed no emotion, neither happy nor angry. It was as if the box in his hand had nothing to do with him.
He even took out a file and a piece of wood from his pocket and began to carve, completely immersed in his own world. No wonder everyone says that the Third Master of the Guan family is a strange and reclusive person. With his behavior and actions, not only the servants of the Guan family, but even his own brothers are unwilling to get close to him.
Previously, Ling Shu had asked around out of curiosity. It was said that the eldest and second brothers of the Guan family were born to the original wife of the old master, while the third brother was born to his concubine.
This concubine had a personality similar to that of the Third Master, both being introverted and unable to speak up.
The old master did not like her, and she was always depressed, which eventually led to her death.
The fourth and fifth brothers were born to the old master's other two concubines.
Now, all the elderly members of the Guan family, including these women, have passed away.
Only the old master himself has lived the longest, and the Guan family's descendants are thriving under his leadership. Regardless of their circumstances, at least all five brothers have grown up and are lively and energetic.
Old Yuan handed over the last key in his hand to Yue Dingtang.
As Yue Dingtang inserted the key into the lock, he suddenly felt a strange sensation.
He had a premonition that the contents of the box were not only different from everyone else's, but also something unexpected.
The lid of the box was lifted, and a hint of golden light shone from within.
Yue Dingtang wanted to close it again, but it was too late because everyone had seen the golden light.
The master exclaimed, "What's inside?"
When the box was fully opened, everyone was stunned.
Under the sunlight, a golden light dazzled their eyes.
The Second Master couldn't help but take a step forward, avoiding the direct light, and finally saw the true face of the object.
It was a pagoda.
A colorful pure gold pagoda.
The reason for its colorful appearance was because it was inlaid with various precious stones, such as sapphires, rubies, and aquamarines. The pagoda had seven layers, each no more than two feet tall.
At first glance, it seemed to have been crafted using techniques such as wire drawing, wire cutting, and micro-carving.
On each layer of the wall, there were various Buddhist stories depicted in relief.
Upon closer inspection, Ling Shu could vaguely make out the stories of Maudgalyayana saving his mother and feeding his flesh to an eagle. If he had a magnifying glass, he could probably identify even more.
Golden bells hung from the eaves, swaying gently in the wind and emitting a faint tinkling sound. It was evident that the pagoda had been meticulously crafted to perfection.
While gold was certainly valuable, a pure gold pagoda of such exquisite workmanship could not be measured by its material worth alone.
If it were placed in an era with an emperor, it could have been offered as a tribute and won the emperor's favor, perhaps even earning the recipient a high-ranking official position.
Yet, the old man had left such a treasure to someone outside of his family. It was even an outsider who had left the family and cut off ties in her early years.
Looking inside the box, beneath the Buddhist pagoda, there were several other items.
There were pure gold lotus flowers, treasure vases, dharma wheels, conch shells, a pure silver umbrella encrusted with gemstones, a jade pendant with auspicious lotus patterns of twin fish, and scattered red, yellow, blue, and green gemstones that couldn't even be fully grasped by two hands.
It was a dazzling display of gold and jade.
Although it paled in comparison to the Buddhist pagoda, it was still impressive.
If the Buddhist pagoda was a masterpiece of human craftsmanship, then the other items were at best exquisite treasures.
But even so, it was enough to make people envious.
Looking at the Eldest Master, his eyes were about to pop out of their sockets, and while the others weren't as exaggerated, they were still quite amazed.
"What's going on here? How come he has all these things and we only have silver deeds?!"
The Fourth Master turned abruptly and questioned Old Yuan.
Old Yuan calmly replied, "Didn't the letter from the old master say that the Guan family's young lady was the most beloved by the elders during her lifetime? Although she left in anger and ignorance, the elders felt guilty for half their lives. These things are the young lady's dowry. If you don't agree, you can question the old master. I'm just following orders."
The Eldest Master objected, "I disagree! We didn't know that the old master had hidden these things. If we had known, wouldn't we have asked for them as his sons? I have debts to pay outside, but the old master gave valuable things to outsiders. No, I don't agree!"
Tensions rose in the courtyard, and a confrontation seemed imminent.
The Eldest Master looked like a fighting rooster, with his heels off the ground and ready to spread his wings and pounce on the treasure box in front of Yue Dingtang, swallowing all the treasures inside in one gulp.
The Second Master didn't say a word, but his expression was just as bad, gloomy and moody, like a woman on her period.
The Fourth Master remained expressionless, holding back his anger.
The Fifth Master didn't say anything, but somehow he had already positioned himself closest to the door, holding his own box in his arms. Ling Shu guessed that he was probably afraid that Yue Dingtang would suddenly run away.
The Third Master was still completely focused on chiseling his small wooden board, the only one among the Guan family who didn't have his attention on the pagoda.
As for Ivanov and Kagezawa, they didn't show any greed. They were just like ordinary people who had stumbled upon a rare treasure.
Kagesawa even asked Yue Dingtang if he could come closer to admire the pagoda. After getting his consent, he stood at a respectful distance of three steps and took out a magnifying glass to examine it closely, exclaiming in admiration.
"I never had the chance to meet the old master in person, but I can feel his love for my mother. However, the Yue family is still doing fine. These things are too precious, and it's not convenient for me to carry them all the way back. It's better to leave them to my uncles. I'll take a few gems as a keepsake, and that's it."
Finally, Yue Dingtang spoke up, and surprisingly, he wanted to completely give up this wealth.
The Eldest Master was pleased, but before he could speak, two others spoke up first.
"Absolutely not, Yue Dingtang!"
It was Old Yuan and Second Master who were trying to stop him.
Old Yuan glanced at Second Master before turning back to Yue Dingtang.
"Young Master Yue, it is commendable that you do not covet wealth. However, this is the last will and testament of the Old Master. It must be obeyed by the descendants. Once you bring the items back, how you dispose of them is your family's business. But now that the Old Master has given them away, there is no reason to take them back. Please be careful with your words."
Yue Dingtang frowned. "So you mean I have to take this chest whether I want to or not? Innocent men carry the burden of guilt. If someone covets the treasure and tries to ambush me, what should I do?"
Old Yuan said, "There are too many people outside and it's not safe for your belongings. Before you leave Fengtian, you can stay at the Guan family's house. I will send some people to protect you and ensure that everything is safe. You will be safe and sound."
Second Master also said, "Yes, Dingtang, since Dad said so, you should listen to him. The things are yours and we won't touch them. Just stay at home and relax. The room you stayed in before didn't have a heated bed, but we have money now and I will have someone buy one for you and move you to a new room with everything you need."
Second Master's kindness and understanding completely shattered Yue Dingtang's previous perception of him as stingy.
But where there are reasonable people, there are also those blinded by greed.
"No way! The money in the public fund belongs to everyone. When did I agree to use it to buy guest rooms?!"
The Eldest Master shouted first. "He has already received so much. Let him figure out how to settle himself. His mother is no longer a member of the Guan family, so why should we use the family's money?"
The Second Master's face darkened. "Big brother, although Dingtang's surname is Yue, he is still our blood relative. If you say that, where does it leave our father and our family relationship? He is not a beggar who came to our door. He came to mourn for our father. Do you want to kick him out?!"
The Eldest Master stubbornly held his ground. "I am the eldest. I received the same amount as all of you. Father didn't even leave the ancestral home to me. I haven't said anything about it. As for the money in the public fund, without my consent, not even a penny can be touched!"
Yue Dingtang said calmly, "Second Uncle, it's okay. I'll pay for it myself. I'll trouble you to help me buy it. Tomorrow, I'll go up the mountain to kowtow to the old master, and then I'll leave. I won't bother you uncles."
Second Uncle stuttered, "You, you, ah!"
He couldn't find the right words, so Yue Dingtang glanced at Ling Shu, who understood and took out a few silver dollars from his pocket, smiling as he handed them to Second Uncle.
"Second Uncle, I'll trouble you with this. I won't say anything else, but we need two quilts first, and the kang (heated brick bed) needs to be lit. We almost froze to death last night! Thanks to the donkey meat hotpot you treated us to, I was able to survive the night!"
As soon as he mentioned the donkey meat hotpot, Second Uncle's face turned pale.
Regardless of what the Second Master and others thought, Ling Shu directly closed the box in front of everyone's eyes and picked it up.
"Old Yue, let's go!"
As he approached the door, Ling Shu stumbled and fell forward. He was about to fall face first into the ground. If the box in his arms fell out, it would surely shatter into pieces, along with the precious Buddha inside.
Everyone was caught off guard and could only watch as this scene unfolded.
The Second Master's heart was in his throat. His beloved treasure was about to be destroyed, and he couldn't help but cry out in alarm.
But the expected disaster did not happen.
Ling Shu spun around and landed like a tiger, his lower body as steady as Mount Tai.
He didn't look panicked at all, and the box in his hand only shook slightly, making the sound of jewels colliding inside.
"Who tried to trip me just now?" Ling Shu glanced around, but naturally no one admitted to it.
Yue Dingtang glanced at Guan Shizhi, who avoided his gaze and looked elsewhere.
Other than this small incident, they arrived back at their room smoothly without any further interruptions.
The steward quickly sent a message that the new guest room was ready, with bedding and a heated kang bed. They could move in by evening at the latest. He also sent food, saying that the two young masters hadn't eaten anything yet and should have something to eat to fill their stomachs. They could either eat in the dining hall or have it delivered to their room.
Two steaming bowls of sour soup noodles, a plate of pig skin jelly, and a plate of spicy and sour shredded potatoes.
Compared to the hospitality of the Guan family in the past few days, this meal could be considered a decent feast.
Steward He even made a point to say that this was a treat from Second Master Guan for the two young masters, not to be charged to the public account. In other words, the Eldest Master would not approve, so Second Master Guan had to pay out of his own pocket.
Steward He hurriedly left and soon disappeared.
Yue Dingtang was starving and was about to pick up his chopsticks when Ling Shu stopped him.
"Be careful, it's poisonous."
Yue Dingtang: ...
He watched in silence as Ling Shu used a silver needle to poke and prod at the food.
"Did you disinfect this silver needle? Where did you get it from?" Yue Dingtang asked.
Ling Shu replied, "Second Master treated us to hot pot last night. I went to the bathroom and bought it on the way back. I carefully roasted it with fire before coming out."
Yue Dingtang said, "Silver needles can only detect a limited number of poisons, such as arsenic and mercury. There are many poisons in this world that silver needles cannot detect, such as potassium cyanide, which can kill with just one drop. You wouldn't even know how you died."
Ling Shu was truly frightened. "What should we do? Is there really such a poison?"
Yue Dingtang nodded. "Over two hundred years ago, the Germans discovered it. It's colorless and tastes like bitter almonds, which can easily be masked by other flavors."
Ling Shu asked, "If just one drop can kill, how do you know it tastes like bitter almonds?"
Yue Dingtang remained silent.
Ling Shu said, "Don't move, I'll be the first to eat the crab. If there's poison, let it kill me first."
He then picked up the bowl and took two big bites.
Yue Dingtang wanted to get another bowl, but Ling Shu stopped him. "Don't worry, some poisons take time to take effect. We'll have to wait a bit. Let me try this bowl too."
Ling Shu snatched the other bowl and took a few bites, then put on a fake expression of realization and said, "Oh dear, I'm so sorry. Both bowls have my saliva in them. Why don't you try something else? The plate of spicy and sour shredded potatoes looks perfect for you."
"It's okay, I don't mind. If we die, we'll die together."
Yue Dingtang grabbed his own bowl back, scooped most of the pigskin jelly and spicy and sour shredded potatoes into his own bowl, and started eating with his head down.
When Ling Shu first came to Yue Dingtang's house for dinner, Yue Dingtang was a noble young man who could distinguish between soup bowls and rice bowls, and would never mix them up, let alone share a bowl with someone else.
"Oh, Old Yue, you've learned bad habits!"
Ling Shu shook his head, pretending to be serious. "My sister is always lecturing me, saying that I'm not as good as you. She should come and see how you look now!"
Yue Dingtang didn't even lift his head. "That's all because of what you taught me. Even if Sister Ling Yao found out, she would definitely scold you for teaching me badly."
Ling Shu wanted to tease him a little more, but then the Second Master came to visit.
And he wasn't alone, he brought his wife, who was also Yue Dingtang's second aunt.
This second aunt was young and beautiful, with a graceful and charming demeanor. She was obviously not in the same age group as the Second Master, and it was said that she was greatly loved by him.
The Second Master inserted his hands and smiled kindly. "Did I disturb you while you were eating?"
Ling Shu replied, "A little bit."
The Second Master: ... He forgot that Ling Shu was someone who didn't understand the concept of polite conversation, so there was no need to waste time.
Second Master Yue went straight to the point.
"Yue Dingtang, I have something I want to discuss with you."
Yue Dingtang put down his bowl and wiped his mouth.
"Please, Second Master."
Second Master Yue remained silent, giving Ling Shu a meaningful glance, hoping he would understand.
He thought he had made it clear enough, but these two were still clueless.
One rooted to the spot, the other tight-lipped.
The one rooted to the spot even came closer, showing concern: "Second Master, is your eye twitching? You should take care of yourself as you age."
"You're the one with the twitchy eye! I just want you to move aside so I can talk to Dingtang about some family matters. How can you not understand my signals?" Second Master Yue finally couldn't hold back and jumped up.
Ling Shu laughed and said, "If you understand, then we're done here. You keep making eyes at me, but no one can understand what you mean!"
"I'm making eyes at you..." Second Master took a deep breath. "Alright, you can leave now. We need to talk about something."
But Yue Dingtang said, "Second Master, there's no need for him to leave. Just tell us what you need."
Seeing that Ling Shu didn't budge, Second Master thought to himself, 'How thick-skinned can this guy be?'
His little wife kept elbowing him, telling him to get to the point.
With no other choice, Second Master got straight to the point.
"Here's the thing. I want to offer a high price to buy the Buddhist pagoda in your hands."