Chapter 25 The fragrance of agarwood
It was a quiet afternoon. There was only the song of the cicadas.
After working hard all morning, the maids had been sent out for a lunch break and a nap by Shu Huan. She didn’t have the habit of taking naps. She would only close her eyes for a short moment unless she was very tired. Otherwise, if she slept during daytime, she would feel dizzy and uncomfortable when she wake up.
When she was idle, she didn’t know what to do. She then suddenly recalled Xu shi’s words and slipped into the study.
She originally thought about drawing a picture as a gift for Gu Xiran since she didn’t know how to do embroidery. After all, although he was a bit of a tease and his happiness often came from making fun of her, but he really took care of her these past few days in Gu household. Otherwise, she would never be free like now and she didn’t know how much she would have to suffer!
However, when she wanted to paint she was in trouble.
She had painted with watercolors before, but it was not the same as the classical ink and wash painting with a brush from the ancient times. Even if she could paint it, presumably no one would be able to make something out of it. Then, she could make a sketch using gongbi. But that seemed to be too time-consuming. She may not be able to finish it. Besides, the ink, brush and paper were very valuable in ancient times. She could come up with a lie to cover up that she, a daughter of a poor family, could recognize some words. But, if she could paint, then it would be too strange! Gu Xiran knew about the original owner so well and he was also very sharp. There was a high chance that her background would come to light!
- Gongbi: traditional Chinese painting method characterized by meticulous brush technique and detailed description.
With a sigh, she grabbed a brush from the jade brush pot. While she was in deep thoughts, she turned the brush.
Suddenly, a jade-like hand extended over to her side and put a cup of tea in front of her.
Shu Huan raised her head to check and saw that it was concubine Yun. She couldn’t help but smile, “Didn’t you go take a nap?”
Concubine Yun shook her head, “The maids have all rested. Someone had to keep watch in case second young master wants tea or water.”
So kind of her. Her heart was full of second young master!
If she asked herself honestly, Shu Huan knew that she couldn’t be like her (Y). Even if she had to pretend, she wouldn’t be able to.
Her feelings had always been the same regarding concubine Yun. She couldn’t say she disliked her (Y), but they were surely not close. The two often talked, but they knew about their status. It was polite and alienated. It was not like how she casually got along with the maids.
Therefore, she didn’t have anything else to say after the question. She felt that it was very awkward with the two facing each other silently like this.
Fortunately, after concubine Yun stood for a short moment, she pulled out a yellow hard object from her purse. She used a small knife to cut a small piece of it and put it in the silver burner with a lotus pattern.
It had a sweet and cooling fragrance. The fragrance stayed and didn’t scatter for a long time.
The smell was very comfortable. Shu Huan took a few deep breaths and felt that her mind turned clear. She couldn’t help but wonder, “What kind of fragrance is this?”
Concubine Yun smiled slightly. She handed her (SH) the hard object in her hand, “This is Yellow Agar.”
Shu Huan lowered her head and looked at that. It was hard and a bit heavy. It looked like a small piece of wood covered with a little bit of stripes. She sniffed it. The fragrance was very light and seemingly faint, so she didn’t expect that when it burned, it would emit such a strong fragrance.
“Yellow Agar…,” Shu muttered twice. She then hesitantly asked, “Is it fragrance of agarwood?”
Concubine Yun nodded and pointed at the stripes on the Yellow Agar. “These are also called partridge stripes. It’s one of the many kinds of agarwood fragrance. I got it from old madam. I thought that when second young master feels unwell, I can burn a piece for him. It can liven people up. It’s just that this Yellow Agar isn’t a top-grade fragrance. The aroma scatter fast and don’t last that long.
While she talked, she sighed slightly. She lamented in her heart. The top-grade agarwood fragrance was very expensive. Even if Gu household was doing business in fragrances, they also rarely use it. Anyway, the fragrance wouldn’t reach this yard.
Shu Huan knew nothing about fragrances. Just now, she was just lucky to have guessed it right. It was just that fragrances of agarwood and sandalwood were very famous. When she heard the word agar, she was able to guess that it was agarwood. Hearing her (Y) say that, she was more curious, “There are many kinds of agarwood fragrances?”
Concubine Yun put that Yellow Agar in her purse. She smiled, “That’s right. There are more than a hundred kinds. There is one kind that is solid and will sink into water called Water Agar. The one that float on the water is called Chicken Bone Fragrance. There is also Ripe Yellow Fragrance, Wood Fragrance, Green Laurel Fragrance, Water Chestnut Fragrance, Chicken Tongue Fragrance…”
Shu Huan was already overwhelmed when listening to those names. She couldn’t remember them at all.
Concubine Yun also probably knew that she couldn’t remember. She suddenly turned and walked to the self in search of something. She took out two books and put it in front of her, “Gu household has books about fragrances. Here, at second young master’s, there is also a lot hidden. If second young mistress wants to know about these, you can read these two books that are for beginners.”
“Alright.” It was boring to be idle. Learning more was not a bad thing, so Shu Huan agreed. Afterwards, she felt that something was not quite right. However, she saw that concubine Yun didn’t reveal anything based on her expression. Presumably, she had long known that she (SH) knew how to read from the maids. She couldn’t help but laugh at herself, “Does concubine Yun know how to read?”
Concubine Yun lowered her eyes and said, “I’ve learned some. Only the basic.”
Those were modest words. Naturally, Shu Huan wouldn’t take them seriously. Perhaps, she was even a talented woman like Xie Daoyun and Su Ruolan! However, she didn’t understand why concubine who had the looks and talent and who was also a legitimate daughter would fall to the point of becoming someone’s concubine.
- Xie Daoyun was a Chinese poet, writer, scholar, calligrapher and debater of the Easter Jin Dynasty.
- Su Ruolan/ Su Hui was a poet of the Middle Sixteen Kingdoms.
She wanted to ask about it, but after all, she wasn’t so familiar with concubine Yun that she could have an idle chat with her. Besides, being a concubine was not something very prideful. She didn’t speak anymore to avoid touching the painful topic of others.
After concubine Yun retreated, she flipped through the two books. They were fully written by hand. The handwriting was beautiful. She couldn’t help but speculate whether this came from concubine Yun’s hand.
She turned a few pages. She saw that the identification and clarification of agarwood was extremely well explained. She suddenly got an idea. Since she couldn’t draw, what about carving something from agarwood for Gu Xiran?
Of course, she wasn’t proficient in carving. It was just that in the past, she was obsessed with engraving seals for some time. She had done a thorough research on all kinds of stones and also had carved many seals. However, she had never carved something out of wood.
While she was thinking, her hands felt a bit itchy. One was because she couldn’t think of what to make for Gu Xiran. Second was because she was very bored and, thus, wanted to use this to elevate the boredom. After all, no matter if she made something great or not, it was something she made with heartfelt thoughts. However, where could she find agarwood?
The one concubine Yun had wasn’t a top grade one. It was also too small, so it wasn’t suitable. If she went to ask for one from old madam, it was simply looking for a death wish. If she went to buy one outside, she didn’t have any money…
No matter how she thought about it, she could only go find one person to solve this problem for her. She didn’t know if he was willing to help her.
When she counted the days, Gu Xiran’s birthday was the day after tomorrow. It seemed that she didn’t have much time to waste. She didn’t care anymore whether he would help or not. She had to try first.
Shu Huan closed the book and tiptoed to outside. Seeing that concubine Yun was sitting in the room with her eyes closed to rest, she (SH) didn’t disturb her. She went out to Liangchen and Meijing’s room. She called one of them and whispered, “I have to bother you to go to fourth young master’s. If he has some spare time, ask him to come over. When you ask him over, be more careful and don’t let old madam know.”