Before daybreak, the workers on the dock already began singing a chant, through which, one could sense their spiritual enthusiasm and physical fatigue. The unison was repeated again and again with a thick Jiaxing accent. Since Huang Xuan couldn't sleep, he touched his face and got up.
Jiang Yisheng had been awake for some time and was chatting with the shop assistants outside the door. Huang Xuan looked at them with the least care and started to brush his teeth and wash his face. The shopkeeper Zhu had arrived early by carriage. Although it was the 16th year of the Republic of China, cars were rare, so it was impossible for a small shop like Zhu's to afford one. He couldn't spare energy to consider such an unrealistic issue yet.
The grain price increased by 10% this morning, which was what shopkeeper Zhu cared about. All the rice shops were on the verge of running out of grains. It had been said that the government was about to launch measures to limit price. He had come here to seek the biggest profit.
Having drinking his fill of water, Huang Xuan stepped out of the porter's room with a stretch. Seeing shopkeeper Zhu get off the carriage, he said to him, "You are very early, Mr. Zhu. Some grains have been transported here by my family. Shall we go and have a look?
"Which trade is your family in, Mr. Huang?" Mr. Zhu folded his hands in front to show respect. The two assistants behind him were confounded. They had been in front of the warehouse since before daybreak, waiting for the arrival of the ship. However, one hundred dans of grains had been moved to the warehouse without their knowledge, without porters or sampans. Not even one grain had been left on the ground in front of the warehouse. They looked at each other, followed their boss with their heads lowered and hid their confusion inside.
Huang Xuan walked in front, swinging his arms, with an expression of carelessness on his face, like a son of a wealthy family traveling around, which in modern film art was called "portraying himself".
Shopkeeper Zhu was modestly half step behind. Holding his gown, after two steps he suddenly asked, "I wonder how much wheat has been transported?"
It seemed that this shopkeeper preferred the words "I wonder" which he had used a lot. However, Huang Xuan didn't answer his question because it was totally up to Rolin. He pointed to the warehouse and said, "Let's go have a look first."
Seeing Huang Xuan answer his question so casually, the shopkeeper thought that this was another young man from a rich family who was going to pay for a lesson. Thinking this, he had a plan.
Modern seed grains were all fine varieties grown in greenhouses, plump and smooth, five times more expensive than their offsprings. The assistants were amazed, thinking that this wheat was better than the rice stocked in the warehouse.
Shopkeeper Zhu was experienced and knowledgeable. Although wheat wasn't grown in Jiangxing, he knew at first sight that these seed grains were much more expensive than the ordinary ones. As for where they had come from, he wasn't interested in investigating; that was the boss's business.
"What's the price?" Shopkeeper Zhu asked anxiously but remained calm on the surface.
"70% of the market price." Huang Xuan spread one finger and said, "I will give you one day to prepare the money. I only accept silver."
At the time, legal tender reform hadn't been conducted yet, but for various reasons, merchants preferred hard currency like silver dollars. However, to raise one thousand dollars within one day seemed too difficult. Shopkeeper Zhu didn't agree immediately, he didn't have that kind of money. However, a profit of 30% was too tempting. Furthermore, the price would rocket in the future.
Huang Xuan didn't get shopkeeper Zhu's dilemma, he just wanted to sell the grains quickly. Before the shopkeeper had replied, he said, "Mr. Zhu, please lend me two warehouses. Can I pay the rent altogether?"
"No problem," he readily agreed. A lot of grains had been sold within these two months, yet little bought in. Hence, the warehouses had been empty. Looking first at Huang Xuan, then the grains, he clenched his teeth and said, "About the warehouse, you can go to one of my assistants, Little Six. How about my delivering the money tonight?"
"I will wait for you," Huang Xuan shrugged his shoulders and said casually. Shopkeeper Zhu assigned three assistants on the dock.
Just like in Huang Xuan's time, the upstream controlled the downstream, the downstream coerced the upstream. It all depended on who was on the favorable side of the market. Presently, the market was short of grains, so the news of shopkeeper Zhu getting a great deal of grains traveled fast like a duck with four wings. Before noon, a group of people from other shops had been wandering on the dock to check it out. Huang Xuan pretended not to see anything and stayed in the warehouse to watch the assistants make an inventory of, and weigh the wheat.
Rolin had transported about 15 tons of wheat without packaging. He had used a simpler way to cover time tracks. According to the current calculating method, there were about 250 dans, more if calculated by minor dan1. Actually, the British measuring method was being used by this time in Shanghai, but in Ganpu the assistants were used to the old way.
Huang Xuan was clear inside about the account, so he wasn't worried about anything fishy. He asked Jiang Yisheng to watch the assistants' work and walked out the warehouse. He was impatient with trivia and wanted to observe this time which was at a turning point, hoping for a surprise fortune.
If there was enough time, the information had provided by Rolin could bring him hundreds or thousands of times more profit, but because of either Huang Xuan's authority or the capability of the base, Rolin had only agreed to three days. Looking at the materials given by Rolin, he had mixed feelings. The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century were full of inspirations, in which the technology had progressed, the economic crisis had passed, and the World War had been over. People had an urge to express their feelings, the outcomes of which had made numerous collectors obsessed.
However, too much information had overwhelmed people. Many of them hadn't been valued in their lifetime. Van Gogh had sold only one painting when he was alive "The Red Vineyard", which was reputed to have been bought for the sake of his brother. When he had known his painting had been sold at 400 French francs, he said excitedly to his brother, "Do you believe that my painting will be sold at 500 French francs after I die?" However, unexpectedly, at the 100th anniversary of his death, his painting "The Vase with 14 Sunflowers" had been sold at 48 million dollars, the highest price of western paintings in history.
In 1890, Van Gogh had killed himself with a bullet. 37 years later, in 1927, 10,000 dollars were enough to buy all his works, the value of which would be able to make anybody on the list of Fortune after 70 more years. The pity was that Huang Xuan didn't have the time to look for them.
Not only Van Gogh, but few of the artists of this time had been popular when they were alive. The value of their works varied. The prices of the works of Picasso, Malevich, Rousseau had increased by more than 100 times, the best investment ever.
Nevertheless, the reason why Huang Xuan had mixed feelings had nothing to do with the lives of the artists. He was just regretting that he didn't have the time to travel to Paris and buy some paintings because the transportation conditions were so bad at the time that it was even inconvenient to travel to Beijing or Shanghai. Otherwise, he would have been able to go and find Qi Baishi2 and Xu Beihong3, who had just returned to China in April, for some paintings.
It was all because of the limited time, Huang Xuan complained. He couldn't buy a finished painting, because it would conflict with the existing ones in his home; he couldn't ask an artist to draw new paintings for him either, because it would be impossible to finish them within three days; even looking for the lost ones was impossible for him within such a short time. He sighed and gave up the tempting thought.
"I wonder why this young man was sighing," someone behind him said. Huang Xuan was startled.
It was very early in the afternoon. The workers on the dock were working very hard for their bread, topless, waving their bare arms that were shining with sweats. The chant came. Huang Xuan composed himself. The man before him grew beautiful sideburns, with black hair, in first-class silk and satin clothes, not in his senior years but looking older than his age.
"For trivial matters." It wasn't trivial at all, Huang Xuan thought to himself. He was bleeding inside. If he could take some masterpieces back home, he would become the richest among the three generations of the Huang family, when he would be able to buy anything he liked, for example, a sports car, a yacht, even a video game company.
The person in front of Huang Xuan wouldn't understand this. He stroked his beard and said, "Is your surname Huang?"
"Yes." Huang Xuan was wide-eyed. "And you are?"
The other smiled and said, "I am Zhou Shuming. I have heard that a young businessman has come to Ganpu recently with a thousand dans of grains, so I came."
"Would Boss Huang like to sell some to our shop?" Zhou Shuming didn't think less of Huang Xuan because of his age. Actually, in that turbulent time, countless warlords and politicians had sought profits, whose children had heard and seen and taken in the impact. To Zhou Shuming, Huang Xuan looked very young and might have a father who was very powerful. Although Ganpu was small, he had seen a lot of such kids.
Huang Xuan smiled a little stiffly. He wasn't used to doing business when he was unprepared. In another word, he wasn't used to acting doing business without rehearsal. He glanced secretly at the dock, in case a group of robust fellows appeared suddenly.
The chant continued. Huang Xuan smiled at his imaginary scenes. He looked back at Zhou Shuming and said, "I am not saying 'no'. It's just—"
"If it is because of Xieqiao Rice Shop, I have connections. Mr. Huang, don't you worry." Zhou Shuming had addressed Huang Xuan in three different ways. Huang Xuan shook his head, laughing, and said, "It's not. I have come here for a different reason. I don't want to cause trouble."
"Would you like to talk about it?"
Huang Xuan was in a mood to do it. He weighed his words in his mind, then said, "My father loves Sinology. He was very sad when he heard that many books were lost in Jiaxing in recent years. The reason I have transported grains here is, first, to help the people; second, to buy some books. Making money is not the main one."
His words were half true and half false. Huang Xuan had said them with the pride he had cultivated since he was little. Surprised and doubtful, Zhou Shuming couldn't tell Huang Xuan's identity.
Minor dan: 1 minor dan=0.6 major dan. The unit "dan" in the chapters is referred to as major dan, if not specified.
Qi Baishi: a modern Chinese artist (1864-1957), best at fish, shrimps, insects, crabs, flowers, birds and landscapes. His paintings are vivid and use bright colors a lot. His masterpieces are Shrimps and The croaking of a Frog Ten Miles Away from the Brook.
Xu Beihong: a modern Chinese artist and fine art educator (1895-1953), famous for painting galloping horses. His masterpieces are Eight Sturdy Steeds, the Foolish Man Who Removed the Mountains, The Injured Lion and The 500 Warriors of Tianheng's.