Chapter 21 - Sifting Sand
As a reporter, Shen Yu had a knack for understanding other people’s temperaments and motivations. It was a useful skill to have in an occupation that required teasing information out of reluctant people. Furthermore, she had never been the department favorite at her old newspaper office. All of the difficult jobs were given to her, but those experiences toughened her resilience and persistence. As a result, she had a keen sense of when it was best to give away and when to stand firm. She was as flexible as a stalk of bamboo. Adaptability and a nimble wit rounded out her list of talents.
At this moment, the bodyguard was her next interview target. She needed to ferret out all of the useful information she could from him.
As soon as she had the opportunity to talk to him, she immediately could see a plan taking place. She needed to be as precise as a seamstress setting a first stitch into a new piece of cloth. Shen Yu knew that she could leverage the bodyguard’s nostalgia for his hometown to worm her way into his good graces. Anyone familiar with journalists would know that all of them were experts in making people feel comfortable and about half of them were also experts in human psychology. Otherwise, how else would any one of them be able to sniff out breaking news?
Shen Yu carefully arranged her expression to be as warm and welcoming as the sunlight on bright spring day. With a demeanor like the friendly girl next door, she asked the bodyguard, “You must be from Shandong province[1.Coastal province in China. Considered to be a northern province.] right?”
Originally, the bodyguard had disregarded Shen Yu, having concluded that she wasn’t a threat. After hearing her mention his home province, he became more interested. “That’s right, I’m from there! Miss, you must also be a northerner! Judging from your accent, you must have come from a place near Shandong!”
Shen Yu nodded and smiled sweetly. “I’m originally from a village close to Beijin!”
The bodyguard instantly felt closer towards her as if he had just met an old friend. “I had a feeling that we had some sort of connection! Looks like I wasn’t wrong. We come from almost the exact same area!”
Inwardly, she laughed in amusement. Homesick people were always desperate to grasp onto anything that reminded them of home. Funny how being thousands of miles away from home changed one’s perspective. Their hometowns were actually hundred of miles apart, but the bodyguard made it sound like they were next door neighbors.
Pressing her advantage, she cleverly complimented the people from Shandong. Shen Yu then steered the conversation towards Shandong’s most famous piece of literature: Water Margin[2. Considered one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. The other novels are Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber], a story set in the Song Dynasty about a group of 108 outlaws banding together to form an army. Ecstatic, the bodyguard conversed enthusiastically with her. In about a half an hour, the bodyguard, whose name was Wu Li, considered Shen Yu to be his adopted little sister.
Shandong people were generally considered to be straightforward and honest. From Shen Yu’s experience today with Wu Li, that stereotype was not wrong! She continued to chat boisterously with Wu Li, seemingly unaware that the other people around them had nothing to do. Mazha and Zhang Fei had arrived a while ago, which allowed their commanding officer to change into clean clothes. Tang Can and Old Mr. Yun had previously been talking in private but evidently the discussion had soured and they had nothing more to say to each other.
The older man sat cross-legged on a straw mat and smoked a tobacco pipe which clattered rhythmically. From time to time, he would steal a glance at Shen Yu, which Shen Yu caught from the corners of her eyes. She knew the cunning old geezer had a suspicious nature and he was likely trying to eavesdrop on their conversation.
However, even a sly fox like Old Mr. Yun would have never guessed that his callous act of burying Blackie alive would lead Shen Yu to find a piece of dog’s head gold and half of an old map! Right now her entire focus was on retaining Wheaty. She had no desire to let the dog go back to a group as grasping and profit-oriented as these miners. As soon as Wheaty no longer had any value left, these people would get rid of the dog without any hesitation.
The conversation slowly drifted and Shen Yu began to hint at what she truly wanted. Old Mr. Yun, listening on the side, picked up on it and realized that the girl had talked around in circles to figure out whether his group actually wanted the dog. He guffawed and quickly gifted Wheaty to her.
Zhang Fei expression turned as dark as the crud burned on the bottom of a pot. Seeing someone she disliked receiving an animal she also disliked infuriated her. Her brows snapped together into a ferocious frown and she leveled a glare at Shen Yu. “The army has regulations. No one employed by the army is allowed to take anything from civilians. You don’t even know a simple regulation like this, what kind of soldier are you?”
Unexpectedly, Shen Yu smiled sweetly at the soldier, not at all annoyed at being reprimanded. “Then report me to the higher ups in the army. It’s probably better that a troublemaker like me not stay any longer than I should, right?”
Zhang Fei was at a loss for words. If it was anyone else, she would be able to discipline them immediately. However, she knew she could not touch Shen Yu. After gritting her teeth for a long moment, Zhang Fei decided she had to cut her losses now. The female soldier silently vowed to make Shen Yu’s life hell in the future if the opportunity arose.
Tang Can had been watching Shen Yu calmly during this entire time. He heard her entire conversation with Wu Li and noticed that the topic seemed to revolve around Wheaty and Blackie. He vaguely had a feeling that everything was not as simple as it seemed.
At noon, Old Mr. Yun gave the group canned food to eat for lunch. Since the miners were taking this time to rest, he thought it would be a good opportunity for Shen Yu to try her hand at gold panning.
“Girl, we’ll see if you have any luck today!” he said, as if he was granting her a big favor. “Any gold you find will be yours as long as you get it before the other workers start mining again!”
Shen Yu laughed instantly. “I hope you don’t regret your words, sir! I’m going to start sifting the sand now!”
Old Mr. Yun did his best to look gracious. “Go now! Anything you pan from that sand is all yours!”
In actuality, everyone who worked at the mine knew that the sand that he had directed her to had already been sifted by an industrious miner earlier. Anything valuable had already been taken away, so she had no chance of finding any gold. The miners were aware of the trick: Old Mr. Yun was just trying to give his guest something to play with.
In order to complete the act, Old Mr. Yun went down to the river himself to show Shen Yu the technique. Shen Yu was able to grasp the concept in a glance. She was a farmer’s child and had often helped her parents during harvest season to separate millet from dirt in the storeroom. The tools were the same, she was just switching millet for gold. It was not a difficult process for her to pick up.
The tool used for gold panning was a finely woven basket made from willow branches. After filling the basket with a mixture of dirt and water, the water would slowly drain out between the woven reeds, leaving any bits of gold dust there were behind on the top. However, the process was easier said than done. The yield from gold panning was notoriously low. Furthermore, Shen Yu was panning baskets of sand that had already been sifted. Naturally she was unable to find even a speck of gold.
Before long, her clothes became completely soaked with her sweat. Water-logged sand was not the same as millet and a basketful of it probably weighed several times more than grain! After a while, Shen Yu’s arms started to feel sore. She didn’t mind feeling tired, what she minded was that her efforts seemed to be fruitless. Each pan that she sifted ended up with the same outcome: nothing but dirt. It was starting to irritate her.
“Haha, girl! How’s your yield so far?” asked Old Mr. Yun as he watched her sift. He was standing on the nearby riverbed and smoking his tobacco, the corners of eyes wrinkled with amusement.
Shen Yu straightened her back and smiled helplessly. “I now understand how hard it is to be a gold miner. Nothing is as easy as it seems.” She dumped the rest of the sand out of the basket and waded through the water. After she reached the shore, she found a rock to sit on and took off one of her shoes to clean it. Silty sand and water came out and fell onto a nearby piece of sandstone. She noticed something bright and shiny about the size of pebble on the rock after she finished pouring out her shoes.
Before she could pick the glittering object up, Old Mr. Yun had already come up and taken it. He carefully put it on his palm and used his tongue to lick off every single speck of sand from it. After he had licked it clean, they could see its true shape: a piece of gold dust about the size of a corn kernel.
Shen Yu stared at it with wide-eyed amazement. Her throat felt like it clogged up with dust, and she couldn’t say anything.
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