Published at 5th of July 2019 03:10:31 PM

Chapter 111

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The Good News After the National Mourning

After the year-long national mourning, noble families in the capital put away the white lampshades at their gates. The Emperor had taken deterrent measures to get the noblemen under control. Afterwards he succeeded in suppressing the rebellion. The authority of the Emperor grew day by day. So, although the playboys of noble families in the capital had an itch to have romantic relationships, they dared not to act recklessly.

A month or two later, the Emperor granted marriages to several men of imperial clan. The aristocrats finally felt relieved and had the courage to do what they wanted. Some of them took concubines; some of them took wives; some who wanted to pursue pleasure in brothels changed into inconspicuous clothes and wore big hats before going to the brothels.

Old Madam Sheng fulfilled her promise. She set up a table of dishes and promoted Jufang to concubine ten days after Jufang had had an abortion. Wang shi was friendly and gave Jufang a red packet containing money as a gift. Then the new concubine was placed in Wang shi’s house, living with Concubine Xiang and Concubine Ping. When Concubine Fang saw Changdong going in and out of the house with a satchel, she recalled her poor stillborn baby and her hatred towards Concubine Lin increased.

Concubine Fang couldn’t sleep with Sheng Hong because she was still in the period of recuperation. But she pleased him by stroking, kissing and flattering him skillfully. Then she shed tears and showed her grief of losing their child. Under the influence of Concubine Fang, Sheng Hong detested Concubine Lin.

A few days later, Marquis Yongchang Household had the matchmaker come to the Sheng Mansion and present gifts to finalize the betrothal. Wang shi regarded Molan as the bane of the Sheng family and wished to marry off her as soon as possible. The dowry had already been prepared. Lady Chunge had been pregnant for several months. If she gave birth to a child before the wedding day, it would be a complete disgrace to Marquis Yongchang Household. So the two families discussed and fixed up the dates. Marquis Yongchang Household would send betrothal gifts and money over to the Sheng family on June 28th and the wedding day was set for July 8th.

After the wedding date was finalized, Molan took action. She badgered Hai shi into allowing her to see Sheng Hong on the pretext of expressing her gratitude for his love and care. Hai shi turned her down. But Molan put pressure on Hai shi in the name of filial duty. At last Hai shi had to give in. As soon as Molan saw Sheng Hong, she began to cry and expressed penitence for her unfilial behaviors. Then she showed her remorse for having given him such a lot of trouble. Finally, she sobbed and interceded for Concubine Lin.

“Father, I’m going to marry Liang Han. For the sake of Marquis Yongchang Household, please bring Concubine Lin back. She gave birth to me and brought me up. No matter what mistakes she made, I wish she can see me off on my wedding day.” Molan knelt before Sheng Hong, crying pitifully and putting on a play about her deep affection for Concubine Lin.

However, Sheng Hong sneered, “Madam is making arrangements for your wedding. Old Madam has proposed the marriage for you and got your dowry ready. If you have a conscience, you should express your gratitude to them… Concubine Lin was punished because she violated our domestic discipline. Although you will marry into Marquis Yongchang Household, I won't a bsolve your mother for their sake. If you really miss your mother, I will tell Madam Liang that you are weak and often ill, and cancel the marriage. By then you can go to the village estate and live with your mother.”

Molan was shocked and looked at Sheng Hong with disbelief. She didn’t know that Sheng Hong had been listening to them behind the curtain when Old Madam Sheng had interrogated her that day. And she was unaware that Jufang had blackened Concubine Lin's name in front of Sheng Hong these days.

Sheng Hong scolded Molan for poor moral integrity and then asked Hai shi to take Molan away and keep her under close supervision.

Molan was not reconciled to her defeat, so she burst out of her house again. In general, no matter what a big mistake the bride-to-be made, her family would tolerate her mistake and pardon her. But this time Wang shi acted heartless. She directly tied Yunzai (Molan’s maid) up, flogged her hard and sold her. Molan cried, tugged at Hai shi's sleeve and asked her to bring Yunzai back.

Hai shi was unable to deal with Molan. So Wang shi had someone pass on a message to Molan, “Maids should take the responsibility of their lady's mistakes. Lady, if you kick up a row again, Madam will sell Luzhong. If you don't behave well, Madam will drive your maids out of the Sheng Mansion, such as Bitao, Furong, Qiujiang... Before the wedding, Madam will choose some good maids for you so that you can take them to Marquis Yongchang Household.” Molan looked at her maids kneeling around her, gritted her teeth and dared not make a scene anymore.

In fact, the married woman and her family influenced each other. Her parents would be laughed at for their incapability if they stood by when their daughter was bullied. But if the married woman had no respect for her elders, she would be regarded as an unfilial and disobedient child. Wang shi was included in the list of Molan’s elders, but Concubine Lin wasn’t.

Wang shi always acted in a tyrannous manner. In spite of numerous defeats, she didn't change her bossy nature. So she was not afraid that Molan would kick up a row. The reputation of the Sheng family had been salvaged because Marquis Yongchang Household had come to the Sheng Mansion and presented gifts to finalize the betrothal. If Molan continued to make trouble, Wang shi would like to break off the engagement.

Molan understood Wang shi's determination, so she showed some restraint and obediently stayed in the House of Mountain Moon, waiting for the wedding day.

June 28th was an auspicious day. On this day, Marquis Yongchang Household sent betrothal gifts and money over to the Sheng Mansion. Besides, many noble families performed marriages. The Left Assistant Minister of Revenue married off his daughter. The son of the Right Imperial Censor of Department of Supervision got marry, and the son of Princess Fuan married his second wife… And Grand Secretary Shen Shiqi and Duke Qi Household became related by marriage.

Sheng Hong attended the wedding feast of his superior's son and went back to the Sheng Mansion at nightfall. After changing into casual clothes, he went to the study. When Sheng Hong pushed the door open, Changbai, who sat at the table, immediately stood up and made a bow to his father. Sheng Hong nodded to him with satisfaction and asked in a teasing tone, “You returned from Duke Qi Household early. Were the dishes of the wedding banquet not tasty?”

Changbai answered calmly, “The dishes were tasty but Mother kept a gloomy face.” Sheng Hong frowned and went straight to the desk. Then he pulled up the lower hem of his gown, sat down in a chair and said, “You mother gets angry at Junzhu Pingning because of Rulan's unsuccessful marriage. But in my view, she has made mistakes.”

Changbai remained unmoved. He walked to the tea table beside the desk, poured a cup of warm strong tea from a purple clay teapot with patterns of pine, bamboo and plum blossom, and steadily handed the teacup to Sheng Hong before he said, “As a son, I shouldn't talk about Mother’s fault. To be honest, I think that it’s not Yuanruo’s fault.” He seemed to mean that it was all Junzhu Pingning's fault. But in fact, he blamed Wang shi implicitly.

Sheng Hong was thirsty after drinking the wine at the wedding feast. So he took the teacup and drank it up, and then nodded, “Qi Heng is a good man. Thanks to his warning a few days ago, I didn’t sign my name on Lord Yan’s memorial. Yesterday I went to visit Old Lord Lu and confirmed that it was true.”

Changbai held the teapot in his hand, filled Sheng Hong’s teacup with tea again and said in a low voice, “Father, you can wait for the cat to jump before you make up your mind. Lord Yan is an experienced official. Maybe there is more profound meanings beneath his behavior.”

Sheng Hong picked up the teacup, took a sip of tea and explained to his son, “Old General Gan has wielded military power for more than ten years. Supreme Commander Bo gave the commander's seal back to His Majesty. But Old General Gan is arrogant and always feels smug with his past achievements. A few months ago, His Majesty sent almost all the soldiers of three big army battalions to take part in the Northern Expedition War. But Old General Gan and his army took a negative attitude and didn’t fight with the enemy. They even allowed people of Jienu tribe to bring disaster to border towns. The Empress' brother, Shen Congxing, and the Second Young Master of Marquis Ningyuan Household, Gu Tingye, marched south to put down the revolt caused by Prince Jing, and then went north to suppress the Jienu tribe. They not only took half of Old General Gan's military power, but also won several great victories in succession and captured numerous baggage, cattle and sheep. Because I worked with Old Lord Lu in the Ministry of Works before, yesterday he told me in private that His Majesty had received a battlefield report a few days ago. It says that Shen Congxing has beaten the main army of Jienu tribe and Gu Tingye has killed the Left Seigneur Luli and lots of his soldiers. At this point, Lord Yan accuses the two generals of indulging their soldiers' bad behaviors and disobeying military orders. I'm sure he's riding for a fall.”

Changbai thought for a while and asked, “Lord Yan is very cautious about committing himself to anything. Why does he recklessly accuse Shen Congxing and Gu Tingye this time? Doesn’t he know that Shen is Empress’ younger brother and Gu is His Majesty’s trusted subordinate?” Although Changbai was clever and talented, he knew little about the complicated relationships in the Imperial Court because he always devoted himself to studying hard in the Imperial Academy.

Sheng Hong covered the teacup with a lid, making the crystal sound of porcelains knocking, and said slowly, “Military officials are always restricted by civil officials in this dynasty, unless he is a kinsman of the emperor or a son of an influential official. If there had been no one behind him, Old General Gan couldn’t have wielded military power for more than ten years. I’m curious about the high official behind Old General Gan. Grand Secretary Shen is shrewd and prudent in his words and deeds. I’m afraid that Lord Yan and the other officials have misunderstood their leader's intentions. His Majesty isn’t as kind-hearted as the previous emperor.”

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Changbai nodded and asked, “Father, since you know that Lord Yan’s memorial will get him into trouble, why did you go to the Yan Mansion and attend the wedding feast today?”

Sheng Hong stroked his beard and smiled, “Bai, if you can stand on principles and never yield to any pressure in the official circles, you would be an outstanding, honest and upright official. But if you can’t, you should get on well with others. I didn’t support Lord Yan this time just because we differ about politics. But anyway, he is my superior. I shouldn’t break off with him without reasons because in that case I will be slated by the public.”

Changbai listened to him carefully. There was silence for a few moments in the study.

Then Sheng Hong turned to his son, “Qi Heng is good-hearted and affectionate towards you. You can keep a good relationship with him. Your wife is virtuous and considerate. She sent double the amount of treasures to Duke Qi Household as a wedding present. Don’t worry that your mother will get angry. I will have a chat with her. And Wen… Alas, Wen Yanjing is also a man of good character. Molan is unlucky because she has lost a good husband. You are Wen’s senior fellow apprentice. Please take some time to comfort him.” Sheng Hong sighed, his face clouded with disappointment, “We have done our best to help Molan. From now on, she should be all entirely responsible for her decision. Unfortunately, Old Madam Sheng fell ill because of Molan. Thankfully Minglan is filial and always attends upon her grandmother carefully…”

Old Madam Sheng was getting old. After the long strenuous journey, she had been busy dealing with problems brought by Concubine Lin and Molan as soon as she had returned to the Sheng Mansion. So she caught a cold after preparing the dowry for Molan. She kept to her bed to recuperate and didn’t take a turn for the better until late June when the weather turned hot.

For the first time Minglan felt that she was healthy because she had attended upon the patient for almost a month but never sneezed or got ill. It was the uplifting news. Minglan had been a sickly child but now she became strong and healthy.

It was not an easy job. In this world, one in 10 people who caught colds would die, and twenty percent of women would die in labor. In the past nine years, Minglan had taken a walk every day, got rid of the habit of being faddy about what she ate, forced herself to eat a balanced diet and been extra careful about personal hygiene. Now she succeeded in improving her fitness.

Minglan was very happy and decided to cook some fish soup for Old Madam Sheng. She caught two big fishes from the pond with a fishing net and stewed them. Then she asked the kitchen maid to control the fire and add the ginger to the soup before she put down her sleeves and went to Old Madam Sheng's room, in which Old Madam Sheng was squinting at a letter.

“I told you not to approach the pond. But you don't lay my words to your heart.” Old Madam Sheng had an itch to lecture Minglan. The young girl turned her head away from her grandmother, pretending not to hear the remarks, and changed the subject, “It’s really a lovely day.”

Old Madam Sheng looked at her young daughter in mixed feelings of annoyance and amusement, and then reached her hand to slap Minglan on the head slightly. Minglan immediately put her head in her hands, nimbly threw herself into Old Madam Sheng's arms like a cute squirrel, and then said in a child-like voice, “Grandma… The water in the pond is less than one meter deep. Even if I fall into the water by accident, Xiaotao can easily pulled me out of the water. Furthermore, it is warm today and I won't catch a cold.”

Minglan rubbed Old Madam's neck with her delicate face while she was talking, just like a small lovable dog wagging its tail to please its master. Old Madam Sheng soon gave in and her cold face softened. Minglan seized the chance to change the subject at once, “Grandma, who is the letter from?”

Old Madam Sheng put down the letter on a table with everted flanges, reached out to rub Minglan's head and answered slowly, “It’s from Old Madam He. She isn't in good health, so she wrote the letter to express her gratitude instead of coming herself to thank us.”

“Oh.” Minglan leant against her grandmother’s chest and asked, “Are they satisfied with the courtyard house recommended by Sister-in-law Hai?” Old Madam Sheng nodded and smiled, “Your eldest sister-in-law is warm-hearted. Few madams of noble families will help others to find a house in the capital.”

Minglan picked up the letter and glanced over it. Then she raised her head and smiled, “Old Madam He says that the gardenia is blossoming in their backyard now. She invites us to enjoy flowers and drink tea with her the day after tomorrow. Grandma, shall we go to visit her?”

Old Madam Sheng patted Minglan’s shoulder and replied with a smile, “I've been lying in bed for a month. It's time to go out and get some fresh air. And I haven't seen Old Madam He for a long time. So I will go to visit her with you the day after tomorrow. But the pity is that Hongwen hasn't returned from his trip of purchasing medicinal materials…”

“In the eyes of Brother He, flowers and plants are all medicinal materials. He has no interest in enjoying flowers; instead, he will pick them and use them to treat illness.”

Minglan shook her head helplessly and recalled an interesting thing that happened before—Once Old Madam He brought a potted white peony from further afield and intended to invite her friends to enjoy the flowers. But she wasn't on guard against her grandson. So He Hongwen, who knew nothing about Old Madam He’s intentions, pulled up the peony and used it to made a box of pills which were beneficial to spleen and stomach. Then he went to the Sheng Mansion and gave the pills to Old Madam Sheng who had the spleen and stomach problems. When Old Madam He knew it, she was at a loss whether to cry or to laugh.

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