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Published at 6th of July 2019 08:35:30 AM


Chapter 112

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Hello, Cousin Jingxiu (1)

The ancestral home of the He family was in Baishitan, South Jiangsu. He Hongwen’s grandfather, Old Lord He worked as a minister in the Taipu Temple. So they settled down in the capital. The He Mansion was a big mansion with three gates. Minglan had been here several times and known that the house was lived in by Old Master He, Old Madan He, Second Master He and his family, He Hongwen and his mother.

In late June, it was hot outside. Minglan sat on the right side of her grandmother and waved a big fan to cool her and Old Madam Sheng off. It took them more than an hour to reach the Sheng Mansion. Servants of the He Mansion knew Minglan and Old Madam Sheng. At the sight of them, the servants immediately came up to them and greeted them with big smiles. Then some of the servants held their arms and led them to the drawing room in the back yard and some held umbrellas to shade them from the sun.

The He Mansion was far away from the Imperial City (inner part of the capital city) and there were lots of trees in it. Minglan felt cool as soon as she entered the back yard. She let out a lungful of hot breath and took out her handkerchief to wipe her face slightly. Then she asked Dangju to check her appearance. Dangju replied in a low voice, “Lady, you applied the balm but didn't powder your face. So even if there are some beads of sweat on your face, you still look nice.”

Xiaotao looked sideways at Minglan whose skin was fine and smooth, and said, “Lady, you can rest assured. There is no sweat on your face.”

They went through the Chuihua Door, bypassed the main house and walked into the drawing room in the back yard. All the windows of the drawing room were open. There were various fresh fruits and cakes on a big round table in the middle of the room. Some wicker chairs were placed on both sides of the table. A copper basin containing some chunks of ice was put on the floor next to a small door and a draught kept blowing through the door from outside. The ice melted and the draught became cold, which effectively lowered the temperature in the room. Old Madam Sheng and Minglan both felt refreshed.

Old Madam He, who sat on the left-hand seat, smiled and stood up to welcome the guests, “My dear sister, are you all right now? Come on! Let me feel your pulse first.” With that, she reached out to take Old Madam Sheng’s wrist. But Old Madam Sheng slapped her on the back of her hand and complained, “I've never seen a host like you. When the guest came, you didn’t invite her to sit down or serve her tea; instead, you took her hands and wanted to feel her pulse. What do you mean? Are you eager to prove that you are the real daughter of the famous medical family?”




Some female relatives standing around burst into laughter. A middle-aged woman, who wore a single-layer light yellow chiffon jacket embroidered with flowers and birds and a white skirt, came over and held Old Madam He by the arm before she said with a smile, “Old Madam Sheng, my mother-in-law is very concerned about your health. She has been eagerly looking forward to your arrival.”

With that, she invited Old Madam Sheng and Minglan to sit down and asked maids to serve them some tepid soup with heat-dispersing function. Minglan curtsied to the woman who was the second madam of the He family. Then she turned around and made a curtsy to He Hongwen’s mother who stood by quietly, before she sat down in the wicker chair.

After everyone sat down, He Hongwen’s mother stood up, bowed to Old Madam Sheng and said in a weak voice, “Old Madam, thanks to your kindness, my elder sister and her family live well in the courtyard house. Let me thank you in the name of my sister and her family.” Old Madam Sheng waved her hand and replied politely, “Don't mention it. Since we know each other, we should help each other.”

He Hongwen’s mother was weak. She turned a little pale after thanking Old Madam Sheng several more times. Old Madam He instantly asked a maid to help her sit down.

Second Madam He was a bit fat with a rounded face, voluble and gregarious. Obviously, she was a capable woman who had managed domestic affairs for many years. She wore a smile and said actively, “Old Madam, I hear that Sheng Mansion is going to hold a marriage ceremony. Congratulations! By then, don’t forget to invite us to attend the wedding feast.”

Old Madam Sheng felt quite relaxed and peaceful in He Mansion, so she joked, “As long as you prepare a valuable congratulatory gift, I will invite you.” Old Madam He teased with a smile, “When you were young, you regarded money as nothing of importance. But now you are greedy for money. Alas! What a pity that you have degenerated under the temptation of money!”


Old Madam Sheng glared at her in a show of feigned anger. “Since you see me as a greedy woman, you should send double congratulatory gifts to the Sheng Mansion.”

“It's so expensive to attend the wedding feast. My daughter-in-law, take back your words. It's better for us not to attend it.” Old Madam He also pretended to be annoyed.

Second Madam He standing beside her mother-in-law gently waved the fan in her hand and smiled, “Mother, all in good time. I'm able to predict the future, so I know that there will be another wedding feast in the Sheng Mansion and you won't be left out by then. And I think that you will be very happy to contribute your silver for the wedding feast.”

Her remarks implied profound meaning and she cast a meaningful glance at Minglan. Old Madam He and Old Madam Sheng gave an understanding smile to each other.

Minglan sat in the chair and felt refreshed as a continuous cool draught blowing through her face. However, when she heard what Second Madam He said, her face was burning with shame. She lowered her head and refused to say a word. Knowing that Minglan was bashful, He Wenhong’s mother, who sat opposite Minglan, couldn’t help but complained, “Sister-in-law!” Then she walked over, patted Minglan gently on the shoulder and said softly, “Good girl! It’s a bit cold here. Come on, follow me to another chair.”

Minglan obediently stood up and followed He Hongwen’s mother to sit down in the chair opposite. Then He Hongwen’s mother took Minglan’s hand and asked her some questions in a low voice. The middle-aged woman inquired after Mingaln’s health and told her once again to protect her eyesight and not to do too many embroideries. Minglan felt comfortable as the back of her hand was clinging to the dry and cool palm of Hongwen’s mother. She patiently answered the questions one by one.

He Hongwen’s mother looked carefully at Minglan while asking her questions. The young girl wore a white satin pleated skirt with patterns of clouds and a knee-length light green cambric coat which was covered by a thin green brocade vest with flowers. She had shaped her shining black hair into a loose bun with some hair falling down, soft bangs on her forehead. On her bun was a golden hairpin inlaid with jade and pearls and a white jade crescent comb, which flattered her white, delicate skin and rosy face. He Hongwen’s mother was satisfied with Minglan’s appearance, her heart filled with tenderness, as she began to tell Minglan some points for attention in summer.


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Seeing that He Hongwen’s mother and Minglan got on well with each other, Old Madam Sheng felt relieved, and then lifted her eyes to Old Madam He who had a smile on her face but a gleam of gloom in her eyes. She seemed to have something on her mind.

There were two tall gardenia trees outside the drawing room. It was in the florescence now. Lots of white flowers were among the deep green leaves. A slight breeze rose, wafting the lovely scent of flowers to the drawing room. Old Madam Sheng and Old Madam He chatted over tea. Second Madam He made some impromptu interesting remarks from time to time. The rest quietly listened to the three of them while drinking tea. Everyone was in a pretty good mood.

A peal of merry laughter filled the drawing room. Old Madam He mentioned He Hongwen who had gone out to purchase medicinal materials, and was proud of her excellent grandson. “Hong is old enough to get married,” she said to Old Madam Sheng. Just then a servant rushed in and reported, “Here comes Madam Cao!”

The atmosphere in the drawing room suddenly chilled as if a cold wind had blown through the room. The smile on Old Madam He’s face disappeared. She cast a glance at He Hongwen’s mother who shifted uneasily on the chair with her head bowed.

Then Old Madam He slightly nodded to Second Madam He who got the hint and said aloud, “Bring her over here.”

Minglan raised her head to look at Old Madam Sheng who remained unmoved by the news. Minglan put her mind at rest and sat quietly in the chair. After a while, a servant lifted the door curtain and two women came in. The first woman was about 50 years old, looking old. Although she powdered her face thickly, it failed to hide her rough sallow skin. Only her eyes looked a bit like He Hongwen's mother's. She was followed by a girl who was about 17 years old. The girl was very thin and stooped slightly with her head bowed. She wore a silver pink brocade coat but the golden embroideries on her neckline and sleeves were faded. Obviously, it was an old and worn coat. Her naked hands were skinny and veined.

Old Madam He sat still with displeasure, silent and poker-faced, reluctant to introduce the two women. He Hongwen’s mother had to stand up and said to Old Madam Sheng in embarrassment, “This is Hongwen’s aunt. This is his cousin and her alias name is Jingxiu.”


Madam Cao hurriedly took her daughter’s hand and curtsied to Old Madam He and Old Madam Sheng. Old Madam He waved her hand and asked them to stand up, and then had Second Madam He serve them tea and fruit. After sitting down on the wicker chair, Madam Cao began to talk with an ingratiating smile. She praised the light and spacious drawing room and the beautiful scenery outside. Then she praised Second Madam He for her ability of managing domestic affairs, and made some compliments saying that the soup with heat-dispersing function was tasty, and the tea and fruit were good. She also asked Cao Jingxiu to serve Old Madam He. The girl refilled the teacup and picked some fresh fruits from the fruit bowl for Old Madam He. However, Old Madam He was unmoved by Madam Cao's flattery. Her face even slowly clouded.

He Hongwen’s mother became uneasy and dared not say a word. Second Madam He also fell silent.

Madam Cao was still chattering away. When she realized that Old Madam Sheng gave the cold shoulder to her and her daughter, she gradually grew silent. Old Madam He turned to Old Madam Sheng, “Minglan will reach the age of fifteen in September. Who are you going to invited to pin her hair into a bun?”

Old Madam Sheng smiled, “You are the luckiest woman I have known. I want to invite you to do the job. Will you accept it?”

It fitted in exactly with Old Madam He's wishes. So she clapped her hands and answered with a big smile on her face, “Of course I will. You can rest assured! I will prepare a precious hairpin for Minglan.”

Madam Cao felt that she and her daughter were completely ignored by Old Madam He. She had a fit of the sulks and suddenly turned to grab Minglan’s arm. Minglan was unable to dodge in time so her arm was caught by Madam Cao. Then Madam Cao giggled, “Oh, Jesus. You are such a beautiful girl! Let me have a closer look. Your eyes are beautiful. And you also have a good figure...”

On hearing these frivolous words, Old Madam Sheng frowned. But Madam Cao didn't notice that and carried on speaking, “Tut! You are really good-looking. My daughter, Jingxiu is also a beautiful girl. When she was a child, many people praised her for her beauty. But she isn't as lucky as you. She has suffered a lot. So she doesn't look well now. If she can be nursed with great care for some time, she will become as pretty as you.” With that, Madam Cao reached out to touch Minglan’s clothes.

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