Published at 14th of July 2019 12:37:46 PM

Chapter 116

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The Approaching Autumn Imperial Examination and the Return of He Hongwen

To a mother her daughter was the most intimate person in the world. Hualan knew full well what Wang shi thought, so she actively investigated what happened to Molan after she married into Marquis Yongchang Household. Then she heard an amazing and dramatic story, so she went to the Sheng Mansion and told Wang shi about it in detail.

Molan had a hard time in Marquis Yongchang Household. On the night of the wedding, Concubine Chunge pretended to get a stomachache and had her trusted maid burst into the bridal chamber to ask Liang Han to her house. If that happened to Rulan, she would beat the maid and drive her away at once. But Molan put up with the impolite behavior from Chunge. She buttonholed Liang Han who was about to rush out, and coaxed in a gentle voice, "Now that I have married you, she is my sister. It's inconvenient for a man to look after a sick woman. I will take care of her on your behalf." After that, Molan kept Liang Han in the bridal chamber and went to see Chunge herself. She showed concern for Chunge's well-being and had a doctor in to give Chunge a check-up. Then she had maids decoct the medicinal herbs and feed Chunge. Molan kept vigil at the door and looked after Chunge the whole night. First Young Madam Liang was very captious but this time she could say nothing to scold Molan.

On hearing this Wang shi's face turned purple with rage. She slapped the rattan tea table hard with the palm of her hand. There came a tinkle of the teacup knocking against the lid. In those days Concubine Lin had often pretended to be ill and called Sheng Hong away from Wang shi's room. Obviously, Molan was familiar with this trick and was ready for such a situation.

Hai shi immediately served her mother-in-law a new cup of tea. Rulan was totally fascinated by the story and urged Hualan to carry on speaking.

Although Chunge had failed to bring Liang Han to her room on the night of the wedding, she didn't give up. The following evening, she asked her maid to invite Liang Han once more on the pretext of a stomachache. Molan didn't show any displeasure; instead, she consoled Liang Han, "It's hard work for a woman to carry a baby, because she will suffer from a minor illness from time to time." Then Molan went to visit Chunge and looked after her for a whole night. She even implored Madam Liang for some good wild ginseng to nourish Chunge. Finally, she was overworked and looked haggard and worn.

The bride had married into the Marquis Yongchang Household for two days but this newly married couple hadn't slept with each other because of the obstruction from the concubine. All the people in Marquis Yongchang Household disapproved of Chunge's immoral behaviors and began to gossip about her. Marquis Yongchang heard the gossips and got angry. He asked his eldest daughter-in-law to his room and reproved her mercilessly. Madam Liang accused First Young Madam Liang's aunt of failing to cultivate Chunge's moral values. The girl was educated to be a discourteous person. She had just been Liang Han's concubine for a few days. How dared she compete with his legal wife!

With a beautiful wife by his side but having no chance to sleep with her, Liang Han became a bit dissatisfied with Chunge.

On the third night, Chunge played the same trick. This time most people were on the side of Molan and Chunge was soundly defeated. According to informed sources, Liang Han flew into a rage and ran out of the room in underwear. Then he kicked Chunge's maid hard a dozen times and drove her out of Marquis Yongchang Household on the spot. He even severely punished the servants who attended upon Chunge.

"If she really feels ill, she can call a doctor. But I'm afraid that it's just her ruse to have our young master by her side. Is our young master a doctor who can treat illness? How could she strive for the favor of our young master by such disgraceful means? She's really villainous and shameless," a Mama in charge in Liang Mansion purposely irritated Chunge's servants with sarcastic remarks. But Molan pretended to be kind-hearted and put in a good word for Chunge.

After that, Liang Han felt sorry for Molan and was attentive to her. That was why he treated her gently on the day they returned to the Sheng Mansion.

Although Rulan hated Molan, this time she was on Molan's side. "The lady… Oh, no. Concubine Chunge did go too far! How dared she do such a thing? Why didn't Marchioness Yongchang punish her?"

Hualan took a sip of cold plum tea, stretched out her forefinger to poke Rulan's forehead and said lightly, "Silly girl. I have talked a lot about Marquis Yongchang Household but you don't seem to get the point. The eldest son of Marquis Yongchang is outstanding. There are rumors saying that Marquis wants to make him the legal heir. So his wife is respected by the people in Liang Mansion. Chunge is her distant cousin. In order to avert suspicion, Madam Liang can't punish Concubine Chunge at will."

Rulan didn't fully understand what Hualan meant. But Minglan instantly got it. If Madam Liang punished Chunge by herself, she would be caught out and regarded as a narrow-minded legal mother who tried to hold down her illegal son. But if Molan punished Chunge, others would think it a trifle between the legal wife and the concubine.

Wang shi let out a long sigh with mixed feelings. She didn't want Molan to live well, but from the point of view of a legal wife, she appreciated Molan's cleverness and ambition. If Wang shi had the capability to handle such a matter, Concubine Lin wouldn't have behaved in a disorderly manner without fear in Sheng Mansion for so many years.

Minglan cast a glance at Wang shi and realized that her legal mother was a bit upset, so she turned to Hualan and asked, "Eldest Sister, does Sister Molan get on well with other people in Liang Mansion? Are her parents-in-law, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law satisfied with her?"

Hualan rubbed Minglan's nose with her forefinger and smiled, "Good question. Sixth Sister, you are so clever."

Madam Liang was indifferent to Molan. Although she didn't show kindness to her new daughter-in-law, she didn't embarrass Molan in public. When Molan served her parents-in-law tea the next day after the wedding, Madam Liang gave her a valuable gift. However, anyone with a discerning eye could easily see that Madam Liang didn't like Molan. Besides her legal daughters-in -law, Madam Liang often asked some illegal daughters-in-law to chat with her over tea because their husbands had grown up by her side. But Molan was completely given the cold shoulder.

Wang shi's spirits rallied and she scoffed, "Molan has to depend on herself in the future because her mother-in-law won't help her." Hualan curled up her lips with scorn and said ironically, "Sister Molan is very considerate. She has just married into the Liang family for a month, but in order to please Liang Han, she has sent some of her maids to wait upon him."

Minglan quietly sighed and thought to herself, 'Madam Liang is indeed a clever woman. Molan has no one to turn to, so she has to devote herself entirely to pleasing her husband. According to Hualan's description, Chunge is like You Sanjie in character. Although she is beautiful, bold and shrewish, she is unlikely to defeat Molan because Molan has learnt a lot from Concubine Lin. Madam Liang has been on her guard against her eldest son and eldest daughter-in-law for a long time. She certainly doesn't want Chunge to be with Liang Han. So she adds fuel to the fire and hopes that Molan can defeat Chunge completely. Even if both of them suffer great losses in the end, Madam Liang will lose nothing. As the saying goes, two quarrel and a third profits by it.'

T/N note:

You Sanjie: a woman in Dream of the Red Chamber.

Minglan felt a bit down in the dumps. She walked with Hualan to the courtyard gate, and then took her sister's arm and gently said, "Eldest Sister, your grandfather-in-law's sister, Countess Shoushan has a good relationship with Marquis Yongchang. If you have a chance to visit Marquis Yongchang Household, please give Sister Molan some advice."

Hualan's face darkened and she snorted coldly, "You are so kind-hearted. But even if you pardon Molan for having hit you, you shouldn't forget who's behind Concubine Wei's death."

Minglan shook her head with a serious expression and said sincerely, "I'm not broad-minded. I still remember that Kong Momo punished me by hitting me on the palms at that time. Sister Rulan is a member of the Sheng family. I know she treated me badly in the past, but if she does something errant, it will bring shame on our whole family, including you and me." If Molan took radical and malicious measures and to deal with Chunge, the Sheng family would get a lot of criticism for the failure of training their child to be a good person.

Hualan's face turned solemn. Although she had a grudge against Concubine Lin and Molan, which blinded her to the possibility that she would be dragged down by Molan, she was so smart that she sorted herself out after thinking for a while. She affectionately put her arm around Minglan's shoulders and smiled, "My sister, you are sensible and considerate. This time I owe you a favor."

Minglan broke into a big smile and two dimples showed in her cheeks. "Last time I sent two pairs of shoes to the Yuan Mansion. Do Zhuang and Shi like them?"

"Yes." Hualan's face softened at the thought of her son and daughter. "The doll you made for Zhuang become the apple of her eyes. She likes it very much and doesn't allow others to touch it. Children grow fast and the shoes will be unfit to their feet soon. My dear sister, don't make such delicate shoes for them next time. I know you are good to me. I won't forget your kindness. When you get married, I will give you a nice dowry."

Seeing the happy smile on Hualan's face, Minglan was happy for her because of knowing that she lived a good life recently.


The Autumn Imperial Examination was going to be held in late August. In early August, students arrived in the national capital one after another from all over the area under the jurisdiction of the capital. The Sheng family had five guests. Three of them were sons of Sheng Hong's old friends. The rest were nephews of Sheng Hong's fellow townsmen. They came to the capital to attend the imperial examination but had no relatives in the capital. The Autumn Imperial Examination and the Spring Imperial Examination were both held every three years. Every time the imperial examination was held, the prices of post houses, guild halls, inns raised sharply. It would cost them a lot of money to stay in an inn. Besides, they were unable to focus their attention on revision because all the inns were noisy. So they came to the Sheng Mansion and asked for lodgings.

Sheng Hong and Wang shi held a consultation and decided to arrange for the five students to stay in a row of bungalows on the edge of the back garden. Wang shi was generous this time because some of the students came from rich official families and Rulan was at the age of marriage.

In the middle of August, Changwu's nine-month mourning came to an end. He returned to the capital with his wife, daughter, cousin Li Yu. This time he had to rely on Sheng Hong to reinstate himself in his former office. Li Yu, who was going to attend the imperial examination, also needed Sheng Hong's help. So Chang wu rushed to the Sheng Mansion after getting everything settled in his house. Yun'er had come to visit Wang shi before Changwu. She made an apology to Wang shi for her mother's unethical behaviors with tears and expressed her guilt about what Aunt Kang had done.

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Although Wang shi was still angry, her heart was softened by Yun'er's tears and boxes of lavish gifts that Yun's had brought. 'It's none of her business. I know what kind of person my sister is but I didn't take precautions against her. Perhaps I should be blamed for the failure of Rulan's marriage because I was too trusting,' Wang shi thought to herself.

"Let it go at that. Bring your daughter here next time. You are my niece and your husband is my nephew. Surely I should give your daughter two red packets." At last, Wang shi forgave Yun'er.

It was the first time Li Yu paid a formal visit to Sheng Hong and Wang shi. He was about to kneel down and kowtow to the couple, but Sheng Hong took his arm and helped him up while saying, "We are close like a family. No need to kowtow to me."

Old Madam Sheng looked Li Yu up and down. The young man had bright eyes and graceful eyebrows. He wore a right lapel cyan chiffon outer coat, which flattered his white and handsome face. Old Madam Sheng smiled, "It's years since I last saw you. Yu, you have grown much taller."

Li Yu cupped a hand in the other before his chest and made an obeisance to Old Madam Sheng, and then said with a big smile, "Old Madam, you seem full of beans. My mother got some white ginseng from Yunnan and asked me to bring it to you. White ginseng is an excellent tonic and won't cause inflammation. Please accept this little gift as a token of our regard." Then he turned to Wang shi, "My mother also prepared some gifts for Madam and sisters. I hope you will like them."

Old Madam Sheng nodded with satisfaction and Wang shi smiled. Sheng Hong liked Li Yu's refined way of speaking and nice manners, so he said in a friendly way, "Good boy. Just study hard first. I will ask Changbai to take you and your brothers to visit some scholars. The provincial examination is different from the metropolitan examination and you don't need to grease the wheels. The teachers in your school, Songshan Academy, used to be examiners. Now you just need to devote yourself entirely to the revision."

Li Yu's face brightened up. He lowered his head and expressed his thanks by bowing to Sheng Hong repeatedly.

Rulan stood by and felt bored. Wang shi took Yun'er's hand and came up to chat with Old Madam Sheng. Minglan was surprised that Sheng Hong seemed very fond of Li Yu. She looked carefully at Li Yu and understood why Old Madam Sheng had said that Li Yu was somewhat similar to Sheng Hong in his youth.

Although Changfeng looked like Sheng Hong, he was conceited and always affected a superior air because he lived an extravagant life from small to large. However, Li Yu, who was born in a family of merchants, was going to start his official career by imperial examinations like Sheng Hong had done. Both of them were full of vigour and vitality and had a desire to advance. Besides, they were...

Minglan squinted her eyes.

Since Sheng Hong and Changwu had begun to talk about how to reinstate Changwu, Li Yu had stolen a glance at Minglan from time to time. Once when their eyes happened to meet, he smiled at Minglan with loving eyes. Minglan was taken aback and immediately cast a glance at Rulan. She was relieved to see Rulan looking out the window with glazed eyes as if she was in a trance.

'Well, this guy is really like Sheng Hong in character,' Minglan thought.

Old Madam Sheng often said that Sheng Hong was not a bad guy. When he had just married Wang shi, he had sincerely hoped that they two would have a happy and satisfactory marriage. In the beginning, he had respected and trusted his wife, and allowed her to drive away two Tongfang who had waited upon him since he had been a child. If Wang shi hadn't relied on her family background to act as she pleased and interfere in the family external affairs without considering his feelings, Sheng Hong wouldn't have gone off her. If she had been gentler and more virtuous and romantic, Sheng Hong wouldn't have been with Concubine Lin, though he might take some concubines.

Although Sheng Hong hankered for fame and social position, he also needed a woman to meet his emotional requirements. So he doted on Concubine Lin even though he knew that it would give offence to the Wang family.

Now Li Yu was doing the same thing.

Rulan was the legal daughter of Sheng Hong. If Li Yu was clear-headed, he should try his best to win Rulan's heart. Sheng Hong was obviously fond of him. As long as he passed the imperial examination, he would stand a good chance of taking Rulan as his wife. But in reality, this muddle-headed fellow stole a glance at Minglan with a hint of shyness every now and then. Did he really take his future seriously?

'There are so many beautiful girls in the world. He can take seven or eight beautiful concubines after achieving success and wining recognition. But now he is in bad need of a capable father-in-law to help him. Alas, this young man is indeed ill-advised.' Minglan felt sorry for him.


Old Madam Sheng was busy recently, so she often asked Changbai to come to the Hall of Peaceful Ages, and inquired of him about Li Yu. She asked about Li Yu's speech and manner and the way he got along with people. Changbai didn't give a reply until August 28th, the day the Autumn Imperial Examination started, "Li Yu is diligent, dependable and sensitive. He is young but experienced and worldly. I think he will have a bright future."

Old Madam Sheng's eyes gleamed with satisfaction.

Minglan knew that Old Madam Sheng had other plans about her marriage. Since Old Madam Sheng had seen Madam Cao and Cao Jingxiu in the He Mansion, her enthusiasm for the He family sharply waned. Minglan understood Old Madam Sheng and saw that this marriage hinged on He Hongwen's attitude. If he was on his mother's side, there was no future between him and Minglan.

The Autumn Imperial Examination had three exams. The next morning, while Minglan was doing embroidery in Hall of Peaceful Ages, Fang Mama strode in the room from the outside and said with a smile, "Young Master Hongwen is back. After handing several carriages of medicinal materials to the pharmacy, he comes directly to our mansion instead of going home. He said that he had prepared some gifts for Old Madam, so he dropped in at our mansion."

Minglan stopped sewing and looked up at Old Madam Sheng. The young girl caught a clear view of the satisfaction in her grandmother's eyes.

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