Published at 18th of July 2019 05:26:00 AM

Chapter 117

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I Won’t Accept Her as Your Concubine or Maid (1)

He Hongwen wore a torn dark black cotton coat, travel-worn and weary. He made a bow to Old Madam Sheng who asked him to sit down and had servants serve him tea. Minglan stood beside her grandmother without saying a word.

"Hongwen, you are much stronger." Old Madam Sheng looked at He Hongwen with a smile and continued, "And your skin is tanned."

He Hongwen raised his eyes and met Minglan's clear and bright eyes. The girl standing gracefully erect looked more beautiful than before. He blushed and lowered his head. "This time I went out with my uncles. From this journey, I knew many rare medicinal materials and the rules of drug market. I have benefited a lot from it."

Old Madam Sheng slightly nodded, "A man should stand on his own feet. You have done a good job. Your grandmother has told me that you have got a position in Imperial Hospital. Congratulations!"

He Hongwen wore a look of shyness and replied respectfully, "Thanks to my uncles, I set foot in Imperial Hospital. But… In my opinion, I should enrich my experience by going out and working as a doctor among the common people. Different from other professions, doctors need more knowledge and experience."

Old Madam Sheng nodded repeatedly in approval and gave a gentle smile. "You are a sensible, intelligent young man. And you can bear hardships and stand hard work. Your grandmother will be proud of you." She paused and suddenly changed the subject, "It was hot some time ago. But now, it turns cold sharply. I hear that your mother is not feeling well, so I have prepared something for her. Take it with you when you leave."

Fang Mama immediately asked maids to lift up a box full of precious medicinal materials, a roll of rare red silk cloth and a roll of rare satin with a mermaid pattern, and showed it to him. He Hongwen's heart sank. Over the years, Old Madam Sheng had always accepted his presents with pleasure and never stood on ceremony. In return, she had only sent more gifts to the He family during Spring Festival. But today… He Hongwen raised her eyes and looked cautiously at Old Madam Sheng who seemed as friendly as before. Since she said nothing about the Cao family, He Hongwen had no chance to say anything.

He had learned from the letter that Cao family had returned to the capital and Aunt Cao wanted him to marry Cousin Jinxiu. His mother had indeed tried to make Cao Jinxiu his wife in the first place. But things changed and now He Hongwen firmly believed that he would marry Minglan. In the past few years Sheng family and He family had had frequent contacts with each other and seemed to acquiesce in the marriage. He Hongwen was a well-behaved young man, simple and honest by nature. Surely, he didn't want to change his mind. However, a few days later he received a letter again from his mother. The letter said that Cousin Jinxiu was willing to be his concubine but didn't mention what had happened, which made him very confused.

After a short chat, Old Madam Sheng said that she was tired. He Hongwen stood up and excused himself. Old Madam Sheng said casually, "Minglan, go and see him off."

He Hongwen's eyes lit up. He respectfully said goodbye to Old Madam Sheng and obediently left with his head bowed. Minglan made a curtsy to her grandmother, turned around with a smile and walked out with He Hongwen. Dangju and Xiaotao followed them. They walked along the cobbled path outside the Hall of Peaceful Ages towards the front gate of the Sheng Mansion.

After a long hesitation, He Hongwen finally asked, "… Sister Minglan, how are you these days?"

Minglan smiled, "I'm fine. Last time you sent some pills used for clearing away the heart-fire to my grandmother. She liked your gift. I also took 2 pills. They are sweet and delicious."

The girl's voice was soft and tender. He Hongwen breathed a sigh of relief and laughed loudly, "I know you hate bitter pills, so I added many liquorice and plums to counter the bitter taste. If you like them, I will send you some more next year."

Minglan covered her mouth with her hand and chuckled, her face slightly reddening, "We shouldn't take medicine at will. If I want to eat something sweet, I can eat snacks."

He Hongwen scratched his head in embarrassment with a smile on his bronzed handsome face. "Next time I want to go to Yunnan. There are high mountains and dense forests in Yunnan. Maybe I can find some rarer herbal medicines. But I'm afraid that my mother won't agree."

Minglan envied him for having a chance to travel everywhere and said, "Brother Hongwen, I support you. The famous doctor in previous dynasty, Zhen Baifang said, 'As a doctor, you should read as many books as possible to broaden your knowledge and travel widely to accumulate experience.'"

Deeply moved by her words, He Hongwen looked at her with bright eyes. Minglan continued, "Now you work in Imperial Hospital and all your patients are high officials and noble lords. If you fail to cure them, perhaps you will receive their complaints. So it's better to improve your medical skill first."

He Hongwen understood her meaning and couldn't resist laughing. The atmosphere between them became quite convivial. When they were about to reach the second gate, He Hongwen suddenly stopped and opened his mouth as if to say something, but finally did not utter a word. Minglan knew what he meant, so she waved to the maids behind her. Dangju and Xiaotao immediately stepped back a few steps to leave them alone.

He Hongwen opened his lips again and hesitated for a long while before he struggled to say, "Cousin Jinxiu is one year younger than me. When she was 10 years old, He family was exiled to Xiliang from the capital. My father passed away when I was a child and I'm the only child of my mother, so I regard Jinxiu as my own sister, that's all." His tone was serious and firm as if he was making a promise.

However, Minglan didn't make a reply at once. After a long silence, she said, "Brother Hongwen, you'd better go home and get things clear first. Although you treat her as your own sister… there are many things you can't decide for yourself."

He Hongwen lapsed into silence and left with his head bowed. Minglan stood still, quietly gazed at his figure for a moment, and then asked Xiaotao to see him off in a low voice.

Minglan guessed that Old Madam Sheng must have gone to the Buddhist Hall to recite scriptures, so she went straight back to the House of Clear Dusk. After entering her bedroom, she threw herself on the bed and held a summer pillow woven of rattan grass in her arms. Then she stared at the pattern of magpies and branches at the top of the bed canopy in a very melancholy spirit. Yancao was doing needlework on the wooden bed in the outer room. She heard a faint noise from the inner room as if someone was punching the quilt.

Minglan rolled her thin quilt into a ball and punched it hard several times. Then she felt a bit more comfortable. However, she still had a sense of grievance as if she bit into the apple and suddenly found it wormy. She felt sick to her stomach but couldn't blame anyone.

Cao Jinxiu, who had been a lady of a rich family, now fell on evil days and relied on her relatives for financial assistance. What was more, she wasn't a virgin. Therefore, she pestered her well-behaved cousin, He Hongwen, like a drowning person trying to catch at a straw. As a mother who loved her daughter dearly, Madam Cao would surely make every effort to make her happy. As Madam Cao's younger sister, He Hongwen's mother naturally wanted to help the Cao family live a better life.

'No one should be blamed because everyone has its position. I know Cao Jinxiu is pitiable, but I haven't done anything wrong. There's no need for me to help her because she is not my sister. I was not the official who embezzled money and caused the collapse of Xiaoliangshan Mine, and I didn't force Cao Jinxiu to be the military official's concubine. Why the hell should I be responsible for her?' Minglan thought with resentment.

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Minglan was desperately unhappy and had an impulse of running of the house and yelling, but she knew that she mustn't do that because a noble lady should be elegant and dignified… Minglan buried her head in the quilt and felt depressed.

This damned world!

Minglan sat on the bed in a sulk. Suddenly, a great rush of feet came closer to the bedroom and then there came Yancao's voice from outside, "Xiaotao, slow down a little. Why are you so flustered? What happened? Alas... Our lady is in the room..."

The door curtain was lifted in the next second and Xiaotao burst into the bedroom, sweat dripping from her face. She wiped the sweat off her red face with a handkerchief and gulped air into her lungs. Before she completely calmed herself down, she came up to Minglan and whispered in her ears. On hearing Xiaotao's words, Minglan's face suddenly dropped to the floor as she asked earnestly, "Did you see it clearly?"

Xiaotao nodded vigorously, her chest still heaving violently. "Yes! I saw it with my own eyes."

Minglan took a deep breath, her chest heaving in anger. If there was a sandbag in front of her, she would batter it through with her bare hands because she was so angry.

Just then Yancao and Dangju came in and looked blankly at Minglan and Xiaotao. "Lady, what happened?" Yancao asked timidly.

Minglan forced a smile and answered, "Nothing important. Yancao, you stay here and look after the house. If Sister-in-law Hai or Sister Rulan comes to visit me, just tell her that I'm wandering in the garden. Dangju, Xiaotao, come here and freshen me up."

Dangju had waited upon Minglan for several years and known that she was a strong-minded girl. So Dangju kept quiet and helped Minglan tidy up hair and fix her makeup. Xiaotao stood on tiptoe to comb Minglan's hair and push upright the hairpins and pearl head-ornaments in her bun. Minglan whispered a few words to Xiaotao who immediately turned around to fetch a chiffon curtained hat from the cupboard and put some must-haves for going out into a delicate bag.

Dangju was suspicious of Yancao's ability, so she instructed Luzhi to look after the house before she walked out of the House of Clear Dusk with Minglan and Dangju. After walking for a while, Minglan suddenly said to Xiaotao, "I'll go out through the small gate in the backyard. Go and ask Old Huang to prepare a carriage for me. Now! Hurry up!"

On hearing this, Xiaotao instantly ran towards the backyard. Dangju was taken aback and said under her breath, "Lady, you…" Minglan cast a meaningful glance at Dangju with a serious expression on her face, and then turned around and left. Dangju had no courage to ask more and hastened to follow Minglan.

There was a small gate in the backyard, which directly led into a row of bungalows in the outer mansion. Today was the second day of the Autumn Imperial Examination and the servants had all gone to wait for their masters outside the examination hall, so there were few people in the outer mansion. Minglan took Dangju by the wrist, trotted through two Chuihua Doors and went out the small gate quietly. They went smoothly all the way to the gate house.

Old Huang had prepared a sturdy flat-top carriage with green curtains for Minglan. He was Old Madam Sheng's loyal servant who had accompanied her in Sheng Mansion for so many years. His two sons standing beside him were both reliable. Noticing that Minglan was not in a good mood, Old Huang dared not ask anything. He put down a footstool of the carriage on the ground and watched the three girls climbing into the carriage.

"Granduncle Huang, drive to the grove of peach trees outside the entrance of the alley," Xiaotao stuck her head out and said to Old Huang in a low voice. "Okay." Old Huang urged the horse on with a whip and his sons followed him. The carriage rumbled along the road.

As soon as they got into the carriage, Danju couldn't help but ask, "The suspense is killing me! Lady, where are we going?"

Minglan dropped her eyelids and didn't feel like talking. Xiaotao came near and replied, "Just now Lady asked me to see Young Master He off. On the way to the front gate, he told me something about the beautiful places he has traveled. I was attracted by his experience, so I accompanied him to the gate house. Just as I was about to come back, I saw the carriage of Cao family waiting in front of the gate of our mansion. Last time when we went to He Mansion, the carriage was parked at the gateway. I saw it clearly when we walked out of the He Mansion. It has grey coarse oilskin curtains and brown flat wooden frames. And the driver has a big black birthmark on his face. Then I saw Lady Cao sticking her head out of the carriage. Young Master He seemed shocked at the sight of her. Then she said something to him and he finally got into the carriage."

Dangju opened her mouth wide in surprise and looked blankly at Minglan. "Are we going to chase them? It's improper!"

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