Published at 26th of July 2019 09:20:41 PM

Chapter 120

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Chapter 120: A Tryst Caught in the Act (1)

Translator: Iris

Proofread by DragonRider

In the western wing-room of the House of Clear Dusk.

Minglan lay on the bed, weak and weary. Dangju was gently applying some ointment with a faint fragrance to the palm of Minglan's left hand while saying in a soft voice, “… Lady, Old Madam is not to blame for your injury. You did something improper. She always sees you as the apple of her eye and has never ever allowed others to hurt you. In my view, today you shouldn’t…” Dangju sighed, “Why did you have to do that? You can wait patiently for the response of He family.”

Minglan had had a hectic day and now lay on the bed lazily, weary and exhausted. Hearing what Dangju said, she sneered, “Wait? How long should I wait? How can I afford to wait? A few years later, I would have no other choice. By then He family come to propose the marriage and Old Madam may ask, ‘Will Hongwen take Lady Cao as his concubine?’ Or I should pretend to know nothing and obediently marry into He family. Then Cao family would come to beg me tearfully and force me to accept Lady Cao as Brother Hongwen’s concubine.” Minglan twisted her lips into a sarcastic smile and continued, “I won't do such a stupid thing. Anyway, according to Old Madam’s character, she will begin to seek another man to be my future husband in a few days.” Minglan sighed and whispered, “I did that because I don’t want to give up Brother Hongwen easily.”

Dangju’s face clouded with worry and she gently put down the white porcelain bottle with the pattern of green fish tails, which contained ointment, and slowly wrapped the gauze, which had been cut into thin strips, around Minglan’s hand. Then Xiaotao lifted the door curtain and walked in with a tray on which there were some dishes and bowls. She came up to the bedside and smiled, “Lady, I noticed that you ate vert little during dinner, so I asked Aunt Lian to cook you a bowl of three fresh delicacies noodle soup. The noodles were made fresh and al dente. Lady, come on, eat it while it’s hot.”

On the tray painted in black, there were a blue and white glazed cup with the pattern of bamboos, a bowl and a spoon of the same color. And there were green beans, crisp bamboo shoots, sliced chicken and noodles in the shape of cat ears in the bowl. The soup smelt delicious and provoked Minglan's appetite. She took the spoon from Xiaotao who was steadily holding the tray and waiting for her lady to eat the noodle soup.

“Wow!” Minglan tasted the noodle soup and thought it delicious, so she raised her head and said to Xiaotao, “The noodle soup cooked by Aunt Lian is tasty. Give her twenty or thirty copper coins in token of gratitude when you go to the kitchen.”

Xiaotao nodded and grinned, “Lady, you always give them money as a reward every time you ask them to prepare food specially for you. No wonder Aunt Lian actively lit a fire in the wood-fired oven as soon as she saw me walking in.”

Dangju was anxious about Minglan's marriage and couldn’t help but roll her eyes at Xiaotao who seemed peaceful and calm. “You are such a heartless girl! If Lady hadn’t stopped me from telling Fang Mama what you had done, you would have been punished for your improper behaviors. How could you speak without careful diction in front of Lady?” Dangju gave Xiaotao a good scolding while she took a handkerchief and wrapped it around Minglan's neck.

Xiaotao stuck out her tongue at Dangju and said, “Don't bother Lady when she's eating.” Then she turned to Minglan, her big eyes flashing as she said under her breath, “Lady, I have made an inquiry and found that Yancao and Luzhi were sleeping while we were out. Fang Mama will do something to keep Old Huang and gatekeepers' mouths shut. Young Madam Hai and Lady Rulan didn’t come to visit you today. So, no one will know that we slipped out of Sheng Mansion today.”

Minglan nodded and swallowed a mouthful of the delicious soup. Dangju looked at Minglan, opened and shut her mouth, unspeaking. Minglan stopped eating when her stomach was half full and Xiaotao walked out with the tray. Dangju took the wet handkerchief from Minglan's neck and threw it into the copper basin while saying with worry, “Lady, though He family grant your request, what if they break their promise in the future?” Minglan said lightly, “Don't worry. I have a way to solve this problem.”

Minglan's exhaustion was obvious, so Dangju helped her wash her face and rinse her mouth, then she put down the mosquito net, lit some incense used for expelling insects and put it into the gold-plated bronze incense burner before she blew out the candles and crept out of the room. Minglan buried her head in the pillow with her hair pinned loosely at the back of her head. Although she was really tired, she was unable to sleep because what had happened in the grove of peach trees kept running in her mind.

Minglan was not afraid of an aggressive enemy because she would fight against it with all her strength and even if she failed, she wouldn't regret it. But this time she met a weak opponent. If Cao Jinxiu was a shrewd woman who masked her real personality with the cowardly appearance like Concubine Lin had done, Minglan would go to all lengths to deal with her and never feel guilty. But in fact, Cao Jinxiu was really a poor cowardly woman.

She was haggard and humble, and her family was poor and powerless. When she stared at He Hongwen, her eyes were filled with a mixture of joy and hope, as if she was a ghost in the depths of despair, looking up to her beloved, her only hope. Anyone with a discerning eye could easily see why Concubine Lin had seduced Sheng Hong. But Cao Jinxiu was different from Concubine Lin because she was sincere to He Hongwen. To tell the truth, Minglan had been moved with compassion for this poor woman. However, for the sake of her own happiness, she wouldn't give in. Minglan was faced with the moral dilemma of whether or not to hurt this poor woman.

She lay on the bed with the quilt in her arms and sighed softly. ‘I’m indeed a person with a conscience,’ she thought.

Besides, Minglan had mixed feelings toward He Hongwen. Cao Jinxiu couldn't compare with her in appearance, talent and learning, nor in family background or self-restraint. In this case, if He Hongwen chose to marry Cao Jinxiu, Minglan would be depressed but also admire him because few men were willing to give up their practical benefits for the sake of their affections and pity for women no matter in ancient or modern times.

Yao Yiyi’s immediate superior, that old woman judge, had once said something meaningful, “It's better to find a soft-hearted man to be your husband.” At that time, many young girls in the office had sneered at this remark but some middle-aged women and old women had nodded in agreement. Although the soft-hearted men were easily infatuated by other women, they didn't have the heart to destroy the marriages that had lasted for many years and leave their wives. So as long as their wives didn't give up on their marriages, the soft-hearted men would come back to their wives one day.

There was a woman whose father was a rich man in the office. She couldn't agree more with the old woman judge because her mother, who had suffered a similar fate, had toughly held on and won the battle in the end. When her father was getting old and his health was declining, he returned to his wife and was reluctant to leave her.

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In reality, a hard-hearted man was more dangerous than a soft-hearted one. When he liked a woman, he would be obedient to her in every matter and love her heart and soul. However, when he ceased to be faithful, he would suddenly turn hostile and divorce his wife with determination, for example, the famous poet and essayist, Xu Zhimo.

Afterwards, the longer Yao Yiyi worked in the civil courts, the more she agreed with the old female judge. After handling many cases, she admitted that the remark was quite right.

Minglan was restless and agitated, tossing and turning on the bed for more than two hours, unable to sleep. Finally, she got a headache. Minglan got out of the bed and walked a few paces in the room but was still in a fret. So she got dressed and decided to go out for a walk. Minglan circumvented the screen and saw Dangju sleeping soundly on the bed in the outer room, who knitted her brows and wore a look of tiredness.

Minglan softly and slowly tiptoed out of the room. There was a row of rooms on either side of the corridor. The weather was getting cold and all the windows of the corridor rooms were closed at night. The maids all slept soundly, so Minglan slipped out of the House of Clear Dusk smoothly.

At the end of summer, stars twinkled in the night sky and there was dead silence in the garden. The crescent moon was hidden behind some wispy clouds, emitting cool light through the clouds, like a beauty making an elegant hand gesture, the so-called "orchid fingers", shy and charming. Minglan walked slowly along the path. The garden was peaceful and secluded. Osmanthus blossoms gave off a rich perfume on the branches and lotus flowers sent forth a delicate fragrance in the pool.

Minglan felt much better. ‘I was born in a good family. Old Master Sheng had a good eye for property investment. It was not easy to get a small garden in the capital but he did.’

Minglan kept walking until she calmed down. The night was damp and Minglan felt a chill creep over her. Just then she saw a cluster of fragrant plantain lily flowers blossoming besides a big stone not far away from her. Fragrant plantain lily flowers were about to wither, so Minglan was delighted to see such beautiful flowers. She decided to pick some flowers and go back to the House of Clear Dusk. As she neared the stone, she heard a rustling sound.

Minglan was curious as to what was happening behind the stone, so she pulled up the lower hem of her skirt and approached the stone quietly. Then she squatted down next to the fragrant plantain lily flowers and peered through a chink between two stones. Her face changed when she saw two figures snuggling up and speaking in low tones to each other.

Shocked and dumbfounded, Minglan squatted stock-still. ‘Oh my god, that's tough luck. I have caught two couples carrying on a clandestine love affair today. As a Communist Party member, I swear that I support the way of free love. Although it’s inappropriate for the girl to meet her lover in secret, I admire her independence and spunk because most of maids want to hook up with their masters or young masters but she bravely pursues the love. Tomorrow I have to ask Sister-in-law Hai to free a batch of marriageable maids and strengthen the entrance guard.’

Dazed for three seconds, Minglan decided to leave quietly. Just then, a familiar female voice came from behind the stone, “…Brother Jing… I…”

The voice was gentle and dulcet, full of tenderness, but it was like a thunderclap to Minglan.

She never expected that the girl was Rulan.

Minglan was so surprised that she subconsciously stepped back and made some noises. The couple behind the stone gave a cry of panic. They exchanged a few words and then one hurried away and the other came towards the stone behind which Minglan was sheltering.

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