Published at 1st of August 2019 05:43:23 AM

Chapter 123

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The Dissolution (2)

Proofread by DragonRider

This time Madam Cao didn't powder her face, revealing her sallow, rough face. When she saw that Minglan didn't seem to respond to her younger sister's request, she came up to Minglan, took her hand and begged, “Good girl, I know you are unhappy. But my daughter, Jinxiu is in a desperate position. It's impossible to marry her to other men because of her unfortunate experience. All I'm hoping for is that Hongwen can take care of her. After all, we are relatives.”

Madam Cao said a lot but it all boiled down to one sentence: Cao Jingxiu was a pitiable, obedient girl who couldn't possibly compete with Minglan after marriage. Minglan quietly listened to her without uttering a word. At last, He Hongwen's mother lost patience. Minglan said calmly, “I know I was talking nonsense that day. My grandmother has scolded me after I went back to Sheng Mansion. Although my grandmother once expressed that she wanted to marry me to Brother He, it was just a joke. Don't take it seriously. Whoever Brother He wants to take as his concubine, it has nothing to do with me.”

He Hongwen and his mother were stunned. He Hongwen’s mother suddenly recalled what Old Madam He had said to her a few days ago, her heart beating wildly as she limply leaned against headboard. He Hongwen panicked and looked at Minglan in discomfiture.

Madam Cao was annoyed by Minglan and said in anger, “That's right! From ancient times the mother-in-law can decide who is to be her daughter-in-law. It's natural for a man to take a concubine. My younger sister is soft-hearted but you seem ungrateful. Do you want to forbid Hongwen from taking a concubine after you marry into He family?”

Minglan listened to her with a smile and slowly said, “Madam Cao, what you said sounds reasonable. I also feel pity for Cousin Cao. But I have some questions to ask you.”

Madam Cao waved her hand with an angry look, signaling for her to go on speaking. Minglan continued, “First, if your daughter becomes Brother He’s concubine, should his future wife treat you as her aunt or the concubine's mother? If she treats you as the concubine’s mother, when she's in good mood, she will allow you to see your daughter and grant you some small ingots of silver. But when she’s in bad mood, she can drive you out of He Mansion without giving you any money.”

Just as the words fell from her lips, Madam Cao’s face changed and He Hongwen’s mother was dumbfounded. In ancient times, the status was important to women.

Minglan looked calmly at them with a smile and said, “Second, we all know that concubines should wait upon their masters and madams. To some extent, they are the same as maids. If Cousin Cao becomes Brother He’s concubine, should his legal wife treat Cousin Cao as the concubine or the cousin?”

Madam Cao glared at Minglan who wore a relaxed expression on her face, and gnashed the teeth with hatred. “Hongwen will promote my daughter to the senior concubine in the future. With my sister and Hongwen by her side, no one dares to bully her.”

Minglan laughed softly but her eyes were like bottomless frozen pools. “Madam Cao, you are quite right. Now I want to talk about the most important problem. Third, anyway, the senior concubine is still a concubine of inferior social status. She can't compete with the legal wife. Brother He can treat her at will and her mother won’t come to scold him for giving the cold shoulder to her. But Cousin Cao is different. She has Aunt He on her side, and you will also try your best to protect her…Brother He, your future wife will suffer.”

He Hongwen’s face turned sour as he fixed his eyes on Minglan who turned away and ignored him. She had said all there was to be said about this matter. The last time she had acted on impulse and talked something inappropriate in the grove of peach trees. Now she didn’t want to waste time on persuading him anymore.

Minglan turned to He Hongwen’s mother with a straight face and said seriously, “Aunt, you also heard what Madam Cao said just now. Cousin Cao said that she just wanted to be Brother He’s concubine, but… Have you ever seen such a honored, protected concubine? You will have a legal daughter-in-law in the future. Have you ever thought how to get on with your daughter-in-law by then? Will your son get along well with his future wife? Will your legal grandsons and illegal grandsons live together in peace?”

He Hongwen’s mother knew what Minglan meant, though she was not clever. Madam Cao flew into a rage. She jumped from her seat, pointed at Minglan and cursed, “Wicked girl, do you mean that my daughter will be a bane of He family if she becomes my nephew's concubine? I know you come from a good family but you shouldn't talk nonsense. You are the bitch from hell...”

“Aunt!” He Hongwen suddenly roared at Madam Cao and cut her off. He glared at her, his eyes burning with anger and his brow veins bulging. Madam Cao was taken aback as she covered her bosom with her hands and stood still. Cao Jinxiu burst into tears and said in a choked voice, “Cousin… Don’t blame my mother. It’s all my fault… If only I had died in Liang Prefecture. I shouldn’t have returned to the capital. I shouldn’t trouble you and Aunt…”

With that Cao Jinxiu knelt down and kowtowed to him while crying sadly. Madam Cao gave a cry of sadness, held her daughter and cried aloud, “My poor daughter! Your father and I should be blamed for your miserable fate. We once thought that your cousin would take care of you as long as we returned to the capital. But I didn’t expect that he changed. Now he wants to attach himself to persons in power… He won’t help you! My daughter, now we have no option but to kill ourselves. Your aunt and cousin are indeed cruel and cold-blooded!”

Madam Cao and Cao Jinxiu were wailing loudly. He Hongwen’s mother went limp and lay on the bed with a pale face. Minglan remained calm and took a few steps backward.

He Hongwen clenched his fists as his face turned purple with rage. Since he had returned to the capital, Cao family had often asked him to go to the Cao Mansion. Sometimes they told him that Aunt Cao had some discomfort; sometimes they said that Cao Jinxiu fainted. Cao family did all they could to keep him in Cao Mansion and wept out their grief to him. If he wasn’t a doctor, he would have been touched by their sadness and agreed to their demand. But as a doctor, he knew clearly that Aunt Cao and Cousin Jinxiu were just a bit weak because of their pent-up emotions.

He turned around and looked at his mother who was sick and weak. Madam Cao was still crying, which brought him a strong sense of indignation. He family had helped Cao family a lot but they were ungrateful and forced him to do what he was unwilling to do. As soon as he refused to do as they wished, Madam Cao accused him of being cruel and cold-blooded.

The room was filled with noise. Suddenly, a maid standing at the door said loudly, “Here come Old Madam He and Old Madam Sheng!”

He Hongwen’s mother struggled to sit up and tried to curtsy to the elders. Old Madam Sheng instantly stopped her from getting up and advised her to lie down and have a good rest.

With a look of displeasure, Old Madam He cast a glance at Madam Cao and Cao Jinxiu who were both kneeling on the floor, and shouted to maid outside, “Why are you still standing there like statues? Come here and help Madam Cao up. It's really an improper conduct. Don't you feel ashamed for yourself?”

She seemed to scold the maids but in fact, she made oblique accusations of Madam Cao's uncivilized behavior. Madam Cao blushed with shame, covered her face in her hands and slowly picked herself up. Cao Jinxiu stopped crying and sobbed quietly.

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Old Madam Sheng ignored them, reached out to pull Minglan to her and smiled, “What were you chatting about?”

Minglan obediently stood beside her grandmother and answered in a soft voice, “Just now Madam Cao said that she wanted to make her daughter the concubine of Brother He. Although it’s none of my business, I stayed here and listened for quite a while.”

Old Madam Sheng gave Minglan a stern look and then turned to Old Madam He, “My granddaughter used to come to He Mansion and play here, so she doesn't think of herself as an outsider of your family. But as an unmarried girl, it’s improper to be involved in your family affairs. If outsiders know that, she will be laughed at.”

“It doesn't matter. I did want to make Minglan my granddaughter-in-law.” Old Madam He smiled, “But it was just a joke. We have never exchanged written marriage proposal or made a distinct agreement.”

Old Madam Sheng patted Old Madam He gently on the arm and complained softly, “My dear sister, don't talk nonsense. We should take seriously the marriages of our grandchildren.” Then, she turned to Madam Cao and smiled, “Madam Cao, Old Madam He and I grew up together and often joke with each other. So, don't take seriously what we said.”

Feeling embarrassed, Madam Cao forced a smile and didn't know what to say. She glanced at He Hongwen and saw him staring at Minglan as if in a trance. Madam Cao immediately became furious and was about to say something to vent her anger but Old Madam Sheng went on speaking.

“… Madam Cao, you are a lucky dog. After His Majesty decreed a general amnesty, you were lucky enough to return to the capital. Besides, your relatives have helped you a lot,” Old Madam Sheng suddenly changed the subject with a gentle expression on her face and said in a flat voice.

Madam Cao’s heart sank at these words. Old Madam Sheng hit the nail on the head. Madam Cao's husband had been a guilty official before. According to the laws, even though they were pardoned, they shouldn't go anywhere but their hometown. In reality, some wives and children of guilty officials would secretly return to the capital. They would be fine as long as no one told on them. But if someone told on them, they would be fined or tortured.

Old Madam He came up to Old Madam Sheng and smiled, “You really did talk a lot. The ancestors of Cao family must have done many good deeds, so they are blessed by fortune. And in the future, they will be out of the depth of misfortune and their lives will go along nicely.” Old Madam Sheng sighed, “Yeah. God always bless those who do good deeds.”

Old Madam Sheng and Old Madam He echoed each other. Madam Cao was clever and understood what they meant. No matter whether Cao Jinxiu would become He Hongwen's concubine or not, no matter who He Hongwen would marry, it had nothing to do with Minglan. If Madam Cao dared to spread gossip about Minglan, Sheng family would tell on Cao family. Moreover, verbal statements were no guarantee. Sheng family and He family hadn’t exchanged written marriage proposal or made a distinct agreement. Even if Cao family told outsiders that Minglan would marry into He family, they would not benefit from it.

Madam Cao shut her mouth and decided to think twice before she spoke from now on. Suddenly, she realized that Old Madam Sheng seemed unwilling to marry Minglan to He Hongwen. Madam Cao's eyes glistened with delight.

“Well, we have tasted the Silver Bud-tea and visited your daughter-in-law. You even give us some gifts. We should leave now.” Old Madam Sheng took Minglan’s hand and walked toward the door. Old Madam He stood up with a smile and was about to see them off.

“Aunt!” A roar rang out.

All the people in the room turned around and looked at He Hongwen who stood erect and gritted his teeth with a look of determination. He fixed his eyes on Madam Cao and Cao Jinxiu and said in a firm voice, “Aunt, I will never accept Cousin Jinxiu as my concubine. I have always treated her as my own sister from childhood. In the future, I will continue to treat her as my sister.”

He Hongwen’s eyes reddened. Madam Cao felt bitterly disappointed and fell to the floor. Cao Jinxiu turned as pale as death and looked at He Hongwen in disbelief. Old Madam He and Old Madam Sheng smiled with satisfaction.

Minglan stood quietly at the door with mixed feelings. ‘I beat Cao family but I don't feel happy. When Sima Xiangru came back to Zhuo Wenjun from his mistress, did Zhuo Wenjun forgive him at once? Didn’t she give him the cold shoulder as a punishment? Anyway, I feel suffocated if I forgive him so easily,’ she thought with a grievance.

T/N: Sima Xiangru was a Chinese poet, writer, musician, and politician who lived during the Western Han dynasty.

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