Published at 24th of August 2019 09:47:19 AM

Chapter 133

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The Last Time (2)

Proofread by DragonRider

Many things would be easily destroyed by actualities. Rulan didn't have enough courage to defy her parents and the ritual law. In Dream of the Red Chamber, even though Jia Baoyu, who was dearly loved by Old Madam Jia, liked Lin Daiyu very much, he dared not express that he wanted to marry Lin Daiyu instead of Xue Baochai in front of his parents, Jia Zheng and Wang shi.

Since Molan had slipped out of the Sheng Mansion to seduce Liang Han, Hai shi had improved her vigilance. When she saw through Rulan's unwillingness to marry Gu Tingye, she immediately tightened security and made Sheng Mansion under close guard just like Guantanamo Bay detention camp. So, Rulan had no chance to meet with Wen Yanjing in private.

Rulan shed tears for several days and gradually calmed down but she was still in gloomy, downbeat mood. Wang shi and Hualan took turns enumerating the advantages of marrying Gu Tingye in order to persuade Rulan. They even asked Minglan to help them persuade Rulan in token of her support for the family decision. Minglan knew one of the great advantages of marrying Gu Tingye but dared not say it out. After a long hesitation with her face flushing red with embarrassment, she finally said, “Sister Rulan, just think, if you marry an ordinary man, Sister Molan will consider herself superior than you and laugh at you.”

On hearing this Rulan's eyes lit up. Since she was born, she had been at deep enmity with Molan. She was willing to prepare solid food herself, go to the front and fight as long as it could bring Molan a setback.

Wang shi and Hualan found great illumination in Minglan's remarks and instantly changed their ways of persuading Rulan. They kept praising Gu Tingye and telling Rulan that she could completely defeat Molan in status as long as she married Gu Tingye. It was effective and Rulan was gradually resigned to this marriage. ‘General Mansion isn't a living hell. It's not too bad to marry a powerful widower, and anyway Brother Jing is not necessarily a virgin,’ Rulan thought to herself.

Wang shi praised Minglan for her excellent work in persuading Rulan, and allowed her to go to Hall of Peaceful Ages to see her grandmother. Old Madam Sheng asked her to accompany He Hongwen to the gate. Last time Old Madam He came to Sheng Mansion and explained to Old Madam Sheng. After that, He Hongwen came to visit Old Madam Sheng twice but didn't see Minglan in Hall of Peaceful Ages. He sincerely made his apologies to Old Madam Sheng with his head bowed. His sincerity touched Old Madam Sheng. Although she didn't relent, her attitude towards He Hongwen gradually softened.

Minglan was walking along the metalled path from Hall of Peaceful Ages to the second gate. There were few people in the path. He Hongwen closely followed in her footsteps. Minglan gave a faint smile and felt that Old Madam Sheng, to some extent, was very lovable.

Old Madam Sheng, who was born of Marquis Yongyi Household, knew clearly that most noblemen were lechers. Men's lechery was anathema to her. So she chose a scholar, who won third place in national civil examinations, to be her husband. But she didn't expect that civil officials were the same lecherous as noblemen. Shortly after they got married, Old Master Sheng brought home a beautiful concubine and explained bashfully, “She is given by my superior. I couldn't very well turn him down. Please be virtuous and take care of her.” After the failure of her own marriage, Old Madam Sheng was disappointed with civil officials. So she tended to marry her granddaughter, Minglan, to a professional man, for example, He Hongwen.

“… Sister Minglan… Sister Minglan…”

A voice rang in Minglan's ears and brought her to her senses. He Hongwen looked at her with shyness and repeatedly called her name in a soft voice. Minglan composed herself and smiled, “What's the matter? Please get to the point.”

He Hongwen’s eyes dimmed, filled with disappointment. He lowered his head and remained silent for a while before he said slowly, “I know you are still angry, or you wouldn't have spoken to me like that.”

‘Yes, you are right. I have said all I wanted to say last time. Now I have nothing to say,’ she thought. However, she pretended to be friendly and said, “Brother Hongwen, you must have misunderstood me. I didn’t mean that.”

He Hongwen suddenly stopped and looked at Minglan with eager eyes, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat. He seemed very excited but couldn't utter a word. After a long time, he finally said, “Sister Minglan, I know you are angry with me, but please listen to me!”

Minglan also stopped, waiting for him to say something. He Hongwen took a deep breath and mustered up his courage to say, “…Although I’m not the cleverest man in the world, I know who I really want to marry. I always regard Cousin Jinxiu as my own sister and never have the amorous affection for her. As things stand, I don't have the heart to drive her into a dead end, so I have to accept her as my concubine. I'm sorry. But Sister Minglan, please believe me! He Mansion is just a shelter for Cousin Jinxiu. She can live there and I will ensure she is well provided for, but... That's all I can do for her!”

He Hongwen could not contain his excitement, talking incoherently about his feelings of helplessness. He had no choice but to accept Cao Jinxiu as his concubine. He made a veiled promise that he would love his future wife wholeheartedly. Minglan listened to him quietly. She wasn't moved by what he said and didn't say a word of irony to him. He Hongwen eyed Minglan's calm and unaffected face and felt dispirited. “Sister Minglan, you don’t believe me, do you?”

Minglan gave a chuckle, shook her head and said, “If you want me to believe you, you should say it with action.”

“Of course I will suit the action to the word.” He Hongwen flushed and his apex nasi was slightly oozing sweat.

“For example…” Minglan turned around, slowly walked on and continued, “When you are playing chess with your wife, Cousin Cao suddenly has a sudden headache or stomachache and send for you to see her, what will you do?”

He Hongwen smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. He walked along behind Minglan and answered, “I know I have little talent and less learning, so I will call in another doctor to see her. He will treat her illness.”

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“If Cousin Cao has an attack of her old illness every two or three days, it's impractical to call in a doctor every time. By then, will you go to nurse her?” Minglan asked.

“Since it is an old illness, we must have already prepared some medicinal herbs that can treat her illness. I will ask the servants to decoct the medicinal herbs and send it to her,” he answered.

“If Cousin Cao plays vertical flute and zither, recites resentful poems and then cries sadly, sounding pitiful, will you go to comfort her?” she asked.

“Playing a musical instrument is a refined activity of the intelligentsia, but she should keep control of herself and not disturb others. Otherwise, I will regard her as one who purposely makes trouble. I know she’s pitiful. But since Uncle Cao was exiled to the Liang Prefecture, she has lived a pitiful life. At that time, I didn't stay with her but she has been alive till now,” he replied.

Minglan suddenly stopped, fixed her eyes on He Hongwen and said in a cold voice, “Don’t play dumb! You know what I’m getting at.”

He Hongwen also stopped and stood in front of Minglan, his light brown face covered with uneasiness. “Sister Minglan, I know you have a grudge against me. That day I went to see Cousin Jinxiu. She was nothing but skin and bones, lying on the bed weakly. She didn't even have the strength to say a word, and she could only look at me with imploring eyes. I don't have a heart of stone. I couldn't bear to refuse her. So I agreed to take her as my concubine. But at that time, I also told her plainly that keeping her in He Mansion was all I could do for her. I will never love her or show great concern for her. If she dares to threaten me with death, I will no longer feel guilty.”

Minglan remained silent. He Hongwen took a deep breath, his chest heaving violently. “Sister Minglan, if she had died because of my refusal at that time, I would have been burdened by guilt and regret, and I would remember her for a lifetime…I, I don’t want to keep her in my heart. I only want to keep my wife in my heart.”

Minglan slowly raised her head and looked at He Hongwen who stood with his back to the sun and wore a sincere and nervous expression on his handsome face. Her heart was a little softened and she said, “After all, you two will live together in He Mansion. I'm afraid that you won't turn a blind eye to her.”

With an earnest look, He Hongwen said in a low voice, “Sister Minglan, I know what you are worrying about. But I have a discerning eye and I won't be cheated on. Fourth Granduncle of Zhang family is now travelling everywhere. He had worked as the family doctor in Duke Ling Household for a dozen years. Old Duke's concubines, children and grandchildren intrigued against one another, resorting to deception and fraud. Fourth Granduncle saw many instances. As a doctor, I know all sorts of tricks women play in the inner mansion.”

Minglan raised her eyebrows and said, “You know? I thought you blindly took pity on Lady Cao.”

He Hongwen smiled at her with embarrassment and said helplessly, “Not all of men are fools. Almost every man can see through a woman's ruse, unless he dearly loves the woman and is willing to be cheated on. I know you are a woman of decency. I trust you to take care of Cousin Jinxiu.”

Minglan stared at him for a while and smiled, “Maybe... you are right.” However, anyhow Cao Jinxiu would become a gap between them.

‘Can I trust He Hongwen? I don't know. Can he keep his promise? I don't know. But I know he has done his best to win the marriage between me and him. After all, he is just an ordinary man in ancient society. A wedding is just the beginning of the married life, and how to run a good marriage is the key issue.”

The warm light of the winter sun shone through naked branches which were slightly swaying in the wind. Minglan and He Hongwen slowly walked along the metalled path. The sky was bright and beautiful; the garden and the rockeries were tinged yellow by sunlight. Everything was quiet and peaceful. Cao family had left the capital. Rulan had given in to Wang shi’s persuasion. Old Madam Sheng basically made up her mind to marry Minglan to He Hongwen. It seemed that everything would go as planned.

However, a long time later, when Minglan recalled what happened this day, she suddenly realized that it was her last meeting with He Hongwen.

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