Published at 7th of December 2019 11:30:13 AM

Chapter 182

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Minglan, having directly ignored their grievances, took someone to open the storeroom. First, she registered all the subjects in the book and arrange them in different categories. After that, she told the servants to move out lots of stuffs such as the tripods, stoves, porcelains, gold vessels, jade vessels, enamels, bronze vessels, screens and the jade caving scripture according to the list she had drafted before. She also took out twenty to thirty bolts of fine cloths and gave them to the needlework room in order to make new summer clothes for everyone in the mansion. After the servants had known about this, they got very cheerful instantly. The clothes they had worn in the last year had all been bought from the clothing shop. Not only did the clothes have inferior materials, they were also not fit at all-- In this ages, the garment industry hadn’t been fully developed.  

When thinking of the storeroom, Minglan got angry again. Yesterday when she had opened the storeroom to have a check, she had smelled a faint scent of the medicine. After she had bypassed a few large rooms, she finally found a pile of precious medicinal materials in a corner. There were ginseng, angelica, rhinoceros horn, calculus bovis, musk, corn cervi pantotrichum, cordyceps sinensis, tiger bone, os pardi, monkey bezoar, testiset penis phocae, fel ursi... etc. All the medicines in great abundance were about to fill half of the room.

Minglan only gazed at those precious medicines in a trance. Some medicines had already lost part of their properties because of where they had been placed. What a waste! Then she put a query to Gu Tingye indignantly about the cause of this. However, she never realized that Gu Tingye only replied her joyfully, “...There are tiger bones and fel ursi? Perfect! My friend Chengqian is going to garrison the Miao territory. His knees haven’t been recovered from this injury before. The southern territory was wet and full of parasitic infestation. I was thinking of presenting him two doses of tiger bone cream. Don’t forget to fetch me the tiger bone tomorrow!”

Minglan was speechless. This man had completely ignored the key point in her words. She wondered if he was exactly like this when listening to the emperor.

While Minglan sighed and shook her head, she sorted out all the medicinal materials to register them on the book. Her hard work was not in vain. She found a few pieces of fat and stout old mountain ginseng and then sent the biggest one to Old Madam Sheng. She also sent some medicines and tonics which were beneficial to the pregnant women and the newborn babies to Hai shi and Hualan.

As Minglan was busy dealing with the medicines, she suddenly realized that it was already a quarter to one o’clock in the afternoon and she hadn’t eaten the lunch yet, which was against her daily health-preserving routine. Also, her afternoon nap would also be influenced, which annoyed her even more. As a result, she declared sternly, “Today’s official business is over. Everything can be wait until tomorrow.”

After Minglan had cleaned up, she sat by the small round table while looking at the whole table of dishes. Only after Minglan had taken a sip of the soup did she feel comfortable. As she put down her spoon, she saw Xiaotao leading an elder servant who had a food box in her hand.

The servant who was around forty years old looked tall and strong with big eyes and bushy eyebrows on her face. That was a plump woman. The clothes she was wearing were rather clean and tidy. The looks on her face showed that she was a straightforward person. After she had entered into the room, she gave her obeisance to Minglan gingerly. Then she took out a dish from the box and put it onto the table. A green lotus leaf covered the blue and white porcelain plate which was in octagonal shape. When the leaf was uncovered, the room was suffused with delicious smell.

“Madam, this is the lotus scent steamed ribs with glutinous rice. I have already used the ginger water to remove the blood and the fishy flavor and preserved the fresh ribs in the salt for two hours according to your orders. Then I stir-fried the ribs with scalding oil. At last, I put the ribs and the glutinous rice which had been softened by the water as well as the leaf which had soaked in the rice wine into the food steamer. After two hours, the dish was ready. But I still left it in the food steamer to preserve the heat and only took it out just now.” The servant had a hoarse and loud voice but still tried her best keep her voice down, in order to sound obedient.

Seeing the color and the shape of the dish, Minglan nodded slightly. The servant seemed to let out a sigh of relief after that. After Minglan had tasted the dish, she put on a satisfied smile on her face. And after that, the servant finally relaxed her shoulders.

“Well done, Mama Ge.” Minglan put down her chopsticks and said with a smile, “The most important thing for this dish is merging. The taste of the ribs should merge into the glutinous rice. The taste of the glutinous rice should merge into the ribs. The fragrance of the lotus leaf should merge into the whole dish. The salting procedure should be completed. The ribs and the glutinous rice should be entirely steamed to make sure of the crisp and mellow taste. After this dish was served on the table, the glutinous rice and the ribs will collapse slowly.”

With beaming smile on Mama Ge’s face, she said, “Madam, thanks for your instruction. I am an old woman without any education. Please pardon me for that.”

“It doesn’t matter if you have been educated or not.” Minglan took a sip of the tea to rinse her mouth, looking extremely elegant and gentle. Then she continued, “The kitchen is an important place. Now that I have already let you take charge of the kitchen which provides food for me, I only hope that you can make all-out efforts. Please take seriously of your post.”

Mama Ge chuckled while bending down to answer Minglan. Then Minglan added, “I don’t have any other requests. But the food has to be clean, the staffs should be clean and the accounts should be clean! In a word, everything should be clean especially the things that Master and I will eat. If any accidents happen, I won’t hear any excuses from you and you will be the first to bear the brunt!”

On these words, Minglan’s face looked super cold and serious. In the meantime, with utter devotion on Mama Ge’s face, she made a promise to Minglan in a super loud voice, which even cracked the porch.

“All right, I’ll send a few maids and servants to be your assistants. You can dismiss yourself now. This dish tastes great. Prepare another plate for Master tonight.” Minglan waved her hand and said that. Then Mama Ge bowed constantly and left.

Seeing Mama Ge going far, Xiaotao stepped forward to set the dishes on the table while saying in a low voice, “She is so fat.” Minglan laughed out and said, “All the chefs are like this. Even if the food doesn’t make them fat, they would still become plump because of the oil fume they smell in everyday.”

“However, she is good at her job.” Xiaotao, feeling the ribs with glutinous rice quite tempting, said, “No matter what kind of dish you asked, she was capable of meeting your most of your needs.”  

Seeing there was nobody around, Minglan changed another pair of chopsticks to put a piece of ribs in Xiaotao’s mouth, saying smilingly, “Duke Ling’s family which she used to work for was famous for their luxury living style before they were sentenced. Mama Ge is too frank and impatient to deal with the secret accounts. So she was pushed aside to the lower-class kitchen. Now I don’t have anyone better than her, so I’ll just let her cook dishes for me for the moment. I have her whole family in my hand anyway.”

As Xiaotao chewing the tasty food, she uttered the words ambiguously, “Don’t worry, Madam. Sister Cuiwei will come back from Jin Ling after a short while. Then you’ll have the best cook! And those old women won’t gossip about that!”

“Time really flies. It’s like she has just married yesterday. But now she is already a mother.” While thinking of Cuiwei, Minglan couldn’t help letting her mind wander. Then she came back to her sense and said, “What did those women say last time? You can tell me the rest.”

Speaking of this, Xiaotao was in high spirits. As honest and simple as she looked, many people liked to talk with her without any scruples. Therefore, Xiaotao was always able to collect many gossip news. As for the ability of fishing for information, no one could defeat her in this. These days she had had close contacts with Mama Lai and the other three Mama from Marquis Ningyuan’s mansion and got lots of information of Gu’s familiy.

“Mama Hua is the child of the servants in Marquis Ningyuan’s mansion. Though she is forthright in character, she is still willing to answer my questions. However, she never talks too much or makes idle talks about Gu’s family. Mama Tian likes to talk. Before I started speaking, she already chatted everything with me. But she also... knows how far to go. As for the other two women, they didn’t want to talk anything with me.” As Xiaotao was reporting that, Minglan ate the meal slowly and listened carefully.

“It doesn’t matter. I’ve already assigned tasks today. You can go check on them after a few days. Perhaps they will talk more. Now, tell me about the things I have told you to ask them.”

“Sure.” Xiaotao started to recall her memories right away, “First I asked about Concubine Gong. She used to be a lady of a scholar’s family instead of a maid and is related to Madam Yu somehow. After her family has run into a disaster, she sought refuges with Yu’s family and became Madam Yu’s maid. But the two women were more like sisters. Even their names sound a bit similar. Afterwards, Madam Yu made her a concubine of Master-- Those were all Mama Hua’s words.”

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“What did Mama Tian say?” Minglan, being quite intrigued, stuck the chopsticks against the bowl.

Xiaotao retold vividly of Mama Tian’s words while laughing excitedly, “Mama Tian said that she only knew that after Madam Yu had made a scene at the outside, Master insisted to divorce her the moment he came back. After Old Master refused Master’s proposal, Concubine Gong was then promoted to a concubine.”

Minglan replied with a word ‘oh’-- Yu Yanhong had wanted to beat and curse Manniang and her children, Gu Tingye had been irritated by that. So Yu Yanhong had used Gong Hongxiao as a compensation.

Xiaotao, having stood for so long, felt her legs a bit sore. Minglan who had sensed that pulled her over kindly and let her sit down. Then Xiaotao continued, “Later on Master left the capital and Madam Yu deceased. The other girls who have served in her room all went away except for Concubine Gong and a woman called Qiuniang. They have claimed that they would wait till Master came back. So Old Madam Qin let them live in a small yard ever since then.”

Hearing that, there was a dim light being flashed in Minglan’s eyes. She had already noticed what would happen to the women who had slept with the masters but never became the wives.

Normally, if that master was humane enough, he would give that woman a huge amount of money as her dowry in order to help her find a reliable man to marry. However, she could only choose her bridegroom from the people in the low social status such as the male servants, the farmers, the petty bourgeois or the actors.

But if that master was an indifferent and ruthless man or she was kicked out of the family because she had made some mistakes, her fate would be so uncertain.

Gong Hongxiao was a clever woman. As for Qiuniang, she probably had stayed in Marquis Ningyuan’s mansion only because of her deep love to Gu Tingye-- Thinking of that, Minglan smiled lightly.

“Then about Rongjie’er.” Seeing the leisure look on Minglan’s face, Xiaotao continued, “She has been sent to Marquis Ningyuan’s mansion about three years ago. At that time, Old Master Gu has just deceased and our Master was out of the capital. Madam Shao and Old Madam Qin were so kind to let Rongjie’er stay. At first, she lived with Madam Shao since she could be a playmate of Xianjie’er. About a year ago, Old Madam Qin suddenly asked Concubine Gong and Qiuniang to raise her. The spendings of Rongjier’s food and clothing was just the same as Xianjie’er’s. Those are all Mama Hua’s words.”

Minglan smiled again. This Mama Hua really was an interesting woman with funny speeches.

“Oh, I also heard about things about the other families.” Xiaotao felt thirsty after the long-time talking. Then Minglan served a bowl of soup to her smilingly as an encouragement, “That Fifth Old Madam truly dislikes Eldest Madam Yang. The latter is the daughter of a friend of Fifth Old Master. She and Fifth Master have been engaged with each other before they were born. She was a lady from an official’s family at first. However, her father has broken the law dozens of years ago. Not only did he get demoted, most of his family property was confistcated. And Fifth Old Madam just disagreed with that engagement ever since then.”

Minglan took back the empty soup bowl and said with a smile, “I see. Fifth Old Master must be the one who insisted on keeping the promise and let Eldest Madam Yang marry into their family.”

Xiaotao gave a thumb-up to Minglan while praising, “Madam, you are so intelligent!”

Minglan shook her head with her mouth twitched. Eldest Madam Yang’s married life was not easy. Even if she had already given birth to a boy, Fifth Old Madam still disliked her.

“Fifth Old Master, on the contrary, values Eldest Madam Yang a lot. There were a few times when Master Yang got into trouble at the outside. He was only able to get away with that because Eldest Madam Yang has begged to Fifth Old Master for mercy. However, although Master Yang is not a promising man. He does have a good son. This kid is highly cultured and always praised by his tutors.” That was the last words Xiaotao remembered.

With a bowl in Minglan’s hand, she put the chopstick in her mouth and smiled-- Almost all the good-for-nothing fathers had successful sons. God, hope this law wouldn’t work backward.

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