Published at 2nd of November 2017 12:39:13 PM

Chapter 22.2

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The Legend of the Concubine’s Daughter Minglan


Part 2

Studying like this, about three to five days have passed, Mrs. Zhuang tidied everything up then suggested to old madam, that she would teach the girls the arts of music (guzheng [1]), old madam Sheng did not agree at the beginning, afraid that she would exhaust everybody but Mrs. Zhuang confidently promised her that she would bring results. Minglan, who was resting inside the cabinet that had pearls engraved, overheard this conversation, came to a realization; no wonder Mr. Zhuang school fees are so high, it was worth every cent buy one get one free.

But free gifts aren’t all that good either; Mrs. Zhuang is a lot stricter than Mr. Zhuang; Mr. Zhuang didn’t assign homework and they could just sit through the lessons without being called up to answer questions but Mrs. Zhuang is petty about everything, in front of the girls is a seven string guzheng, Mrs. Zhuang would teach the ladies patiently one on one and they had to go through exams.

Having to learn all Do, Jiao, Shang, Wei and Yu [2] had caused Minglan to feel dizzy, both ears are hearing echoes, She finally understood that her body doesn’t even have half a bit of cells that have musical talent, This guzheng class also made Rulan suffer, especially since she does not have the patience like Minglan and could only pluck a few strings since morning, on the other hand, Molan has natural talent, she was quick to learn, played smoothly, after Mrs. Zhuang praised her, she practiced even harder, causing birds within ten miles radius to fly away.

But the guzheng has its highs and lows, in this era, the ultimate goal of most people is to have food to eat and clothes to wear, a number of people that appreciates the art of guzheng would most likely be lesser than the number of pandas in the ancient China, Minglan reflected about her identity has a daughter of a sixth grade official and thought that in the future, as long as her husband doesn’t critic her, not clingy and is accepting and observant then that’s enough to make her happy, then she would not need to ask him to be able to appreciate this kind of high-class art.

About a month later, Hualan sent the Sheng Household her first letter from the capital, old madam Sheng’s cannot see clearly, Wang Shi's is illiterate and there are rumors going around the young masters and servants of what the letter is actually is, so Rulan and Minglan worked together and roughly worked the letter out.

This was a peace letter, it is said that her married life is very happy, Yuan Wenshao is also quite considerate of her, but the original courtyard has only two rooms for young maidservants, it made Hualan’s felt very uncomfortable but ever since she had married Yuan Wenshao she started to ignore it. Her father-in-law Count Zhongqin was happy and dotes on his new daughter, but then her mother had not much reaction, only spoiling the older daughter-in-law. Later then she had known, that the original daughter-in-law was the master’s cousin -a young lady, no wonder she can’t get friendly with her but because Yuan Wenshao is quite famous outside, so in that low-key Bo Household she still had to give face, Old Woman and the palace stewards did not dare look down on Hualan, living here is still okay.

Minglan while feeling good, reads at the side, father-in-law is a powerful man in the Bo household, in the end, having his likes is definitely a good thing, normally, when a father-in-law likes his daughter is a good thing as long as he doesn’t take her to Tian Xiang Lou [3]!

After listening to everything, Wang Shi only let out a long breath, she knew that Hualan has always been picky; she would boast about one good thing when there are three benefits, now to say that it is estimated that her every day after the marriage would be very good.

"Parents relying on the eldest son is common, paying attention to the daughter is even more common, do not take it personally what the eldest lady said, had a good day with her filial piety in-laws, serving the husband..." Old Madam Sheng could not help but nags.

Wang Shi sighs and says: "I know this is the reason, but Hua’er since little was in the home of the head of the family, never called people over the past, and now... ah, to be divided later, after just coming to a new home, Anyway, Bo Household is a big place, Hua'er [4] –the couple to live their own day is also good, state son is also capable.”

If it’s the usual, old Madam Sheng will certainly say a few, 'parents in the absence of home' like the big reason, but she in the end also have a heartache since she also raise the small Hualan, a heart will just pass along, says: "Whether if one follow the elders and learn their rules or not, after the person part ways from his family, they would be on their own, but if one can send home some peace letter is much more important."

Time flew by and the Sheng Household was peaceful and eventless. Old Madam Sheng had tidied up the rules of the house, the major power in the household slowly returned to Wang Shi’s hand but people still had their own power in their courtyards and they would ask Old Madam Sheng whenever they had uncertainties. Upon seeing that the household was in order and the maids were able to manage the house better and were more obedient, Sheng Hong felt very satisfied. Only Concubine Lin complained. Regardless, Sheng Hong remembering Governess Kong’s words, stubbornly chose to ignore Concubine Lin even when the siblings, Changfeng and Molan, interceded. Sheng Hong would respond by standing his ground and scolding them.

Concubine Lin refused to let things be. A good few years of spoiling her made her get used to being spoiled, so she resorted to underhanded means like a sudden illness, a sudden resentment, a child crying, a sudden provokation but Sheng Hong in the end, had been sharing a bed with her for more than a decade so no matter how many schemes she used it would be no more than an old trick. Because of this, Sheng Hong had built an immune system against these tricks. He was reminded of back when he was young, when Old Madam Sheng was still serving him; she had been kind to him. Thinking of how their relationship became how it was now made him feel that he was lacking filial piety. This caused an emotional domino effect, resulting in him having an even colder heart towards concubine Lin and devoting his heart into his job.

Encouraging farming, dispatching merchants, within just three years of service under the Deng Prefecture's governance the place became rich, turned over a lot of taxes, made good performances and with the help of his good connections, there would often be people taking care of things from afar. When the three-year term expired; he would retake and score the evaluation test, rise to a fifth rank officer and assume position again. 

With the pride of an official and focusing on having a smooth career, Sheng Hong paid little attention to Concubine Lin’s moods but rather against the poorly tempered Wang Shi, after arguing with her a few times; he got used to it. Today, when he stood his ground, Wang Shi also had nothing to retort. Every time she made mistakes, she would be criticized by Sheng Hong.  'Not filial', 'disrespectful ', 'not virtuous', after all these retorts had become useless against Sheng Hong, Wang Shi had no strength to fight back while Sheng Hong again and again emerged victorious. On his normal days he would go to the young and beautiful Concubine Xiang and Concubine Ping to soothe his mood and guide his children’s school work; living quite leisurely.

Whenever Concubine Lin notices that the atmosphere was not right, she would go gentle on her schemes and did not dare to mention any request, spending almost all her energy trying to coax Sheng Hong.

Minglan concealed herself in Shou'an Hall with Old Madam Sheng accompanying her; a youngster and an elder coming together and spending their time harmoniously and laughing constantly. Every time Sheng Hong went to Shou’an Hall he felt that the atmosphere was very pleasing and comfortable, it relaxed his mind. The Old Madam was chatting more comfortable while sometimes holding Minglan’s embroidery works. This new feeling of sincere love was quite pleasant, plus with Molan and Rulan working together, Changbai and Changfeng also considered being successful in their studies and with the wife and the concubines also holding their tempers, at first glance, it was all quite harmonious. Sheng Hong felt a new sense of peace and prosperity.

This afternoon they would be attending Mrs. Zhuang's guzheng class, Minglan’s fingers had been hurting since this morning but Mr. Zhuang kept instructing endlessly; if this went on, there would be no time to rest at noon. Looking up with pity filled eyes; she found out that other than her and Changdong who was practicing writing, all the others were focused on the discussion.

The trending topic in the capital was about the third prince and the fourth prince. The Third Prince had worked his concubines hard, toiling day and night with little to no payback. Up until now he had still not been able to procure a son and the palace invited many a priests and monks; burning incense and praying every day. This attracted lots of attention from officers who were originally just on-lookers since the Fourth Prince’s only son was growing well, already starting to learn to talk. The Fourth Prince had an open heart and a fat body but a rather good temper, thus he held an attraction to the public.

The Emperor’s body was getting worse day by day, the debate about the next candidate had been heating up, and both sides had their own people wagging the flag and moving through the scriptures. It was all awfully noisy.

Mr. Zhuang spoke about a book called <<Confucius’s family language and the rituals of the west>>, inside the book was a sentence: ‘when the Crown Prince died, the Emperor didn’t give the crown prince position to his grandson (crown prince’s son) but instead named the Emperor’s other son the successor’[5]. A good teacher would try to link theories with these topics, plus this Mister had a heroic attitude so he threw out this topic so that students could talk about their own opinion – of whether the next ruler of the country should be the rightful heir (crown prince) or someone determined by merit.

At the beginning Chinghai and Changfeng opposed, thinking that speaking ill of the palace would bring about trouble, but Mr. Zhuang waved his hand, smiled and said: "There would be no problem, nowadays even the capital’s teahouse are often talking about this, let alone those princes, government officials and senior officials, discussing behind closed doors won’t attract any trouble. Besides what we are discussing is whether the next ruler of the country should be the rightful heir or someone determined; it has nothing to do with the government; we are all just discussing!"

A teacher’s word had great might in the Sheng Residence, so the students immediately joined the discussion. Both sides are very clear, Changbai and Rulan were naturally on the rightful heir side while Changfeng and Molan were on the determined side. Meanwhile Minglan was fishing in troubled waters [6] while Changdong abstained.

Changbai opened the debate with first implicitly proposing the previous Emperor Qin Ershi, Hu Hai, [7]who’s known as the Rotten Emperor; he wasn’t in the line of inheritance and had ruined the good dynasty. Changfeng quickly refuted it with the example of the dynasty in the hand of Emperor of Wu of Han – Liu Che the 10th son of Emperor Jing of Han, who was the oldest living son of Emperor Wen of Han [8]. Changbai countered by continuing reading the classic historical and immediately concisely pointed out Emperor Jing’s of Han love of the little Liu Che to the point of spoiling him and that Liu Che’s mother, Wang Zhi was appointed to become the next empress after the previous empress died. According to the customs of inheritance, it was justifiable for Liu Che to be the next one to take the throne; this was precisely the principle of direct inheritance. 

Changfeng’s heart thumped and Molan followed, warmly putting forward the famous fool Emperor Hui of Jin [9]; in a thin and soft voice she said, "... All civil officials and military officials know the wisdom of Emperor Hui of Jin, once he got the throne by being the crown prince, then came the chaos of Jia Nanfeng and the eight princes fighting for power [10], if the throne was only given to another prince, Jin dynasty wouldn’t be in the south [11], Big Brother, what do you say?”

Even if Rulan lacked theoretical weapons, she was still great at carrying the momentum, “How many foolish people such as the Emperor Hui of Jin can there be? It couldn’t be fourth older sister treats all concubine-born children as foolish, right?”

Then they continued citing many extreme examples like the Emperor spending a long time in promoting child’s growth in places, distressing narration of Emperor Yang’s tyranny to the people that had caused a lot of disasters,  then quickly counterattacking it with an example of Li Shimin’s (Emperor Taizong's of Tang) reign of Zhenguan era that was considered to be one of the golden age of China to blow the debate again, the second young master might not be as good as the eldest son but both sides were evenly matched. Meanwhile Mr. Zhuang thought that this is actually quite endearing; they all spoke like a pie - smooth. It was just that they were full of doubts.

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Talking for a long time made their mouths dry but then when he tried to find Minglan; he found Minglan leisurely sitting in the side, making him immediately observe Minglan’s situation. This caused Minglan’s eye to widen and freeze! If this time she pretended to be ignorant again, she would gradually be looked down upon by others and would think that her intellectual ability was not on par with the others. Too much cowardice in the life of the young lady, how that would end, she already had a good idea [12]. 

But of course, answering this would not be consistent with Minglan's character so she thought before she gave a smile to her siblings and Mr. Zhuang and then said, "I care only about the mind; cannot be stupid, but I have a problem in my heart but I can’t say it out, so might as well put on a show for people to see, count it as entertainment, how about that? But later, all of you better not say a word about it.”

Mr. Zhuang in good mood, gladly nodded with the others. Minglan called for Danju to come in, then whispered something in her ear. After Danju answered under her breath before proceeding to call three little maidservants, one of whom was the new maidservant, Yan Cao who was assigned to cut the grass at Minglan’s courtyard, while the other two were Rulan’s and Molan’s new maidservants.

Three little maidservants stood timidly at the front of the room and then kowtowed as a salute to the master. They then stood straight and glanced at each other in confusion.

Minglan warned them with three sentences, “Mr. Zhuang is now lecturing us, so today comment about our best and lowest of us, three sisters. Mr. Zhuang had just come in to lecture as recently and we are not good at boasting about ourselves. We’ll pay the three of you for the lip service that you would give and the one who says the best would be given a reward by their master!”

Can Yao looked pleasantly surprised at Minglan and the other two went to look at their own masters. Seeing the three ladies were nodding their heads, they affirmed that Minglan was telling the truth. Minglan smiled and looked at the several spectators and sternly said to the three maidservants: "The maidservant to talk first is Fourth Older Sister’s, then Fifth Older Sister’s and then mine. The three young maidservants, which do you think is the most virtuous, smart and has a good temper?"

The young maidservants in the end were still young and lacking. One by one they spoke; one said that Rulan practiced calligraphy every day and respected her parents; the other said that Molan learnt poems every day and had a soft demeanor; Can Yao said that at quite often at night, Minglan practiced embroidery. At the beginning they said things delicately and Minglan, at the side couldn't withstand it so she tries hard to encourage them. From time to time she would say mention things like that the reward would increase. This made them become more and more vigorous in talking and even start to get anxious and blush later on but they didn’t forget to point that the other side is nonsense; rebutting what the other maidservants say in between their personal attacks.

Minglan waved her hand; stopping them before they quarrelled and asked, "I ask you again, among the three of us sisters; who’s the oldest?" This time there was no objection from the three little maidservants, and they were whispering that it was Molan. Behind her, Minglan heard sounds of moving but ignored it and asked again, "Then among the three of us sisters, was is born from the legal wife?" This time Rulan’s servant answered loudly: "It's my lady." The others muttered vague replies.

Minglan looked back at the crowd and smiled. Mr. Zhuang's eyes showed signs of praise as he sent a small nod towards her. Minglan recognised that this was an indication of praise and cheerfully turned around. Changfeng looked at his brother, Changbai and they stared at each other for a while. It was Changbai who broke the stare first as he swiftly shifted his gaze to the outside and gave a smile. Minglan was incredible.

Sheng Changbai, this person, compared to all the people in the Sheng was different; with a silent nature, strictly upright attitude, accomplished although young and regardless of what books he's read, he was still conscious and experienced yet talkative, cheerful and flourishing contrary to Sheng Hong. It was said that he resembled the late grandfather of the Wang Household and Wang Shi had also said he had the face of her dead mother.

Today this smile, it was likely that even the younger sister Rulan and concubine Xiao would not enjoy this. Minglan held her hair to cool her neck.

At this time, Changfeng could not help but open his mouth, "Sixth Younger Sister is so wrong." Everyone looked at him, only to see Changfeng’s eyebrows were raised before he continued, "These little maidservants have just come in recently. They haven’t learned all the rules, how would they distinguish the wise and have a good temper? Naturally it caused a quarrel." Changbai did not speak. He only slightly raised his mouth as Minglan let out an 'oh' and said, "What Third Older Brother said is reasonable, what do you think?”

And then she went back and asked the three small maidservants. Minglan looked serious, "You are young and you do not understand the rules, but you have eyes, I come to ask you, between the three ladies, which is the best-looking, the most talented and is the most virtous? The total score came out.”

As soon as Minglan finished speaking, everybody began to laugh. Mr. Zhuang's body shook as he laughed and his papers crumpled in his hand. The others were more subtle, holding in much of their laugher. Even Changbai, though shaking his head, joined in the laughter. There was even a light laughter that was clearly not from someone in the room. It seemed to come from beyond the curtain behind Mr. Zhuang, undoubtedly some naughty servant who had snuck into that room without permission.

The paused their laugher as they looked strangely towards the curtain. Changbai said with a deep voice, "Who’s behind? How did you manage to trespass?”

In response, an adolescent walked out from behind the curtain. He was dressed in an long aqua blue shirt with its collar crossed and embroidered with silver thread. His hair, black as crows’ feathers, was loosely held together with a jade crown. On his waist was a cerulean jade belt with a moon white purse, covered with sparking blue beads made out of tourmaline, shaped like a gourd [13].  He looked as though he had recently been outside as his shoulders had several pink peach blossom petals.

Upon seeing him, Mr. Zhuang chuckled, "Yuan Ruo, why did you come here? What about your mother?”

The juvenile stood in front of Mr. Zhuang before cupping his hands and bowed. After rising his head  he said, "How do you do, sir, after parting ways in the capital, we can finally meet again today. My mother told me to wait outside yet, even after waiting for quite a while, you still didn’t dismiss the class. I, this student, was very anxious and could wait no longer, thus I secretly entered through the back door on my own accord. Hope that the seniors here would not mind.”


While saying so, he cupped his hands and paid respect to the Sheng children.  The youth’s deep red lips and white teeth created a gentle smile. His eyes were bright and eyebrows elegant.  His posture was as tall and straight as a bamboo. Overall his appearance was akin to the rarest of all flowers in the country, when people see him, all would say ‘such a beautiful boy!'.

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