Published at 2nd of November 2017 12:40:12 PM

Chapter 25

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Chapter 025 - Chapter 25: Two ways to clean up a battlefield


Mrs Liu helped Wang shi onto the embroidered silk mattress of her Xiang Fei couch, covering her with a thin blanket, and pushed a gold-threaded python pillow [1] behind her. Following their movements, Rulan took a few steps forward and urgently said, “Mother, won’t you say something about this? I…” 

Her mother waved her hand listlessly, “I know what you’re thinking, but… it’s no use. Pingning Junzhu does not think our family is worthy.”

Rulan’s eyes widened, “How can that be possible? From what I have observed, Junzhu niangniang [2]seemed rather cordial.”

Wang shi smiled wryly, gazing at Rulan who still wore a clueless, innocent expression before growing serious, “Think hard about what Junzhu said to your sixth sister. It is time you learn how to use your brains instead of acting rashly out of ignorance.”

Standing with her head bowed, Rulan thought for a while and gradually understood. She muttered to herself, “Could it be?” With that understanding came a rush of dejection into her heart.

Mrs Liu could not bear to see the utter disappointment in Wang shi’s face, “That Junzhu niangniang’s is cunning - deliberately seeking out our Sixth Young Lady and making use of the fact that the Young Lady is a child. Like this, her words would cause no offence, whilst still conveying her intentions effectively.”

“But… but…” Rulan tugged on Wang shi’s sleeve in desperation, “I...I… Yuanruo gege [3]…”

Wang shi threw off her daughter’s hand and spoke sternly, “What do you mean Yuanruo gege? What is his relation to you that gives you the right to call him gege? From now on, you must call him 'Young Master' in accordance with the rules of propriety… No,  that’s not right! You must never see him again. Mrs Liu, in the future, as long as Qi Heng is visiting, you must prevent Fifth Young Lady from taking a single step out of Weirui Pavillion [4]. Or she shall be caned with a bamboo stick.”

Rulan, used to being spoiled and never having seen Wang shi so fierce, was stunned, “M... mother, how can you…”

Wang shi suddenly sat up and with a, expression severe said, “This is my oversight. I have always thought of you as a child, and felt it would be alright to pamper you. I did not consider the fact that you are growing up little by little with each passing day. When Qi Heng arrived yesterday, I heard your words and was moved by them. That was why I allowed you to have your fun. Look at yourself now! What are you wearing? This is not something a proper young lady, a legitimate daughter of a household’s Madam, should be dressed. It wouldn’t look out of place on one of those despicable women who only know how to vie for men’s favour.* You are truly an embarrassment to me! If you refuse to listen, I shall slap you till you die and save myself the shame of having you out in public.”

*Editor MangoDragon: basically she’s saying that her daughter is dressed like a hoe/vixen…

Rulan had never been reprimanded like this before. She was so frightened that her tears kept flowing, and upon hearing those ugly words she collapsed at Wang shi’s feet. Through her uncontrollable sobs, a few words could vaguely be discerned, “Why… are you saying this to me…”

Wang shi stared at her daughter whose body was starting to become more womanly, growing up, and knew she could no longer give in to her pleas. Mildly, she said, “Mrs Liu, bring this girl a damp towel to wipe her face… Rulan, don’t cry anymore. Come sit down properly and listen to what your mother has to say.”

Sniffing hard and still crying pathetically, Rulan leaned against her mother. It seemed as if Wang shi was reminiscing about her maternal home, “All these years, your mother has taken an untold number of wrong turns, and made who knows how many, costly mistakes. Some were the result of schemes meticulously planned by others, others due to my own immaturity. Thinking back, I ought to have treated your grandmother’s advice like the priceless treasure that it was. It’s a pity that I never took her words to heart, that is why that wench of Linqi Pavillion [5] is still around today. Now you must listen to me.”

The girl wiped away her tears, her body was still a little shaky, as she began to listen. Wang shi was silent for a few moments before saying, “Marriage is a very important affair. Since  time immemorial, it has been arranged by the order of one’s parents, on the basis of the matchmaker’s words [6]. It’s just not becoming for a young woman to go seek out her own match and promise herself away. This sort of shamelessness may be expected of lowborn women, but as a proper legitimate daughter, how can you engage in such behaviour? Marriage is the union of two families and thus, the two parties should be of comparable status. If he doesn’t wish to marry you, because he finds our family’s status is too low, would you be brazen enough to continue pestering and fawning over him?”

Rulan, who had always been a proud girl, flushed and said with some heat, “Of course not!”

Wang shi felt a little better. “You are still young. For now, enjoy your time as an unwed maiden in this home. In the future, after your marriage, you’ll realise how lucky you were now. I am here for you. So, just settle down and live a comfortable life as a proper Young Lady. Is that not a good option?”

Rulan thought of Qi Heng and was still reluctant to give up, “But Yuan...Young Master Qi has always treated me very well... Perhaps Junzhu niangniang will change her mind?”

Wang shi’s anger returned in full force. She seethed, “You stupid girl with poor judgement. He treats you with politeness, and you’re so beguiled that you’ve lost all your common sense. Think back to your past interactions with him, does he not treat all three of you, sisters with proper decorum? In fact, he showers Minglan with the most warmth! But that is also because she is young and childish. Besides, who he marries will be his parents’ decision. It does not even seem as if he considers you a good match. Both Lord Qi and the Junzhu naturally wish for in-laws of equal status. Why would they want you? Stop indulging yourself in such flights of fancy, or I’ll tell your father and have him give you another caning!”

Rulan began to cry again, calling out, “Mother… mother…” while stomping her foot.

But her mother had really hardened her heart this time, and pointing one finger at Rulan, scolded, “Where is your pride? As a Young Lady of an honorable family, keeping a young man so close to your thoughts after just one or two meetings…!!! How can you be so thick skinned and shameless!”

Rulan stood still, dazed by the tongue lashing. Humiliation and indignity welled up within her, but she could not refute her mother’s statement. In the end, she turned and ran away, crying. Mrs Liu wanted to chase after her, but was stopped by Wang shi who shouted out of the window, “Let her cry! This utter embarrassment and troublemaker! If she comes to her senses after crying, then all will be well. If she doesn’t, I’ll beat her till she learns how to behave properly and gains a sense of shame! Go ask around outside, ask if any family’s Young Lady interferes with her own marriage arrangements. Those of proper households leave it up to their parents. They will neither speak nor ask of it, and if they do, it ought to take them half a day to work up the courage. Even if she is young and ignorant of the ways of the world, she could always use her elder sister as an example, and learn how to conduct herself with dignity and propriety. What evil have I committed in my past life to deserve such a shameless, silly girl as a daughter? I should just beat her to death! End this cleanly!”

Rulan heard these words and only sobbed harder. She fled into her room and buried her head into her blanket and pillows, crying as if the world was ending, refusing to emerge again.

Wang shi remained where she was, chest heaving with exertion.

Mrs Liu approached her, attempting to soothe her, “Madam, you’ve become too angry. The child is young after all, and is used to competing with the Fourth Young Lady in all things. It is likely that, while she does know how she is expected to carry herself, she observes how her sister behaves and follows along just to challenge her.”

Wang shi snarled, “It’s all that nasty, lowborn wretch’s fault! She has led my child astray!”

Mrs Liu served her a fresh cup of tea, watching as her anger subsided a little before asking carefully, “About the Qi Family… Madam, are you truly leaving things be? Theirs is a very good family.”

Wang shi shook her head, “As a mother, I understand what reservations the Junzhu’s Household has. She only has this one son. With his excellent character and family background, which household would not be willing to have their daughter marry him? Although our Master is capable, this family is not of the noble class. It is neither one of the truly old and influential ones, nor is our Master a member of the emperor’s inner circle. The Qi Family with their hereditary title of Duke... how could it be possible for them to think we are worthy?”

Biting her lip, Wang shi continued, “and these words may be cutting, but they are true. If the daughter who came to me today was Hua’er, I might even try my luck in fighting for a chance. But as for Ru’er…” She sighed and continued, “it isn’t that I want to criticize her, but when it comes to both talent and learning, how can she be a good match for Qi Heng? Even though she is my daughter, I must admit this, what more can I expect of the Junzhu? Let it go, there’s no point chasing after something that can never be. Even if we have nothing else in life, we must at least have some pride. Ru’er may never become well versed in the politics of everyday life. I shall just have to find her a proper family that will not mistreat her!”

Mrs Liu smiled, “Madam has changed and is now so insightful and reasonable. If Master were to hear your words, he would surely be delighted.”

Wang shi said with a sigh, “After half a lifetime of suffering, I’ve finally come to appreciate this match that mother and father chose for the blessing that it is. My mother-in-law is reasonable and understanding, my husband is capable and ambitious; though we may not be extremely wealthy, we have enough for good food and clothing. If it weren’t for my own carelessness, that wench would never have had the chance to step through our doors! And then, considering the situation my elder sister is in these days, ah, I am truly fortunate to have avoided that fate. To think I was once envious of her husband’s high status. Even with my sister’s intelligence and resourcefulness, her days in the Kang Family are hard. If I were in her place… well… it’s best not to speak of it.”

Mrs Liu took away the empty teacup, then returned to continue stroking Wang shi’s back to help her relax, “Back when Madam was four or five years old, the Old Master was sent to the Northwest regions for an Inspection Tour. Old Madam was so determined to follow him, she entrusted Madam to your uncle and left. Old Uncle and his Madam were truly kind; they did not have a daughter of their own, and were very close to the Old Master, which is was why they pampered Madam like their own precious child. However, at the end of the day, as a merchant family their experience and insight cannot match up to that of Old Master and Old Madam. All of Eldest Young Lady’s skills were taught to her by Old Madam, while Madam was only reunited with your parents at the age of ten. The blame does not lie with you, in this matter.”

Wang shi replied unhappily, “It’s hard to say anything for sure in this world. As a child, I used to feel inferior to Elder Sister in every way. When the time came for us to marry, I made a huge fuss because her husband’s family was of a far higher status than mine, and was even almost disciplined by Father for that.

It was at this time that Mother explained to me that the Sheng Family was simple. The Old Madam of this household was not blood-related to its members, so, of course, she would not put on airs and make life difficult for her daughter-in-law. With my future husband being such a self-motivated man, with a little help and support, my life would surely be good. All I had to do was behave like a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law. On the other hand, although my brother-in-law was well educated and of nobility, he was not a patient man. In fact, he was a pampered son, and very spoiled by his family. My mother did not like him and it was only because the Grand Old Master of the Kang Family was on such close terms with my father, that my sister’s marriage came to be. Looking back, my mother’s words were indeed wise.”

Mrs. Liu laughed and told her, “It seems like the saying is really true: All ladies come to appreciate their mother, only when they become mothers themselves.”

Finally, Wang shi smiled, “I even had a huge fight with my elder sister over her husband - a fight which she won in the end. It’s a hilarious memory now! If I can have half my mother’s good judgement when the time comes for me to chose my own son-in-law, I shall be satisfied.”

“Madam, what do you think Fourth Young Lady will say to Concubine Lin? And will Concubine Lin try to put in a good word for her in front of Master?” Mrs. Liu asked suddenly.

Extremely amused, Wang shi told her, “Oh, I would be glad if she were to try! If she does, there’ll be a good scolding awaiting her.”


For once, Wang shi’s prediction came true.

That night, Sheng Hong left his government office and went to Linqi Pavillion to rest for the night.

“...come again?” Sheng Hong asked, confused, “Mo’er wants to continue attending Teacher Zhuang’s classes?”

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Concubine Lin pouted playfully, “I know Master is trying to avoid unnecessary talk [7]. It does not matter so much for young Rulan and Minglan, since they never had much interest in the books in the first place; but Molan is different. She is very much like you, Master, and has always been sensible and well-read from a young age. Now that she is attending Teacher Zhuang’s classes and has begun to enjoy the experience, how can we stop her? I’m here to ask if she can continue going for them, perhaps with a folded screen for modesty’s sake if that truly is the issue.”

Sheng Hong frowned, “It is inappropriate. Molan is not a boy after all. Does it really matter if she is erudite and well versed in the literary arts? Will she be taking the Imperial Exams? As a girl, it’s already good enough that she has studied for these few years. From now on, staying at home and focusing on improving her skills in needlework should be her priority. Little Minglan just made me a dark coloured money pouch yesterday. It was dignified and attractive; very well suited for daily use. It is time Mo’er learns to sew too.”

Dark Colored Money Pouch

Hearing this, Concubine Lin gritted her teeth, forcing herself to keep calm. Slowly, she walked to his side, and began gently massaging his shoulders, helping to relax tense muscles. She breathed close to his ear, filling his nose with her fragrance and said sweetly, “Whether she studies or not may be a small matter, but why does Master not think a little further into the future? Think of Young Master Qi, think for our Mo’er…”

Sheng Hong turned around, staring incredulously at Concubine Lin. The heady sensation and the heat he had begun to feel cooled down rapidly, “What does the Young Master of the Qi Family have anything to do with Molan?”

She had not notice the change in his tone, and continued to speak, “I’ve observed that Young Master Qi is a talented young man who comes from a good family. He was even drawn deep into a discussion with Mo’er today on poetry and literature. They seemed to get along very well. Perhaps...”

As if struck by a bolt of thunder, Sheng Hong leapt to his feet and pushed Concubine Lin’s soft and rosy hands away and gave her a deep assessing stare. She felt very  exposed under his gaze, and all her hair was standing on end. Forcing a smile, she said, “Darling Hong, what are you staring at?”

“Look at how confidently you speak! The heart of the matter is that you want Molan married to a young man of a noble family.” Sheng Hong laughed coldly.

Concubine Lin clutched her own sleeve tightly, “Darling Hong, what do you mean? Could it be that I have said something wrong?” Her voice trembled.

He stepped away from her and waved the maidservants away, then closed all the windows before turning back to Concubine Lin. Quietly, he said, “Qi Heng’s maternal grandfather is Marquis Xiangyang, who once protected the Emperor at the price of his own leg. The Emperor conferred the title of Pingning Junzhu upon his only daughter in thanks. She was brought up in the palace, and is amongst the most favoured there. Her husband, Qi Daren [8] is an official of Third Rank, Secondary Class, and holds the most coveted position of department head for the Salt Distribution Depot. Only the Emperor’s most trusted are ever appointed to that position.

Besides that, the eldest son of Duke Qi is a sickly man who, to date, does not have children of his own. If this situation does not change for the better, the House of Duke Qi may even fall on Qi Heng’s shoulders in the end,” Sheng Hong exhaled in one go, before taking a sip of tea and continuing, “the sons of nobility have always been either lazy incompetents or spoiled bullies. Young men like Qi Heng who are motivated, intelligent and capable are few and far between!”

By this time, Concubine Lin’s eyes were shining and her heart beating with excitement; almost wishing that she could have Qi Heng as her son-in-law right away. But suddenly Sheng Hong’s expression changed, and with a disbelieving stare at Concubine Lin, he exclaimed, “With Qi Hong’s family and talent, his parents’ status and titles, all the daughters of the rich and the powerful are his for the picking. Back in the Capital, the matchmakers have all but flattened the doors of his home. How can a lowly ranked Zhizhou like me stand a chance?”

His words were like a bucket of ice water poured over Concubine Lin’s head, and the fire burning in her heart dimmed. Still, she did not give up, “There may be many young ladies from noble families in the capital, but how many of them are as outstanding as our Mo’lan? She is pretty and talented, capable of composing both poetry and song. How can it be said that she doesn’t stand a chance?”

“You truly don’t know your own place! He is the legitimate heir of titled noble family! Have you ever heard of someone like that marrying a concubine’s daughter as his wife, the future Madam of his family? Please, use some common sense even when you’re fantasizing! Tell this to anyone else, and they’d be laughing till their bellies ache! Even the Legitimate Madam’s daughter Rulan might not be worthy in their eyes, what more the lowly daughter of a mere concubine?”

Sheng Hong said this with a smile that did not reach his eyes. His cruel words were like a knife, slicing the glow of life from Concubine Lin’s body, leaving behind a pathetic and downcast shell. She could not hold back her tears, “Master, please stop saying this. Why do you find a need to keep speaking of the status of a proper wife and concubine to hurt me so? As I said back then, this concubine birth mother of hers will surely be a black mark in Mo’er’s life; it will be I who holds her back. I was right!”

Sheng Hong snorted, “Hold her back? It is your own great aspirations that is the problem here, setting your sights higher than can ever be possible. Stop dreaming and come to your senses! Even if you aim high, there must be some limit. What is Molan’s background and what is the other party’s background? Weigh them both carefully! You might as well say you want Molan to be Empress. Such impertinence!”

Concubine Lin thought fast, though her heart throbbed with resentment. She stood beside Sheng Hong and said softly, “Dear Hong, this suggestion is not solely for the benefit Mo’er and I…. Just think, with in-laws as powerful as the Qi family, will your future career path not become far smoother as well? The Sheng family will benefit from this. Master… why not go and try?” Her voice was low and seductive.

His heart lurched, “Try? You want me to propose a marriage [9]?”

She observed his reaction and nodded, her eyes coy.

Sheng Hong took a deep steadying breath and said furiously, “Then I shall tell you the truth, it was Junzhu niangniang who reminded us that there should be a prudent reserve between the sexes and hinted that we should not have our girls present for the classes! Her intentions could not be any clearer. She does not wish for her son to interact with the girls in our family! And besides, even if she does change her mind in the future, that chance will still not fall to the lowborn ones.”

Concubine Lin had not considered this possibility. Shocked, she asked “It was Junzhu niangniang who…? How could this be?”

Sheng Hong analyzed the situation and grew more and more afraid at the thought of what could have happened. He pushed Concubine Lin who was clutching his sleeve to the floor, “And here you wanted me to try asking? If I had gone to propose a marriage between our families and was rejected, tell me how I can ever hold my head upright before Qi Daren again? You ignorant woman. I cannot bear the thought of your stupidity; only considering your own petty gains instead of this family’s future! What would happen if I was convinced by your words, and ended up ruining my career and reputation?”

Concubine Lin knew she had made a mistake; fear drained the colour from her face. She looked up at him and said hoarsely, “Master, Mo’er has always been outstanding. Not only is she pretty, she also knows her poetry well and speaks with grace. I am always worrying for her future, that she will be disadvantaged in finding a suitable match. Master, she is your daughter, you can’t leave her to fend for herself!”

This woman was refusing to listen to reason, her muddle-headed talk frustrated Sheng Hong, who slapped her hands aside, "As long as you are not greedy, and do not hanker after things above your station, I will see to it that Molan finds a fair match. One where she will surely not be disadvantaged! Never-mind, never-mind, never-mind, I shall call the servants and have them empty the west side-compound of Weirui Pavilion. Tomorrow, Molan will move in to stay with Rulan, and all her future affairs shall be managed by Old Madam. If she stays in Linqi Pavilion, I fear you will lead her astray. If she were to learn from your excellent example, then she can only be a concubine in future.”

Hearing this, Concubine Lin could hardly take another breath and almost fainted. She hugged Sheng Hong’s leg and begged piteously. But Sheng Hong thought of his daughter’s future and hardened his heart. Kicking her out of the way, he strode from the room. She, however, remained in a heap on the ground.

Molan, who had been hiding within the room, pushed aside the curtains and emerged. Her face was streaked with tears as well. She gently helped Concubine Lin to her feet.

Mother and daughter stared at each other with watering eyes for a long while. Finally, Concubine Lin clasped her daughter’s hands in her own and said, “My child, don’t listen to your father. He is a man, and doesn’t understand how complicated the situation is between us women. If it comes to status from birth, yours is certainly lower than Rulan. But when it comes to looks and talent, you are ten times, no.... a hundred times better than her. You both have the same father so why must you remain inferior to her in the future? If you do not fight for yourself, how can you have anything good? Do you want to live like this for the rest of your life?

Tears clouded Molan’s eyes, “But… But if father were to find out I will surely be punished…”

“Silly child, just be a little smarter. Find some excuses, take advantage of the situation, and your father will never notice. My dear child, you are beautiful and talented. In time, Young Master Qi will definitely grow to care for you… Don’t cry! There will be benefits to living in Weirui Pavilion. Keep an eye on Rulan, whatever she has that you don’t, just go to Madam and ask for them. If Madam does not give it to you… Hmph, I shall see to it that she gets into trouble! Didn’t Old Madam say that all the Young Misses of this household are equally precious before their marriage?”

In Concubine Lin’s usually gentle and expressive eyes, a look of viciousness flashed past.

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