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Published at 18th of January 2019 06:58:20 AM


Chapter 29

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No Sanctuary Will Last Forever, so Face the World Alone

Minglan knew clearly that the benefits of living in the Hall of Peaceful Ages lied in not only the improvement of food, clothes and living conditions but also a soothing pace of life. She didn’t need to be bossed around by others and lived a comfortable and free life. For these years living in the Hall of Peaceful Age, Minglan had never been spited by Wang shi and seldomly talked with siblings. Every day she enjoyed her accompanying with Old Madam Sheng, reading, writing or doing needlework in front of her and sleeping next to her at night.

Every time Rulan felt envious, she had wanted to make some troubles for Minglan but the journey would be confronted by a series of obstacles—the gate of the Hall of Peaceful Age, Fang Mama in the principal room, and Cui Mama in the wing-room. By the time she finally arrived at the Pear Chamber to catch Minglan, she found Old Madam Sheng was chanting Buddhist scriptures next door. How could she find fault with Minglan especially when she was even exempted from her daily greeting to Wang shi by Old Madam on the pretext of Minglan’s young age and poor health.

Since moving into the Hall of Peaceful Ages, no one had dared to annoy Minglan or gave her a supercilious look. Old Madam Sheng’s love and caring for Minglan was well perceived by the latter and Minglan was truly grateful for it. However, since Molan moved into the Luxuriant Pavilion, Minglan had the feeling that her happy days were coming to an end.

“… The girls are growing older, so they should live in their own rooms. Since the Luxuriant Pavilion have a vacant room, why not let Minglan move in? Then she can spend more time with her sisters. Nobody knows when they can meet with one another after getting married.” Wang shi said with a smile to Old Madam Sheng the day after Changbai came back home passing the provincial exam.

Minglan, practicing calligraphy in the inner room, heard it, and her heart missed a beat. She took a glance at Danju, who was sitting facing Minglan and grinding the ink for her on the brick bed, and found Danju was also a bit shocked. For some time, silence hovered the outer room and only Old Madam Sheng’s low sound of coughing was heard. Fang Mama said smiling, “That makes perfect sense, Madam. Just yesterday Old Madam mentioned with me that we should let Sixth Young Lady live alone…However, you know, my Madam, thanks to Sixth Young Lady that the Hall of Peaceful Ages has turned livelier throughout these years. Though Old Mama’s health is getting better…”

Fang Mama paused her sentence, leaving an almost obvious implication. Wang shi looked a bit embarrassed, “It’s indeed me being negligent. Of course, Old Madam’s health is most important; yet if others know in our family only Minglan doesn’t have a house of her own, they may misunderstand me as a mean mother…”

Fang Mama responded at once, “It makes sense. Not only do the sisters need to spend more time with one another, the young ladies have to learn to take care of their own house affairs as they grow up. It’s impossible to be a little child accompanying Old Madam forever. Old Madam Sheng also mentioned—why not clean up the row of vacant rooms east to the Hall of Peaceful Ages and let Sixth Young Lady move in? Besides, it’s not far away from both the Hall of Peaceful Ages and the Luxuriant Pavilion.”

This was proposal satisfactory to everyone, so Wang shi agreed. She immediately arranged servants to clean up the rooms. Minglan nervously came out of the inner room and walked to Old Madam Sheng. Lowering her head, she took hold of Old Madam Sheng’s hand and gently shook it. Old Madam Sheng gestured the girl onto the brick bed and held her tenderly in arms with pity and love. Only after a long time did Old Madam Sheng started to talk, “After all, you have to learn living by yourself, disciplining all the servants, learning account management, and getting alone with sisters and brothers…I can’t protect you for a lifetime, my girl.”




Minglan looked up at the wrinkled face of Old Madam Sheng and the aging eyes turning grey. Feeling a bit sad, she suddenly began to shed tears and buried herself in grandma’s arms, saying, “… I’ll behave and never bring any disgrace to grandma.”

......

The boudoirs dwelled by young ladies were mostly of southern style. Northerners preferred open and spacious houses, so in the north, independent courtyards were most popular. The courtyard on the east side of the Hall of Peaceful Ages was formerly a resort house for snow and lake appreciation, and the size of it was no bigger than half a Luxuriant Pavilion. Wang shi had it cleaned up three times in a low but Old Madam Sheng still didn’t like it, accusing it of being too simple to live in. After the situation was learnt by Sheng Hong, he immediately hired bricklayers and carpenters to repaint and repair the courtyard from inside out until the dawn of the Spring Festival when Old Madam Sheng finally nodded satisfactorily and pronounced Minglan’s moving in after the Spring Festival. After all this, everyone in the Sheng Mansion knew Sixth Young Lady Minglan was the apple of the eye of Old Madam Sheng. Therefore, even if Minglan moved out of the Hall of Peaceful Ages, no one would be daring to turn a cold-shoulder on her.

For this reason, Minglan had a depressed Spring Festival. When know-towing to the ancestors’ memorial tablets, her eyes were watery; when watching fireworks, tears dropped out of her eyes. Every day she held Old Madam Sheng’s hands, unwilling to release. Even when sleeping, she stayed in her grandma’s bedroom and her face was always wet by tears when she woke up. Whenever seeing this, Old Madam Sheng sighed but remained silent.

After the first lunar month, Old Madam Sheng picked a warm bright day and Fang Mama collected her fellows to clearly record all Minglan’s belongings, preparing to move. Minglan bade farewell to Old Madam Sheng and left the Hall of Peaceful Ages, intermittently looking back every three steps. The Hall of Peaceful Ages was her first and very likely the only sanctuary in this world where her grandma loved her with all heart. However, no sanctuary would last forever. After all, one had to face the world on one’s own.

The day prior to moving to the new house, Minglan went to visit Sheng Changbai, holding the new fan cover made for him. She hoped he could give the new house a name. In fact, she already thought of a bunch of names such as “Bamboo Lodge”, “Alpinia Park”, “Autumn Freshness” and “Paddy-Sweet Cottage”, sounding more and more genteel, but at the thought of the fate of those short-life house owners, she supposed it’d be better to veer away from those names.

Receiving his gift, Changbai was inspired at once and waved the brush, writing down a name—House of Clear Dusk.

There were three large rooms facing south. The one in the middle served as the hall and living room. The left one was bedroom and right one study room. On each side of the large rooms was a side room with corridor rooms on both front and back which were prepared for female servants. This place was very close to the Hall of Peaceful Ages and also surrounded by the gardens outside the Hall of Peaceful Age. The two places were connected by a winding corridor. In case Minglan cried, Old Madam Sheng could fire-rescue her immediately. Therefore, Minglan was greatly touched by grandma’s love revealed by this special design.


The basic servant group for Sixth Young Lady was Cui Mama, two woman servants, four to six girl servants and several male ones for physical work serving in the outer rooms. The group was far less extravagant than that of Molan and Rulan. However, considering the House of Clear Dusk was small and Minglan feared that greater number of people would cause more troubles, so she quite enjoyed the fewer servants around her in the name of being modest. In addition, Sheng Hong had been cherishing his fame as an official and unwilling to act extravagantly. Therefore, the monthly allowance for the young ladies living in Sheng Manson was two Liang (a unit of weight, about 80 grams in feudal China) of silver, which was just the account on the surface. In fact, Rulan had Wang shi to support her, Molan was sponsored by Concubine Lin, and Old Madam Sheng sent extra money to Minglan every month. Everyone knew the situation and just never confessed in public.

On the day of moving, Old Madam Sheng was sitting in the hall and the sisters and brothers all came to congratulate Minglan. Brother Changbai brought a flower vase as crystal as jade made by Ru Ware (a rare variety of chinaware). In the vase, there were several tender branches of red plums; Rulan’s gift was a carved marble pen holder with flowers and birds painted on it; Changfeng gave her a whole set of the Classic of Mountains and Oceans; Molan’s gift was a hand-written couplet and a painting of fisherman angling for fish drawn by herself; The last gift was from Changdong, who shyly took out a whole set of bed curtains for four seasons embroidered by concubine Xiang. The four seasons curtains were in pink, green, blue, yellow respectively and delicately embroidered with splendid patterns such as flowers, birds, fish and insects. Noticing that Changdong looked really shy, Minglan came near to his ear and whispered, “Tell Concubine Xiang, I like them very much.”

Little Changdong spread a smile at once.

Early the next morning, Minglan broke her habit of sleeping late and went to greet Old Madam Sheng at the Hall of Peaceful Ages. Finding that Old Madam also had a pair of swollen eyes, the two held each other and couldn’t stop chatting and talking with each other. Old Madam Sheng checked Minglan thoroughly from head to toes three times as if she might lose three pounds after a night living outside the Hall of Peaceful Ages. Old Madam kept asking the granddaughter whether the warm room leaked wind, whether the floor heating functioned properly, or how warm the brick bed was.

Wang shi, sitting next to them with a cup of tea in her hand, looked complicated. Many years ago, when Wang shi hadn’t fallen out with Old Madam, Wang shi had been an obedient daughter-in-law for years. She knew well that actually Old Madam Sheng was a person hard to please. Her cold and proud temperament made her easily irritated by one more joke, annoyed by a bit more hospitality, and felt offended by a little excessive caring. Even during the time when concubine Lin was most favored, she wasn’t too intimate with Old Madam. Hence, Wang shi had been unwilling to visit the Hall of Peaceful Ages to bear with the cold-shoulder. She wondered which incense Sixth Young Lady burnt that so to Old Madam’s liking that she showed such affection to the girl. Earlier Wang shi ignored Liu Kun’s wife’s advice to move Minglan out, but now this advice made sense by deeper consideration.

If, in the future, Minglan was appointed as her legal daughter, she would need to put on airs of a legal mother—cultivating emotional bonds with while lecturing her as supposed. In addition, the girl was growing up, so if she continued staying at the Hall of Peaceful Age where Qi Heng constantly showed up, her fame would be affected. More important was that Wang shi found out suddenly that under Old Madam’s education, Minglan turned to be a girl with proper manner and improved learning and needlework. On contrary, her own daughter Rulan was still a naive girl as she had always been, focusing her attention on fighting with Molan and blowing up without any improvement. If Minglan moved out and spent more time with Rulan, the latter would sure be affected in a good way. In addition, Wang shi could also enjoy the reputation of raising up a good daughter.

Thinking of this, Wang shi’s mood was much better. She took a sip of the tea, feeling quite content. Having three daughters greeting her looked indeed much more grandeur.

On the second day living in the House of Clear Dusk, Minglan started to fulfil her obligations. After having breakfast in the Hall of Peaceful Ages and asking Danju to stay at home, she brought with her Xiaotao and Yancao to greet Wang shi in the main courtyard. She saw the two sisters were already sitting in the main room. Right in front of her was the brick bed covered with brocade and cotton sheets. Molan and Rulan were sitting opposite each other, intermittently giving each other a cold eye, like a tortoise and a green bean.

[T/N: “王八看绿豆,看对眼了” Literally it says that when a tortoise sees a green bean in front if its tiny green eyes, it would immediately be so much attracted that it could even get its eyes off from the bean. A Chinese proverb that describes two individuals sharing the same rotten tastes.]


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Minglan sighed and said to herself, this finally began. She walked to the middle between them and smiled, “Good morning, sisters. I’m late.” While saying, she secretly moved to Rulan’s side. It was that Old Madam talked a bit longer with Minglan and the Hall of Peaceful Ages was far from here. But by her standard speed of 800 meters’ running, she could have made it here on time. Yet the ladies of this age shouldn’t take a slightly bigger step. She could only close the door and secretly practice calisthenics and yoga for physical workout.

Molan immediately sneered, “Sixth younger sister is the apple of the eye of Old Madam. What does it matter even if you’re late? Will Madam punish you for being late for a while?”

Minglan touched her sleeves to smooth them as if smoothing her own temper, and said in a low pace, “Why is fourth elder sister being so bad-tempered? As you said, if Madam doesn’t punish me, it means she doesn’t have the guts; if she punishes me, Old Madam will be upset. Don’t you think your words embarrass two of our elders?”

Rulan’s eyes were wide open and her face turned to Minglan, eyes full of disbelief and secret joy. Molan was choked on what Minglan said. As a time-traveler, Minglan might not remember but Molan knew clearly what a coward and pushover Minglan had been at the age of five. Molan pushed her around not just once, and Rulan also bossed her about numerous times. Since Minglan was brought to live in the Hall of Peaceful Ages, they didn’t hang out together for several years. Even if encountering once in a while, they just greeted politely. In the two sisters’ minds, Minglan was just a stupid and cold-feet coward.

Mulan’s eyes turned sharp at once, “What did you say? How dare you slander me!”

Minglan smirked to herself, Molan was so much like concubine Lin who looked like a vulnerable lady but malicious inside. After all, how was it possible that they were now enjoying their days if they were really vulnerable? Minglan smiled a bit, “Oh, it seems I misunderstand you. You just didn’t want me to be punished by Madam.”

Molan’s anger caused her inner injuries. Rulan’s mouth was wide open out of surprise. She joyfully held Minglan’s arm and said with an intimate tone, “Sixth younger sister used to be spared the greetings to mother at Old Madam’s request due to your health. It doesn’t matter you’re late for the first time. Just now concubine Xiang served my mother for breakfast, and Liu Mama has staff needing to be solved by mother. The concubines went with them and don’t come back yet. It doesn’t matter.”

The enemy’s enemy was a friend. This was an idea Wang shi taught Rulan. Usually, in the fight and bickering with Molan, she lost seven out of ten times. Now landed an aid, Rulan was in high spirits immediately. Minglan didn’t know the secretive details of the whole plot, but she knew the last thing to do in side-choosing was to constantly change sides like a waving grass. In view of the death of concubine Wei, she and concubine Lin wouldn’t be able to get on well.

As Rulan had an ally, she kept chitchatting with Minglan about the delicious roe deer meat that she would send some to Minglan later on and her newly received Nine-Nine Cold Dispelling painting that she’d like to jointly appreciate with Minglan at another time. “You used to live with me. What a pity that we aren’t so close since you moved to the Hall of Peaceful Ages! It will be best that we live together.”


Molan was already calmed down, gently sweeping tea leaves with cup lid, and teased, “Fifth younger sister must be joking. Sixth younger sister has led a comfortable life with Old Madam, enjoying best food and treatment. How great it is! She must be unwilling to stay in Luxuriant Pavilion. Alas, speaking of it, I’m so unfortunate not be able to move into the Hall of Peaceful Age. But you, my dear fifth young sister, you’re much luckier and blessed than us. How come Old Madam didn’t choose you that year?”

With regard to eloquence, Rulan was no rival to Molan. Rulan was good at dirty cursing but when it came to complicated subtle sarcasm, she was so incapable that she would always be choked on a sentence like that. Her hand holding Minglan’s arm immediately tightened, making Minglan lament for her hurting arm. Minglan retorted, “Fourth elder sister is so funny. By then, fifth elder sister and Madam loved each other so much that she didn’t want to leave Madam. This was the reason why she was put in a dilemma. You, my dear fourth elder sister, indeed had greater filial piety to wait upon Old Madam yet Old Madam considered it too cruel to separate the mother and daughter, so she picked me.”

Reminded by this, Rulan burst into laughter, “That’s right. Fourth elder sister was filial, that much willing to leave concubine Lin, but Old Madam wasn’t hard-hearted enough to do that!” Then she let go of Minglan’s arm, after which Minglan hurriedly drew back her poor chubby arm.

Molan stood up, looking at Minglan, and said word by word, “How dare you discuss elders and elder sisters like this!”

Minglan kept smiling and said, “When did I discuss them? Why doesn’t fourth elder sister specify which part I said is wrong so that I can correct myself?” While secretly in heart, she thought, “Find fault in my words if you can. I don’t think you’d be able-minded to do that.”

In her previous life, the judge, an elder woman, claimed, “The so-called court is a legal site to bully people. In debates, legal clauses are quoted, seemingly targeted at the problem other than the people involved, but in fact the target is exactly the people involved while they cannot refute. That year the handsome lawyer Yao Yiyi liked almost could make the plaintiff dead with anger, but the lawyer had been able to keep a solemn and earnest face.

Molan glared at surprisingly with the big beautiful eyes. Minglan looked back at her calmly. She didn’t intend to fight with Molan, but today since she entered the room, Molan had been unforgiving and aggressive with hurting words. If Minglan took it lying down, she would not only be despised but also had to get prepared to be bullied every single day. Showing claws was just an indicator that she wouldn’t offend others unless otherwise offended. Though she had no siblings nor mother, she didn’t entirely have no one to support her.

The two girls stared at each other, and the air was full of flames. Rulan was excited with glaring eyes. Minglan turned around, pretending to be afraid. She stood up, walked to Molan, slightly gestured to greet, and said, “It’s all my fault. Haven’t I come late, sister wouldn’t have to bicker with me. Don’t be angry at me, fourth elder sister. Please accept my apology.”

Rulan cursed secretly Minglan for being a coward and resisting for only such a short time. She was about to roll up sleeves and join the fight when the door curtain was picked up by Caihuan who said, “Madam is here.”

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