Published at 23rd of January 2019 06:57:08 AM

Chapter 30

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Arguments Between Sisters and the Scheme of Their Dimu

Wang shi got into the hall and sat down in the center seat. Cai Pei immediately put an oval brass foot warmer with five circle rings and two “Fu” (“福” which means blessings) on opposite sides under her feet. And the three concubines came in after Wang shi but could only stand reverently aside. The three Lan sisters also stood up and lowered their head to show respect. Wang shi then casually raised her eyelids to scan all people in the hall, waved her hand and said, “Just sit down. It’s too cold now, poke the fire up a bit.”

The latter was said to the maid. Then Cai Huan instantly took a pair of tongs with crooked lines and put some fine charcoal into the eight-edged furnace made of cupronickel, on which engraved clouds and dragons. Soon after, the hall was much warmer. Rulan pouted and sat down beside Molan. Minglan knew the etiquette and sat down next to Rulan according to their age. And right in the opposite side of the room sat the three concubines. The seats of the three young ladies were big chairs with brocade covers while those of the three concubines were round stools.

It was the first time for Minglan to see the airs of a ‘legitimate wife, which made her immediately think of a leader inspecting the troops, and the only difference was that Wang shi didn’t shout that slogan “Hello comrades and thanks for your hard work, comrades!” Minglan, while thinking wildly, observed the concubines sitting in the opposite carefully. Although she hadn’t seen Concubine Lin for years, time left little traces on her, face still pretty and moves still enchanting. Concubine Xiang, though without outstanding appearance, was gentle and soft in spirit. And Concubine Ping was a real beauty with a small cherrylike mouth, curved eyebrows and gracile eyes, but somehow seemed frivolous and timid, showing that low-class spirit of hers entirely.

Their origins were: the daughter of an old friend, the maid of Wang shi, woman given as gift by a colleague, and the already dead Concubine Wei who used to be a girl of common birth. And these were basically all the ways to get concubines. Minglan couldn’t help exclaiming secretly to herself that this was typically “small as a sparrow but still has it all”!

“If you lack anything, just tell me.” Wang Shi said this to Minglan softly.

Minglan said jokingly, “With your words, I will bluntly come to ask for things.”

Wang shi smiled and said some other things with Minglan. Then she turned around, put on a serious face and asked solemnly, “Right before I came in, what are you girls arguing about?”

Minglan was shocked because Wang shi used the word “arguing”, indicating that she intended to put all the cards on the table. Minglan lowered her head to look at Molan while pulling her handkerchief uneasily, and Concubine Lin sat there with a mocking smile. Minglan knew she was used, so she confessed in a low voice, “Madam, please do forgiven us and it’s all my fault. I was late on the first day of greeting and sisters were just teaching me some rules and disciplines.”

Wang shi glanced at her with surprise and thought that the Old Madam did have her way to teach girls. Then she mused for a while and rebuked Molan and Rulan, “You two are the elder sisters! Mere scolding won’t demonstrate your competence nor your identity. Since you knew that today was the sixth young lady’s first time here for daily greeting, then you should remind her this morning when you girls were visiting the Old Madam, rather than putting on airs of elder sisters after she made mistakes!”

Even as direct as Rulan got the implication of these words. She swallowed the laugh and jeered, “You’re right, mother. Failing to remind our little sister, in what position can you scold her?”

Molan lowered her head with face reddened out of rage and said nothing to defend herself. And Minglan couldn’t help peering at Concubine Lin, only to find her looking as usual. Then she admitted Concubine Lin was really experienced. Back at the Hall of Peaceful Ages, she had heard that no matter how arrogant Concubine Lin was, she never set herself against Wang shi publicly and never said or did anything improper, but she did have her ways to irritate Wang shi and make her lose temper first. In this way, even if Sheng Hong knew all of that, Concubine Lin got nothing to be afraid of.

Today, it was a rare and good opportunity for Wang shi to show how she loved the girls as their legitimate mother, so she said in an amiable manner, “You’re sisters and why always be so aggressive every time you see each other? Unlike you sisters, I was not this privileged to have a learned teacher impart lore in your ages, but I do know that it’s once-in-a-life time blessing to be siblings. Do be friendly to and love each other. When Kong Momo hit your palms with plamer, she told you that you’re one as family and all will be punished for mistakes even made by just one of you. That plamer has been put away but do not forget the pain.”

Wang shi sounded so solemnly that the three Lan sisters all stood up and bowed as a gesture of receiving the admonishment. Wang shi felt so good about herself and with a wave of her hand came two maids about 13 or 14 years old from the inner chamber, one wearing a pale rosy coat in middle-length under a cyan waistcoat and the other an emerald green long cotton-padded coat under a ginger waistcoat.

They, with heads lowered reverently, walked up to the middle and then bowed to Minglan. Wang shi nodded slightly, turned to Minglan and said, “The maids serving you now are given by the Old Madam, good and capable but too young. And Cui Mama has to take leaves from time to time to take care of her family. Therefore, I allocate Yin Xing and Jiu’er to you. They are older and more prudent.”

Minglan smiled in her mind and thought this finally came, but luckily, she already knew how to deal with it. Although she had anticipated it, she couldn’t let that out, so she acted like she was really surprised, “Madam, how could I accept these two capable maids and make you short of servants?”

Wang shi smiled, waved her hand and said gently to Minglan, “I planned to let you move into the Luxuriant Pavilion, but Old Madam aren’t willing to part with you. So, that leaves you only the humble House of Clear Dusk which is small and can’t accommodate too many servants, but I won’t treat you differently from your sisters. And even with these two maids, you’re still several maids less than your two elder sisters.”

Rulan held Minglan’s arm closely and said with a smile, “Mother, you should have allocated maids to my Sixth sister earlier. In this case, I don’t have to worry that if we go visit her, there would be short of people to serve!”

Wang shi seemingly glanced at her daughter angrily and blamed kiddingly, “I thought you’re concerned about your little sister, but it turns out you’re only thinking about how to make yourself more comfortable!”

Rulan, endearingly flicked her tongue out, smiled lovingly. And Concubine Xiang and Concubine Ping also smiled to join in the fun. Then Minglan thought it was the right timing, so she said obediently, “If so, all I could do is to thank you sincerely, madam.”

Wang shi took hold of Minglan’s small hand and said affectionately, “Although these two maids are still young, I have been guiding and teaching them for years, so they are good at all kind of work inside and out. Just rest assured and let them serve by your will.”

Minglan, with a grateful and convinced face, said, “Those serving you are surely good. Therefore, I just can’t respect them enough. How could I be not assured of them?”

Then they talked for some more time before Wang shi dismissed them. Rulan was so delighted that she passed by Molan with head held high. Molan just followed her without saying a word, then followed Minglan and at the very back the three concubines. They separated right at the gate. Rulan yawned slightly and went back to Luxuriant Pavilion, maybe wanting to get some more sleep; Concubine Lin was going back to Forested Pavilion but before leaving she tipped Molan a secret wink as if giving her some hint. Concubine Xiang and Concubine Ping silently went to their own rooms. Minglan walked towards House of Clear Dusk and Molan towards the Book Pavilion, taking the same route.

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At this time of year, the chill of the Winter was still exerting its power with lake covering a thin ice, dead leaves hanging on the branches and snow scattered here and there on the ground, so desolate and quiet. The two of them walked without talking to each other for a while. And finally, Molan couldn’t refrain herself any longer and mocked, “You’re really blessed. Madam appreciates you so much. Being brought up by the Old Madam surely makes you different. I can’t enjoy such good treatment even by flattering!”

Minglan signed and for her this was a very tiring morning, so she really didn’t want to bother educating a little girl. However, on a second thought, she figured it out that she’d better make herself clear in case there would be endless wars. Therefore, she stopped, turned around and ordered, “Yan Cao, you lead the two sisters back first and let Dan Ju help them settle down; Xiao Tao and Qin Sang, go around the lake and find me some cobblestones. My fish tank is so big that adding more gadgets can make it look better.”

All the maids said yes and went away. Then Minglan turned to Molan and stared at her bluntly. Molan was in a daze for a while but as smart as her, she soon got it. Although she didn’t vent out all the complaints and emotions piled in her heart completely, it was improper to spit that all out before maids, so she directly dismissed all those around her and walked with Minglan to stand under a dead tree.

“Sixth sister, what do you want to say?” said Molan coldly, holding a furry leather handwarmer and her eyes following Xiao Tao and Qin Sang who was picking stones at a distance. Minglan lifted her eyebrows and said seriously, “Sister, you’re a clever person. And I’m not planning to beat around the bush with you. Let’s just open up and speak our minds.”

Hearing this, Molan was really shocked and took a glance at Minglan, only to find she was taking a deep breath and continued, “Ever since our big sister married, there are only the three of us staying at home. To be frank, be it appearance, talents or even the status in our father’s mind, you’re all up at the top.”

No one didn’t love nice words, let along a teen-age girl. As expected, Molan’s rigid expression softened a bit. Seeing this worked well, Minglan added, “The only thing you lack is just a legitimate status……” Hearing this, Molan changed into a sullen face. Minglan dared not to stop here and she went on immediately, “If Madam was your birth mother, you can be even more blessed than our big sister. But it’s all destined and sister, you’re just lacking a little bit luck.”

The eyes of Molan revealed how unresigned she was. Although she hummed lightly, she still let go of that hard feeling stirred up by the quarrel. Then Minglan brought up the subject carefully, “Sister, frankly speaking, I’m also a bastardy. Except that Old Madam takes pity on me, I can’t compete with you in any aspect. There is no need for you to be mad at me.”

Molan was shocked and then looked Minglan in the eye, only to find her staring firmly back. Minglan still had her baby face, but her childishness disappeared completely. Besides, her black eyes were so calm as the deep lake and she was as elegant and refined as a real grownup. Molan hesitated for a while and said, “Sister, please don’t think too much. How could I become mad at you? I was just a little bit talkative today.”

Molan didn’t know why but she felt her imposing manners weakened and the anger she had before due to that argument disappeared.

Minglan knew that Molan didn’t want to admit it, so she didn’t say too much about it. She just said with a smile, “Teacher Zhuang has said that all things in this world on the end are related to ‘gains’ and ‘losses’. We’re both born of concubines, but you get your birth mother, Concubine Lin, and your full brother, our third brother, to protect you. Compared to me, you really get the upper hand and I can never compete with you as for ‘gains’. Besides, you have outstanding appearances, as we can all see that out, and high aspirations; and you know what Old Madam likes and dislikes and being brought up and taught by her, I only want to lay low and live my own life. So, your ‘losses’ also has nothing to do with me. In this case, we totally can get along with each other agreeably, right?”

Hearing this, Molan thought a lot. On one hand, she felt proud; on the other hand, she felt she had been seen through but got nothing to refute Minglan’s words. Therefore, she just tried to cover it up by sneering, “You get so many things to reason with me. Back at the hall right before Madam, you really demonstrated how eloquent you are!”

Judging from the look of Molan, Minglan knew she was convinced but just reluctant to admit it. So, Minglan continued with a smile, “Face is as important to man as bark is to the tree. No matter how useless I’m, I have to think for Old Madam. If I was scolded on my first greeting to madam, what others will say about Old Madam who has been fostering me all these years? Just like you wanting to save Concubine Lin’s face, both born of concubines, we never want to be looked down, don’t we?”

Molan was so astonished and looked Minglan up and down carefully, like she was meeting her for the first time. Molan always thought that she herself was eloquent and Rulan, if without any assistance, was always unable to outargue her. But today, she not only couldn’t find one word to refute Minglan, but even felt her words quite reasonable and to the point. She was so proud and at the same time so humble, so unsatisfied with her innermost feelings revealed. Hearing Minglan speaking slowly, her voice gentle and childish, she was not even a bit agitated.

Watching Molan kept changing her expressions, Minglan knew she had achieved what she wanted today. That was why it was easier when talking to smart people because as long as you spelled out the “gains” and “losses”, they would accept it without hesitation. If it was Rulan and once she acted on impulse, it would be totally impossible to reason with her.

Minglan turned around, relaxed her stiff face to some extent and watched Xiao Tao and Qin Sang pick stones with a light heart. Somehow, the still chilly wind now was nice and cool to her. And even the two tall but bare osmanthus fragrans trees in the Hall of Peaceful Ages made Minglan feel warm and gentle inside. Anyway, she never expected Molan to treat her sincerely and she just hoped to live in peace with her. What mattered was that there were people who truly loved and cared about her, no matter in her previous life or in her present life.

Finally, God didn’t treat her, a half martyr, too harshly.

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