Published at 29th of January 2019 03:36:22 AM

Chapter 31

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A Report of Analysis on Living Conditions

“Did she really say that?” Concubine Lin had changed her attire, wearing a half-new, dark blue brocade jacket embroidered with orchid. On her hair was a waterdrop-shaped pure gold hairpin mounted with beeswax. She leaned against the bed board, holding a book while her eyes fixing on her daughter next to the tea table.

Molan nodded, slowly leaning to the other side to rest, but looked uncertain. Concubine Lin’s eyes shimmered with a bit appreciation. She smiled, “I didn’t expect a sparrow should lay phenix eggs. A person as cowardly and timid as Concubine Wei should have such a smart daughter. Old Madam indeed has her way of fostering girls.”

When the curtain moved, a maid came in holding a small tea tray of black pear wood with gilding cup on it. Molan received it and took a sip, praising, “This tastes good! The cubilose Madam sent to the Luxuriant Pavilion is small and broken and tastes very insipid.” Then she ordered the girl out. Putting down the cup, she said in a low voice, “Mother, do you think we can believe what Minglan said?” 

Concubine Lin smoothed her hair on the temples and snorted, “Yes, we can but that also depends. I know Old Madam’s temper. In her eyes, rich families cannot raise noble people. If Minglan also thinks the same way in the future, she then will pose no threat to you, but this is not certain. Judging by what happened these years, Old Madam spoils the girl so awfully that she should be active again and no longer abstain from meat! Even her temper turns vibrant. Afraid of not able to live until sixth young lady gets married, she tries all means to maintain healthy.”

Molan was reminded of something and said, “Mother, today Madam sent two maids over there, is it….”

Concubine Lin looked at Molan, eyes fully of pride, “This is my child. How clever you are to know the implication by a little hint! Since Minglan moved to the Hall of Peaceful Ages, the old woman never pretends to be lofty and spoiled the girl to such an extent… Making new clothes this day, and forging new jewelries the next. Jade Treasure House’s hairpins, Glaze Pavilion’s jades, Auspicious and Peace’s silk, fuling, cubilose, gooses, ducks were all taken to the Hall of Peaceful Ages as if they were free of charge. The expend not covered by monthly allowance is paid by herself and never gets involved with public account, so Madam cannot make any comment about it.”

Molan thought of the decoration in the House of Clear Dusk. Though there weren’t too many pieces, all were delicate and antique, the value of which could be figured out by a single glance. She could not help but be grudging and envious. Concubine Lin also got more irritated while listing everything, so she smirked, “Hum, I really misjudged her, thinking she is a benevolent and chaste woman who gave all the businesses to a son not of her own and retired to practice abstinence from meat and pray to Buddhas. How can I know she has saved cards and keeps put on an ugly air of my great benefactor? But for her pretending to be poor, I might have had a rich dowry and married to whoever I want. If she hadn’t hidden it from me, I wouldn’t have to…”

This time, Molan didn’t reply. Looking at her angry birth mother, she only stretched the corners of her mouth and said to herself, “Your family name is Lin while Old Madam’s is Xv, the Mansion is Sheng. Why would Old Madam take out her own money to make your dowry?”

Concubine Lin cast down the book, straightened her shoulder and sneered, “Hem. Anyway, it is good that…In these years, Old Madam’s extravagance on sixth young lady has caught Madam’s attention. However, the Hall of Peace Ages is tightly guarded like a prison that Madam can neither allocate her hands there nor buy off the servants, so Madam has no idea whether Old Madam possesses a fortune or how much she owns. Thinking from all perspectives, sixth young lady might be a starter…”

Hearing this, Molan was delighted somehow. She smiled, “It’d be nice that Madam probes into it or the girl would be able to take all the advantages. No matter how dear Old Madam loves her, she has to observe the rules of the Mansion. There is more than one young lady whose family name is Sheng. Me and Rulan are not dead. The great wealth like silver and gold mountains shouldn’t be exclusive to her alone!”

Concubine Lin shook her head, “The wealth is not that much. The Old Master died long ago and left a bunch of hot potatoes to tackle. After the Master became the legal son of Old Madam, she underwent a tough lawsuit against Old Master’s third younger brother. It almost involved authorities, so indeed a lot of property was spent. Later, she returned all businesses to Master. Even if she has a fortune, she can’t be too wealthy. Let’s wait and see, Madam’s passionate craving for money and her thirst for power will upset Old Madam sooner or later! Hahaha…”

Concubine Lin smiled for a while on the pillow, then slowly held back the laughter, and warned Molan, “In the future, don’t stand at odds with sixth young lady. From her behavior today, she’s not someone to be trifled with. You must get along with her as sisters so that Master and Old Madam will like you. Don’t behave like Rulan, annoyingly beating and cursing others…Yet, it’d be best if you can play off fifth young lady against Minglan.”

Molan’s eyes lit up, “You’re right, mother. Fifth young lady’s temper is the same as Madam who would explode at one trigger. They’re easily cheated by others.” In a second, however, she looked frustrated, “Why big brother isn’t like her at all? He is scheming and alert and of good learning while Feng brother is impetuous. Teacher Zhuang also said his learning is not solid and he’s not hardworking but likes to make friends with impractical scholars.”

Concubine Lin picked up the book from the brick bed, smiling, “Don’t listen to Teacher Zhuang’s nonsense. If he is so clever, why he achieved nothing? As the saying goes, the young-achievers will not necessarily achieve more when they grow older. I don’t think your big brother will succeed. Even those in their thirties and forties may fail exams, let alone your brother who is so young. If he has more friends, his official career will be smoother in the future.”

Molan picked up the cup with cubilose and slowly drank it. She was a bit worried, “It doesn’t matter whether he makes friends with them or not. The important thing is big brother is about to attend the spring exam (the metonymic name for Imperial Examination held in the capital, usually in February or March) and is very likely to pass it. I hope brother can pass the autumn exam (the metonymic name for Provincial Examination as it is usually held in August) in two years.”

Concubine Lin suddenly frowned, remembering the coquettish girls in her son’s room who dressed up raffishly with heavy makeup every day. They would sure seduce her son and exert bad influence on him. Why not…

Just after the day Yinxing and Jiu’er moved into the House of Clear Dusk, Old Madam Sheng ordered: What Madam said made sense. Maids serving sixth young lady were either too young or too old and were not capable enough. Therefore, the second-grade girl servant Cuiwei, formerly serving in the Hall of Peaceful Ages, was appointed to serve sixth young lady. By the time the elder ones were at the age of getting married, the younger ones could take over the work.

Minglan was sitting on the wood bed in the right wing-room. In front of her stood a group of girl servants. On one side were Cuiwei, Yinxing and Jiu’er who just moved in, and on the other side were Danju and Xiaotao. Behind them were several third-grade girl servants. Minglan said smiling, “I will depend on all of you in the future. These girls next to me grow up with me and are loosely disciplined. You three are favorites with Old Madam and Madam, so please do help me to educate them in case they behavior uncourteously. Our house is small but well-equipped. Every move and act should be in line with rules. Cuiwei, you are educated by Fang Mama and the disciplining of the other girls has to bother you.”

Cuiwei had a fair egg-shaped face, looking reliable and amiable. She replied, “You are too modest my young lady. In the future, we are all sisters living in the same courtyard. I’ll act like an elder sister since Old Madam trusts me. I hope all my sisters may not be annoyed by me.” Although she spoke to the group, her eyes were specially focused on Yinxing and Jiu’er.

Yinxing’s delicate heart-shaped face was a little pale and Jiu’er lowered her head. Looked from the side, her mouth was pouted.

Danju took a glance at Xiaotao who still looked naïve, then her eyes turned to Minglan whose small figure was sitting straight up high. Probably due to the tiredness of moving and sadness of parting from Old Madam, Minglan looked much thinner after the Spring Festival. The formerly chubby and fair face now exhibited gentle and delicate curves, revealing the slim elegant neck. The pair of eyes appeared even bigger, dark and peaceful as if bottomless. What was it behind these clear and clever eyes? When they planned to move out of the Hall of Peaceful Ages, Old Madam didn’t neglect that there weren’t enough servants around sixth young lady. Danju and Xiaotao and the four servants with the word green in their names were at the same age with Minglan. Cui Mama had a family, so she couldn’t serve in the inner room day and night. Therefore, Old Madam decided to allocate hands over. It might be either Cuixi or Cuiwei, but Minglan, to all’s surprise, turned down.

“... Don’t hurry, I will ask Old Madam for more hands in the future. For now, it’s uncertain.” Child-like naughtiness flashed by on Minglan’s face, but her look suggested bitterness, “Only after they set off moves can we know how to deal with them.”

At that time, only Old Madam and Fang Mama understood and also smiled bitterly, but Danju was confused until right now. Madam was the legal mother of all young ladies and lords, so it was natural that she intervened in affairs of the House of Clear Dusk, even Old Madam couldn’t criticize her. Minglan had anticipated that Madam would send hands over, so she saved a card.

As expected, on the first day Minglan greeted Madam, the latter sent maids over. The moment Yinxing and Jiu’er moved into the Hall of Clear Dusk, they began to put on the air of seniors before Danju who was younger than them. Besides, as servants appointed by Madam, they forced Danju to deliver the power in Minglan’s house. Luckily, once the Hall of Peaceful Ages heard the news, Cuiwei, from Old Madam’s House, was sent over whose age and seniority surpassed that of Yinxing and Jiu’er.

Danju was a little scared afterward and exhaled a long breath of relief. When in the Hall of Peaceful Ages, the little girls often followed Cuixi and Cuiwei to learn things. Now, they were familiar with each other, Danju was not afraid any more, and love was added to her admiration toward sixth young lady.

“… I kept this vacancy so that grandma can send over servants of similar seniority. If I take Cuixi or Cuiwei to the House of Clear Dusk at the very beginning, then Madam will appoint someone even senior. It will be difficult for grandma to send more hands to suppress them because it will turn the situation to a martial ring. I wish it’s me thinking evil of Madam.” Minglan held Old Madam’s hand and said word by word. She looked frank and honest, but her tone sounded a bit bitter.

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At the time, Danju was at the door, nervous and startled by her words. Under Old Madam’s supreme authority, even the then most loved First Young Lady Hualan didn’t dare to spell out everything so straightforwardly. My young lady, Old Madam wasn’t a grandma of your own. There was something that you shouldn’t tell her directly; … Out of her expectation, Old Madam wasn’t irritated a bit, but rather, she held Minglan into arms and felt sorry for her

Later, Danju secretly asked Fang Mama whether Old Madam would be upset with sixth young lady. Fang Mama only praised, “Sixth young lady is really wise.”

Old Madam lived several decades, met with all kinds of people and knew all sorts of dirty tricks. Sixth young lady was clever and sophisticated since she was little, but only when she was with Old Madam would she never conceal her thought, be it good or bad, on the surface or deep within, she spoke out every bit of it. This was the trust one displayed to the most beloved ones. Old Madam had so many grandsons and granddaughters. Why she preferred sixth young lady so much? Because only she sincerely cared and showed true filial piety to Old Madam.

Danju Ting listened and totally agreed with it, deciding to follow such as  the same was true for them servants.

Yinxing had a mild temper, loving chatting and smiling and inquiring. She always followed Cuiwei to flatter her and help with the work. After merely two days, she got familiar with the girl servants. Jiu’er was a bit finicky and focused on her own business, but she got along quite well with Xiaotao.

“What do you think of Yinxing?” Minglan was sitting in the right-ring room and facsimileing while Cuiwei and Danju were cleaning up the bookshelf. Xiaotao, who sat at the tea table in opposite to them, streamlining threads, looked up and answered the question, “She is nice and easy going.”  

“You stupid girl, be careful not to be cheated! Who knows what her intention is to approach you!” Danju replied bluntly.

“Intention for what? I said nothing about sixth young lady. I’ve been well-disciplined by Fang Mama who beat me a lot!” Xiaotao touched her palm as if she could still feel the pain.

“Xiaotao has been disciplined by Fang Mama for so many years. She won’t easily speak out things about sixth young lady.” Cuiwei gently walked to the door and lifted up the curtain to look outside. Seeing no one eavesdropping, she turned back and said in relief, “My young lady, do you only notice Yinxing while trusting Jiu’er?” 

Minglan smiled and said, “Think about it. Who is Jiu’er’s mother? And what’s Yinxing’s origin?”

“Yinxing is a servant.” Xiaotao jumped down from the brick bed and pushed Cuiwei to sit on it. Cuiwei politely refused a bit and then sat on the bedside.

Jiu’er was the youngest daughter of Liukun’s wife and was spoiled at home. She was supposed to enter the Luxuriant Pavilion as Rulan’s close girl servant, but Rulan was ill-tempered as Jiu’er, so it was very likely Jiu’er might cause herself troubles. Liu Kun’s wife feared her daughter might be punished while at the same time irritate Wang shi. Since Molan’s place was their last choice, they could only send Jiu’er to Minglan’s house.

Danju walked over and pulled Xiaotao to sit together on the little stool. “Fang Mama often speaks of Liu Mama as a sensible person. I suppose she just wanted to find a good place for Jiu’er and didn’t intend to use her daughter for dirty schemes. Yinxing, however, has no relatives in the Mansion, so she has to do something to gain credit in front of Madam.”

Cuiwei looked at Danju appreciatively, exclaiming to herself that no wonder Danju was trusted by sixth young lady as a close servant. Minglan suddenly said, “How great is a mother’s love for her children. Jiu’er is blessed to have a good mother.” 

Danju was too young after all and was still thinking about how to deal with Yinxing. Cuiwei, fifteen years old, flushed a bit because she was reminded that if Liu Mama had wanted to climb onto a higher-ranking family, she should send her daughter to first young lord, but as she had sent Jiu’er to sixth young lady, it meant she didn’t want her daughter to be a concubine. When Jiu’er was marriageable, she would seek for her a good family and impressively send her in a palanquin out of the House of Clear Dusk.

Looking at Cuiwei’s pondering face and the sister-like Danju, Minglan suddenly understood Yinxing’s struggle, and felt a bit melancholy, “Women’s life in this world is never easy. Since we meet each other and live together, I’ll try my best to marry you to good families just like how Old Madam treats Cuiwei.” 

Cuiwei immediately blushed, but Danju remained a serious face and rolled eyes at Minglan, “What a lady you are that teasing your servants! Sister Cuiwei has been engaged, you should reward her more dowry as your appreciation for her moving from the Hall of Peaceful Ages to assist you.” While talking, Danju also stole a glance at Cuiwei to kindly tease her.  

Cuiwei was fine listening to the first half and nodded with it, believing Danju was a good child, but hearing the second half which made fun of her, Cuiwei said pretending to be angry, “My lady, I don’t want other dowry. Just give me this little girl to marry my brother!”

Danju was annoyed and rushed over, but Cuiwei immediately hid behind Minglan who at once became the collateral damage. They pushed one another and laughed happily together.

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