Published at 5th of May 2019 10:10:56 AM

Chapter 83

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Under the Cherry-apple Tree, There Are Crickets, Cicadas and Stones

The man was standing there quietly, whose face was nicely-carved and eyes were as dark as the night could be. Shadows of cherry-apple tree leaves cast on his face, half blurring his face, the red gown decorated with golden ribbon he wore was a bit worn out on the edges. Minglan’s torso was ready to turn around, however, her legs were just too numb to even budge, she ended up with bowing with a forced smile on her face, “Good day, second uncle, how have you been?”

Gu turned back slowly with his hands tied on his waist, he squinted his unfathomable eyes, staring at Minglan. It got unbearable silent, Minglan, with her eyes staring at her feet, felt the ornament on her hair trembling with her throbbing heart. Tick tock, Gu uttered briefly, “Today marks the anniversary of my father’s pass away.”

Minglan was such a quick-witted girl, she replied, “May his spirit rest in peace.”

Gu Tingye managed to keep the corner of his mouth from twitching and added after a moment of hesitation, “Did Lady Yu marry someone great?”

Minglan raised her head out of shock, only to find him with a genial look and his tone apologizing. Minglan was much bewildered.

Seeing that, Gu Tingye lifted the corner of his mouth and added, “I have always respected Cabinet Yu, and I’ve never expected that...”

It gradually dawned upon Minglan that perhaps Tingye Gu had intentionally waited here for her in order to inquire about Yu Yanran. Cabinet Yu was dignified and upright all his life; however, in the twilight of his life, he suffered heartache of parting with his two granddaughters who both had fallen into the miserable fates because of Gu Tingye. One of them had married a man far away in Yunnan, the other had died within six months after having married Gu Tingye. Although it was mainly due to Master Yu’s greed, the ‘culprit’, Gu Tingye, was bound to feel somewhat guilty.

After thinking for a while, Minglan replied, “Yunnan is far away from here. I have only received three letters from Yanran in the past year. She writes that her husband is good-tempered and her parents-in-law are both amicable. Even though Yunnan is not as prosperous as the capital, it’s an outstandingly beautiful place with blue sky and clear water. Sister Yu now leads a happy life.”

Minglan also had written what had happened before in reply to Yanran: Gu Tingye’s wife, Yu Yanhong, fell ill soon after he left home, and when he heard the news and rushed back home, she was dead already. Shortly after his wife’s funeral arrangements ended, his father passed away too. All these things happened one after another at a cracking pace. After that, there was hardly any rumors about Gu Tingye in the capital.

Occasionally, Minglan heard some rumors saying that Gu Tingye had abandoned himself to vice, indulging in the brothels, gambling and drinking with the lower orders from all corners of the country every day. He seemed to have made some “achievements”, but which was ignoble in the eyes of the high officials and noble lords.

Gu Tingye breathed a sigh of relief when he heard that. He straightened up and said in a soft tone, “If she has any difficulties, please tell me. Though I am not powerful enough, I will do all I can to help her.”

Minglan nodded perfunctorily and looked at Gu Tingye with her eyes wide open, surprised and confused. But soon she held her demonstrative expression back and looked up at the sun above. Pigs might fly? His words ran counter to his past image.

Gu Tingye, natural and unaffected, didn’t take Minglan’s surprise and doubt to his heart. He smiled, “Your name is Minglan, and you are related to the Qi family, right?”

Minglan nodded her head vigorously. No matter what she thought of Gu Tingye, she wore a sincere and innocent expression on her face.

Gu Tingye apologized modestly, “I’m sorry to have offended you twice before. Please forgive me, I didn’t mean to insult you. Manniang…I was misled by her lies.”

Minglan couldn’t help but look at the sky again. What happened to him? She had met Gu Tingye twice before, the first time he had come to scold her, and the other time he had stood in the corner and watched her quarreling with Molan for fun. Minglan was the one who ran away first on both occasions. Now she still remembered his malicious words, his sneers and even his disdainful looks. At that time, Minglan almost wanted to slap him before he finished his words.

But now…Minglan stole a glance at his handsome face, and found shades of grey streak in his thick black hair. He used to be fair-skinned, but now his skin was dyed light brown by the sun. Haunted between his eyebrows was a faint touch of fatigue as if he had gone through a difficult time in the past year. All that seemed to have turned him into a decent gentleman. Now he looked frank and forthright, his eyes peaceful, his voice sincere and his manner mild.

After a silence, Gu Tingye said in a low voice, “If you get into trouble, you can also tell me, and I will help you.”

Minglan was a lady raised in a boudoir. How could she possibly get into trouble with her father, her brothers and the whole Sheng family behind her? Minglan had heard that he had some martial friends outside. Maybe Gu Tingye could hire them to give a sound beating to her future husband if he cuckolded her? Now Marquis Ningyuan' Household was beleaguered. Who gave him the confidence to say those assured words? Minglan smiled and kept quiet.

Gu Tingye gave a wee smile as if he had seen through Minglan’s mind, and said, “Liang Han is a loyal friend, but he’s somewhat unrestrained and self-centered. Although the situation in the Qi family is also complicated, Junzhu has a strong hand and will protect her people, and Qi Heng is a mild man. It's good to have them protect you.”

Minglan gulped with eyes open wide, and stammered, "You…"

Gu Tingye came up to Minglan and looked down at her, lecturing majestically, “You are still too young to make your own decision. You’d better listen to your grandmother.”

After saying that, he turned around and left straight with quicksilver steps. The wind from his motion whipped a branch of the cherry-apple tree rippling in the air. Minglan was stunned for a long time before she finally came back to her senses and lifted her hand to wipe the cold sweat off her forehead. She couldn’t help but wonder whether he ran a private detective agency outside or not.

Even though Gu Tingye’s remarks scared Minglan, she soon recovered herself and went to the banquet. At the banquet, Molan pursed her lips and took little ladylike sips of the wine to dress herself up as an elegant lady. Now and then she turned to chat with the ladies beside her. Rulan and Wenying drank up a pot of the Nu'er Hong (name of a wine) unnoticed. At last, Wang shi watched the two drunk and flushed girls climb up the carriage, her face turning livid with rage.

Molan mocked ironically, “She’s a lady of such ungovernable spirit and fiery temper. Though she pretended to be an obedient sheep, she finally betrayed herself. From here we see that a prodigal never becomes good.”

Minglan agreed with Molan this time. As a past court worker, she was a faithful doubter of the theory – “A prodigal son will turn his life around”. So in her previous life, she had often been criticized by the old woman judge for lack of the Party members’ awareness and enthusiasm of salvation, no doubt that she had never been elected as the advanced model Party members.

Anyway, it didn’t matter to her now. Minglan decidedly pushed the thought out of her mind.

Without the grandmother by her side, Minglan grew bored. In the past, she often practiced calligraphy for a little while and immediately brought her writings to her grandmother in order to get a praise, and sometimes she bragged about her simple embroidery in front of Fang Mama. But now… Everything was off track. Minglan lost her self-control. She seemed to immerse in the role of kid and was unable to learn without the encouragement and close supervision.

Therefore, Minglan often went to Hai shi’s house and played with her little nephew when she was bored. The little boy, whose name was Quan, was tightly swaddled with his little tender arms loosely tied by the red ropes to remain them in the sleeves, but he struggled to wave his arms vigorously to get free. Quan was good-natured and loved smiling. He would grin from ear to ear with his eyes narrowing to slits as long as Minglan tickled him.

Wang shi was deeply grateful to the Buddhas as her grandson was not as poker-faced as her son. Hai shi was also well satisfied with her lovely son and always had a big smile hanging on her rosy cheek. One month after delivery, she was out of the confinement. She spruced herself up a bit and became more beautiful than before.

“Why does he always blow bubbles?” Minglan pricked the bubble above the baby’s mouth with her slender finger and asked.

Hai shi smiled and answered, “All babies do that. Sometime they also spit the milk out.”

Minglan held the soft baby in her arms and suddenly asked on a whim, “Has my eldest brother held Quan?”

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Hai shi covered her mouth with her hand and burst into laughter, “Yes, he held Quan before but was laughed at by my mother-in-law for his rigid manner as if he was holding a brush. Now he refuses to do it again, claiming that the saints once said a man of honor should hold their grandchildren instead of children.”

Minglan swayed the baby lightly. Gradually, he closed his eyes and fell asleep. When Minglan looked down at him, her heart melted. The baby had a lovable face with a small rosy mouth and long eyelashes. Minglan couldn't help but stare at him, counting how many eyelashes he had.

“Lady Minglan, please hand Master Quan to me. He’s asleep and I’m afraid that you will be tired if you still keep him in your arms,” a Mama, who was white and fat, said. Minglan knew her own poor arm strength clearly, so she carefully gave the little baby to Mama.

The windows of the house were all closed to prevent the little child from getting sick, so it was a bit sultry. Hai shi, who was lying on the soft couch that was made of rattan, reached out to hold Minglan’s hand and pulled her down onto the couch, fanning Minglan with the court fan. “Quan is a lucky boy. He has three aunts and all of them are willing to take care of him with affection,” Hai shi said with a smile on her face.

The bamboo curtain was lifted by someone from the outside, then Yanghao came in with the iced fruits in her hands. She placed the porcelain dish with intricate flower patterns on the small table in front of the couch. There were various fruits and several silver sticks in it, quite pleasing to the eye.

“Madam, Lady, please have a taste,” Yanghao said respectfully before she walked out quickly.

Minglan looked at her figure disappearing and turned around to speak to Hai shi, hesitating, “Yanghao… Why don’t you send her away?”

Hai shi picked a piece of apple up with the stick, stuffed it into Minglan’s mouth, and said with self-mockery, “You know our family always socializes with dignitaries. It’s better to keep her in our house, or the outsider will regard me as a jealous woman. Not long ago someone wanted to send a beautiful woman to your brother as his concubine, fortunately, your brother refused him on the excuse of already having one. So keeping her brings more advantages than disadvantages.”

Minglan chewed the apple with her cheeks bulging and said with a lisp, “I hate the men who like to send concubines to his colleagues. Gold, silver, jewelry, house and stores, there are so many things that they can give each other. Why do they prefer to present women as gifts? What a bore! Definitely not good officials.”

Hai shi chuckled and gave Minglan a warning stare, then she shook her head and exhorted, “Don’t talk nonsense.” Just then she saw Minglan’s clothing wrinkle, so she reached out to smooth it out while saying, “Since Yanghao is honest and obedient, it doesn't matter to me to keep her by my side.”

Minglan swallowed the apple and cast a quiet look at Hai shi who wore a gentle expression. She thought to herself, ‘Perhaps the most important reason is that Yanghao isn’t good-looking or intelligent to catch my brother’s eyes. He seldom goes to her bedroom, so she can't threaten your position at all. Otherwise, why did you drive Shuxu and Zhuhao away just after you married into the Sheng family?’

“Minglan, can I ask a favor from you?” Hai shi suddenly recalled something and held Minglan’s hand. “I like the sachet that you made for Quan. What did you put inside? It smells good and is effective in expelling the bugs.”

Minglan tried her best to recall the list, and ticked off the main herb medicines, “Dried osmanthus, osmanthus oil, dried wormwood…” She couldn’t recite the rest of the list because it was a prescription from He Hongwen, who said it was friendly to babies. She was not very familiar with it.

Hai shi didn’t really want to know the list, so she directly put her purpose on the table, “Can you make three or four more sachets for me when you are free? Last time my cousin came to visit me and she liked the sachet very much.”

Minglan raised her chin with her eyes wide open and said in disbelief, “Three or four? Are you kidding me? It’s not like planting cabbages, you just sow the seeds and you get dozens of it. Things delicate as this are never easy to make. I haven’t even finish making one for my elder sister until now.”

Hai shi pretended to be annoyed by Minglan’s words. She stretched out a finger to prod Minglan on the forehead and said in a teasing tone, “You little rascal. Every time you come to see me, I server you with good tea and delicious refreshments. Since you eat my food, you shouldn’t refuse my request.”

Minglan stared at Hai shi for a while, and compromised, “Okay. Now I know that there is no free lunch and you are totally a moneylender.”

Hai shi smiled in smug satisfaction behind the fan and asked more, “I want the same pattern with a small cricket climbing on the back of a cicada next to a small rock. It’s interesting.”

Minglan gazed at her with strange eyes and asked, “You all…like it?”

Hai shi nodded, “Yes, it’s special and unusual. Besides, its implied meaning is good.”

“What’s the implied meaning?” Minglan was confused.

“You little fool. It means adorable in knowing the fun.” Hai shi prodded Minglan on the forehead again.

Minglan was suddenly enlightened. Just now she had associated the pattern with the pornographic literature and mistaken Hai shi’s intentions.

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