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Published at 10th of May 2019 06:16:56 AM


Chapter 84

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Two Possible Marriages

Minglan concentrated all her mind on drawing the pattern on the paper. The crickets on it was so true to life that their feelers could be seen clearly. Dangju came up to Minglan with a teacup in her hands and started to worry about Minglan at the sight of her working hard. Dangzhu couldn't help but counsel, "Lady, you need a rest, or you will harm your eyes."

Minglan kept drawing, beads of perspiration oozing out on her forehead. "I know that, so I only draw this in the daytime to protect my eyes." After finishing the drawing, Minglan took a long breath of relief and put down the painting brush. "Okay, I've got it done. Now you can cut out the patterns with Yancao."

Dangju put the teacup in Minglan's hands after testing its heat and came closer to see the drawing. "Lady Minglan, you drew the insects well. These small crickets and cicadas are extremely lifelike as if they would jump out of the paper at any time," she praised sincerely.

Xiaotao, who was tidying up clothes in the next small room, heard Dangju's words and immediately put the clothes down to rush out while complaining, "In this case, why don't we stop making sachets and catch some real insects? Lady Minglan, it's all because of your excellent handicraft. If you hadn't made the exquisite sachet for the little Master Quan, they wouldn't have asked you for more. No wonder people say that one who sticks his neck out gets hit first…" She suddenly realized herself misspeak and immediately covered her mouth with both her hands.

Minglan pointed at Xiaotao with her head shaking and sighed. Dangju burst out laughing, but soon she held it back and lectured solemnly, "Xiaotao, you are not a child. How could you talk nonsense? If you were heard by another hostess, you would sure be punished."

Xiaotao lowered her head and apologized, "Sorry, I won't say that again." After that, she walked back to the small room to continue her unfinished duty.

Just then, the bamboo curtain was lifted and the next moment Luzhi walked inside with a smile. Then she stopped and lifted the curtain, waiting for a Mama, who had a round face, to come in first.

"Lady Minglan." The Mama wore a silver-red, double-breasted coat embroidered with flower patterns, beneath it was a long dark green gown of silk. She curtsied to Minglan with a long flat box in her arms. She was Wang shi's maidservant that followed her to Sheng family, and used to be her right-hand maid before Liu Kun's wife came to serve Wang shi. Now she was demoted, probably because she hadn't demonstrated sufficient competency in the struggle against Concubine Lin.

Minglan smiled, "Qian Mama, please have a seat. Luzhi, bring Mama a tea." She turned around and tipped a wink to Dangju, who, upon getting it, immediately walked into the inner room to fetch something.

Qian Mama sat down with a smile, leaning sideways a little toward Minglan, and said, "I have brought several maids who are skilled in making clothes. They will measure the servant girls in your house and make summer and autumn clothes for them."

"Mama, you don't need to come here in person over such a trifle." Minglan pointed at the rose pine nut cakes in front of her and asked Luzhi to hand them to Qian Mama. "I have learnt to make the cake from Fang Mama. To be honest, it needs many ingredients and the cooking process is complicated. I don't like it because it's too sweet and soft, but grandma likes it. Mama, you can have a taste."

Qian Mama picked up a small piece of cake and tasted it, feeling it sweet and delicious. Luzhi hospitably handed a fresh cup of Guapian tea (a type of green tea) to Qian Mama. She took a sip of the tea and felt the aromas lingering in her mouth. "It's surely nice tea," she praised.




"Just take some cakes and tea with you when you leave," Minglan said with tenderness in her voice.

Qian Mama was pleased with that, but she pretended to be sheepish and refused, "It's improper to take them away."

Luzhi, the most honey-mouthed of all, held Qian Mama's shoulders and shook them slightly as she persuaded, "Mama, just accept them as a small present. If you feel somewhat guilty to take them without paying, you can make one or two more outfits for us."

Minglan smiled, "Look at this girl. She must be a pennywise. Mama, don't take her words to your heart."

Just as the words fell from Minglan's lips, Dangju came out from the inner room with a small packet in her hands and handed it to Qian Mama.

Minglan said with concern, "Mama, this is a sleeveless jacket for you. I heard that you got a cold some days ago. It's easy to catch a cold during the cold spell in later spring. Mama, you are no longer young, and you need to take care of yourself. Last time I made a gown sewn with gold wire for grandma and some materials were left. So I asked my maids to sew this jacket for you. If you don't mind, you can wear it inside. It's warm and breathable."

Qian Mama took the packet from Dangju at once and said gratefully, "Thank you, Lady Minglan. I hear that you are the sweetest lady in our Mansion and all your maids live well." She paused and sighed, "Ay! Liu Mama's daughter, Jiu'er is lucky indeed to serve you. Unfortunately, my daughter doesn't have a chance to wait upon you. What a pity!"

Minglan gave a modest smile and changed the subject. They made small-talk for a while before Qian Mama handed the long flat box next to her to Luzhi and said, "There are some hairpins in it. Madam asked me to bring them to you."

Minglan instantly asked, "Do Sister Rulan and Molan have the hairpins?"

Qian Mama answered, "Yes, they do."

Minglan took a sigh of relief and said, "That's good."

She opened the box and saw five hairpins in the shape of flowers, the petals made of silk yarn, the stamens made of velvet. They were of various colors, including light pink, pea green, azure blue, dark red and mauve, exquisite and beautiful.

Qian Mama leaned over and whispered, "Lady Minglan, I hand-picked them for you. They are not the rejected ones."

Minglan praised, "The hairpins are so beautiful and ornate. Thank you, Mama. How did Madam get them?"


Qian Mama put down the teacup and answered with a smile, "The other day the imperial court published the list of official candidates. The son of Junzhu Pingning got the top of Er'jia, (ranked the second class in the exam, only after three first class ranked graduates). So yesterday Duke Qi Household held a banquet. Madam was invited and got these hairpins from Junzhu. Today she asked me to send them to you and your sisters."

Minglan's face remained unchanged and she smiled, "That's great! Madam always keeps a good relationship with Junzhu. She must be very happy to hear the news. No wonder when I greeted her this morning, she looked marvelous with rosy cheeks. Maybe yesterday she drank a bit too much?"

"Yes." Qian Mama replied, "I went with her to the banquet, and I saw with my own eyes that Junzhu behaved affectionately towards Madam and they were as intimate as sisters. Moreover, they had a long chat in the inner room."

Something flashed by Minglan's eyes before she continued concernedly, "I heard that Sister Rulan stayed in Madam's room until quite late last night. Did Madam get so drunk that fifth sister had to take care of her until very late? I guess so. But I didn't even know it yesterday evening. I'm really an unfilial daughter." With that, she put on a guilty look.

Qian Mama hastened to comfort Minglan, "That doesn't matter. In truth, Madam felt better after taking a bowl of hangover-cure soup, but she was too keyed up to sleep, so she asked Lady Rulan to chat with her."

Minglan let out a sigh of relief and put on a faint smile, "I'm glad to hear that. Mama, your words relieve my guilt."

Before leaving, Qian Mama came up to Minglan and whispered in her ear, "Yesterday at the banquet, Madam had a long chat with Marquis Yongchang's wife. I heard they talking about unmarried ladies in our household."

Her words startled Minglan.

After seeing Qian Mama off, Luzhi stayed outside for a long while before she came in the door and complained, "Yancao is such a coward that she can't control those girls at all. She even allows them to scramble in such a disorderly manner for being measured for the new clothes. Lady, Qian Mama is now not trusted by Madam. Why are you still so kind to her?"

Minglan gave her a warning look, and Luzhi immediately shut herself up and lowered her head in silence. Dangju came to her and pinched her nose to lecture her, "Don't talk nonsense. Lady Minglan has her own ideas. Just do your job, and don't question her."

"Everyone in the world is useful." Minglan slowly explained, "Even a nobody may help us in the future."

Then she looked at Luzhi and continued with great seriousness, "Although you look down upon Yancao because of her timid and overcautious characters, she is your elder and you should respect her."

Luzhi clasped her own hands and nodded vigorously. She stood still, holding her breath and fearing that Minglan would get angry with her. A few moments later, Minglan softened her tone, "I will take everyone who treats me well to my heart. Yancao… She's older than you. You'd better show respect for her and not make a snide comment about her behaviors."


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Luzhi thought about Minglan's words carefully for a while, her eyes brightening when she came to realize the implications.  She looked up at Minglan and said, "I got it, my lady."

The maids walked out of the room one after another, leaving Minglan alone. She meditated on Qian Mama's words for a while before she took out some letter papers and set them on the writing desk. She held the writing brush in her hand and began to write a letter after thinking for a moment.

In the evening, Sheng Hong had dinner with Concubine Xiang. These days he was on the wing engaging in social activities so that he got tired and wanted to sleep early in Concubine Xiang's bedroom. But Wang shisent a maid to invite him to the main house. When he walked into her boudoir, he saw his legitimate wife sitting on the edge of the bed with a red flush suffusing her face. She looked at him with a happy expression. Sheng Hong decided to have a talk with his wife and get her to see that he couldn't sleep with her every night because there were several concubines waiting for him. However, before he opened his mouth, Wang shi quickly shut the door tight and told him what had happened yesterday at a fast tempo. Sheng Hong was completely stunned by her words.

"What did you say? Junzhu wanted Rulan to be her daughter-in-law?" Sheng Hong was dumbfounded for a few moments before he came to himself and asked, "Then what about your nephew? I heard that you agreed to let Rulan marry your maternal nephew before. All was negotiated with only the betrothal gifts to be exchanged."

Wang shi hesitated for a moment, but when she recalled that her sister-in-law was quite dissatisfied with Rulan's personality, she finally made up her mind, "They are not engaged, so I can find a better man to be my daughter's husband."

"Do you think Qi Heng is a good choice?" Sheng Hong asked in bewilderment. From the point of his view, Xianzhu Jiacheng's death had ruined Qi Heng's reputation (A forced cuckold because his wife was raped by many before death).

Wang shi lowered her voice, "I have carefully thought over this and conclude that it will be a good match. First, no matter whether Qi Heng will inherit the tittle of Duke or not, he has won an official rank and with Duke Qi Household behind him, he will have a good future. Second, Marquis Xiangyang has no son. Though he has adopted a nephew to be his heir and the ancestral estate will be given to him, Marquis still owns lots of personal property and all that will be Junzhu's. Last but not least, Qi Heng's father, Lord Qi is the head of the Salt Bureau. That's a really lucrative post which Lord Qi has been holding for years. We all know that he must be very rich, and Qi Heng will be rich too after inheriting the property from his father. If our Rulan marries him, she will lead a well-to-do life."

Wang shi's persuasive remarks weakened Sheng Hong's hesitation. And he was dazzled by the wonderful hypothetical gold glistening in Wang shi's eyes. At this moment, Wang shi was clearheaded and every word she said hit the nail on the head, "Last year, a shameful thing occurred to Qi family. Qi Heng suffers shame for his wife's miserable death. So it's improper for him to make a public marriage proposal now. That's why Junzhu talked with me in private yesterday...and she told me something highly confidential."

Wang shi whispered in his ears, "His Majesty is critically ill. And perhaps he will die within two months. By then we should all be in mourning for a year. Time will take all humiliations away. A year later no one will remember that disgrace. Besides, our Rulan is only 14 and we still have lots of time to weigh up whether Qi Heng is a suitable husband or not."

Sheng Hong slowly recovered his accustomed shrewdness and said, "After publishing the list of official candidates, His Majesty hasn't held the Court Examination. He's waiting for his sixth son to get in the capital. He leaves all the candidates to the new emperor… In this way Qi Heng may have a bright future… But if we betroth our daughter to him, what about your elder brother? You have made a promise to him."

Wang shi replied, hesitating, "If His Majesty really passes away, my elder brother also needs to mourn for a year. We can put this matter aside for the time being."

Sheng Hong thought for a moment and nodded in agreement.

Wang shi was pleased by her husband's approval. She raised her chin and continued, "Yesterday at the banquet, I also met Marquis Yongchang's wife."


Sheng Hong yawned and leaned on the headboard. He took off his coat and asked Wang shi to put it away. Wang shi picked it up while saying with a smile, "Madam Liang told me that she got her eye on Minglan."

"What?" The sudden news drove Sheng Hong's sleepiness away. He sat up in the bed and growled, "Old Madam has left the capital for only two months. Now you want to get Minglan engaged with the son of Marquis Yongchang. Do you forget that Old Madam has betrothed Minglan to He Hongwen?"

"Take it easy. Just listen to me." Wang shi pressed her husband back down on the bed, and explained patiently, "Last time Marquis Zhongqin Household held a banquet to celebrate Shi's one-month jubilance. Madam Liang took a fancy to Minglan at first glance. She even didn't mind Minglan born of a concubine. We all know that Marquis Yongchang Household is a noble family. Although the boy is their youngest son and can't inherit the tittle of Marquis, he now is a seventh rank official and is trying to get the vice commander of Five Armies. In my opinion, the boy is more promising than He Hongwen. He deserves Minglan."

Even though Sheng Hong originally wanted to stick up for Old Madam Sheng's decision, he hesitated when he remembered the strong power of Liang family.

Wang shi saw through his hesitation and seized the chance to persuade him, "Minglan is good-looking. She deserves to marry into a better family than He family. If she marries that boy of Marquis Yongchang, your sons will benefit from it." But in truth, the real reason why Wang shi tried her best to betroth Minglan to Marquis Yongchang's son was that her son, Changbai, would be the person who benefited most from her marriage.

Sheng Hong was persuaded. He bit his lips and asked, "Is that boy a good person? We can do nothing without Old Madam's approval."

Wang shi knew that she was already half successful. She said with studied complaint, "Do you think I'm a selfish, evil-minded legal mother? Minglan is obedient and filial, and she always gets on well with her brothers and sisters. She also loves Quan. So I really wish that she will marry a good man. The boy's name is Liang Han. Master, you can go and investigate yourself. I know you don't trust me."

She puckered her lips with an aggrieved expression on her face. Sheng Hong instantly held her in his arms and made up some sweet words to amuse her. Wang shi stopped before going too far and put on a smile again."

"Let's make a bargain." Wang shi put all her intentions on the table and said, "Master, you can inquire thoroughly into Liang Hang. If you are satisfied with him, we can then prepare something touching and reasonable to persuade Old Madam. Old Madam loves Minglan so much that she must be willing to choose a better man as Minglan's future husband."

Although Sheng Hong preferred to let his daughter marry into Liang family, he got a headache at the thought of persuading Old Madam. Over the years, he always behaved obediently in front of Old Madam Sheng. Now he was a bit faint-hearted… Suddenly, he asked, "We have lived in the capital for a long time. Isn't there anybody who likes Molan?"

If Madam Liang preferred Molan to be her daughter-in-law, he would strike a perfect balance between Wang shi and Old Madam Sheng, and all these knotty problems would be solved smoothly.

Meanwhile, Wang shi was untying Sheng Hong's waistband with a shy look. But her face dropped to the floor as soon as she heard his words. She couldn't help sneering, "Master, even if you will be angry, I have to say that frankly. Molan is quite like Concubine Lin. Though you men like their coquettish way, Madams of the noble families hate that kind of women."

This time Sheng Hong didn't argue with Wang shi; instead, he sighed feebly. Wang shi looked at Sheng Hong's side face and thought with disdain, 'No matter how much he used to cherish Concubine Lin, his love has slowly faded as time goes by. Now I finally come to realize the truth: the status and offspring are the most important things for a woman in Sheng Mansion.'

For some reason, Wang shi felt very lonesome after she realized the man's ruthlessness.

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