Published at 25th of May 2019 10:42:54 AM

Chapter 93

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Causes and Effects (2)

Minglan hurried to open the window. When she looked out of it, she saw flames leaping to the sky in the distance. It seemed that a ship was set alight. Minglan gazed into the distance and saw some indistinct figures running and jumping into the river. She even heard shouts and sounds of fighting accompanied with the sounds of the wind and water. Changdong rested his chin on the sill of the window, his face pale in fear. Just then a sharp whistle came from the side of their own ship. It must be a warning from the boatman, who was posted as a sentry at night.

After a short while, all the people on the ship were wakened by the loud noise. Minglan woke Dangju up and asked her to gather other maids. Then she took Changdong's hand and went out to find Changwu together. Along the way there were many boatmen and servants leaning over the side of the ship to look into the distance with looks of panic. Minglan rushed all the way to Changwu's room without looking at them. In the room, Kang Yun'er sat on the side of the bed with a pale face, her hands above her slightly swollen belly. When she saw Minglan, she immediately grasped Minglan's hand and said, "You brother has gone outside to see what happened. I just asked someone to bring you both here and you came immediately. May Buddhas bless us. I hope everyone will be fine."

Minglan knew nothing about what happened outside, so she had to sit beside Yun'er, waiting for Changwu to come back. Changdong stretched his neck and wanted to go out, but Minglan pulled him back in time.

A quarter of an hour later, Changwu came back breathlessly and said, "They are pirates!" All women in the room paled with shock at the news. Changbai briefly told them what had happened outside.

The inland waterway they proceeded along was called Yongtong Canal, which was a north-south canal. Now they were in Huaiyin Prefecture. Tonight, the river was calm and many ships lay at anchor in the waterway. Besides the ship of Sheng family, there were two ships of wealthy aristocratic families, two frigates and several merchant ships of Baochanglong, which was a well-known trading company. They were all in this natural gourd-like harbor. The merchant ships were in front and at the back. The frigates and the passenger ships were in the middle.

After everyone fell asleep, a group of pirates secretly boarded the ships under cover of darkness. They robbed and killed people in the merchant ships, but they didn't expect that one of Baochanglong's merchant ships was loaded with tung oil. During the fight, several young employees of the trading company lit the cargo hold. Soon all the oil drums in the cargo hold exploded and the ship went up in flames. The sudden fire not only gave the young employees a chance to jump out of the ship and flee for their life but also gave other ships a warning.

When Minglan saw Kang Yun'er shivering in fear, she gently patted her hands and soothed, "Sister-in-law, don't worry too much. I think these pirates are stupid. If they are seasoned, they would have robbed the passenger ships first. But in fact, they went to the merchant ships. They stirred the grass and frightened away the snake…hmm, people."

As the words fell from her lips, Changwu, who had worn a straight face, couldn't help but smile and praise, "What Sister Minglan said is right. They must be a group of stupid pirates. Now they are surrounded by the frigates. And the dinghies are ready for us. Just gather our belongings and follow me to the dinghies. Everything will be fine as long as we go ashore on the left bank."

All the women exchanged relieved glances.

There were not many of the pirates. The reason why they had succeeded in stirring up such an uproar was that they attacked the ships by surprise, and the ships were narrow for the people on board to dodge the attacks. The right bank of Yongtong Canal was twisty and formed a haven, in which all the ships docked. On the left bank, there was a wide stretch of the reeds which were higher than a man. Moreover, there was a direct road to the barracks of Huaiyin soldiers. As long as they got ashore on the left bank, they would get help from the soldiers and the pirates would be separated by the reeds. By then they would escape from danger because the pirates couldn't catch up with them anymore.

In ancient times, there were no lifeboats on the ship. All the boatmen on the shore had already been overpowered by the pirates. It took some effort for Changwu to get two dinghies. Fortunately, he was a Bazong (a low-ranked military officer) who had experienced fights and battles, and knew how to deal with such a dangerous condition. So he ordered the servants to pack up belongings and meanwhile, to light up candles and lanterns in every room. Then he asked some servants to run back and forth on the deck in order to give the pirates a misconception that the people on the ship were panic-stricken. As for the dinghies, candles were not allowed to light. In this way they could go ashore quietly under the cover of darkness.

People tend to make mistakes when they do things in a hurry. The maids were in a panic about getting everything done as soon as possible. Changwu kept urging them. Kang Yun'er's face was as pale as a ghost. She covered her belly with hands and her face gradually twisted into a picture of pain. She seemed to have a bellyache. Minglan looked at the ship burning with bright flames dozens of meters away, on which the fighting was ferocious. Minglan said, "Sister-in-law is indisposed. I'm afraid that she will move with difficulty in a little while. So Brother Changwu, you can escort sister-in-law and Changdong to go ashore first. I will set out to chase you as soon as the maids finish up."

Kang Yun'er and Changdong refused to let Minglan alone. But considering that the pirates hadn't come towards their ship and it was a good time to escape, Changdong gritted his teeth and decided to leave first. He left Minglan a dinghy and half of the guards. Before leaving, he earnestly exhorted, "Life is more important than money, so hurry up to go ashore, understand?"

Minglan nodded and asked Yancao to leave with Changwu.

In truth, she had judged the distance between the ship and the opposite bank. As a fine youth who had aimed to go and work in the countryside and mountainous areas in the previous life, Minglan could swim across the river as long as she was half skillful in swimming as Yao Yiyi had been. As for the rest of girls, Dangju could do the doggy-paddle, Xiaotao was a good swimmer and could help Dangju, Luzhi and the maids of Yun'er could also swim.

This time Changwu went back to hometown for the funeral. He would be in mourning for a year after First Old Madam Sheng passed away. So he had taken with him almost all his wealth that he had accumulated in the capital in recent years. There was a lot of wealth on the ship now. Minglan was reluctant to leave the wealth to the inexperienced pirates, so she commanded a few maids to gather up portable antiques, gold, silver, pearls, and other treasures, and put them in bags made of oilcloths. When they were packing up, Luzhi, who acted as a lookout on the deck, let out a whoop of joy, "They deserve that! Come on, shoot them all!"

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Minglan rushed to look out of the window and saw that some guards standing by the rail on several other ships were shooting arrows into the river. The pirates in the river screamed and cried. Minglan panicked over the unexpected incident and immediately yelled, "It's no good for us! Their boats are blocked by the frigates. Now they disperse and intend to swim towards our ship!"

The maids were all frightened. Minglan thought for a while and looked up at Changwu's dinghy, which was now in the middle of the river. She quickly made a decision. She raised a hand to point at the maids in front of her and said in a serious tone, "You three throw all the candles and lanterns in cabins on this floor into the river. I will take Luzhi to the next floor and do the same thing. Xiaotao and Dangju, you two tie these small iron boxes together. Xiaotao, you are good at swimming, just tie the rope to the ship's bottom and put the boxes into the river. After you all finish the tasks, come to the kitchen on bottom deck and join me. You have to be quick!"

"Lady, why don't we run to the dinghy and leave now?" A girl, who was Kang Yun'er's personal maid, asked hesitantly.

Luzhi glared at her and scolded in anger, "Shut up! Do as you are told. Cut out all this nonsense! If it hadn't been for your master, our lady would have left early. How dare you ask why!" Dangju was good-natured and explained at once, "Now the pirates are in the river. How fast can we scull? If we are caught up, our dinghy will be overturned easily."

The girl immediately blushed with shame and bowed her head.

Minglan didn't bother to get angry with this ignorant girl because she wasn't her maid; instead, she ran to the deck and divided the guards into four groups so that they could provide protection for the four groups of girls who were going to carry out the tasks. Before long, the whole ship darkened. Luckily, tonight the moon was dimmed by clouds and it was also quite pitch-dark outside.

Minglan rushed all the way toward the kitchen, while ordering the weak servants to hide and the strong ones to fight against the pirates on the deck. She went straight to the kitchen and rummaged out many "weapons", such as kitchen knives, sharp forks, pans, spatulas, iron pestles and so on. When the girls, who had taken actions separately, came back, Minglan gave them the weapons. Xiaotao got an iron pan, Luzhi took a kitchen knife, and the other girls also held the weapons in their hands.

Everything was ready. Minglan asked the guards to go outside and keep a sharp lookout for the pirates. Then she led the maids to hide in an inconspicuous cabin.

In the darkness, the girls waited quietly, feeling time passing very slowly. The sound of swallowing was clear in the cabin. Minglan knew that the girls were nervous, so she comforted softly, "Don't worry. First, some pirates will be killed by arrows on the way to our ship. Second, there are three passenger ships and they won't all come to our ship. Third, our ship has two floors with twelve rooms in total. If the pirates are sensible, they will go to wing-rooms first. In this way, we won't have many pirates to deal with. Fourth, after swimming to our ship, there must be no kindling material on them. And the firewood in the kitchen, lanterns and candles on the ship are all thrown into the river. They won't see clearly unless they remove boat decks or door frames to light the fires. But the timbers of the ship have been damped by the river water and are not easy to ignite. Without light, they can't find us. Last, there is a door behind this cabin, which leads directly to the river surface. It's set up for kitchen maids to fetch water and pour water. If push comes to shove, we can open the door and jump into the river. Furthermore, the pirates won't stay on the ship for a long time. When they find no treasures on the ship, perhaps they will go to other ships. All in all, we will be safe as long as we are not found."

After hearing Minglan's analysis, the girls set their mind at rest for the time being.

After a while, there came shouts and sounds of weapons crashing from above. Minglan realized that the pirates must have boarded this ship. She held a sharp hairpin tightly in her hand. The girls began to breathe hard in fear again. They heard sounds of fighting and cries for help, then a great rush of feet coming closer to them. In the next second, the door was kicked open from outside.

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