Published at 30th of May 2019 05:58:23 AM

Chapter 96

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Cold Night, River, Leakage and Expose (2)

Dangju was still angry at the old servants’ behaviors. But when she heard these words, she hesitated for a moment and asked, “Really? It’s a bit cruel.” Xiaotao, who followed Che Sanniang to come in, hastened to say, “Dangju, you are too softhearted. Tens of minutes ago when you choked on water and coughed violently, you got quite angry and said firmly that you would punish them severely. But now you seem to forget pain after getting out of danger.”

Minglan cast a glance at Dangju who looked shamefaced and said to her maids solemnly, “From this we can see that the gang members are all heroes. If you are not brave, don’t join the gang.” She flattered Che Sanniang shamelessly.

Che Sanniang burst out laughing. She took Minglan’s hand and said kindly, “You are really an interesting girl. I have travelled almost all over our country, but I have never met such an interesting noble lady as you.”

“You flattered me,” Minglan replied with a blushing face.

A short time later, they heard a peal of heavy footsteps approaching and then saw Shi Keng walking in. His eyes brightened up at the sight of Che Sanniang wearing an indigo-blue embroidered coat with silver streaks and cut designs. He smiled, “Sanniang, you are so beautiful in this dress. I must say that it makes you look much whither and slimmer.”

Minglan gaped at Shi Keng and thought that Che Sanniang would be annoyed at his impolite remarks which hinted that she used to be dark-skinned and fat. But Che Sanniang didn’t get angry; instead, she smiled, “Tailors make women charming. The dress is beautiful, and with it I look much better.” Shi Keng gazed at her carefully and nodded, “Let’s go to Tianyi Pavilion and make some new clothes for you after going back. I have enough money to dress you up.” Che Sanniang replied with a big smile, “Okay.”

Minglan waited till they finished the discussion before she stood up and said respectfully, “Thank you. My maids and I wouldn’t have been safe and sound without the help of you two and the other brave fellows of Cao Bang. I sincerely thank you for saving our lives. Now please accept my deepest gratitude.” With that she showed respect by tidying up her dress and sleeves and curtsied deeply to them, her knees almost touching the floor. Xiaotao and Dangju also dropped to their knees and kowtowed to the couple.

Shi Keng and Che Sanniang hurried to help them stand up. Shi Keng said repeatedly, “Don’t mention it. Don’t mention it. Since you are my brother’s niece, I treat you as my niece too. So it’s my duty to save you.”

Minglan gave a few more curtsies to the couple before she stood up. Afraid that Minglan would curtsy again, Che Sanniang quickly changed the subject and asked her husband, “Where is our younger brother?” Shi Keng answered, “Shi Qiang is good at dressing wounds. So I asked him to stay outside and help wounded persons.”

At this time, the people on board were very busy. Minglan asked Dangju to go outside and command the servants to tidy up messy rooms in which the pirates had rummaged through. And she also asked Xiaotao to find firewood and boil water to brew up tea. Then she invited the couple to sit down and have a chat with her.

Minglan was a witty talker, forthright in manner. And she always spoke in a modest, gentle and polite voice. So Shi Keng and Che Sanniang relaxed, and soon they were chatting happily as old friends.

Shi Keng was born in a family with a background of gang. His father’s generation all worked at the docks. Che Sanniang used to be a fisherwoman. Later a famine broke forth in her hometown. Therefore, she followed her acrobatic teacher to leave the hometown and made a living as a performer. Afterward, she met Shi Keng and married him. Minglan was curious about the anecdotes around the country and listened to them with interest. Xiaotao served them three cups of tea and some pastries. After a sip of tea, Shi Keng carried on telling his story.

About two years ago, Shi Keng met Gu Tingye who had run away from home. They became fast friends at the first meeting and soon became sworn brothers. Shi Keng raved about Gu Tingye’s abilities and moral characters. He even gave a vivid description of Gu Tingye’s heroic deeds, for example, how Gu Tingye had helped his uncle become the leader of Cao Bang. Shi Keng greatly admired Gu Tingye for his intelligence and wisdom, so he spoke that in an agitated tone. Although the couple were rough in manner, in fact, they were careful observers. So they talked about everything except some important affairs of Cao Bang.

“…Big Brother Gu’s life is tough. From my point of view, even if he gives up the status as the young master of Marquis Ningyuan Household, he will lead a carefree life because he has lots of money and is held in high repute. Why does he…” Shi Keng sighed, “Sister-in-law Manniang is a nice woman. She followed Brother Gu all the way to Huaiyin Prefecture and suffered hardships. And she is warm-hearted and kind to us. She always takes good care of Brother Gu, but he ignores her and rejects her kindness. He would rather live a tough outdoor life than make peace with her.”

Che Sanniang frowned and gave her husband a push to stop him, “Don’t talk nonsense!” She looked at Minglan uneasily, fearing that her husband would slip of the tongue. Minglan asked with interest, “Does Manniang also come here? Isn’t she in the capital? Has she brought her children with her?” Shi Keng realized that Minglan knew the relationship between Gu Tingye and Manniang. He cast a triumphant glance at his wife and said breezily, “You see, Niece Minglan knows that.” Then he grinned broadly at Minglan, “Niece, do you know why Brother Gu detests Sister-in-law Manniang?”

Minglan lowered her head and thought for a while before she replied simply, “Because… she has done something wrong.”

Che Sanniang’s eyes flashed as she got the drift of what Minglan said. However, Shi Keng didn’t take these words to his heart. He went on chattering, “Brother Gu always carries out his tasks in the teeth of wind and rain, and it’s better for him to have a woman by his side so that he can be well cared for. I think Sister-in-law Manniang is pretty good. Why doesn’t he marry her? I heard the marriage that his eldest brother arranged for him came to nothing…”

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Che Sanniang poked him hard in the ribs and snapped, “You are such a muddle-headed and know nothing at all. Don’t meddle in Brother Gu’s personal affairs. Do you forget that last time Brother Gu didn’t talk to you for half a year just because you called Manniang sister-in-law? He hates her to stick to him, so stop talking rubbish!” After hearing her criticism, Shi Keng drew back his neck and dared not say anymore.

Che Sanniang gave him a poke again with annoyance and scolded, “You are such a blabbermouth. When you get excited, you dare to say anything.” She turned to Minglan and smiled, “Niece Minglan, don’t listen to him. He was talking nonsense just now.”

Minglan smiled and comforted, “Never mind. The match you just mentioned…Is it with the lady of Peng family from Qing City in Gannan Area?” In the past year, the whole country had been in the mourning for previous Emperor. Most recreational activities had been banned in the capital. The lack of leisure entertainment led to the strong market demand of juicy gossip and anecdotes. Minglan asked tentatively, “And did this marriage go bankrupt?”

Che Sanniang glanced at Minglan apprehensively. When she saw Minglan’s benign face, she sighed and replied in a low voice, “Brother Gu’s eldest brother, Marquis Gu arranged this marriage for him. We inquired about the Peng family and found that it wasn’t a distinguished family but their legal daughter was obedient and elegant. We didn’t expect…” Che Sanniang sneered and continued, “The Peng family really went too far! If they had been unwilling to marry their lady to Brother Gu, they could have refused this marriage directly. But they…they tried to marry an illegal lady from collateral branch of their clan to Brother Gu! Did they think that Brother Gu couldn’t find a good wife? How dared they do such a shameless thing!”

The Peng family in Qing City were descendants of Marquis Jinxiang. When Emperor Taizong was on the throne, the Peng family offended the emperor and was deprived of the noble title. All people of the Peng clan became civilians. After previous Emperor took power, although he didn’t give the title back to Peng family, he had given them a rich reward. Afterward, Peng family tried their best to bribe the high officials and hoped them to put in a good word for the Peng family. But at last, the title of Marquis Jinxiang was given to a young upstart and the Peng family lost the hope of being reinstated. The Peng family had marriage connections with some noble families in the capital and some young men of this family still worked as a petty official, so the Peng family didn’t fade. But their power and influence were even less than Sheng Hong who could supervise all officials and directly report to Emperor.

Gu Tingye’s marriage was full of frustrations. After hearing that, Minglan silently meditated for a while. She nodded and then shook her head. Shi Keng was puzzled and shouted loudly, “Niece, what’s your opinion? Just speak out.”

Minglan didn’t want to talk more about this matter. But Shi Keng and Che Sanniang were both frank and outspoken. They kept urging Minglan to speak out her point of view. Minglan was reluctant to tell a lie, so she weighed her words and said slowly, “The Peng family did go too far. They shouldn’t find another girl for Uncle. But it’s excusable for them to disagree with this marriage.”

With a bright red face Shi Keng immediately retorted, “What do you mean? My brother is…” Before he finished his words, Che Sanniang kicked him in the shins. He let out a cry of pain and bent to stroke his shins, “Hey! What are you doing?” Just then he saw Gu Tingye, who was tall, strong and had a bushy beard, standing in the doorway.

Che Sanniang stood up nervously. Shi Keng laughed in embarrassment. Then he went up to Gu Tingye and said with concern, “Brother, you are back. You must have cleaned up the pirates. You are so efficient!” Che Sanniang followed his thread of discourse, “That’s for sure! Our brother is capable and reliable. Everything can be settled as long as he goes into action.”

The couple cooperated with each other to flatter Gu Tingye in order to cover their embarrassment of being caught red-handed when they had been gossiping about Gu Tingye. Minglan also felt uneasy as if she had done something wrong. She stood tamely beside and giggled now and then.

Gu Tingye quietly glanced at the couple and their foreheads were immediately oozing cold sweats. Gu Tingye remained silent and slowly walked into the room with his hands clasped behind him. Then he said to the couple in a low voice, “It’s safe outside now. You guys set out at once. I will go with you soon after a short chat with her.”

Shi Keng and Che Sanniang were so in awe of Gu Tingye that they quickly said good-bye to Minglan and walked out in a hurry, leaving Minglan and her Second Uncle in the room. It was really an embarrassing situation.

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