Published at 2nd of June 2019 08:31:24 AM

Chapter 98

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A Loser Leads a Miserable Life

When Changwu and Kang Yun’er came back, they saw Minglan sitting on the soft couch safe and sound. She was sorting and counting the treasures with her head bowed. Dangju sitting beside her quietly peeled a tangerine and stuffed a segment of the tangerine into Minglan’s mouth now and then. Xiaotao and Luzhi sat opposite, both looking at the account book: one read it aloud, the other ticked the belongings. The bright and boundless sky outside the window was as clear as the calm river. The scenery was very good.

The couple’s jaws dropped to the floor in disbelief. Minglan calmly reported what had happened: They packed the belongings, and then the pirates boarded the ship, so they jumped into the river. Afterwards, the members of Cao Bang came and drove the pirates away. At last, they returned to the ship.

Minglan narrated the events to the couple, brief and to the point. She felt her manner of speaking coming closer to Brother Changbai’s.

The couple felt guilty about leaving Minglan alone in the ship. But quickly they turned guilt into motivation because they knew that this event would get their clan into trouble if it wasn’t well handled. So they took action at once. Kang Yun’er was indeed Aunt Kang’s daughter. She handled the follow-up matter in a decisive manner. She gave the servants stern warnings and kept their mouths shut. When they arrived at the destination and went ashore, everything had been properly disposed of.

Changsong, who had received the letter from Changwu in advance, led a group of family servants to wait on the quayside. It was of course a delight for them to meet again after such a long separation. Changdong refused to sit in the carriage and insisted on riding a horse. He pressed his brothers until they finally gave in and allowed him to ride. Yun’er stood with arms akimbo to support her aching and limp waist and chatted with Changsong. After they had a short talk, two meticulous servants helped Yun’er sit in a carriage with blue linoleum curtain. Minglan was about to follow her to the carriage, but a servant came up and helped her sit in another one. As soon as she entered the carriage, she saw Pinlan smiling happily at her with an octagonal compartmentalized box for assorted fruits in her hands.

The two girls didn’t see each other for two years. Pinlan grew into a beautiful girl with a graceful figure. Li shi had subjected her to strict discipline in the past two years, which successfully changed her from an impetuous and lively girl into a gentle and decent woman.

Pinlan missed Minglan very much. When she knew that Minglan would arrive today, she was eager to see Minglan earlier, so she piteously entreated her mother and sister-in-law for a long time. At last, she was allowed to the quay with her eldest brother to pick Minglan up.

Minglan and Pinlan were congenial sisters. They embraced each other warmly the moment they met, and then they were having horseplay in the carriage by pinching each other’s cheeks or shoulders. They didn’t stop frolicking until a Mama outside the carriage gave them a warning cough.

“You wicked girl! I miss you terribly!” Pinlan clung to Minglan’s arms with a big smile. Minglan was struggling to pull her hands back and trying to tidy up her hair that was mussed by Pinlan. She shook Pinlan’s hands off with force and said, “I will tell Aunt that you hurled abuse at me.”

Pinlan twisted her face into a ferocious look and showed her white teeth. Then Pinlan sprang at Minglan, rubbed her hair and pinched her cheeks. Realizing that she couldn't defeat Pinlan, Minglan raised her arms in surrender. The two sisters quietened.

“How is First Old Madam Sheng these days?” Minglan asked with concern. Pinlan’s eyes dimmed with sorrow as she answered, “Last month she got better but since the weather turned cold, her condition has aggravated again. These days she is dizzy and sleepy all day and can’t even say a complete sentence. The doctor says that she's going to die in the next few days.”

There was a long silence in the carriage before Minglan patted Pinlan’s hands and gently comforted her for a while. Then Minglan asked about her grandmother, Old Madam Sheng. Pinlan smiled, “Thanks to Second Old Madam Sheng, she often tells Grandmother some interesting stories that happened in the past, and it makes Grandmother feel better. Sometimes when Third Old Master Sheng came to stir up trouble, Second Old Madam Sheng sat in front of him and easily defeated him by words.”

“What did my Grandmother do?” Minglan asked with interest.

Pinlan cleared her throat and banged the table like storytellers in teahouses did before she described in chilling detail what had happened between them--

Third Old Master Sheng said, “Nephew Sheng Wei, I remember that your great-grandfather had stored 50,000 ounces of silver in your mansion before he passed away. Now it’s time to share the silver.”

Sheng Wei replied, “Really? I’ve never heard of it.”

Third Old Master Sheng got angry and fumed, “Are you trying to repudiate this debt? I’m your uncle. How dare you be rude to me! I have your great-grandfather’s handwritten note. It can serve as evidence.”

Old Madam Sheng said calmly, “Yes, I remember that. And I also remember that year you asked for an advance on your share to free the star actress of Green Fairy House (name of a whorehouse). Finally, you got your share. Old Master Cui dealt with this matter and I guess he must have a record. I will write to him and ask him to send the record book to me… I’m your sister-in-law. How dare you raise your eyebrows and scowl at me! Do you want to offend me?”

Third Old Master Sheng was speechless.

Old Madam Sheng continued, “Furthermore, at that time you were short of silver, so you took away our share. I still keep your IOU. Now we both get older. I think we must put it on the table and set a repayment date.”

Third Old Master Sheng changed the topic at once, “Today is a nice day. Let’s go home early and have a good rest. Don’t forget bringing the laundry in before the sky darkens. I’ll go first. Bye.”

Pinlan and Minglan both roared with laughter with pleasure, bending over the tea table and shaking in their seats.

Third Old Master Sheng was indeed an artful man. Although he didn’t make progress these years, he was so sensible that he always stopped before going too far. In this way he got silver from the first and second branches of the Sheng family from time to time without completely falling out with them.

Sheng Wei was clever. For a business man, friendliness is conducive to business success. So he never quarreled with his elders. Third Old Master Sheng was too old and wouldn't live long. After his death, as the eldest son of first branch of the Sheng family and the clan chief, Sheng Wei would have absolute power over affairs of their clan. By then if third branch of the Sheng family didn’t learn self-reliance and kept creating disturbances, he wouldn’t put up with them anymore.

The carriages trundled along the road for over an hour. Before they entered the town, Changsong halted the carriages and broke their journey at the edge of the village in order to have a rest. Drivers watered horses, examined and repaired wheels. Servants waited upon Kang Yun’er, Pinlan and Minglan, led them to the woods to urinate and helped them wash their faces and hands. After urination, Minglan and Pinlan soon came back. As soon as Pinlan climbed into the carriage, she lifted the window curtain and looked out with excitement. Minglan asked curiously, “What are you looking at?”

“I saw some old friends just now… Come on. Minglan, come here and have a look.” Pinlan waved her hand and urged Minglan to come forward. Minglan leant over the window, her face puzzled. Pinlan pointed her finger at some people standing under a pagoda tree at the entrance of the village. Minglan recognized them at once and gave out a little cry of astonishment.

They were really Minglan’s old friends.

Sun Zhigao, who seemed in a difficult position, crouched on the ground with his head buried in his hands, shivering in fear, and his long gown was dirty. A tall woman stood beside him with a big stick in her hands. Sun’s mother pointed at the woman and bawled, “Are you crazy? You are too harsh and tyrannical. My son just went out to have a drink to wind down. How dared you beat him! Don't forget that he’s your husband!”

The woman said aloud, her face remaining impassive, “I think I’m doing the right thing.”

Sun’s mother flew into a rage and rushed up to the woman, trying to hit her. The woman dodged nimbly. As a result, Sun’s mother fell heavily to the ground with legs pointing up. The woman cracked up laughing. Sun’s mother lay on the ground and burst into a storm of abuse, “You wicked widow! Since you married into our family, you have made me angry or beaten your husband every two or three days. I have never met such an unfilial daughter-in-law as you. Now I fell down but you just stand by like an impassive spectator.”

The widow put down the stick, apparently unconcerned about the abuses. She even smiled, “Mother-in-law, I used to be a widow, but now I have married your son. You still call me ‘widow’. Do you want your son to die early?”

The surrounding villagers all laughed, pointed at Sun’s mother and whispered to one another.

The widow had a broad face, her front teeth bulging forth and her tough exterior hiding a tough soul. She said aloud in the presence of villagers, “Though it’s my second marriage, I brought many dowries to Sun family. The house they live in and the farmland are all from me. Mother-in-law, it doesn’t matter if you sit idle and enjoy the fruits of my labor. But you should control and guide your son. He is a Xiucai. It’s better for him to study hard for the imperial examination or set up a private school to earn money than go out and carouse with his evil friends. He always plays around with his bad fellows and indulges himself in eating, drinking and pleasure-seeking. If I don’t restrain him, he is bound to sell the house and farmland. Mother-in-law, do you plan to drive me away and seek a new marriage for him after he spends all my dowries?”

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The villagers all knew what kind of person Sun Zhigao was, so they just stood by and laughed. A few loquacious villagers even made sarcastic comments. Realizing that no one would help her, Sun’s mother lying on the ground began to kick up a fuss, “You guys all heard that, right? How dared she accuse me! Every woman in the world should wait upon and please her mother-in-law. I never hear that a woman dares to disobey her mother-in-law. She even asks me to do housework. I’m exhausted every day. I’m a poor woman. I don’t want to go on living…”

A few old men couldn’t bear to stand quietly anymore. One of them said in jest, “Since she is such an unfilial daughter-in-law and mistreats you, why don’t you drive her away?”

The widow’s face darkened. She glared at the old man and screeched, “It’s my second marriage. If someone brings me troubles, I will set fire to his house first, and then kill myself in front of him. I won’t let him have an easy time.”

The old men immediately shut their mouths. The widow looked at Sun’s mother and taunted loudly, “Mother-in-law, do you still think of yourself as an old madam of a rich family? Now we rely on 2 acres of farmland to support our family. Every old woman in our village has to do the housework. I only ask you to keep an eye on chickens and ducks in the backyard. It’s such an easy work, and you don’t even have to raise your hands or bend down. How can you say that I mistreat you! If you want to live a rich life, you shouldn’t have discarded your previous daughter-in-law. Since you drove her away, it is wishful thinking to win her back. Such behavior will bring you into contempt.”

Recalling the good old days when Shulan had been her daughter-in-law, Sun’s mother was speechless with rage and regret.

The widow looked at the villagers around her and said, “Hi everyone, do you know my mother-in-law is such a muddle-headed woman? My husband’s first wife is indeed a good woman. She married him and brought silver, house, farmland and servants to Sun family. She served my mother-in-law tea and massaged her legs in the midnight. She attended upon my mother-in-law wholeheartedly but my mother-in-law disliked her and always bullied her. At last, my mother-in-law even drove this dutiful daughter-in-law away because she wanted a dirty prostitute to be her son’s wife. She fell for words of flattery and treated the prostitute as her real daughter. However, the prostitute cuckolded my husband and gave birth to a bastard. Finally, she took all the money away and eloped with her adulterer. Mother-in-law, in my view, you should get rid of your bad temper. Good medicine is bitter in the mouth and honest advice, though unpleasant to the ear, benefits conduct. Now you dislike me too. Do you want to find another honey-mouthed prostitute to be your daughter-in-law?”

Although the widow was tall and rough in manner, every word she said hit the nail on the head. After hearing that, the villagers burst into laughter and some women even couldn’t stop laughing. No one defended Sun’s mother anymore. Sun’s mother was ashen and trembling with rage. She suddenly rushed to Sun Zhigao and struck his breast while crying, “You stand by and watch your wife bullying me without doing anything to stop her. You unfilial son! I regret having given birth to you.”

Sun Zhigao got up the courage to point at the widow and said, “Filial piety is the most important in all virtues. How could you annoy your mother-in-law! You even answered back to all she said. My first wife is from a rich family but I divorced her without hesitation. Do you think I dare not divorce you?”

Sun’s mother cheered up and instigated, “That’s a good idea. My dear son, divorce her, and then we can find a better woman to be your wife.”

The widow laughed ironically, and then her face turned cold. She cursed loudly, “Find a better woman? You are daydreaming! At that time, you two went bankrupt because of that prostitute and had no place to live in. If I hadn’t married into Sun family, you would have suffered from cold and hunger. Your son is infertile. He can do nothing but recite poetry. Moreover, he is promiscuous in sex relations. Do you really think that your son is as capable as Gan Luo or as handsome as Pan An? If I had been a maiden, I wouldn’t have married him. He can’t give me a son, and I must adopt a young relative as my son in the future. I'm not even sure if someone will take care of me when I’m old. Now you want to divorce me? Okay. I wrote a document with the assistance of our village head before. If we divorce, I will take back the house and farmland.”

T/N note:

Gan Luo: a famous statesman of the Qin state in the Warring States period.

Pan An: a famous handsome man in the Western Jin Dynasty.

Sun Zhigao flushed crimson with rage, ashamed and resentful. Sun’s mother loved her son. When she saw the villagers gossiping and casting meaningful glances at her and her son, she was overwhelmed with shame and vexation. “You are a woman. How could you be unabashed to talk about that in front of outsiders. Bah! That's nonsense!”

The widow raised her head and said, “In the past, none of your son’s concubines were pregnant. The prostitute you liked gave birth to a son but unfortunately, he’s not your grandson. I hear that your previous daughter-in-law have given birth to several boys after she remarried. Let’s make it clear first in front of fellow villagers. If you accuse me of having no children and want to send me away, I won’t admit the accusation.”

Shulan seemed to want to demonstrate that she was fertile. After her remarriage, she bore two sets of twins in two years, including three sons and one daughter. Now she was still in confinement after delivery. Her husband’s family used to have few offspring, but now they were a growing family. Shulan’s parents-in-law, who had been dissatisfied with her identity of remarriage, now completely changed their attitudes. They beamed with pleasure each time they saw their daughter-in-law.

Sun’s mother went crazy. She picked up the stick on the ground and swung at the widow. The widow quickly sidestepped. She caught Sun's mother, snatched the stick from her hand and pushed her aside. Then the widow kept hitting Sun Zhigao with the stick and scolded aloud, “What a good-for-nothing you are! How dared you go out to drink and seek whores! You always spend money recklessly and make friends with disreputable guys. Why don’t you stay at home and study hard?”

Sun Zhigao was shouting wildly in pain and jumping around to dodge the stick. The widow was courageous and strong. She tweaked his ear and went on hitting and scolding him. Sun’s mother picked herself up and tried to stop the widow from hitting her son, but she was too weak to defeat her daughter-in-law. The three of them immediately grappled, which made the villagers laugh.

Minglan quietly looked at Su Zhigao and his mother. He used to be an arrogant gifted scholar who always held his head high and looked down upon others. But now he was penniless, frustrated and cowardly. Sun’s mother wore clothes made of coarse material. Strangely, which took Minglan on a trip down memory lane--

Two years ago, Sun’s mother sat in the main room of the Sheng family with lots of gold hairpins and jade hairpins in her hair, dressed in silk and satin, taunting Shulan mercilessly in front of Li shi. Past events faded like a puff of smoke, and everything was turned upside down.

After a while, the carriages were about to start off. Changsong knew that Sun Zhigao and his mother were making a scene at the entrance of the village. Afraid that they would pester him and his family, Changsong decided to take a devious route. Pinlan rested her chin on the sill of the window and kept looking back until she could see nothing. She turned around, sat up straight, slowly raised her teacup to take a sip. Then she let out a long breath with satisfaction.

Minglan looked at Pinlan who was gloating over Sun Zhigao’s miserable condition. She debunked with a smile, “Now you are very happy, right?”

Pinlan turned her head to the right and left with pleasure and felt refreshed, “Yes. His misfortune relieves me of all my displeasure.”

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