Published at 7th of June 2019 09:02:20 AM

Chapter 99

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Returning to Ancestral Mansion (1)

This time when Minglan returned to ancestral mansion, she was in sombre mood because the whole mansion was overlaid with a certain nervousness, completely different from the joyful atmosphere two years ago. Servants went in and out of the inner mansion cautiously without making any noise, and no one dared to laugh or frolic.

Minglan first visited Sheng Wei and Li shi who were both pale and thin. Li shi looked haggard and worn.

As the old saying goes, there are no dutiful children at the bedside of chronic ill parents.

But First Old Madam Sheng was in no way representative of parents in general. In those years she had gone through all kinds of hardships and brought her young children up. She was indeed the biggest contributor of the prosperity of the Sheng family. As the eldest daughter-in-law of the first branch of Sheng family, Li shi should attend upon First Old Madam Sheng heart and soul. After months of looking after her mother-in-law, Li shi felt half dead with tiredness.

“Father, Mother, you two have been nursing Grandmother in front of sickbed for a long time. Thank you for your hard work. I am sorry I come back late.” Changwu cried and fell to his knees at Sheng Wei’s feet. Kang Yun’er also knelt beside him. Li shi hastened to help her son and daughter-in-law up, and took Yun’er to sit down on a soft couch. Then she said with concern, “My dear child, you are pregnant now. After the long journey, you must be tired. You can have a break after meeting Old Madam. Our family won’t mind that.”

Kang Yun’er firmly declined Li shi’s suggestion. Sheng Wei urged, “Listen to your mother-in-law. It’s what Old Madam hoped you to do.” Li shi turned around, took Minglan and Changdong’s hands at the same time and said lovingly, “Good children, you two must be tired too. Come on, follow me.”

She led them to First Old Madam Sheng’s bedroom. After walking in, Minglan was acutely aware of the pungent odor of herbal medicines. In the middle of the bedroom, there was a five-layered lotus-shaped gilding brazier, in which charcoals burned brightly. It was cold outside, but in the room it was warm. Changdong couldn’t help but shiver because of the sudden change in temperature. Minglan reached out and gently stroked his back.

Old Madam Sheng, who sat on the edge of the bed with a solemn expression, broke into a faint smile at the sight of her grandson and granddaughter. She just nodded to Minglan without saying anything. Changwu walked quickly to the bedside and dropped to his knees, crying sadly, “Grandmother, I’m back.”

Minglan came up and saw First Old Madam Sheng lying on the bed with her gray hair neatly combed, her eyes sunken and black-ringed, the bridge of her nose sunken slightly too, her eyes closed tight. When she heard Changwu’s voice, she struggled to open her mouth slightly but no sound came out because she was too weak. Finally, with the help of an old female servant who was in charge of decocting herbal medicine, she nodded with difficulty. But soon she slipped into a coma again.

Wen shi, who was waiting upon beside the bed, gently wiped tears off her face and sobbed, “Grandmother has been unable to speak since a few days ago. She can only swallow some porridge. Today she’s better than the last few days.” Changwu immediately bowed to her and said, “Sister-in-law, you must be tired from looking after grandmother. Thank you.”

In order to give First Old Madam Sheng an undisturbed rest, they all walked out of the bedroom and went back to the main room. Changwu, Kang Yun’er, Minglan and Changdong greeted Old Madam Sheng by dipping a curtsy or making a bow. Old Madam Sheng asked a few questions about current affairs in the capital. Changwu answered her one by one. Li shi was surprised to see lots of big boxes and bags stacking in the courtyard. Changwu said evasively, “… I have asked for a funeral leave of nine months…”

Li shi’s heart ached for him. Since Changwu had been promoted to Bazong, she enjoyed high prestige in her family and the Sheng family. Now the Sheng family was rich and powerful. Although attending upon First Old Madam Sheng was hard work, she could overcome it as long as she thought that in the future her children and grandchildren would take good care of her as what she was doing to First Old Madam Sheng. She tried to be a filial person, but it didn’t mean that she was willing to sacrifice her son's official career to filial duty.

Li shi scolded, “How could you make this decision without asking me? In my view, you can stay in the capital and go on working. Your older brother, sister-in-law and I will deal with our family matters. There is nothing in the imperial law to suggest that grandsons must be in mourning for their grandparents.” Li shi feared that someone would take Changwu’s official position.

Sheng Wei cast a glance at Old Madam Sheng and said magisterially, “Changwu told me that beforehand. Though there is no formal decree in the imperial law, showing love and devotion to elders won’t go amiss. So, don’t make indiscreet remarks. I know what is best for our son.”

Old Madam Sheng held Minglan’s hand and looked her up and down to see whether she got thinner or fatter. When Old Madam Sheng heard their conversation, she smiled and comforted Li shi, “Don’t worry. Your uncle has made contact with the commander and vice commanders of Zhongwei Guardian Team. They will keep this official position for Changwu. If the imperial court were badly in need of officials in the future, the superiors would call him back to assume his duties before the end of the mourning.”

Sheng Wei and Li shi were overjoyed to hear these words. They immediately asked Changwu and Yun’er to kowtow to Old Madam Sheng. Minglan was responsive. She instantly came up to help them up and said considerately, “Sister-in-law, you are carrying a baby now. Don’t move violently. Just sit down. Brother Changwu is filial. Everything, whether his official career or your parturition, will go well.”

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Li shi was pleased by Minglan’s thoughtfulness and flattery. She took two pouches prepared in advance from a maid beside her and thrust them into Minglan and Changdong’s hands. Then she took a pair of jade bangles off her wrists and put them on Minglan’s wrists.

The jade bangles with a nice dark green were sparkling and transparent without any impurities, warm and smooth to touch. Obviously, they were made of rare top-grade jade. Minglan immediately refused to accept this valuable gift. Li shi insisted on giving Minglan the bangles, saying with an affectionate look, “Good girl, next year you will reach the age of fifteen. I’m afraid that I can’t attend your hair-do ceremony. Just take the jade bangles as my gift for you in advance. Don’t refuse them.”

Minglan turned to Old Madam Sheng who nodded slightly to her, which set her mind at rest. So she accepted the jade bangles and expressed her gratitude by curtsying to Li shi respectfully, while thinking to herself, ‘Aunt, in fact, you don’t need to worry about Brother Changwu’s official career. All the men in official circles are shrewd. Though officials don’t have to be in mourning for their grandparents’ death, it is better for Brother Changwu to be in mourning for nine months because it can earn him a good reputation. He is a military officer. Different from civil officials, military officers play an insignificant role in peacetime. And anyway, Sheng Hong and Changbai will help him get back his official position nine months later. So he asked for a leave without hesitation.’

The adults had something to say, so the children consciously went out of the main room. Changdong had ridden the horse for two hours. In the beginning he had felt it interesting, but later he had suffered because the saddle had kept rubbing his thighs. Now he felt his inner thigh muscles aching and limp. Changwu had asked servants to prepare some ointment for him. So now he was going to apply the ointment.

Minglan followed him into the room and wanted to look after him. But Changdong with a straight face drove her out. Minglan watched him slamming the door shut with a bang and silently complained, ‘I know you have a penis. It’s no big deal. I’m not an ignorant girl because I have seen some adult movies in my previous life.’

After Minglan walked out of the house, Pinlan who was waiting for her outside, seized Minglan’s sleeve at once and said with a fierce look, “Give me the bangles!” The pair of jade bangles were Li shi’s cup of tea and Pinlan had been trying to get them from her mother for a long time.

Minglan snorted querulously, “Alas! I’m so unlucky these days. A few days ago, I met the pirates. Now I meet another bandit!” In reality, Li shi had already prepared gifts for Molan, Rulan and Minglan to celebrate their 15th birthdays.

With that, Minglan slipped the bangles from her wrists and handed them to Pinlan. Pinlan asked with interest, “Second Sister-in-law told me what happened on the ship. How were the pirates? Did you see them?” Minglan raised her head proudly and answered with a heroic spirit, “Yes. I fought against them like a hero and beat back all the pirates on the ship.”

Pinlan rolled her eyes at Minglan. She took the bangles, held them up to the sun and observed their internal structures. Then she put on the bangles and fiddled with them for a long while before she handed them back to Minglan. Minglan took one bangle and stuffed the other one into Pinlan’s hands. “Take it. Now we each have a bangle.”

Although Pinlan liked the bangle very much, she was embarrassed to accept it and said with hesitation, “My mother gave them to you. How can I…” Minglan patted her shoulder and said in a teasing tone, “Just take it. I hear that in circle of bandits you can take half of other people’s treasures as long as you see them. Am I right?” As a result of teasing Pinlan, Minglan was rubbed and pinched hard by Pinlan.

After dinner, Minglan followed Old Madam Sheng to her bedroom for a rest. They finally had a chance to talk privately. Minglan held her grandmother’s arm with a grin and was about to say something. But Old Madam Sheng’s face suddenly turned cold as she snapped, “Kneel down!” Minglan was stunned. Old Madam Sheng barked the order again, stern-faced with dignity, “Get down on your knees right now!”

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