Published at 15th of February 2019 08:01:30 AM

Chapter 37

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Grandmother, Elder Brother, and Qi Heng

After dealing with the servant girls, Wang Shi led Minglan to the Hall of Peaceful Ages to report her work that afternoon.

“How did you do with Yinxing after you took her back?” asked Old Madam Sheng a little indifferently as she leaned against the bricks bed near the window after she changed her attire, wearing a black-blue double-breasted jacket embroidered with eight tufts of flowers made of black silk.

Wang Shi said with her eyebrows furrowed, “Having seen her being diligent, I thereby sent her to work for sixth girl. But, surprisingly, she turned out so shameless, so I’ve dislodged her to a remote estate.” A maid of the second rank, who used to work in the inner chamber of womenfolk, now was exiled to work in a remote country estate for heavy labor, which was a severe punishment; After a pause, Wang Shistretched her locked brows, held Minglan’s hand and tapped it gently, “You’re so naive. If you’re bothered by the maids, you should come and report it to me earlier. Why tolerate it?”

Minglan said with a blush, “If Madam didn’t love me so dearly, you wouldn’t punish them so heavily. Actually, Yinxing was good at finishing her jobs neatly, she was just a bit imprudent because of her young age; Jiu’er is very good. I haven’t disciplined my room very well these days so that the maids caused such a mess. Only she and a few other girls could stick to their duties. I haven’t thanked you for that.”

Not until now did Wang Shi feel that her face was saved. She smiled toward Liu Kun’s wife standing next to her. The latter one felt happy in her heart, who, though knew that her daughter wasn’t so good as sixth lady described, was delighted to hear her daughter being praised. Seeing Minglan act so docilely, Old Madam Sheng at the seat of honor gave Minglan a casual glance with reproach, who forced a bitter smile upon receiving the meaningful glance.

Hiding the emotion in her eyes, Old Madam Sheng looked at Wang Shi and said, “You’ve done your job well, not only teaching Minglan but also disciplining the uneducated maids. I’m relieved to have you run the household.” Old Madam Sheng seldom extolled others, so Wang Shi felt complacent in her heart. She replied with a smile, “Old Madam speaks highly of me, which makes me ashamed.”

Old Madam Sheng said with a smile, "Although she's been brought up by me, she hasn't learned anything useful. Each time she encounters something difficult to tackle, she only chooses to flinch. Such a coward can do nothing successfully!" As she spoke, she cast a stern glance at Minglan. The latter one nervously stood up right away and said in a muffled voice, "This won't happen again. I'll set strict rules for the maids to stop grandma and Madam from worrying about me again."

Wang Shi said with a chuckle, "That's it. Minglan is too young to understand how to regulate her maids well. As she learns with time, she will finally find her own way for that. Thus, Old Madam can rest assured." Hearing that, Old Madam Sheng showed some pleasure on her face, praised Wang Shi a few more words, and scolded Minglan with a strict face, "Madam has to take care of the big family, so why you still bother her! If you can't discipline your maids well in the future, I won't spare you!"

Minglan hurriedly responded with a bow, promising repeatedly. Wang Shi vouched for her with a bright smile. Only then did Old Madam Sheng soften her face.

Liu Kun's wife stood silently and thought in her heart that Old Madam was shrewd, so was sixth lady; as she slightly raised her head to look at Wang Shi who was complacent, she twisted her handkerchief tightly and decided to say nothing.

After that day when Wang Shi showed her authority, all maids, whether elder or younger in Minglan’s chamber became quiet as if their tongues were pulled out. The next day, Fang Mama sent over a ferule, which made all the maids more diligent. Even several of them who used to play with Minglan performed their duties with aggrieved faces, Minglan didn’t comfort them. In order to encourage each maid to build a beautiful and harmonious House of Clear Dusk, Minglan handed out the Code of Conducts of the House of Clear Dusk and ordered the elder maids to transmit it to the young ones. Besides, she also asked the elder ones to spare some time to make the little ones to study the spirit of it by groups. Each half of a month, Cuiwei would hold a meeting and draw a summary report of the trial period.

On the same day after Minglan was scolded by Old Madam Sheng, Fang Mama was dispatched here to pass on a message that except for the morning greetings, Minglan should eat meals in her House of Clear Dusk and regulate the maids in her room. Minglan became gloomy immediately. Having barely tolerated it for a few days over half a month, she sneaked into the Hall of Peaceful Ages with a small bag in a sunny morning. She solicitously curried favor with Old Madam Sheng who looked still serious, dawdling over Old Madam Sheng, by kneading the shoulders and lightly massaging the legs. Having seen Minglan being busy pleasing her, Old Madam Sheng couldn't keep her strict face gradually and didn't push away the adorable granddaughter in her arms, only her face remained cold.

Seeing things get better, Minglan promptly took out a specially made gift and handed it to Old Madam Sheng with a fawning smile on her dainty face. “...Hee hee, see, grandma, this is a warm cap I made for you — a Zhaojun-style made of singed wool with lining of cotton cambric. You can try it on...”

At first glance, Old Madam Sheng liked this warm cap, fine and light in bright ginger with a digit width black edge, on which embroidered elegant longevity patterns that demonstrated superb craftsmanship. But before she could say something, Fang Mama immediately praised, “See, sixth girl is the one who cares about Old Madam the most. She knows that you’ll be sick of wearing the big warm cap made of singed wool from inside out after the snow is melted, so she immediately made you a light one. Look at the fine stitches and the embroidered flowers. Even Garments of Immortals can’t make such a delicate warm cap. Come on, let’s try it on, Old Madam...”

In the midst of her talking, she took the cap and involuntarily put it on Old Madam Sheng's forehead. The two sides of the browband fitted perfectly well on Old Madam Sheng from the forehead to the back of her head where the pearl-made lock catch closed. Old Madam Sheng touched it, feeling quite comfortable and pleased in heart as she found it soft and warm. Glancing at Minglan who was still nervous and grabbed her arm with an ingratiating giggle, Old Madam Sheng felt soft in her heart. Fang Mama continued to praise Minglan, "Old Madam's tender love on sixth girl is paid off. See, the warm cap is so fit for you. As sixth lady grows up, her needlework becomes more and more skilled."

Being humble, Minglan quickly said flatteringly, “Well, well, that’s mainly because grandma has a good head.”

Old Madam Sheng couldn’t keep strict anymore, bursting into laughter right away. She put the little Minglan into her arms, clapped hard on Minglan’s back, and scolded, “You useless girl!” Promptly, Minglan, like a sticky candy, threw her arms around her grandmother’s neck to play coquetry for a while.

Fang Mama was relieved. Old Madam Sheng had been wearing a long face for the past half a month, which depressed her, too. As soon as she saw Old Madam Sheng on the bricks bed carefully inquire Minglan’s living conditions in the past half a month, she withdrew to the kitchen silently and asked the cooks to add some Minglan’s favorite dishes. In her mind, Old Madam Sheng didn’t eat much for these days alone.

After Minglan resumed the relationship with Old Madam Sheng, her life was brought back to normal.

Subsequently, Minglan visited Brother Changbai again who was engaged in preparing for Spring Examination. He could only have some spare time before dinner, so she counted the time to wait for him early. As she entered his yard, she was ushered by Yanghao, the elder maid in Changbai’s chamber, into his room and sat down. Afterwards, several maids served her tea and desserts quietly without making any noise. She then recalled that she didn’t see any maids who were as beautiful as Ruomei and Ke’er. Even maids that could compare with the plain-looking Bisi and Lvzhi were hardly seen. Once again, she considered her eldest brother indeed amazing.

In her memories, when Brother Changbai was the first one to select maids a couple of years ago, he avoided the beautiful or talented ones to choose those veracious, which made Wang Shi quite depressed. Although Wang Shi insisted on choosing some pretty maids and placing them into his room, Brother Changbai strongly turned her down by reason of that talented and pretty maids were ambitious troublemakers, who would disturb him, preventing him from studying intently. Wang Shi was choked because of some words she couldn’t say publicly, “My son, these girls are specially arranged to be “played” by you; a teenager like you shouldn’t be so quiet.” Wang Shi had to euphemistically explain the definition of a Tongfang to him (Tongfang means a maid in name but a concubine in reality).

After pondering for a while, Changbai agreed with his mother’s suggestion. However, he asked Liu Kun’s wife to say one sentence to all the maids on behalf of him. It was rumored that as soon as Wang Shiheard of it, her face turned as green as a mung-bean paste.

The hostesses of the two successive generations of the Sheng Family held largely the same idea on how to deal with Tongfang. As the first legitimate daughter of a marquis, Old Madam Sheng sent those Tongfang away as soon as she was married to Old Master Sheng, and no one dared to rebuke her. When Wang Shi was married to Sheng Hong, she followed suit, sending all Tongfang of Sheng Hong to marry to others, and Old Madam Sheng connived at that. Thus, Changbai asked Liu Mama to announce: It was a family tradition that whether Tongfang could be promoted to concubines depended on their future hostess.

Wang Shi wanted to vomit blood again. What nonsense! No one would like to be Tongfang forever if there was no hope of becoming a concubine by the leverage of sons. Staring at her son frowning and glaring like his father, Wang Shi couldn’t refute back, which made her really want to crunch her teeth.

Those girls felt depressed at the beginning. After they had served Changbai for a long time, they came to realize that young as the childe was, he had a dignified temperament, was a man of his words, and resented someone who was disobedient, coquettish, and affected. Minglan strongly suspected that this was because of the awful impact Concubine Lin had left on him when he was just a kid.

In this case, the enthusiasm of those little maids with slender waist and rosy cheeks, who originally wanted to become his Tongfang, was tremendously reduced. Since then, Changbai’s yard was quite harmonious and peaceful. The childe and maids kept silent in unison, only the noises of chickens and dogs could be heard. Several times when Danju sent things to him on behalf of Minglan, the yard was dead silent, making her so nervous that she didn’t dare to breathe heavily.

——The above-mentioned intelligence was provided by Xiaotao while the psychological activities were supplemented by Minglan.

Much funnier, Changbai named the maids as Yanghao, Langhao, Zihao, Jihao, Zhuhao, Jianhao...The most beautiful girl sent by Wang Shi was called Shuxu! …lol…

[T/N: Hahahahahah…sorry, just couldn’t help laughing. These names are amazing!!! They are all animal hair that could be made into Chinese writing brush, so they also refer to the name of the brush pen made of the corresponding animal hair. Imagine a young and beautiful girl with a name of weasel hair…Back to point, meaning of the names:

Yanghao 羊毫/yáng háo/ — goat hair or the pen with goat hair as the brush.

Langhao 狼毫 /láng háo/ — weasel hair or the pen with weasel hair as the brush.

Zihao 紫毫/zǐ háo/— purple rabbit hair or…

Jihao refers to chicken feather, Zhuhao pig hair, Jianhao a brush made of several animal hair together, while Shuxu means Mousewhisker…]

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Learning these, Xiaotao was relieved and said to Minglan sincerely, “My Lady, thank you very much.”

As Minglan was lost in her fantasies, Changbai came back from school. Seeing her sit on a chair and wait for him, he said directly, “Sixth younger sister is here? Have you finished practicing the calligraphy of Madam Wei Listening to Waves?”

[T/N: Madam Wei, full name Wei Shuo, is a calligrapher in Jin dynasty.]

Minglan’s smiling face immediately froze, “Er...I almost finish it.”

Sitting on the opposite, Changbai began to scold her without even taking a sip of the tea, “An achievement is founded on diligence and wasted upon recklessness. Though you leave the Hall of Peaceful Ages, you still need to work hard. As a girl, you ought to practice your handwriting. Otherwise, you’ll be made fun of...” He talked endlessly about something that reading was for man to become reasonable; if you didn’t understand the etiquette, you were nearly foolish.

Minglan felt despondent. She couldn’t understand why such a quiet brother, who used to speak even less than three sentences each day, would address long speeches whenever he rebuked herself. She hadn’t seen he scold Molan or Rulan. The incident of Yinxing caused her to be educated by him for as long as one hour. She couldn't even refute back because that would only lead to longer lecture. Thus, she had to listen to him dejectedly, which made Xiaotao beside her titter happily without any compassion.

After a long time when Changbai finally finished, he took several sips of the tea to moisten his throat and asked, “Why are you here?”

Minglan murmured in her heart that he finally asked. She puckered her mouth to order Xiaotao to pass a new pair of cotton-padded shoes to him. “Here. It took me a lot of time to make them. I’ve thickened the soles by half an inch. Even if it rains in the capital city, you don’t need to worry a bit.”

Yanghao quickly took them and handed them to Changbai. Their uppers were thick and soft with several pines and cypresses embroidered on them, which were quite simple and decent. Changbai received them with an emotionless face, “Thanks, sister.”

Minglan puffed her cheeks and pouted, “I’ve almost become your maid. Making a pair of shoes is really time-consuming. Plus the pair of soft clogs last time, I’m very tired. Look at my little hands, there are several pierced holes on them!” As she spoke, she stretched out her hands before him. Glancing at them, Changbai still wore a cold face and didn’t speak anything. However, he rubbed the soft bangs on her forehead with his hand and said, “Make a list of whatever you like and have it sent to me. I’ll bring them back from the capital city.”

Minglan gave him a bright smile and said joyfully in her clear voice, “Thank you, brother.”

Yanghao looked at the shoes up and down and complimented, “Lady’s needlework is excellent, and our Childe loves the shoes made by you, saying yours is the most comfortable ones. I’ve learned from you by imitating the old shoes you’ve made. But why are they not as comfortable as yours?”

Minglan shook her head complacently and said, “This secret is beyond words. The shoes are here, and you can try to figure it out by yourself.”

——Actually, it was not difficult at all. Each one had his own habit of walking: some liked leaning forward while some backward; some preferred walking outwardly while some inwardly. The uppers could tell the shape of the feet and how they exerted force while walking, while the soles could show the supporting points of the feet and heels. Regarding this, the specific cloth and fabric would be selected accordingly to make the shoes tailored specially for the feet. Minglan worked as carefully as when she compared the clauses in the legal books in her previous life and finally figured a way out.

Yanghao replied with a smile, “OK, may lady! I’m off to think it thorough.” Then she left with the shoes.

Reckoning that it was time to Hall of Peaceful Ages for dinner, Minglan stood up and wanted to leave. Seeing this, Changbai finally asked after some thoughts, “Sixth younger sister...Brother Qi came back to school from Deng Prefecture a few days ago. I heard that he asked his servant boy to send you some presents, but you didn’t meet the servant boy?”

Qi Heng came back to Deng Prefecture from the capital city with his parents about 10 days ago. On the first day when he came to the Sheng Mansion to attend school, he asked his servant boy to deliver some presents to House of Clear Dusk. After undergoing a long psychological struggle, Minglan resolutely rejected his sugar-coated bullet; since Qi Heng couldn’t come to pull her by the ears, he felt quite annoyed. In this case, he found Changbai who he befriended with and asked Changbai to speak for him.

Minglan cleared her throat and said seriously, “As the Book of Rites says, the boys and girls should be seated separately at the age of seven. As our sisters grow, we should abide by the rites and don’t receive the outside men’s gifts at will.”

Seeing his little doll-like sister speaking general principles, Changbai moved his lips and said, “...The pair of Big Clay Figurines originated from Wuxi are paid tributes by the southern region, not something expensive.”

Minglan shook her head strongly and said, “Two elder sister don’t possess one, so it is unreasonable for me to have two.” Afterwards, she talked about the principles that there should be no physical contact between a man and a woman except between a husband and his wife. Changbai remembered Qi’s complaints of her and request for help, “The pair of Big Clay Figurines look like you very much.” After a pause, he continued, “There are also dimples on the corners of their lips.”

Minglan continued shaking her head with a rather serious look, “Brother should think about it for me. What should I do if fourth and fifth elder sister know this matter? Since you and Brother Qi study together, please tell him the principles therein.”

Changbai eyes twinkled, and he looked silently at Minglan for a while. There seemed to have a trace of pity in his eyes as he saw her delicate face and bright eyes. Having pondered for a while, he nodded slowly and said, “Yuanruo doesn’t have any siblings, it’s normal that he likes you as a younger and adorable sister. However, it’s time to avoid some unnecessary troubles. I’ll go and talk to him.”

Minglan thanked him with a smile and led Xiaotao to the Hall of Peaceful Ages for dinner. As he stared at her slender and graceful figure, an idea suddenly came across his mind: if only Minglan were his legitimate sister.

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