Published at 20th of March 2019 09:37:03 AM

Chapter 45

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Agreeable Autumn Wind

When she returned to the capital to reunite with the Sheng family a few months later, Minglan was asked what kind of person He Hongwen was.

Pondering for quite long, Mingan answered, “A good person.”

Hes was an aristocrat family, the ancestor of which had set up the Baishitan Academy as an honest and upright pioneer among all scholars around the country for decades. Though the descendants were less outstanding as their ancestors, they were in possession of both wealth and nobility titles. Old Madam He had married to a collateral branch of the He family. Her third son passed away at a young age, left with only one son, He Hongwen, who was much loved by his grandparents.

He Hongwen had studied medicine since he was a child. As soon as the boat started to sail, he began to boil medicine tea for Minglan to comfort her stomach. Though the tea tasted bitter, it took effect soon. One dose of it made Minglan feel much better. Yet, she believed in the end she had to build up to resist sickness, so she planned to take no more of it. However, since it was not polite to turn down his kindness, she had to secretly dumped the tea away.

One day, He Hongwen came to visit Minglan and asked casually, “Did you take the medicine tea I sent?”

Minglan responded with a serious face, “Yes, I took it just now.” To her surprise, at this moment Xiaotao came in from outside with a cup in her hand, saying “Relax my lady; no one saw me…” The sentence stopped halfway at the sight of He Hongwen. Approved Only. For any use of this content, please contact us at [email protected] for authorization, or we’ll resort to legal means for copyright protection.

Minglan, feeling her scalp shuddering, forced some laughter and said to He Hongwen while avoiding his eyes, “Haha, it’s hard…hard to wash.”

He Hongwen pretended to act as usual and smiled, “Of course, things get harder on boat.”

Minglan...=_=. Danju, standing next to her on call, was less brazen and looked away.

The next day, He Hongwen sent two bowls of herbal tea. Before him, Minglan held up undauntedly the bowls, gurgled in one breath, and showed him the empty bowls for inspection.

He Hongwen smiled like a teacher praising a pupil who just finished the homework that had been procrastinated.

Strictly speaking, He Hongwen was the first unrelated man Minglan knew. Their grandmothers were confidants that hadn’t seen each other for decades, so they hid in the compartment chatting and making up for decades of years’ loss. With the company of a group of servants, young or old, Minglan and He Hongwen indeed met several times.

The first meeting between ancient boys and girls started normally with, “What books have you read?” 

The question was familiar to Minglan because this sentence was quested to recite in Lin Daiyu Moving to Jia Mansion from the high school textbook, so she imitated the character in it and answered in a shy manner, “I only know a few words trying not to be illiterate.” 

Having answered his question, Minglan felt herself behaving like a real lady.

He Hongwen picked up his eyebrows and made no comment about it but he looked right to stare at a pile of papers for practicing calligraphy on the desk. The papers were stained with ink, apparently having been written with characters. Minglan was a bit embarrassed and added, “I have just read Female Rules and Filial Piety.”

He Hongwen still kept silent and turned to left where on the shelf piled out of order several used books whose covers were open. On topics of medical astrology, astronomy, geography among others, they were light readings sent here by Changbai and Changdong at Minglan’s begging. 

Minglan was once again caught and forced a smile, “…These are books my brother told me to give my cousin.”

He Hongwen seemingly understood it well and smiled, “You brother really reads extensively.”

The corners of Minglan’s mouth jittered and she forced some dry laughter. Good Heavens, brother Changbai who only read classics, brother Changsong who only read accounts, and brother Changwu who felt dizzy at the sight of characters, please do forgive her!

The kindest side of He Hongwen was that he still nodded and pretended to be unaware of Minglan’s lies however apparent they might be, and that he seemed convinced of every obvious excuse that Minglan had made. Since he was so nice, Minglan no longer put on air of a lady and began to treat he with sincerity.

As they approached Jinling, the weather turned warm. Last time they headed north to Deng Prefecture, Minglan had just time-travelled here when she lacked energy and was at low ebb of her life, so she had no mood to enjoy landscape. However, this time, she was in a fresh new mood. The landscape along the banks greeted her as increasingly delicate and soft. Minglan sat at the window to appreciate the natural sight and cargos at Caoyun Dock while He Hongwen, who had travelled between north and south several times, explained for her with smile and patience.

“Big white bird; big mouth bird, … gunny-bag boat!” Minglan dumbly pointed at things and named them with poor diction.

He Hongwen explained with a smile, “That is cormorant, apt at catching fish; …That is gull… No, that is grain boat…”

Minglan’s outgoing and cheerful nature and He Hongwen’s introversion yet reliability made the two get along quite well with each other.

“My mother intended me to be an official through exams, yet I have no motivation for that but only passion for drugs and medication.” He Hongwen said with shame.

“Brother, don’t look down upon yourself. Reading classics is just to assist the emperor in governing the country as well as benefiting the family and descendants. However, in the end, medicine plays the same role. You can still bring glory to the family and save the world by treating illness and helping the sick. Your grandmother’s father, with such great medical skill and ethics that he went to infected area in person to save lives when he was a teenager and turning an adult, he was in charge of the Imperial Medical College and issued canon of medicine, an honorable man so respected by the world!” Minglan sounded sincere because doctor was a noble profession and also well-paid.

He Hongwen’s eyes turned bright and looked at the girl opposing him, smiling.

“My father passed away at a young age and my mother has been sick. It’s really unfilial of me not fulfilling her expectation to indulge in learning for official rank.” He Hongwen’s melancholy shrouded the autumn like a piece of silk.

Minglan displayed her tender white hands on which pinholes were visible, “I never liked embroidering and the butterfly I made still looked like a fly even though I’ve been taught by several masters my grandmother invited. I’m also an unfilial girl.”

He Hongwen smiled and comforted, “You are still too young. With enough practice, you’ll sure get better at it. My cousin Jin’er is most apt at embroidering and she made it by practicing day after day.” Minglan touched her fingers and asked casually, “Oh? Does she also in Jinling?”

He Hongwen’s face turned gloomy, “No. A few years ago, her father was found guilty due to the ‘Xiaoliangshan Mine case’ and the whole family was exiled to Liangzhou.”

Minglan stopped talking. A few years ago, several hundreds of miners were killed in the collapse of Xiaoliangshan Mine. Unexpected was that the mine owner colluded with the local officials and embezzled much of the consolation money. Even more outrageous, the mine owner accused the workers’ wives and children, almost provoking public anger and causing a serious blunder.

The emperor hit the roof after hearing the news, though he knew this was the aftermath of emperor-seizing. However, he could only punish those officials who championed this event. As for the accomplices, fear was their punishment. Therefore, only a few officials were condemned in this event. To He Hongwen’s surprise, his cousin’s family fell victim of it.

“Since they are only exiled, I suppose the charge is anything but a felony. Otherwise, they would be decapitated. After all, there will be nationwide amnesty. I believe your cousin will be pardoned and get back home someday.” Minglan comforted. As long as the crime one committed was not felony, the law-offenders would be pardoned upon the new emperor’s accession to the throne. Besides, all people around the country knew that the emperor was living counting his days left.”

He Hongwen was grateful towards Minglan’s good intention. After a while, he responded, “My maternal uncle did do something wrong at that time, so he wasn’t wronged and deserved the punishment, yet it would be best that they could be pardoned.” Pausing for a while, he continued, “I have self-made clam scream in my place. Why not give you some for hand-care? In winter, fingers turn inflexing when doing needlework. The cream can relax meridians and promote blood circulation.”

The youth had a gentle tone and mild eyes like the last touch of golden sunrays in the cool early autumn, crawling onto Minglan’s face and making it hot.

After another five or six days of sailing, the boat finally dropped anchor at the dock where stood many people who seemed to be servants judging by their dress. They all stretched necks to look into the boat. Half of them were here to pick Minglan and others up and escort them to Youyang. The other half, who looked bleak, were to pick up Old Madam He to visit her sick old father in Jinling where her original family lived .

Old Madam He held Old Madam Sheng’s hands and bade farewell for quite long before letting them go. He Hongwen repeatedly urged Minglan, “Take care of yourself. People are most easily to fall ill from long voyage and tiredness. Have a good rest before hanging out.”

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Minglan nodded hard.

Sheng Wei and his eldest son Changsong arrived here to receive them. It was the first time Minglan met with her eldest cousin who had dark skin, strong features, loud voice and generous temperament. He and Changwu looked very alike to each other. The moment he saw Minglan, he greeted her with laughter, “I suppose you are my sixth younger sister Minglan. My father has kept talking about you with my sister Pinlan and she often cried to see you in these years.”

“I guess you’ve never been to Youyoung. It’s a good place and our ancestral hall is situated there. Two hours’ ride will take us from there to Jingling. Later, I’ll take you and Pinlan to hang around.”

“Jinling is home to many aristocrats and officials, so we businessmen don’t want to join them. It’s best to stay in our hometown where you can enjoy spacious land and beautiful scenery. I learned that you like fishing. Later I can prepare for you fishing tools. In the dozens-of-miles-sized of fishing pond, the fish can even be poked with a pole!”

“The mountain forest is most beautiful in autumn. You must see it before winter. The mountain is swarmed with maple trees that are different from those in the capital. They are less fragile but wilder.”

That day it was sunny and warm with cool autumn breeze in the air. Even sitting in a palanquin wouldn’t be smothering. Sheng Wei and Old Madam Sheng was talking while brother Changsong, riding a horse, talked with Minglan who sat in the palanquin to avoid boringness for her. Minglan felt she was like a little happy child going on an outing.

Though “Sheng” meant prosperity, the family was formerly far away from prosperity. Instead, it was dying off. Until ancestor Sheng seized the opportunity of dynasty-changing to make a fortune by making connections as a businessman with a few senior officials did Sheng family began to prosper, after which ancestral hall was set up and a grandeur mansion was built in their hometown Youyang. All merchants longed for being scholarly, so the first thing ancestor Sheng did after his success was to marry with a big dowry a lady from a degrading scholar family. Then they had three children.

The eldest son inherited the family wealth yet he, a lascivious man, was fascinated by a singer concubine and played a farce of “spoiling concubine while abandoning wife”. It was said that in his last days, he was almost broke. The second son was Minglan’s grandfather, a handsome young man with graceful bearing that achieved the third in the national exam. His wife was a tough lady from a Marquis family; the two treated each other like enemies. He died of a cold before turning thirties. The third son was the oddest one, surviving till today through excessive eating, drinking, gambling and visiting prostitutes.

Minglan sighed deeply: The introduction of genes to make modification failed. The whole army was wiped out.

Servants had long sent the news to the old mansion, so by the time when Minglan and others arrived, the gate of Sheng Mansion was wide open with a row of smart-dressed ladies standing at it. Seeing Old Madam Sheng and Minglan walk out from palanquin, one middle-aged lady with a round face walked up and bowed to Old Madam Sheng. She smiled, “You finally arrive, aunt. Our old madam has missed you so much that her neck turned longer in expecting you. I haven’t seen you for many years. Seeing you in good health makes me happiest than anything else.”

While chatting, she spotted a pretty young girl standing next to Old Madam Sheng, so she asked tentatively, “Is this my niece?”

Old Madam Sheng answered smiling, “Yes, this is the monkey. I keep her around me since she was a little girl. Now she can keep company with Pinlan.”

Then she took a glance at Minglan.

Getting the hint, Minglan immediately walked up to show respect and bowed, “Nice to meet you and wish you are well, big aunt.”

Li shi’s eyes were squeezed to lines from smiling and kept saying, “Good girl, good girl.” Then she reached out to touch Minglan’s face and appreciation leaked out of her eyes, “What a pretty and well-disciplined girl. You must stay longer and teach your wild-monkey-like cousin Pinlan. Then she won’t act like a horse without bridle.” Then she pointed to a young woman next to her, “This is your big sister-in-law. Just ask her if you need anything while living here.”

Minglan bowed again, “Nice to meet you, big sister-in-law.”

Wen shi held Minglan up at once and said gently, “Feel at home, sister. After greeting old madam, let’s see whether you like the room prepared for you. If you don’t like it, just change another one. This is also your home; just don’t feel restricted.”

Li shi was a wealthy-looking lady who was amiable yet solemnly graceful. In a while, Old Madam Sheng among others was led inwards. Passing through the second gate and tea room along the corridor and circumventing the cover wall, they entered the main hall where First Old Madam lived. Minglan walked in and saw in the middle sitting a grey-haired old woman who looked fragile and skinny, but her eyes were clear and torchy. At the sight of Old Madam Sheng, the old woman stood up to welcome her with both arms opening.

Old Madam Sheng hurried a few steps and greeted, “Big sister-in-law.”

First Old Madam Sheng responded passionately, “My sister-in-law, I haven’t seen you for many years. Considering your health condition and accompanying Sheng Hong everywhere to take office, I feared you would be worn out, so I’ve been expecting to see you once more in my lifetime. Today, it’s indeed a blessing from Buddha.”

As she spoke, the tone turned trembling. Old Madam Sheng was touched and replied with intimacy. Then she ordered Minglan to kowtow to First Old Madam Sheng. The latter held Minglan’s hand and examined her with great care, nodding repeatedly, “This child has a good face, looking both auspicious and pretty.”

This was the second time that Minglan was praised for being pretty on the same very day. She tried not to touch her own face, thinking to herself, how could a 12-year-old girl be beautiful? She supposed that the relatives were just being nice because they couldn’t comment her at the first meeting that ‘Your child looks like a pie’.

The outgoing Changwu was a bit shy today. Since Minglan entered the door and said to him “Congratulations brother”, he turned to a boiled shrimp, keeping lowering his red face after replying several questions of Old Madam Sheng and standing up straight to cultivate the temperament of a shy groom.

In view that Old Madam Sheng and First Old Madam Sheng were chatting, Li shi pulled over Minglan and pointed to a girl who seemed of the same age standing next to her, “This is your cousin Pinlan. You are of the same age.”

Minglan looked at the girl who had a pair of big eyes on her round face which resembled that of Li shi’s, and a pair of delicate and sharp eyebrows that made the whole face alive and active. She was also looking back at Minglan. As the two’s sight met, Minglan smiled to show friendliness, “Nice to meet you, sister Pinlan.”

The girl’s eyes flickered, and she replied, “Nice to meet you too, sister Minglan.”

While speaking, she stole a glance at her mother who was over there serving two old madams, so she winked at Minglan who, though a bit shocked, screened around quickly then decided to be naughty and winked back at the girl. Afterwards, Minglan pulled down the corners of her mouth to resume a serious and obedient face.

Pinlan stared her eyes wide open with surprise which then was replaced by joy.

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