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

Chapter 47

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Cousin Xiulan, Cousin Huilan, and Cousin Yuelan

The atmosphere of Sheng Mansion in Youyang was really pleasing with both the elders and the young amicable, easygoing and hospital. Minglan felt free at ease like a person prisoned for years suddenly getting her parole.

She and Pinlan shared basically the same tastes and got along quite well. The two girls, one a lively hoiden, the other an accomplice full of ideas, along with the nice guy, Taisheng who was quite used to be bossed around by his younger cousin, made the atmosphere of Sheng Mansion even more hilarious. When Minglan went fishing, Pinlan would dig earthworms while Taisheng carrying the creel aside, chattering anxiously like “Watch your step. It’s slippery.” or “Don’t go any further!” When Pinlan wanted to catch sparrows, Minglan would help to prop up the dustpan with a stick and scatter grain while Taisheng hid behind the wall holding the rope…

Li shi was busy preparing for the wedding, so she asked her daughter-in-law, Wen shi to bring them back. However, Wen shi had never been able to discipline her sister-in-law, while Minglan was not someone she could educate at will, so she simply let them be.

“Just let them play. After all, they are just kids who are supposed to be lively, better than being dull.” First Old Madam Sheng came to their rescue.

Seeing Li shi upset by the girls, Old Madam Sheng had planned to reprimand Minglan but gave it up when noticing Minglan’s rosy cheeks and high spirit after these days of playing around. So she simply signed, “Nephew’s wife also loves the girls dearly. It’s just the girls would have to suffer if they were not disciplined well at young age. Well, please tolerate these two for a few more days. Educate these two wild girls when Changwu’s wedding ceremony is over.”

Pinlan, standing at the side with her head buried low, was called here for the lecture. However, hearing that, she immediately beamed with joy, which induced a reproving stare from her dear mother.

Exhausted after the long journey, Old Madam Sheng and Fang Mama asked Minglan to tidy up their packages and record the gifts from their relatives as she had long been helping Fang Mama manage household affairs back in Deng Prefecture. Having only enjoyed her day with Minglan for two days, Pinlan was quite frustrated and grumbled with her mouth pouted. However, seeing that all servants, be it the young or the elderly, report matters respectfully, and Minglan’s orders were all nicely carried out without any whine or pine, Pinlan admired Minglan with surprise.

“I’ve also helped sister-in-law to manage household issues, but the servants always fooled with me and shirked their work, which really upset me. Worse still, mother didn’t even support me and scolded me for not doing my job well…Do you have any knacks for that?” Pinlan asked with modesty.

How could Minglan not know the pain in it? For these days of playing together, she learned a bit about Pinlan’s personality. So she asked, “Let me guess, my dear sister. Before you start, have you ever asked the mama in charge how she used to handle the matter before?”

“No,” replied Pinlan. “I’ve already learned everything about the matter from my mother and sister-in-law, why bother to ask the maids again?”

Minglan continued, “Then I guess you must have had the matter solved directly without notifying the mamas?”

Pinlan nodded in approval, “Those mamas never take me seriously just because of the dignity that grandma and mother grant to them. Besides, many things can be handled so easily with just one order, why bother to switch it to so many hands?”

Hearing that, Minglan immediately put on an unfathomable look. Pinlan was intrigued and kept nagging for the reason. Minglan just smiled, “Servants are bound to masters by the contract. How could they be so daring to challenge their miss? No, they would only choose to obey the established rules to avoid unnecessary errors. When dealing with future matters, you’d better call in the stewardess first and figure out how it’s usually handled before. Keep it the usual way if you can. Only trying a new way when you couldn’t bear to tolerate the old. However, do not act on your own, nor should you let the servants see through your plan. Go ask your mother or sister-in-law first to see if your method is great.”

Pinlan complained with her face puckered, “Mother is always picking on me, I don’t like asking her for advice.”

Minglan flattened Pinlan’s puckered face with a hard pull and explained seriously with a straight face, “Everything in the mansion has its routines. How do you know your way is the best? Aunt is experienced in running the household, so she’d know immediately whether your idea is feasible, better than you doing it the wrong way. More importantly, every servant has its share in the errand when it passes different hands. Now you strip them all off the kickbacks and expect them to pay you respect? No way. It’s only natural that they would do something overtly or covertly to obstruct your work. However, if you let your grandmother or mother know it first, the maids, no matter how elderly or able-minded they are, dare not to accuse their miss of anything.”

Seeing that Pinlan was still a bit hesitant, Minglan added, “It’s no easy task managing a household. Haven’t you heard of the saying, ‘Three years of running the household, hated even by cats and dogs.’ If you’re sick of the trouble, then stay away from it all. However, if you want to do it well, don’t be afraid of the trifles and difficulties. Now you are still an unmarried girl with your parents and grandma backing you up. By the time when you become a daughter-in-law, dealing with your mother- and sisters-in-law is indeed a tough task.” There was still some that Minglan didn’t speak out. As a daughter of a concubine, she herself would face a harder condition. Rulan and Molan were not easy to get along with and Wang shi would not necessarily back her up. Therefore, she believed that the more things one managed, the more chances of making errors. Only if one did nothing could one actually keep out of all troubles.

What employees like best is less work more money whereas the purpose of the employer is to have employees get less and work more, which applies to all times. No matter how competent you were as a hostess, troubles would follow if you harmed servants’ vested interest.

Running a household with 100,000 ounces of silver that only required 10,000 was no doubt easy. With lighter work, doubled monthly salary, double pay overtime, annual bonus and three overseas trips a year, as long as the hostess was not a complete idiot, she would be spoken highly of as being kind and beneficent. However, if one had to keep house with only 10,000 ounces of silver that required 100,000, with her husband’s brother buying a concubine using 8,00 ounces of silver this day, her sister-in-law having a party for poems spending 5,00 that day, or mother-in-law donating 1,000 to the temple occasionally, plus nearly one thousand maids or houseboys and a husband who knew nothing about earning money, only a fairy coming down to earth was competent as she could turn dust into gold.

Run the house according to the financial status of the family, no extravagance for unnecessary style nor parsimony when treating the servants. Show some leniency when necessary even when it might mean more expenses but lay down strict rules to discipline the servants to make everything in order.

Pinlan was a clever girl who was just tired of her mother’s harsh teachings, while her sister-in-law Wen shi, feeling it inappropriate to meddle too much, never explained in detail. After Minglan’s advice, she took quick action to observe how her mother handled domestic affairs, who, having maids counting the trousseaus, rewarding the servants, preparing for the feast…was busying all day long with dozens of maids crowding around her asking questions. Coming to realize how toilsome it was for her mother, Pinlan was quiet for several days, practicing calligraphy and learning needlework with Minglan.

Li shi was quite relived to see her daughter so well-behaved. She was quite surprised when, the other day, she saw Minglan’s competency in handling affairs like issuing orders and counting the gifts efficiently with fingers and a few strokes on paper, not even using an abacus! Minglan was, after all, just a little girl. But taking a look at her own daughter who kept nagging, “How long will it take? Let’s go and play!” after Minglan, Li shi was much worried.

Now just a few days later, Pinlan became such a considerate girl. Li shiwas delighted but also somewhat sad when noticing her daughter’s low spirit. Stroking softly on Pinlan’s head, she said gently, “Your sister Minglan has always been well-behaved back in her home. Now that she’s here, it’d be great that you can take her for some walk in the gardens. Just don’t go too far.”

By the wedding day, Sheng Mansion took a new look, even servants changed new outfit. Pinlan led Minglan happily over the house for the fun. Amid the lively sounds of gongs and drums came their Brother Changwu, who, riding on a white horse in his groom robe of red, led the wedding procession to the Sheng Mansion.

“Look at second brother! He is so silly, smiling so hard that corners of his mouth are stretched behind his ears,” Pinlan whispered to Minglan, swinging her arm around Minglan’s shoulder. Minglan nodded repeatedly in approval—Changwu laughed like a fool but that was quite understandable.

As the First Old Madam Sheng didn’t allow the boys to take concubines, sons of Sheng Family all married at a young age to avoid adolescence mistakes. However, Changwu had some bad luck in his marriage. Starting from when he was fifteen, First Old Madam Sheng and Li shihad been trying to find him a good match, causing girls of all backgrounds, even that of horse keeper, cook or carter, to try their luck. But First Old Madam Sheng and Li shi were not willing to lower their standards of choosing in-laws, so Changwu waited till he was 21 to finally get married. Therefore, Changbai couldn’t be more delighted.

Minglan also met Taisheng’s father, her uncle-in-law, whose formal name was Er’niu, a name that led Minglan to the speculation that he must have an elder brother named Da’niu. However, that was not the case. The reason why he got the name was his mother once dreamt of someone gifting them two bulls before delivery. This Uncle-Bull was quite amicable, helping out day and night after his brother-in-law, Sheng Wei.

[T/N: Er’niu 二牛/èr niú/, literally means two bulls. In Chinese, 二 has two meanings, either second or two. While Da(大)means big or eldest as in 大哥–eldest brother. So Minglan originally thought that since her uncle-in-law was named second Niu, then he might have an elder brother named Eldest Niu.]

However, Minglan didn’t like her cousin Shulan’s husband, Sun Zhigao, who, though with fine features, was quite arrogant as if his eyes grew higher on his forehead. She later learned that he was once the noted child prodigy in Youyang, a Xiucai passing the Child Examinations at the young age of 12…but still a Xiucai till this day, who immediately changed his attitude from arrogance to respect after learning that Old Madam Sheng was a daughter of a marquis and her descendants were all officials.

Unmarried girls were not supposed to see the guests, so they were not allowed to attend the wedding ceremony or greet the guests. Pinlan tried many times to breach the servants to the front hall to enjoy the celebration but was stopped by Minglan, who instead dragged her over to the backyard to appreciate the newly crafted flower trees. Li shi knew her daughter well and in her busy schedule had servant bring Pinlan to the back hall to accompany First Old Madam Sheng and the female guests.

“Are ladies of third uncle all here?” asked Pinlan.

“Yes, my lady, so are the married lady Xiulan and Yuelan from the neighboring county,” replied the servant girl with a smile.

Hearing that, Pinlan immediately pulled a long face and refused, “Then I’ll not go.”

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The servant girl said with a worried tone, “That’s not appropriate, my lady. Madam has ordered…”

Minglan came to the rescue after seeing the servant girl’s anxiety, “You may leave for your duty now, I’ll be there with your young lady.”

The young maid knew that her young lady was on good terms with Minglan, who could often persuade her lady despite their short time together. So she left after some words of gratitude.

Pinlan stared at Minglan and complained, “Why you promise her that? I won’t got.”

“It doesn’t matter for me. However, aunt knows you well. Fearing that you may make trouble, she would certainly have maids remind and even escort you there. It’s just a matter of time,” reminded Minglan with a casual tone.

Recalling her mother’s tough temper, Pinlan was in dismay, “I’m sick of the girls of third uncle. Sister Xiulan is okay, but Huilan, who you’ve met before, is intolerable. The most notorious one is the concubine-born Yuelan…”

Leading Pinlan to the main hall, Minglan asked as they walked slowly, “What’s all the grudge about? What happened?”

Pinlan unwittingly followed Minglan and grumbled, “You may not know how brazen they are! When I was still a little girl, third aunt pushed her three daughters here, claiming that girls should be brought up in wealthy family yet she herself was financially disadvantaged. Since the three girls came, I and big sister suffered much. Sister Xiulan only tried to protect herself, which was understandable. Yuelan, however, stirred trouble every time when there was something good to distribute on festivals, robbing my robes and stealing my sister’s hairpins. If I reported to mother, she would go crying shamelessly everywhere declaring that we mistreated her!”

“She steals?” Minglan was astonished.

Infuriated by her unhappy memories, Pinlan fumed, “More of blatant robbing! Yuelan would seize every opportunity to rummage in big sister’s house when there was no one present, picking the best ones without returning back. Big sister was too lenient to ever blame her, so Yuelan went insolent to even steal in mother’s room! Mother tolerated her for several times, thinking what she took were just some jewels and it was only natural for girls to dress up as they grew up. However, Yuelan went too far to even take title deeds of some lands and this ancestral mansion. Mother was furious!”

Intrigued by it, Minglan urged, “What happened later? Did your mother get the title deeds back?”

Excited by the question, Pinlan replied with complacency, “Back then Yuelan was about to get married in two months. Therefore, she thought that mother wouldn’t dare to touch her in fear of her engagement. However, mother first invited her over with great hospitality, then sent messages to her in-laws to delay the marriage for half a year as Yuelan was struck with a heavy disease. After that, mother put her in detention and never yielded not matter how third uncle and aunt pleaded and quarreled. In fact, fearing that it might lead to a break-off of the engagement, third uncle didn’t dare to stir up the trouble. It was not until Yuelan handed out the title deeds dozens of days later that mother finally let her out. You know what’s the funnies part? Yuelan didn’t even tell her plan to third uncle, hiding all the title deeds under her underwear so that she could take them to her husband’s family.”

As Pinlan told the story with excitement, Minglan, however, was quite surprised and couldn’t help exclaiming in heart, “Deep rivers indeed move in silence! Never have I expected that the genial-looking aunt is such a man of decision and means!”

Pinlan was quite encouraged by Minglan’s interest in listening and continued, “Then about Huilan, I couldn’t even remember how many times we’ve fought with each other! Look at this scar! She gave it to me by pushing me to a stone five years ago. Luckily that I propped myself up at the last moment or else I would be severely disfigured.” Saying that, Pinlan immediately drew her sleeve up, exposing a pitch-colored scar that twisted like a chilopod.

“After that, she was immediately sent home,” added Pinlan furiously. “What an ungrateful thing!”

Huilan was three years older than Pinlan. Hard to imagine how she could do such a cruel thing. Looking at the scar over a dozen centimeters long, Minglan could even feel the pain Pinlan experienced. She pulled down Pinlan’s sleeve and comforted, “I heard from your mother that sister Xiulan is good natured. She takes good care of her husband and children, enjoying conjugal harmony, which shows that Aunt’s teachings are not wasted.”

Hearing that, Pinlan finally put on a smile, “That’s because mother offered help. That year Sister Xiulan ran to my parents by starlight and kowtowed frantically in tears to plead with my parents, hoping them would persuade her father out of the idea of marrying her to a malicious old stingy. Mother fought really hard to save her and managed to marry her to her present husband. However, her husband tried many times to pass the provincial exam but failed, it is father who smoothened the relations and helped him get his current post of being an official teacher in the neighboring county.”

Minglan nodded repeatedly in approval, “Uncle and Aunt are warm-hearted, helping nieces to such. Emmm…but why don’t they help big brother-in-law (Sun Zhigao, husband of Shulan) to get the same post?”

“Hump! Many years ago, my dear brother-in-law learnt from a fortuneteller that he would someday be the prime minister. After that, he is determined and confident that he would pass the provincial and imperial court exam with excellent results. How would he condescend to such a humble post of an official teacher? He has refused father’s offer to help several times. I just hope that his talent can really match his ambition!”

Minglan was amused by Pinlan’s complaint and couldn’t help wondering, “If Pinlan is born in modern times and writes a post of ‘Enjoy the show of how freak my cousins, cousin-in-laws, uncles and aunts are!’ on Tianya BBS, it would no doubt go viral and attract countless readers.”

When Pinlan finished her speech, they were already at the door of the main hall where stood a servant girl stretching her neck long and waiting. The servant girl was overjoyed to see them and hasted to greet them, “My dear lady, you’re finally here. Old Madam has inquired about you many times and is planning to have servant fetch you again.”

“Stop nagging about it! I’m here!” Pinlan felt much better after pouring all her past grudges out and immediately dragged Minglan into the room. The moment when the servant girl lifted the curtain there came an unknown voice of an old woman, “…just marry your Minglan to my niece!”

Quite astonished, Pinlan unwittingly turned to Minglan, who somehow breathed a collective sigh of relief and said smilingly, “What did aunt say when she let you transcribe books as punishment? The bad will fall no matter you face it head on or try to dodge it. All right, let’s get in.”

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