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Published at 20th of March 2019 09:38:29 AM


Chapter 55

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A Memoir of Divorce in Ancient China (2)

At this point, there came from the outside a woman dressed like a steward. She walked with great respect to Li shi and handed over a pile of bills and many keys. Li shi took them over and nodded with a smile.

Sun the mother and the son shouted out of surprise upon seeing the woman servant, "Bian Mama, why are you here?"

Bian Mama replied with a smile, "I followed first lady to your house, but I'm still a servant of Sheng Family. Why shouldn't I be here?" She then turned to Li shi, "Madam, these are the lands and real estates that first lady took to Sun family upon marriage. The rest are the indenture of me and the list of dowries."

First Old Madam had planned this for long, taking every detail into consideration. Right after the Sun mother and son got out, the maids and servants stayed in Sun family started to take action. The strong servants guarded the door while the maid-servants in charge packed all Shulan's dowries, convened the rest maids and servants and brought all back to Sheng Family.

Sun the mother jumped out of wrath and nearly pounced on Li shi, shouting, "What a righteous Sheng-li shi! How dare you search our house and confiscate all our property! They're mine, give them back to me. I'll tear you up!" Saying that, Sun the mother rushed to scratch Li shi's face but was stopped by the maid-servants standing aside who were all trusted subordinates of Li shi. Seeing their lady being humiliated, they felt quite indignant and all vented it out on Sun the mother. Yet in the time of chaos there came a heavy "thud", and it was Sun Zhigao's mother who somehow got herself tangled by the feet and fell all over with her face touching the ground.

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Waving the paper in her hand, Li shi hummed, "I have the list of dowries! I didn't take a penny from your Sun family. In fact, thousands of ounces of silver and a lot of jewelries are missing. But never mind, I'll take them as the daily expanses of my daughter living in your house. If you disagree, then I'm ready to see you in court."

Sun Zhigao boiled with anger and roared, "The minute she married me, live or dead, she is a member of Sun family. Her property henceforth belongs to Sun family. There is no such a thing as her dowry!"

Sheng Yun was quite amused by his arrogant words and derided, "Though not learned, I somehow heard the saying of 'seeing an object makes one misses its owner'. Now that you dislike my niece, why should you try to keep back her property? Ah! I see…" Sheng Yun protracted her voice as if taking a tumble, "Is it that the first scholar of Youyang covets my niece's property? Tut-tut…how vulgar you are!"




Sun Zhigao was choked, his neck reddened and his face distorted. All those present in the hall began to persuade, making it quite boisterous.

Right at this moment, First Old Madam who had been silent all the while spoke, "Dear fellow countrymen, please hear a word of this old woman."

All silenced down upon her words. She then continued in her hoarse voice, "Since the time of our great-old master Sheng, We Sheng Family has been on good terms with nearly all families in Youyang through several generations. It is not that our girls too jealous to tolerant a concubine…it's…just…I…" First Old Madam heaved a long sign, looking extremely sad.

A Baozhang (A leader in charge of ten village soldiers) of Li Family cupped his hand and asked, "Are there any secret sorrows to be revealed, Old Madam? Please do enlighten upon us."

First Old Madam Sheng continued, her voice full of deep grieve, "Dozens of years ago a prostitute came to Sheng Family as a concubine. What happened later, I believe, you are all aware of. My first daughter died before she even got ten. Wei's father brought the family to ruin for that woman, even this ancestral mansion…," First Old Madam pointed up to the roof and finished her sentence, "was sold."

First Old Master Sheng was notorious for favoring his concubine over wife that nearly all elders in the county knew of it. All the elders present had all witnessed it when First Old Master Sheng squandered the family fortune, which had always been used as a negative example by family heads to threaten their children out of brothels.

Sun Zhigao and his mother were at a lost upon the tragedy card First Old Madam Sheng played. With a look of dismay, First Old Madam continued, "It is the blessing of ancestors and the support of the uncles and elders that helped me and Wei'er out of the tough years. We finally bought the ancestral mansion back. Now I can say that I can finally face the deceased ancestors. This old woman here extends the deepest gratitude to you all!"

After that, First Old Madam Sheng stood up, intending to bow to the elders. All hurried to stop her, repeatedly saying, "We cannot receive it."

Sheng Wei enjoyed a great reputation in Youyang as he not only provided funds for the old but also helped to build roads and bridges, which made his successful endeavor to bring his family back to its prime even more encouraging and inspiring.

First Old Madam Sheng straightened herself up and said determinedly, "From the day we bought this ancestral mansion back, I, an old woman, swore by the Buddha that, no matter what the other members of the family do, all descendants of my branch, regardless of the gender, should never have any dealings with prostitutes. Breaking this oath, I shall die miserably and fall to the eighteenth level of hell with my tongue pulled out and thrown to the boiling oil by the devils."


Her resolute words stunned all, who, on a second thought, all came to understand her oath. The family was nearly destroyed by a prostitute, and it would be too much to ask for their daughter to acknowledge a prostitute as concubine!

After these few sentences, the atmosphere on the hall changed. Though not all those present supported Sheng Family, none of them tried to speak for Su Zhigao and his mother. The other members of the Sun Family all sat in silence. Sun Zhigao and his mother was panic-stricken, as they now were passive before such a heavy oath.

Then First Old Madam Sheng softened her voice and sighed, "I do have compassion for your difficulties. It'd be hard to let go of an heir after all these years, and Zhigao loves the woman so dearly. However, daughters of Sheng Family would never live in the same house with the girl…" All stretched their necks long to listen attentively.

First Old Madam Sheng continued, "Let's both take a step back with a 'negotiated divorce'. We'll leave half of the dowries to Sun Family in memory of the ties of the two families. What do you think?"

All present in the hall breathed a collective sigh of relief upon hearing her words. The patriarch of Sun echoed immediately in a loud voice, "How very righteous and sensible you are, Old Madam. Such is the best that the friendship between we two families will not be harmed. Nephew Zhigao, what do you say?"

Minglan marveled secretly at First Old Madam's extraordinary wisdom, who though looked quite short-spoken and honest in daily life, arranged everything perfectly to details, from the clear allocation of roles, the perfect control of the pace, to the arousing of the emotions…Step by step, she led all into her trap. How amazing she was to plan this all out!

Sun Zhigao still felt quite unwilling to yield, nor did his mother who had long been coveting Shulan's dowries. If not for the shrewd maid-servants besides Shulan, she would have long plundered all. Now she had to give up half of it. How could she be willing to accept it?

Shooting a cold glance at Sun Zhigao and his mother, Li shi shouted, "If you disagree, then let's bring it to Yamen (a general term for government office). Drag that woman out for a parade through the county and let all people in Youyang know your shamelessness!"

What Su Zhigao cared most was his fame. Therefore, he immediately hummed, "Want a negotiated divorce? Fine! I'm sick of her anyway!" Half of the dowries were quite a fortune. He was satisfied.

Pulling a long face, Sheng Wei called in Tongpan and the two clerks, who began to draft the paper after some whispering with Sheng Wei. Later, Li shi took out the list of dowries. Sun Zhigao's mother still tried to have a detailed look so as to pick something valuable. However, Sun Zhigao, fearing to be laughed at with Tongpan's presence, split the list in half without looking.


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Li shi said, "Servants who followed Shulan to Sun Family are all family born. Now we are no longer in-laws, it's improper to separate them from their parents. I'll give you some silvers to have them back."

With that, Li shi fished from her sleeve a pile of bank notes. The elders standing in between saw that there were at least 5 bank notes of 100, which made them wonder, "Sheng Family is indeed generous. These silvers can buy plenty of servants."

When the paper was ready, Tongpan looked at Sheng Wei and said, "Sign it now."

Sun Zhigao immediately walked over and signed his name quite happily and left a finger print on the paper.

Li shi hurried to say, "My daughter is quite weak, please let my husband sign it."

At this moment, there came a loud noise that startled Minglan and Pinlan. They turned back their heads, only to see Shulan, who had somehow stood up, pushed the screen open and strode out. Pinlan tried to stop her big sister but was pulled back by Minglan, who then peeked attentively through the crack of the door.

Li shi cried out of surprise, "Shulan, why did you get out?"

With her face still wet with tears, Shulan kneeled straight down before her parents and throbbed, "This daughter is unfilial to bother mother, father and grandmother as such."

Li shi cried with handkerchief covering her face, Sheng Wei turned away from his daughter out of extreme sorrow, while First Old Madam Sheng looked gratified.

Shulan, with a firm look, bowed elegantly to all elders in the hall, walked slowly yet steadily to the desk, wrote her name and left her fingerprint on the paper.


Looking at the yellow face of Shulan, Sun Zhigao couldn't help mocking, "You, ignorant and mediocre, don't deserve me! It was a fault that we married. Now everything is settled. You can go find yourself a peasant or a pig-slaughter. Just be more virtuous this time!"

That was too far! Li shi and Sheng Wei were infuriated, even all those around thought Sun Zhigao was too excessive!

Sun Zhigao was still laughing, while Shulan turned her head abruptly, her eyes burning with anger. She felt nauseated when she looked at the husband she used to trust her life with. Therefore, she spat hard on Sun Zhigao's face and said calmly with her eyes fixed on the exasperate man, "You lascivious, wicked wretch! One look at you makes me nauseated!"

Finishing her sentence, Shulan gracefully bowed to all and left. Sun Zhigao hasted to wipe his face with the sleeve and bore a deep hatred in heart when he heard the derides.

All looked at Sun Zhigao with disdain and bade goodbye to Sheng Wei, ignoring Sun Zhigao and his mother completely. Even members of the Sun family only cupped their hands and left without a word. Fearing that he might have made fool of himself before Tongpan, Sun Zhigao hurried over to cottoning up. However, Tongpan ignored him completely, scanned him up and down with cold eyes, and left after exchanging some amicable conversation with Sheng Wei.

Sun Zhigao was outrageous and turned to his mother, "What a snobbish and greedy old official! Drinking and commenting pomes with me some days ago and ignoring me today! When I pass the exam, I'll definitely report his wrongdoings!"

Sheng Yun sneered, "How many times have you tried? Not even getting the horror of Juzi yet you still dream of reporting others! What a tone!"

Su Zhigao shouted back in anger. However, he was never a match of Sheng Yun in quarrelling and was taunted again.

Pinlan had rushed out to comfort Shulan. Only Minglan stayed in the side room. Two servant girls exchanged glances and were quite confused to see Minglan standing still with a look of meditation.

Minglan paced slowly and pondered with her head lowered, understanding many of the confusions for these days and her grandmother's care and thought for her.

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