Published at 31st of March 2019 10:51:26 AM

Chapter 63

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One-day Tour Around Marquis Xiangyang’s Mansion (1)

After Old Madam Sheng went back home, Sheng Family and Hai family started the six rituals for a marriage. Hai family was one of the aristocrats in Dongyang, therefore Sheng Hong decided to follow the whole set of traditional rituals of marriage. When Minglan went for her daily greeting to Wang shi, she saw a wild goose being bounded firmly on the table in the main hall of Wang's house. She poked it out of curiosity. However, with its beak bounded, it only cast a rather supercilious look at Minglan.

"It's still alive?" Minglan exclaimed. "Isn't it usually a sculptured one?"

Rulan pouted her mouth and complained, "A family of scholars for generations! They are particular about rituals. It was caught and brought here several days ago and has been thereafter treated like an ancestor of ours!"

Sheng Hong had, in particular, asked his confidant, Lord Li of Dali Temple (A government office akin to the Supreme Judicial Court of modern days) to exchange bridal gifts and make the proposal on behalf of Sheng family. As Lord Hai was about to leave the capital to take his office, time was quite limited so Lord Liu was able to bring back the eight-character paper of Lady Hai on the very same day.

T/N: Eight-character paper (生成八字) exchanged at betrothal ceremonies in arranged marriages [stating birth information of the betrothed boy or girl expressed in eight Chinese characters] to see if the two were a perfect match.

After which, Sheng Hong put on an act to ask the official matchmaker to help divine the already known eight-characters if the two were a great match, which were then placed before the spirit tablets of ancestors for blessing, getting no doubt an auspice.

Only when all that was done could the two be betrothed and the betrothal gifts be sent. The wedding ceremony was then set the next month, 18th of the twelfth month of the lunar year, a date extremely auspicious.

The end of the year was a busy time for happy events. Marquis Xiangyang, father of Pingning Princess, was celebrating his seventieth birthday by throwing a grand banquet. Sheng family, as a distant relative, plus that Changbai and Qi Heng studied with the same teacher for many years, were thus invited.

Early this morning, Cuiwei dragged Minglan out of bed for dressing up. Her overdress was a front-opening coat of silver red done by the tapestry method in fine silks and gold threads. Underneath was a pink long dress with pleats and flowers. Her thick hair was shaped into a crescent coiffure anchored by golden hairpin inlaid with jade, on the edge of the bun pinned a delicate gold ornament of a sparrow holding a pearl in mouth with its wings spread out that would shake lightly, adding a touch of smartness to Minglan. This whole set of attire was newly made when Minglan was back in Youyang. When Minglan went to visit Old Madam Sheng, she saw other two Lans also wearing their new outfits. Molan, pretty and refined in her attire, wore a light blue coat made of silk embroidered with dense branches and flowers of mangnolia. Paring with it was a cyan long dress with dark silver embroidery that best highlighted her thin waist. While Rulan looked quite rich and noble in her front-opening red coat embroidered with numerous butterflies dancing in the flowers.

Wang shi, sitting in her honored seat, lectured something about "Watch your manners and be swift to hear but slow to speak," which was apparently indicating Molan.

Upon hearing that, Minglan stole a glance at Molan who, on the contrary, remained composed without any grievance to be detected.

The carriage with a thick cotton curtain went for more than two hours before it finally arrived at Marquis Xiangyang's Mansion, which, with its front door open, had a pair of red couplets sprinkled with gold on both sides and a long string of red firecrackers hanging high. As female guests, Wang shi and the girls went in through the side door after changing from their carriages to sedan chairs used only in the marquis's mansion. Only when, after quite a while, they arrived at the second door did the females get off the sedan chairs and met the maidservants already waiting there to accept the guests.

Not until now did all have the chance to take a look at the mansion. Upon looking, the mansion was broad and bright with small bridges over the flowing streams, artificial mountains as well as forests in the distance. A middle-aged maidservant led Wang shi and the girls all the way into the Manzi-Gate (Lit. Barbarian Gate) then through the covered corridor into the inner house. Wang shi and the girls all secretly observed the environment in silence and were quite impressed by the richly decorated mansion with even the doors, windows and pillars painted in gold.

TN: Manzi Gate is a special gate for wealthy families in ancient China. There are two versions as to why it is called Manzi (barbarian) gate; one is that wealthy merchants from the south specially constructed the door to prevent any possible theft, while the other is that in ancient China, the minority from the north such as the Mongolian and Manchu were called Manzi.

Wang shi was astonished and came to realize why Pingning Princess was so arrogant. Looking at the three girls, she found Molan, though envious, managed to stay composed but with a rather rigid smile, while Rulan, the most straightforward, had unvarnished admiration in her eyes. However, when she turned to look at Minglan, she was quite surprised to see that Minglan looked composed as usual, her manner natural as if not a bit affected or tempted by the wealth before her eyes. She was quite impressed and couldn't help but look at Minglan with new eyes.

The thing was not that Minglan aimed high but that while working in court, she had enjoyed all the trips her department organized to help employees release the stress of long time exposure to cases on crimes, rapes, and family tragedies. During which she had been to The Forbidden City, Shen Garden (A famous garden of a wealthy merchant from Song dynasty) and Temple of Heaven, witnessing many great wonders richly ornamented. She was only awed once by the 3D images of the underground palace in Lord of the Rings. Well…that was the trend of learning from the West under the influence of globalization, so the modern aesthetic of architecture was more westernized.

The maidservant leading the way was quite eloquent in introducing the landscapes to them while walking. Wang shi flattered casually with a smile, "The richly ornamented mansions are far too many in the world, but yours stands out for being tasteful and elegant. All the auspicious mountains and propitious waters bring a good omen for the mansion."

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Rulan whispered in Minglan's ear, "Sixth younger sister, the mansion is far better than big sister's." Minglan nodded without commenting as she had never been to the mansion of Marquis Zhongqin so she only kept walking.

In the upper class of ancient China, though the righteous scholars and aristocrats would intermarry, they were separated by sharp boundaries. Sons of aristocrats would get their posts in military or imperial garrison or even a nominal title in some departments either through inheritance or by the conferring of the emperor. While scholars would seek their official career by taking imperial examinations from the county level up, one step at a time, to court level. Those performed well in the exams could make their way into National Academy while the average ones had to earn their seniority rights in Six Ministries or would be sent to be local officials so as to be promoted step by step to be high ranked official. Or in some cases, some would choose to be a squire enjoying his leisure days back in hometown.

Well, in fact, many sons of scholars were not ambitious to be officials, who only took the imperil exams to obtain some degree so as to get some tax relief and protection for the family.

The most important ones were the superficially low-ranked bachelors in National Academy, the utility bachelors. From the previous dynasty on, a routine of officialdom had formed that National Academy only took in Jinshi, while the Cabinet only accepted officials from National Academy. Therefore, Utility Bachelors were also called "probationary prime minister", which meant that Changbai one day could rise to be in power of the Cabinet.

Last night before sleeping, Minglan thought that it was not necessary for an aristocrat family like Marquis Xiangyang to invite Sheng family. Then on a thorough ponderation, Minglan came to realize that they did all this because of Changbai and Hai family. If one day, Changbai got his day in officialdom, Marquis Xiangyang could enjoy the benefits of his early investment in the relation. Besides, the investment was not costly.

As Minglan wondered in her thoughts, they came to the main hall. They came early before other female guests, so Pingning Princess led Wang shi and the girls to congratulate and pay respect to the Star of Longevity, Old Marquis Zhongqin. Bursts of talking and laughter came right out of the room as they approached the door.

The minute Minglan lowered her head and entered the hall she felt under her feet something soft. Down looking at the floor, she found thick layers of scarlet carpet made of red camel hair, on which embroidered Fu patterns. The hall was huge as if converted from several rooms with the walls replaced by several shelves on which displayed quite a few fine and luxurious porcelains and antiques that were dazzling to the eye.

The room was quite bustle with many guests talking cheerfully, among which, Pingning Princess's voice stood out and went straight into Minglan's ears.

"Sister Wang, so glad you came," greeted Pingning Princess as she strode elegantly over with amicable smile on her face.

Concerning Wang shi, to put it politely, she was earnest and pragmatic; putting it harshly, she was short-sighted. Since her idea of having Qi Heng as his son-in-law was nipped in the bud, she then thought herself had nothing to ask from the princess, therefore she behaved quite natural to herself without any flattery during their association, which, out of expectation, drew a surprisingly good result.

Finishing the greetings, Wang shi immediately bowed to an elder sitting in the honored seat with a flattering smile, congratulating, "Congratulations, Your Lordship. And I wish Your Lordship happiness as immense as the Eastern Sea and live as long as the southern mountain."

"Thanks. Now get up." Old Marquis Gu had grey hair and fine look, wearing a dark red coat dotted with longevity patterns that accentuated his very high build and great spirit. He was more like a man of sixties.

Old Marquis Gu smiled at Wang shi, "Back when the former emperor was in throne, I and your father had worked together under the governor of Gan and Shan province. Back that time, he was always calculating the rations and forage with account book, while I would lead my soldiers to ask for supplies every day. We often ended in quarrels. Several days ago, I met your first son, quite a copy of your father. Time does speed up as we age. Now look at me, an old man in a blink of an eye."

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