A few months later, Minglan returned to Bianjing and reunited with the Sheng Hong’s, someone asked Minglan what kind of person He Hongwen was?
Minglan thought for a long time and replied, “He’s a kind person.”
He family ranked among the most famous families; its grand master founded Baishitan Academy, which pioneered the scholarship of the world and cultivated excellent scholar-officials for decades. Although the present life of the descendants was not as prosperous as the ancestors, these offspring were still rich and distinguished. Old Madam He married He family’s collateral branch, and her third son died young, leaving only He Hongwen, who was cherished a lot by his grandparents.
He Hongwen had been studying traditional Chinese medicine since he was a child. Shortly after the sailing, he brewed the herb tea for Minglan, which was good for the spleen and stomach. The tea tasted bitter but worked effectively, as Minglan felt much better after drinking just one dose. However, Minglan believed that improving her own immunity was the key, therefore, she stopped drinking the herb tea any more. However, she was embarrassed to decline the good intentions of Hongwen, so she could only secretly dump it.
One day, He Hongwen came to visit Minglan and asked casually: “Have you taken the herb tea that I just sent?”
Minglan looked serious: “I just drank it all.” Unexpectedly, Xiaotao came in from the outside with a cup, saying, “Rest assured Miss, no one has noticed me…” When Xiaotao saw He Hongwen, she held her draw abruptly.
Minglan looked at the direction of He Hongwen’s gaze, finding that there were still several green tints with a familiar herbal smell on the white porcelain cup. He Hongwen quietly turned back and looked at Minglan. Though Minglan was very guilty, she said calmly: “Xiaotao, why did you spend so much time washing a cup?” Xiaotao was dull, and she could only say: “This cup… is hard to wash.”
Minglan laughed awkwardly and dare not look at He Hongwen, saying: “Oh yes, it’s not easy to wash the cup.”
He Hongwen seemed to notice nothing. He smiled and said: “Doing things on board is indeed not as convenient as on land.”
Minglan’s face was like…=_=; while Danju by her side, who was quite embarrassed, turned her face away.
The next day, He Hongwen sent a big bowl of herb tea to Minglan, which equaled two doses. In the face of He Hongwen, Minglan bravely raised the bowl, finished the herb tea, and then showed the empty container to He Hongwen.
He Hongwen smiled and nodded, as if he was the class teacher who was praising the pupils that had just finished transcribing.
Strictly speaking, He Hongwen was the first male that Minglan had made contact with other than those in her family. Their grandmothers hadn’t seen each other for decades, and they stayed in the cabin to exchange everything they knew. Accompanied by a group of maids and girls, Minglan and He Hongwen met several times.
Boys and girls in ancient China would develop their topics in due form when they met for the first time, “What kind of books have little Sister Ming read?”
The greeting appeared in the high school text “Lin Daiyu Enters the Jia Manor”, which was asked by the teacher to recite, sounded familiar for Minglan, so she answered it according to the standard of Grandmother Jia, hiding the sleeves and saying implicitly: “I just recognize a few words, so that I won’t be an illiterate person.”
After the replying, Minglan felt that she was really in her ladylike demeanor.
He Hongwen quirked his eyebrows and not to say yes or no, only turned his eyes to the right and fixed his eyes upon the pile of rice paper for calligraphy on the writing desk, which was ink-stained. Obviously, the characters were written a lot. Minglan was embarrassed and added, “I just finished ‘Examples for Women’ and ‘Classic of Filial Piety’.”
He Hongwen kept silent and turned his eyes to the left, only saw a few broken books spread all across in confusion on the bookshelf. The book cover was open wide. They were medical, astrology, astronomy and geography related books, which were all light readings that Minglan begged from Changbai and Changdong.
Minglan was caught in the act once more, and said with a forced smile: “…these are books that my elder brother who told me to bring to my cousin brother.”
He Hongwen seemed understandable and smiled: “Your elder brother was so erudite.”
Minglan twitched her corners of the mouth and laughed apologetically with no mirth — OMG, just forgive her. Brother Changbai only did serious reading, Brother Changsong only read account books, while Brother Changwu would be dizzy once he saw the characters.
He Hongwen was so virtuous and kind that even if he debunked Minglan on the spot, he could nod with sincere to play to be dumb, showing that he was very convinced of all the awful excuses of Minglan. As a result, Minglan gave up her pretense and treat him with sincerity after knowing that he was so gullible.
While approaching Jinling (today’s Nanjing), the weather and season were getting warmer. Compared with the condition when Minglan proceeded northward to Dengzhou, she was weak and had a bad time then, so she didn’t have a leisurely and carefree mood to admire the scenery, but now she was in high spirits. Sat on the windowsill, the coastal view was delicate and gentle, Minglan watched the scenery along the coast and the busy water transport of grain. He Hongwen had seen it many times in the north and south round trip, so he smiled and explained for Minglan.
“Big white bird, big mouth bird, … gunnysack boat!” Minglan pointed dully and said, went short of words.
He Hongwen smiled and explained: “That is the cormorant, best at fishing; … that is the gull…, you are wrong, it is the grain ship…”
Minglan was outgoing and witty, He Hongwen was introverted and prudent, the two got along very well.
“My mother wants me to join the imperial examination so as to become an official, but I don’t live up to her expectations. I only like to engage in medication.” said He Hongwen shyly.
“Elder Brother He, you really look down at yourself. To join the imperial examination is for the support of the emperor, and make the family honored. But a doctor can also contribute to the society and country and bring glory to the family. The father of your grandmother was so sophisticated in medication. When he was young, he went to the epidemic area to save lives. Getting older, he took charge of the Imperial Academy of Medicine and issued regulations to drive people write medical documents. All the people respected him very much!” said Minglan very sincerely. She believed that doctors are really noble and had a high income if done well.
He Hongwen’s eyes were bright, laughing and looking at the girl opposite.
“My father died young, and my mother is sick. I can’t become an official as my mother expects. I am really unfilial.” said He Hongwen, his words disappearing in the gloomy night.
Minglan spread out her tender white hands, nevertheless, with scars due to sewing. She said, “I never like embroidery. My grandmother invited several masters to teach me. Until now, the butterfly I embroidered is still like a fly. I think I am also unfilial.”
He Hongwen said with a smile: “You are still young. You’ll be good at it if you keep practicing. My cousin Jing’er is best at embroidery, but she becomes good at it only because she practices it every day.” Ming Lan touched her finger and asked casually, “Really? Does she live in Jinling?”
He Hongwen looked bleak, and said later, “No… a few years ago, her father was convicted of the ‘Small Liangshan Mine Case’ and the whole family was exiled to Liangzhou.”
Minglan became silent. A few years ago, the Small Liangshan Mine collapsed and more than 100 miners died. What’s worse, the mine owner colluded with the local officials, deducted the pension, and arrested the orphans and widows of the dead men as criminals. This almost provoked public anger and caused chaos.
When the emperor learned that, he was so angry. He actually knew that this was just the aftermath that someone was trying to fight for becoming the next emperor. But he could only punish some of the leading officials. For the accomplice, the emperor only scolded them, so there were only several officials punished in this case. It was a pity that He Hongwen’s cousin was from one of the few punished families.
“… Well, the criminals of capital felony were all sentenced to death. Since your cousin was just exiled, I believe she would come back someday. Her family would be amnestied finally.” Minglan comforted He Hongwei. All the people knew that the current emperor would not live much longer. The new emperor would amnesty all criminals except those who were too evil. In general, exiles could all be amnestied.
He Hongwen was very grateful to Minglan for her kindness. After a while, he said: “My uncle was wrong at the time. He should be punished for his mistake. It is not awkward. But if he can be forgiven, this is naturally a good thing.” After a pause, he said: “I made a snow sorrel cream which can be applied to your hands. In winter, the needles are not easy to use, and this can be used to promote blood circulation.”
The young boy’s gentle voice and tender look, like the last touch of pale golden sunlight in the late autumn when the weather began to cool, slowly climbed Minglan’s face, and Minglan’s face was hot.
The ship traveled for another five or six days and finally docked. Many people who stood on the dock and dressed up in small shackles stretched their necks and squatted here. Half of them were sent by Sheng Wei to pick up them to go to Youyang, while other half of them were mourning. They came to pick up Old Madam He to see her seriously ill father at Jinlin’s home.
Old Madam He took the old Madam Sheng’s hand and talked for a long time before letting go. He Hongwen reminded Minglan: “You have to pay attention to your body. You traveled long distances and got fatigue, so it is easy to get sick. After going back, you should take a rest for a few days and then go play.”
Minglan nodded hard.
Sheng Wei and his eldest son Changsong came to pick them up. Minglan saw the eldest cousin for the first time. He had dark skin, big eyes and loud voice, and was very generous. He looked much like Changwu. When he saw Minglan, he smiled and said: “You must be the sixth younger sister Minglan. My father has been chanting you in front of my sister Pinlan. In the past few years, she has been eager to see you!”
“Younger sister Ming hasn’t been to Youyang yet? It’s a good place. The old house and ancestral hall of our family is there. It’s only two hours’ drive from Jinlin, and I will take you and Pinlan out to go shopping.”
“There are too many people living in Jinlin, but Merchants like us would better not go along with them. We still have a good time in our hometown. The local scenery is good. Younger sister Ming likes fishing, right? I will prepare fishing gear for you. In our fish ponds that cover tens of miles, you can even catch fish by poking them!”
“The autumn forest is the best. Before the winter comes, you have to go and see the maple trees in the mountains. They are not the same as those in Bianjing – they are not grand but wild.”
That day the weather was warm and sunny with the cool autumn wind, so sitting in the sedan would not make people feel uncomfortable. Sheng Wei talked with Old Madam Sheng, while elder brother Changsong rode his horse and kept talking outside the Minglan sedan. Minglan had the joy of a child going on an outing.
The given name of Sheng Family, Sheng, contained the expectation that the family will be prosperous. However, Sheng Family didn’t develop as that until Old Mr. Sheng seized the opportunity to fawn on a few high-ranking officials during the transition period of different dynasties. Sheng Family gradually prospered and then repaired their ancestral shrine and built a new hall, what’s more, they built a very bid residence at their hometown of Youyang. Almost all merchants wanted to get rid of their rank and pursued cultural or official careers. Therefore, the first thing Old Mr. Sheng did was to get married to a young lady from a declined official family and then gave birth to three sons.
The eldest son inherited the family business, while he was fascinated by a concubine as a geisha girl, then he spoiled the concubine and make her have a higher status than his legal wife’s. It was really a joke. It was said that he dissipated all the wealth when dead. The second child, Minglan’s grandfather, was a candidate who came third in the Han-lin examination and got married to a young but staunched lady of the Marquis of Yongyi. It led to that the couple almost became enemies, and then he died in the cold when less than 30 years old. As for the third child, he lived a life of dissipation but was still alive now.
Minglan gave out a deep sigh: “The plan to upgrade the gene of Sheng Family was wholly failed.”
The servants informed the families in Youyang early. Therefore, when Minglan and her party arrived, a row of women with bright and neat clothes was standing in front of the open door. As soon as Old Madam Sheng and Minglan went out of the sedan, a woman walked forward and bowed to Old Madam Sheng, smiling: “Aunt, you finally came. The Eldest Madam Sheng is always looking forward to your arrival. I haven’t seen you in these years and when seeing aunt healthy, I’m happier than anything!”
When talking, she saw a pretty little girl standing behind Old Madam Sheng, and then asked, “Is this my niece?” Old Madam Sheng smiled and said: “So she is. She is raised by me since childhood. Pinlan and she can be good partners.”
She had a look at Minglan.
Minglan immediately walked forward and bowed to her respectfully: “Pay respect to Aunt Li. May aunt healthy.”
With the smiling eyes, Mrs. Li said constantly, “Good, good, good. A good child.” She touched Minglan’s face gently and showed compliments out of her eyes: “This child is really pretty and knows the manner. Pinlan is like a naughty monkey. This time you should stay here for a long time to teach your cousin, otherwise she would be like a wild horse without a bridle.” Then she pointed to a young woman near: “This is your elder sister-in-law. If you want something, just ask for them from her.”
Minglan bowed again: “Pay respects to sister.”
Mrs. Wen helped Minglan up and said in a soft voice: “Young sister, don’t be so polite. After paying a visit to the Eldest Madam Sheng, let’s have a look at the room prepared for you. If you don’t like it, we can arrange another one. Just do whatever you like as at your own home.”
Mrs. Li is a rich and friendly woman. She led the guests to cross the doors and walked into the inner chamber through the corridor. Bypassing a decorated wall, they arrived the main hall where the Eldest Madam Sheng lives in. Minglan stepped into the room and saw an old woman sitting in the center. She was thin, but under her silvery hair were bright eyes. As soon as Old Madam Sheng came in, she stood up and opened her arms to welcome her old guest.
Old Madam Sheng walked towards her hurriedly and called: “My sister!”
The Eldest Madam Sheng was hospitable. She said: “It’s been years when I saw you last time. You have been moving with your son as he changed his place of work. Since you were not in good health, I was afraid you may feel tired after long-distance travelling. I only wished to see you again when I am still alive. Thank god, finally I can see you today.”
As she spoke, her voice shook. Old Madam Sheng was deeply moved. She talked intimately with the Eldest Madam Sheng, and asked Minglan to make a profound courtesy. The Eldest Madam Sheng held Minglan’s hands, looked her up and down and nodded:”What an adorable child!”
It was the second time today that Minglan had been complimented on her beauty. How beautiful a little girl can be at the age of twelve? Minglan thought. It’s just a polite formula between relatives. For example, you won’t say: “Why your child is so ugly?”
Changwu is always straightforward and open. However, he’s a bit shy today. Since Minglan said: “Congratulations on your wedding, brother Changwu.” His face was as red as the grilled Paul the Octopus. Changwu replied simply, stood beside and looked down. Who would have thought even Changwu would be nervous as a bridegroom.
While the two grandmas were talking, Mrs. Li introduced a girl to Minglan:“This is your elder cousin, her name is Pinlan. She’s the same age as you”.
Minglan looked at the girl. She looked quite like Mrs. Li. With two big eyes and thick eyebrows, her round face looked charming and vivacious. The two girls looked at each other. Minglan smiled:”Hello, sister Pinlan.”
That girl’s eyes were shining, she replied:”Hi, sister Minglan”.
Then she took a glance at her mother, Mrs. Li. Seeing that Mrs. Li was entertaining the two old Madams, Pinlan winked at Minglan. Minglan was surprised at the moment, but she was also a naughty girl. Minglan looked around quickly, and also winked back at Pinlan. Then she calmed her face, pretend to be a good girl.
Pinlan opened her eyes widely, with a big smile on her face.