Minglan arrived at Sheng family in Youyang in the evening. He Hongwen left a large bag of dried tangerine peel for Minglan, it tasted sweet and cool, so Minglan decided to give half of it to Pinlan. But Pinlan was not in her room, the servant girl stammered that Pinlan had returned to her parents’ home. Minglan realized that something was wrong, therefore, she ran to Shulan’s original house. She saw Shulan lying on her bed despairingly with her face full of tears, and Pinlan walked back and forth with her fists clenched. Minglan asked Pinlan what happened, and Pinlan told her about it in a rage.
It turned that Sun Zhigao’s mistress was pregnant. Sun and his mother were filled with joy. They determined to bring the mistress into their house. Shulan was weak, but her mother was quite decisive, so she immediately took Shulan back to her family.
In the afternoon, Sun Zhigao’s mother found them and arrogantly asked Shulan to agree that the mistress lived with them. Old Madam Sheng insisted on “keeping the baby but driving away his mother.” Sun Zhigao’s mother sneered and left.
Pinlan was so angry that she ran out to curse the Sun family before a yellow willow for nearly an hour. Minglan didn’t know how to comfort her, she could only stay with her silently. They didn’t go back until the day was getting dark. Before entering the room, they heard a cry of grief and Mrs. Li’s helpless voice.
“…After we get married, I was asked not to disturb husband when he was studying, so we could only… no more than five days in a month. Then they complained that I’m sterile, I had no choice but to find him a concubine… he showed no interest as well. I don’t know what to do now!” Shulan’s crying told Minglan what was happening, but Pinlan was simple and couldn’t fully understand.
Shulan was homely and had an honest and weak character. While Sun Zhigao was a self-proclaimed genius, he turned his nose up at his legitimate wife and maid concubines. Now since he finally encountered a beautiful “marginal” woman who got some talents, it was natural he would be fascinated by her.
Minglan sighed softly. This world is always more tolerant of men. She was afraid that Shulan would suffer this time.
Sure enough, in the next few days, the Sheng household was continuously disturbed by several groups of people, including clansman from the Sun family who came to intercede, the three branches’ womenfolk as lookers-on, and even a famous old man in the county coming to mediate. However, on the whole, they shared the same opinion: Shulan should be more generous and accept that female dancer; even she could give birth to a boy, the boy would definitely be brought up under the name of Shulan.
The Sheng family still refused to concede, and after a long time, the rumors started to spread, accusing that the daughter of the Sheng family was too jealous to accept her husband’s concubines. Sun Zhigao had never come to pick up his wife, and he even brought the female dancer into his home, treating her like a legitimate wife. Mrs. Li was gradually unable to endure, but the Eldest Madam Sheng was as stubborn and silent as a rock, no matter who came to spoke this to her.
Half a month later, the Eldest Madam Sheng suddenly said she wanted to see the female dancer. Sun Zhigao’s mother thought that the Sheng family couldn’t stand the stalemate anymore, so the next day, she came to Sheng household with the dancer. Unexpectedly, the Eldest Madam Sheng didn’t say a word and only looked at the dancer up and down for a long time. After asking some questions, the Eldest Madam Sheng then turned into the room. Before Sun Zhigao’s mother could realize, she and the dancer were already sent out.
On this day, Pinlan absently looked at Minglan drawing a design on the underwear. At the same time, she kept looking outside from time to time. Suddenly a small servant girl ran in and whispered beside Pinlan’s ear. Pinlan immediately bounced up like a spring and pulled up Minglan, running out as fast as flying. Minglan was almost dragged down and got no time to pick up the embroidered stretcher that fell on the ground. As a result, she started to run with Pinlan mindlessly.
Minglan and Pinlan stumbled along the road. After they passed through flowering shrubs and woods, the road narrowed. Later, they even bypassed the road, just plodding through the swampy meadow. Finally they ran around the main house and arrived at a gloomy thatched cottage.
Minglan finally jerked Pinlan’s hand away and gasped: “I really can’t move any further. What are you going to do?”
Pinlan flushed with excitement: “Since Sun Zhigao’s mother left, my grandmother has been staying in the family hall for worshipping the buddha. In these days, she even refused to see my mother and only had a word with Old Madam Sheng once. I can only command servants to always take care of her. Today my grandmother suddenly asked my mother to see her. I guess they are going to hold a consultation about the matter with Sun Zhigao and the dancer.”
Minglan nodded and thought that Pinlan has a great logic analysis ability. Then Minglan asked: “So what?”
Pinlan screamed, clinging to Minglan’s sleeves: “This is a matter involving my sister’s life, and you said ‘so what?’ Maybe I should teach you a lesson! Now I am going to listen to at the door. Do you want to come with me?”
Minglan’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. They were so-called girls coming from noble families who should not inquire about the privacy of others, let alone eavesdropping. Well, although she eavesdropped a few times before, she did it by accident! She had no intention of becoming an eavesdropper.
Minglan was upset: “Are you sure? We can’t do that!” Noticing that Pinlan looked sullen, Minglan said: “What’s your plan? Do you think that your grandmother will open the window and sing out?”
Pinlan waved her hand and said: “Don’t worry, there is a hidden doghole here. I used to sneak out from here when I was confined in the family hall as a kid. Thanks to that grandmother chose to talk with my mother here, or I can’t figure a way. I regard you as my own sister, and sisters should share happiness and suffering. You and me had been punished together a few times, so I know you are loyal to friends. Now it’s time to share happiness!”
Minglan almost stumbled for what they did. Did you really understand what was to enjoy blessings together? Were sneaking through a dog door and eavesdropping to enjoy blessings together?!
Pinlan ignored Minglan’s protests and pushed weeds aside neatly, which grew uncontrollably. One foot wide hole appeared behind the weeds. With threats in her eyes, Pinlan dragged Minglan and forced her to go through the dog door. With a bitter expression, Minglan rolled up her sleeves and put up her dress. Then Minglan followed Pinlan and crawled forward. After a short while, Pinlan stood up and pulled Minglan out of the hole. Minglan turned back and looked at the hole, finding it covered with a large water tank and weeds.
Pinlan struggled to move the tank back: “I specially told them not to fill the tank with water these days.”
Then the two girls passed through a yard quietly like thieves and entered the back room fast and carefully. Pinlan was experienced to sneak into a narrow door and step into a dark room. Pinlan squatted and Minglan crawled forward a few steps clumsily as Pinlan did. At last, they went into a place like a cabinet.
Pinlan whispered to Minglan in a mosquito-like voice: “This is the compartment behind the Buddha’s shrine. Take it easy. The room is very big.”
Minglan gradually became flustered and felt what she did today was really brusque. Thinking of that, she reached out and pinched Pinlan. After a while, they heard the curtain squeaking and the words that Mrs. Li ordered servants to go out. It seemed that the Eldest Madam Sheng and Mrs. Li were far away from the Buddha’s shrine.
Then Mrs. Li said gently: “The Eldest Madam Sheng, you, you…call me here, have you…?”
The Eldest Madam Sheng said: ”I have been thinking about that for many days. I have decided to persuade Shulan to divorce peacefully.”
In the dark, Minglan was astonished and felt Pinlan breath more heavily than before. And they heard that Mrs. Li sobbed out: “The Eldest Madam Sheng, please think it over. Shulan is so young. If so… how could she live in after-life?”
After a while, the Eldest Madam Sheng said plainly, “Am I willing? I have considered a few days. I really don’t know another solution. Shulan is still young. If they get divorce peacefully now, maybe she could marry another kind man.”
Mrs. Li sobbed. The Eldest Madam Sheng said: “Each woman is all dependent on three men in her life: her father, her husband, and her son. You have observed how Sun Zhigao and her mother treat Shulan. Shulan would never live happily with such a mother-in-law and such a husband. If Shulan has a son, her son would protect her after growing up. But now she hasn’t given birth to a child. When Shulan’s father and we two pass away, who can protect her? Her elder brother and sister-in-law couldn’t support her all the time.”
Mrs. Li couldn’t help but cried out, “My poor Shulan, I have harmed her. How silly am I! How could I arrange the marriage for Shulan with the bastard Sun Zhigao. Since his family was poor, I thought he would definitely be kind to Shulan if we treat them kindly. Who knows, who knows… he is such a bastard!”
The Eldest Madam Sheng sighed, “I didn’t want them to divorce, either. I intended to wait for the bastard Sun Zhigao to solve it. You also observed it. Shulan went back to our family for so many days, and the bastard Sun Zhigao didn’t even visit her for once. I’m frustrated now. Now Shulan’s elders are still alive, he dares to treat Shulan like this. If he becomes an official in the future, how would he treat Shulan? You should have known Sun Zhigao’s personalities. Now let’s face the situation and solve the problem.”
Pinlan clutched Minglan’s wrist and Minglan felt pain. Although Minglan understood Pinlan’s mood, she screw it back.
Mrs. Li mourned, “The reason I don’t want them divorce is not because I think Shulan can live with the bastard Sun Zhigao. I’m afraid the reputation of the family will be broken. If we negotiate with Sun family, I’m afraid that his family would not allow Sun Zhigao and Shulan to get divorce peacefully. What should we do if Sun Zhigao write a letter to Shulan announcing divorce but not divorce peacefully?” (In ancient China, the husband has the right to just write a letter to the wife announcing divorce. If a woman is announced divorce by her husband, she would be regarded as being dropped by her husband and her reputation would be broken. If the couple gets divorce peacefully after negotiation, then the woman’s reputation would be much better.)
The Eldest Madam Sheng sneered and said in a low tone, “The Sun (Sun Zhigao), who has been flattered for a few years, has already lost the measure of himself. In his own conceit, he thinks that people boost him because of his prestige. Humph, he is just such a self-defeating man who goes beyond his depth. Does he really think our family will be afraid of him? He should know that out of court, we have enough manpower; in court, we have enough money. Even if it really needs to go to law, we also have supporters in the officialdom! If he is willing to merry meet and merry part with Shulan, divorcing peacefully, then he can get half of the dowry; otherwise, they will bear all the consequences, and the Sun Family will be made to the original appearance!”
Hearing that, Mrs. Li relapsed into silence for a moment, which seemed that she was still hesitating. The Eldest Madam Sheng added, “I would have thought that no matter which concubine had a child, it couldn’t be better to transfer the custodian to Shulan. But as what you have seen, the bitch is enchanting, flattering, and falsehearted, don’t you think she is a matter of trouble? If what she gives birth to is a son, Shu’er will be flayed and swallowed alive!”
Mrs. Li said nothing, but her cries gradually faded. Minglan thought she was shaken. Heaved a deep sigh, the Eldest Madam Sheng said sorrowfully: “My daughter-in-law, you never go through the experience of my young age, when my whole family was controlled by that bitch. It was really to be up the creek without a paddle; to be without any aid. My eldest sister, died of a cold, which could be cured by a dose of medicine, but she was tortured to death finally! Since then, I made up my mind to hide in the country, taking your husband and Girl Yun (Sheng Yun). Fortunately, your second aunt gave me a hand and stopped your grandfather from writing a divorce letter. We three had our full share of misfortune in the country, it was very difficult to get out of the situation…”
Speaking that, the Eldest Madam Sheng seemed to choke, her words shot a pang through Minglan’s heart. In Minglan’s mind, the wrinkles in Eldest Madam Sheng’s withered face was beyond her age, each of them buried a lot of pain and sorrow. And Pinlan, who was next to Minglan, seemed to bite her teeth slightly.