Mrs. Li waved the contract in her hand and snorted: “The list of dowries is here! We don’t take even a needle from your Sun family, instead, thousands of ounces of silver and a lot of jewelry which included in the dowries are missing. But it’s not a big deal, you can take them as the expense that my daughter has spent in your family for three years! If you don’t get enough, we can talk about it in the court!!”
Sun Zhigao was furious and shouted: “Once she married me, no matter she’s dead or live, she belongs to Sun family, let alone her property. Now you want to divide up the property? No way, they are all of Sun family!”
Sheng Yun laughed loudly and pointed at Sun Zhigao: “I am not a scholar, but I have heard that ‘seeing the carved fence, remembering the galloping steed (it means that old things will remind you of specific object or person)’. Since my niece cannot please you, why bother keeping her things? Won’t her objects remind you of her? Oh, I see…” Sheng Yun slowed down, seeming to realize something, “Our first great scholar of Youyang is reluctant to give up the property?! Oh, you are too avaricious.”
Sun Zhigao was refuted, and he was so agitated that his neck became thick and red, while his face was almost distorted. All the people in the room were persuading both sides ceaselessly. At the moment, the Eldest Madam Sheng, who had been silent for a long time, suddenly spoke up: “Everyone, please listen to me.”
The crowd gradually quieted down, then the Eldest Madam Sheng slowly narrated in a hoarse voice: “We Sheng family has lived in Youyang for generations. From the generation of great-great-grandfather, we have been harmony with each family. Now it’s not because the daughter of Sheng family cannot accept the concubines, but, but… alas…” The Eldest Madam Sheng gave out a long sigh and looked very sad.
One Bao Zhang (in the Northern Song Dynasty, it refers to the administrator that manage ten households/families) of the Li family cupped his hands and said: “Is there any secret sorrow of eldest Madam? Please just say it.”
The Eldest Madam Sheng said in a grief, “Several decades ago, a prostitute was introduced into our Sheng family and was kept as a concubine. What happened after that is known among the whole family. My eldest daughter Hong’er died before she was ten years old. Wei’er’s father brought the Sheng family to ruin for that girl, he even sold out this family mansion.” The Eldest Madam Sheng pointed to the roof above.
In that time, the first master was famous for spoiling his concubine but ignoring his wife, everyone who was a little older knew it. Old people here had experienced that, seeing the huge family property being sold and pawned by the first master. This case was quoted by countless parents to condemning their sons for visiting brothels.
The Eldest Madam Sheng’s heartbroken story left Sun Zhigao and his mother totally confused about what to do next. The Eldest Madam Sheng continued to say in a sad voice, “Fortunately, we were blessed by our ancestors and supported by cousins and brothers. Our hard times came to an end and we redeemed our family mansion. I didn’t let our ancestors down. Thanks for your kind help.”
With this, the Eldest Madam Sheng stood up and was to salute to the old people. People around stood up and stopped her quickly, and repeatedly told her she should not do that. Sheng Wei enjoyed a good reputation in Youyang thanks to his helping elders, paving roads and bridges and most importantly, his revival of Sheng family’s business.
The Eldest Madam Sheng stood straightly and said decisively, “On the day when I redeemed my family mansion, I swore that everyone in my family, regardless of their gender, will avoid prostitutes. If I violate my oath, I won’t die in peace and I will be tortured by the devils in hell after death.”
Everyone was shocked by the Eldest Madame Sheng’s resolute words. However, they understood the Eldest Madam Sheng very much: she was almost killed by a prostitute. How could her granddaughter accept a prostitute as a concubine?
After the Eldest Madame Sheng said these words, the atmosphere in the hall had changed. Not all people present helped the Sheng family, but no one supported the Sun family any longer. The Sun clan only sat still, and Sun Zhigao and his mother began to panic. Because of the Eldest Madam Sheng’s words, they became inferior in the negotiation.
At this time, the Eldest Madame Sheng suddenly softened his voice and sighed, “I know the difficulties the Sun family met with. You don’t want to let go of the child, and Zhigao has a romantic relationship with the woman. But the girl of our Sheng family will never live with that woman in the same house…” Everyone stretched their necks and listened carefully.
The Eldest Madame Sheng said, “It’s better for both of our two families compromise and allow Shulan and Zhigao to divorce peacefully. Half of the dowries that Girl Shu brought with her to the Sun family would be left to the Sun family. How about that?”
As the Eldest Madame Sheng said these words, all the people present were relieved. The head of the Sun family immediately said loudly, “After all, the Eldest Madame Sheng is so kind. This is the best solution. The two families can get along friendly in the future. Zhigao, what do you think?”
Minglan appreciated what the Eldest Madame Sheng did very much. Since the Eldest Madame Sheng used to be a person of few words, Minglan didn’t expect she would handle this issue in such an extraordinary way. The whole process was handled perfectly. She had to admit that the Eldest Madam Sheng was a talent.
Feeling oppressed, Sun Zhigao was not willing to accept the decision, neither did Sun Zhigao’s mother. She had been thinking about seizing Shulan’s dowry a long time ago. But those old female servants accompanying Shulan to the Sun family were quite sharp, so she didn’t make it. Today she could only get half of Shulan’s dowry, so she was very dissatisfied.
Mrs. Li glanced at them and said loudly: “If you don’t agree, let’s go to local yamen (government office in feudal China)! Drag that adulteress down to the street and reveal Xiucai Sun’s real nature to everyone else in the Youyang County!”
Sun Zhigao was keen on face-saving, and he said coldly: “We are gonig to divorce by consent at once, nothing serious.” Anyway, he could get half of the dowry, which was quite a lot.
Sheng Wei, putting on a grave expression, immediately invited the local magistrate and two office clerks waiting outside to come in, and whispered to them about the situation. The office clerks immediately began drawing up the document, and then Mrs. Li took out the dowry list. Sun Zhigao’s mother wanted to look carefully and pick some good things. However, local magistrate was still here, so Sun Zhigao didn’t want to become a handle for gossip. He directly tore the list apart and took one of them without looking at it.
Mrs. Li continued: “The servants accompanying Shulan to the Sun family are all our domestic servants’ children. We are now two families who have no relationship. So, I will compensate you, and all the servants will return to the Sheng family to avoid family separation. “
As speaking, she took a few promissory notes from her sleeve and handed them over. Several clansmen of the Sun family standing at the centre glanced at the notes, each in a hundred or two denominations. It seemed that there were four or five notes. They all pondered: the Sheng family was really generous – these notes were worth far more than the value of these servants.
The document prepared, the local magistrate looked at Sheng Wei and said: “You can sign your name and make a personal mark on the document now.” Sun Zhigao went first, flourishing his writing brush quickly and pressing a fingerprint.
Mrs. Li said quickly: “My little girl is weak. I could do that on behave of her.”
At that time, just hearing a loud bang, Minglan and Pinlan were shocked and then turned around to see, only finding that Shulan had stood up without notice, pushed partition board open with great force, then strode out. Pinlan wanted to walk out following Shulan, but was dragged back by Minglan. They continued to peep through the crack of the partition board.
“Shulan, why are you coming here?” Mrs. Li cried.
Shulan’s face was still wet with tears. She knelt down straight to her parents and cried, “I am not filial. Always make grandmother and parents worry about my marriage!” Mrs. Li hid her face and sobbed secretly; sad in his deepmind, Sheng Wei turned around and avoid to see Shulan; the Eldest Madam Sheng’s eyes were filled with relief.
With a determined expression on her face, Shulan bowed to the people in the hall and walked slowly to the table. Then she took a pen, signed, and put a red-ink thumbprint on the paper.
Sun Zhigao looked at Shulan’s pale face and couldn’t help but scorn: “You has neither good appearance nor virtues. You are not a good match with me, but I married the wrong at the beginning. Now we divorced, and you can marry a butcher or farmer. Remember to be more virtuous in the future.”
Sun Zhigao went too far in bullying Shulan. Both Mrs. Li and Sheng Wei were furious, and even the people around thought what he did was too much.
Sun Zhigao still smiled. Shulan suddenly turned back and glared at Sun Zhigao, his ex-husband who had been the center of her world. However, what he did was so disgusting, then she spat in Sun Zhigao’s face and looked at the utterly discomfited man. Shulan said quietly: “You, a villain without virtues and good conducts. Forget loyalty when in love with other women. It’s disgusting to look at you.”
Shulan gave everyone a bow again after she finished that, and then went away. Sun Zhigao wiped the sweat with sleeves in panic. A slight sneer whispered in the hall, the Sun felt too ashamed to show his face.
Disdained to butt in, one after another, the audience in the hall said goodbye to Sheng Wei. No one even rapped to Sun Zhigao and his mother, and even the clansman of the Sun just simply cupped their hands to Sun Zhigao. Feeling that his affair had embarrassed Master Magistrate, Sun Zhigao walked forward in a hurry and accosted the Master to curry favor with him. However, beyond Sun’s expectation, the Master Magistrate didn’t care at all, just eyed him indifferently, and then took leave after an enthusiastic chat with Sheng Wei.
Hitting the roof, Sun Zhigao turned his head and said to his mother, “What a snobbish corrupt official he is! A few days ago, we still had a drink and commented on poetry, but it’s also him now who turns his back and view me as a stranger. Once I win an official rank, I will definitely report him to the authorities!”
Sheng Yun sneered, “Yo, so many times have you took the examination, but you even didn’t climb to Juren (recommended man), how could you report others; do you know you are biting off more than you can chew?”
Sun Zhigao yelled out of anger, but in terms of the eloquence, he was no match for Sheng Yun at all, instead, he was satirized and suffered a rebuff.
Pinlan had already left the compartment to comfort Shulan, only Minglan still stayed in the compartment. The two accompanying servant girls looked at each other and felt a bit strange that Minglan was standing her ground still, meditating.
Slowly moving her footstep, Minglan lowered her head and pondered. There were so many incomprehensible matters these days, but she now began to understand her grandmother further.