Minglan and Old Madam Sheng came Youyang in two ships, while returned in six ships. If they were officials, then imperial censors (formal title of a dynastic official) must have already filed a suit against them. But fortunately, Minglan and her grandmother paid a visit to relatives. According to the letter from the capital city, Sheng Hong had a good performance in the examination and been appointed as an official in the Ministry of Transport & Irrigation, whose responsibility was to construct and repair imperial palaces and official residences. Although the official level was the same as before, it was indeed an official of the capital city.
Since they was going to to settle in the capital city, then Old Madam Sheng and Minglan packed the things in the old house up and took these things to the capital. Plus the food and satins Sheng Wei and Uncle Hu (Hu Erniu, Sheng Yun’s husband) presented, there were dozens of boxes. Therefore, there was lots of luggage. Old Madam Sheng and Minglan waved goodbye to their relatives and boarded the boat, then left.
In fact, Minglan felt something quite strange. Because her father Sheng Hong had begun to find friends in order to pull a few strings for him from the past year, Minglan thought that he could enter the Ministry of Appointments, the first ministry in six ministries, and if not, at least the Ministry of Justice or Revenue. The president emperor had been in office for more than 20 years and his palace was constructed completely a long time ago. So, the Ministry of Transport & Irrigation was a leisure ministry, just like an old people’s home. Why was Sheng Hong sent there? Minglan asked Old Madam Sheng, while Old Madam Sheng asked her another question in reply, “Mingya, what do you think about it?”
Minglan rolled her eyes at Old Madam Sheng, apparently who was an advocate of inspiring-interactive teaching. She seldom told Minglan why it is or what she should do, but left Minglan to think about it by herself. After thinking over it, Minglan said, “The present emperor is old now, but he still hasn’t appointed his heirs, which was the most turbulent time in the capital now. If Daddy were really appointed as an official in the important place everyone wants to get, he may get in troubles. Daddy is really wise.”
With a smile, Old Madam Sheng touched the granddaughter’s hair and gently nodded. The sea was very calm and ships traveled stably and smoothly, only sways making them very comfortable. During the period in Youyang, Minglan played with Pinlan all the time, so she hadn’t many words with grandmother in the past few days. Until they boarded the ship, they could have a talk.
“Silly child, which official is not smart? Especially the officials in the capital. But some people are greedy and think themselves smart. Then they decide to put a bet on the throne. However, the imperial situation changes constantly and is unpredictable. It is better to do like what your dad did.” Old Madam Sheng leaned on a bed, a pile blanket on it, and talked leisurely with Minglan, “When you said goodbye to Pinlan, what did you talk about? Cuiwei told me that you didn’t sleep well last night.”
Minglan thought over it and said honestly, “I told Pinlan that she should behave quiet and graceful and couldn’t call Taisheng casually. If not, our aunt (Sheng Yun) doesn’t like it.” Old Madam Sheng glanced at Minglan and said leisurely, “You are oversensitive. Your aunt like the girls with straight tempers. How could she do not like Pinlan?”
Minglan sighed, “If my aunt sees Pinlan only as her niece, she would definitely like Pinlan; while if her daughter-in-law, it is hard to say.” There were no mothers in the world who wanted to see his son live just like a servant of his own wife.
Old Madam Sheng frowned and said, “Daughter-in-law? You, a little girl, don’t talk nonsense.”
Minglan hurriedly said, “I could talk everything with my grandmother? After all, I would not talk about it with others. Everyone could observe that Pinlan and Taisheng were really born of a couple.”
Old Madam Sheng seemed to be interested in Minglan’s words. She slowly sat up, staring at Minglan with a smile, and said, “In fact, Taisheng is really a good boy. His family is rich. With no brother, he would inherit all his family’s property. In Youyang, there are a lot of people who want their daughter marry Taisheng. These days, your aunt (Sheng Yun) has been really kind to you. For some of the treasures, she is even reluctant to give to Pinlan, but has presented them to you.”
Minglan looked at grandmother’s eyes and said seriously, “The reason why aunt Sheng Yun is so good to me must be owing to my good grandmother. I was confused but I know it clearly now. Pinlan and Taisheng grew up together. They… they are childhood sweethearts.”
Old Madam Sheng was slightly surprised that Minglan said these words with no hesitation. Seeing Minglan’s clear and bright eyes, Old Madam Sheng then said with a smile, “You realize that? You get clever now.”
Minglan felt shamed. Having been playing with Pinlan those days, if she did not hear the conversation between the Eldest Madam Sheng and Sheng Yun that day, she would never figure it out.
Old Madam Sheng sat up in the upper body, and Minglan put a big pillow behind her, and then consciously lied down next to her grandmother. Old Madam Sheng put one of her arms around Minglan’s small shoulder and said, “This month in your uncle Sheng Wei’s house, you have witnessed many affairs. Do you have any idea?”
Leaning on the soft belly of Old Madam Sheng comfortably, Minglan said lazily, “At first, I didn’t understand it. Now I seem to do so. When I was at home, I heard that the Third Master’s family members are not kind. They not only always request help and support from uncle Sheng Wei’s family, but also do not appreciate others’ kindness. Later, after I met Third Master’s family members, I also looked down on them. However, it is strange that uncle Sheng Wei’s family seems to be always forbearing. They never forget to invite Third Master’s family if they hold a banquet or feast. At that time, I was thinking why is uncle Sheng Wei’s family so kind to Third Master’s family even though Mrs. Li (Sheng Wei’s wife) does not like them.”
Old Madam Sheng patted Ming Lan’s little hand and said, “Do you understand now?”
“Yeah.” Minglan lied on her grandmother’s belly and felt very cozy. Then she continued, “Be strict with yourself and treat people with kindness. All the people in Youyang know the kindness of uncle Sheng Wei’s family, and they know that the Third Master’s family is not kind. Whatever happens, everyone would think it is the fault of the Third Master’s family.”
Old Madam Sheng nodded with satisfaction, screwed up Minglan’s little face and smiled, “You has been lazy and disgusted with interpersonal communication. I’ve been worrying about you. Now I’m very happy you know the customs. Mingya, remember, the Third Master is still alive, and we have to help his family even though his family members are not kind. After all, the Third Master is Sheng Wei’s uncle, and meanwhile the younger brother of the First and Second Master. If Sheng Wei doesn’t help the Third Master’s family when they are in need, people would say that Sheng Wei despises the poor and curries favour with the rich. Most merchants have been discriminated by people, but your uncle Sheng Wei has been praised by the whole county. The money spent on Third Master’s family is not in vain. It helps your uncle Sheng Wei’s family to win a good reputation. Isn’t it better for future generations?”
Minglan knew that Old Madam Sheng was teaching her, so she listened carefully; then she interjected, “When sister Shulan and Sun Zhigao divorced by agreement, Pinlan and I were so angry. Sun Zhigao and his mother are so hateful, why should half of sister Shulan’s drowsy be given to Sun Zhigao? When I think about it carefully, I’ve figured it out. If all sister Shulan’s dowries were taken back, the Sun family may refuse to divorce by agreement or Sun Zhigao may divorce sister Shulan by simply writing an announcement letter. This is also adhering to the principle — spending money to solve tough issues.”
Old Madam Sheng gently stroked Minglan’s soft earlock, saying slowly: “Yes, who could be not angry with that family? But we have no choice; they are so bold that they are not afraid to risk all, so it’s not easy to divorce by agreement if we get no excuse. You cannot say that the husband has no virtue and the mother-in-law has no discipline as these things are disgraced. While my elder sister-in-law (the Eldest Madam Sheng) really got something, she moved and convinced them with sympathy and reasons, and then induced and forced them with money and benefits. To deal with such things, you have to do it quick and clean. Once this affair is resolved, immediately send Shulan out, then everything will be fine when the gossip ceases gradually.”
Minglan nodded repeatedly, suddenly she got up and pouted: “But the Sun families are is so abominable and hateful, how can we just let them go?”
“What the temperament you get, little girl!” Old Madam Sheng smiled, “Your eldest aunt-in-law (Mrs. Li) is quite tough, now she just can do nothing in a short time or expose her hatred toward them but befriend with other clansmen in the Sun family. Let’s wait and see in the future. Sun Zhigao and his mother are both foolish and greedy, so they may collapse even without others’ scheming.”
Minglan said with excitement: “Pinlan has promised me that once there is news about the scholar Sun, she will write to me immediately. I will read it to Grandma then.” Old Madam Sheng scolded: “Naughty girl, you always like to be involved in such affairs and can be ranked in the top list! This time you have played with Pinlan with abandon as I didn’t restrain you. But When we get back home, you have to behave yourself.”
Minglan held Grandma’s arm promised earnestly: “Grandma, you can rest assured as I have seen so many scenes this time and learned a lot. When we go back, I will be disciplined and won’t let you worry about me.”
Old Madam Sheng affectionately held her little granddaughter in her arms and said slowly: “It’s easier to live these days with a person to worry about.”
They arrived at the ferry, and then transferred to carriages. They went straight to the capital city along the official road. Just arrived at the gate of the capital city, they found servants waiting for them. After transferring to the carriages of the Sheng family, they went on.
There were a lot of influential officials and nobility gathering in the capital city, so the housing price was not lower than that in present Beijing. What’s more, things are more complicated in ancient times: if you are not someone, or your profession is not noble, or your background is not decent, you are not allowed to live in the capital city, especially those good locations near the imperial city, no matter how rich you are.
For example, a high-profit lender or a small boss of a meat factory, even if they bring money as much as those in a Titanic, they will not be accepted. The Sheng family originated from a merchant family, they had no chance in the first place; but a few decades ago, Old Master Sheng bought a big house outside the Tai’an Gate with his reputation and money when his son ranked number three in the national civil examination. This house’s location was above average: on its right situated Linqing Lane, where the scholars gathered; while the left was the area of some influential officials and nobility. Afterward, when his son married the daughter of the Duke, Old Master Sheng took the opportunity and bought the garden behind the house, and then joined the garden with the house together.
Many of Sheng Hong’s peers and colleagues came from ordinary families and became officials depending on the imperial examinations, so they could only purchase houses in the outskirts of the capital city or narrow Hutong. Then Sheng Hong had become one of the few officials in the same class who owned a house with garden; Minglan sighed with emotion again: the reincarnation is very important.
“At that time, the old Duke knew that Old Master owned a house and believed that the Sheng family was not an ordinary family without fortune and foundation, so he gave his consent to this marriage.” Mother Fang whispered to Minglan.
Minglan gave out a long sigh: It seems a must for a man to have a house if he wants to get married.