Having left home nearly two months, Minglan felt that her eyes got wet suddenly, and she realized that she had regarded the Sheng family as her own family. Sheng Hong had got some short beards under the jaw, which were shorter in the two sides and longer in the middle. It was said that this was the most popular beard style among civilians in Bianjing now. Mrs. Wang got tired because of preparation for Changbai’s marriage, and her tiredness could even not be covered by cosmetics.
“Old Madam, if you won’t come back, your daughter-in-law may get overtired. I need to handle so many matters!” Mrs. Wang took Old Madam Sheng’s arm around, who had never been so intimate.
Hai Zhaoyun’s father was appointed as a local official. To avoid the difficulty of arranging marriage in two places after the Hai family left Bianjing, they decided to hold the marriage ceremony as soon as possible. On the one hand, Mrs. Wang had to settle down families who came to Bianjing from Youyang, on the other hand, she had to prepare for marriage. So she was extremely busy.
Although the Old Master Hai had retired, he was still respected by other officials. As the bride was the girl of the Hai family, almost half of the officials in North attended the marriage ceremony. Not all of them were rich, but all of them were well-educated.
“Your family is really a place of elegance. Look at Lin Anzhi’s painting ‘Play the Chinese Zither’, it focuses on both format and artistic conception, which adheres to Gu Kaizhi’s (a famous painter in ancient China) concept perfectly.” An official’s wife commented on the wall painting.
“This is indeed a good painting, but the inscription is slightly dignified, which has suppressed the overall atmosphere. If it were inscribed by Sir Tanwei, it would be perfect. Mrs. Sheng, what do you think?” said another official’s wife, looking at Mrs. Wang together with the other woman.
Mrs. Wang smiled embarrassedly and quickly changed the topic.
Who could tell Mrs. Wang what they were talking about just now?
Changbai, whom Mrs. Wang arranged marriage busily for, was as usual. He pulled Minglan to compare height with him and said with no expression, “Still 6-7 centimeters taller than you.” — just like a vendor selling fabric.
Changsong failed the provincial examination again, but he made a few friends who loved poetry in the capital city. Having got a famous name of “Jiasong Gongzi” recently, he kept shaking a fan arrogantly in such a cold day. Changdong changed the most. Just like the new sprouts, he had been growing fast. “Sixth Sister, I’ve taken care of all your things, even the box cover was not touched by anyone,” said Changdong seriously.
“Boy Dong, you are really capable. Go to my room to fetch some fabric and other things later, I’ve reserved some for your mother.” Minglan whispered to Changdong.
The nine-year-old Changdong’s little face fluttered red, seemingly ashamed, and said, “My mother says Sixth Sister doesn’t have to take care of us specially. Old Madam has sent what we should get to our room.” Minglan leaned over and said softly, “Aunt Sheng Yun has presented some fine fabric to me, with which your mother can make some beautiful clothes for you so that you can wear decently at school. We are living in the capital city after all.”
Changdong was grateful to Minglan, who lowered his head and thanked Minglan.
Minglan knew that Molan and Changsong couldn’t wear fine clothes if they just relied on money given by the Sheng family monthly. Everyone knew that, but Sheng Hong, the head of the family, never paid attention.
“Sixth younger sister, you are back at long last. If you come back later, your boxes may have been opened.” Rulan said in a provoking manner as usual which irritated Molan. Minglan quickly placed her hands on Rulan’s shoulder to stop her and smiled, “Fifth elder sister you are here. Even though something is lost, you would tell where it is. This time, I have kept a few bottles of sweet osmanthus oil for you!”
Rulan’s eyes lighted up with delight: “Are they from Cangxiang?”
“Exactly.” Minglan smiled with curved eyebrows, which made her very cute. Then she whispered, “Though Cangxiang’s sweet osmanthus is not better than Xiyun Mountain’s, they are used as a tribute. The number of bottles of sweet osmanthus oil from Cangxiang is fixed each year. Our aunt struggled to take a few bottles from an official workshop. I asked some from her and would give all to you to oil your hair!”
Rulan was also very happy and embraced Minglan. Rulan smiled and said: “That is good and I am on time for it. Thank you for being concerned about me, my good sister.” Her hair was dry and thin since she was a child, and it had only been a little better after caring her hair for many years. The present Minglan gave was just what Rulan wanted.
Molan pouted and said coldly: “After the visit to hometown, younger sister Ming has learned a lot about being snobbish. What good flattery! It makes fifth younger sister so happy like that.” Minglan didn’t get angry for that, instead, she smiled and turned to Molan, “Well, fourth elder sister, I don’t forget yours. Here you are. This is the mellow ink stick from the south. It is said that there are some best spices mixed in the ink stick, so if you write with it, your writing will also smell great. That must be quite elegant and fancy. It will be a waste if Rulan and I, who are almost illiteracy, use the ink stick. So, sister, you take it.”
Molan took that small wooden box in black lacquer. Once she opened the box, wisp fragrance came out. As for the ink sticks, they were purplish-blue and were smooth without any crack. There was no doubt that the ink sticks were top-grade. Although Molan liked it very much, she didn’t change her expression and said calmly, “Thank you, younger sister Ming. Later, I would share half of the southern pearls Mrs. Hai presented with you.”
Minglan didn’t decline Molan’s gift in return. Minglan clapped her hands and laughed: “That’s great. Hey, fifth elder sister, what about you?” Looking at Rulan with big eyes, Minglan reached out her hands to ask for a present. Rulan glanced at Minglan and said: “You, a good for nothing. I don’t forget your present and have kept a transparent bracelet made of lighter imperial jade for you.”
Minglan took two sisters’ hands and sat down. Then Minglan sighed contently: “It is really good to have sisters. Even if I come back late, there are still good things left for me. I am really blessed!” It was probably that Rulan and Molan were also influenced by Minglan’s happiness. Both Molan and Rulan shook their heads with a smile and the atmosphere was quite harmonious.
When Sheng Hong returned home in the evening, the reunion of all the families made everyone happier. Mrs. Wang arranged a big table and all the families sat together for dinner. During the dinner, Minglan toasted to Sheng Hong and said loudly: “Congratulations to Daddy on the smooth and successful official career. Without your hard work, we, your daughters, couldn’t enjoy such a happy life. I wish Daddy good health and longevity.”
Sheng Hong found Minglan sincere and fair, he was quite touched. After drinking off a cup of wine, he praised repeatedly: “My Ming’er is really considerate!” As all the children heard that, they also raised the cup and toasted to Sheng Hong. Sheng Hong was very happy and said: “Well well well, you are all good kids, I am even happier than getting a promotion!”
The boys all drank off, while the girls only took a sip as Old Madam Sheng told.
Today the family was so jubilant that they couldn’t help talking when eating. They listened when Minglan was cheerfully talking about her experience of returning hometown.
“At that time, it was the golden autumn of September. Wow, the osmanthus was blossoming and the mountains were like to be covered by gold. You could smell the overflowing fragrance everywhere in the mountains; after walking under those blossoming trees, anyone would smell good then!”
“When we were picking the osmanthus, one tied a rope around the branch, and then another person took the other end of the rope and shook it. In this way, you could be covered with osmanthus that fell from the tree! Pinlan was really out of luck, others shook down the flowers, but she got several worms! At that moment, she was under the tree with mouth opening, my God, a worm almost fed into her mouth!”
“The buffalo in the field has a good temper, I gently rushed it with the rope, then it kept walking slowly. While Pinlan was stupid, she slashed that buffalo and irritated it, so she was almost kicked by its rear hoof. I was almost scared to death!”
Minglan’s voice was clear and expression vivid when she was narrating these funny stories. She told those mishaps with cadence and depicted the scenery with eloquence, then all the interesting scenes and idyllic scenery seemed so vivid and fresh in people’s mind that everyone was fascinated and laughed. Those children of the Sheng family were brought up in a big house and led a silk-stocking life, so they rarely had such fun.
“Our hometown is a good place! It’s a beautiful city and full of talents.” Sheng Hong became homesick and praised.
Changsong couldn’t help but say: “Is Youyang really that fun? But I have been there before and didn’t have such experiences.” Molan saw Minglan’s big show today, and she was a bit jealous: “Brother you are a scholar, how can you compare with a little weird girl?”
Sheng Hong frowned: “Your younger sister is still young, it’s normal for her to enjoy playing; after all, there were servants looking after her, how weird could her be! Your uncle and aunt (Sheng Wei and Mrs. Li) wrote to me and praised that Mingya is well-disposed and considerate, and she even taught Pinlan to behave.”
Molan lowered her head silently and was quite dissatisfied. Rulan saw Molan being blamed, she was happier than herself being praised, then she gnawed another chicken leg gladly.
Minglan was embarrassed and said in a low voice: “I have promised Grandma that after playing well with Pinlan, I will behave myself when I go back to the capital city.” Sheng Hong smiled and said: “It’s correct to get along well with the relatives as you cannot stand upon your dignity before them. Just restrain yourself after returning.”
Minglan thought: Relatives are of course good. This time Sheng Hong is going to settle in the capital city as well as hold a marriage. Sheng Wei thought that the pricing in the capital city is too high and Sheng Hong may run short of money, so he has sent a lot of money to Sheng Hong.
As always, officials and businessmen will help each other to reach a win-win situation.