As the parents of the single youth, their potential for preparing for marriage is unlimited. Sheng Wei and Kang Household were rushing to get everything ready, and the marriage was scheduled to be at the end of September so that the new daughter-in-law would go to the ancestral hall at the end of the year to give the incense. Got the news, Sheng Hong went to the office late this morning and gathered his children together.
Resisted yawning, Minglan was dragged into the hall by Danju. Saw that Sheng Hong and Mrs. Wang had been sitting on the two paulownia high chairs in the hall and the brother and sister stood on age order in both sides, after Changdong stood on the end of left side threw a relief look at her, Minglan knew nothing happened. So she walked to the side of Rulan, standing well-behaved.
Sheng Hong took a hot tea, looked at him put down the tea bowl, Mrs. Wang said: “You all sit down, the master has something to say.”
Minglan sat down, looked up at Sheng Hong, and saw he was happy: “Your uncle’s family will have a happy event, and it is a family affair.” Then he smiled smoothing his beard.
No one dared to ask Sheng Hong, they took their eyes to see Minglan, Minglan was very cooperative and smiled: “They are Brother Wu and Cousin Yun’er. Cousin sister was to aunt’s liking after the meeting and was praised as quiet and elegant. And the old lady wrote that this was a good medium made by our old madame. Father, did the uncle send a matchmaker red envelope to my grandma?”
Sheng Hong pointed to Minglan and laughed: “You such a naughty girl! You are old enough, but you are so mischievous!”
Mrs. Wang was proud to say: “It is a blessing that your uncle can have such a daughter-in-law, the extraction and quality of Yun’er is tip-top. It is really a fate!”
Molan smiled sweetly: “Fate is fate, but anyway, the uncle’s family has such a blessing gives the credit to the reputation of father as well.”
The words were very obscure. It’s out of Sheng Hong’s prestige that a family holding high official positions for generations like Kang is willing to marry a legal daughter into the Sheng Wei’s family of the merchant. The hint of Molan hit Sheng Hong’s heart, and sure enough, Sheng Hong listened and said nothing, but his look was more pleasant and nodded to Molan, whose eyes were full of joy.
Minglan bowed her head and looked at Rulan, who was holding her fists in the sleeves, and sighed: If Molan used to be a fake idol, she had already turned to strength in the past few years. No matter how bad she was in front of Rulan and Minglan, as long as Sheng Hong is there, she acts like a gentle and meticulous daughter, caring for her elders and her sisters.
Sheng Hong smiled and said: “Elder Old Madam Sheng wrote to say that the marriage must be attended by Old Madam Sheng. If not, she will come here to invite us. I have discussed with Old Madam Sheng yesterday, she will set off to Youyang at the end of the month. I have business to do. My term as prefect expires at the end of October, so I can’t go. Changbai has to go to Bianjing (the capital city) to sort out the house recently. Changfeng has to prepare for examination examination held in autumn. Changdong is too small. They can’t go. Minglan is bound to accompany Old Madam Sheng. Molan, Rulan, would you like to go with her?”
Rulan turned her head and looked at Minglan. In fact, Minglan is also very surprised. According to Old Madam Sheng’s temper, who doesn’t like the lively crowd, Minglan thought she will definitely refuse to go to the wedding, and was thinking about to find some excuses. She did not expect that Old Madam Sheng agree readily this time.
Molan glanced at Minglan and smiled. “This is a happy event and I was very willing to go, but our family is about to move to Bianjing, and Mrs. Wang is too busy. We need to pack our luggages by ourselves. I should also help Five sister and Three brother to sort their packings. So I’d better stay. Please send my best wishes to brother Changwu.”
Minglan agreed with a smile.
Compared to the splendid world in Bianjing, Youyang is much worse. Moreover, Qi Heng is living in Bianjing! Rulan also thought of that, and he said coldly: “Who wants you to help me pack? If you don’t want to go, just stay. Don’t take me as an excuse!”
Mrs. Wang frowned and looked at Sheng Hong. Of course, he lowered his voice and yelled at Rulan: “What do you say? You were careless since you were a child, your sister is kind enough to help you. Why can’t you understand her? You are so rude and impolite. Just don’t go!”
Rulan flushed, but she dared not to contradict. Fearing that they would quarrel again, Mrs. Wang urged, “Rulan is still too young and thoughtless. It’s normal for sisters to argue with each other. You Master could say something important. It’s not early now, you still need to go to work.”
Sheng Hong glanced at Mrs. Wang. Then, he turned his head to Minglan and said softly: “Minglan, you accompany Old Madam to Youyang this time. You should take care of Old Madam along the way!”
Minglan was glad to go out to travel. Since she transmitted to ancient times, she had never gone to another city. But when she thought of travelling on the carriage, Minglan frowned and said: “Dad, it seems you are wrong. I’m afraid Old Madam would be tired of taking care of me. I feel dizzy even when I see the carriage. Maybe I should walk to Youyang?” Sheng Hong looked at Minglan’s sorrowful face. It was funny. He pretended to be serious, and said: “Walk with your short legs? I’m afraid Boy Wu’s baby would be a month old when you reach Youyang!”
The atmosphere in the house was relaxed and everyone laughed. Minglan was more worried and said, “Shall I go or not?”
Sheng Hong looked at Minglan’s beautiful little face and said, “Go! You should make use of this opportunity to meet relatives in hometown, and then go to the ancestral temple. If your brothers and sisters have any gifts for Boy Wu, you just bring it.”
After saying these words, Sheng Hong stood up and the children on both sides also stood up. Mrs. Wang came to help him. When walking past Minglan, Sheng Hong said: “Minglan, go to pack things up, don’t let Old Madam worry about you, and be polite all the time. When you return to Bianjing, it would be the New Year. I’ll take you to appreciate lanterns.”
Minglan nodded immediately. Sheng Hong smiled, touching Minglan’s head gently. He then turned to wave at Changbai, and strode out. Changbai followed Sheng Hong. Changfeng lost sight of the back of Sheng Hong and Changbai.
Understanding what Changfeng thought, Molan asked “Why did Dad ask big brother to go with him?”, pretending to be unintentional.
Glancing at Molan arrogantly, Rulan said: “If you want to know, why not ask father.” Then she squatted and went into the room with Mrs. Wang. Minglan was most afraid of the quarrel between Rulan and Moran, leaving quickly.
As soon as Rulan entered her own room, she was criticized by Mrs. Wang: “You are really less sensible even though you are getting elder. Even if you can’t learn from Molan’s gimmicks, you can learn the personalities of Minglan. Your father like her a lot in recent years. He always praises her polite and gentle, and often tell me to take good care of her.”
Rulan snorted: “All she can do is just making a few pairs of shoes and several purses to please people!”
Mrs. Wang was angrier: “Shoes are not the key, but they symbolize filial piety. When I wear the shoes she sent to me, and I can feel that she indeed spent time and energy in it. Why haven’t you done it? All you know is just quarrel with Molan! This time, your father asked Minglan to go to the ancestral hall to offer incense, then those relatives of native place have known that Minglan will be my daughter!”
Rulan was shocked: “Really? What about Sister Molan, she also went to the ancestral temple in earlier years, will she also…?”
“I don’t know, let’s wait and see.” Mrs. Wang sat down on the Kang with fatigue.
Here the mother and daughter were distraught, on the other hand in the garden, Sheng Hong was in an aimless hurry. He spoke to Changbai, “I have called Laifu to prepare for those boxes of gifts, and your mother will count them again before you go; I have sent a letter to your Uncle Liu, and if there is no accident, he will be assigned the Vice Minister of the Ministry of Revenue after his tenure in the Court of Judicial Review is over. You also write a letter to Changwu, and tell him about Mr. Liu’s preferences and families. Let him have everything prepared, and when he goes back to the capital city, he shall pay a visit to Mr. Liu.”
Changbai nodded. After a while, he said: “The elder uncle is very capable.”
Hearing these simple words, Sheng Hong turned his head and looked at his son full with appreciation: “It’s great that you can think so. Even if we are relatives, we have to pay respect to each other. Your elder uncle acts like your great-grandfather most, just with my trifle help, he has earned such a big fortune with bare hands. He has two sons, the elder inherited the family business, the younger has entered the officialdom, and his family will not come down to the world in the future. Bai’er, I only hope that you and Feng’er will care for each other in the officialdom. Dong’er is not good at studying, but he is still clever. When he grows older, I will let him do some business. In this way, you three brothers will all have prosperous lives!”
Changbai looked at his father’s spirited face and coughed slightly: “This time Old Madam goes to Youyang, I’m afraid he would meet the third master again; and the elder Old Madam Sheng… is also very capable.”
Sheng Hong looked at the serious oldest son with soulful eyes. If Changfeng was there, Changfeng would definitely respond to his plan with a loud applause, while Changbai was not interested in that. However, he put great expectation on and relied heavily upon the eldest son, Changbai. He sighed for that and continued to say: “The family of the third Old Mr. Sheng was declining in recent years, so they often get money from your oldest uncle. He even tried to persuade many elders to let Changsong adopt his own grandson. This time when Changwu is going to get married, he must stir up some troubles again. The elder Old Madam Sheng couldn’t do something excessively because she has to take the elders’ respect into consideration. Only your grandmother with a high rank and temper can hold him back!”
When saying these words, Sheng Hong gave Changbai bitter smiles. As for Changbai, he raised his eyebrow and didn’t pick up the words.
After Minglan’s baggage was almost packed up, she wanted to bid her farewell to close friends and noticed others with letters. Hong Qingyu, two years younger than Minglan, was the most naughty but her firm fishing friend, so she wrote a letter to explain that. Then she noticed the Old Madam Sheng that she wanted to say goodbye to Yanran, the Old Madam Sheng knew Minglan’s car sickness and ordered Mother Fang to prepare her own palanquin to take Minglan.
When they get the place fifty meters away from Yu family, Minglan began to feel something wrong. She opened the curtain of the palanquin slightly and saw many people saying something and pointing at the door of Yu family. Minglan heard some words faintly, ‘…Chen Shimei… discard his wife and abandon his son… relying on force bully others…’ Ming Lan immediately ordered Mother Cui outside to get in through the back door.
The woman janitor of Yu family was familiar with the sedan of Sheng family. However, today she looked awkward and didn’t know whether to let Minglan in or not. When the woman hesitated, the lactating mother of Yanran came here hurriedly and showed Minglan in. She whispered in Minglan’s ear with a trembling voice on the way: “…because you young Lady Sheng treats ours closer than your own sisters, I don’t hold back any more. In the early morning, an unknown woman with a son and a daughter kneed in front of our family and asked to meet our masters. If not, she would die before our family! Ugh, what should we do? What a bitter fate our young lady has…”
Minglan heard the illogical words she said, thought that for a while, then came to understand what happened. Minglan said hesitantly: “That woman… is Gu Tingye’s…”
The wet nurse was so anxious that her tears were coming down. She covered her face with a handkerchief and said, “For God’s sake!… What does this have to do with my girl? That woman insists on offering tea to Yanran, and begs for Yanran’s pity and acceptance for her and her two sons, or they three will keep kneeling. The whole household all heard the two kids crying, while the master fainted after spitting blood, and the old madam could not hold it as well. As the second Mr. and his families have gone to Jinan, there is no one who can host now! Yanran is so delicate that she can only cry helplessly… Oh dear, what the hell!”
Minglan became worried and she stepped up to the backyard. Passed the half-moon gate, she saw a group of servant girls and maid gather together, whispering, talking, laughing or discussing. Minglan turned to the wet nurse: “Go to get the stewardess of the second Mrs. How dare they crowd and watch like this?!”
The wet nurse suddenly realized that, and she quickly ran away. Minglan was familiar with Yu family, so she guided Xiaotao and Danju straight inside. In the courtyard, a woman in plain clothes was kneeling in the center, next to her were a son and a daughter, all of them were crying. Minglan slowed down and bypassed her, walking straight into the room.
As soon as Minglan entered the room, she found Old Madam Yu lying on the soft couch, gasping faintly. Yanran was sitting on the side of the couch, looking weak, pale and stunned. When she saw Minglan, she came up and clasped her hand. With shaking lips, Yanran muttered: “Excuse for my incapability…” Then she tried her best to speak loudly to that woman: “You get up quickly, I will not accept you! Begone!”
The woman raised her head, she was beautiful but pitiful, as there was blood on her forehead, which was caused by kowtow, and her eyes were red and full of tears. She said, “You are my hostess afterwards, if you are not willing to accept us, where can we shelter ourselves? If you do not give consent today, we three are better to die here! How can you have the heart to watch us die?!”
Yanran was always gentle and soft. Hearing what the woman said, Yanran did not know how to respond, and just kept silent. Under the gaze of Minglan, Yanran was at her wits’ end, and said weakly: “Get up first, I… I won’t harm you…”
Minglan was speechless when she heard what Yangran said. The Imperial Secretary Yu was strict with himself and had no concubines in his life. Old Madam Yu always lived happily, and her daughter-in-law never disobeyed her. Yanran grew up under the protection of her grandparents. No wonder both Old Madam Yu and Yanran had never seen such a scene, and were helpless when dealing with this kind of people. If Mrs. Wang, Rulan, or Molan was here… Minglan suddenly thought of the power of these three women. Looking how weak and angry Old Madam Yu was, Minglan whispered: “Old Madam, forgive me, Minglan is going to do something not polite.”
Old Madam Yu opened her eyes and saw that it was Minglan. She understood her meaning in her heart, but she did not have enough energy to speak more. She just gasped and said, “You are like my granddaughter. Go… to help Yanran handle this situation!”
Minglan stood at the door and looked at the woman under the steps. Then it came her sound: “Who is down here? If you want my sister to accept you, you have to tell us all about yourself!”
The woman gently looked up and saw that the surrounding maids were very respectful to Minglan. She assumed that Minglan was the younger lady of Yu family. She stopped crying and said: “My… my name is Manniang, these two are my children!”
Minglan said gently, smiling: “The legitimate wife drinking your tea does not mean accepting you as a concubine. Even an ordinary family would ask the girl’s origins before accepting her as a concubine, and Yu family, a famous and noble family in Bianjing, is supposed to be more cautious about concubines. If my sister doesn’t even know where you come from and accept you casually, wouldn’t others laugh at Yu family?!”
What Minglan said was clear and in order. Everyone nodded and agreed on it. Out of her expectation, Manniang was a little stunned and had a glimpse at Minglan. At this time, one maid took a soft stool here and Minglan sat down gracefully, asking her with a smile: “Now I, on behalf of grandmother and my sister, ask you some questions. After explaining all things clear, then my sister will decide whether to have the tea you serve or not. Do you want to answer my questions like that, or stand up to?”
Seeing Minglan with such a manner, all maid servants around gradually stopped talking and watching Manniang and her children sarcastically. Manniang gnashed her teeth and stood up, whispering: “Young lady can ask whatever you want to know.”
One maid took a tray for Minglan, Minglan raised the tea bowl and had a sip, asking Manniang friendly: “Are you a person of Gu family?” Manniang bowed her head and said in a low voice: “…not.”
Being secretly delighted, Minglan continued to ask: “Oh, then you are from the outside family. How about your families? What do they do?”
Her pale face suddenly turning blue and her lips shaking continually, Manniang intermittently said: “…I, I have no parents, only one brother, he does some small business…”
“What business?” Minglan questioned her intensely. The maid servants around also waited and expected to know her answer.
“At.. the Water transport wharf” Manniang’s voice was too low that others hardly heard what she said.
When Minglan was going to say that porter was also a good and legal job, a granny near the Old Madam Yu walked to her and whispered in her ear. Minglan frowned and asked: “What’s your relationship with Joy Six theatrical troupe?”
Manniang said with a very low voice as the buzzing noise of mosquitoes: “My brother did some unskilled work there.”
Minglan suddenly realized that, a hedonistic son of rich parents like Gu Tingye always linger in the theaters or brothels. Then the identity of women he met must be a geisha or a prostitute.
After realizing that, Minglan said deliberately: “If so, it is difficult to deal with. I’m afraid of that my sister cannot make the decision by herself. Why not go to beseech Gu family?”
With unceasing tears, Manniang kowtowed again and again and said: “Gu family look down upon my status and background and don’t accept me. I have no other choice…My children are growing old and they have to get household registrations. Young lady Yu, please agree with that for sympathy.”
Minglan looked at the two ignorant children who were only three or two years old, felt pity. So she tried to say: “Even if Gu Household does not recognize you, but they still want their children! But then you need to separate from your children.”
Manniang was panicked and shouted: “Do you really want to break up me with my children? You, Miss, look general as a Jade People, but you are so vicious! If I leave my baby, it wouldn’t be better to let me die…”
Speaking that, she heavily kowtowed on the ground, the servants hurriedly pulled her.
Minglan began to sneer in her heart, and her tone gradually turned tough: “You really has a good scheming. You know that the Gu won’t accept you, so you want my elder sister to be an unfilial daughter-in-law. How dare you rebel against the elders since you haven’t entered the door yet!”
Eyes flickered, Manniang turned to bow her head down and mourned: “Please madam do a favor by pitying for me! Better save one life than build a seven-story pagoda; the lives of our three are in the hands of you, madam! In the future when I serve one husband with your sister, I will respectfully obey your sister’s order and my two children are also your sister’s children…”
No sooner had she finished talking than Yanran’s faint cry came from the back room. Old Madam. Yu gasped do her utmost: “Drive her out, go out! Break off the engagement! Break off!…” But the voice was very low, so no one but Minglan who stood at the door heard it, then she stood up suddenly and snapped: “Shut up!”
The girl’s voice was sharp and the volume was very high. So suddenly, everyone in the courtyard stood in amazement. At the same time, Minglan stood up at once and walked down the step. Looked down at Manniang, she said coldly: “What do you want to do? It’s not a chance to serve one husband with my sister. Neither media nor betrothal presents, my sister has nothing to do with the Gu. If you won’t control your mouth, then I won’t control my hands.”
Manniang was stunned. She couldn’t think of this beautiful little girl was so violent that she was so horrible. The girl was tempted by the moment but immediately turned her face after a moment, which made her a little embarrassed. But when she saw that there were many people around, she took courage again and sighed aloud: “Since you won’t give our way out, then we will commit suicide!”
Speaking that, she carried her children and rushed to the wall to kill herself, and was immediately stopped by the surrounding servants. Then she burst into loud sobs, and her children were also shocked to scream and cry. For one moment, they made a hubbub of mess cry.
At this time, the wet nurse finally led the head steward of Yu family arrived. The steward immediately dismissed the crowd, and then ordered two strong maids to hold Manniang’s arms from both sides. Manniang was too frightened to cry. Minglan waved gently, looked at them coldly, and slowly said with bright voice: “Although you were born as the lower class, as long as you get marry with an ordinary person, you could still live a plain but smooth life. However, you chose to be a mistress even you are fully aware that you would never be accepted by a nobel family like Gu household. This was your choice, you were not forced to be a mistress, why do you come here to make a scene? …Hum, you pushed my sister Yu to accept you. You kicked up a row in Yu family and stirred up troubles. You took the liberty to call my sister as hostess while she is not yet married with Gu. All the behaviors above have put my sister in mire and ruined her reputation. My sister is neither relative or friend of you. You just came here without authorization and did such dirty things. I could slap your faces and kick you out.”
Minglan’s scolding was clear and logical, even the maids who had compassion for Manniang now watched her with disdain. Manniang realised that the situation is reversed. Before she was about to argue something, Minglan said:” Now you have two choices. First, you can walk out from here yourself. Yu family would arrange for your trip back to Bianjing. Second, we may tie your hands and feets, gagged you and throw you to the boats back to Bianjing. Just choose.” The steward understood Minglan’s meaning. She asked the maids to find ropes immediately.
Manniang’s beautiful face changed a few times in a minute. She bit her bottom lip, trying to make her expression delicate and poor. And said: “Lady, I…”
Minglan interrupted her and looked at her disdainfully. “Yes or no. Are the ropes ready?” said Minglan coldly.
“All ready, just wait for your order, my lady.”, the steward answered. The strong maids beside were also stand by.
Manniang looked directly into Minglan’s eyes. However, Minglan looked back without the slightest fear. With the experiences of watching Mrs. Wang and Lady Lin feud with each other, Minglan was used to all these situations.
The two looked at each other for a long while, finally Manniang gave up. She stood up and held her children’s hands. Then the maids dragged them out.