“Duke Cai said that I am an ideal wife and mother, and I think so too.” Cheng Yujin smiled softly. It was the look she used most often in front of people. However, the bright light in her eyes was incompatible with the usually gentle and virtuous eldest Miss Cheng.
“My family has decent status and clean background. Even if we are not of the highest rank, my father is Yichun Marquis Manor’s shizi, soon to be titled marquis, and my mother is Qingfu Junzhu. In the eyes of many prestigious family’s madams, this is an ideal background for a daughter-in-law. There is the saying that ‘Men should take a wife from a lower status, women should marry a man of the higher status.’ My status is neither high nor low, but decent enough and clean. As for myself, I am beautiful and have a gentle disposition. My manner is excellent, I am good at social niceties, and proficient in the four arts of zither, chess, calligraphy, and painting. I am also good at cooking, embroidery, and household management. I fulfill all the requirements of a virtuous wife and good mother. Not to mention others, even myself also want to take such a daughter-in-law home.”
Zhai Yanlin frowned. These words made him uncomfortable. Zhai Yanlin curled his eyebrows and said: “Eldest Miss Cheng, as a boudoir girl…”
“As a boudoir girl, how can I say such things, right?” Cheng Yujin still smiled sweetly. “But this is the fact. Everyone acknowledges it. Ah, this is the result of my long years of hard work. From a perfect noble family daughter to a perfect daughter-in-law candidate. In the future, I will become a perfect bride, a perfect wife, and a perfect matriarch. This is my goal. As long as I can get what I want, it’s not hard to maintain this perfect image.”
“After I knew about Cai Duke Manor’s intention, I also carefully considered this matter. I can manage the duke household well. I can manage Zhai Qing well. Although it’s a bit tricky, it’s not impossible to regain the right to manage the household and bring the crooked Zhai Qing back to the right path. But let me ask Duke Cai, what can you bring me in exchange for my hard work?”
When Zhai Yanlin heard this, he was too shocked even to say a word. In the past, women would pounce upon him one after another. Whether it was to be his concubines or second wife, there were countless of them. But no one ever asked him, “what can you bring to me?”
What could he bring to her? Zhai Yanlin’s three views1 were having a violent turbulent. He was the dignified Duke Cai. He possessed wealth and power that made countless people envy him. He was tall, majestic, and had a good look. Shouldn’t women fall in love with him as a matter of fact?
Zhai Yanlin couldn’t believe it. He was used to be the one who chose. He never thought that there would be a woman standing on the opposite side, wantonly evaluating his worth.
Cheng Yujin didn’t care how great an impact was her words brought to Zhai Yanlin’s three views. She continued counting with her fingers: “If Second Madam Zhai’s words are not wrong, then the duke title and all the family property will belong to Zhai Qing in the future. That is to say, after twenty to thirty years of hard work, I have to raise another person’s son and won’t even get large rewards. Then why should I bother to work hard? Even if I give birth to a son, he can’t inherit the family, then why should I risk my life and damage my beauty to give birth to a child? Taking a step back, no matter how good I manage the household, those properties won’t belong to me or my children in the future. So why should I spend so many efforts to accumulate wealth for others?”
Cheng Yujin raised three fingers to Zhai Yanlin. “Wealth, power, comfort. Duke Cai cannot give me any of these. Why should I marry you?”
Zhai Yanlin took a long time to finally regain his ability to speak: “You…you are rebellious. Women should be gentle and tactful, supporting husband and raising children without asking for anything in return. How can you open your mouth so blatantly and talk about benefits and rewards?”
Cheng Yujin was already very impatient: “Duke Cai, I think you are also a high-ranking official of the court. Then let’s just speak openly. Since you want to form a cooperation with me, then you should show sincerity. Don’t bring nonsense like womanly virtue or gentleness to the negotiating table. I can bring peace and order to your family for at least thirty years. If you still want me to take care of Old Madam Zhai and correct Zhai Qing’s behavior, you have to add more bargaining chips. This is my worth. What about you? What can you bring to me?”
Cheng Yujin discussed marriage with the same tone as discussing a business deal. This kind of scene was not unfamiliar to Zhai Yanlin. On the contrary, he dealt with many people in the court and the army on a daily basis, using the same negotiating tactic to exchange interests and test each other’s bottom line. If he was dealing with the court officials, Zhai Yanlin liked this kind of person who showed their demands and worth straightforwardly. But in marriage…
Zhai Yanlin was utterly shocked. Cheng Yujin was like a sharp knife with no emotions. She mercilessly cut open the thick cloth that had blindfolded him over the years and presented the bloody truth before his eyes.
That’s right. Those women who pursued him, did they truly like him as a person? No. His wealth, power, and status were the key.
He had always deceived himself, thinking that he was extraordinarily heroic and charismatic, which attracted so much love from the women. But those women, those concubines in his home and even his late wife, which one didn’t look at his family’s status and future wealth? They all wanted to give birth to a son and gained a part of his family property.
This thought just never occurred to Zhai Yanlin. He maintained his ridiculous, stubborn male self-esteem, pride, and self-confidence he had lived in for most of his life. But at this moment, Cheng Yujin put on all the bargaining chips on the negotiating table, and for the first time ever, Zhai Yanlin realized that his self-confidence was actually so vulnerable. In front of Cheng Yujin’s calm, rational, and ruthless words, it collapsed easily.
Zhai Yanlin was agitated, and switched into the negotiation mode he used at the court. However, he immediately realized that he couldn’t bring anything out. Zhai Yanlin remained still for a long time, and finally said with a dry tone: “If you become my wife, I will treat you well, and you can have any gold and luxury as you want…”
Cheng Yujin laughed. Her voice was not loud, but the laugh directly pierced into Zhai Yanlin’s ears.
Zhai Yanlin felt an indescribable embarrassment.
Talking about feelings at the negotiating table was unbecoming.
“Duke Cai, your feelings are worthless to me. What else can you offer me?”
Zhai Yanlin could not answer. Cheng Yujin also didn’t expect him to answer, and immediately continued: “You cannot give me any benefit, whether in the present or the future. Then why do you want to marry me? And even stop me in the middle of the garden?”
Your feelings are worthless to me—this sentence hit hardly, and gave Zhai Yanlin the final and fatal blow. His male self-esteem was greatly hit. But he couldn’t even refute, because it was a fact.
Many women in the world were soft-hearted, but Cheng Yujin obviously won’t. The affection of her future husband was worthless to her. She wanted money and power, and didn’t want him.
Like a poor, dejected young man, Zhai Yanlin stood in front of the woman he likes, feeling at a loss as to what to do. He watched Cheng Yujin turned around and leave. He didn’t look away for a long time, and just standing there in silent depression.
I always think that Cheng Yujin’s way of thinking is very pragmatic and modern, even for today’s standards. You can perfectly imagine her using the exact same rhetoric and argument during a job interview. In fact, the way Cheng Yujin sees and evaluates marriage is exactly the same as evaluating a career. Instead of talking about passion and whatsoever, she identifies what she wants, analyzes her strength and weakness, then uses the result to build her plan.
Imagine that since you are very young, you already know that there is only one acceptable career for you. The alternatives are either impossible to achieve in your lifetime, or merely too hard and bitter. You also know that you only have one chance to choose a workplace, and this workplace determines almost everything in your life: your success, wealth, comfort, safety, even life and death. Oh, you also start your career at around 15 years old, so you only have a little more than ten years to prepare. What are you going to do then?
Well, this is the situation of practically every woman of good birth in Cheng Yujin’s era. Taking romance into marriage is possible, but only raises a hurdle for oneself.
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