Cheng Yuanjing was tall and handsome. When he stood at the door waiting for Cheng Yujin, other people’s gaze secretly attracted to him. After Cheng Yujin dressed neatly, they lifted the curtain and departed together.
After the two left, the Shou’an hall seemed to be half empty. Ruan-shi and Qingfu Junzhu each had their own mind. They stood for a while and saw old Madam Cheng seem tired and took the opportunity to leave.
Both daughters-in-law took their people away, leaving only old Madam Cheng in the warm and cozy room. The old Madam finally showed the feebleness brought by her old age. She leaned on the pillow, closing her eyes tiredly.
Her dowry servant, Zhang Mama, quietly approached. She put another pillow behind the old Madam’s waist and asked softly, “Old Madam, what’s wrong with you?”
After a long silence, Zhang Mama thought that the old Madam wouldn’t reply. Suddenly, she heard a long sigh: “He already nineteen. In a blink of an eye, thirteen years have passed.”
Zhang Mama was also silent. Although ‘he’ was not named, Zhang Mama has accompanied the old Madam for more than thirty years. How could she not know the old Madam’s entanglement? After so many years, little Xue-shi has almost become a gnawing disease in the old Madam’s heart.
Zhang Mama paused for a while and whispered: “Old madam, you should relax more. Although she was favored, in the end, you are the legal wife. She is forever just an outside mistress. Besides, little Xue-shi had been dead for four years. Why should you worry about a dead woman? No matter how much the old Master favored her, no matter how good her son is, one has to have the life to enjoy it.”
Old Madam Cheng snorted coldly. When she opened her eyelids, her eyes were full of hate: “I’m just angry. At that time, Xue family’s reputation was known all over the world, while my natal family was just an upstart. If the Xue family didn’t get involved in the court struggle, resulting in their exile, the Cheng family would not even look at me. The Marquis and little Xue-shi were childhood sweetheart. At twelve years old, they already had a marriage contract, only waiting for little Xue-shi to have her hairpin ceremony (1) to marry in. As a result, on the eve of the marriage, the Xue family was implicated. Parents-in-law didn’t dare to offend Yang family, and hastily proposed marriage to my family. But I know, from the beginning, the Marquis was unwilling….”
Zhang Mama knelt beside the old Madam and sighed, “Old Madam… ”
“It’s okay, after so many years, I already accept this fact. Love and affection are all vain. The most important thing is to give birth to a son and solidify my status as the legal wife. After getting married, although his treatment towards me was lukewarm, he still gave me face anyway and never allowed those concubines to step on my head. His two sons and one daughter crawled out from my stomach, which is enough. I don’t want to compete with the childhood sweetheart in his memory. But I didn’t expect that after 20 years, he even found little Xue-shi and brought her back! ”
Old Madam Cheng sneered. In the ninth year of Jianwu, her twin granddaughters Cheng Yujin and Cheng Yumo have just been born for half a year. Old Madam Cheng was still immersed in the joy of being a grandmother. But one day in the fourth month, his husband suddenly took back a child from outside and said that he was the son of him and little Xue-shi. The child had just turned six and had to be recorded into Cheng clan’s genealogy. The old Madam was very suspicious. The young boy’s appearance was excellent, and there were no calluses on his hands. His movements and conducts were even more refined than her own sons. Could a powerless little Xue-shi really raise up such kind of child in the exile?
Besides suspicion, the old Madam also had a selfish thought. She didn’t want the old Master to hook up with his former lover. The old Madam refused to let the child entered Cheng clan’s genealogy. However, old Master Cheng showed a rare stubbornness. He kept saying that the boy was his bloodline, whom he secretly raised outside for so many years. Although the boy didn’t have no worry about food and clothing, he couldn’t stay outside forever and had to be brought back to recognize his ancestors.
Old Madam Cheng has been doubting Cheng Yuanjing’s identity for so many years. He was probably little Xue-shi’s son, but not old Master Cheng’s blood. Little Xue-shi had a pretty face and was exiled into the frontier. That kind of weak, beautiful woman in such a place, one could imagine what kind of fate she might meet. Since she wasn’t sure who her father’s son was, little Xue-shi pushed the blame to old Master Cheng. And that man was also foolishly deceived. He really took back the mother and son to the capital, raising other man’s son.
After so many years, old Madam Cheng finally saw little Xue-shi again. Her cheeks and hands were no longer delicate, but the gentleness and calmness in her body were still as before. Because of her jealousy and suspicion, old Madam Cheng refused to let little Xue-shi entered the marquis manor. Old Master Cheng relented, he could only raise the mother and son in the outside manor, all their expenses paid out of his private account. In these years, the old Madam desperately deducted the old Master’s money. But like an annoying ghost, little Xue-shi’s son was still growing up upright and remarkably. His conducts and manners were precisely like an honored son of a noble household. He even smoothly passed the imperial exam, getting the jinshi title.
The more old Madam Cheng thought about it, the more hateful she felt: “That old scrooge really has no conscience. I don’t know where he has got so much money over the years. Not only raising a mistress outside, he even supported that child until he passed the jinshi. My son, since he was seven, had always been pressured to study, getting many scolding and even beatings. Yet, couldn’t even pass the county level exam!”
When the old Madam started to scold Cheng Yuanxian, Zhang Mama tried to persuade: “Old Madam, why are you need to be so anxious? The imperial examination was prepared for the sons of the humble family without any connection or background, but doesn’t the shizi already have a future noble title? Why does he need to suffer so much to pass an exam! Besides, our family is a meritious noble. The ancestors have left behind a lush tree, no need for the shizi to cast his dice on the path of the scholars.”
“A scholar he cannot be, a military he doesn’t want to. The only thing he knows is to play all day with those little concubines, does he want to anger me to death?” Old Madam Cheng couldn’t help but scold her eldest son even more. Zhang Mama simply listened patiently. The old Madam was scolding harshly now, but why did the eldest master have so many concubines and tongfang(2)? Wasn’t it because the old Madam who doted on her son stuffed all those women to him?
(1) Hairpin Ceremony : Coming-of-age ceremony for girls. Usually held at the age of fifteen.
(2) Tongfang : A servant girl also used for bedroom matters. Unlike proper concubine, beside sleeping with her master a tongfang still had to do her usual servant duties. She might be promoted into concubine if particularly favored or after giving birth to a child.
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