The next day while paying respects, predictably both brother and sister, Changfeng and Molan ‘recovered’. Wang shi inquired about the siblings’ health, asking the nature of the illness and to the progress of their recovery. Changfeng maintained his poise but Molan couldn’t help blushing crimson. After everyone greeted the Old Madame in order, both Changfeng and his sister begged for forgiveness from the Old Madame.
“Forgiveness for allowing the Old Madame to be worried. I initially did not have any illness, only felt slightly chilly when I retired to bed the night before. However, when I woke up yesterday morning, my head felt heavy and my legs weak, I did not think anything of it but I remembered that the Old Madame has just not long recovered. I just couldn’t bear it if you fell ill because I passed it on to you. Furthermore, Third Older Brother lives close to me and Concubine Lin was afraid that Older Brother was also infected therefore also asked to detain Older Brother.”
Molan’s voice was soft, her complexion haggard and appearance delicate. All in all, she seemed as if she was really sick. Changfeng’s fair and small face was somewhat embarrassed and immediately followed “I too do not know what happened. When I woke up yesterday morning, Younger Sister was already sick and I was not allowed to leave the door. To allow Grandmother to be worried, beg of Old Madame to not blame us.”
Having said that he repeated a bow with his hands forward. Minglan peeking from the side could feel the sincerity from his actions. Old Madame looked at the frightened Changfeng, her complexion slightly clearing and warmly said “Little Boy Feng is almost ten years old, you should have your own rooms and servants to instruct which would also be more convenient to aid your studies. It is not proper to delay your studies and stay with women and children all the time, your Big Brother is planning on taking the Child Examinations1 and is currently studying hard not even sparing the time to see his younger sister from Madame. Although our family has managed to distinguish a Shengyuan2 is more than adequate however, it cannot compare to those who are more qualified. You also must strive to improve, perhaps in the future you will bring glory to your ancestors or raise yourself through marriage, but it will all be the fruits of your own labour.”
These words of Old Madame was not merely for Changfeng ears, but was also said for the benefit of Concubine Lin, they really were her heartfelt words. Changfeng immediately stood upright respectfully and bowed to the Old Madame again. Wang shi on the side heard the Old Madame mention Changbai and couldn’t conceal her happiness from reaching the tips of her brow. Changbai however, was still the same, aloof and of few words, the praise not even twitching his brows.
Old Madame proceeded to then converse with Changbai and ignored Molan. Her small face slowly turned red, was distressed and at a loss. Old Madame Sheng then turned to look deeply at her and slowly said “Mo yatou this time has caught a cold, probably due to the past few days you were being filial at my side. The weather is bitterly cold and your body is also weak, naturally you could not withstand it.”
Molan choked a sob, her small face rose and looked at the Old Madame through the tears looking pitiful and full of grievance. She said “Not being able to serve by the Old Madame’s side, in the end is merely my bad luck. These few days my heart has been unwell, is likely why I caught a cold. It is all this granddaughter’s fault, this granddaughter has had wrong thoughts, begs Old Madame to please punish me.” Having said that she then knelt before the couch, her small body trembling. The maids in the room could not bear the sight.
Old Madame Sheng looked at her for a while and then allowed Cuiping help her up. She pulled Molan to her side and warmly said “Mo yatou, regarding the matter of not letting you come here, you do not need to take it personally. It is just that the Madame has many matters to attend to on top of children to care for and I decided to help her look after one, merely to lighten her burden a little. You are young lady and shouldn’t overthink everything, it’s not good for you to burden your body but rather should nurture it. In the future you need to learn needlework, rules and etiquette and will wear yourself out. I have also mentioned these matters to your Sixth Younger Sister.”
Molan’s teardrops glistened in her eyes but did not fall. She nodded and snuggled into the Old Madame side. Hualan upon seeing the situation and hurried over to softly console her, Wang shi turned her head to look at Rulan and couldn’t help but sigh. Rulan was impatiently tapping her shoes, her eyes extremely focused on the outside. She then turned to look at Minglan and realised that she was merely lowering her head, dazedly looking at her shoes and inwardly felt that at least her own daughter was better.
After everyone returned, both the grandparent and grandchild had breakfast as usual. Today’s breakfast menu had a new items including meat buns and minced meat porridge. Minglan had never eaten this kind of meat before and felt it was exceptionally fragrant. She could not help herself from having another bowl. Seeing the young girl stuffing her cheeks bulging with relish, the Old Madame also could not help but partake a little more. At the side, Mama Fang was also delighted. Minglan felt that occasions such as eating requires a particular ambience. In the presence of a sickly Lin Daiyu who was holding onto a grain of rice, even if it was Bajie,3 he would undoubtedly lose his appetite.
After the meal, the Old Madame asked Minglan to remove her shoes and climb onto the couch. This time she gave Minglan a tracing book so that she could lean on the side table and trace the words. While she was writing, the Old Madame gently guided her to recognize each word as she wrote it. In no time, Old Madame Sheng was able to realise that Minglan’s had an exceptional memory. Despite her young age and weak constitution, she could remember well over ten words in one afternoon. Most of her words were unfortunately crooked but every brush stroke was neat and orderly. When she raises her brush to draw a horizontal strokes she would naturally lean to the left and fluidly pull the line across.
Seeing this, the Old Madame taught with great enthusiasm. Afraid that Minglan would be bored from merely practicing characters all day long, she then brought out a poetry compilation. Picking a few short poems to recite, she read every line to Minglan. The first poem was that famous one about《Geese》,4 while she read she explained the meaning of the poem. Minglan felt somewhat awkward5 but she still put on her best act and diligently recited after her. After repeating twice, she ‘memorised’ it. Old Madame Sheng liked her all the more for it and embraced the little girl, kissing her. When Old Madame was young, she was rather reputable in literary circles, one of the reasons she caringly raised Concubine Lin. Minglan was cuddled till her hair was messy and gushingly praised till her face reddened. Heart pounding Minglan thought, Lin Binwang6 was only seven when he composed poems, being six years old and being able to recite poems from memory ought to be normal right?
“Ming yatou, do you know the meaning of this poem?” asked Old Madame, the wrinkles of her face looked like they had been smoothed erasing the passing of age.
“When Grandmother taught the meaning, this granddaughter understood it right away…… once upon a time there were three geese, they stretched their necks towards the sky and sang, white feathers floating on green waters and red feet paddled below clear waters.” Minglan replied in a bright voice.
“Do you like this poem?” The Old Madame listened, grinning from ear to ear.
“Like! This poem has colour and sound, it’s like being able to see three big white geese even if someone has never seen a goose before.” Minglan tried her best to use the language of a child to explain.
Old Madame Sheng beamed at Minglan “Good, good, good. Three geese… that’s right, it is three silly geese!”
1. 童试 (Tong Shi): Examinations taken when a boy is in his teenage years. Under this category, there are three examinations: Child, County, College
2. 生员 (Sheng Yuan): One who has passed the college entrance examinations and is the next level of exam after the county/prefecture examinations
3. It is the pig from Journey to the West.
4. It is the Tang poem that is also known as Ode to Geese and it is all about geese.
5. 囧 (Jiong): Widely used as an Internet emoticon as it looks like a face to to mean various moods such as embarrassment, awkwardness, gloominess, despair, failure
6. The author who composed the geese poem.
Seriously Molan, come up with a better lie. I think the interactions between Old Madame Sheng and Minglan is really precious, so cute. Next up, a small resolution starts in Minglan!