Ten days flew by in the blink of an eye until one fine day when the last snowflake fell, Governess Kong that Wang shi had been eagerly awaiting for finally arrived. It was said that her origins were the latter generation of the Shangdong household’s Kong branch family and from a lowly palace maid, she rose all the way to the rank of an illustrious female official. Over the past ten years, the emperor had changed multiple times yet she safely retained her post as an official in the Six Bureau. She resigned a few years ago due to advancing age and retired with honour and favour.
Currently, many duke, marquis, count households and other distinguished families invited various retired palace officials to their houses to instruct their daughters in rules and etiquettes. Minglan reasoned that this would add market value to the girls.
This governess has previously been at Duke Ying, Duke Zhi and even Marquis Xiangyang’s household teaching several nobel daughters. Everyone praised her character of being gentle, patient and meticulous when teaching rules. Unlike other governess who would punish and beat students at will, she would still educate well without these methods. Wang shi was surprised that Old Madame Sheng had a enough high reputation to be able to invite this highly qualified governess and came to Shou’an Hall to proffer her endless gratitude.
Having the ability to stay in the palace as a female official for over ten years and not run into any major difficulties, Minglan figured that the governess was relatively safe and after meeting, it was as she expected. Governess Kong is only a few years younger than the Old Madame, her build thin, eyes not big, her nose not high with a round bread like face that seemed to exude friendliness. She came dressed plainly in silvery gray brocade with fur embroidered on her cuffs and hair that was bound with a simple white jade pin, her whole appearance seemed very modest and neat.
She greeted the Old Madame according to palace etiquette, but was hurriedly held up by the Old Madame, both then sat on the couch and started chatting. She looked like an ordinary person but once she started talking, she gave others the impression that they were being cleansed by spring wind, every motion smooth, modest and dignified. Sheng Hong and Wang shi smiled and accompanied them seated at the side. Hualan was so excited to the point where her face turned shades of red, deliberately restraining her movements, not daring to utter a single word. Molan sat elegantly, maintaining that perfect smile, listening to the two elders speak. Wang shi was afraid that Rulan would act immaturely and embarrass the Sheng family so she forbid her from attending.
“His Excellency Sheng as an official is upright, kind in governing and I have frequently heard of you in the capital. Now the descendants fill the halls, the household’s young masters and young misses are all noble and beautiful, like the snow tree. Old Madame indeed is fortunate.” Governess Kong said with a smile on her face.
“In truth, being able to have a person as busy as you here, is indeed my luck. I humbly hand over my Big Girl to you, if she does anything wrong please feel free to beat and punish her, you need not restrain yourself.” Old Madame Sheng smiled and gestured at Hualan.
“What are you talking about, Old Madame? Although I may have some reputation now, it was merely awarded to me by nobility. After all, I was merely just a slave in the palace. According to my interpretation, rules are to be used to manifest virtue and uphold ethics and not for tormenting others. Rules have to be learnt but not studied to death, it is sufficient to have the correct attitude. Besides, how bad can the Old Madame’s granddaughter really be.” While Governess Kong spoke she looked at Hualan. It was as if Hualan received a surge of motivation, she sat upright with her back straightened, her eyes glittering with anticipation, using her body to express her determination.
“Governess being able to attend, is really thanks to Mother’s fortune. If Governess has a spare moment from teaching Hua’er, could you speak to us of news from the capital, so we who live in the countryside may gain knowledge.” Wang shi said.
“Prefecture Quan to Prefecture Deng, from the south to the north, abundance of treasures and people. As high as the skies and as wide as the sea, Madame has already seen tall mountains and wide rivers and naturally knows the local conditions of the country all over. That knowledge is above that of this old woman who has never moved in her lifetime, Madame is simply too modest.” Governess Kong humbly smiled. These words made Wang shi’s whole body perspired from her pores,1 her smile became more comfortable and could not conceal her happiness.
Governess Kong spoke very slowly yet did not make others feel she was procrastinating. Her words were few but when others listened, every syllable and sentence was naturally appropriate. Minglan watched from the side impressed, her attitude both respectful and demure. Wang shi and Hualan originally thought a strict governess would come and had already prepared mind and body for suffering. They didn’t expect that Governess Kong would be so friendly and nice and were even happier and more thankful towards Old Madame Sheng. Initially, Wang shi prepared rooms and servants for Governess Kong but she tactfully expressed that she would like to stay at Shou’an Hall for the night, to reminisce about the past with Old Madame and Wang shi naturally obliged.
That night, Governess Kong slept in Old Madame Sheng’s room.
“I’m surprised you were willing to come, I originally did not dare invite you.” Old Madame Sheng said.
“I grew really sick of those influential official families. Every one of them has a thousand faces and their bellies persistently trick and scheme to no rest. I have gone through one lifetime of guessing others’ thoughts, to the point where those nobilities’ bellies appear in my dreams. I initially thought that the days after retirement would be more comfortable but who expected that I would get busier. Might as well take advantage of you to escape the capital and have several peaceful days to myself. Not to mention, I am already old and am bound to return to my roots like a fallen leaf.”2 Governess Kong face fell from her composed self to an exhausted state.
“Have you found a place to settle down? If you don’t have one, you must seek me out.” Sadness shone in the eyes of Old Madame Sheng.
“It’s not necessary, I’ve already found a place. I still have a distant nephew in my hometown, he does not have parents and I do not have an heir. It would be nice to pass our days together, moreover as you can probably tell, this old body of mine does not have many honest days of work left. I do not want to keep torturing myself.” Governess Kong sighed, appearing liberated.
Old Madame Sheng felt a slight sense of pity, lowering her voice she intoned “You did not have it easy in this lifetime. When you were already betrothed, the name on the missive to enter the palace was obviously your younger sister. Yet you were forced to impersonate her and enter the palace by your stepmother, hindering you for a lifetime.”
“What do you mean by not easy?” Governess Kong smiled mischievously “The accumulated experiences of my lifetime is more rich and more exciting than any normal persons, disregarding delicious food and fine clothing, I have served through three emperors! I have seen five empresses! Not to mention, Imperial concubines who were like carps crossing the rivers were all an eye-opener! Furthermore I did not have to worry about food and clothing and was able to live until a ripe age of sixty, there is not much to complain about. On the contrary, that younger sister of mine, stole someone’s lover, married someone else, poisoned a pregnant concubine and ended up divorced, ruining her life with a bad reputation. My stepmother lost the family fortune because of her and ultimately ended up in dire straits. I definitely came out ahead of them.” While chuckling she said “When I first heard the news, I stole a whole bottle of fine wine from the imperial cellar to celebrate!”
Old Madame Sheng smiled “You are still the same. Appearing to be respectful yet wild and unruly on the inside.”
Governess Kong was slightly sad “If I’m not like this, how could I endure all these years.” Having said that, suddenly in a strange voice, towards the Old Madame she said “On the contrary, why have you cultivated your moral character to this extent? Where has your vigour and vitality from those years all gone?”
Old Madame Sheng shook her head and helplessly said “At the end of the day, Hong’er is still not my own child, why is there the need to be unpleasant. Moreover, I am also tired,those years past, so what if I tormented everything into a mess, it is still all for naught.”
Governess Kong sneered “I see that the more you have lived, the more you have degenerated. Why not think back on the days of Empress Jing’an who certainly had more difficult days than you. Two of her sons died and her daughter was kidnapped, the royal family couldn’t allow the bride to be divorced, what could she do? When Emperor Taizong favoured her, she was happy, when he snubbed her, she was also happy. One year she said to several of us, ‘There are too few women who follow their heart in this lifetime, family background and marriage are all out of our control. We ought to find some joy for ourselves with singing to accompany the wine,3 for how ever many days we have left’. Although her life was short lived yet she lived everyday immersed in joy. After the death of the princes, Emperor Taizong longed for her company everyday but she fell sick and never woke again…” Governess Kong’s voice grew softer and Old Madame Sheng also was slightly dazed. Both thinking back on that reckless and free spirited woman who lived her life without abandon.
Governess Kong hushed for a long time “It is fortunate that the former Emperor ultimately recognised her youngest son, so that she perpetuated her line to her descendants. I fastidiously listened to her words and never accepted viciousness into my heart. When it is time to act foolish, act foolish. When it is time act low, act low. Time to eat, just eat. Time to enjoy, just enjoy. All so I would not live this lifetime in vain. If it was someone with your rough temper entering the palace at the time, you would have already died eight hundred times over!”
1. Chinese people apparently sweat from happiness – don’t ask me why, it was my ancestors who made this shit up – Eers
2. 落叶归根 (Luo Ye Gui Gen): Idiom that means all things will eventually return to their source
3. 对酒当歌 (Dui Jiu Dang Ge): Meaning life is short, make merry while you can
The one that Wang shi has been waiting for has finally arrived, she is probably more excited than anyone else. Sigh, both Old Madame Sheng and Governess Kong have it rough. Next up, reminiscing of the past is over and they talk about the present.
Sorry, I was pretty busy over the New Year so this post is late. Happy New Year everyone!