“Ban family loves their delicate girl, I believe you all know” Madam Zhou avoided Yan Zhen’s burning eyes, “They didn’t expressly refuse, they wanted to see what the two juniors think.”
She said the two juniors but the one Yan Zhen wanted to marry was Ban Hua, so this was basically saying it was all Ban Hua’s decision. Madam Zhou words were not very cutting to save Yan family’s face, but everyone there was smart enough to understand.
Hearing that Ban family had no intention to become relatives with them, Yan-furen’s feeling was very conflicted. While she was happy her son wouldn’t marry that woman, at the same time she felt Ban family was despicable. How many in the Capital wanted to build relationship with their Yan family, even royal family members had to be polite to her, these Bans were really rude.
“Zhou-furen,” Yan Zhen looked at Madam Zhou, “Are you saying that if Fule Junzhu is willing to marry me, then the Marquis and the Marchioness would agree to our marriage?”
Madam Zhou laughed, “Yan-gongzi, you have been focusing on your studies, you don’t know how important Ban family think their daughter is. For most parents, their children’s lifelong happiness is most important. If you could be on Junzhu’s good graces, why worry about not being able to marry the fair lady?”
“They can say that, but according to the rule of the ancestors, marriage is by the parents’ orders and the matchmaker’s words,” Yan-furen frowned, thinking Ban family was too offhand with their children. “Even if they want to pamper their daughter, there should still be rules.”
Madam Zhou smiled and said nothing. In her heart she thought if you were concerned with observing parents’ order and matchmaker words, then just give up and look for another girls instead of anxiously begging Ban family. Your family was begging their family, not their family wanted to marry their daughter into yours.
Had it not because her husband had many years relationship with Left Minister Yan, Madam Zhou wouldn’t be willing to do this, she couldn’t be said close to Yan-furen. Yan-furen this person was an orthodox, she wasn’t only strict to the subordinates but also to her own family, her whole person was too rigid to the point of lifelessness.
“Shi family is having a banquet at Biezhuang1* Bieyuan 别苑 = a park for hunting or recreation. Biezhuang maybe refers to the building / place / village in bieyuan. in two days’ time, I heard Fule Junzhu would be there.” Madam Zhou stood up, “I’ve passed the message, so I’ll take my leave.”
Yan-furen repeatedly asked Madam Zhou to stay for a meal, but Madam Zhou kept excusing herself and in the end insisted on leaving.
After getting out of Yan family’s gate, Madam Zhou shook her head. With such a mother, Yan family’s young gentleman wouldn’t be able to achieve his heart’s wishes. Sitting in the horse carriage, the more Zhou-furen thought, the more difficult it looked. She shook her head and sighed.
Lifting the carriage curtain, she saw a pair of man and woman were riding horses at the front. They were separated by a distance and with the guards behind they didn’t look like a couple having sweet talks, but they were still somewhat more intimate than the regular interaction between men and women. Or probably it was the the gentle and warm smile on the man’s face that made her felt so.
So Count Cheng’an and Fule Junzhu were familiar with each other?
Madam Zhou hadn’t heard of this yet. After a short moment of thoughts, she ordered the servant outside the carriage, “Take a diferent route.”
“That’s not right, how could the old lady dislike the daughter-in-law?” Ban Hua pursued the point she didn’t understand in the story Rong Xia was telling her, “Didn’t they propose for her?”
“Perhaps in her heart, the daughter-in-law had robbed her off her son,” Thinking for a while, Rong Xia apologised, “I am sorry, I don’t know the answer.”
Ban Hua remembered Rong Xia was the only one left in his family, this was naturally a difficult question for him. “Right. You have never been anyone’s mother-in-law.”
The relationship of her mother and maternal grandmother was very good. Her father often complained they were the real mother-daughter,while he was merely a live-in son-in-law they picked up from outside.
She almost never thought about what would happened after she married someone and how she would get along with the mother-in-law. She was definitely unable to act a submissive wife or to silently endure grievances.
“I heard the Furen of Left Minister Yan came from an eminent literary family, and her father was2T/N – Yan-furen’s father could be ‘was’ or ‘is’, can’t see tenses there. a famous Confucian scholar.” Rong Xia smiled, “A very elegant and and affable elder.”
‘Famous Confucian scholar’ made Ban Hua thought of those pedantic scholars whose mouths were full of literary nonsenses3T/N – 之乎者也 see below, etiquettes and rules, how women should behave and so on. They were old fashioned and dogmatic, overly strict to females to the point that women should be cooped at home because every inch of her belonged to her parents, and after marriage, to her husband. A woman showing her face in public had disgraced herself and brought shame to her family.
It was still better in the Capital, Ban Hua heard people said in some areas in the Southern, scholars urged widows to bury themselves in their husband’s grave, or to stay single for the rest of their life because it was considered honourable. A widow who dared to remarry would be the target of abuse and humiliation.
The most ridiculous thing was, those scholars who were busy claiming women must be this way or that way, also wrote books in which beautiful, alluring and rich immortal fox girls and pampered young ladies would offer themselves to poor pedantic scholars. Each of them were willing to lower themselves to be concubines as long as they could follow the man.
All the good things are theirs only, how shameless. If they were so good at fantasies, why bother with imperial examinations, it was enough to just stay in their dilapidated grass huts, daydreaming all the time.
Influenced by these thoughts, as soon as Rong Xia said Yan-furen was the daughter of a Confucian scholar, Ban Hua had lost any interest in Yan family despite never even seen Yan-gongzi. A grand Junzhu with immense wealth such as herself, why would she plunge herself into a life of bowed head? Her brain wasn’t damaged yet.
As they talked and laughed, the two of them arrived at the gates of Marquis Jingting residence. Rong Xia looked up to see the plaque above the gates, he wrapped his hands in a salute, “Junzhu, This Humble Person bids farewell.”
“Wait, wait.” Ban Hua called him, “After the daughter-in-law’s suicide, was there a retribution for the mother-in-law?
Rong Xia’s eyes swept over the golden dangling hairpin on Ban Hua’s milky temple, he shook his head and sighed, “The scholar rose rapidly to the top and later married the daughter of a high level official. Due to this, his mother retired as a noble lady.”
Ban Hua pouted, “This story isn’t good, the one last time is more interesting.”
“Since Junzhu doesn’t like this one, I’ll find more stories that you will like.” Rong Xia said, “I also feel the ending of this story isn’t good.”
Ban Hua was pleased that Rong Xia had similar views to herself. Her mood substantially improved, and her repulsion towards Yan family also increased.
“Master Count,” After leaving Ban family’s gates, Du Jiu said in lowered voice, “You remembered wrong.”
“What was wrong?”
“That mother-in-law didn’t end well. She forced her daughter-in-law to death so she was put in jail. Her son’s career also didn’t go smoothly, he drank all day long to drown his sorrows, wasted his days being muddled.” Du Jiu had a dry cough, “This Subordinate feels Fule Junzhu would probably prefer the original ending.”
“Is that so?” Rong Xia looked as if smiling but not smiling, he stroked the horse’s head lightly, his movements were very gentle, “I think this way is good.”
Three days later, Ban Hua was dressing herself up in front of the mirror. Ban Heng was playing with a box of pearls on the table behind her. “Sis, since you are going to reject Yan Zhen today, why don’t you make yourself look a little rougher, it will be easier for him to give you up.”
“Rejecting is my business, but giving up is his business. Why should I make myself a drab for an unimportant man?” Ban Hua carefully used her finger to apply lip rogue. After making sure her lips looked rosy and luscious, she wiped her fingers clean with a handkerchief, “A woman’s best years is more previous than gold. Someone I can’t even remember is not worthy to make me waste so much gold.”
“I am afraid Yan Zhen will hate you.” Ban Heng couldn’t stand his sister’s addiction to beauty. Outsiders didn’t know that Ban Hua even insisted on soft and intricate embroideries on her sleeping dresses. She said beautiful sleeping dresses gave her sweet dreams. What was the use of looking like a fairy when sleeping, who would see it? Who would look?!
“Ch.” Ban Hua snorted, rose up from the mirror. Her exquisite and luxurious dress was like a bright moon at night, so beautiful that one couldn’t take their eyes off it.
“Many men and women in the Capital hate me. If he hates me too, he can start queueing at the end of the line.”
In five years she might not even live, why would she care what these people thought? Ridiculous!
Ban Heng absent-mindedly looked at his sister. Being so used to her beauty, what to do later when he got married himself?
“What are you blanking about,” Ban Hua straightened her wide sleeve robe, “Let’s go.”
“Wait, Sis, aren’t you going to play horse polo, why are you wearing this dress?” Ban Heng bent down to lift the ends of his sister’s dress, stupidly followed behind her.
“My foolish brother,” Ban Hua lightly poked his forehead, “I have never been close to Shi Feixian. Even if I wanted to play horse polo, I wouldn’t play with these people.”
“So you mean, you are not playing today?” Ban Heng swung his head, “Those ladies close to Miss Shi look delicate, but I am afraid you will cry if you play with them.”
“Everything is better when you are doing it with like-minded people.”
Ladies who used to be around her were mostly girls from military families. Unfortunately some of the closer ones had moved away due to their family assignments, and some had got married. Nowadays Ban Hua didn’t much interest in playing outside.
As a Junzhu, Ban Hua received a horse carriage along with it’s attendants from the Department of the Palace4* 殿中省 = Department of the Palace, responsible for the upkeep of the imperial household and palace grounds. See: nyanovels . But amongs Junzhus, the favoured and the unfavoured ones rode different sets. The differences were on the details, but the gap could be quite wide. Nobles who were used to live in luxury could spot it in one glance.
For example, Ban Hua’s carriage set was pulled by six fine horses, with each of them strong and majestic as the result of a thorough selection. The carriage was just standard following the regulation, but excellently made. The colouring was standard too, but the material and the details were meticulous, it as almost as good as a Gongzhu’s eight horses carriage. Even after all these, the Department of the Palace was still worried that Ban Hua would be unsatisfied so the interior walls of the carriage was specifically inlaid with magnificent gemstones, the cushions were the softest kind. All of it just to obtain one word of appreciation from Ban Hua.
Kangning was a Junzhu too, and her carriage was similar to Ban Hua’s. However when both carriages appeared side by side in front of Shi family gates, it was obvious which of the two Junzhu’s was more honoured.
Shi family subordinates were also behaving more respectfully and looking more fearful in front of Ban Hua. Everyone knew this was the Junzhu who whipped a Tanhua5T/N – The Tanhua who was whipped by Ban Hua was Shen Yu, the ex-fiance who broke the engagement after he passed imperial exam. on the street. He got demoted from officialdom, while she was promoted into a Junzhu. Which servants dared to offend such a tough character?
* Tanhua 探花郎 = lit: “Flower Snatcher” the third place at palace examination stage of imperial examination system. I read somewhere Flower Snatchers were usually the most handsome one (disclaimer: not sure if it’s real or just cnovel/cdrama invention). At the beginning there was only the first place scorer (Zhuangyuan), then prettiest candidates were selected to present flowers to adorn on Zhuangyuan’s hats. Since it was an honour to appear in front of the Emperor so eventually they selected people who were both smart and good looking.
* 之乎者也 = four common characters in Classical Chinese, which means incomprehensible talk.
See this phrase as an example, how many 之乎者也 are there?
- 1* Bieyuan 别苑 = a park for hunting or recreation. Biezhuang maybe refers to the building / place / village in bieyuan.
- 2T/N – Yan-furen’s father could be ‘was’ or ‘is’, can’t see tenses there.
- 3T/N – 之乎者也 see below
- 4* 殿中省 = Department of the Palace, responsible for the upkeep of the imperial household and palace grounds. See: nyanovels
- 5T/N – The Tanhua who was whipped by Ban Hua was Shen Yu, the ex-fiance who broke the engagement after he passed imperial exam.