T/N: The first 10 to 15 chapters or so are a little slow-paced, but after that, it really gets better, so I hope you give this novel a chance!
It was true that the Old Madam disliked Fang Feng Sheng, not only because of her cold temperament, but also because she had married her favorite grandson, Sun Wen Cheng.
Initially, Old Madam had desired to wed her most beloved grandson to her most beloved granddaughter, but who would have thought that halfway through, a Fang Feng Sheng would spring up so suddenly? Completely ruining her plans, how could the Old Madam like her?
However, in all seriousness, Fang Feng Sheng was innocent against these accusations. She and Sun Wen Cheng had long been engaged, but the marriage was decided way too early and far too hastily.
That being said, all could be traced back to Sun Wen Cheng’s father, Sun Qing Hua, the second master of the Sun family.
At that time, Sun Qing Hua had traveled to Hangzhou to take the triennial provincial examination1 , and on the way chanced upon Fang Yan, a distinguished talent2 also on his way to take the exam. They were both quite affable and shared similar ideals, and, coincidentally, both were married and had children. One had a boy and the other had a girl, and over a round of drinks, they verbally settled their children’s engagement and exchanged tokens3.
Upon checking the noble list of successful passers, Sun Qing Hua made it to the rankings, but Fang Yan returned to his hometown in disgrace.
After that, Sun Qing Hua journeyed to the capital to participate in the spring examination4 on the second month of the following year and made a name for himself. In order to earn a living and to uphold his family’s legacy, Fang Yan gave up his career and became a wandering aide.5
They had clearly taken the provincial exam together, but the outcome only made people sigh, as one was up in heaven while the other was under ground. Later on, the two of them still kept in touch, but because Fang Yan was just touring around and had no fixed residence, their relationship gradually dwindled.
After around ten years without contact, Sun Qing Hua had long forgotten the engagement he had promised at random, and the Sun family also knew nothing about it. However, more than a decade later, Fang Yan came to the door and sought Sun Qing Hua to fulfill his promise.
The whole Sun family was shaken by this incident, and the Old Madam was especially reluctant.
But Sun Qing Hua was a man of his word, and Fang Yan was no longer what he used to be. Although he had no merits, he became an advisor to Zhou Guang Rui, a salt distribution commissioner of Liang Huai. Salt distribution commissioners were only third-rank6 and only a level higher than a fourth-rank prefectural magistrate, but those who could sit on that position were in the emperor’s heart and were highly valued.
The position of an advisor seemed small, but it still held great power. The Sun family was said to be a family of scholars, but in fact, they had fallen into decline in the recent years. After Sun Qing Hua was awarded the jinshi7 title, his career path progressed no further, and he remained a mere fourth-rank Shaoxing prefectural magistrate for more than ten years. If he could urge Fang Yan to acquaint him with Zhou Guang Rui, the marriage could not be considered bad.
Except that Fang Feng Sheng was in mourning at the time, as her mother had just passed away. If Sun Wen Cheng were to marry her, they had to accomplish it within a hundred days. After the wedding, the two could not consummate the marriage because Fang Feng Sheng had to spend three years in mourning for her mother.8
This was the Fang family’s only request.
At that time, Fang Feng Sheng and Sun Wen Cheng were both only seventeen, so it didn’t matter whether they consummated their marriage a day earlier or a day later. Sun Wen Cheng spent most of his time studying away from home in pursuit of success, so he spent very little time at the manor. Old Madam was not satisfied with the marriage, so no one cared whether the young couple consummated or not.
In this way, the Sun and Fang families were tied by marriage.
But no one had expected that within just two years of marriage, Fang Yan would suffer a calamity, and that he would be involved in such a serious court case. Fang Feng Sheng, who Old Madam had found unpleasant since the beginning, became the bane of the Sun family.
So, how could the Old Madam like her? How could she like her?!
However, it seemed as though the Old Madam had a sudden change of heart and actually made peace with Feng Sheng.
Now, everyone in the Sun family knew that Old Madam valued Fourth Young Madam.
Not only did it puzzle Wang Yue’er, in effect, it also puzzled everyone else.
The Old Madam sighed and gazed at her jade-like granddaughter.
Wang Yue’er took after her mother, Old Madam’s youngest daughter, Sun Ying Mei. Unfortunately, Sun Ying Mei led a miserable life. She lost her husband at a young age, became severely depressed, and in grief followed after him. Yue’er’s parents both died and she had no one to rely on, so Old Madam brought her to her side to raise.
Old Madam was very fond of her daughter, so she naturally treated her granddaughter equally well. Yue’er grew up under the Old Madam’s knee at an early age, so, as the one at the tip of her heart, she was free to do whatever she wanted.
Such a dear person, now over eighteen, but still unmarried.
It wasn’t that the Sun family lacked the interest to ask for Wang Yue’er’s hand in marriage, but it was her who didn’t like anyone, so they just delayed it.
In actuality, in the entire Sun family, who didn’t know what this biao young miss was thinking? But, unless Wang Yue’er was willing to be a concubine, what else could she do?
How could Old Madam be reconciled to take her granddaughter in as a concubine? Even if Old Madam was willing, the two masters of the Sun family would be against it. Outsiders would fault the Sun family for bullying their niece, whose parents were both gone, by accepting her as a concubine.
“Do you know what the servants in this manor have been saying?”
Wang Yue’er didn’t expect the Old Madam to ask such a question and was stunned, “What?”
“They were saying that Fourth Young Madam will relinquish her position to biao young miss.”
Wang Yue’er’s face instantly flushed a hibiscus red, and then broke into a smile. Her eyebrows were stained with a bit of color.
She was indeed the source of that rumor, taking advantage of the Fang family’s misfortune to completely eliminate Fang Feng Sheng. But who would have thought that, although Fang Feng Sheng had gotten severely ill, she didn’t only not die, but also got better? Not to mention, she had recently become popular with the Old Madam, in comparison making her appear to have fallen out of favor.
A single glance at her granddaughter’s face confirmed the Old Madam’s suspicion. She couldn’t help but hate iron for not becoming steel9, “Are you treating everyone in this manor as a fool?”
“No one in this manor is a fool. Do you understand that even if something else happens to the Fang family, at this juncture, the Sun family can’t push Fang Feng Sheng away? It will only leave the Sun family a mean reputation. Not only can’t you write yourself off, you will also be guilty of theft! Even if the Sun family dismisses Fang Feng Sheng without regard for her reputation, it shouldn’t be under such rumors. Forcing your biao sister-in-law to leave so you can occupy the magpie’s nest10, do you still want your reputation? Whose daughter will dare marry into the Sun family in the future? What about Hong’er’s and Yan’er’s future marriage?”
“Grandmother!” Now Wang Yue’er was completely appalled.
“You girl!” The Old Madam sighed, not only sighing at her granddaughter’s difficult life, but also at the fact that the child had been raised under her own knee since young but learned nothing. With a mind this simple and shallow, no wonder Cheng’er didn’t like her.
The Old Madam sighed for the third time.
“Wen Cheng will return on the eighth month. He has always valued Fang-shi, and if he were to discover that Fang-shi left during this time, or if Fang-shi died, he might fail the exam. Once this happens, he will have to wait for another three years!”
This was the main reason why the Old Madam’s attitude had changed so drastically, and why the Sun family, although wary of conflict, was still tolerant of Fang Feng Sheng, the root of all trouble, and allowed her to stay and remain idle.
Nothing was as important as Sun Wen Cheng’s provincial exam!
In the past two generations, except for Sun Qing Hua, the Sun family had achieved nothing. When it came to Sun Wen Cheng’s generation, the several children of the eldest branch were all dull and talentless, but Wen Cheng, who had been intelligent since he was little, had become a distinguished talent.
His teacher, Mr. Nan Wu, had assured that as long as Sun Wen Cheng did not misbehave this time, he was bound to succeed. Mr. Nan Wu was a famous Confucian scholar in Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Sun Wen Cheng had been studying with him and was accepted as his close disciple. Since he had said so, he couldn’t be wrong.
So the next generation of the Sun family all relied on Sun Wen Cheng.
Because of the rumors circulating in the manor, Sun Qing Hua came to look for the Old Madam. Although the Old Madam was a little reluctant, she still listened to her son and weighed which matters were of significance.
The general trend depended on the Old Madam’s attitude. Only if she changed did the rest of the rear court change.
“But grandmother, what should I do?”
Wang Yue’er began to whimper.
She was born delicate and frail, and her crying face was like raindrops on a pear blossom, stirring pity in the hearts of those around her.
Yue’er and Sun Ying Mei looked alike, but Sun Ying Mei’s health had been terrible since young. The Old Madam had spent her whole life tending to her daughter, but was powerless against her premature death. At this time, seeing her little granddaughter crying like this, the Old Madam was also heartbroken.
But when she stroked Wang Yue’er’s back, she didn’t utter a single word.
Wang Yue’er’s heart grew cold, but she was also at a loss.
“Miss, this servant feels refreshed looking at Qin’er’s face. That girl used lower her eyes and ignore us whenever we came here. Now, she acts like a dog who couldn’t wait to kneel down and lick the soles of your shoes.” On the way back, Zhi Chun spoke with her eyebrows raised.
Fang Feng Sheng shook her head with a smile, leisurely treading forward.
“Let’s see if those dogs still dare to look down on Miss in the future!”
“Then you’ve never wondered why the Old Madam, who never liked me, has changed her attitude?”
Zhi Chun narrowed her eyes in suspicion and questioned, “Is it because of Fourth Young Master?”
When Sun Wen Cheng was mentioned, a hint of complexity flashed in Fang Feng Sheng’s eyes, but it was only fleeting. She ambled forward: “You’re not stupid after all.”
Zhi Chun rushed to catch up: “Fourth Young Master is Miss’s husband, so he should rightfully support Miss.”
“Have you ever wondered why, in the past, the Old Madam treated me poorly even when Fourth Young Master was present? There have been rumors all over the manor about how biao young miss will soon replace Fourth Young Madam, but why has the Old Madam been treating me better instead? How long will it last? And will she turn her back on me one day?”
This series of questions from Fang Feng Sheng really tested Zhi Chun’s intelligence. She pondered for a while and said dejectedly, “I’m too dumb. I really can’t think of anything.”
Fang Feng Sheng was not surprised. Zhi Chun had never been a thoughtful person, while He mama, on the other hand, was very cautious and attentive. Unfortunately, she always thought too much, resulting to inevitable distress.
She stopped and raised her head to examine the sky above her: “That’s fine. A woman in the back courtyard lives a miserable and pitiful life, and her happiness, safety, and stability all depend on those above her. This is just a small part of the Sun Manor’s rear court, but it can still perform all kinds of drama. It’s really……”
She shook her head and laughed, as though her words of sympathy were about someone else.
Fang Feng Sheng withdrew her gaze and took a deep breath, “Zhi Chun, I want to see Uncle Yu.”
Zhi Chun’s face abruptly changed and she hesitated, “Miss, what do you want to see Uncle Yu for? The last time you saw Uncle Yu, you vomited blood and fainted on the spot. Miss, don’t think that I’m being too cynical. It’s no use thinking too much about it. Let’s stay here. Those things are beyond our control……”
“You can stop me for a moment, but can you stop me forever?” Fang Feng Sheng interjected.
Zhi Chun was dumbfounded.
Indeed, she couldn’t stop Miss forever.
1 鄉試 (xiāngshì): provincial exams (or township exam), exams held every three years in provincial capitals. The imperial examinations were administered at different levels (district, provincial, and metropolitan levels). Wiki summarized the imperial examination hierarchy quite well.
2 秀才(xiùcái): lit. distinguished talent, someone who had passed the entry-level examinations and study at a college, and enjoy officially sanctioned privileges such as exemption from statute labour, access into local government facilities and limited immunity against corporal punishments.
3 Probably to legitimize their agreement?
4 This refers to scholars who leave their hometown to travel around and assist/aid/become advisors to officials
5 春闱 (chūn wéi): spring examination, an imperial examination held in spring every three years in the national capital in the Tang and Song dynasties, also more formally known as 會試 (huìshì) metropolitan exam (or conference exam).
6 In ancient China, officials were graded into nine ranks 九品 (jiǔpǐn) from 1 down to 9, each divided into 2 classes, upper and lower. A lot of c-novels seem to follow this official-rank system, and if you want to know more, just clink this link.
7 進士 (jìnshì): lit. advanced scholar, a graduate who passed the triennial court exam, an exam held every three years in the imperial palace and often supervised by the emperor himself
8 孝 (xiào): refers to filial piety, which basically means to be good and respect one’s parents, etc. including to display sorrow for their sickness and death. This is a key virtue in ancient China, following Confucian ethics. It includes filial mourning, where upon death of one’s parents/grandparents, during the mourning period of 3 years, banqueting, marriage, official activities and participation in the imperial examinations are all prohibited. In this context, the whole belief behind Feng Sheng’s marriage is better explained here.
9 A Chinese idiom meaning: to feel resentful towards someone for failing to meet expectations
10 Full idiom, ‘the magpie builds a nest, the turtledove dwells on it’, meaning to reap what one has not sown