Chapter 69: Rubbing Elbows
In the afternoon, an unfamiliar voice called in: “Is Ah Rong home?”
“She is,” Nurse Ping smiling said with a greeting.
A girl about 18 or 19 with a round face and large eyes came forth. Although she was dressed in a servant’s attire, her garment was violet silk and she carried a modest smile. She seemed to be even more genteel than some of the young noblewomen.
She glanced toward Nurse Ping then looked to the bedchamber with a smile. “Lady Ruan has asked for Ah Rong.”
Lady Ruan? Chen Yuan’s primary wife?
Chen Rong shuddered and quickly got to her feet, answering from her room: “A moment please, I’ll be right there.”
“Aye,” the maid smiled in reply.
Before long, Chen Rong had changed into an old dress she had often worn in Ping and appeared at the steps.
When the maid saw her come out, she curtsied again and stepped back to let her walk in front.
Chen Rong went on ahead.
The maid led two younger girls and gracefully followed behind. From her movements, propriety and a polished deportment gained through years of training could be seen. They were things Chen Rong did not know, for she had come from the north and her father’s discipline had been lax.
Glancing over, Chen Rong slowed down to imitate her steps. But almost as quickly, she discerned that she didn’t need to curry favor with Lady Ruan. Moreover, nothing would change even if she were to curry favor with her, so why should she bother learning to walk from the people of Handan? (1)
Residents of Handan, capital of Zhao, were known for their graceful steps. A Yan citizen who visited Handan had imitated the way they walked only to forget how to walk himself.
At this thought, she simply relaxed her gait and strode away.
Puzzled by her sudden quickened pace, the maids hurried to catch up to her.
They were a little out of breath by the time Chen Rong arrived at Lady Ruan’s courtyard.
At the gate, one of them panted as she smiled at Chen Rong: “Miss, please wait while we let the madam know.”
Chen Rong nodded and then tilted her head to view the surrounding scenery.
“Ah Rong, come in.” go to moc.824retsmah
“Aye,” Chen Rong replied and walked into the courtyard.
The maid modestly smiled at Chen Rong from the steps. When she saw her approach, she gave a small bow and said, “The madam is waiting inside.”
Chen Rong passed her and went straight into the room.
The area was lavishly decorated. The first thing that caught Chen Rong’s eyes was a three feet tall coral. It was superior than the one she had casually smashed in Ping in both luster and integrity.
And yet this precious object was so casually placed on a mahogany table.
Chen Rong withdrew her gaze, curtsied to the woman sitting on the divan by the exquisite jade wall divider in the center of the room and greeted her: “Aunt.”
The woman was in her forties. Her skin was smooth and plump. Her long face, on which she wore a faint smile, was without a trace of wrinkle.
Behind her was a young woman in her late twenties whom Chen Rong had met before. She was the one who had come to expose her malingering that day. Chen Rong knew her as Chen Yuan’s concubine.
She was, nonetheless, one of Lady Ruan’s people. She was clever and competent, and was favored by Chen Yuan. Despite being a concubine, her status was much higher than those of common concubines.
Lady Ruan smiled at Chen Rong in appraisal and then pointed to a chair: “Have a seat.”
Chen Rong went to the chair and unreservedly sat down… From start to finish, her conducts were both untactful and graceless. Unknowingly, Lady Ruan’s slender eyebrows had knitted.
“Ah Rong, I’ve just arrived in Nan’yang a few days ago,” the older lady gently began as she watched Chen Rong silently sit with her head bowed. “I’ve been busy with so many things that I’ve neglected you. I hope you didn’t mind.”
“I’d never dare to,” Chen Rong quickly bowed to her.
Lady Ruan gave an unhurried smile. “I shall be your mother in place of your absent parents. Don’t stand on ceremony.”
Lady Ruan withdrew her gaze, the smile on her face now diminished, as she said, “Ah Rong, you’ll turn 15 next month, won’t you?”
Had she called me here to talk about my marriage? Chen Rong’s heart pounded.
She bowed again, replying: “Aye, your memory is very good, aunt.”
Lady Ruan sighed. “You’re soon to be a young lady of fifteen.”
There was a reprehensive undertone in her voice that Chen Rong did not understand.
If Chen Rong didn’t understand something, then it was the same as if she hadn’t heard it. For a moment, she remained looking down dutifully and betrayed no guilt on her face.
The crease between Lady Ruan’s brow couldn’t help worsening.
She lifted her cup, took a sip of milk and then slowly inquired, “Who’s managing Ah Rong’s courtyard?”
The young woman standing behind her stepped forward, respectfully bowed and replied, “The little miss has great wealth herself and has told the steward that she will be bearing all of her expenditures.”
Lady Ruan frowned and released her cup. “That won’t do,” she said. “Now that her uncle and I have taken her in, how can we leave her to herself like this?”
She turned to Chen Rong and warmly asserted, “I only had one daughter in Ah Wei; now I have another in you. It’s something to be happy about. Ah Rong, you’ll have the same allotment for food and clothing expenses as Ah Wei does from now on. How does that sound?”
Chen Rong broke from her obedient appearance upon hearing this. She hesitated before saying: “Aunt, it is like this: A while ago my uncle said the estate was low on grains and requested to cut servants. My servants have been with me since I was born and I really don’t want to dismiss them. For this reason I had asked my uncle to let me bear all of my expenses.”
She paused, smiled, and then frankly said, “If you don’t cut my servants, then I’ll agree to everything.”
Lady Ruan, who had been frowning, quietly shook her head when she heard this.
She waited for Chen Rong to finish speaking and then softly sighed. “It’s all my fault. It’s true with Ah Wei and it’s true with you. Such imprudent manners and speech…”
Common sense suggests that when an elder blamed herself like this, Chen Rong should get up and apologize. But whether Chen Rong didn’t understand or elseways, she actually just sat there in silence and stillness.
The crease between Lady Ruan’s brows worsened.
She turned her gaze unto the younger woman. moc.824retsmah
The latter stepped forward to whisper to her from behind: “Perhaps Wang Qilang likes this about her.”
Lady Ruan considered the comment for a moment and then nodded her head.
When she looked back at Chen Rong, her smile had grown more sincere.
Again raising the cup of milk for a sip, she laughed, “Ah Rong, you’re just as your uncle said. You’re so frank and darling.”
Chen Yuan said she was frank and darling? Chen Rong almost laughed out loud.
Lady Ruan didn’t seem as though she wanted to stay with her for too long. Her soft voice quickened a touch: “Ah Rong, you’re now fifteen. That’s not young anymore. When you become a man’s wife in the future, you should pay more attention to things.”
She looked up and called outside: “Nong’er, call Sanlang here.” (1)
Sanlang = third son, same naming convention as Wulang and Qilang of the Wang house, except this is Sanlang of the Chen house.
While Chen Rong was in bewilderment, a young man’s raspy voice soon called in: “Mother, have you asked for me?”
Lady Ruan was delighted to hear his voice. “Sanlang, come in,” she lovingly called to him.
A young man about 18 or 19 stepped in.
He involuntarily paused at the unexpected sight of Chen Rong.
However, he withdrew his gaze quickly enough to bow to Lady Ruan and respectfully greeted her.
“Sit down, my son.”
After he took his seat, the young man turned his attention to Chen Rong and asked, “Mother, she’s…?”
“Her? She’s Ah Rong.”
“Pardon?” go to moc.824retsmah
Surprised, the young man curiously stared at Chen Rong and exclaimed, “The Ah Rong who played ‘The Phoenix’s Love Song’?”
Lady Ruan patted his hand in admonishment: “Don’t say that about your meimei.”
“Ah Rong,” she smilingly said, “this is your third cousin. Treat him like your elder brother from now on as Ah Wei does.”
Chen Rong stood up, curtsied to the man and said, “How do you do, third brother?”
Chen Sanlang got up at her words and also bowed in return. “Let’s not stand on ceremony, Ah Rong.”
Gratified, Lady Ruan smiled and warmly said, “Ah Rong, your third brother is also a very accomplished man. You should spend more time with him in the future. As for those with careless manners and speech, it’s best to limit your interaction with them.” She could see that Chen Rong was a little slow. Her words had been said very bluntly.
She had put it so bluntly, but Chen Rong still didn’t understand.
The younger girl looked up in puzzlement and asked her aunt, “Careless manners and speech? Who do you mean, aunt?”
In Chen Rong’s memory, except for herself, she honestly didn’t know anyone who would deserve this evaluation.
Lady Ruan stared at her confused look while impatience flashed in her eyes.
Sitting beside her, Chen Sanlang had finally discovered that Chen Rong’s looks were rather attractive. He kept staring at her.
In this awkward atmosphere, the young woman stood up and sweetly smiled. “All right, all right. Ah Rong, your aunt is feeling tired. I’ll see you out.”
Chen Rong almost heaved in relief. She quickly got up and answered, “Aye.”
The woman sashayed out in front of Chen Rong.
When they got to the steps, she leaned into Chen Rong and whispered, “Ah Rong, we’ve always loathed those other people in the estate. Hmph, even if they are legitimate daughters, how can their learning and beauty compare to yours?”
Realization suddenly dawned on Chen Rong. So Lady Ruan had meant Chen Qian and Chen Qi. Nay, Chen Wei was also close to her. Lady Ruan’s words were probably meant for her too.
Once she saw that Chen Rong had finally caught on, the young woman’s stiff smile lifted from her face. She glanced toward the room and again said to Chen Rong, “Wang Qilang has asked you out for a lake excursion tomorrow, hasn’t he?”
Chen Rong nodded in surprise.
The woman’s smile stiffened again seeing that Chen Rong still didn’t manage to follow. She whispered helplessly: “Let your third brother take you to the lake excursion tomorrow.”
Realization dawned on Chen Rong once more.
“Aye,” she respectfully replied and gave a curtsy.
The young woman nodded with satisfaction and affectionately said, “Go on.”
She watched Chen Rong leave as she shook her head.
A maid walked to stand behind her while refraining herself from laughing out loud. “It’s my first time seeing a young lady so dense.”
The other nodded, sighed and said, “We can’t help it if Wang Qilang holds her in high regard. I’m sure you know that in Jiankang, even the royal family cannot compare to the Wang house’s prestige! If Sanlang can receive a word of praise from Wang Qilang, it will do him a lot of good for his upcoming trip to Jiankang.”
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