Chapter Ten: Return to the Paternal Home
“Old Taitai, there is no need to be so courteous.” Xian Junwang reached out a hand to falsely hold her up, refused Yi’an Marquis’ request to sit at the front, and made a bow of a junior towards Yi’an Marquis and Lu shi. Then he sat down on the first chair on the left.
Lu shi’s attention had turned to her daughter early on, and she saw that her complexion was good and all her jewelry was items that the junwang fu had prepared for her. She knew that Xian Junwang was taking great care of her, and it eased some of her worry.
Hua Xi Wan bowed towards the elders in the family, and the elders made a half-bow back. Looking at her parents half-bowing back to her, she felt extremely uncomfortable. She went forward to grip Lu shi’s hand and suppressed the soreness she felt in her nose. “Father, Mother, what are you doing?”
As her mother, Lu shi could not bear for Hua Xi Wan to be unhappy, and stood up with Hua Xi Wan’s grip. She pulled Hua Xi Wan to sit next to her and turned to see that Xian Junwang was talking with her husband. She smiled and said, “You men talk, and us women will not crowd with you. We’ll go chat inside.”
Yan Jin Qiu turned and saw Lu shi and Hua Xi Wan’s hands together. He naturally would not object. Yi’an Marquis knew his wife missed his daughter greatly and that mother and daughter would have private things to say, so he allowed them to go.
After the old taitai and the women all went inside the compound, Yi’an Marquis said with a smile, “This lowly official has heard that Xian Junwang is skilled in poetry, and is very interested as well. Junwang, please guide this lowly official.”
“Mount Tai[i] is too serious; this son-in-law just knows a sparse amount,” Yan Jin Qiu said humbly. “If Mount Tai does not look down, this son-in-law is willing to admire poetry with you.”
“Junwang Ye should not be modest.” Yi’an Marquis’ smile did not change. He stood up and said, “Why don’t we go to the study and talk.”
“Mount Tai, please.” Even though he could not see anything from Yi’an Marquis’ face, Yan Jin Qiu found that this Yi’an Marquis was more cunning than the rumors said, and much calmer.
As Lu shi and Hua Xi Wan entered the inner compound, Lu shi impatiently asked, “Xi Wan, how is Xian Junwang—is he good to you?”
通房 tongfang: literally “passing through the room”; the lowest rank in concubine. Usually of low birth, likely former servants.
Looking at her mother’s restless state, Hua Xi Wan reached to push her mother’s hairpin back into her hair and supported her to sit down. “The junwang fu has very good protocol. Junwang does not have any tongfang or shiqie and is very considerate towards me. Mother, do not worry too much for me. The season is shifting from spring to summer, and the weather changes quickly. You and Father need to pay more attention to your health.”
侍妾 shiqie: concubines lower in rank than ceshi (i.e. “secondary wife”), but higher than tongfang
“There are so many servants in the fu, I won’t freeze or starve.” Lu shicarelessly waved a hand. When she heard that the junwang fu did not have any tongfang or shiqie, her mood had improved. She turned back and saw the old taitai and her second sister-in-law, Zhang shi, and third sister-in-law, Yao shi. She said in a low tone by Hua Xi Wan’s ear, “Some matter has occurred to your second aunt’s family. Do not talk too much to her later.”
Today was a good day, the day her daughter returned to visit. She didn’t want to ruin the mood. They could call her selfish or void of fraternal feeling, but in her heart, her sons and daughter were always in first place. Moreover, while her family was close to Second Uncle’s family, it did not mean that she had to treat her second sister-in-law well. These years, her sister-in-law had relied on the fact that she came from a famed family, the Zhang Clan, and postured before the Hua Family. Even though it had not occurred directly in front of her, she knew that there was talking going on behind her.
Each family had their own troubles. Hua Xi Wan nodded and did not ask. When the old taitai and the others came in, she sipped tea from a teacup.
The old taitai and the others saw Hua Xi Wan in grand clothing, and all of them felt something different. The old taitai was sincerely happy for Hua Xi Wan. Looking at Xian Junwang’s attitude, it seemed that he felt something towards Third Girl.
Yao shi was slightly jealous, but due to Hua Xi Wan’s present status, she went forward and said a few complimentary words. Seeing Hua Xi Wan remain mostly stoic, she did not feel awkward. All of the Hua Fu knew that the third miss of the Hua Fu was not a talkative person.
“Second Aunt, what is this?” If Yao shi felt envious and jealous towards Lu shi, then she only felt dislike towards Zhang shi. She saw that Zhang shi’s complexion had not been good these past days and was happy to laugh at the other woman. “Are you not in a good mood?”
Not having a good mood on the day that the junwang fei was visiting her paternal home, wasn’t that shade against Junwang Fei?
Zhang shi was not stupid and naturally understood what Yao shi was implying. She forced out a small smile and said, “Many thanks to Third Sister-in-law for the concern. Just slight discomfort of the body, nothing major.”
Yao shi chuckled and swept Zhang shi with a strange glance before turning away.
As though she did not detect Yao shi’s gaze on her, Zhang shi smiled at Hua Xi Wan and said, “Junwang Fei’s red dress is very beautiful. From this embroidery, it looks as though it is from the palace? Look, the cranes on the dress seem alive.”
“Really?” Hua Xi Wan lowered her head to look at the patterns on the dress. She said faintly, “Second Aunt really is knowledgeable. I just saw it was pretty to look at. I didn’t know there was so much involved.”
Zhang shi’s smile became even warmer. “You are young and won’t be interested in these things. It is normal to not know.” She usually did not like to flatter the members of the Hua Family, but her Zhang Family now had a matter. If Xian Junwang was willing to help, there would be more hope.
But after Zhang shi finished speaking, Hua Xi Wan only smiled but did not continue to speak. She was blind to Zhang shi’s entreaty.
When Yao shi saw this, she disdainfully curled her lips. She had thought the other was a very noble person, but when something happened, her spine bent faster than anyone else.
The old taitai and Lu shi did not seem to see this and started to chat about the women of Jing. As to whether they were just accidentally mentioning people or intentionally telling Hua Xi Wan some things, it depended on the person’s perspective.
When it was noon and time to eat, the group came back to the meal hall at the front of the compound. At this time, Hua Xi Wan’s two brothers as well as Second Master Hua and Third Master Hua were present.
After everyone politely exchanged bows, Yan Jin Qiu sat down on the second seat. The one sitting at the front was the old taitai. The old taitai did not have any habit of having her daughter-in-laws serve her at the meal, so the entire family sat and washed their hands at the table as they waited for the dishes to be brought to the table.
The marquis fu was not as ceremonial as the junwang fu, but they did not lack the necessary motions and protocol. Hua Xi Wan used the public chopsticks to place some of the vegetables that Lu shi liked into her bowl. Seeing Lu shi eat all of it, Hua Xi Wan’s heart felt sweet and sour, and unspeakably uncomfortable.
From the moment she left the doors of the marquis fu in her wedding robes, she was fated to be unable to stay beside her parents and care for them. Yet her parents would think of her every day. She really did not feel good.
When they finished eating and returned to the inner compound, the other two misses of Hua Fu appeared. Eldest Miss Hua Yi Liu was the eldest daughter of Second Master Hua, and had become engaged to Zhou Yun Heng, the son of Assistant Minister Zhou, when she turned fifteen. However, the old Zhou Furen had passed away, and Zhou Yun Heng needed to mourn for three years. He would only come out of mourning next month, so the wedding had been dragged on.
Second Miss Hua Chu Yu was the di daughter of Third Master Hua. She was outstanding in appearance and talented, and a girl that was extremely considerate and understanding. Hua Xi Wan had an average opinion of her parents but she admired Hua Chu Yu. However, her mother didn’t think the same. It was probably because in a winter a few years ago, Hua Chu Yu had fallen into the water, and Hua Xi Wan also fell in when she tried to save Hua Chu Yu, and ended up having a great illness.
Hua Yi Liu and Hua Chu Yu did not see Xian Junwang in the morning because they were unmarried. Now that the two saw Hua Xi Wan dressed up in her clothing, they came over with smiles.
“Meimei, is everyone all right?” Hua Yi Liu examined Hua Xi Wan and then said with a smile, “It seems that you are living well in the junwang fu.” She had heard the news that Xian Junwang had accompanied Third Sister on her visit back. She had felt that her servant girl was exaggerating, but seeing what Hua Xi Wan was wearing now, she felt that the rumors were true and did not measure up to the full truth.
When Hua Yi Liu clasped Hua Xi Wan’s hand, Hua Chu Yu moved a few steps to the side. She listened to Hua Yi Liu’s straightforward yet respectful words and turned back to look at her mother Yao shi. The other was fawning over the old taitai, so she only smiled at Hua Xi Wan and stood silently behind Yao shi.
Hua Xi Wan returned a smile to Hua Chu Yu and responded absentmindedly to Hua Yi Liu. Then she sat on the chair silently. Usually at this time of the day, she would be having her noon nap.
[i] Mount Tai is another term that means father-in-law, the same as yue fu (岳父) which is “highest mountain father.” In the Tang Dynasty when Emperor Xuanzong was having his coronation, he had the Prime Minister act as the one in charge of the ceremony. The coronation ceremony was traditionally held at Mount Tai. According to tradition, other than the three dukes, everyone else at the coronation would be promoted three grades. However, the Prime Minister’s son-in-law was promoted four grades, from ninth to fifth grade. When the Emperor saw him at the banquet, he asked the son-in-law how he was promoted so quickly. One of the palace actors was quick to respond when the son-in-law couldn’t and said this was the power of Mount Tai. Rather than Mount Tai’s ceremony being the cause of the son-in-law’s promotion, it was “Mount Tai” his father-in-law, the Prime Minister.