Chapter 70 : Without Any Sense of Shame (Part II)
When Xia Jiao Jiao saw Jiang Ruan, she felt the heat of resentment arise in her heart. She herself was a natural beauty, but Jiang Su Su had always been more beautiful than her. It had been so difficult to have Jiang Su Su's appearance ruined, and now, she saw that Jiang Ruan's looks were not in the least inferior to Jiang Su Su's. She had initially thought that even if the daughter raised in a rural village was impressive in appearance, her bearing would certainly be crude and vulgar. Looking at her now, however, Jiang Ruan held herself with the manner and appearance of someone of the highest rank of nobility, such that Xia Jiao Jiao herself, in contrast, was completely overshadowed.
Xia Tian Cai smiled faintly as he said, "Younger Sister, so, there is actually such a fairy-like person in your fu."
These words were vaguely coquettish, such that Lian Qiao furrowed her brows minutely. Jiang Ruan, on the other hand, seemed not to have heard them, and there was no trace of embarrassment in her expression. This scene played out before the eyes of everyone in the Xia household, and naturally was also much food for thought.
After conversing for a while, Xia Yan had the maidservant bring forward the prepared gifts. Of course, Jiang Su Su's handkerchiefs were well received by all, and Jiang Li and Jiang Dan's gifts were also praised. Jiang Ruan gave Xia Furen the box of dianxin which Xia Yan had prepared for her, and Xia Furen ordered a servant to put it away. Out of the blue, as if she had suddenly remembered something, Xia Furen said, "Since you have all returned today – last month, the fu's ancestral hall underwent renovation, so why don't you go and offer incense to the Xia family ancestors? The Great Master who was invited here a few days ago said that the Xia family would suffer a great calamity this year, and this could only be averted if someone born in the fourth month prayed with sincerity for an entire night. I've heard Yan'er say that Ruan'er was born on the seventh day of the fourth month according to the lunar calendar. I wonder if Ruan'er would be able to help Grandmother with this, and pray at the Xia household for a night."
Lian Qiao opened her mouth to speak, intending to put a stop to this. Jiang Ruan was not a member of the Xia family, and even if the Xia family was going to suffer a calamity, what did that have to do with Jiang Ruan? Apart from that, this matter of kneeling in prayer in the ancestral hall overnight – these days, the weather was bitterly cold. Even she could see that there was no good intention in this proposal. Jiang Ruan's physical condition had already been poor during her earlier years at the countryside residence. If she had to kneel for an entire night, even if she did not collapse, she would definitely become seriously ill. However, before Lian Qiao had time to speak, she heard Jiang Ruan say, "If it can be of any help, Ruan'er will do her best"
Xia Furen smiled in satisfaction. "Ruan'er is really a sensible child."
Jiang Dan looked at Jiang Ruan, and then at Xia Yan who was nodding her head, and then looked down in silence. After a few more words were exchanged, Xia Furen said she was tired, and asked everyone to go to their rooms first.
Xia Yan and Jiang Su Su accompanied Jiang Ruan to the ancestral hall to light a stick of incense for the Xia family ancestors. Thereafter, they left, leaving Jiang Ruan behind in the ancestral hall to spend the night in prayer alone.
Xia Yan looked at her with a pang in her heart. "Ruan'er, this is really hard on you. If it were not that I have to take care of Chao'er and Su'er, since they are still in ill health, Mother would definitely join you in kneeling overnight in prayer."
"Mother, what are you saying?" Jiang Ruan said as she smiled faintly. "Mother and I are mother and daughter after all. Besides, kneeling here overnight is also to pray on behalf of the Xia family. Perhaps the celestial deities will look with favour on my sincerity as I kneel in prayer and grant me all that my heart hopes for."
She said this with all innocence, with no trace of humour in her face, as if she spoke with absolute truth.
"What does Ruan'er hope for?" Xia Yan asked with a smile.
"I hope Father's political career will continue to ascend."
The higher you climb, the worse you fall.
"I hope Mother will be in good health."
Live healthily so that you can see all you manage slowly crumble, bit by bit, and experience the suffering and pain for a long time.
"Eldest Brother's reputation will spread far and wide."
Everyone in the world will know his name, for he will be a target of scorn and insults.
"Second Younger Sister will marry an ideal husband."
And then die at the hands of her beloved husband.
"Ancestors of the Xia family, ah," Jiang Ruan intoned softly with her hands together in prayer, "if you can see this faithful devotee's sincerity, then allow the Jiang fu and Xia fu to be like the Luoyang Peony, blooming in flourishing prosperity for a long time."
 Luoyang Mudan ( 洛阳牡丹 ) – 牡丹 is the tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa), which symbolises prosperity. Luoyang (in Henan province), the capital city of many ancient dynasties, is regarded as the 'birthplace' of the peony and hosts a Peony Festival every year.
You will rot, you will collapse, you will fall from the stateliest mansions to be trampled underfoot in the filthiest mud, you will face reckoning, you will suffer dissension, and at the end, you will die by your own hands. Oh, gods above, if you see Jiang Ruan's sincerity, then let the Jiang fu and Xia fu be like the Luoyang peony; after a brief moment of initial prosperity, let them be unable to withstand the force of decay and slowly, very slowly, wither and fade away.
Jiang Ruan pronounced each word slowly and deliberately. However, these outwardly bright and glorious phrases seemed, on the contrary, to be like black curses, transmitting the odour of death. Xia Yan looked at Jiang Ruan's tranquil profile, and was suddenly seized with a sense of dread.
She immediately stood up, repressing with difficulty the panic in her heart and said, "So, all thanks to Ruan'er for tonight. Mother still has some things to see to, and will leave first."
After Xia Yan had fled the ancestral hall, Jiang Ruan slowly got up from the ground.
Kneel? These were the scum of the Xia family; how could such a place be worthy to bear her knees?
She glanced around at her surroundings. Just as Xia Furen had said, the ancestral hall had just been 'renovated'. The ground was paved with the coldest flagstones, which also retained dampness, such that even a stove would be unable to remain functional. The hall was empty and frigid. Even the lamps were unlit, the only illumination streaming in from the faint moonlight coming through the windows. Moreover, there was a hole in the roof, which might have been Xia Furen's handiwork. Icy rain fell through the hole, rendering anyone it landed upon even colder.
In this dark and cold place, her only companions were the many ancestral plaques displayed before her, while the green smoke from the incense burner gave off a peculiar smell. Jiang Ruan took out her handkerchief and moved to stand by a broken window. There, the air circulated freely. She wetted the handkerchief and used it to cover her nose and mouth, frowning slightly.
After a while, Lian Qiao's voice sounded from outside. "Miss, your servants are here to bring you something to eat."
The door of the ancestral hall opened to admit Lian Qiao, with a food basket in her hands, and Shu Xiang. Lian Qiao said, "I took some steamed buns from the kitchen. Miss has not eaten anything since you arrived; you cannot mistreat your body." After saying this, she made use of the faint moonlight to take stock of Shu Xiang and said to her, "Why are you standing there doing nothing? Come and help."
Lian Qiao was a first-rank servant. When Shu Xiang had come to them, Jiang Ruan had appointed her to fill a vacant post as a second-rank servant, so she was a rank lower than Lian Qiao. Moreover, Lian Qiao was customarily forceful and bold in her manner, so, even if Shu Xiang had been flawless and did everything impeccably, she would still be somewhat fearful of her. Shu Xiang came forward obediently, knelt and opened the food basket.
 Di shui bu lou ( 滴水不漏 ) – lit. not one drop of water can leak out. Fig. of someone who does things very carefully; impeccable; flawless.
While carrying out these actions, Shu Xiang did not look up at Jiang Ruan, and thus missed Jiang Ruan's gesture to Lian Qiao. Shu Xiang was in the process of taking out the steamed buns when she felt someone grab her violently from behind and place a handkerchief over her nose and mouth. She was just about to yell when a pungent odour assailed her nose and everything in front of her went dark as she lost consciousness.
Lian Qiao had worked in the rural residence for several years and was a lot more vigorous than common maidservants. She looked down at Shu Xiang who had fallen to the ground and said, "Miss?"
"Take off her outerwear," Jiang Ruan said.
Lian Qiao swiftly removed Shu Xiang's outerwear and handed it to Jiang Ruan, who draped it around herself and stood up.
"Are we going to leave Shu Xiang here like this?" In the end, Lian Qiao proved to be soft-hearted.
"If the Xia family has not cooked up any scheme, she is merely going to take my place in sleeping here for one night," Jiang Ruan said coldly. "If they have other intentions, Shu Xiang also belongs to Xia Yan so let them sort out their internal strife."
Lian Qiao thought this over, then said, "That's true. The Xia family is so evil, even making Miss kneel by herself in this kind of place overnight, with the clear intention of debilitating Miss through serious illness. Such poisonous minds!" She looked at Shu Xiang, then continued, "That this Shu Xiang should take the place of Miss to kneel in the ancestral hall overnight is not considered excessive in comparison to all that she has tried to do against Miss. It's a good thing that Miss instructed this servant earlier on to get a sleeping drug from the herbal medicine shop and keep it on her person in case of emergencies. So convenient."
Jiang Ruan smiled a little. If the Xia family simply wanted her to fall ill from the cold weather, then of course Shu Xiang would emerge unscathed. Unfortunately, the Xia family would probably not think this way. She glanced at the green smoke emitting from the incense burner. "Let's go to your room."
In the night, one could only see two people dressed as maidservants walking out of the ancestral hall. One maidservant's voice was sharp and clear as she said, angrily, "Our Miss is really too pitiful, having to kneel like this in the ancestral hall overnight, she will definitely harm her body. Shu Xiang, you feel the same way, don't you?"
The other maidservant made a noise of assent.
It was hard to see clearly in the dimness of night. As if someone had walked away, a rustling sound came from the forest surrounding the ancestral hall.
In another room in the Xia fu, a veiled Jiang Su Su took a sip of tea and said to the young man before her, "Biaoge, you have thought through it already, my eldest sister is one of the most beautiful ladies, and I think such a good person is extremely suitable for biaoge. I'm just trying to give you both a helping hand."
 Biao ge ( 表哥 ) – older male cousin from the maternal line.
Xia Jun looked at her. Although his expression was amorous, there was also a touch of arrogance as he said, "Keep your schemes to yourself. Do you really think that I don't know about your intentions?"
On hearing this, annoyance flashed in Jiang Su Su's eyes. "Biaoge, do you agree with this matter, or not?"
The person Jiang Su Su most feared in the Xia family was this young man, Xia Jun. Although he was quite young, he lived a wholly licentious lifestyle, and had long since been acquainted with the relations between men and women. What's more, he was always rather sombre. Jiang Su Su had once hidden in Xia Jun's room, thinking to play with him, but she had unexpectedly witnessed him having his way with his personal maidservant in a brutal manner. The maidservant screamed repeatedly, and Jiang Su Su, hiding under the bed, heard all this with fear and alarm. From then on, she was even more frightened of this cousin. Moreover, Xia Jun never treated her tenderly or gave her a sense of security, as most men did; he had always mocked and ridiculed her.
"Why should I agree to run this errand for you?" Xia Jun bit back.
Jiang Su Su clenched her fists, calmed herself down, and said, "If Biaoge wants to miss this opportunity, then I can only feel pity for you. Su'er knows that Biaoge has always appreciated women with special talent and extraordinary character, and this elder sister of mine is truly one in a hundred. In a few years' time, who knows which family Father will promise her to, but, given her appearance and temperament, it is bound to be a rich noble family. If Biaoge does not want to seize this opportunity, it will be too late for regrets later." She gave a slight smile and continued, "Why not think about it thoroughly?"
Xia Jun's eyes were hooded as he recalled the red-clad young girl from earlier, who acted with an appropriate sense of propriety, but who also seemed to be fundamentally cold and detached. This gave rise to an involuntary urge to conquer her, to see if the flesh wrapped under those red clothes was as delicious as her appearance.
He said, hoarsely, "What are you thinking of doing?"
Jiang Su Su replied, "Da Jiejie is kneeling in prayer overnight in the ancestral hall. Why doesn't Biaoge go over to keep her company? In this way, Da Jiejie will look upon Biaoge in a favourable light. Perhaps there will be some kind of tacit approval."
Xia Jun observed Jiang Su Su and abruptly laughed. "Many thanks for the instructions, Biaomei." Having said this, he stood up. "Biaomei should also rest early. We'll meet tomorrow."
 Biao mei ( 表妹 ) – younger female cousin from the maternal line.
After Xia Jun had left, Jiang Su Su sat at the table and pulled down her veil. Stroking the ugly scar on her pale skin, she murmured, "Jiang Ruan, doing something so criminally despicable with another person in a place like the ancestral hall – tomorrow morning, l want to see how you cover up the truth!"
Hu Die's heart jumped. She said, "Miss, have you discussed this with Furen? Why doesn't this servant go and ask her?"
"Shut your mouth," Jiang Su Su said in reprimand. "Mother always says she will exact revenge for me, but she has never succeeded. This time, I will do it myself."
Outside, Xia Jun walked in the direction of the ancestral hall. Xiao Si, who was walking beside him, asked cautiously, "Young Master really wants to go to the ancestral hall to comfort Miss Jiang? There is something strange about Second Miss's words; I am afraid it is not that simple."
"Of course it's not that simple." The corners of Xia Jun's mouth lifted up. "I know exactly what is going on in Jiang Su Su's mind. But, surprisingly, it is not a bad idea. I will 'comfort' Eldest Jiang Miss well."
The doors of the ancestral hall creaked open.
It was already late at night, and the rain had gotten steadily heavier. With the moon hiding behind the dark clouds, the ancestral hall was in total darkness. Only the incense burner on the table gave off a few sparks, while the green smoke rose in spirals. The exotic fragrance was unlike any ordinary fragrance. Having been lit for a long time, the air in the hall was heavy with the fragrance.
The minute Xia Jun walked in and smelled the fragrance, his body flushed, his palms were dry, and he unconsciously licked his lips. He slowly moved inwards, groping around, until he stumbled over a body under his feet.
He froze, then crouched down to feel around and touched the warm, sweet-smelling body. He shook it gently but it did not move, as if the person had lost consciousness. He pondered for a moment, then suddenly broke into laughter. The fire in his body was becoming increasingly intense. Xia Jun undid two of his buttons, then took the liberty to reach out and grope the body in his arms.
The room echoed with the sound of rendering silk.
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Translated by : Shl
Edited by : Anks & Ely