In the next couple of days, Long Er did not go to see Ju Mu’er again.
One reason was because he was busy, and the second reason was because his betrothal gifts were about to be exchanged. Mómo Yu had specially sought out Long Er about this, and informed him that he should follow superstition, that before the betrothal gifts had been exchanged, both male and female parties should not meet. In fact, it would be even better if they could avoid meeting until the day of marriage.
Avoid meeting each other until the day of marriage? Long Er’s face got quite black, there were only two months left until the marriage, and it was during this period of time that he and Ju Mu’er were interacting quite amicably… To request that he keep on avoiding her, he truly wasn’t willing to do that.
Naturally, Mómo Yu knew Long Er well, and comprising a little, she mentioned that occasional meetings were alright, but they couldn’t meet up too frequently. And during these meetings, it was best if there was someone from the bride’s family that could accompany the bride. However, there were no female relations in the Ju Family, so it was best if her father could accompany her. Mómo Yu also didn’t forget to inform Second Master that she had already discussed this with Old Father Ju.
It was only now that Long Er remembered that he had been in drunken stupor the night before, and had even reprimanded his future father-in-law.
Long Er’s head started to throb, if the issue of filial piety had to be mentioned, Long Er fully understood. Just thinking of it, how life had been like when his parents were still alive, the trio of brothers had been exceptionally respectful around them. Later on, when his parents had passed, the Long Family had been subjected to pressure from the government and trading merchants, on all sides. The trio of brothers worked hand-in-hand to protect their family, the eldest became a court official, the third brother entered the martial artists’ community (JiangHu), while Long Er began to single-handedly take over the family business, dealing with all these matters was a hardship. So many years had passed since then, he was used to acting in a certain manner, and now that he suddenly had an extra father-in-law who he had to be filial to, he still had yet to get used to this.
Long Er mulled over this predicament, his father-in-law loved drinking wine, so he might as well cater to his pleasure, and take the opportunity to admit the error of his ways. He instructed the resident head chef to prepare a variety of side dishes that could be eaten with wine, then he ordered a manservant to deliver them to the Ju Family Winery every day.
This action managed to gain the goodwill of the Old Father Ju, and he specifically requested that his thanks should be conveyed to the Second Master. However, Long Er ended up asking if Young Lady Ju had mentioned anything, and when the manservant answered, he merely commented that Young Lady Ju had only laughed in reply, without saying anything.
Long Er felt a little dissatisfied at this, he couldn’t help think that even his father-in-law had known to send a message through the manservant, so why had his Mu’er been so wooden, choosing not to leave a message for him?
During this time, Long Er had also been to Ding Sheng’s Residence once to deliver the new-year gifts. He hadn’t stayed long, only long enough to catch-up with that old Fox Ding Sheng, they didn’t discuss any official matters, but truthfully, both of them fully understood the implied meaning in each other’s words.
Naturally, Ding Sheng had heard of the ruckus that ensued as a result of the Yun Family’s attempt to exchange betrothal gifts, he also understood the reason why Long Er had made this trip. He wasn’t willing to offend Long Er, but he also knew he couldn’t show weakness right now, so he tried to surreptitiously deny all involvement in the issue. He mentioned that he hadn’t closely interacted much with the younger generation, and hadn’t really enjoyed the blessings of a father-in-law and son-in-law relationship. Then he also made sure to congratulate Long Er on his wedding.
Long Er also understood what he meant and casually picked a few related matters, everything was related to Ding Sheng in some way or another, Ding Sheng understood what he was doing, and thanked Long Er for notifying him. He could assess the significance of each matter, and was confident that he would not be caught up in those kind of scandalous things, Long Er saw that his message had gotten across, and he smiled before taking his leave.
Meanwhile, at the Yun Residence, according to what the Long Residence spies had reported, they mentioned that Yun Qingxian had recently left the area on an assignment, and had yet to return. Upon hearing this, Long Er didn’t personally visit, but instructed Steward Tie to deliver some gifts, and warn Ding Yanxiang.
On the other hand, the day to exchange betrothal gifts had finally arrived.
On the day itself, Mómo Yu led the entourage of matchmakers, and some manservants, together they carried with them a great amount of premium gifts, and went to the Ju Family Winery to exchange the betrothal gifts. When they arrived, the matchmaker began to proclaim congratulatory praises, the manservants worked together to transport every single box of the big red presents, the commotion of it all was so great, that neighbours from all eight sides came to see.
Everyone was talking about how the Ju Family seemed to have a lot on their plate, not to mention that there was another betrothal gift exchange that had happened just two days ago. There had even been a physical altercation, so why was it, that barely two days had passed, and yet another person was here to exchange betrothal gifts.
Old Father Ju invited some of the neighbours that they often interacted with to come in and sit down, making sure to prepare some wine to share with everyone. All the people present were saying positive, congratulatory things, and it made the entire atmosphere extremely festive and lively. Old Father Ju was wearing new robes, and his entire face was covered in a great big smile. He solemnly handed over the BaZi Card and the return-gifts over to Mómo Yu, and instantly it felt like a great weight had been released inside them.
This marriage had finally been set!
In the courtyard, Su Qing was running back and forth, sharing detailed descriptions of how events unfolded in the front hall, and making sure to share every single development with Ju Mu’er, who was sitting calmly inside the house. Su Qing’s tone was jovial as she commented, “Jiějie, there are so many things out there! And they’re wrapped really nicely, I think that all together, they’ll probably take up half the house. I used to think that Master Long Er was stingy and fierce, and that he wasn’t a good guy. Now I see that he’s actually quite good to you jiějie.”
“Indeed, Second Master really is a good person.”
Su Qing looked at her, and asked, “Jiějie, why aren’t you smiling, aren’t you happy? Don’t you want to be married to Master Long Er?”
Ju Mu’er shook her head, and hurriedly tried to put a smile on her face, “I’m happy, I want to be married to him. The only thing is, I’m a little nervous.”
Su Qing burst out laughing, “It’s not even time for you to be married yet, and you’re already nervous, what will you do when it really is time for you to be married?”
Ju Mu’er let out a bitter smile, there was no turning back, she would probably have to shoulder this burden for the rest of her life.
Inside the Long Residence, Long Er was feeling a little restless, his mind was full of worries about the exchange of betrothal gifts having some problems, surely nothing else could go wrong right? As he went on about his other matters, his attention was partially focused on this, and after waiting nearly half a day, the moment finally came for Mómo Yu’s return. With her, was the BaZi Card and the ‘return-gifts’, and she pulled Long Er along with her to pay his respects to the ancestors through kow-towing.
Obediently, Long Er followed her, watching silently as both his and Ju Mu’er’s Eight Characters of Birth Time (BaZi) were placed before his ancestors, and in Long Er’s heart, it felt like he had finally gained some security over it all.
It had finally been set! Long Er earnestly kowtowed to them.
He was finally going to marry his wife.
Once this marriage had been set between the Long and Ju Families, the Ju Family’s Winery began to grow busy. One reason was because there was a joyous occasion around the corner, and the winery had to do a lot of preparations this year, especially in anticipation of the new year. Another thing was that the bride-to-be was preoccupied with the feminine art of needlework, even though Ju Mu’er was blind, and couldn’t do anything, but all the neighbouring wives and grandmothers were prepared to come over and help. For a while, the courtyard of the winery was filled with frequent visitors, and usually the group of women would spend their time in Ju Mu’er’s wing of the Residence, talking while they worked.
It was at this time that Ding Yanxiang came visiting again.
By now, Old Father Ju had some sense of wariness about Madam Yun, and was unwilling to let her see Ju Mu’er. Ding Yanxiang even tried to plead in desperation, not wanting to leave until she had gotten her way. Both parties were facing off in the front hall of the winery, in the end, Ju Mu’er got wind of the situation, and instructed Su Qing to run out and convey a message from her, stating that she wanted to see her.
Ding Yanxiang softly mentioned her thanks, and followed Su Qing into the courtyard. In the courtyard, two married women were seated, busy embroidering the bridal veil. When they saw Madam Yun, they hastily got to their feet and curtsied a greeting. Ding Yanxiang gave a chinese-curtsey in return, and entered Ju Mu’er’s little house on her own.
When the two women finally met, face-to-face, they stood in each other’s presence in silence.
Finally, it was Ding Yanxiang who opened her mouth first, “The reason why I’m here, is to apologise to Young Lady.”
Ju Mu’er slightly inclined her head, acknowledging that she had heard what was said, but didn’t say anything in reply. Ding Yanxiang let out a bitter laugh, and seemed to dawdle for about half a day before she continued, “It was wrong of me, I was busy trying to win the affection of my husband, and that’s why I said those words that day. I thought that Young Lady had agreed to my proposal, and I had planned on treating you well once you entered the household. I would definitely not have allowed you to feel aggrieved in any way, and when time passed, I was confident that you would understand the reason behind my actions. That day, I had informed my husband of this, and his first reaction was of happiness, but he also seemed as if he was in disbelief, and mentioned that he wanted to come and ask Young Lady personally. However, for some reason, by coincidence it happened to be the time when you had fallen ill, and he had been barred from entering even the front door. He came to ask me for confirmation again, and I told him that Young Lady had indeed agreed to my proposal. At that moment, my thoughts were about how it might be better to have the exchanging of betrothal gifts brought forward to an earlier date.”
Ju Mu’er continued to listen with an expressionless face. Ding Yanxiang looked at her, bit her lip and swallowed nervously, her voice choking up as she continued, “The next day, my husband was tasked with an official assignment, and he left for another location. I sought out a matchmaker, to discuss the matters of exchanging betrothal gifts, but in no time, I soon heard word of how Young Lady was about to enter a betrothal engagement with Master Long Er. I panicked, and urged the matchmaker to go to visit you about the matter, and warned her that she had to make sure the betrothal would succeed. But I hadn’t expected that the matchmakers intended to take the route of ‘stealing-betrothal-gifts’. Even though I did do some wrong things before, but I still wanted to come and inform Young Lady that what they did definitely wasn’t on my instructions. I hope that Young Lady can be as magnanimous as the sea, and not fault me for this.”
Ju Mu’er mulled over this for nearly half a day, and finally replied, “Since it is all over now, there is no need for Madam to worry about it anymore.”
Ding Yanxiang heard this and finally a smile broke out from her. However, at the same time, two tears fell from her eyes, and she lifted a handkerchief to dry them, sniffled a moment, then continued, “Hearing this from Young Lady, I feel extremely happy about that. I really shouldn’t, shouldn’t have done such a thing, I was too foolish. Those words I said, they weren’t really threats against Young Lady’s family, I just wanted—wanted to make Young Lady cave in to my demands and agree to my proposal. I really hope that Young Lady won’t blame me or hold any grudges against me.”
“It’s all over now.”
“My husband ought to be returning tomorrow, I—I, still haven’t thought of what to tell him. Previously, I saw how much of a hard time he went through when he had failed to secure the betrothal arrangement, and it felt really uncomfortable for me. I originally thought this would make him happy, but now it will probably become a frustrating burden. I…” She sniffled, then her tears fell once more, “In the recent two days, I have been feeling very uneasy, and at the same time I felt ashamed to talk of anything with Young Lady, but I knew that these apologies had to be said. I—I, now that I’ve finished saying everything, I feel much better inside.”
“Rest assured Madam.” Ju Mu’er curtsied politely with her head bowed, “I am merely a blind commoner girl, my capabilities are lacking, so it’s a stretch for me to even consider blaming someone, since the matter is over, let it be. Lord Yun and Madam have a deep marital bond, and the both of you will surely grow to the age of white hair together, possessing hearts in unison forever. So I implore Madam to stop overthinking things.”
End of Chapter