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Chapter 1: Wealthy Husband? Cuckold?
Play on words. 金龟婿 means wealthy husband while 乌龟(婿) means cuckold. Only the first character in both is different.
I personally think it's not regrettable to not have a husband. What's disgraceful is that I'm don’t even have an adulterer by my side, yet all the chaste women in Yangzhou avoid me.
This situation was somewhat troublesome.
Thinking back to the time when I just came of age, daddy still hasn't considered marrying me off but the young men in Yangzhou and the neighboring Suzhou-Hangzhou area all flocked to my house. The line of people coming to propose was endless. The cars and horses passed by like running water all day long. It was so noisy that even the two stone lions guarding my front door wished they could become real lions and let out a few roars.
However, three years have passed yet things remained the same but people have changed. I believed that daddy would marry me off with great fanfare. Now I'm afraid there won't be any mosquitoes coming around, let alone a talented young man or a noble, to be a wealthy husband.
In fact, I can't blame them. It's not that I had suddenly become an old woman in three years. I didn't know how to become a beauty that can topple a city, but I did monopolize the mirror every day. I think I actually look better than I did three years ago. Of course, it's also not because we have lost our family business in the past three years and the merchandise shops were all closed down. On the contrary, daddy's business became bigger and bigger. The stores were expanding and the safe was full.
Then how were the young men scared away? Naturally, there was a profound reason.
I touched my slightly protruding belly, wondering…
No one wants to change from a "wealthy husband" to a "cuckolded husband," right? Everyone likes readily available things, but if this readily available thing is a baby crawling on the floor, I'm afraid everyone will avoid it like a plague.
I was always an optimistic achiever, so resigning to my fate wasn't my style. I was no longer a maiden who has to stay hidden in my room so naturally, I didn't have many restrictions. Rather than staying at home waiting for marriage proposals, I might as well make friends with matchmakers and go on blind dates. Firstly, I can pass the time. Secondly, I can sooner find a merciful and forgiving husband.
But because of my bad reputation, Yangzhou's young masters will run away in fear after hearing just my surname "Shen," let alone go on blind dates with me. The matchmakers in Ice Hall have heaven-defying methods. They didn't persuade the local young masters, but instead took another route and decided to go for the men who came to Yangzhou.
An example was today's Mister Ma. He was a merchant from Shanxi who admires Jiangnan women's sweet tempers. He wanted to take advantage of his month here doing business to find a caring wife to marry.
Ice Hall's matchmakers asked for my inclination yesterday. I did not want a court official nor a millionaire. He was just a small businessman so I agreed. Today, Mister Ma invited me to a private room in the largest restaurant in the city, Opulent Spring.
Now, we were sitting across from each other in an in the private room called Elegant Ode Pavillon with Matchmaker Liu sitting on my right.
I secretly glanced at Mister Ma out of the corner of my eye. I thought my eyes were momentarily filled up, with no space to see where Matchmaker Liu was sitting.
Uhh, this Mister Ma looked portly. Round face, round waist, round belly. In short, completely round.
I lowered my head to recuperate my eyes. In my heart, I thought, "Round is also good if his heart is as big and round as his belly."
Today I wore a cross stitch embroidered gown with a simple elegant design. Although there were no obvious signs on pregnancy in the fourth month, I still loosened the embroidered sash at my waist by three inches. To cover up my lower face before daddy warns me again, I wore a triangle scarf.
It looked just like an actress' assassin stage costume.
As expected, when I exchanged glances with Mister Ma, his eyes were shining brightly. Just like a thief staring at a treasure, impatiently rubbing both hands, lost for words.
Matchmaker Liu smiled smugly and said sweetly, "Mister Ma, this lady is Yangzhou's most famous beauty, the Shen family's eldest miss."
I contemplated what she said. It was a simple sentence yet there were several points to consider. Firstly, Matchmaker Liu put an emphasis on "Shen Family" then paused. Even the cats on the roof would be able to hear the mystery, much less a person. Who in the whole world doesn't know of the Shen's tyrannical shop when there's even a local saying of "ten stores of which seven are Shen's."
Secondly, I believe matchmakers will turn ordinary girls into beauties in their speeches. So I can't take on the phrase "most famous beauty." I'm not famous for being beautiful, rather I'm famous for being somewhat unconstrained in the past and for the baby in my belly.
Therefore, I held myself from responding to Matchmaker Liu's words. After hearing that sentence, Mister Ma's eyes became brighter. He returned to rubbing his hands, urgently bowing to say, "Indeed a well-deserved reputation! This little Ma Tianbao greets you."
Tianbao…Uhh, a very festive name. Very suitable.
天宝 (TianBao) 天 = sky/heaven 宝 = treasure
I slightly nodded my head, "Greetings to Mister Ma." On the side, I lightly stepped on Matchmaker Liu's foot under my skirt.
Matchmaker Liu obviously understood what I meant. She promptly lifted the teapot to pour tea for him and inquired, "What does Mister Ma think of Miss Shen?"
That round Mister Ma hurriedly said, "Very good, couldn't be better. She is simply a fairy descended from the heavens. Not saying anything else, this Ma has the fortune of three lifetimes to meet once today."
Matchmaker Liu hid a pleased smile then sighed, "There is also a better matter. I heard Mister Ma's lineage only has one frail heir for the past three generations. Coincidentally, Miss Shen had a dream four months ago where Guanyin passed by and left a son. The next day, she was diagnosed with the pregnancy pulse."
妙儿 (Miao'r) MC's name is Shen Miao. 儿 (er) is a term of endearment. 妙 = clever/wonderful
I was astonished that Matchmaker Liu can concoct such a beautiful story from the ugly truth. I enthusiastically concentrated on the conversation when I suddenly heard a familiar voice call my name, abruptly cutting off Matchmaker Liu's brilliant improvisation. Mister Ma also has yet to hear the crux of the story.
Looking up, I saw a man in a moonlight wind green shirt being led into the room by a servant. He looked at me as if he didn't expect to see me. Who else could it be but Pei Yanzhen?
衍祯 (YanZhen) 衍 = to spread 祯 = lucky
When the little servant who boldly opened the door looked up and saw us, he panicked, "Sorry for disturbing the guests." He turned around to speak to Pei Yanzhen, "Master Pei, it was my mistake just now. This Elegant Ode Pavillion was booked by Mister Ma earlier. The empty room is the next door Divine Wind Pavillion. Troubling you to follow me over."
Pei Yanzhen looked at me, then glanced at the other two people. He warmly smiled, "No bother. Just disturbed the guests' mood." To his servant, he said, "Stay here so I can greet them before we go."
On this side, Matchmaker Liu stood up in fright. She bowed toward Pei Yanzhen and said with revere, "This woman Liu Chenshi greets Master Pei."
Mister Ma was just a businessman so he immediately stood up. Matchmaker Ma hurriedly introduced him, "Mister Ma, this is our Yangzhou's Parent Office Magistrate, Master Pei." Toward Pei Yanzhen she said, "Master Pei, this is Mister Ma Tianbao who came here to do business."
"This grassroots greets Master Pei. I have heard of Master Pei's honest and elegant reputation. To have seen you today is a fortune in three lifetimes!" Mister Ma hurriedly bowed toward Pei Yanzhen. Ma Tianbao has used up three lifetimes twice today. I figured his lives were short indeed.
Pei Yanzhen lightly nodded in return, calmly said, "Mister Ma has mistaken. This isn't the office so there is no need to stick to formalities. Please sit and talk."
The two didn't dare to sit when he was still standing so they awkwardly stayed standing. Pei Yanzhen turned toward me, "Miao'r, why are you here?"
Uhh, this is a completely mysterious question.
There is a clear answer for a man, a woman, and a matchmaker to be in the same room. But when I looked up into his clear eyes, I couldn't open my mouth to answer. Actually, I really want to ask how you can recognize me in my assassin stage costume.
Matchmaker Liu's honeyed words disappeared without a trace. She kept her head lowered and pretended to be part of the background.
At that moment, Mister Ma chose to intimately open his mouth, "We let Master Pei see something ridiculous. I'm in an arranged interview with Miss Shen."
"Oh~? Arranged interview?" Pei Yanzhen's face turned mysterious.
"Precisely." I stared blankly at Mister Ma's flushed face and heard him say, "Didn't expect Master Pei to recognize Miss Shen."
Pei Yanzhen looked at me familiarly and said, "More than recognize."
Scared of him saying something else, I interjected, "Master Pei and I are relatives."
"Ah?" Ma Tianbao asked curiously, "How are you related?"
"Master Pei is my distantly related maternal uncle." This was absolutely not fake. Every word was the truth, with an imperial edict as proof.
Immediately, Ma Tianbao looked as if a gold ingot smashed into his head. "Since we're one family then there is no need for different rooms. Uncle, please feel free to join us." While saying so, he motioned for a servant to bring a set of tableware. The red flush on his round face became bigger.
One family? Uncle?
I shivered. Pei Yanzhen also had a blank stare.
Shy, yeah, right!
Regardless, Ma Tianbao intimately pulled Pei Yanzhen over to a seat.
Pei Yanzhen looked at me with a cultured smile, "It's not polite to decline so I'll accept." He arranged his clothes and sat down.
Now the four-sided table was full. I was sitting across from Ma Tianbao with Pei Yanzhen on my left and Matchmaker Liu on my right, across from Pei Yanzhen. The matchmaker had a look of regret as if she wished she could shrink into a cup.
Ma Tianbao warmly poured tea and picked dishes for Pei Yanzhen as he kept calling "uncle." Pei Yanzhen only looked at me with a superficial smile and unknown intentions. I faced it in a calm and undisturbed manner.
Just when I was about to take a sip of tea, Pei Yanzhen reached out his hand to hold mine, "Miao'r, your stomach is not well. The green tea is already cold and your body is out of sorts nowadays. It's best if you don't drink."
Ma Tianbao saw his hands on mine and mumbled with a twisted face, "Uncle is very considerate."
Under my sharp gaze, Pei Yanzhen let go of my hand and modestly responded, "Not at all. This is what I ought to do."
He barely finished speaking when the door was suddenly pushed open again. Someone with embroidered clothes and a jade belt standing at the door exclaimed, "What a big gust of wind! It almost blew the door off!"
Then, his eyes swept across the room. He dramatically slapped his fan closed and appeared shocked, "Hey! Isn't it Miaomiao and Master Pei! What a coincidence! So this is the so-called it's a small world. We meet accidentally with this gust of wind."
Another endearment by repeating the name
Half my face turned dark. I obviously clearly saw Song Xiyuan push the door open himself. I bluntly said, "Mister Song is joking. There isn't even a sliver of wind."
席远 (XiYuan) 席 = mat/seat 远 = far
"No wind?" Song Xiyuan earnestly stretched out a hand to test the air, mumbling to himself while walking into the room, "Then it must be that the door is too weak. It opened up even without any wind. Don't you think so, Old Chen?"
The middle-aged man who stood behind him with a wooden face shook the door expressionlessly, "Third Master is right. The door is indeed weak." The words barely left his mouth when the peach blossom engraved door in his hand crashed on the floor to die of old age.
Song Xiyuan raised his brows innocently with a "you see I was right" expression. Suddenly, he closed his fan and laughed, "Oh! Isn't this Matchmaker Liu?"
"I greet Third Master. I am fortunate to have Third Master remember this old body. It's indeed terrifying." Matchmaker Liu gave him a bow with a smile barely on her face.
"Who in Yangzhou doesn't know of Matchmaker Liu? Moreover, Matchmaker Liu has been arranging dates for Miaomiao all day with such enthusiasm. It's so touching that's it's engraved into my heart. I don't know how to repay you." Song Xiyuan smiled even more brilliantly.
Matchmaker Liu twisted uncomfortably, unable to speak.
Pei Yanzhen sipped his tea indifferently like he was detached from the world.
I felt a burst of grief in my heart…The meeting today was interrupted in this way. I'm afraid it's not a positive sign.
As expected, in a flash, Song Xiyuan rested his elbow on Ma Tianbao's shoulder, "Sir, are you the head of this meeting?"
Mister Ma stared blankly, temporarily not knowing how to respond, then mumbled, "It is me." How pitiable…In my heart, I also often don't know how to respond to Song Xiyuan, this guy. Moreover, Song Xiyuan had a bad habit of picking on pushovers.
"Since you started this meeting, why did you only invite Master Pei and not me?" Song Ziyuan's eyes changed as if he was wronged.
"Ha?" Ma Tianbao couldn't follow Song Xiyuan's train of thought.
"We are both Miaomiao's ex-husbands so why was only Master Pei invited and I, Third Song Master, abandoned?" Quick like lightning. I knew it…I knew it…
"Ah?" Master Ma's chopsticks fell on the floor. "Ex-husband? Master Pei isn't her uncle?"
"Uncle?" Song Xiyuan lifted his arm and solemnly said, "Can't believe you became so familiar in just one meal's time. As for Master Pei, I previously forgot to call you uncle. Excuse me for my wrongs."
Pei Yanzhen calmly said, "No harm. I also don't want to accept you as an in-law."
"Uncle…Ex-husband…" Mister Ma mumbled, confused and unable to link together.
Song Ziyuan stooped down to pick up his chopsticks and put it on the table. He kindly said, "Uncle Pei really is Miaomiao's ex-husband. Of course, I am also Miaomiao's ex-husband."
The words woke up the dreaming Mister Ma. His face trembled in big waves and said astonished, "Ah! Im…Im…Immoral!"
One sentence to determine right and wrong.
"Clever!" Song Xiyuan hit his palm with the fan. Pei Yanzhen coldly glanced at him and Song Ziyuan immediately stopped speaking.
Except Mister Ma looked as if he was stuck in a nightmare, still repeating, "Immoral…Immoral…Two ex-husbands…Two…Ex-husbands…?"
Seeing him stare at me wanting to ask but not daring to ask, I sighed. Whatever. It looks like the blind date today definitely won't be successful. I asked him, "Does Mister Ma want to ask me which ex-husband came first?"
After hearing, Mister Ma, who was originally stubbornly supporting his body, trembled and fainted right away.
Huh? Why are the pampered sons nowadays so mentally weak? Really makes people worried.
It looks like even I as a weak girl who has suffered heavy losses still haven't had emotional ups and downs like him. How sad.
Of course, the reason why the two are my ex-husbands isn't as simple as because I was their ex-wife…