Sang Wan’s body slightly stiffened as those words seemed to have deeply pierced her heart, but not to the point where her body went cold stiff, and so she quickly returned back to reality.
That’s right; this was such a beautiful place, so surely, he must have brought his cousin here already, right?
Shi Fengju cast a glance at Sang Wan, and he noticed her brows faintly scrunch up, as visible as a single cloud in a clear sky. Shi Fengju’s heart turned somewhat gloomy, and he forced a smile, “Miss Gu is busy, so she will not be coming in the future!”
There was no way Cui Ling would know of the happenings inside the household. The little lass was outspoken, and she sighed, “Oh, that’s a pity!”
Sang Wan’s expression changed, and her chest felt tight.
Auntie Cui’s face also changed, and she angrily glared at Cui Ling before scolding her, “Lass, why do you keep letting your mouth run! Go and serve Young Master and Ma’am properly. What good is there in speaking about irrelevant things!” Then, she turned and said eagerly to Sang Wan, “Ma’am, not only does the orchard have pomegranates but also grapes, dates, oranges, and many more. Ma’am, enjoy yourself slowly and have a taste of them. The soil here is fertile, and the water here is full of minerals, so our fruits are especially sweet!”
“Is that so? Then I’ll be sure to have a taste of them!” Sang Wan smiled and blinked a few times at Cui Ling before gesturing at the sulking lass, “Come, Xiao Ling, we’re waiting for you to lead the way!”
“Yes, Ma’am!” Cui Ling glanced at her mother from the corner of her eyes. Seeing that she was not displeased, her face brightened up, and she went to lead Sang Wan.
Shi Fengju smiled bitterly and could only follow along.
Behind the country house was a plot of uneven land ranging about fifty acres, and all of it was used to grow fruit trees. There were patches of land for loquat trees, peach trees, and pomegranate trees respectively. The small patch of land near the country house that spanned about one acre was used to grow many other different types of fruits. There were strawberries, apricots, plums, pears, cherries, persimmons, dates, papaya, grapes, and many others. From afar, Sang Wan could already smell the fragrance of the fruits.
“Ma’am, the pomegranates are over there! Be careful of your footing!” Cui Ling pointed to the north and smiled. “Just look at that, those red orbs decorating the trees are the ones! When you come again next spring, it will be just right when the flowers of the peach blossom trees bloom over on that piece of land. It’s really beautiful! On the fifth month, the loquats will be ripe with a beautiful shade of yellow, too! The loquats here are also very sweet!”
“Is that so? The place you live in is truly great!” Sang Wan could not help but smile.
“En! I like it too!” Cui Ling nodded with a smile, “This place is especially good, and it is especially beautiful! My parents always say that it’s all thanks to Sir’s grace! Sir is the great benefactor of our family!”
Cui Ling said as she smiled towards Shi Fengju.
Shi Fengju hurried over and laughed, “Lass, your mouth’s getting sweeter and sweeter by the day! Now, why don’t you walk a little more slowly, or else your ma’am can’t keep up with you!”
Cui Ling glanced at the embroidered delicate satin shoes on Sang Wan’s feet. Embarrassed, she smiled and said, “I should’ve been more thoughtful. Ma’am, are you alright? Would you like to have a seat and take a break first?” With that, she scanned the area around her before spotting a large stone not far away. She went towards it and blew on its surface before placing a handkerchief over it. Then she gestured, “Ma’am, come and sit over here!”
Sang Wan did not actually want to, but because of her unsuitable footwear which was not meant for walking on the bumpy ground, her feet were feeling slightly sore, and so she nodded. “Be careful!” exclaimed Shi Fengju as he gently held her arm.
Sang Wan could not help but struggle a little, and she ended up being helped by him as he remained unaffected by her little amount of force.
After taking a seat, Shi Fengju went to instruct Cui Ling, “Ma’am’s footwear is not suitable for walking over there, so why don’t you pick a few good ones over? It’ll soon be time for lunch, too! Sang Wan, we’ll come again after giving you a change of shoes!”
“Yes, Sir!” Cui Ling nodded happily as that was the kind of task she liked to do. Eagerly, she darted off.
“Do your feet hurt a lot? Are you alright?” Shi Fengju asked.
Sang Wan’s dark and watery eyes gazed into his as she relished in the moment. She did not expect him to take notice of her discomfort. Although her footwear was not suitable for walking here, the pain was not so intense to the point that she could no longer endure it, and so she did not show the discomfort on her face. But who knew that he’d take notice of it.
“I’m alright! Just a break will do!” Sang Wan shook her head and smiled a little before standing back up again. “Since we’re already here, I really do want to go take a look. I’ll be fine if we walk slowly!”
“Then we’ll walk slowly, but don’t force yourself.” Shi Fengju smiled and accompanied her forward while helping her familiarize herself with the surroundings.
Passing through the peach trees, they were met with fiery red pomegranates, and they looked like red lanterns hanging all around the branches. Gazing at the pomegranate trees in awe, Sang Wan exclaimed, “The soil and water here is indeed great! These pomegranates are so huge!”
“Ma’am! Sir!” After spotting them, Cui Ling hurried over with a basket containing dozens of red pomegranates the size of a large fist. She took one out and rubbed it with her clothes before handing it to Sang Wan. “Ma’am, give it a try. They’re very sweet!” Then, she laughed, “Still, this isn’t the period when these pomegranates are at their sweetest. On the tenth month when the snow starts to fall, all these pomegranates will be incredibly red, like blood red. When that time comes, they’ll be remarkably sweet and delicious! Even the seeds will be stained red!”
“Let me have it.” Shi Fengju took the pomegranate from Cui Ling. Ka cha He slammed the pomegranate at its center, and it broke into halves. “Be careful. Don’t stain your clothes!” Shi Fengju said as he handed Sang Wan a half.
Cui Ling could not help but chuckle, “Sir treats Ma’am really well! In the past, I’ve never seen—E, Ma’am, do your feet still hurt?”
Cui Ling had wanted to say, In the past, I’ve never seen Sir treating anyone this good, not even Miss Gu. But recalling her mother’s glare as well as her words, she cleverly stopped herself.
“They’re alright now! Oh, and here you go, your handkerchief!” Sang Wan smiled and shook her head as she handed a handkerchief to Cui Ling.
Cui Ling received it with thanks, and the three turned to return to the country house. Passing through the forest of fruits, they took a little detour and strolled around for a while longer. Cui Ling carefully picked two bunches of ripe purple grapes, and she said that those had to be washed first before letting Sang Wan taste their freshness.
When they arrived near the country house, Auntie Cui saw them return, and she went up to greet them while helping Sang Wan, “Ma’am, Sir, you’re back! Have a rest first before lunch!” Then, she smiled at Sang Wan and asked, “Ma’am, are you feeling tired? Were you alright walking on the road?”
With a smile, Sang Wan said she was fine, and then they went into the country house together.
Not too long later, Auntie Cui, together with a servant, laid the dishes onto the table. There was a unique fragrance to the dishes because all the ingredients were either self-produced or picked from the mountains. The country house also had no chef, and the food was all done by Auntie Cui and two other servants. They employed a simple stir-fry method commonly used by farmers, using no condiments other than oil, salt, sauce, and vinegar.
But Sang Wan ate happily as the lunch tasted very similar to home cooking. She went on to praise Auntie Cui’s cooking skill since it had been some time since she last ate something this good.
The head chef in the Shi household dared not to claim himself the best in Qingzhou as that was reserved for the best of the best. But what good things weren’t there in the household? Auntie Cui did not believe Sang Wan’s words, but anyone hearing those words would surely brighten up, and she smiled. “It’s good that Ma’am likes it! How about Ma’am bringing laonu back too and having laonu cook for Ma’am every day? But I’m just afraid that Ma’am might get tired of eating my cooking after two days!”
Sang Wan smiled and replied, “Really? I really can’t ask for more! But I’m just afraid that Auntie Cui cannot bear to leave this place!”
“I don’t want to hide this from Ma’am, but laonu really cannot bear to leave this place!” Auntie Cui did not wish to pretend and she chuckled. That made everyone laugh.
Auntie Cui could not help but quietly observe Sang Wan. The Sang missy is indeed dignified and elegant. And the way she treats others, as well as her temperament, is excellent. No wonder the young master treats her so well! In the past, she pitied the relationship between the young master and Miss Gu, but after today, she felt that the ma’am wasn’t too bad, either! The young master sure is fortunate! Her heart soon started to ponder about Miss Gu’s well-being and wondered why she didn’t come this time around!
Thinking back at the bright and refreshing smile of Miss Gu, Auntie Cui’s mood suddenly felt complicated because she was unsure whether to side with Ma’am or Miss Gu. She used to think that Miss Gu and the young master were a suitable pair, but the two figures in front of her today seemed more like a match made in heaven!
After the meal, Shi Fengju and Sang Wan sat in the lounge to have tea. Auntie Cui busily washed the fruits that were just freshly picked before serving them up. Some gorgon fruits, chicken head, lotus seeds, and lotus roots simmered in water were also served.
“These were all cultivated in the country house. Even though they might not be worth much, please have a taste of their freshness!” Auntie Cui smiled and offered.
Sang Wan nodded, “Thank you, Auntie Cui! It’s rare to have them this fresh!”
“That’s right, the lotus roots that grow in the lake here are particularly crispy and refreshing. Here, have a taste!” Shi Fengju used a toothpick to pierce a piece of tender lotus root before giving it to Sang Wan.
Sang Wan was not used to his intimate behavior in front of others, and her face turned slightly warm. She also did not have the heart to refuse his offer, so she took it before taking a bite. The juice was silky and sweet, giving it a unique taste. Sang Wan smiled at him before giving her praise.
Auntie Cui was also delighted after seeing that she liked it. She couldn’t help but laugh as she boasted about the lake.
After she was done, Shi Fengju then asked, “Why do I not see any water chestnuts? There should be quite a lot during this season!”
Auntie Cui smiled and answered, “The young master sure is observant! Lots of water chestnuts have been picked this morning, but they are already a bit old, so they aren’t as sweet and crispy anymore. And that’s why laonu didn’t serve them out. Later, laonu will have someone to pick a few to let Ma’am and Sir have a taste!”
Shi Fengju’s eyes glistened, and he suggested, “That’s just about right. The weather today is good, so Sang Wan and I will come along later! We’ll go there and take a dip!” He then smiled towards Sang Wan, “Where there are crabs, the water chestnuts will also be great! Since you’re here, you have to give it a try!”
“The young master is right,” Auntie Cui hurriedly added, “Then please rest here for a while first. Laonu will have someone to prepare the boat.”
Shi Fengju smiled and said, “There’s no need for the trouble. Just the usual small wooden boat used for picking water chestnuts will do!”
Sang Wan also smiled, “I’ve never been on that kind of boat before! It’ll be a memory to remember!”
Auntie Cui then agreed, “Alright then! But the boat’s a little dirty, so it’ll still need a little scrubbing first!” With that, she went on to instruct a servant.