Sang Yufei raised his brows, and there was a glimmer of light in his eyes as he smiled to say, “After the announcement, I plan to hurry home. I believe the earliest I can reach home is by tomorrow. The group coming to announce the good news should arrive in town on the day after. Sang Wan, tomorrow when you return, find a place to stay the night first. I’ll go back first and do some preparations beforehand.”
Sang Wan leaned her head on one side as she glanced at her second brother before grinning. “Does Second Brother have a ploy to make Second Uncle and Aunt on the losing end?”
Sang Yufei laughed and shook his head, “It can’t be called that since the result still lies in Second Uncle and Aunt’s hands. It all depends on what they would do!”
“It’s good enough that Second Brother has a plan, but it’s best to let Big Brother and Sister-in-law know of it first! If it isn’t something disastrous, Big Brother will definitely comply. Big Brother has always treated us the best after all!” Sang Wan smiled, and a gust of warmth seemingly seethed into her heart.
“You’re right! Big Brother and Sister-in-law are the best of the best in this world!” Sang Yufei could not help but sigh. Even though their sister-in-law had a sharp tongue and would give him a stern glare occasionally, she had always treated him well. She would put those around her ahead of herself; when the weather was chilly, the first warm clothing she made was his! If not for her selflessness and her support, would he have been able to focus entirely on his studies and be where he was today?
On that thought, Sang Wan’s eyes became teary, but she managed to force a smile. “Sister-in-law’s kindness didn’t go in vain. It’s also a blessing that you were able to catch a boat back! This must all be heaven’s will!”
It was necessary to note and understand that the imperial examination was the biggest and most important cultural event within the country. It impacted promotions and evaluations of local officials as the participants brought glory to the local officials when they succeeded, indicating the effectiveness of their governing while also promoting development of the culture. As such, before the results were publicized, the local officials had sent a small team of officials to return with news the first thing, and it was announced through a channel meant only for officials, which was relatively quicker than any other channels.
Sang Yufei looked at his sister with his eyes wide open, “Sang Wan, you don’t know? After the examinations, Brother-in-law sent someone to look for me while I was waiting for the results to be announced. I was able to return so quickly all thanks to the person arranged by Brother-in-law!”
If not for him, he wouldn’t have come to Shi household on such a high note. Even if he were to come to meet with his sister, he would have done so more discreetly.
With the Shi household’s capability, getting hold of a boat to ferry them swiftly was no problem.
“What!” Sang Wan was startled. She had not heard from Shi Fengju about this at all! For everything that Shi Fengju had done for her, she was entirely grateful to him.
“It seems you really didn’t know!” Sang Yufei revealed a smirk before chuckling, “Maybe Brother-in-law wanted to give you a surprise! Hehe!”
“Second Brother!” Sang Wan couldn’t hide her embarrassment, and she pouted as she glared at him.
“Alright, alright, I won’t make fun of you. You should carry on with what you’re busy with, I’ll leave now!” Seeing her flushed face, Sang Yufei smiled, but he still had to ponder how he should carry out his plan tomorrow.
“Then, please have a good rest in the guest house, Second Brother!” Sang Wan went to instruct Liu Ya to see him to the house.
After Sang Yufei had left, Nanny Li, Zhide, and the rest of the servants in the small garden gleefully went up to Sang Wan before kneeling to congratulate her. Sang Wan smiled and asked them to rise before instructing Zhide and Hong Ye to prepare some monetary reward.
“Ma’am, regardless who it is, no one can shake you off your position anymore! In the coming years, when you give birth to a successor, your title as the wife of the Shi family’s head will forever be yours!” Nanny Li smiled towards Sang Wan.
“Sister-in-law, congratulations!” Shi Lian bowed with a smile.
“Thank you, sister!” Sang Wan hurriedly went to help her to a seat before ordering the servants to serve tea.
The two were more intimate than before, and Shi Lian accompanied Sang Wan to chat for a long while before getting up to leave.
At this very day, everyone had smiles on their faces, all except for two. And they were Shi Yumei and Ren Zhixian.
Shi Yumei found it all uninteresting. Her husband was also a scholar, knowledgeable, and had made famous poems before. What’s more, he was also older than Sang Yufei. However, it was a pity that he had to miss this year’s examinations. Now, everytime she looked at Sang Yufei, she would feel particularly uncomfortable. And because he was Sang Wan’s brother, he was even more of an eyesore.
It was even more unamusing for Ren Zhixian as his mind circled in denial, convincing himself that he would have been the one to come in first place and not that Sang family’s lad had he himself participated!
“I think Mother’s really becoming foolish! What does the Sang family coming in first in the examinations have to do with our family? Is there even a need for us to fawn over him! Even Second Uncle, who usually remains uninterested, even came to join the crowd! Just look at those two Sang members, acting all mighty now! Hmph!”
In Banana Courtyard, Shi Yumei was extremely unhappy.
Ren Zhixian sneered and scoffed, “You shouldn’t say that about Mother-in-law, Second Uncle, and the rest. After all, the Shi household had never produced a top scorer before. Now that a relative has finally done so, they’re finally freed from their vicious fate, so that’s to be expected!”
“I still think they’ve turned foolish! There’s no need for our family to gain reputation from a broken family!” Shi Yumei glared at her husband and continued, “It’s all because of you and you injuring your foot. Otherwise, that title would have been yours and would never have been his in the first place!”
Those words were like a dagger slicing at his heart, but that made him feel even more confident, and he let out a sour sigh, “Of course it would have! But fate was not on my side! Ai, this time is such a pity!”
Shi Yumei raised her gaze to look at him. “There’s still a next time! Next time, you have to buck up and bring home that title for me! That will let the Sang family, Mother, and everyone else see who the real gifted scholar is.”
Ren Zhixian’s expression turned somewhat dull, and he seemingly wandered into his own world of thoughts.
Venting his dissatisfaction was one, but when it came to applying his knowledge, Ren Zhixian was somewhat lacking in confidence. After all, he was clear of his own intelligence.
“Ai, did you hear me or not! You have to fight for us!” Shi Yumei yelled at him.
“I hear you! I hear you!” Ren Zhixian answered impatiently, “With his age, how many books has he studied and how much knowledge has he gained? I think it’s only because his luck was good this time, like a blind cat who caught a dead mouse! Either that, or the one assessing the examination was blind! As if he’d be at my level!”
Shi Yumei’s eyes lit up, and she asked rhetorically, “Do you think that maybe he might have paid off someone?” But she quickly shook her head, “That shouldn’t have been possible! Where would their family even find the money?”
On the other hand, Ren Zhixian remained fixated on that suspicion and said, “That’s difficult to say for certain! The Sang family may not have money, but doesn’t your Shi family have a lot? The Shi Ma’am is, after all, his own sister!”
“That’s also possible!” Shi Yumei nodded, despising Sang Yufei and his luck even more.
The two decided on their own speculation, and although they did not report their baseless accusations to the officials, their devious plan seemed to coincide with each other. If he can pay off others, why can’t we? After all, the Shi household isn’t lacking any money. Why should others be able to play cheap while we can’t?
During the feast at night, other than the missy who was yet to be married, everyone else was present at Wang Shi’s place. Needless to say, the dishes were sumptuous, and the wine was refreshing.
Second Uncle Shi’s two concubines, Concubine Shui and Concubine Fang, were present as well. They came wanting to see the top scorer for themselves. They often went up to him with words of praise and offered him a cup of wine before stepping back.
Wang Shi, Second Uncle Shi, and the rest were even more enthusiastic to entertain Sang Yufei, while Sang Wan also shared the spotlight with him.
That made Shi Yumei and Ren Zhixian even more unhappy. Their faces stiffened, and they forced a smile which could hardly hang on to their faces.
Other than his own sister and brother-in-law, most of the other members at the table were elders. Sang Yufei did not dare to excuse himself, and he toasted with every one of them. When Ren Zhixian’s turn came, he raised his cup and toasted with Sang Yufei before gulping the last of his wine. Acting all pompous, he patted Sang Yufei’s shoulder and advised, “Young man, you must always be on guard against arrogance and continue to work hard! The examination you took was just the beginning, and there’s definitely lots of luck in play. But the conference examination after it will truly test your actual knowledge! Many who scored well in the township examinations had actually ended up dropping out from the list during the conference examination!”
No matter how Sang Yufei tried to interpret those words, they sounded absolutely uncomfortable to the ears, but he had never liked to compete with others in squabbling. With his expression unchanged, he nodded with a smile, “My brother-in-law is right, Yufei understands! In the entire country, the number of talented people in the country is many, like the uncountable hairs on a cow’s tail. Compared to the great wise men, Yufei is but a frog at the bottom of a well!”
Shi Fenghua was called back by his mother. He was only three years younger than Sang Yufei, and fortunately, the two had a similar temperament. Before dinner, the two happened to run into each other, and a bond formed between the two after a small conversation. After hearing Ren Zhixian’s bitter words, he felt that those words did injustice to Sang Yufei, so he smiled and said, “Second Brother Sang, you’re being too modest. You came in first and are now a top escorted examinee! There are many talented and renowned people in Jiangnan, which equates to more than half, around the region. By being the first in the whole of Jiangnan, you’re basically the top in the nation. Who knows, obtaining the degree as an advanced scholar might be easy for you. And maybe, you might even be awarded the top thesis scholar!”
[TLN: Sang Yufei went to Hangzhou for the township examinations (an imperial examinations). Jiangnan is a region consisting of many major cities, including Hangzhou.]Hearing so, everyone laughed. Second Uncle Shi raised his cup jokingly and conducted a toast to their future top thesis scholar. Everyone cheered and raised their cup, but Sang Yufei remained humble as ever. On the other hand, Ren Zhixian was feeling even more dissatisfied.