Sang Wan secretly complained. She had never been in charge of such a major family matter before. With New Year around the corner, she had to deal with the cleaning and decorations, offerings to be offered to the ancestors, hospitality, annual gifts for friends and relatives, rewards for the servants, as well as food and clothing for the entire family. Even with the help from Nanny Li, Zhide, Liu Ya and the rest, the household department servants would regularly find fault in her management, putting her under immense pressure. Now that the Third Shi family was coming back, wouldn’t she have to make arrangements for them and their servants? It’d be great if the Third Shi family was easy going and understanding, but if they were like Shi Yumei and her husband, then she would have to forget about spending her new year peacefully!
“They didn’t seem to have included their reason in the letter. We’ll have to wait until they arrive before asking. Really, why didn’t they write back earlier if they were returning? Don’t they know it’s soon to be New Year? Fancy them on the road at such a time!” Wang Shi sighed.
Shi Fengju pointed at the letter and laughed, “Mother, you have wronged Third Uncle! This letter was sent two and a half months ago; something must have happened on its way here that delayed the delivery!” Shi Fengju raised his brows and said, “Third Uncle might also be delayed on his way here. We should get his house tidied, who knows when he will arrive!”
“Right, right!” Wang Shi turned to Sang Wan and said, “Sang Wan, we’ll have to trouble you further. When you go back, instruct the servants to begin the arrangements! Your third uncle and third aunt haven’t returned since seven to eight years ago, so don’t make them feel wronged else it’ll be embarrassing for our family!”
Although Wang Shi bore a grudge against Third Shi Family’s Old Master Shi Guanghui and Third Shi Family’s Old Mistress Zhang Shi, they were still family after all and she would never mistreat them.
“Yes…Mother!” Sang Wan bowed and answered calmly. It was her duty, there was no way for her to escape from it anyway.
“I remember that Third Uncle and Third Aunt used to live in Qing Hui Garden, but it’s impossible to finish cleaning it in time since that place has been left empty for so many years. Why don’t we pick another place for them and tidy it up for them to stay first before deciding again next year?” Shi Fengju said with a smile.
“This,” Wang Shi hesitated and said, “This isn’t good. They had always stayed in Qing Hui Garden. Other places won’t be as grand as Qing Hui Garden, will they be unhappy if we change a place for them to stay? It’s going to be New Year soon, it won’t be propitious to create unhappiness within the household!”
“Third Uncle and Third Aunt aren’t like that. Mother, you’re thinking too much!” Shi Fengju laughed, “Qing Hui Garden has three yards and more than ten rooms of different sizes, just cleaning away the dust that’s been collecting might take a few days. The plants in the garden needs pruning, the aged doors and windows require changing, and not to mention the furniture, the list just goes on! They might even arrive before we are done, won’t that be worse then?”
Wang Shi suddenly became anxious. She couldn’t help but regret slightly. If she knew this day would arrive, she wouldn’t have locked up Qing Hui Garden in the first place and abandoned it rashly then things wouldn’t become this rushed.
“Alright then!” Wang Shi used to take charge of managing the household as well. Given that Qing Hui Garden was large and had been abandoned for many years, how could it be easy to give it an overhaul? It would only make things difficult for Sang Wan! As such, Wang Shi nodded and said, “Then, get Ji Cui Tower ready first and let them stay there for now!”
Ji Cui Tower was situated at the southeastern side of the flower garden, with its entrance facing Peony Park. It had servants tidying it regularly, so only simple decoration was needed. There were eight rooms in total, which should be enough to accommodate the Third Shi family. Since their journey back was long, the luggage they brought along should not be much. And even if they brought a number of luggage with them, they could all be stored in the storehouse without any trouble. As for the servants, having just a few who were closer to them to stay together in Ji Cui Tower would be enough. The rest of the servants could stay in the servants’ quarters in the household.
“Mother is right, Ji Cui Tower is quite appropriate. Oh right, my two cousins are no longer considered young anymore. I’m afraid they won’t be staying together with Third Uncle and Third Aunt. We’ll have to prepare another place for them to stay.”
How troublesome! Wang Shi frowned at the thought, so she waved and said impatiently, “Anyway, just do whatever you think is appropriate!”
Shi Fengju smiled, “Han Shuang Pavilion, which is at the east of Ji Cui Tower, isn’t too small, we’ll settle with that then! I think my two cousins have at most four to five servants so it won’t be crowded.”
Wang Shi nodded and smiled to Sang Wan, “Sang Wan, you’ve heard it all, just make the arrangements accordingly! Hasten the preparations too! At least have the beddings and charcoals ready; this year’s winter is pretty cold! Who knows whether they’ve brought enough clothes with them, just prepare another two sets for each of them!”
Not caring about everything else, Sang Wan could only agree first and ask Nanny Li about the details when she returned back to Ning Garden. As of now, she was really clueless and did not even how Third Shi family looked like.
“Don’t just know how to say yes, you have to do it well! Your third uncle and third aunt are finally back after so many years, we mustn’t make them unhappy! Sister Sang Wan, you’ll have to be more meticulous!” Shi Yumei couldn’t help but cut into their conversation.
“Your big sister is right, you can leave everything else to the servants to handle first, just put all your focus into this!” Wang Shi nodded and said.
“Yes, Mother. Sang Wan understands!” Sang Wan hurriedly answered.
Shi Yumei glared at Shi Fengju and said, “Then you should do it well since you’ve already said so. Fengju rarely has the time to rest at home for a few days, so don’t go pushing everything to him once you go back! He shouldn’t be worrying about all these! Fengju, you are so overly-sensitive, Mother wasn’t asking you just now, so why did you answer instead? I remember that you didn’t use to care about what happened in the household!”
Feeling sorry as well, Wang Shi also stared at Shi Fengju and said, “Don’t interfere in women’s business, go and rest! If Ning Garden is too noisy, just come to your mother, no one will bother you during your rest!”
“Mother, Big Sister, what are you saying!” Shi Fengju felt frustrated but found it funny at the same time, “Third uncle and third aunt are also my elders and all I did was give some pointers and suggestions, how would that tire me out! Moreover, Sang Wan has only been in our household for less than a year, so how could she know Third Uncle and Third Aunt’s temperament and what they like? How is she going to start the preparations? Was I not supposed to give her some pointers?”
“Your mother didn’t say you shouldn’t,” Wang Shi smiled, “I just don’t want you to tire yourself out!” Conveniently, she asked whether he had eaten the ginseng and bird’s nest that she had sent over to him.
Why would Shi Fengju eat those when he was perfectly fine? He gave a vague “Yes!” and changed the topic, saying that it was late while dragging Sang Wan with him as he left.
“Mother, aren’t you concerned?” Shi Yumei said angrily, “Look at Fengju, he always puts his wife first, and doesn’t let others criticize her! Others marry a wife to have someone to serve them, but he married a wife to worship her like a deity!”
“Enough, why are you saying this now!” Wang Shi frowned and thought for a while before feeling puzzled, “Why would your third uncle and third aunt come back when nothing happened? They didn’t even mention the reason in their letter!”
“…” Shi Yumei was speechless for a moment. Her mother wasn’t following her thoughts at all.
“How would I know!” Shi Yumei said disgruntledly, “We will know once they are back!”
Wang Shi snorted softly and her heart suddenly felt complicated. She had always been annoyed by the third family obtaining a position as an official. It was better if they were far away since she could always act like it never happened. But now that they were coming back, she could not ignore it even if she wanted to! If they returned grandly and gloriously, it would bring no benefit to the first family! Who knew how Old Mistress Zhuang would mock at her if she knew! Wang Shi couldn’t stand it as her imagination ran wild.
“Nanny Jiang,” Wang Shi turned back and called, “Prepare two sets of my clothes and jewelry!”
What she meant was to prepare two sets of her best and most formal ones. She couldn’t let others look down on her.
Nanny Jiang had been working closely for Wang Shi for decades, so of course she understood what she meant. Immediately, Nanny Jiang bowed and went to do as instructed.
On the way back to Ning Garden, Shi Fengju whispered to Sang Wan, “Don’t take Big Sister’s words too seriously!”
Sang Wan looked at him after hearing him and nodded with a smile, “Her words aren’t all that wrong, she also cares for you after all!” At least that was much more gentle compared to what she used to say, especially for Sang Wan who had suffered under her harshness before. More importantly, since her mother-in-law was not too bothered, then she wasn’t as well.
Shi Fengju laughed, “Don’t worry, it isn’t easy for Third Uncle and Third Aunt to have a chance to come back, so shouldn’t I be involved as someone who belongs in the younger generation? Let’s handle this together. In any case, all we’re doing is giving the orders, the servants will be the ones executing it anyway.”
Sang Wan smiled thankfully at him and nodded. Seizing the chance, she asked, “Where was Third Uncle posted to? Why have I never heard of anyone mentioning them after being here for more than half a year?”
Even Nanny Li had never mentioned them to her before. Even though she knew about the third family in her previous life and for a fact that they had returned as well, she was already desolated by then and never got a chance to meet them. She was still unsure about them even in her second lifetime.
Shi Fengju laughed helplessly at the thought of no one in the household who dared to mention them. Who’d have the courage to anger his mother and second aunt? His mother and second aunt would disagree with each other on almost every other issue, but not this. They would even prefer for every single trace of the third family to disappear completely from this household and have no one remember them at all!
So he said, “Third Uncle is an official in Sichuan. When he first went there, he was a magistrate of Zengkou. Two years ago, he got promoted to senior magistrate of Bazhou. They have been away from home for the last seven to eight years, it’d be a miracle if anyone mentioned them! Hehe, actually both Third Uncle and Third Aunt are nice people; they are very polite, and have two children. Second Sister is sixteen this year, and Fourth Sister should be ten. I’m sure Third Uncle and Third Aunt has taught them to be well-mannered!”
Talking about his two cousins, Shi Fengju almost couldn’t recall his impression of them. After all, it had been so many years. Who knew how their temperaments were now?
Sang Wan could help but feel troubled and she thought of Shi Yumei subconsciously. If those two cousins regarded themselves as daughters of a dignitary, behaved a notch above others, and were finicky since they had not married yet, then they would be more troublesome than Shi Yumei if they behaved like spoiled brats!
Sang Wan secretly complained: Why do all this trouble keep falling onto me one after another!