Just by seeing brows knitted together, Shi Fengju knew what she was thinking. With a comforting smile, he affirmed, “Don’t worry, we’ll just do whatever we have to. They belong to the third family anyway, so it’ll be up to Third Uncle and Third Aunt to educate them!”
Sang Wan was suddenly enlightened. She agreed with him that although they were one family as a whole, they were not close. If they really were rude and unreasonable, there was no reason for them to be rude to her. And even if they were, all she had to do was avoid them.
“Fourth Sister is only ten this year? Then wouldn’t she be two when she followed them to Sichuan?” Sang Wan asked in surprise. The road to Sichuan had always been long and difficult. For Third Shi family to bring such a young child along with them to a faraway place, Sang Wan found it unbelievable.
“Exactly!” Shi Fengju laughed, “Not just Fourth Sister, even Second Sister was only seven or eight at that time; she wasn’t even as old as Shi Rui! In the beginning, Third Uncle wanted Third Aunt and the children to remain in the household, but Third Aunt insisted on going and bringing their two children along with them. Third Uncle wasn’t able to dissuade her and could only concede!”
Sang Wan nodded. Third Aunt must be afraid of Third Uncle cheating on her since he would be beyond the reach of her power? She seemed like a strong-minded person!
“Young Master! Young Mistress!” While they were talking, Zhan Huan suddenly ran up to them while panting, “Young Master, Young Mistress, the third family is back!”
“Why are you so alarmed?” Shi Fengju scolded him unhappily, “We already know. You are dismissed now! Wait, wait around here first, I might have something for you to do, don’t go running away!”
“No, no,” Zhan Huan hurriedly said, “What I mean is that the third family is now at the gate and they are walking in right now!”
“What!” Both Shi Fengju and Sang Wan’s expression changed immediately.
“They are already here?” Sang Wan couldn’t believe what she heard.
“Yes! Young Mistress!” Zhan Huan hurriedly said, “Old Mistress and Eldest Missy are already on their way there. They’ve sent this servant to call Young Master and Young Mistress over!”
Sang Wan glanced at Shi Fengju.
Shi Fengju looked at her and said, “Let’s hurry there too! We will see about what to do after welcoming them back!”
“Okay!” Sang Wan nodded. The two of them hurried over.
By the time they arrived at the second gate, Wang Shi and Shi Yumei had just arrived too. Second Old Master Shi and Second Old Mistress Shi arrived shortly after. Shi Fengju and Second Old Master Shi went out to welcome them while Wang Shi and the rest stayed behind the second gate. A large group of servants stood gossiping with one another as they stretched their necks to the fullest to see how different Third Old Master Shi and Third Old Mistress Shi were after becoming an official.
“Sister Wang, what’s wrong with Third Brother-in-law and Third Sister-in-law? Why didn’t they inform us earlier? All of a sudden, they appear right at the gate!” Second Old Mistress said discontentedly.
Wang Shi was not in a good mood either. By the time she heard that the third family’s carriage had already stopped in front of the gate, she did not even have time to get changed. She was still wearing a lychee red overdress with grape patterns made from silks produced in Hangzhou and a silvery grey pleated skirt with dark stripes. She only had time to change into a golden hairpin which had a ruby phoenix and a prized fur cloak before rushing to the second gate.
So she said, “Who knows? We did receive a letter, but we only just got it! Who knew they would arrive right after we finished reading it?”
Second Old Mistress wanted to question why they were not informed after the letter had arrived, but she gave an “Oh” after hearing Wang Shi’s words and laughed, “Great, our household hasn’t prepared anything yet! Sang Wan, it seems like we’ll have to trouble you!”
Sang Wan gave a glimpse at Wang Shi and smiled, “That is what Sang Wan ought to do!”
But Wang Shi said, “No need to panic, it won’t be your fault if anything goes wrong with this, just give your all and do what you have to.”
Sang Wan was a bit surprised, but she would be a fool if she didn’t agree with her. Hurriedly, she smiled at Wang Shi thankfully and nodded, “I understand.”
As they talked, Third Old Master Shi and Third Old Mistress Shi were walking towards them with thirteen or fourteen others. Wang Shi quickly went forward to welcome them.
It was impossible to avoid the exchange of greetings when they saw each other, and forms of address like “Sister-in-law”, “Third Brother”, “Third Aunt” and “Third Uncle” flew with a broad smile on their faces.
Sang Wan observed Third Old Master Shi and his wife discreetly from top to bottom, they were both in their forties or fifties. Third Old Master Shi was average in stature and looked healthier and stronger than Second Old Master Shi. He had a square face shape and a darker skin tone, his eyes were narrow and he had a neat beard. His gestures displayed his dignified manner and he smiled gently when talking to the rest of the family. Third Old Mistress Shi had a lighter skin tone and a well-featured face. Although she was also smiling when giving her greetings, she looked more reserved. Her two daughters held her hands and stood beside her. They both had double-ringed hair buns and had the exact same clothes and accessories, except that one was red and the other was yellow.
Everyone went to Wang Shi’s place to sit for a chat. Servants were guided by the servants from the household department to rest first while a few who were closer to their masters stayed.
Third Old Mistress Shi greeted Wang Shi and Second Old Master Shi and his wife again before having her two daughters greet them again as well.
Shi Yuzhen had some memories of her elders before she left the household and could vaguely match the faces with her memory. She bowed to greet them one after another with a lovely smile on her face. There was a long lost feeling of warmth when she heard her first aunt and second aunt welcome her back with a smile, and she finally relaxed a little. She even commented playfully at how beautiful Sang Wan was when she saw her even though she was a stranger to her, and that made everyone laugh.
As for Shi Yulin, everyone present were all strangers except for her sister, parents, and nanny. She could not help but feel nervous. She stood at the side while holding onto her sister’s hand right after she had finished giving her greeting.
Once the Third Shi family were done with their greetings, Shi Fengju, Sang Wan and the rest greeted Third Old Master Shi and Third Old Mistress Shi. When the greetings were over, they sat down firmly.
Nanny Jiang then brought Shi Yuzhen and her sister into another room with their nannies and let the servants prepare tea and snacks for them. Meanwhile, people in the hall began talking.
“I really didn’t expect you to arrive today! We didn’t have any time to prepare anything!” Wang Shi shrugged lightly and sighed.
Third Old Master Shi and Third Old Mistress Shi thought Wang was only saying this out of politeness, so Third Old Master Shi laughed, “We are all one family; there’s no need to be so particular about it. Sister-in-law regards us too much as outsiders by saying this!”
“That’s right!” Third Old Mistress Shi laughed as well.
Wang Shi sighed, “It’s good that you can understand us. I feel more relieved now! Don’t you feel it’s a coincidence? Fengju and I have only just finished reading your letter; we didn’t even have the time to send it over to Second Brother-in-law and Second Sister-in-law when you arrived all of a sudden. We really haven’t gotten anything prepared! What a coincidence!”
“What!” Third Old Master Shi and Third Old Mistress Shi could no longer remain calm. They were so surprised that their eyes were wide open.
“How can it be!” Third Old Mistress Shi lost her cool, “We surely posted the letter more than two months ago!”
“Third Sister-in-law!” Wang Shi hurriedly made herself clear, “I did not lie to you! It really just came in today! If you don’t believe me, you can ask Fengju, oh wait, call the carrier here and ask for the person who delivered the letter here!”
“We…” Third Old Mistress Shi’s face suddenly turned red and was at a loss for words.
Third Old Master Shi laughed, “Listen to what Big Sister-in-law said! Why would you lie to us! It’s a long way here, something must’ve happened that caused the delay! Big Sister-in-law, please don’t take it to heart!”
Third Old Mistress Shi was unhappy as she stared at her husband without saying a word. She felt wronged too: All I did was ask a question and now it all became my fault!
Wang Shi smiled, “I feel more relieved after hearing Third Brother say so!” She forced a smile and continued, “We were busy discussing about the preparations for your stay right after we saw the letter, but who knew that before we could do anything, you arrived! Tonight…”
Where would all of you be staying tonight! Wang Shi did not dare to say it upfront.
Third Old Master Shi and Third Old Mistress Shi looked at each other speechlessly, they didn’t think of it just now!
Second Old Master Shi coughed and looked at everyone else before saying, “I think Third Brother and Third Sister-in-law will have to stay in the guest house for tonight and let Niece-in-law quickly get your house ready! Nothing can be done about it, we can only improvise for now!”
It was impossible for Third Old Master Shi and Third Old Mistress Shi not to feel uncomfortable after hearing that. This was their home after all, yet they would have to stay in the guest house! Furthermore, it had been many years since they were back; it wasn’t easy to make it back home. Afraid that they might become neglected and isolated by the family, their hearts could not help but become sensitive. Who knew this would happen the moment they returned!
“There’s no other choice then, we are all one family, there’s no need to mind that too much! Haha, Niece-in-law, we’ll have to trouble you!” Although Third Old Master Shi was feeling a little uncomfortable too, he knew that it was too much of a coincidence and he could not pressure their house to be prepared immediately. Not to mention that they would definitely not be able to make it in time!
“Third Uncle, you are too polite! I will have the servants ready your house as soon as possible!” Sang Wan hurriedly smiled and said.
Third Old Master Shi nodded and smiled back while Third Old Mistress Shi lowered her head and drank her tea quietly.
“By the way, Third Brother, why did you decide to come back? Did something happen?” Second Old Master Shi suddenly asked.
Both Wang Shi and Second Old Mistress Shi remained quiet to listen for an answer.
Third Old Master Shi and Third Old Mistress Shi looked at each other subconsciously. Both of them looked a little uneasy.
Third Old Master Shi finally gave a cough and laughed, “I was seriously ill last year and my body was really not feeling well, so I resigned. I will have to stay at home for quite some time.”
“Resigned?” Everyone screamed out in surprise at the same time. Wang Shi thought: no wonder it wasn’t mentioned in the letter, they probably felt too ashamed to say it!
“Why would you resign?!” Second Old Mistress Shi asked anxiously, “Third Brother, that position wasn’t easy to get, it’s a big pity to resign! Isn’t it…a waste!”
Third Old Mistress Shi immediately became unhappy and laughed, “Second Sister-in-law, you might not know, but resigning doesn’t mean retiring from being an official. It is just temporary; it is still possible to return after one or two years!”
“One or two years? So long?!” Second Old Mistress Shi was even more surprised and said, “Third Sister-in-law, there’s a saying that the tea goes cold when people leave. By the end of one or two years, would they still accept you after so long?”