“That’s great! Laonu will surely not disappoint Young Master and Ma’am’s expectations!” Auntie Cui grinned.
The large steamed crabs were served onto the table at night. They were meaty and especially delicious, accompanied with some finely chopped ginger and rich vinegar, together with a pot of brewed glutinous rice and a jug of chrysanthemum rice wine. With no need to hesitate and serve from the side, dinner soon finished quickly.
Initially, Sang Wan had thought she could really relax for a few days, but unexpectedly, after a good night of sleep and breakfast the next morning, two horses galloped quickly to the country house, and two horsemen called out loudly for Shi Fengju and Sang Wan when they were just about to take a stroll outside.
Shi Fengju raised his brow slightly and asked, “To think that Servant Jin would come here personally. What brings you here?” Servant Jin was the second most capable servant in Shi household. For him to have come here personally, the reason must be of no small matter.
“Let’s invite him in first before listening to what he has to say!” Sang Wan could not help but feel slightly nervous.
“Young Master, Ma’am!” Servant Jin jumped off the horse and threw the reins before rushing up to them, panting heavily.
“Young Master, Ma’am! This servant has brought with him good news!” Servant Jin expressed a smile while still panting heavily.
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“Good news?” Sang Wan and Shi Fengju were both startled.
Sang Wan’s heart sank a little. Good news? There shouldn’t be anything happening in the household recently unless that Gu Fangzi has taken advantage of their absence in the household and carried out her wicked plans!
To Sang Wan, that might as well be a disaster rather than good news, but it might not necessarily be so for the young master standing beside her. Sang Wan could not help but cast a quick glance at Shi Fengju.
Unintentionally, Shi Fengju did the same with a confused look in his eyes. Just like Sang Wan, his heart was also pounding heavily with the exact same thoughts about Gu Fangzi. What that cousin of his could accomplish, Shi Fengju was now absolutely clear. His cousin was no longer the cousin he once knew and understood.
“Alright! Take a deep breath before speaking slowly! Just what news has caused you to be in such a hurry!” Shi Fengju flicked his sleeve unpleasantly as he frowned at Servant Jin.
However, there were only smiles on Servant Jin’s face, almost as if he had taken no notice of his master’s glare. He wiped the beads of perspiration off his forehead before exclaiming, “This servant apologizes, this servant apologizes! Young Master, Ma’am, please return to the household quickly. Second Young Master Sang has returned from Hangzhou! Second Young Master Sang even came in first! It is indeed good news!”
“What!” Sang Wan’s eyes glistened. She was stunned in disbelief, and she was clenching her hands tightly as she asked, “Did you say, my second brother came in first?!”
“Second Brother Yufei is back? That’s great!” Shi Fengju rejoiced too.
“Yes ah, yes ah! He’s now in the household! The mistress was so happy that she immediately sent laonu to bring this good news. Young Master and Ma’am, please return to the household quickly!”
Uncle and Auntie Cui, as well as the rest, all rejoiced when they understood the news before kneeling to give their congratulations.
“Enough, enough!” Sang Wan merrily laughed before telling them to get up. At the thought of wanting to reward them, Sang Wan suddenly recalled that she had come unprepared. Thankfully, Shi Fengju smiled towards Uncle Cui, “Every servant in this household will earn a month’s worth of bonus! Remember to put that under my account!”
Uncle Cui and the rest of the servants quickly thanked them before adding, “Laonu will go and prepare a carriage for Young Master and Ma’am. We wouldn’t want any delays, would we!”
“Second Brother passed, he really passed! That’s great, that’s really great!” Feeling somewhat incoherent, Sang Wan’s eyes became teary, and she couldn’t stop her face from expressing a smile.
Father was very knowledgeable, but all his life, he had been unable to make it past the examinations. Big Brother has already been talented at an early age, but because all his efforts became fruitless, he chose to abandon the path to avoid the pains his father took! But this time, Big Brother and Father can finally hold their heads up high because of Second Brother!
“Sang Wan, come, let’s go. We’ll return now!” Watching how she might collapse from happiness, Shi Fengju held onto her arm tightly to support her.
That jerked Sang Wan back to reality, and she quickly cast aside the excitement and sadness in her heart before smiling at Shi Fengju gratefully.
The journey back was quick. In less than two hours, the carriage had arrived at the Shi household from the quiet mountains.
The servants in the household were all joyous, and upon seeing them return, they quickly went up and greeted them. It might have just been a wrong impression, but the greeting sounded more respectful and flattering than usual.
The two first returned to the small garden to have a change of clothes. In the small garden, they found that Nanny Li and Liu Ya had already gone to Wang Shi’s place. Wang Shi, as well as all the important members of the Shi family, was present to receive Sang Yufei, and laughter could be heard from the house.
Since the two families were in-laws, Sang Yufei coming in first for the examinations brought no harm but benefits to the Shi household. Of course, the Shi members could only be happy. Furthermore, at the thought of Sang Yufei being able to help prepare and guide her youngest son for the examinations, the smile on Wang Shi’s face simply turned broader.
Although Third Uncle Shi was an official, it was a position that was rewarded to Shi family for transporting a batch of important imperial goods to the court: a district magistrate. At that time, Wang Shi was confident that her husband would be the one to receive it as he was the eldest after all! But who knew that the most reputable man would hand that position to the third house. Wang Shi was somewhat dismayed after the incident and had kept it to heart since then. Soon after, Third Uncle Shi held onto the position as an official of Sichuan and had not returned ever since. Like the emperor above, the third house became distant and was of no help to the Shi family’s business. Not just Wang Shi, but the entire household members basically omitted him. However, now that the Shi family came a top scorer, the entire atmosphere was joyous.
When Sang Wan and Shi Fengju arrived, Sang Yufei quickly got up and greeted them with a smile. There was an unspeakable surge of emotions that only the pair of brother and sister could feel once they looked at each other.
“Aiya, what are all of you still standing for! Quickly, have a seat ah!” Wang Shi smiled. The more she looked at Sang Yufei, the more satisfied she became about him.
Before, she had always had this impression that he was a gentleman with wits. Now, even after bringing home with him first place, he remained humble and was still the same person who treated others respectfully and politely. What a good man! But a sudden thought suddenly came to her mind: What a pity! If only there was still a niece available to get married! Such a good man, what a waste for him to end up with another family’s daughter!
Once everyone was seated, they chatted and had a good time. It was then that Shi Fengju claimed that Second Young Master Sang must be tired and that a feast was to be held that night.
Wang Shi and Second Old Master Shi agreed. Wang Shi then added with a smile, “Yufei, you should stay for a few days! I even sent someone to call my Fenghua back to greet you! Keke, maybe he can gain the blessing of our top scorer!”
Sang Wan’s lips twitched a little. Indeed, the treatment now was different ah! Before the examinations, her mother-in-law would definitely not call her third child back from the academy for fear of disturbing him from his studies. But now, it was different. Sang Wan was delighted that her mother-in-law valued her second brother.
Sang Yufei hurriedly smiled and said politely, “I do not wish to refuse Aunty’s hospitality, but I have to hurry back home to bring news to my brother and sister-in-law! I’ll meet with Brother Fenghua the next time I come again, and I hope that he will not dislike me! Speaking candidly, auntie’s words really do make me blush with shame!”
“The top scorer sure knows how to speak! Oh, just why does it sound so pleasant to the ears! But indeed, I must be getting old and foolish. You should go back to report the good news! But don’t forget to come back and stay in our household for a few more days, keke! Don’t treat us as strangers!” Wang Shi grinned.
“Our top scorer, please have a good rest. There is good wine at my place that tastes pleasant but not potent. You can drink a few more cups at night, and you still won’t miss the road tomorrow! Ah, Shi Fengju, why don’t you send our top scorer back personally!” Second Uncle Shi smiled.
Shi Fengju cast a glance at Sang Wan before nodding his head, “Second Uncle Shi’s right. Tomorrow, Sang Wan and I will send Brother Yufei together and see if there’s any help we can provide at the same time!”
Sang Wan was delighted, and she glanced at Shi Fengju gratefully. Of course, there would be areas which required assistance. Sooner or later, friends and neighbors from different villages would come to give their congratulations. With only Big Brother and Sister-in-law, as well as Nanny Xu, the crowd would be too much for them to handle.
“Oh yes, oh yes. Please do!” Wang Shi agreed with a smile.
“Thank you Auntie, Second Uncle, and Brother-in-law!” Sang Yufei thanked altogether.
Once everyone else left, Sang Yufei cast a glance at Sang Wan. She smiled before inviting him to sit awhile in the small garden. Shi Fengju knew the two siblings would have lots to say to each other, so he excused himself with business to handle.
In the small garden, the servants kneeled and praised. Sang Wan smiled as she rewarded them before taking a seat with her brother. The siblings felt that everything was surreal, and they let out a playful sigh.
“No one will dare to look down on our family now! Especially Father and Big Brother, no one will ever dare to do that!” Sang Wan grinned from ear to ear.
“I’m also the happiest about that,” Sang Yufei smiled. Looking at his younger sister, he said, “And you too, no one will look down on you in the Shi household anymore. Of course, I’m sure no one dared to do so in the past. Brother-in-law really does treat you well!”
“Second brother!” Sang Wan forced a smile because her heart was feeling somewhat bitter. The change he had, as well as his treatment towards her, it wasn’t as if she had not felt it. But, the thought of Peony Park, as well as the cousin living there, was enough to shatter all the good and make her feel uncomfortable.
“Okay, okay, okay, let’s not talk about it!” Sang Yufei chuckled and took it that she was just bashful. After keeping his smile, he became serious and let out a sigh, “Tomorrow when I return, Brother and sister-in-law are fine, but Second Uncle and Second Aunt—”
Sang Yufei wasn’t the only one who wrinkled his brows; even Sang Wan could not help but be concerned. “Ah yes, Second Uncle and Aunt… who knows what—what— ai!”
They would surely use their seniority to take all the credit for themselves! They would be saying things like, if not for them, Sang Yufei would not have succeeded! And with Big Brother’s sense of loyalty, there was no way to win against their eloquent uncle. If Big Brother remained silent, their sister-in-law would have no way to interject and might even be scolded for being not virtuous!
As the younger generation as well as the main party involved, Sang Yufei could not go against Second Uncle and Aunt, or else word would get out that he was disrespectful towards his elders and was being arrogant after tasting success.
Bringing home with him such shocking news, there would surely be those happy for him and those who would actively seek to find fault in him to exploit him.
“That isn’t a big deal,” Sang Yufei sighed, “Because you’re my sister, the words that I cannot openly speak to others, I can with you. What I’m worried about the most is Second Uncle and Aunt going around using my name to create trouble. If someone were to take it to heart, then things would get troublesome!”
Sang Wan shuddered at those words and her expression changed, “That, that mustn’t happen!”
With Second Uncle and Aunt’s character, she believed that what they feared the most might actually come true.