“Thank you, Li Zheng. If there’s nothing else, then us brothers will take our leave first!” Sang Yufei was in a great mood, smiling and cupping his hands as he did a bow.
“No need to thank me! Please, go home quickly!” Li Zheng darted to a side while returning the courtesy, saying, “Oh right, if you have anything else that needs my help, don’t hesitate to ask me!”
“If that’s true, then when there is, I’ll have much to trouble Li Zheng with!” Sang Yufei said politely.
“Hehe, don’t worry!”
Sang Pingliang and Li Shi stood at the side, looking on with their eyes wide open, feeling so shameful and angry, they were at a loss for words. Li Zheng went to see the brothers off before turning around, only to see the old couple still standing in his house. Overwhelmed by disgust, he quickly forced them to leave.
Sang Pingliang and Li Shi are the sort who bully the weak and fear the strong. They dared to bully the orphaned Sang brothers but they did not dare to make a fuss with Li Zheng. All they could do was leave miserably while cursing on their way home.
“Mister, what do we do now!” Li Shi kept wiping away her tears of anxiety, “From now on, they’ll surely bully us to our deaths! Especially that Fang Shi, her words are even sharper than knives!”
“Hmph!” Sang Pingliang’s expression was as dark as the bottom of a pan and he coldly said, “He won’t let us adopt him? So be it, it’s not a big deal! Hmph, but they can keep on dreaming about not recognising me as their second uncle!”
“Mister, you have a plan?” Li Shi stopped crying and asked quickly.
“You’ll know tomorrow!” Sang Pingliang sighed to vent out his anger. He believed that there was no way Sang Yufei would not acknowledge him as his uncle in front of a group of officials who would arrive to deliver the good news! The entire village shall serve as witnesses to Sang Yufei’s ruined reputation if he dared to dismiss that fact!
For the village to have a top escorted examinee, it would bring up the reputation of the village’s officer as well. Li Zheng quickly went to spread the news excitedly and soon, the entire Sihe Village was buzzing. Sang Hong’s house became lively on that night.
Because everyone believed that Li Zheng would definitely not lie, then whatever he said must be true!
The Sang brothers and Fang Shi welcomed wave after wave of people who came to congratulate them: prestigious elders, old grannies, young ladies, as well as men both older and of the same age. Families with children taught by Sang Hong also came excitedly to pay their visit, each bringing their children and gifts, hoping to gain some blessings from the top escorted examinee.
The Sang brothers and Fang Shi became busy until late at night when they finally managed to send the last group of visitors away.
Closing the main gate and looking at the various gifts piled up in the house, from eggs, noodles, live chickens and ducks, to pork and sausages, the three of them sighed with a slightly strange expression.
“Luckily, we’d expected this, otherwise, it would really make us uncomfortable!” Fang Shi smiled, her words had somewhat managed to express the thoughts in everyone’s mind.
Sang Hong and Sang Yufei both nodded in agreement.
All three of them were down-to-earth so they would not have believed in Sang Pingliang just based on his words unless Sang Yufei, or themselves, had seen it for himself. Assuming tonight was fake, then the joke played on them would have been a huge one!
Early on the second day, Sang Wan and Shi Fengju rushed from Yangliu Town to Sihe Village. The good news had already reached the town yesterday; by tradition, it should arrive at the village today. And so, they had to hasten their journey.
Arriving at Sihe Village, Sang Hong’s house was already very lively. Before Sang Yufei, there was never a person who managed to pass the township exam, so naturally, the villagers were proud of him for making history. They decided to help around in Sang Hong’s house while waiting for the officials to arrive and announce the good news.
The arrival of Sang Wan and Shi Fengju brought another wave of excitement.
Everything aside, just the scene of a horse-drawn carriages with over ten brightly-dressed servants riding horses alongside, immediately attracted the attention of the villagers.
Once the carriage came to a stop, Liu Ya and Zhide, who were dressed in satin clothes which had patterns of green flowers and branches with silver jewelled hairpins in their hair, got off from their carriage and hurried to the front carriage together with several other beautifully-dressed servants. Some readied the steps while others systematically helped with whatever they could. Once Sang Wan and Shi Fengju were helped down the carriage, the crowd was already chattering with excitement and admiration. On top of that, someone had already darted into the house to inform the Sang brothers and Fang Shi.
Sang Wan’s ensemble had expensive red woven wide sleeves with gold stitchings to match with her coat; cuffs and lapels which had two inches of colorfully embroidered cross-stitches including gold and silver threads by the side and a white jade the size of an egg, with a thumb-sized ruby embedded in the middle, acting as a button knot at the front of the neckline. Moving down, was a reddish-orange dress, with eighteen pleats and decorated with numerous butterflies, that would sway from any slight movements to give a brilliant wave. The hair by her temples was decorated with peony flowers to represent the happy occasion, but not forgetting an emerald kingfisher hairpin as well as other hair accessories. There was no lady in the crowd who wouldn’t love those, and they gave a word of praise to the Sang family.
Then came Shi Fengju in an ocean blue tailor-made satin robe; a beautifully polished jade around his waist and a pair of black boots with white soles. With a handsome face, upright posture, confident aura, and his black hair tied up neatly, he and Sang Wan were a brilliant pair when beside each other. The cheers immediately turned more intense as the crowd became more envious of the village girl. They could not help but lament at how Sang Wan was just a mere villager like them less than a year ago, and yet, her present conduct could make them feel inadequate when in her presence.
“You came!” The Sang Brothers and Fang Shi quickly rushed over to welcome them with smiles after hearing of their arrival.
Shi Fengju and Sang Wan quickly went up to return the greeting with a smile, “We heard the news in Qingzhou and arrived in town yesterday afternoon to stay a night at an inn before hurrying over today!” With that, they congratulated Sang Yufei again.
If even the Shi family came, then the news must be right! Those who were hoping that the Sang Family would end up celebrating for nothing gave up at this moment and had to admit: the Sang Family truly made it this time! In that instant, their feelings changed in favor of the Sang family.
The atmosphere turned even livelier. The crowd swarmed around them and dragged them into the house to have a sit as well as ask whether they knew when the public officials would arrive. Naturally, Shi Fengju would have gone through the trouble of gathering information, so he smiled and said, “They should arrive at around noon. No hurry, there’s still quite some time!”
“Good, that’s good!” The crowd felt relieved.
Shi Fengju asked Zhan Huan and a few other servants to come up before smiling at Sang Hong and Fang Shi once again, “I’m afraid the officials will be staying for lunch and there’ll easily be twenty to thirty people, so there’s much work to be done. Sang Wan and I bought vegetables, fish, and meat; they’re all in the carriage. Big brother and sister-in-law, please arrange them however you must and feel free to make use of these servants who’ll be here to help out.”
“He’s right, they came rushing from afar to announce the good news. Surely, they must stay for lunch!” said the crowd.
Sang Hong and Fang Shi thanked Shi Fengju, before holding a discussion with the crowd to make certain of who would be lending the tables and chairs, how the tea should be readied, as well as all the other necessary preparations to be done一 all of which needed the help from the crowd. Although the tasks seemed complicated, it was quickly assigned and settled.
The number of men chatting in the main hall were many, so Sang Wan did not spend too much time there. After giving her greetings, she stood up to head to another room, accompanied by a few other ladies around her age.
Just when she rose to leave, she heard a hesitant voice call out to her, “Cousin.” Turning around to look at the direction where the sound came from, she saw Sang Rou walking in from the outside. Seeing everyone’s eyes on her, the awkward Sang Rou clenched her fist and forced herself to continue forward.
Earlier in the morning, Sang Pingliang had told Sang Rou to keep an eye on the Sang Family, telling her to report to him if anything happened. The arrival of Sang Wan and Shi Fengju was big news, so it was natural that Sang Pingliang ought to know.
In that moment, Sang Pingliang wanted to go over and get closer to Shi Fengju with the foolish hope that Shi Fengju would help him say a few words. The Sang Brothers may not have the conscience to even listen to their second uncle, but the Shi family was rich and mighty! So long as Shi Fengju helped him, he was sure that they would not dare to not give him any face!
Sang Pingliang got surer and surer at the idea but stopped just as he was about to leave to carry it out.
No! He had to hold back, else the entire plan would be ruined! It was not the time for him to appear, not when the officials had yet to arrive! When that time comes, he could take advantage of their lack of preparation! But now? Hmph! Those fair-weathered villagers would not dare disgrace themselves in their attempt to get on the good side of the two brothers. Even Li Zheng was taking sides, what about an average person?
What if, they purposely took the chance to give him trouble and ended up injuring him, wouldn’t that be bad?
While Sang Pingliang did manage to resist the urge to go over, he could not remain calm. If he was not there, who knows what information they would feed to Shi Fengju and Sang Wan? They were sure to exaggerate and ruin his reputation! That would not do, he had to quickly invite them over first!
In any case, he had never said to break off ties with Sang Wan, right? Having returned, Sang Wan surely couldn’t avoid visiting her elders, could she? As such, Sang Rou was forcefully sent out of her own will.
“Cousin,” Sang Rou forced a slight smile on her face, “my father has sent me to invite you and brother-in-law over to have a word!”
“Qie!” The crowd could not help but jeer, “Yi, why didn’t your dad come over instead of sending you?”
“Hehe, as if he’d have the face to show up here!”
“That’s right, just look at what he did!”
“His skin sure is thick for having the guts to send someone over to invite them! If I were him, I’d have shamefully shut my door and hid away!”
“Ai, how can we compare ourselves to him!”
“That’s true, hehe!”
As the crowd jeered, Sang Rou did not dare to make a sound. Her face gradually turned red and then pale as she looked pitifully towards Sang Wan.
“What, what happened?” Sang Wan was baffled, clueless of what had happened.
“Dear Ma’am, we better go inside to talk! This matter is much more exciting than a play!” The ladies voiced.
Today was a good day for celebration and Fang Shi could not be bothered to get angry, so she smiled at Sang Rou, “Go back and tell your father that our ma’am is busy! If there’s anything, he can talk to her next time! Quickly, go back now!”
While smiling, her eyes were cold, and before Sang Rou could react, a group of ladies were already “persuading” her to go home.