The weather in the afternoon was good. The dinner tables were placed right in the front yard of the house. There were a total of four tables with enough seats for everyone, including the Sang brothers, Shi Fengju, the village seniors, and Li Zheng.
The women served the food and wine before leaving.
In the kitchen, there was another table. It was for the people who helped out to have their lunch. The spread on this table was simpler, but the food was still of prime quality.
When the officials saw fish, chicken, duck, and a variety of meat, paired with the best wine in town, they were delighted and courteously took their seats. The Sang family are prudent people!
Li Shi went into the kitchen and looked around, “Aiyo, have the dishes for our Ma’am Sang been prepared? I’ll bring it to her!”
The women in the kitchen smiled and answered, “Sister Fang has already sent it, why would she wait for you?”
Li Shi turned and headed to the nearby room after hearing their reply, ignoring their mockery behind her.
Sang Wan and Fang Shi sat facing each other while they ate, and was startled for a brief moment when Li Shi barged in.
“Oh, Sang Wan’s already eating! Hehe, I thought nobody would care about you and went to order them to prepare food for you. Who’d have thought that your sister-in-law had already brought food over for you!”
Fang Shi could not even be bothered to put down her chopsticks. She raised her head and smiled faintly, “This is my house and Sang Wan is like a younger sister to me. Should I not receive and treat her as well? You should stop worrying about anything irrelevant! I see that you’ve been busy the whole morning, why don’t you go to the kitchen and help yourself to the food?”
Sang Wan smiled quietly and lowered her gaze.
Li Shi was expecting Sang Wan to urge her to stay, but Sang Wan acted as if she had not heard their conversation and remained silent. Li Shi sat of her own accord and smiled, “I’m not going back to the kitchen; it’s inconvenient with so many people there. I’ll stay here and share the meal with you!”
“Up to you, but there are no empty bowls here!” Fang Shi said without expressing any emotions.
Li Shi was about to return to the kitchen to take a bowl, but she did not wish to be mocked by those rude women in the kitchen. Looking ahead, she saw Zhide standing at a side and smiled, “Can I trouble this missy to help me grab a bowl and a pair of chopsticks from the kitchen?”
“Second Auntie Sang, you shouldn’t order people around like that! She belongs to the Shi family and is a guest here as well, understand?” Fang Shi frowned and said.
“Isn’t she Sang Wan’s maidservant? I’m Sang Wan’s blood-related aunt, can I not even order her maidservant around?” Li Shi said indifferently.
“Sister-in-law!” Sang Wan could hear the vehemence behind Li Shi’s words, and Li Shi’s words surely angered Fang Shi greatly. But if a ruckus were to happen, the guests outside would be able to hear and that wouldn’t be good. She gently stopped Fang Shi before saying to Zhide, “Go! She’s an aged person and should not be ill-treated!”
Sang Wan made it clear that her gesture was out of politeness and not kinship.
“Yes, Ma’am!” Zhide did not really mind. She bowed and turned to leave.
“So only Sang Wan still knows etiquette!” Li Shi looked at Fang Shi gleefully before speaking to Sang Wan with a smile while patting on her hand. After scanning Sang Wan from head to toe with her greedy eyes, she complimented, “Aiyo, Sang Wan, your golden hairpin and the material of your dress looks expensive! They look really beautiful!”
Her eyes gleamed as she spouted neverending praises. Her questions ranged from the material of the clothes to the type of flower crafted on her hair, and her hand stubbornly refused to let Sang Wan’s hand go. “Aiyo, even this golden bracelet is embedded with so many gemstones; it’s so beautiful! Hehe, whichever family that owns this can really make it their family’s heirloom!” Her hand could not help but stroke the bracelet gently as if she wanted it for herself.
Sang Wan just gave her a mollifying smile but did not offer to give the bracelet to her. Fang Shi could not stand to watch this any longer and she roughly pushed away Li Shi’s hands before saying, “Oh Second Auntie Sang, how do you expect Sang Wan to eat like this!”
“I’m not even talking to you, so why are you cutting in!” Li Shi grunted unhappily and glared at Fang Shi, “I think you should get out there and check the situation since there’s still so many things waiting for you to do!”
“That’s not for you to worry about!” Fang Shi retorted.
Right at this moment, Zhide came in with a bowl and a pair of chopsticks. Sang Wan watched as Li Shi took the bowl and chopsticks happily before getting up with a smile, “I’m feeling a little tired. I’d like to have a rest, although I’m not sure if Sister-in-law——”
Fang Shi quickly smiled and said, “Your room has already been tidied. I’ll send you over, rest well!”
After she finished, she pulled at Sang Wan to leave.
“Sang Wan, sit down and chat with me more. It’s broad daylight, why are you going to rest? If you rest too much, it won’t be good for you body!” Li Shi stood up and wanted to block Sang Wan from leaving.
Zhide subtly moved to obstruct her and said with a slight smile, “In the Shi household, my ma’am is used to taking a rest everyday at this hour and does not like being disturbed when having her rest. Aunty, please have your meal!” With that, she quickly followed behind Sang Wan.
“Shameless, so shameless ah!” Fang Shi fumed as she stared at Sang Wan, “Luckily, you didn’t fall into her trap! I see that you’ve learnt a lot from the Shi household. Now you’re acting more like a lady from an established family! If this were in the past, hehe!”
Sang Wan knew what she was hinting at without her finishing her sentence. With Sang Wan’s past personality, she would have completely complied with Li Shi’s words and give the bracelet to her. However, today, she did not!
“Sister-in-law, just listen to what you’re saying! Am I that naive?” Sang Wan smiled and said.
But she sighed to herself. Her past life had taught her a painful lesson. In life, there are some who cannot be treated nicely because they will never feel grateful and will continue to seek benefits for themselves by taking advantage of others.
“Eh, I did not say that!” Fang Shi swiftly disagreed and the both of them laughed.
Li Shi was secretly upset. She sat her bottom down and mumbled to herself, “The richest in Qingzhou, yet look at her stinginess! She didn’t even seem like she wanted to give that worthless bracelet to her elder, really!”
The officials ate and left Sang Hong’s house, satisfied with the food. The Sang Brothers and Li Zheng went to see them off at the gate.
“Li Zheng and all the seniors here, we would like to arrange a spread in two days time to treat the villagers. I would like all of you to come as well!” Sang Hong bowed to them and announced.
Everyone laughed and accepted the invitation. The top escorted examinee was the pride of their village! Moreover, they might be able to receive some of the blessing he had!
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Li Zheng grabbed Sang Hong’s hand and smiled, “If there’s any help you need, please tell us. This piece of good news is something that should be celebrated as a village, everyone will be willing to give you a hand!”
“Yes ah, yes ah!” The village elders smiled and said.
Sang Pingliang still remained unshaken and spoke arrogantly to Sang Hong, “Much preparation is needed for it. You’re young and inexperience; what do you know? Let me be the one to handle this instead!”
“How can we trouble you with our own matters?” Fang Shi overhead him as she came out and could not help but interrupt!
“For a woman, do you think you’re in the position to speak? Li Zheng and all my old brothers, did you see how disrespectful and unfilial this woman is towards her elder? How could she be worthy to be our top escorted examinee’s sister-in-law? Ah Hong, you have to do away with your relationship with her!” Sang Pingliang scolded with a face full of anger. His self-esteem was regained after everyone treated him courteously during lunch just then and he immediately scolded with an inflated ego.
“You—” Fang Shi was infuriated but Sang Yufei quickly indicated for her to stop.
Sang Yufei whispered quietly to Shi Fengju and said, “Brother-in-law, you must be tired. Why don’t you go take a rest in your room for a while?”
Having an outsider witness a family feud was embarrassing.
Shi Fengju was aware of the situation and agreed. After bidding farewell to Li Zheng and the rest, he turned to leave.
“Eh ya, nephew-in-law, you can’t just leave!” Sang Pingliang became agitated and held onto Shi Fengju’s arm as he complained, “Nephew-in-law, you’re knowledgeable about etiquette; you must speak up for me! Tell me whether a disrespectful woman like Fang Shi should be dealt with!”
Everyone else understood Shi Fengju’s intention to leave and knew it was only for the best as he could not speak his heart out in front of others. But they were at a loss after seeing Sang Pingliang’s disgusting actions as no one would be so thick-skinned as to pull someone back.
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“That wouldn’t be good!” Shi Fengju smiled and said. He freed his arm from Sang Pingliang’s grasp before saying, “There are Li Zheng and the elders present. Ask them to make the decision instead of me as I am but an outsider. Please forgive me for not intervening! Aiya, my head’s feeling a little dizzy. I’ll go take a rest, apologies for my absence!”
“Please do!” Everyone bade him farewell as they watched Zhan Huan help him to his room. Sang Pingliang wanted to pull him back, but Shi Ming and a few other men stepped forward to stop him.
“Hmph!” Sang Pingliang glared at everyone else, “This must be part of your plan, right? What? Are you afraid that my nephew-in-law will speak up for me?”
Sang Pingliang terribly wished that the word “nephew” could be replaced with “son”. If the Shi family’s eldest son was his son-in-law, these people would be grovelling at his feet. There was no way they’d dare to be this rude towards him if Shi Fengju were his son-in-law!
“Old Brother Sang, speak with your conscience, that white paper with black words is no laughing matter! If you continue to fool around, don’t blame me for being heartless and disregarding our relationship as neighbors!” Li Zheng said coldly.
“You think I’m scared?” Sang Pingliang couldn’t care less at this moment. He pointed at Fang Shi and said coldly, “This rude woman is disrespectful to her elder, and neither is she filial. Instead of speaking up for me, you threaten me. Are you really fit to be the village’s officer?”
“Outrageous!” An elder, with white hair and beard, named Uncle Liu was so furious that he scolded, “Is there anyone who speaks like you? You’ve already cut ties with them, so why should they still be respectful to you? Just look at your own preposterous face, do you think you deserve to be treated with respect? Let me tell you, not just Li Zheng, we elders are also present, so watch your attitude!”
The rest of the elders nodded, “That right. All these years, have you helped Ah Hong and his brother with anything? When Sang Wan got married, did you help prepare her dowry? No, not at all! Not just that, you even bullied them and took advantage of them. Are there even uncles like you? Oh, and you were the one who insisted on cutting ties. Now that they’re tasting success, you try to use your status as an elder to exploit them. Aren’t you being too greedy!”
“Aren’t you guys the same!” Sang Pingliang said angrily, “Did you guys give them any help in the past? Aren’t you guys just doing the same as well!”