“Yes.” Sang Wan gently agreed. Turning to Old Mistress Zhuang, Sang Wan curtsied. “Sang Wan gives my greetings to Old Mistress Zhuang!”
“Good, good!” Old Mistress Zhuang grinned. Her glistening eyes observed Sang Wan from head to toe before gesturing to her. “Come, come, have a seat beside me! A good appearance and very lady-like. Nothing less of a missy from a literary family! But really, she’s different from people like us!”
The latter sentence was meant directly for Wang Shi.
Wang Shi forced a smile and her face stiffened a little.
Sang Wan really wished she could zip Old Mistress Zhuang’s mouth. That woman feared nothing but peace in this world. To have said something so strange, it was obvious that she wanted to witness a dispute between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Her heart was contented only by looking at others in disdain.
There were always people like her in this world. Something that looks ordinary may be distorted by her words! Once heard, the heart of others will definitely not be comfortable anymore.
Sang Wan did not move. Her gaze moved to the corner of her eye, where Wang Shi sat, displaying the obvious meaning of awaiting an approval. Now that she could only take a step at a time and Wang Shi was one of those whom she could rely on, she had to keep Wang Shi in mind and tread with care.
Sure enough, seeing that Sang Wan did not just follow Old Mistress Zhuang’s words but waited for her approval, Wang Shi’s expression loosened a little. Looking straight at Old Mistress Zhuang, as if nothing had happened, Wang Shi smiled at Sang Wan. “Mistress Zhuang calls for you. What are you doing just standing there?”
“Yes!” Sang Wan curtsied to Wang Shi before walking over to Old Mistress Zhuang and taking a seat next to her.
“You’re too careful! Is your mother-in-law so terrible to the point that you’ve got to get her approval?” Old Mistress Zhuang smiled but was a little displeased. Smiling again at Wang Shi, she added, “But nevertheless, she’s an honest child.”
Wang Shi was so furious that she almost choked. Old Mistress Zhuang was just short of saying that she mistreated her daughter-in-law! But there was nowhere for her to throw her anger; all she could do was plainly endure.
“A daughter-in-law must be filial. Although Sang Wan may be young and knows little, Sang Wan knows to keep the elder in mind and to never act without consent.” Sang Wan smiled shyly and spoke gently.
Wang Shi’s anger subsided and she hurriedly smiled. “Mistress Zhuang is right, my daughter-in-law; you’re too simple-minded! I may be an elder, but Mistress Zhuang is also an elder. If you’re this careful, others may think that I am a very narrow-minded mother-in-law!”
Sang Wan gazed at Wang Shi and accepted with a gentle “Yes,” but also caught a glimpse of Mistress Zhuang looking at them in disdain at the same time.
No wonder Old Mistress Zhuang looked at her mother-in-law in disdain. Her mother-in-law’s standard of speech was not on the same level as Old Mistress Zhuang! Sang Wan thought deeply to herself.
Sang Wan could vaguely understand the reason why Old Mistress Zhuang loved to compete against her mother-in-law. The most important reason might perhaps be because her mother-in-law was not as great as Old Mistress Zhuang but sat in the position of being the “Richest Mistress in Qingzhou.”
Old Mistress Zhuang directly ignored those words from Wang Shi, and smiled towards Sang Wan. “Words coming from a literary family sure are different, truly pleasant to the ears! Ai, though you’ve read many books, why do your hands have calluses?”
Sang Wan struggled slightly to hide her hands and her face flushed a little. In her parental home, she had to do the housework day after day, for she was not a child born with a golden spoon in her mouth. As such, her hands had calluses and would not even be as smooth as those of an ordinary girl like Shi Lian!
Of course, Old Mistress Zhuang knew of her family’s situation, but she deliberately said so just to ridicule Sang Wan.
Sang Wan felt a little uncomfortable. She had never assumed that doing the housework was a shameful thing but instead took the task with pride. A sudden thought came to her. Just how many more words of ridicule are waiting behind that mouth of Mistress Zhuang? In that case, should she just sit and invite the ridicule?
Wang Shi had never been pleased with the joining of the Shi family and the Sang family, due to their difference in wealth. With the Shi family’s current position, having a lady from a family of officials marry into the family was not impossible. Because of that, Sang Wan decided to remain quiet, to prevent Old Mistress Zhuang from mocking Wang Shi any further.
Sang Wan gritted her teeth and smiled, accepting the words of Old Mistress Zhuang quietly. Since Old Mistress Zhuang had already said so, it would inconvenience Wang Shi if she denied it. Secretly, she rolled her eyes and scolded Old Mistress Zhuang in her heart for being “thick skinned,” before letting the ridicule go.
Dissatisfied, Old Mistress Zhuang was unwilling to give up. Giving a look at Wang Shi, she smiled. “If I may say, Sister Wang, the Shi family is the richest in Qingzhou. Not talking about Sang Wan’s past, she is now your daughter-in-law, so how could the way she’s dressed be so plain? Just look at the material of that garment, it’s so ordinary! The makeup on her face is also not perfect, depriving her of her beauty! Aiya, the jewelry of her head ornament is also so common, ah! Don’t tell me this is the latest fashion this year? Sister Wang, you should be thankful that it was me and not someone else. Otherwise, she might be gossiped about for her attire, saying that the Shi family was not the same as before, for their young mistress to be dressed so ordinarily!”
Old Mistress Zhuang’s remarks were like salt being rubbed on the already wounded Wang Shi. Her face darkened and she snapped, “Says who? Our Shi family is great and still the same! Our Fengju is capable and our family business is doing better every year! And as for those gossips, they’re not even worth listening to! Sang Wan, of course, has quality clothes, head ornaments, and cosmetics! It’s just that she’s too laid-back and dislikes wearing them! The Shi family is generous and benevolent, so how could my daughter-in-law be lacking in any way?”
Sang Wan was suddenly enlightened as to why her mother-in-law had shown a face of unhappiness when she had first come. She finally knew the root of her mother-in-law’s unhappiness!
She went on to observe her mother-in-law’s wear. She had on a collared satin cloak decorated with golden-green adornments and a dark green gown woven with leaping treasured, golden-colored rabbits on its hem. Her hair was held by a jade headpiece, rimmed with pearls and decorated with ornamental flowers; a carved golden lamb hairpin was slid to the side of her temple. A red coral silver hairpin was also slid into the back of her hair. On her neck hung eighteen emerald beads that were strung into a necklace; she wore pendant earrings imbued with jade sat on her ear, a pair of clean white jade bracelets on her wrist, and a gold ring embedded with a large ruby on her thumb. She was dressed entirely in riches, more grandly and formally than even during the tea ceremony.
Now onto Old Mistress Zhuang. She wore a collared purple cloak lined with a grape-like pattern, a gown of indigo and gold decorated with folds, and was decorated with a number of ornaments. Her dress was also that of a Mistress from a rich family!
The two were definitely up against one another! One had come prepared, and the other was awaiting the challenge.
Sang Wan then looked at her own attire. A turquoise colored plain coat embroidered with chrysanthemum flowers, a clean and white long skirt with no accessories, and a plain hairpin. On a whole, she was decently dressed, but could still be considered shabby. No wonder her mother-in-law was unhappy.
“Like I said!” Old Mistress Zhuang giggled and acted startled. The handkerchief in her hand was one that was difficult to find in the market for its turquoise jade coloration.
“Of course, the Shi family isn’t stingy!” Old Mistress Zhuang spoke calmly. Turning to Sang Wan, she smiled. “Then it is Sang Wan’s fault, no? How could a young daughter-in-law not dress up nicely? It isn’t like you have no qualifications to do so! Others may end up misunderstanding! For others outside, they may conclude that your mother-in-law and Young Master Shi are ill-treating you! Aiyo, I hope Sang Wan isn’t mad at me for being such a straightforward person! I may be wrong though, maybe you’re used to the way you’re dressed, but who knows? Keke, Sister Wang ah, you should’ve had a daughter-in-law of the same family background as yours marry into the family, as having to change someone’s habit and temperament may be a difficult task to accomplish! Aiya, I may have said too much!”
Old Mistress Zhuang smiled as she spoke. Her words were sometimes meant for Sang Wan and sometimes for Wang Shi. But the smile she had on her face never ceased, nor did the cynical meaning behind her words.
Listening to the extent of Old Mistress Zhuang’s ridicule, Wang Shi’s heart flared. The marriage was not one which she had welcomed wholeheartedly, and if not for Old Mistress Zhuang, she would have immediately flared up at Sang Wan.
Her eyes drooped and glistened. ‘Be calm, be calm, just bear with it, just bear with it,’ she muttered a few times in her heart to calm herself down before trying to come out with something to refute. However, she knew not how to do so.
Forcefully, she smiled, “It isn’t as serious as what you’ve just described! Sang Wan is a virtuous child who respects her mother-in-law well and has a gentle temperament! She’s great! Besides, this marriage was arranged by the late Master of the house and his eye for people is great, no? Otherwise, ah, the title of our family being the richest in Qingzhou would never have been ours! Don’t you agree?”
Old Mistress Zhuang’s expression became a little stiff, but she kept the smile on her face.
At that time, the old master of the Shi family and the old master of the Zhuang family had been business partners. Even though the two had met with a different encounter in love, their love for comparison amongst each other had never changed. But when that mentality had come down to Old Mistress Zhuang and Wang Shi, it was white-hot.
This time around, Wang Shi’s words were indescribably sharp. If not for Old Master Shi’s eye, most of the fortune in Qingzhou today would have belonged to the Zhuang family! And the Zhuang family would not have lost to the Shi family! So, did Old Master Zhuang pick the wrong woman?
Sang Wan giggled to herself. Who would have thought that her mother-in-law could come up with such hurtful words! Just from those words, Old Mistress Zhuang may not be able to sleep soundly tonight!
“It is because of Sang Wan’s negligence,” Sang Wan hurriedly smiled and continued. “Sang Wan hurried over and did not take the time to dress up properly and caused Old Mistress Zhuang to be ridiculed! Sang Wan apologizes and seeks Old Mistress Zhuang’s forgiveness!”
“Sister Zhuang is very forgiving and wouldn’t argue over such. But next time, I’m sure you know what to do? If you repeat such a mistake, others may misunderstand!” Wang Shi spoke.
“Yes, thank you, Mother-in-law, for the teaching. Sang Wan will remember it!” Sang Wan stood and curtsied towards Wang Shi.
Old Mistress Zhuang was indeed affected by Wang Shi’s words. Though her face did not show it, her heart was feeling entirely uncomfortable. Seeing the play between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, it annoyed her deeply, but she went on. “Why do I not see that lass, Fangzi? In the past, she would always sit by our side and chat with us, but why is she not here today? No wonder I had this feeling that we were missing someone!”