“We’ll be going to a glorious country house in the east which is around 20 miles or so, and we’ll arrive there in about an hour. There are mountains and a wide lake there. The scenery there is also very refreshing! Oh, remember the crabs you ate a few days ago? Those were caught from the lake there!”
Shi Fengju smiled towards Sang Wan.
“Oh.” Sang Wan gently nodded, but she suddenly asked, “A glorious country house? There’s such a fancy country house that belongs to the Shi household? Why is this my first time hearing about it?” Sang Wan’s tone brought a slight sense of embarrassment. Shi Fengju had someone send the crabs over, but all she cared about then was to have someone receive the crabs as well as give out rewards. She didn’t have the slightest enthusiasm to know which country house those crabs came from.
But Shi Fengju just smiled at her and said, “It’s normal for you not to know. That country house doesn’t belong to the Shi household. It’s my own personal one which I set up myself.”
So it is his own private property ah! Sang Wan’s expression turned stiff, and she scolded herself for overthinking. She shouldn’t have brought up the questions and made the other person speak about his own private property! “Oh,” Sang Wan responded before going silent. Secretly, she thought to herself, No wonder he can be so generous to go as far as refurbishing his sister’s entire courtyard without even batting an eye. With this kind of capability, the amount of wealth he possesses must not be small!
Taking the initiative, Shi Fengju broke the silence, “Other than that private country house, I have two others as well as five shops. In total, they generate about sixty thousand silver in revenue every year. In addition, other than my third uncle who’s out as an official and whose family does not own any private properties, my second uncle’s family owns several private properties as well as shops which they would occasionally ask me to take care of! So long as the household’s foundation is not shaken, owning those are fine!” As he explained, he smiled, “Even mother, who dislikes having additional responsibilities, also has a three-story residence and two satin shops situated at the heart of the city!”
Mother’s two satin shops was bound to be on the verge of closing down had I not asked someone to manage them in the dark myself! Shi Fengju quickly mumbled in his heart.
Your Shi family is indeed wealthy ah! Sang Wan let out a sigh. Her heart was slightly aroused by her thoughts; if she had the money to purchase a land and set up a business, then there would be no need for her to rely on others in the future! But it was a pity that all she had were jewelry, satins, paintings, and others which could only be used. As for money, she technically did not have much!
Sang Wan could not help but feel somewhat frustrated as her heart pondered on how she should save up. Although the monthly twenty silver she received might be a lot, her expenditures were no less. Additionally, she had to reward the servants occasionally, leaving her with only a fraction left! She really should come up with a plan to reduce her expenses and save up more. That way, since those silver would be hers, she could fully depend on them and give herself a sense of security because she knew she shouldn’t just wait until the day of her departure and rely on Sir to provide some charity. If by chance her actions were made him unhappy and caused him to be his uncharitable self, then as much as she wanted to cry, she would have nowhere to do so.
Sang Wan’s expression was not something Shi Fengju had predicted. He was unsure whether she had even heard his words as she did not seem to show any interest at all, nor did she request to have one private property for herself. That made Shi Fengju somewhat disappointed. Come on, say it! So long as you say it, all the private properties under my name will all be yours! Shi Fengju thought to himself.
But how could Sang Wan even know what he was thinking? Even with great courage, she wouldn’t even dare think about it.
The atmosphere inside the carriage became somewhat dull after Shi Fengju had stopped speaking. She felt a little uncomfortable, and she was sure he felt the same way, too.
After pondering for a short while, Sang Wan smiled to ask, “Then, does your country house still have those large crabs? Although there was quite a number during the feast, I was too busy serving Mother, Second Aunt, and Big Sister, so I only had the chance to have a few bites. If there is, then you have to treat me!”
Shi Fengju got all excited again, and he smiled as he replied, “That was my intention in bringing you there in the first place! There’s a lake by the country house which is also part of my property. Every year, there’ll be thousands of crabs to reel! The water there is great, and the crabs there are of top quality. Every year, I’ll always have Uncle and Auntie Cui prepare a large portion to either gift to others or eat by myself.”
“Really?” Sang Wan could not help but smile. “Then I’m in for a treat!”
“You can eat however much you want! Uncle and Auntie Cui know that we’ll be heading over, so they should have already prepared the crabs last night for us!” Shi Fengju smiled. As he watched her bright smile, her glistening eyes, and her glossy white teeth, her stunning looks shook his heart, and his smile became even more prominent.
Time seemed to pass quickly as the two chatted, and the carriage soon pulled into a quiet mountain road. Heaps of mountains, along with their majestic peaks, appeared upon their sight, and they could only hear the sounds of birds chirping as well as the bellowing of the wind. The air with the faint scent of wet ground felt refreshing.
Shi Fengju recognized the area, and he rolled up the curtain before instructing the coachman to drive slowly. Turning back to Sang Wan, he said, “After passing through this valley and a thick forest, the carriage will make a turn, and we’ll reach the country house!”
Sang Wan looked out of the window and at the thick forest. The leaves were dyed in red, brown, and many other colors. Purple, golden, and snowy chrysanthemums were also scattered by the roadside, along the mountain slopes, and in the forest. Moreover, the lovable berries which hung in clusters on the branches above their heads complemented and completed the exceptionally beautiful view.
“Sir sure has an eye for locations! This place is wonderful!” Sang Wan praised with sincerity as she admired the view.
Shi Fengju took advantage, and he added with a smile, “It’s not just this time of the year. In spring, it’ll be even more beautiful with the shade of green on the leaves. This is also a great place to escape from the summer heat! I’ll bring you here again when that time comes!”
“En! That’ll be great!” Sang Wan agreed readily.
Shi Fengju took that promise as her agreeing not to leave him, and the cloudiness in his heart finally cleared away. With a huge grin, he affirmed, “I’ll definitely bring you here again!”
After crossing the valley and passing through the woods, they came across a stream of shallow water flowing from the corner of a bend. Although shallow, the stream was wide and clear, and it had fine sand, aquatic plants, and colored round pebbles discernible by the eyes. The large rocks half-hidden in the stream caused a faint poppling to be heard.
Along the bank, wild chrysanthemums bloomed everywhere, and the shrubs grew thickly.
“After this bend, we’ll be arriving soon! This entire stream flows from the lake by the country house!” Shi Fengju pointed out and smiled.
“What a beautiful stream! It makes the view of the mountains even more serene!” Sang Wan praised.
Sure enough, the carriage made a turn at the edge of the mountain, and the view forward gradually cleared out. The once serene view of the mountains was replaced with the view of a luscious green bamboo forest. Passing through the bamboo forest, they were finally able to spot a stretch of pinkish red and black tiled wall with the roof high above the ground. That was the glorious country house.
“They’re here! They’re here!” A cheery voice could be heard once the carriage came to a stop. The two were greeted by a middle-aged couple, a missy around twelve or thirteen, and a few other servants. The woman went up and smiled to welcome them, “Young Master, Ma’am, you’ve finally arrived! Laonu thought that it was about time!”
“Auntie Cui! Uncle Cui!” Shi Fengju smiled as he got off the carriage before helping Sang Wan off. “This is the ma’am’s first time coming here. Because the scenery was beautiful, I had the coachman drive the carriage a little slowly!”
The little missy named Cui Ling ran up to them and bowed politely before greeting, “Sir! Ma’am!”
Shi Fengju smiled at her. “Little Cui, you’ve grown taller again ah!”
Auntie Cui hurriedly went forward to support Sang Wan. “Oh Ma’am, look at how blessed you are! The young master is a great person, so laonu was wondering which family’s missy will be so fortunate!” With that, she added, “But then there can only be someone like Ma’am whose character suits the young master perfectly!”
“Auntie Cui, you speak too highly!” Sang Wan was a little embarrassed, and she smiled with her face slightly red.
Uncle Cui went up and cupped his hands to report, “Everything has been prepared. Young Master and Ma’am, please go in to have a break!”
“Yes, yes! How could I have forgotten that! Young Master, Ma’am, please go in!” Auntie Cui smiled apologetically as everyone entered.
The room inside the country house was spacious and bright, and the layout was simple. It did not look as rich and luxurious as any of the buildings in the household, but it was slightly more exquisite than the average joe’s.
After washing their hands and rinsing their faces quickly, Auntie Cui grinned as she presented the tea, “This is laonu’s own pine radish tea. It tastes mild, so I’m not too sure if it suits Ma’am’s taste. If it doesn’t, laonu will boil another cup of tea.”
When Sang Wan heard so, she knew that Shi Fengju liked to drink such tea, and she smiled before receiving the cup. After a sip, the mouthful of tea went down her throat, enveloping it with a faint grassy aroma. Sang Wan then smiled and said, “This is fine. I usually like to have tea that tastes a little mild, too!”
Auntie Cui let out a laugh, “It’s good that Ma’am likes it! If Ma’am doesn’t mind, laonu will pack a bag of this tea for Ma’am to bring back!”
Sang Wan smiled and readily accepted her suggestion.
Auntie Cui then smiled at the two. “Lunch has been prepared. This afternoon’s lunch has been prepared with the theme of the mountains in mind. As for the crabs, they’re being kept in a pond, and I will prepare them later for tonight’s meal. There’s still some time before lunch, so would Young Master and Ma’am like to take a stroll in the fruit orchard? This season is great for harvesting pomegranates. A few days ago, the fruit vendors came to ask for those, but knowing that Young Master and Ma’am are coming today, I told them to come and collect a few days later!” With that, she added, “Pomegranates are good. May Young Master and Ma’am be blessed with great abundance, so have more!”
“You’re right! Have someone pick two baskets for us to bring back!” Shi Fengju could not help but grin as he cast a glance at Sang Wan.
Sang Wan was feeling slightly awkward, and she hung her head low to take another sip from the tea while acting as if she had not heard anything.
“I will, I will! Laonu will pick them personally, and laonu shall select the best for Young Master and Ma’am!” Auntie Cui grinned.
Shi Fengju also smiled before saying to Sang Wan, “Come, I’ll bring you around to have a breather!”
“En,” Sang Wan did not refuse and smiled as she got up.
“I want to go, too! I’ll lead the way for Sir and Ma’am!” Cui Ling exclaimed as she waved her hands around.
“Sure! Let’s all go together!” Sang Wan quickly agreed. For the trip this time, Shi Fengju insisted on not bringing any servants with them; he said that the servants in the country house would be enough. As such, Zhide, Liu Ya, Hong Ye, and the rest did not follow. Their absence made Sang Wan a little nervous because this was the first time she would be alone with him away from the household, and she was afraid that things might get awkward.
“I’ll go get a basket!” Cui Ling responded cheerily before leaving briskly.
Shi Fengju felt helpless and could only smile quietly at a side.
Who knew that after a while when Cui Ling returned with a basket and Auntie Cui saw them out, Cui Ling would suddenly turn and ask Shi Fengju, “Sir, how come Miss Gu didn’t come?”