The Rongan Hall was permeated with the thick smell of medicine.
Ever since the old madam fainted once again, her illness got worse after she awoke. She was unable to move the left side of her body and the left side of her face drooped. She had still been able to speak previously albeit incoherently. Now it was hard to even say a few words.
Yan Hong had been living in the Rongan Hall. Due to the old madam’s serious illness, he was moved to the front courtyard. Normally, boys would leave the rear residence when they turned ten. Yan Hong was a little late in doing so because the old madam was reluctant to let him leave.
Yan Mo moved to the front courtyard at the same time. He was already eleven and could no longer continue living with Yan Yan in the Ningxiang Chambers.
Yan Yan personally went and picked out a pavilion for him that was far removed from Yan Hong’s. After a round of renovations and cleaning, they ordered for Yan Mo’s things to be moved in. Yan’er and Ying’er went along, as well as Matron Dong. The rest of the servants were mostly chosen from young errand boys. Yan Mo’s pavilion was next to where Shen Yi Yao’s group of guards stood on duty. There was no need to worry about his safety.
The weather grew even colder. It seemed the ground became covered in a layer of white overnight.
The water outside turned to ice while the Jinse Pavilion’s warm chambers were heated by vents as well as a three-legged golden luan incense burner. The incense burning inside didn’t have a noticeable odor but permeated one’s soul.
Shen Yi Yao and Xue-shi wore light garments as they sat on the kiln. They each held a cup of tea as they chatted.
They were mostly talking about the matter of Yan Ru and Yan Ling’s marriage.
There were quite a few people who came to propose these days. Shen Yi Yao was out and about a lot. Since Yan Yan’s marriage was settled and she was preparing for the wedding, it wasn’t appropriate for her to tag along. Therefore, Shen Yi Yao would bring Yan Ru and Yan Ling along instead. There were many households who had their eyes on them.
In the past when no one was asking about her daughter, Xue-shi had been anxious. Now that there were people asking, Xue-shi was under a lot of pressure instead. This was because she didn’t know how she should choose.
It wasn’t really possible for Yan Ru to have too good of a marriage based on her status. This was because those lofty households looked at more than the person when choosing their daughter-in-law. They would also look at the household’s background. Yan Ru was the principal daughter of a marquis’s concubine born son. Her father merely held a seventh-ranked idle posting. Just based on this point alone, several interested noblewomen ended up throwing in the towel.
Of course, there were still quite a few who were interested based on appearances and character. Or perhaps they saw Shen Yi Yao was rather close with them, as well as the fact that their cousin was a future consort. However, these households didn’t have the best backgrounds. That being said, they were already much better than Xue-shi would have dared to imagine in the past. When Shen Yi Yao told her which households had expressed their interest, Xue-shi was unable to sleep for several nights.
After several rounds of discussion with Yan Zhi, Xue-shi finally picked out several households before coming to ask Shen Yi Yao for advice.
Shen Yi Yao wore a bright red begonia thin jacket. She lay against the pillow and said unhurriedly to Xue-shi: “Of the households that eldest sis-in-law picked out, Superior Liang is honest and upright and his household’s style is extremely good. Madam Liang is magnanimous. They have one daughter who is timid and introverted. She won’t be hard to get along with in the future. Young master Liang is the Liang household’s eldest principal son. If she marries over, the eldest miss will become the mistress of the household in the future. As for the Qingan Count’s household, their background is pretty good. The Qingan Count is also the descendent of old nobility. It’s just that the Grand Xi’s succession of nobility ends after five generations, and the Qingan Count is already on the last generation. The Qingan Count’s household’s principal second son is said to be extremely talented. Once the Qingan Count passes away, it’s not impossible for him to make a name for himself….”
Xue-shi listened attentively. She rarely went outside and wasn’t too clear about the situation in the capital. Shen Yi Yao was telling her what she wanted to know the most. It was important to know the inner details when considering marriage, and not just what’s on the surface. Anyone would want to know if things would be sweet on the outside but bitter on the inside.
After Shen Yi Yao’s advice, Xue-shi became even more hesitant and indecisive. She hurriedly said her farewells, saying she was going back to discuss with the eldest lord again.
At this time, in the Ningxiang Chambers.
On the large kiln of the western room, Yan Yan, Yan Ru and Yan Ling were sitting and chatting together.
These days, Xue-shi’s anxiety had infected Yan Ru as well. But as the potential bride, it wasn’t suitable for her to make any inquiries. She could only discuss with her good sisters in secret.
“Eldest sis, you should stop worrying. I’m sure principal mother will pick out an ideal husband for you.” Yan Ling said teasingly.
“Pei, pei, pei! What ideal husband, you bad little thing? Such words can’t be spoken outside.” Yan Ru’s face was red and her expression was bashful. She tickled Yan Ling to cover it up.
Yan Ling repeatedly asked for mercy and laughed: “There’s no one else around, it’s fine to say it. Look how the fourth prince keeps sending things over now that third sis’s wedding is set. Hurry and get principal mother to find you a considerate husband as well.”
Yan Ru was even more embarrassed. Yan Yan smiled on the side: “Oh ho, you’re even making fun of me?”
After messing around for a while, Yan Ru’s expression was still nervous. She let out a soft sigh.
Yan Yan took a sip of her tea: “Eldest sis you shouldn’t worry. Eldest aunt is evaluating things for you, so things will naturally go smoothly.”
“I hope so. I’m just wondering if I’ll get married off just like that once it’s settled.” Yan Ru lifted the lid on her cup and stirred the suds. The steam obscured her vision. She lightly sighed once again: “But we won’t know each other at all!”
“Marriages have always been arranged by parents and matchmakers. Since when would there be any acquaintance? You’re just passing the days together so it should be fine wherever that may be.” As someone about to discuss marriage, Yan Ling naturally thought about this problem. However, she was much more accepting than Yan Ru.
Since ancient times, marriage had always been this way. Men had it better since society was more forgiving towards them. Instead, marriage was almost like a gamble for women. It was great if good, but if not? At Yan Ru’s age, she wasn’t able to understand what signified a bad marriage. If Xue-shi wasn’t so straightforward, she also wouldn’t be so hesitant.
Previously, Shen Yi Yao had felt this way as well. Especially with her own experience, she was extremely cautious. Luckily Emperor Xi had bestowed the marriage and the person in question was a junior she was familiar with. She understood his personality and character. Otherwise, Shen Yi Yao would also be as anxious as Xue-shi.
“Alright, alright. Stop moping around. It’s just like fourth sis said. It’s just passing the days together. As long as you are independent, you’ll be fine no matter what. Therefore, eldest sis, you need to change your nature a little. Don’t be too soft or you’ll be bullied by your in-laws.”
Yan Yan wasn’t worried about Yan Ling. Although she didn’t show it on the surface, Yan Ling was actually more experienced and mature than Yan Ru in some places. Normally when they went and visited other estates, she would seamlessly help cover up some of Yan Ru’s occasional shortcomings.
After all, their identities were different and they had experienced different things. Yan Ling had been independent from a young age and struggled for survival. Yan Ru had been raised under Xue-shi’s protection. Although she was smart, she was still a little more innocent.
This won’t be mentioned for now.
While Xue-shi busied herself with her daughter’s marriage, the old madam never relaxed. Chen-shi was the same way.
Everyone knew what Chen-shi was planning.
Seeing Xue-shi have some intentions of arguing with Chen-shi, Shen Yi Yao also asked about it.
Xue-shi merely smiled without saying anything, telling Shen Yi Yao to just keep watching. Shen Yi Yao also seemed to understand a little.
The old madam was rather pitiful at the moment. She remained paralyzed on the bed unable to get up. It was even hard for her to speak.
In the past, Chen-shi managed the household but was muzzled by the old madam. Everything had to be approved by her. Now that she had trouble speaking, everything was left to Matron Zhao. Of course, this couldn’t be said on the surface. Could the grand Weiyuan Marquis Estate be managed by a granny? However, those who knew what was going on understood that Matron Zhao was representing the old madam. Unfortunately, Chen-shi was either foolish or pretending to be. She actually intended on ignoring Matron Zhao.
She continued carrying out her duties and also continued reporting to the old madam. However, she seemed to be doing her own thing more and more.
The old madam wasn’t happy but she wasn’t allowed to be angry with her physical condition. For the sake of her health, she suppressed it with all her might. Matron Zhao also felt sullen but for the old madam’s sake, not only did she have to refrain from complaining about Chen-shi, she even had to cover for her.
Chen-shi saw that no one was able to restrain her anymore. Even Xue-shi had to avoid trading barbs with her. She grew even more arrogant.
It wasn’t clear what she and Yan Qu discussed, but they ended up picking a day where all three branches gathered together. The planned on discussing how the household would be managed if the old madam didn’t get better.
To put it plainly, Chen-shi wanted to do more than manage the household. She wanted to get involved with the income.
In theory, Shen Yi Yao was the one with the most right to do so, but she never expressed any interest. To prevent her from changing her mind, Chen-shi spoke right as they sat down: “I’ve noticed second sis-in-law is busy all the time. Yan Yan is going to be part of the royal family after all, and it’s definitely not easy to prepare for this wedding. I figured you wouldn’t have time to deal with all these things, which is why I’ve gathered everyone to discuss this. The year’s about to end after all.”
Chen-shi smiled as she spoke such words. Even if Shen Yi Yao had any intentions of taking over, her words would have blocked her off. Therefore, Chen-shi wasn’t simple either. She had just hidden herself more deeply.
“Then thank you third sis-in-law for your efforts. I truly don’t have the time.”
Since Shen Yi Yao expressed her attitude, Xue-shi didn’t need to be mentioned.
Chen-shi couldn’t conceal her glee. She looked smugly at Xue-shi. Xue-shi merely smiled without saying anything, and turned aside to speak quietly with Shen Yi Yao. Before long, Yan Zhi and Yan Qu arrived, along with Yan Ting.
Seeing as Yan Ting was busy, Chen-shi didn’t delay and summarized things. Her general meaning was that in consideration of the old madam’s health, they wanted to let their mom rest after working so hard her entire life.
This was truly the case. Based on the old madam’s age, she should have long since handed over her authority, but she refused to let go. Chen-shi’s suggestions were both nominally and morally correct.
Chen-shi naturally didn’t admit this was her own idea. She said the old madam had the same thoughts. Shen Yi Yao didn’t object and Xue-shi remained silent. This matter was thus settled.
Afterwards, the three men went to handle their own business. Xue-shi and Shen Yi Yao were going to return to their pavilions when Chen-shi spoke: “Sisters-in-law, wait a moment. Since we decided on such a large matter, the three of us should go report it to mom in case she thinks I made the decision by myself.”
This Chen-shi was really something. Despite having done so, she still wanted to have others cover for her.
Shen Yi Yao declined to comment while Xue-shi held back a sneer. Chen-shi just assumed she was jealous. Since the two didn’t object, she led them over to the Rongan Hall.
The immobile old madam who was lying in the Rongan Hall never expected the usually taciturn third daughter-in-law to come up with such a performance. As the old saying goes, “military authority was relinquished through a cup of alcohol”. The current madam didn’t even get a cup, and was still unaware that her authority had been seized. It was even seized while claiming she had agreed to it. These days Chen-shi had truly been diligently going to the Rongan Hall, so no one doubted her words.
No one apart from Xue-shi and Shen Yi Yao, who had seen some clues.
Chen-shi was very smug. The moment she entered, she sidled over to the old madam’s bed and summarized the situation.
She had changed her phrasing this time, though the general meaning was still similar. However, part of it was changed to claiming the lords were concerned over the old madam’s health, and as her daughters-in-law they also couldn’t bear watch their mom tire herself out. Therefore, they decided on having someone carry this burden.
This responsibility would fall upon her shoulders.
Chen-shi’s performance truly astonished everyone.
The same matter seemed to have a different meaning coming out of her mouth. Unless someone had participated in the entire sequence of events, they wouldn’t be able to pick out anything. Even if the old madam asked Yan Ting later, he wouldn’t be able to say Chen-shi had lied. Furthermore, the old madam would end up being labelled as someone who refused to relinquish power if she did so.
The old madam mumbled incoherently, her face red. She wasn’t able to say any complete words, and the only thing they could make out was “Xue”.
Matron Zhao had served her for a long time and knew what she meant. She hurriedly said: “Eldest madam, the old madam is calling for you.”
Xue-shi stepped up and asked attentively: “Mom, what do you want to say?”
The old madam babbled for a while. Xue-shi couldn’t understand and Matron Zhao hurriedly translated: “The old madam means to say whether the eldest madam has any opinions about this matter?”
Matron Zhao looked urgently at Xue-shi. Matron Zhao was probably the only one who knew why the old madam was so stirred up.
Xue-shi’s expression was troubled, “This…”
Chen-shi hurriedly interrupted: “Mom clearly didn’t say anything. Not only did eldest sis-in-law not understand, second sis-in-law and I also didn’t understand. Matron Zhao, how come you’re able to understand mom’s meaning? Are you a parasite in her stomach?”
Chen-shi’s words weren’t unreasonable. The old madam hadn’t been able to say a complete word the entire time. No one else understood so how come Matron Zhao could? Could their minds be connected?
That was one way of putting it. Another way was to say Matron Zhao was speaking nonsense.
Chen-shi was clearly implying the latter!
Her face was flushed and her expression was rather angry. “Matron Zhao, you’ve served the old madam for so many years. The entire estate respects you, including us mistresses. We’ve never said anything bad about you. But today, you’ve truly overstepped. Are you the old madam, or is the old madam the old madam? Is our entire household supposed to recognize you as our matriarch?”
These words were a little heavy. Matron Zhao knelt in fright and repeatedly said she didn’t dare.
When Chen-shi said to bring the income ledgers and business statements to her, Matron Zhao was deathly pale and her expression was one of despair.
The old madam flopped around with all her might but it was of no use. Apart from her arms, she wasn’t able to move anything else. She was sweating all over from anxiety but was ignored by everyone. Shen Yi Yao couldn’t bear to watch this pitiful sight and hurriedly lowered her head. Xue-shi rested her gaze on Chen-shi.
No one paid attention to her. It wasn’t without reason. What use was a paralyzed old woman who couldn’t even speak? The things the old madam controlled were currently all in Matron Zhao’s hands. Therefore, Chen-shi placed her attention on Matron Zhao. She wanted to overturn this servant who was sitting above her mistresses.
It wasn’t clear how much effort the old madam put into forcing out these words. After speaking, she lay there panting heavily.
Matron Zhao seemed to have been granted a pardon. She hurriedly got up and pounced over to the bed.
“The old madam has spoken, the old madam said to give it to the second madam.”
These words seemed to give Matron Zhao limitless energy, allowing her words and attitude to become steady. Only now did the person who helped the old madam steadily manage the Weiyuan Marquis Estate for several decades appear like her usual self.
“Third madam, it’s not that this servant has doubts. However, the second madam is the Weiyuan madam after all, and is the sensible choice as the household manager. Third madam, how can you go above the second madam and accept authority over everything? Where would that leave the second madam? People would laugh at us!”
Even at this time, the old madam hadn’t forgotten to screw Shen Yi Yao over. Unfortunately, the person being protected didn’t understand, and instead felt some resentment.
Chen-shi’s expression was weird. She was clearly angry inside, but had to force a magnanimous and steady appearance. Unfortunately, she wasn’t successful. Regardless, her expression was complicated and eerily weird.
“Second sis-in-law, do you also feel this way? Previously you had said you didn’t have time to handle these things. That’s why I thought to help you take this burden!” Chen-shi spoke with grievance.
Shen Yi Yao was frightened by Chen-shi’s expression and repeatedly said: “I still have to worry about Ah Yan’s wedding, how could I have the time? My words were sincere, third sis-in-law don’t misunderstand!”
“Second madam, the old madam means to hand it to you!” Matron Zhao hurriedly said.
The old madam also babbled a few words.
Shen YI Yao smiled apologetically, “Daughter-in-law truly doesn’t have the time. Since third sis-in-law wants to do it, just leave it to her.”
Xue-shi followed up saying: “Mom can definitely understand. Look how second sis-in-law is busy with her daughter’s wedding. Only third sis-in-law has the time to spare and the ability to manage this household properly.”
The old madam no longer had the energy to speak. Her face was red and she could only glare at the two people, or perhaps she was glaring at everyone.
Chen-shi finally felt at ease. She had Matron Zhao bring over the ledgers.
Matron Zhao was also unable to reverse things, and could only bring out a black box and hand it to Chen-shi.
Everyone in the room tensed up but Chen-shi unexpectedly carried it away. She seemed to be afraid someone would try to snatch it.
This Chen-shi’s actions always exceeded expectations!
Before nightfall, Chen-shi started making a fuss.
She swept over to the Rongan Hall and immediately had someone start beating Matron Zhao.
According to her, Matron Zhao had dared to humiliate her and gave her an empty box. Actually, the box wasn’t empty, but there were only two thin ledgers inside. Even though Chen-shi’s mind wasn’t that bright, she also wasn’t a fool. How could the grand Weiyuan Marquis Estate only have so few properties?
Matron Zhao was naturally falsely accused. She had convened with the old madam prior to this. Since this matter could no longer be hidden, they might as well let it be revealed.
She didn’t hide anything, and said the estate truly only has these few things left. This large household had been spending as usual without any income. To prop things up, the old madam had sold off all her dowry and used her own savings. In her helplessness, she could only sell the household’s businesses. She then said that everyone was aware of the situation over these few years, and they should have noticed something already.
Chen-shi was completely dazed. She couldn’t believe things had become this way!
This matter exceeded everyone’s expectations after it got out.
This included Xue-shi. The reason she provoked Chen-shi the whole time was to have her force the old madam to hand over the estate’s businesses. She wanted to see the estate’s true situation, but never expected it to be like this.
Back then the Weiyuan Marquis Estate had so many businesses and properties. Now, there were only two small farmsteads left. The most income they could get a year seemed to be around three to four thousand taels. What about the rest? The public funds didn’t only include the second branch’s properties. It also contained the eldest branch and third branch’s properties.
Now things truly got out of hand. Chen-shi started asking questions in front of the old madam.
Chen-shi had experienced too much turmoil over the past few days. Having gone through extreme happiness and then extreme grief, she seemed to have gone mad. She stood in front of the old madam’s bed, interrogating her with spittle flying everywhere. Matron Zhao overflowed with tears as she held her back on the side.
The old madam couldn’t speak, and could only lay there and listen to this daughter-in-law, who she had always been biased towards, scooping out her heart with her words. Xue-shi also found it hard to accept, and repeatedly mumbled about her daughter’s marriage. Shen Yi Yao stood to the side and didn’t know what to say.
This continued until the third lord received the news and hurried back, dragging Chen-shi back to their pavilion.
The ruckus at the third branch lasted the entire night. The eldest branch was extremely silent. Instead, it was the second branch that didn’t show any abnormal signs. After all, even when Shen Yi Yao had left with her two children, she had never worried about silver.
This was the confidence of a woman. If she had sufficient dowry, she would have sufficient confidence. Even if things were turned upside down outside, she could pass her days by herself!
Yan Ting didn’t return that night. The estate had sent someone to look for him but to no avail. It wasn’t clear how he would react when he returned and found out about this matter.
The old madam is too petty. Luckily, Chen-shi was there with a godly assist.
Of course, even if the old madam wanted to screw Shen Yi Yao over, she wouldn’t have fallen for it. She wasn’t a fool!