The days continued to pass regularly and peacefully, as though nothing was going on behind the scenes.
But as the Buddhist saying goes: cause brings about effect. The obtained effect depends on the sort of cause that was planted. Many things were present despite everyone overlooking them. When the time came for them to erupt, no one would be left out.
Concubine Pei had been very well-behaved recently, and rarely appeared in front of others. Even though Yan Ting hadn’t gone to her in a very long time, she was still as obedient as a rabbit.
She was responsible for managing the household, but was merely in charge of managing the finances. She was in charge of distributing everyone’s roles and expenses, but didn’t actually handle the income. Put it this way. Concubine Pei was just responsible for the household. As for the Weiyuan Marquis Estate’s income and expenditure, it was managed by the old madam. The estate had an accounting office, and the old madam would regularly allot some silver over.
This silver was used for expenses and would be allotted once every six months. But this time the people from the accounting office had sent someone over to press for the second half of the year’s allotment, saying that they hadn’t received it yet. There wasn’t enough left to cover the expenditures.
Concubine Pei knew what was taboo for the old madam. She waited steadily for a few days, but seeing that there still wasn’t any movement, she could only go to the Rongan Hall to find the old madam.
After listening, the old madam’s face turned rigid. She muttered to herself for a while before saying she would send the silver over after a few days.
Concubine Pei was a little puzzled, but didn’t ask further. Her aunt was biased towards her, but she still understood what she could ask and what she couldn’t.
After Concubine Pei left, Matron Zhao sent all the maids in the room out and shut the doors tightly before going over to the old madam. She asked quietly: “Old madam, what should we do?”
At this moment, there were only the two of them in the hall. The old madam didn’t continue hiding things, her expression even graver than before.
“I still have some things in my storage I’m not using. Find something suitable and exchange it for some silver.”
Matron Zhao’s expression was ugly. She hesitated but still ended up saying: “How can that do? Those things are your last resorts. We can’t just sell it all!”
These words seemed to trigger the old madam, making her breath heavily. She rubbed the bracelet on her wrist fretfully before forcibly suppressing herself.
“We have no other choice at the moment. This grand estate can’t stop giving out daily expenses. We’ve already used the profits from our businesses this year three times, and those stores have handed over their monthly profits as well. The subordinates already sense something. Last time Manager Chen asked a couple of times implicitly and explicitly, saying the subordinates are a little uneasy. Tell me, what else can we do?!”
“How about selling one of the businesses to keep things afloat? Those things in your storage were all given by the madam back then as your dowry, and are your last resort. We can’t just let them go like this!”
She had served the old madam from a young age, and came with her as part of her dowry. Their relationship spanned over several decades. How could she be willing to see such a situation play out?
“That won’t do!” The old madam shook her head, her attitude resolute: “Despite the profits being small, those businesses and stores are our estate’s only source of income. Selling objects means losing some objects. Selling our source of income would truly result in despair.”
“Then what should we do!?” Matron Zhao stamped her foot and lamented. She seemed to forget about etiquette as she paced around in circles. “Why not tell the lord marquis about this matter? This can’t be kept from him.”
She was looking around wildly for ideas.
This time, the old madam refused even more firmly. “That won’t do. Old two has enough on his plate recently. We can’t give him any more problems.”
“Perhaps the lord marquis still has some money remaining? He took such a large amount of silver. This included all the silver in the estate and from selling some stores. He even used so much of your dowry.” Matron Zhao stammered.
It turned out at the start of the year, Yan Ting had sent the old madam a letter from the border. He said he needed a large amount of silver taels. The old madam had always given this son of hers whatever he asked for. Despite knowing the situation in the estate wasn’t too good, for the sake of coming up with the sum, she had not only taken out all the silver, but even sold several stores. In the end, she used her private savings and her own dowry to make up for the rest.
It could be said that the old madam was now completely spent. Apart from some clothing, jewelry and decorations, her storage was over half empty. The remaining were all things like cloth and medical ingredients which couldn’t be exchanged for silver.
The old madam had always been in charge of the Weiyuan Marquis Estate’s income. It was clear that the current estate was merely an empty shell. At this moment, they could only reduce expenses everywhere to keep them afloat until the next year, when the court hands out the Weiyuan Marquis’s salary or once they could get some silver elsewhere to replenish things.
Matron Zhao’s suggestion moved the old madam’s heart a little. At that time old two had said the silver was for the sake of his prospects. Now that he was back and with his prospects uncertain, perhaps it meant the silver was still there?
She rubbed her temples. “Let me think about it properly. When old two comes back later, have him come see me.”
Yan Ting had gone to the Zhenguo Duke Estate with Shen Yi Yao again. It was still the same as the previous times, without any success.
Sometimes Yan Ting wondered if he had guessed wrongly. If the Zhenguo Duke had called them both over for a good scolding, he would actually feel more relieved. This sort of cold shoulder, not willing to meet them no matter what, made him truly feel a hint of terror.
Shen Yi Yao had always referred to herself as a proper lady, but she was unable to remain calm. She had already made a ruckus in the Huju Hall twice. The servants also didn’t dare stop her and merely watched. But Yan Ting couldn’t let her make a fuss. Ultimately, he still had a trace of hope in his heart. Perhaps the Zhenguo Duke’s anger truly hadn’t faded yet.
Returning wearily to the estate, Yan Ting no longer thought about being considerate. When the Rongan Hall sent someone over saying the old madam wanted to see him, he left the still depressed Shen Yi Yao behind and headed out.
Everyone’s patience had a limit. As of today, Yan Ting’s patience was gradually wearing thin.
When the old madam brought up the matter of the silver taels, Yan Ting’s expression turned even darker. His brows furrowed tightly and he couldn’t maintain his mild expression.
“Why are you asking about this? Is the household lacking silver?”
The old madam’s heart tightened as she maintained a smile. “No, not at all. Mom was just wondering since you took that silver for your prospects. Now that you’re back, you haven’t used the silver yet?”
Yan Ting didn’t speak. He didn’t know what he should say. That silver was truly for the sake of his prospects. But now, his prospects were uncertain and the silver was also gone.
“The silver has already been used. Everything was initially planned out, but I was unexpectedly relocated.”
The saying “trying to steal a chicken only to end up losing the rice used to lure it” referred to this situation.
The old madam was extremely distressed. She cursed the Shen household in her heart for screwing them over. Seeing her son’s expression look unwell, she didn’t dare say anything on the surface.
“Mom was just asking.”
The old madam downplaying things didn’t dispel Yan Ting’s doubts. She was his mom, and he still understood her quite well. The old madam wouldn’t ask such things for no reason.
“Mom, don’t keep it from me. Just say it if there’s a problem.”
Matron Zhao stood there wanting to speak yet hesitating. The old madam’s face was rigid.
“Matron Zhao, speak.”
Matron Zhao gave the old madam a glance. She gritted her teeth, stomped her foot, and spoke of the Weiyuan Marquis Estate’s current impoverished situation.
Yan Ting’s brows furrowed tighter the more he heard. He had never expected his household was in such dire straits.
They had actually run out of silver?
Silver was always just a concept to Yan Ting. He knew that doing anything required silver, but he never needed to think about it concretely. He had never been lacking in silver his entire life. Therefore, it was hard for him to accept a situation where they had none.
The old madam said comfortingly: “Don’t worry about this. Your mom will take care of it. Once the New Year comes, the situation will be a bit better. I’ve ordered for expenses to be cut down everywhere. This issue won’t be hard to deal with.”
Although the old madam spoke comfortingly, no one knew the situation better than she did. There were so many people in the estate. Apart from the servants, they also employed some guards. Although there weren’t many of them, they represented the estate’s dignity. Also, the networking and social gatherings couldn’t be lacking either.
She would have to come up with many things to last the rest of the year. The old madam didn’t plan on letting Yan Ting know about this.
After, the old madam changed the topic and asked about the Zhenguo Duke. Hearing that he still wasn’t willing to see them, she cursed Shen Yi Yao and the Shen household a few more times.
After Yan Ting left, the old madam didn’t delay and ordered Matron Zhao to have someone sell the things in her storage. A few days later, the silver for the accounting office was sent over. The old madam called Concubine Pei over and ordered her to cut down on unnecessary expenditures.
Concubine Pei knew that money was definitely tight, because the accounting office only received two thousand taels. The Weiyuan Marquis Estate’s budget was eight thousand taels every year, which meant there should be four thousand taels for six months. Currently, half of it was missing. As the manager of the household, Concubine Pei was naturally informed by the accounting office.
Therefore, she wasn’t too surprised when the old madam had her cut costs. She merely pondered where she should cut down on.
After reviewing the accounting ledgers, Concubine Pei got rid of all the unnecessary expenses such as the gardening and the maintenance of uninhabited residences. Other examples included everyone’s expenditures that were outside their monthly allowance. The masters and mistresses were fond of buying a few trinkets now and then. The third lord Yan for example liked orchids, painting and calligraphy. These things could all be bought using the accounting office as long as they didn’t exceed a certain amount.
In the past, the eldest branch and third branch both received the same allowance. After Concubine Pei started managing the household, she reduced the allowances of both branches on the surface. In reality, only the eldest branch’s allowance was reduced and the third branch still got the same amount. This time, Concubine Pei grit her teeth and prepared to reduce both branches’ allowances. Whatever extras they wanted to buy would come from their own silver.
After various adjustments, Concubine Pei calculated that there still wasn’t enough silver. She could only start reducing everyone’s expenditures. For example, those who ate swallow’s nest every day now had to eat it once every three days, or not at all. Since they were going to be short of money, such luxuries weren’t necessary. Furthermore, all those precious ingredients, cloth and what not could also be cut.
But after reducing this the problems started coming up.
All this had been carried out secretly, but since nothing substantial was changed, no one had noticed. But now that the monthly allowance, and even the food was touched, no one was that oblivious.
The eldest branch’s Xue-shi was shrewish and had thicker skin than most. The moment she noticed, she came to find Concubine Pei. Concubine Pei said it was ordered by the old madam so she didn’t dare say anything else.
The third branch also noticed, but didn’t say anything for the sake of dignity. They wondered amongst themselves whether Concubine Pei’s discrimination had reached their third branch as well.
Then, Yan Qu set his eyes on a pot of orchids outside. It wasn’t expensive, merely two hundred silver. He had the storekeeper deliver it and ask the accounting office for payment. This was how it worked in the past, but this time they were unexpectedly stopped. The third lord wasn’t there at the time, and the third madam Chen-shi was thin-skinned. She wasn’t good at arguing and paid with her own money.
Although the money was paid, she was no longer able to endure the sullenness due to recent events, and went straight to discuss with Concubine Pei.
Concubine Pei had been working hard on trying to reduce costs. The servants had all been voicing discontent but the gap was still too big to fill, giving her a headache. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with Chen-shi, and directly said it was ordered by the old madam.
Chen-shi didn’t say anything and left while squeezing her handkerchief.
After she left, Concubine Pei regretted her attitude a little since it may have resulted in a grudge. But she had a temper as well. She was already under a lot of pressure, and there were still so many problems coming up.
In the past, two hundred silver wasn’t much, but now they only had two thousand taels for half a year. They still owed various businesses quite a bit of silver from before for deliveries. At that time, the managers had prolonged things by saying they had yet to receive the allotment. Now that the silver was allotted, they naturally had to repay their debts. After repaying everything, the silver was half gone. It naturally needed to be used sparingly.
She had some complaints in her heart about the third branch. Why buy orchids randomly? Spending money frivolously which could have been used to keep the estate afloat for several days. The saying was right. One wouldn’t know the price of necessities if one wasn’t managing the household!
Adding oil to the fire. People need money to live, right? Who knows if those lofty people who live in their ivory towers eat rice normally?