Shen Yi Yao went in and out of the estate every day. Those who understood naturally knew she was busy with the matter of her daughter’s marriage. Those who didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand, such as the old madam, naturally wasn’t pleased.
On this day, the old madam called Shen Yi Yao over to the Rongan Hall by herself.
“I see you bustling about every day and wanted to bring it up a little later. But now that you’re back, you can’t let Xue-shi continue managing the household. How improper is that if word gets out? It’s better if you took things over. After all, you are this estate’s proper madam.”
Shen Yi Yao sat below and answered submissively: “Mom is right, but your daughter-in-law is busy with discussing Ah Yan’s marriage and doesn’t have time to manage the household. Your daughter-in-law feels eldest sis-in-law is doing a pretty good job. Why not let her continue managing it?”
Her answer was extremely reasonable so the old madam could only drop it.
From that day onwards, the old madam started nitpicking everything Xue-shi did.
It was mostly to do with managing the household. Xue-shi suffered frequent abuse and couldn’t even raise her head. The entire estate knew the eldest madam made the old madam unhappy. This also affected Yan Ru’s mood. These days when she occasionally came to the Ningxiang Chambers, Yan Ru seemed preoccupied.
“Eldest sis, what’s wrong? You seem unhappy these couple of days. You’re not even working as hard on etiquette anymore.”
Yan Ru sighed and put the needlework in her hands down.
She was truly busy recently. Xue-shi wished to have her learn a whole lot in a short amount of time. She learned etiquette from Nana Chang in the morning. She and Yan Ling weren’t as familiar with this as Yan Yan was, and it was a lot of work. In the afternoon she still had to learn household management from Xue-shi. When she occasionally had free time, she still had to practice her mediocre needlework.
Yan Ling rubbed her neck. She continued her needlework while saying: “Isn’t it because of that old woman seizing onto the principal mother every day? She’s picking at the slightest faults and laying them all out.”
Her attitude nowadays was similar to Yan Ru’s. Yan Ru was in a hurry due to her age. As for Yan Ling, she had to urge herself on due to her status.
Yan Yan was the most relaxed out of the group. At this time, she was half leaning against the pillows on the kiln. Compared to Yan Ru and Yan Ling who couldn’t even rest their hands, she seemed leisurely enough for others to be envious.
But second aunt pampered the third miss. When that Nana Chang asked about their embroidery skills, Yan Yan had said straightforwardly that since she didn’t want to learn it, her mom said it was fine.
Nana Chang understood the implication and didn’t say anything about it. But while Yan Yan dared to say so, did Yan Ru and Yan Ling? Yan Ru didn’t want her mom to fuss at her while Yan Ling wanted to improve herself.
They had thought themselves decent at needlework before, but Nana Chang picked out a bunch of issues. Actually, Nana Chang didn’t have to teach these things. But she felt that since etiquette only took up half the day, it wasn’t good to idle the other half away. Since the master’s household had paid the silver, she decided to instruct them in needlework in her spare time.
Xue-shi felt this nana was more than worth her price. Shen Yi Yao however recalled her own daughter managing to prick herself full of holes when she picked up needle and thread. She could only shake her head and sigh.
This won’t be mentioned for now. Yan Yan’s eyes flashed and she said: “She can’t last much longer.”
Yan Ru was restless. She decided to put away the needlework and leaned over. “Do you know something?”
The matured Yan Ru resembled Xue-shi, but her brows were a little more exquisite. Her features were delicate and pretty, and she looked a few shades more elegant. Along with her love for the arts, she had a scholarly air that enhanced her appearance a bit more.
Seeing this normally scholarly-looking eldest sis reveal a curious expression, Yan Yan laughed in spite of herself. She put the book in her hands down and said: “She’s acting this way because she wants to hand over the authority to my mom. It’s not something that can be dragged out.”
After a pause, Yan Yan spoked again: “However, my mom doesn’t want to manage this household at all.”
“That’s true. I also have some understanding of how hard household management is now. Up and down, in and out, not the slightest mistake can be made.”
Yan Ru thought about the intricacies of household management and felt her head hurting. These days she had been learning from her mom. As of now, she was merely observing. Despite this, she could see that it wasn’t easy to manage a household well.
Yan Ling had a lot more thoughts than Yan Ru. She looked at Yan Ru and then at Yan Yan. Only after seeing that Yan Yan didn’t seem to be hiding anything did she feel relieved.
At the same time in the Yusheng Pavilion.
Xue-shi was complaining to Yan Zhi who was resting at home. Compared to the younger generation, they naturally had to consider more things.
“This matter cannot wait any longer. I really can’t stand that mom of yours. I must find an opportunity to push this matter away.”
Yan Zhi frowned, “Have you given second sis-in-law a heads up?”
“I’ve mentioned it to her before. She wouldn’t be that foolish, right?”
“That’s hard to say. Second sis-in-law has always been a pushover. It’s not like you don’t know this.”
“Then I’ll go tell her once again. Under these circumstances, I’m sure she’s also unwilling to take over.”
After speaking, Xue-shi headed to the Jinse Pavilion.
Chen-shi sat below listening to the old madam fussing.
The old madam cursed Xue-shi, and then cursed Shen Yi Yao. Ultimately, she didn’t have anything good to say about these two daughters-in-law.
Chen-shi was taciturn as usual. Even if she heard something, she wouldn’t say anything more. The old madam only had Matron Zhao to vent to, but Matron Zhao was also busy with many things. Inevitably, Chen-shi was pulled over as a substitute. In the old madam’s heart, this was her daughter-in-law. She was naturally closer with her than outsiders.
But closeness depended on the circumstances. For example, the old madam wouldn’t bring up why she hated Shen Yi Yao and Xue-shi in front of Chen-shi. Xue-shi wasn’t actually a big deal. She was just cursing her for not relinquishing her authority while not performing well, unable to do the smallest thing.
While those above vented, those below naturally had to think about many things.
Although Chen-shi was taciturn, she wasn’t a fool. She just never had much authority within the estate due to her status. First of all she was the youngest, and had two older sisters-in-law. Secondly, she entered the estate later. By the time she had married in, Xue-shi and Shen Yi Yao had been here for a while. She could only be last in line for everything. She was also not good with her words, and thus became basically invisible within the estate.
Despite being invisible, she was still a mistress and the estate’s third madam.
Shen Yi Yao was busy going out and Xue-shi wasn’t favored. Wasn’t this her chance to get involved?
Managing the household was something Chen-shi could only dream about. Early on there was Shen Yi Yao, and then Concubine Pei was more favored by the old madam. After Concubine Pei left, there was still Xue-shi who was good at flattering the old madam. Now that Xue-shi had become an annoyance, was it her time to shine?
Of course, these were just Chen-shi’s thoughts. On the surface, she remained silent while listening to the old madam chatter on.
It was at this time Xue-shi requested an audience from outside.
The old madam’s eyes flashed and she stopped her tirade. She took a few sips of tea and calmed her breath before letting Xue-shi in.
Xue-shi was also direct. The moment she entered, she straightforwardly admitted she was incapable, and was also worried about the eldest miss’s marriage. Since she continuously messed up these days, she no longer dared hold this position and wanted to hand over her authority as household manager.
The old madam was overjoyed inside but still had to try and convince her otherwise on the surface. Xue-shi was rather insistent so the old woman could only reluctantly and helplessly accept.
Xue-shi ordered people to fetch the various keys and account ledgers from the eldest branch. The old madam ordered her personal maids to call Shen Yi Yao over from the Jinse Pavilion.
Chen-shi felt gloomy inside while Xue-shi pretended not to have heard.
Shen Yi Yao came very quickly. The old madam didn’t beat around the bush and pointed at the pile of things. She said Xue-shi had resigned herself so it was better for Shen Yi Yao to take over.
Shen Yi Yao’s expression was extremely troubled, but she had never been one to express her thoughts. She could only look at the old madam and then looked at Xue-shi. She followed Xue-shi’s gaze and then looked at Chen-shi who was on the side.
Chen-shi’s gleaming eyes made her slightly pause. When she looked again, Chen-shi had lowered them.
She slowly and clamly sat down and put a smile on her face: “Mom’s deep affection and trust truly makes it hard for daughter-in-law to reject this responsibility….” She paused and saw Chen-shi quickly glance at her before lowering her head again. She sighed in her heart and continued: “But you also know my situation is similar to the eldest sis-in-law, and I don’t have any time to manage the household. How about this? Let third sis-in-law manage the household. She has also been married in for quite some time.”
The old madam was about to speak up and refuse when Shen Yi Yao directly asked Chen-shi: “Would third sis-in-law be willing to accept this responsibility?”
Chen-shi’s body reacted faster than her mind. Before she could think, she realized she was already nodding her head. Since this was the case, she could only say: “Then I won’t be polite. Hopefully I won’t let down mom and sisters-in-law’s expectations.”
Her thoughts were naturally simple. The two sisters-in-law weren’t liked by the old madam while she herself was quite favored. Perhaps this was a sign that the old madam wanted her to manage the household. The old madam naturally wouldn’t say it openly, but it seemed very likely.
The old madam looked very startled. Her expression was sufficient to show she was extremely startled.
Xue-shi laughed in her heart while she said to Shen Yi Yao: “Second sis-in-law, there’s something I want to ask you. It’s about the eldest miss’s matter.”
Shen Yi Yao nodded and said to the old madam: “Mom, then we’ll take our leave.”
“Oh right. Third sis-in-law, these records are extremely simple. Because I wasn’t in charge of the income, I just had to make sure the expenses match what’s recorded in the ledger. You can see for yourself if everything matches. If you see anything wrong, you can come find me.”
How could anything be wrong? Xue-shi had already verified everything a few days before.
After speaking, the two of them left. They didn’t want to stay behind while the old madam was raging.
The old madam pointed at Chen-shi, her finger trembling continuously. She had trouble accepting that her efforts had all been wasted by this fool.
How could Chen-shi not see that the old madam’s expression wasn’t a gratified one, but was startled instead? She felt a little aggrieved. “Mom, could it be you don’t want to let your daughter-in-law manage the household?”
The old madam choked up and shook her head. “Of course not, how could that be?”
Chen-shi was delighted. “Daughter-in-law will definitely not disappoint mom!”
After speaking, she happily ordered her maids to take the box of keys and the stack of ledgers, preparing to verify the records back at the third branch.
After she left, the old madam’s face was ash grey, her chest hurting tremendously. The maids saw her looking unwell and hurriedly brought over her pills. After helping her take them, they helped her into the inner room.
Some maids were worried and asked if they needed to call a doctor. As of now, there wasn’t a single doctor left in the estate. If they wanted to call for one, they would have to arrange a carriage and invite one from outside.
The old madam shook her head weakly. How could she let others know her chest was hurting due to anger? Especially since it cost silver to call a doctor!
She was familiar with this old issue of hers. It came and went. Although Doctor Chang wasn’t here anymore, his prescription was. She ate the medicine accordingly and would feel better. Her issue just needed her not to get angry, not to get worn out and rest more in order to get better.
Chen-shi got her wish and accepted the household manager position. The next day, she called over all the managers and grannies to the Songbai Pavilion for a talking to.
Her wanting to manage the household wasn’t without reason. Those without regular income like them depended on the estate’s monthly allowance. Early on it was still alright. She had her own savings and the old madam would give them a little extra. But recently the estate started cutting expenses and the old madam had also stopped giving extras. Things were naturally very tight.
Of course she had gone crying to the old madam about being poor, but the old madam had said the misses were all getting older and their dowries needed to be prepared. They could only reduce expenses in some places and it wasn’t like they were struggling to live. She fell just short of saying that the third branch also had two misses. Did they not need to get married off? In the end, Chen-shi could only leave it at that.
It was easy for the old madam to say since the entire estate catered to the Rongan Hall. If they let her spend a few days on reduced expenses, she would understand the difficulties therein. In the past, things like ice and charcoal were used liberally. As of now, although they still had ice in the summer, it was extremely little. Summers in the capital were extremely hot. Everyone wished to soak themselves in water due to the heat.
Charcoal as well. In the past they used the highest quality silver-lined charcoal, which had no smoke or odor. Now they had repeatedly gone down in quality. There was no need to mention the daily meals and necessities. The estate hadn’t made new clothing in two seasons, let alone hand out gold and silver jewelry and ornaments.
In the past, Chen-shi wasn’t too interested in managing the household. But after Xue-shi started doing so, the eldest branch started living much better so her thoughts inevitably stirred.
Actually this was easy to understand. The branch managing the household would get benefits. The managing grannies would naturally come curry favor. As for the daily meals and necessities, they would get priority while everyone else shared the leftovers. This was all before embezzlement was even taken into account. Chen-shi had a wet nurse who constantly encouraged her to be more proactive. Chen-shi couldn’t avoid having more thoughts about it.
Now that she had finally gotten the authority, she had to let the servants know there was someone new they should flatter. It was her, Chen-shi, and not Xue-shi any longer.
While Chen-shi leapt about in the estate showing off her authority, Xue-shi holed up in the eldest branch and laughed for a long while. After laughing, she was also a little anxious. Everyone knew the benefits of managing the household. Even a mosquito had meat on its legs. Now that she no longer had this meat and had no income, she naturally had to start worrying.
Shen Yi Yao’s mood was very weird. She truly didn’t wan’t to take this matter over and didn’t have the time to deal with it. If Chen-shi didn’t have the desire, she was still prepared to accept it. Of course she would also take over the income statements as well. But seeing Chen-shi’s fervent desire, she couldn’t bring herself to cut off her thoughts. Might as well give her what she wanted.
Yan Yan’s information network had always been efficient. When she found out about this matter, she almost died laughing. It didn’t need to be said that she saw Shen Yi Yao in a different light.
She had spent quite a lot of effort on this matter. Of course, Xue-shi had also spent quite some effort.
Therefore, she decided to help solve some of the eldest branch’s worries. Since they lacked silver, she tried to think of ways to send them some money-making opportunities. She took the initiative to bring up the eldest branch’s difficulties in front of Shen Yi Yao. After helping manage her mom’s household these years, she naturally knew Shen Yi Yao had quite the eye for business.
Without mentioning how much she could earn, at least she had never made a loss. When women opened up shop, they usually just earned some petty change. They profit came slowly but it was fine as long as it was steady. Of course, this was compared to regular women. For Shen Yi Yao, while one store earned a small amount, she could have many stores going at once. Added together, they earned quite a decent amount.
Normally when a woman married out, they would more or less have a dowry. Those not good at running businesses naturally depleted it without earning more. Those who were good at it would instead increase the amount over time. Shen Yi Yao, for example, had almost doubled her enormous dowry instead of reducing it over the years.
To say she was extremely wealthy wasn’t an exaggeration.
As of today, Yan Yan helped Shen Yi Yao manage several of these stores. Learning theory was good, but it was still necessary to get some real experience. This was what Shen Yi Yao had learned from her mom back in the day.
Shen Yi Yao also felt Xue-shi was implicated because of her. The two of them had also been getting along quite well and had gotten closer and closer. She didn’t hesitate and suggested the two of them partner up to start a small clothing store. The inventory would be made using the silk under her name so the prices would naturally be cheaper. This was a steady business that wouldn’t lose money.
Although Xue-shi was good at calculations, she wasn’t experienced with running a store. In the past, she had never been in contact with this at her maternal household. She had tried to start a few in the past but had lost her initial investments every time. She no longer dared attempt it.
Shen Yi Yao had taken the initiative to bring it up and Xue-shi also knew her sister-in-law wasn’t lacking money. She wouldn’t care about this little bit of income. She had also suggested they be partners. This was definitely her offering a path of income to their family. The investment wasn’t much either, around five hundred taels each. The storefront was Shen Yi Yao’s so they didn’t even need to pay rent. Although her heart hurt a little, she still happily handed over the silver to Shen Yi Yao and had her do as she pleased.
Whether or not Xue-shi was truly so generous, she had at least acted very properly on the surface. Shen Yi Yao didn’t beat around the bush and ordered those under her to make the arrangements. However, she didn’t manage it herself and let Xue-shi handle it instead. She just needed to give some pointers on the side. The shopkeeper belonged to Shen Yi Yao, and once Xue-shi became familiar with it or once she had her own person, they could switch out.
How could Xue-shi not understand the implications? She was naturally grateful.
On the other side, Yan Yan had started being generous with Yan Ru and Yan Ling as well.
When the eldest branch’s people had “come uninvited” in the past, Yan Yan had felt quite estranged despite acting agreeable on the surface. Now that Xue-shi and Shen Yi Yao had gotten close, Yan Yan was never a stingy person. Seeing Yan Ru and Yan Ling always wearing old clothing, she would occasionally gift them some cloth material.
But the two wouldn’t accept it. They had outgrown the phase where they loved to dress pretty. Yan Ru was also more sensible and knew their family’s situation wasn’t good. Xue-shi was doing her best to save up a dowry for her and Yan Ru naturally saw this. She no longer asked for this and that like before.
Ever since Xue-shi said those words to Yan Ling, she had her servants send some cloth over. Since they were all learning etiquette, they couldn’t let the nana or the servants see her lacking. Xue-shi also started giving her the monthly allowance that the estate handed down. Unfortunately, the estate hadn’t given out new clothing in two seasons. Yan Ling had always been attentive. She had Concubine Wang make her two sets of clothing so she could put on a front for outsiders, but she actually never used them.
The two of them wore old clothing normally. In comparison, Yan Yan had new clothes every day. No matter how uncaring she was, she still would have some thoughts about it.
But since the two refused to accept cloth and materials, Yan Yan had no choice. She looked at their bodies and ordered the maids to bring out a bunch of clothing for them to choose from.
These clothes were all new. Yan Yan wasn’t a girl who liked to dress up, but Shen Yi Yao cherished her daughter. She would get eight sets every season and this included both inner and outerwear. The servants were all ordered to make and send them over. But Yan Yan had hit puberty in the past couple of years and many of her clothes no longer fit. Many of them were too small before she could even try them on.
She and Shen Yi Yao weren’t people who would let themselves suffer. If they no longer fit, they would make new ones. This was where these clothes came from. Yan Yan was also well developed. She was already curvy before she hit fourteen. Yan Ru had a frail physique whereas Yan Ling was petite and delicate. There was nothing that can be done if clothes were too small, but if they were too big they can be adjusted.
“Don’t feel averse, you two. I’ve never worn these clothes before. I’ve grown too quickly and my mom is busy. These could only be kept in storage. The material is all good quality, but they just aren’t fitted to your bodies. It’ll be fine after some modifications. Of course, if you don’t want them, I can only put them back in the box.”
The two understood Yan Yan’s personality. She was straightforward and would let you know if she was unhappy. Since she took out her own clothes as gifts, she naturally didn’t see them as outsiders. Especially since Yan Yan wouldn’t give others clothes she had worn before.
Even if she had worn them before, so what? The two of them knew the third miss had good stuff. The things she wore would naturally be good.
“Then let me thank third sis in advance.”
Yan Ling didn’t act polite. She buried her head inside and started going through them. She picked out a pale blue skirt embroidered with light purple cherry grass and said to Yan Ru: “Eldest sis, you like elegant and simple designs. See if you like this one?”
Yan Ru wasn’t against it but was just thin-skinned. Seeing Yan Ling speaking to her, she smiled at Yan Yan and went to look at the skirt. The material was extremely good and the embroidery was also exquisite and beautiful. Yan Ru loved it the moment she laid eyes on it.
When the two of them were done dividing everything, the simple and elegant things mostly went to Yan Ru. Yan Ling was pretty and was able to wear glamorous things, so those all went to her.
Yan Yan saw this and was rather pleased. Her interest was aroused. She had Mei Xue go dig through her boxes and bring out all the thicker clothing as well.
Autumn had just arrived and it was fine to wear thin clothing for now. But if it got any colder it wouldn’t be possible. However, she had a lot of clothes stored up for all four seasons, so it was pretty good to share them with others at this time. Otherwise, if they were kept in boxes the entire time, Mei Xue’s group would fuss about what a pity it was. She was getting tired of hearing about it.
In the end, Yan Ru and Yan Ling’s maids made several trips to bring the clothes back. They couldn’t let their misses carry clothes alongside them on the way back. That would be a little too unsightly.
Due to this, it was noticed by some people.
The envy and jealousy naturally didn’t need to be mentioned. Not only were the clothes nice, but they could also feel the significance behind this. The third miss had always been tyrannical. To have her take the initiative to gift things, the relationship was clear.
As for Shen Yi Yao, she sighed emotionally about her daughter finally knowing how to make friends. This daughter had always been independent and didn’t like interacting with others. Of course she had her reasons for this and Shen Yi Yao had also understood over the past few years. But this couldn’t be rushed and she could only guide her slowly.
Concubine Wang was skilled with her hands and adjusted a set of clothing for Yan Ling that very night.
Yan Ling saw Yan Ru’s side not showing any movements so she didn’t wear it right away. Xue-shi had been busy these days and didn’t have time to help Yan Ru modify her clothes and none of Yan Ru’s maids were skilled either. These were good things and the two of them had looked through them for a while after getting back. They liked them more and more. If they were to be ruined by poor worksmanship, it would be too much of a pity.
Yan Ling suggested having Concubine Wang modify it and Yan Ru didn’t refuse.
Concubine Wang saw her daughter bring back the eldest miss’s clothing and was rather overwhelmed by this favor. Since it was the eldest miss’s, she carefully modified it overnight.
Bringing it over the next day, it fit Yan Ru perfectly. She couldn’t bear taking it off again after putting it on, so Yan Ling went and put hers on as well. The two went to Nana Chang’s class.
After Xue-shi found out about this, she didn’t say anything. However, that night she gave Yan Ling two extra dishes.
The thing was made by Concubine Wang but Yan Ling was the one that benefitted. Everyone understood the meaning of this.
The weather seemed to turn cold overnight.
The sky was so overcast it seemed like it was about to collapse. Yi Meng came back from the outside and asked the little lass in the walkway if it was about to snow.
That little lass wasn’t old, but her speech was very nimble. Her words were quick and her voice was crisp.
“It’s still early in the year big sis Yi Meng. This servant does feel it’s about to rain though.”
Yi Meng thought about it. It was true. It was only autumn, so there shouldn’t be any snow falling yet.
After entering the room, the miss was sitting on the large kiln in the western room reading an accounting ledger. Yi Meng walked over and placed a black bundle onto the kiln.
“Miss, this was sent to you by young master Luo.”
These years, Yi Meng and the other personal maids also learned that the one who often contacted the miss was young master Luo. They were a little older than Yan Yan and wondered privately whether young master Luo liked their household’s miss.
But it didn’t seem like it no matter how they looked. This was because young master Luo was always smiling mischievously. Furthermore, when Matron Zou learned about this, she had scolded them for speculating about the mistress’s business. They no longer dared to pay attention to this.
However, Yan Yan wasn’t aware of any of this.
She put the ledger down and looked at the bundle.
Ever since she returned to the estate, little fatty Luo hadn’t contacted her.
His expression had been weird that day, and now the situation was like this. Yan Yan was wondering if something had happened and was about to send someone to investigate. But she had been busy these days and forgot about it. Seeing the bundle inevitably made her feel pleasantly surprised.
Yan Yan pushed the ledger aside and Yi Meng placed the bundle in front of her. When she opened it, there was a piece of parchment paper on the very top with several large words written on it. She wasn’t the only one present who saw it.
She couldn’t help but laugh a little before waving her hand and having Yi Meng take her leave.
Major move that little fatty has been sitting on. Guess what’s inside.