IBTBTED Chapter 37
It’s Better to be the Empress Dowager
Chapter 37 Chance Encounter
The sky darkened quickly in the winter. Tang Shishi returned to the Jianjia courtyard with a lantern. The maids rushed up, waiting for Tang Shishi to untie the cloak, and changed to home clothes.
Dujuan was tidying Tang Shishi’s clothes while complaining, “Three days of vacation for newlyweds do not consider a lot. The county magistrate’s old man gave nine days of vacation after getting married. Today is only the next day, and you have to go to work already.”
Tang Shishi laughed, “It’s Shizi who got married, but not me. What vacation do I have? This is Wangye’s decision, so let’s not talk more about it.”
Dujuan just grunted in disagreement, who dared to really question Zhao Chengjun’s decision. Tang Shishi put on the soft-soled shoes she wore at home and wore a light comfortable dress. Dujuan asked, “Miss, the dinner is ready. Do you want to have it now or take a rest first?”
Tang Shishi thought for a while and said, “Have it now.”
Dujuan led a maid to set up the dining table. Tang Shishi caressed the little fox for a while and went to the dining room for dinner in no hurry.
Although Tang Shishi had a small kitchen in her own courtyard, it was too troublesome to turn on the stove. Tang Shishi did not dare to give preferential treatment to herself, so she always followed the main kitchen for her meals. There were rules for everything in the Jing Wang mansion, such as what status was worth what kind of treatment, how much salary earned a month, how many dishes could be ordered for each meal, and how many new clothes could be made every quarter. As for Tang Shishi, her monthly salary was 12 Liang, four dishes, and one soup for each meal in the morning, noon, and evening, four clothes for each quarter, and new jewelry every New Year.
If she did not have enough clothes to wear or wanted to eat other dishes, she had to spend her own money to go to the sewing room or kitchen. As a matter of fact, it was absolutely not enough for womenfolk to rely on the public’s share rules.
Putting aside the appetite for the moment, just about clothing, who could only wear four clothes in a season? Even if the piece adjusted back and forth, it would be too shabby.
Not to mention, the ten beauties from the imperial palace were still in vogue. They were sure to be laughed at if any of them wore repetitive clothes.
In fact, it was not that Tang Shishi’s share was low, on the contrary, her salary was already the only one in the mansion, and her monthly offerings were the same as that of Tongxiu Gugu. Of course, Tongxiu had been in charge of internal affairs for many years, and private profits were counted separately, but the salary level of the two people was the same.
Tang Shishi was like this, but Ji Xinxian was far behind. When Ji Xinxian and others entered the Imperial Palace, their families prepared a generous amount of private money for them. Now they could still rely on their old capital to support themselves. After a while, perhaps they would be stretched out.
That was why women were brooding about the right of housekeepers. After all, whoever was the housekeeper would hold the money and connections. No matter what the man said, the money in hand was the real deal.
Tang Shishi sat down at the table and found six dishes on it. Tang Shishi scanned with her eyes and asked, “Why is there one more?”
“Miss, this is the dessert from the main kitchen today. They said that the milk sent from the Zhuangzi recently was fresh, so they made cheese for you and asked you to try it.”
Tang Shishi smiled, “Yang Mama is polite. When the people from the main kitchen come back tomorrow, thank Yang Mama for me.”
The person in charge of the kitchen was Yang Mama, who was used to holding on to the high and stepping on the low. Now Tang Shishi was in full swing, and she changed her method every day to curry favor with Tang Shishi. Although the portions for each person were well-prescribed, the rules were dead, and people were alive. As long as the main kitchen thought about it, there were plenty of workarounds.
The four dishes in Tang Shishi’s portion were all exquisite and grand, and the dishes were definitely more than four. Not only that, but Yang Mama also brought dim sums, desserts, and seasonal fresh foods to Tang Shishi from time to time, which far exceeded the specified portion.
Tang Shishi sighed. No wonder every woman wanted to climb up, no matter in the Imperial Palace or the rear courtyard. There was such a big difference between being pleased and being ignored.
Once Tang Shishi was the one who was neglected. Although she had no shortage of basic needs in the Tang family, she only got left over by others. Concubine Su and Tang Yanyan, a mother and daughter duo held the housekeeping rights. Every time no matter what Tang Shishi wanted, Concubine Su always pushed back on the grounds of “not enough money in the public account”, or “not being in charge of the family, don’t know the price of firewood and rice”, and sometimes even Lin Wanxi’s medicinal ingredients were deducted.
Now, the material for the clothing and jewelry of the mansion was always sent to Tang Shishi first. After Tang Shishi finished picking them, only then would be sent to other people. The freshly prepared foods, fruits, and vegetables were given to Tang Shishi first. She did not say a word and the main kitchen even took the initiative to send snacks over.
Sure enough ah… the taste of being pleased by others, as long as tried it once, it would be very hard to let go.
Tang Shishi smiled, “It was rare for them to be so thoughtful, let’s have a bowl.”
“Yes,” Dujuan replied, scooped a bowl of cheese, and placed it in front of Tang Shishi. Tang Shishi stirred and tasted a small spoonful, sweet but not greasy with milk fragrant and soft. It was really good.
Tang Shishi put down her spoon, “Not bad. Why does she think of sending me something?”
Dujuan heard her questions while arranging vegetables for Tang Shishi, and said casually, “Who knows, it may be due to Shizifei zealously cleaning up the staff today, which scared them. Managing the kitchen is a lucrative job, and Yang Mama doesn’t know how much profit she has fished over time. Now that Shizifei took over the internal affairs, Yang Mama is afraid to be found out by her. So it makes sense to come to please you ahead of time.”
Tang Shishi took a bite of tofu and asked, “Shizifei?”
“Yes, Miss. You were in the study room today and didn’t know that something big has happened in the mansion. Shizifei accepted two women as equal concubines. In the afternoon, she gathered all the servants of the Jing Wang mansion together, and thoroughly reprimanded them, saying that she wanted to clean up the family traditions and rectify the discipline. Shizifei also said that people will be rewarded for their meritorious deeds and will be punished for their mistakes. She will never let go of disloyal people, steal, cheat, and mix with bad people.”
Tang Shishi gave an “En” sound and said, “Such a coincidence, I’m in the same group of those who are disloyal, steal, cheat, and mix with bad people.”
“Miss, what are you talking about?” Dujuan smiled, “You work as a maid in Wangye’s study room, and you don’t even take a break from the big wedding of Shizi. You are so important, ah! You hold an important role, and you are a first-class beauty. Miss, your good fortune is yet to come.”
Tang Shishi chuckled and did not comment. She did not know why everyone in the mansion felt that she had a special position in the study room. She was a woman or a woman sent by Empress Dowager, could she be trusted by Jing Wang?
Tang Shishi felt bitter, but she could not say anything.
While serving some vegetables to Tang Shishi, Dujuan tentatively asked, “Miss, Shizifei has taken beauty Zhou and beauty Ren as concubines. Do we want to send some gifts over?”
“What to congratulate about? Do you want to congratulate them on being equal concubines for Shizi?” Tang Shishi wiped the corners of her mouth with her handkerchief and said slowly, “Don’t worry about the affairs of the Yinian courtyard. No matter who they accept or who they favor, it will be Shizifei who is in charge. It has nothing to do with us. Shizifei is now the new mistress of the Jing Wang mansion, new mistress will bring in new ideas, so many things will be different from before. All of you should live in peace, focus on your own affairs, and don’t go out to create trouble. No matter what Shizifei arranges, just agree to it. Understand?”
As soon as Dujuan heard Tang Shishi’s words, she knew that this was not a joke. She put both hands together and replied respectfully, “Yes.”
In the dead of night, Tang Shishi opened the book and saw a new plot. In the original book, Lu Yufei also entered the mansion early. As soon as she entered the mansion, she was bold and ambitious. Zhao Zixun found a sense of freshness in her, and he was considered courteous to Lu Yufei. On the second day of their wedding, Lu Yufei accepted two concubines in succession, who were obviously virtuous and generous. In fact, she used Ren Yujun to divide Zhou Shunhua’s favor to provoke the relationship between the two of them.
Lu Yufei did succeed. Ren Yujun and Zhou Shunhua became more and more unfamiliar, never going back to the beginning. However, Lu Yufei’s action was no different from drinking poison to quench her thirst. She accepted one concubine at first but could not stop afterward. The concubines’ room divided Zhou Shunhua’s favor, but as did hers.
This was Zhou Shunhua’s most difficult time. She experienced a huge gap difference between the noblewoman status and the concubine, and her living expenses were secretly withheld by Lu Yufei. Her best sister became a sharp knife to stab her. The most dreadful thing was that even Zhao Zixun was indifferent to her.
Suddenly there were so many women around, how much energy could Zhao Zixun give to Zhou Shunhua? The book described it like this, “Zhou Shunhua kept a low profile, stayed away from the edge, ignored the arrogant and domineering Shizifei, and did not listen to the news about who has been favored recently. She lived her own simple life wholeheartedly. She believed that the young man by the lake treated her differently. The more lonely she was now, the more distressed Zhao Zixun will be when he learned about everything. Zhou Shunhua was waiting, waiting for an opportunity to fight back.”
Tang Shishi turned to the table of content at once to find Zhou Shunhua’s opportunity to “fight back”. She could not see anything in the table of content, mostly flashy descriptions. According to the title, she could not guess what the content was about. Based on many years of experience in reading scripts, Tang Shishi found chapters with love, lust, and desire in the title. At first glance, it was a chapter of that kind of drama. She returned to the latest updates and tried to extract the keywords in the title.
The next chapters all mention “firecrackers”, “New Year”, “fireworks”, and so on, which seem to be events of New Year’s Eve. Tang Shishi stroked her chin and pondered slowly, “New Year’s Eve…”
Could it be that Zhou Shunhua’s turning point was during the New Year? Tang Shishi glanced at the moonlight. Now it was already the twelfth month, and it would soon be New Year’s Eve.
When it came time to guess the plot again, Tang Shishi was holding her head with a headache. She really could not understand the thoughts of the male and female leads, which caused her to be unable to believe in herself now. Tang Shishi was afraid that she might choose the wrong option again. Out of safety, she conservatively decided to hold back this time. When she was certain about the female lead’s movement, then only she would come forward to grab it.
Tang Shishi was scared witless. This time, there would be no mistakes, right?
Tang Shishi and Dujuan had just mentioned Shizifei but they did not expect that Lu Yufei would send someone to invite Tang Shishi for a chit-chat within the next few days.
Tang Shishi was instinctively alert but still went to the Yinian courtyard according to the appointed time with good intentions. The red silk in the Yinian courtyard had not been removed yet, and the red happy characters could be seen everywhere. Lu Yufei’s old momo drew the curtains for Tang Shishi herself, and shouted towards inside, “Shizifei, Miss Tang is here.”
As soon as Tang Shishi entered the door, Lu Yufei greeted her with a smile on her face, “It turns out that Miss Tang is here. I just took a nap and didn’t pay attention to the outside movement. Why didn’t someone come over to let me know that Miss Tang is here, so I can go outside to greet you.”
Tang Shishi also responded politely with a smile, “I dare not. Shizifei’s status is noble. How dare I let Shizifei greet me? It was my misfortune that interrupted Shizifei’s rest and pleaded guilty to Shizifei.”
Tang Shishi was about to salute, but Lu Yufei quickly held Tang Shishi’s arm and groaned, “Miss Tang must not say like that. You are a capable person by my father’s side. Thanks to Miss Tang for taking care of my father these days. I can’t thank you enough. How dare I blame you? Look at me, as soon as I am happy, I forgot all about etiquette. Miss Tang, please come inside.”
Lu Yufei pulled Tang Shishi to sit down, and Tang Shishi sat on the arhat couch, opposite Lu Yufei. After she was seated, maids came forward one after another to change tea and served desserts. After everything was put in order, two beauties dressed in palace dress stepped forward and saluted Tang Shishi, “Miss Tang, many blessings.”
Tang Shishi had seen two of them for a long time and pretended not to know. Until now, she turned her attention to them and pretended to evade hurriedly, “It’s my negligence that I didn’t see Sister Ren and Sister Zhou. How can I dare to receive two sister’s greetings…”
Lu Yufei held down Tang Shishi’s hand, “What are you talking about, Miss Tang? You are my distinguished guest. The concubines salute you, why can’t you receive it? If Miss Tang said like this again, you’re precisely looking down on me.”
Tang Shishi was also pretending, and she sat down after she had enough, “If that’s the case, I’ll be bold. Two of you, please get up.”
Zhou Shunhua and Ren Yujun were maintaining the salutation position all the time. When Tang Shishi and Lu Yufei were talking, they kept their heads down and kept in a motionless position. After hearing Tang Shishi’s words, they replied, “Thank you, Miss Tang.”
Zhou Shunhua and Ren Yujun retreated to one side, bowed their heads, and restrained their eyes, just like a submissive rabbit. With tea in her hand, Tang Shishi sat on the warm and magnificent arhat couch and asked, “Shizifei, what’s the matter for calling me here this time?”
Lu Yufei smiled, “I don’t want to hide from Miss Tang. I’ve asked you to come this time, indeed something that I want to ask Miss Tang for help.”
“Oh?” Tang Shishi put the tea on the table, “I would like to hear the details.”
“New Year’s Eve is just around the corner. I’m a new daughter-in-law who has just entered the mansion. I’m really worried about running such a big banquet for the first time. I invited Miss Tang to ask about the New Year’s Eve celebration.”
“Ask me?” Tang Shishi was really surprised, “Shizifei, I’m just a maid. I entered the mansion not much earlier than you. I know very little about these things. If Shizifei is really unsure about it, it’s better to ask Tongxiu Gugu.”
“I’ve asked Tongxiu Gugu about the usual practice of previous years. I feel embarrassed to trouble her again.” Lu Yufei said, “Moreover, this New Year’s Eve banquet will be different from previous years. Usually, there are only a few people in the mansion, and just eat a casual dinner at the New Year’s Eve banquet, which is really a little sad. This year, I intend to have a big one.”
Tang Shishi’s eyes moved, revealing some meaningful expressions. Lu Yufei had just married into the Jing Wang mansion and had not even figured out the maidservants yet. On top of that, Lu Yufei dared to undertake the New Year’s Eve banquet and also ordered to make it big. This Shizifei was so confident about herself?
Tang Shishi smiled, no longer making suggestions. Instead, she followed Lu Yufei’s wish and said, “I heard that Shizifei is a very capable person, and now it seems that Wangye’s vision is indeed correct. I don’t know what Shizifei has in mind?”
Lu Yufei had a real smile on her face when she heard the praise. Since entering the mansion, Lu Yufei has always been polite to Tang Shishi, but this kind of politeness was completely superficial. In fact, the corners of Lu Yufei’s eyes were full of pride and contempt.
She was an official’s daughter from an innocent background, and now she was still a Shizifei. How could she be regarded as a group of beauties who serve people even if this group of people came from the imperial palace?
Lu Yufei took out a list, “This is my unfinished draft of songs and dances list. Miss Tang, is there anything else I need to add?”
Tang Shishi took the list, looked down, and found that the time and repertoire were arranged accordingly. Why were you looking for my opinion? Tang Shishi put down the list, and nodded, “The arrangement is very good. I like it very much. There’s nothing to change.”
Lu Yufei quickly asked, “Miss Tang often stays beside my father, and I’m trying to understand my father’s preferences. I don’t know according to Miss Tang, will my father like it?”
How would Tang Shishi know? Without changing her expression, she said, “Shizifei, don’t worry. Wangye likes this type. Shizifei just goes ahead.”
Lu Yufei was greatly relieved, with a real smile on her face, “That’s good. Thank you, Miss Tang.”
While they were talking here, a little maid outside suddenly reported, “Shizi is back.”
Tang Shishi was startled and realized that Zhao Zixun was on vacation and did not need to go to the academy. Tang Shishi hesitated for a while, but still stood up, “Since Shizi is back, it’s inconvenient for me to disturb you. So I’ll leave now.”
Lu Yufei did not anticipate Tang Shishi to leave so fast. She just said a few words and sent Tang Shishi out. After all, Lu Yufei did not want to talk to Zhao Zixun with another woman beside her.
Zhao Zixun entered the main entrance, just in time to see Tang Shishi lift the bead curtain and come out from the inner room. When Tang Shishi saw Zhao Zixun, she nodded with a smile, and gently saluted, “Shizi, greetings.”
Zhao Zixun was stunned. He did not expect to meet Tang Shishi here.
Lu Yufei followed out, stood beside Zhao Zixun, and softly told Tang Shishi to be careful on the way back. Tang Shishi nodded with a smile, stretched out her hand, and a maid fastened her cloak, put on her ear warmers and handguards, and finally, held the handwarmer.
Tang Shishi was dressed properly in exquisite clothes, grand and bright in colors in the blink of an eye. She said to Lu Yufei, “Shizifei, no need to see me out.” Then she looked at Zhao Zixun, nodded, and lifted the curtain to go out.
She looked glamorous, without nostalgia.