It’s Better to be the Empress Dowager
Chapter 44 New Year’s Day
First day of the New Year.
Zhao Chengjun at the border avoided this etiquette while Jinling was preparing a grand celebration for the Yan Dynasty.
Zhao Chengjun was stationed in the frontier, and he was also the uncle of the little Emperor, so he was exempted from such formalities. However, Tang Shishi and other womenfolk did not have such confidence. On the first day, everyone in the mansion would greet the mistress. Since the seat of Wangfei was vacant, it was replaced by Shizifei.
Tang Shishi went to Shizifei to pay respect. When she reached there, she found that all the maids and the old momo were all outside, and there was still someone guarding the door. Tang Shishi’s step gradually slowed down. When Lu Yufei’s old momo saw that Tang Shishi was here, she immediately greeted her diligently, “Miss Tang is here. Happy New Year to you.”
“Momo, same to you.” Tang Shishi stopped in the middle of the corridor, looked into the room, and asked, “Shizifei have a guest?”
The old momo smile froze for a while, and then smiled, “She cannot be considered as a guest. Miss Tang, wait a moment. I’ll go in and let Shizifei know.”
Tang Shishi was waiting outside the corridor with her handwarmer. She asked the maid next to her in a low voice, “Which guest came to visit Shizifei?”
The maid seemed reluctant to open her mouth. However, since the person who was asking the question was Tang Shishi, she dared not conceal it and could only say it quickly, “It’s Madam Xu.”
Madam Xu? Tang Shishi frowned. She had learned all about the officials’ dependents in Xiping and there were only a few that could visit Jing Wang mansion. When did a family named Xu appears in Xiping?
Tang Shishi was about to ask which Xu family it was. Seeing the maid’s expression, Tang Shishi suddenly enlightened and thought of that “Xu family”.
Shizi’s birth parents, Xu Jing, and Madam Xu.
In the third year of Yongxi’s reign, Xu Jing had saved Zhao Chengjun and died, leaving only an orphan and a widow in the Xu family. Zhao Chengjun was grateful for Xu Jing’s life-saving grace and began to support the Xu family. Later, Zhao Chengjun’s wife-to-be died two consecutively. Thus, Zhao Chengjun gave up the idea of getting married and adopted Xu Jing’s son as his adopted son and changed his name to Zhao Zixun.
It was a good thing for ordinary people’s children to enter the prince’s mansion, not to mention that the adopter was Jing Wang, Zhao Chengjun. Naturally, the Xu family did not disagree. Zhao Zixun’s birth mother, Madam Xu, did not know whether to avoid suspicion or completely abandon her son. In short, she rarely appeared in front of Zhao Zixun again in the following years.
This was a good thing for both parties. Both parties have a mutual tacit understanding, Zhao Chengjun no longer mentioned the Xu family, and the Xu family would not take the initiative to appear in front of Zhao Zixun. Although it was not completely cut off unless New Year’s Day, the two families seldom met up with each other.
Unexpectedly, on the first day of the New Year, Madam Xu would visit the Jing Wang mansion and meet Shizifei the first time she came. Now, Tang Shishi understood the old momo and the maids’ expressions earlier just now. Tang Shishi also felt awkward. She saw the situation was not good and wanted to be excused, “Since Shizifei is busy, it’s not convenient for me to trouble her. I will come to greet Shizifei again later.”
Before Tang Shishi could finish her words, the old momo raised the curtain and came out from the main room. She smiled at Tang Shishi, “Shizifei invited Miss Tang to come in.”
Well, she could not leave now even she wanted to. Tang Shishi could only bite the bullet and stepped forward. After entering the door, someone stood up and said, “This is Miss Tang whom Wangye relies on the most. Miss Tang, I’m expecting you. Please come in.”
Tang Shishi sighs secretly. Lu Yufei played the game well. She did not want to face Zhao Zixun’s birth mother, so she threw the hot potato to Tang Shishi.
Tang Shishi said with a smile, “There’s no sense in what Shizifei said. Shizifei is a very busy person, and I am idle all day long. If Shizifei wanted to see me, you can send a maid over at any time. How can it be so troublesome as Shizifei said?”
When Tang Shishi walked into the doorway of the eastern room, she saw Lu Yufei sitting in the front of the arhat couch, and on the opposite side was a middle-aged woman in rich clothing. However, her hands, neck, and nails showed roughness everywhere which did not match with her rich clothing.
The nobles never had to think about their livelihoods and those young ladies have been taking care of themselves since they were born. Their hands were as delicate as green onions, and most of them have beautiful long nails. It would not be like the woman in front of Tang Shishi with rough skins, short and thick, and even calluses on her fingers.
Tang Shishi pretended that she did not see it, and asked, “This lady is…”
After Tang Shishi entered the door, Lu Yufei stood up to greet her while Madam Xu was still sitting on the arhat couch. Now when she was asked by Tang Shishi, she just got up and made her presence known, “I’m from Xu family, and my late husband Xu Jing has passed away for many years.”
In fact, Tang Shishi knew her identity, but at this moment, she pretended to suddenly realize, and said, “It turns out to be Madam Xu. I was being disrespectful. Madam, please sit down quickly.”
Tang Shishi yielded to her, and Madam Xu really sat down. Tang Shishi kept smiling on the surface but sighed in her heart.
If everything developed according to the plot, then after entering the Imperial Palace later, Zhao Zixun would take Madam Xu into the Imperial Palace and serve as Empress Dowager. The mother-in-law whom the imperial concubines wanted to please would be such a person. No matter what, this was not a good thing for Tang Shishi, Zhou Shunhua, Lu Yufei, and Ren Yujun.
It could be seen that Lu Yufei did not want to face this person. Otherwise, she would not immediately pull Tang Shishi in as soon as Tang Shishi came as if she saw a lifebuoy. Lu Yufei sat on the opposite side of Madam Xu with an unyielding expression, while Tang Shishi sat on the embroidered stool moved by the maid and sat timidly in front of the step stool.
Everyone was feeling extremely awkward for a while, and no one spoke in the room. Madam Xu also felt uncomfortable. She clutched the handkerchief and said, “I haven’t seen Shizi for a long time. I didn’t expect Shizi to marry a wife now. Shizifei is too thin and has a small butt. I am afraid it won’t be easy to have children in the future.”
Tang Shishi was drinking tea, and almost choked when she heard this. Lu Yufei’s face turned black. She was not hostile towards her because given that she was Zhao Zixun’s biological mother. However, her manner of speaking was obviously cold, “I come from a scholarly family. My parents taught me to read books, be sensible, benevolence, righteousness, etiquette, wisdom, and trustworthy since young. They hope that I will become a qualified mistress to my husband’s family. The wife is not a concubine. A wife is responsible for the ups and downs of the family, and the continuity of the heirs. How can we regard the quality of birth as the standard?”
The dissatisfaction in Lu Yufei’s words was very obvious and Madam Xu’s expression became stiff. At the same time, Tang Shishi did not want to get herself involved in it. So she hurriedly said, “What the Shizifei said is right, and Madam Xu also meant the same, but her words were not as elegant as Shizifei.”
Madam Xu caught the cue and said immediately, “Yes, that’s what I meant. Regardless of whether a daughter-in-law is talented or not, the most important thing is to be able to bear children. If she can’t give birth to a child, even if she is a talented woman, it’s useless to marry her home.”
Lu Yufei’s expression was not getting any better, but she has nothing to say when it comes to having children. Tang Shishi gently lifted the tea lid and said, “Shizifei has just gotten married not long ago. There is no need to rush about the issue of children for a while. Moreover, Shizifei has already accepted two concubines for Shizi. No one can surpass Shizifei in terms of generosity and virtuousness.”
Madam Xu finally looked better when she heard that Lu Yufei take the initiative to accept concubines for Zhao Zixun. Madam Xu seemed a little hesitant to ask, “Is Shizi… doing well?”
Seeing that no one answered, Tang Shishi took the initiative to say, “Shizi has been taught by loyal officials and famous teachers on the outside and has been taken care of by a good wife and concubines on the inside. Of course, he has a wonderful life.”
Madam Xu responded with a disappointed expression, unable to tell whether she was happy or disappointed. Madam Xu suddenly became emotional and burst into tears, “When he left me that time, he was just a little boy. He used to climb up the tree and can’t stop making a fuss every day. In the blink of an eye, he is so big now. I, as the mother, haven’t seen anything, and am so heartbroken. However, I was afraid it’ll be bad for him, so I dare not even approach the mansion. Over the years, I have been standing outside at a distance, staring at the gate all day long, hoping that I would be able to see him when he entered or exited the mansion. Shizifei has not given birth to a son yet. After you gave birth, you will understand my feelings. When your son was taken away, it felt like a piece of meat has been gouged out from your heart…”
Madam Xu began to wail accusingly without warning, and some of her words were very inappropriate. What did she mean by she could not appear in front of Shizi for the sake of Shizi?
Such a reason, it would not work when it was spoken out in such a way.
Lu Yufei obviously felt that having such a mother-in-law was very embarrassing, and even her face changed. Tang Shishi also wanted to curry favor with Madam Xu in the future, so she had to play along, “Don’t cry, madam. Wangye and Shizi knew about your hardships over the years. Wangye treats Shizi like his real son with all his heart conscientiously. Madam Xu can rest assured of this. Today is the first day of the New Year. It’s auspicious to laugh more. Madam Xu, please will wipe away your tears quickly.”
There was a folk saying that the first day of the New Year symbolized the good fortune of a year. If someone cried on the first day, that person would cry all the time in the following year. When Madam Xu heard this, she stopped and wiped her face with a handkerchief.
Everyone in the room heaved a sigh of relief and cast thankful glances to Tang Shishi. As she wiped away her tears, Madam Xu said, “I know he is doing well. Otherwise, I would not have been able to survive all these years. Everyone in the family is hoping he is doing well too. It’s inconvenient for me to be a widow. Thanks to my maiden younger brother who inquired about the news and passed it on to me, only then did I know what was going on with Shizi. For so many years, no one in the Xu family talked about Shizi. Only my maiden’s family has been thinking about him. Just two days ago, my brother was negligent when he was inquiring about the news and fell into a trap. Now he is detained in the gambling house. My sister-in-law and I almost cried till blind. I remembered that Shizi loved to get close to his uncle when he was a child. So I came to the mansion this time is to ask Shizi to find a way to save his uncle.”
Tang Shishi even breathed a sigh of relief when she heard this. Finally, she has expressed what was on her mind. Tang Shishi did not believe in the saying that “being trapped by others” at all. Since the Tang family owned a casino, what was right and wrong in the casino, did Tang Shishi still not understand?
Tang Shishi asked casually, “The emperor is responsible for the greatness of the world. Even the gambling houses have to abide by the Imperial Court’s laws. Does madam know why your younger brother was detained by the gambling houses?”
Madam Xu pursed her lips, and said, “He owed some gambling debts. But not much. I know my own brother the best. He’s just a little addicted to gambling and will never commit any serious problems. The numbers that the casino said must have been designed by others to deceive him.”
Tang Shishi said “oh” and understood clearly in her heart. It turned out that he owed money for gambling. There was no big or small gambling addiction. Even when he started with a small bet, in the end, it would definitely become a big bet.
Lu Yufei was at the end of her patient when she heard this. She was the daughter of the Lu family. Her close relatives were either official family members of the same class or scholars from noble families. Where has she seen anyone who could gamble? Lu Yufei ran out of patience and said coldly, “I’ll remember Madam Xu’s words. I’ll talk to Shizi when he comes back in the evening.”
After speaking, Lu Yufei picked up her tea in an impatient mood. After that, Madam Xu tried to talk to Lu Yufei, but Lu Yufei ignored her.
Madam Xu felt embarrassed, and she could not sit down anymore. So she got up and said goodbye.
Lu Yufei was obviously relieved as if wishing her to leave quickly. Lu Yufei saw that Madam Xu’s complexion was not good, but she did not care since Madam Xu was not her mother-in-law. Lu Yufei was married to Jing Wang’s mansion. Who was the Xu family to her?
Tang Shishi’s eyesight was extremely fast and immediately followed suit to say goodbye. After she walked out of the gate of Yinian courtyard, Madam Xu pulled Tang Shishi and tried to seek approval from Tang Shishi, “Miss Tang, do you think that Shizifei is embarrassed by me? Poor me, I had a runny nose and tears while talking about my son. In the end, my son was taken care of by someone else’s family, and even my daughter-in-law looked down on me…”
Tang Shishi thought something sounded a little fishy, and quickly cut her words, “Shizi is straightforward, Madam may have misunderstood. Madam, I just remembered that Wangye asked me to do something, and I have to go back to report quickly. So I can’t send Madam out of the mansion. Madam, please take your time and I’ll go first.”
Tang Shishi quickly left with her maid after she finished speaking. Tang Shishi was afraid of being entangled and ran in a hurry. Naturally, she did not see Zhou Shunhua was coming from the other side after she left.
After walking for some time, Tang Shishi asked Dujuan softly, “What’s the matter with the Xu family? Has Madam Xu been here before?”