IBTBTED Chapter 45
It’s Better to be the Empress Dowager
Chapter 45 Lantern Festival
Dujuan followed Tang Shishi closely. She thought about it carefully after hearing her questions and said, “I don’t know much about it either. In the previous years, I only heard that the Xu family came to deliver gifts, but today was the first time that Madam Xu came to the mansion in person.”
Tang Shishi lifted her skirt and walked up the steps into the warm winter sun with her bright red clothing. Dujuan’s words were not far from Tang Shishi’s expectations. If Madam Xu came to visit every year, where would Jing Wang have such a good temper?
This year Madam Xu was unable to hold back. Firstly, she heard that Zhao Zixun had gotten married and wanted to meet Shizifei. Secondly, it was probably her younger brother who had committed a crime.
Tang Shishi asked, “Dujuan, when did you enter the mansion? How much do you know about Wangye and the Xu family?”
“I was bought into the mansion in the third year of Yongxi.” Dujuan sighed and said, “At that time, I was still young and didn’t remember much. I only remember that the harvest that year was very bad. Many people couldn’t survive and could only sell their children. That’s how I entered Jing Wang’s mansion. At that time, I was just serving people and was ignorant. Before I have time to learn about the rules of the mansion, I heard about the Tatars’ attack. The frontier defenses were losing one after another. Many people from Xiping fled to the south, but Wangye did not leave and took people to the north. We waited fearfully in the mansion. From autumn to winter, we finally heard that the Tatars had retreated but Wangye was seriously injured. After he returned to the mansion, he recuperated for several months, and Xu Jing died in this war to protect Wangye.”
Tang Shishi slowly contemplated the third year of Yongxi. At the age of eight, Tang Shishi was still jealous of Tang Yanyan over the so-called father’s love. She did not cry because Tang Yanyan had a pearl flower. At that time, Tang Shishi did not even know that there had been wars in the Northwest.
The front line went through life and death, but the people at the back were not aware wars were going on. Tang Shishi was a little surprised. When she was weeping for the pearl flower, she did not know that Zhao Chengjun was in a bloody war on the front line. She had been enjoying the wealth of the eldest daughter of the Tang family and had been able to nitpick about her clothes and jewelry, just because someone supported the Northwest battlefront.
Tang Shishi had long known that Zhao Chengjun was a very powerful person. He held half of the world’s military forces, and his position was very important. Even the arrogant and domineering Empress Dowager Yao was afraid of him. However, this was the first time Tang Shishi really felt what this title signified.
Seeing that Tang Shishi’s eyes were dazed, Dujuan tentatively asked, “Miss, what are you thinking about?”
Tang Shishi blinked her eyes, her eyes regained their glow, and said slowly, “In fact, when I was seven or eight years old, I especially hated this world. I felt that no one in this world was kind to me, and the only mother who is kind to me is timid and useless. I was pushed into the pool by Tang Yanyan, and she couldn’t even get justice for me. But now I suddenly discovered that when I was not aware, someone was still protecting me.”
Dujuan did not understand, and asked with a frown, “Miss, what are you talking about? What protection or no protection?”
Tang Shishi glanced at Dujuan with disdain and said, “Never mind, just pretend I didn’t say it. By the way, how did Wangye settle the Xu family after he adopted Shizi?”
Dujuan shook her head and said truthfully, “I don’t know. I only knew that one day a boy suddenly appeared in the mansion. Tongxiu Gugu said that he was the child of the benefactor and told us to respect him. Later, after a few more days, Liu Gonggong asked the people of the mansion to change the way they addressed the child and called him Shizi. He strictly forbade the people in the mansion to talk about the origin of Shizi. As for what happened to the Xu family… no one in the mansion dared to ask and it’s hard for me to tell.”
Dujuan was just a maid, after all, it was impossible to know about the insider story. However, based on these alone, Tang Shishi could probably figure out the situation back then.
After Zhao Chengjun adopted Zhao Zixun, naturally the benefits for the Xu family were indispensable. In addition to Xu Jing, there were also other males in the Xu family. They got promoted, even though it was not to the extent of nobility, but it was more than enough to arrange a few positions with real power for the Xu family. Madam Xu’s situation was a little bit more complicated. She was a female family member of the inner residence and could not show her face in the public. Now that her husband was dead, she depended on her son to provide for the elderly. After Zhao Chengjun took away her son, it may be assumed that he would leave a large sum of money for Madam Xu which would be enough for Madam Xu to spend the rest of her life with dignity.
The premise was that the money was in Madam Xu’s hands.
However, it seemed that Madam Xu’s money had been swindled by her younger brother. Now that Madam Xu dared to visit the mansion at risk of offending Jing Wang, it was obvious that the money has all been spent. The poor Madam Xu was hollowed out her sum of money by her younger brother and still thought her younger brother was good. Her younger brother was detained by the gambling house and her maiden family was not doing well. She tried every means to get her younger brother out.
Tang Shishi clicked her tongue, wondering whether Madam Xu was pitiful or stupid. However, Madam Xu gave birth to a good son. No matter how stupid she was, there would always be a son who would stand up for her. In the future, she could also enter the imperial palace to enjoy the good fortune of Empress Dowager.
There was really no way to talk about the fate of life. It was clear that the throne had nothing to do with their family, and Madam Xu herself had no redeeming qualities whether in appearance, intelligence, or finesse. Tang Shishi was unwilling to concede, that if this kind of person could be Empress Dowager, why she could not?
“Miss, be careful of the snow on the ground.” Dujuan followed Tang Shishi out of the corridor and walked into the moon gate from the gravel path. Dujuan avoided the snowdrifts on the ground, and asked, “Miss, why do you care so much about Madam Xu? She just came to pay a New Year’s visit. There won’t be many interactions in the future.”
Naturally, Tang Shishi would not say these words. She said gently, “Nothing. It’s just a meeting by chance. So I’m just curious. You go back and tell the maids and old women of Jianjia courtyard that when they see Madam Xu later, they need to make a detour and at the same time need to be respectful. Don’t say more or do more, just avoid her when you see her. Remember this?”
Dujuan quickly responded, “Yes.”
After finishing reminding Dujuan, Tang Shishi stopped talking about Madam Xu. This was not something that Tang Shishi could intervene in at this stage. No matter how bad Madam Xu was, she was Zhao Zixun’s mother. Mother and child connections would never break. If Tang Shishi dared to neglect Madam Xu, she would be cleaned up by Zhao Zixun in the future but if she dared to be close to Madam Xu, she would be cleaned up by Jing Wang now.
Therefore, it was better not to help either of them and watch the fire burning from the other side.
The original intention of Tang Shishi was to pay a New Year’s visit to Shizifei, but she got herself into trouble. Tang Shishi was afraid of encountering the Xu family again, so she refused to go out. She nestled in her room to tease the fox. After lunch, several weasels came to pay a New Year’s visit one after another.
Ji Xinxian and Feng Qian both came. They gently laughed and complimented Tang Shishi’s appearance and clothes. Then they turned around to inquire about the morning’s affairs. It was not a secret that Madam Xu visited Shizifei, and it had spread all over the mansion in a blink of an eye. Jing Wang also knew that Madam Xu was able to enter the gate of the mansion.
Regardless of what the people above plan to do, Tang Shishi could not carry this pot. She did not care how they are going to resolve Madam Xu’s matter, but it must never be spread out from Tang Shishi.
Tang Shishi was laughing and cracking jokes for a long time, just not to talk about Madam Xu. Ji Xinxian who had been listening for a long time completely lost her patience, stood up, and said, “Unknowingly, we have been sitting here for so long. There are still a few more greetings that I need to make, I will not sit with Sister Tang, and will leave first.”
Tang Shishi also stood up and said with reluctance, “Sister Ji, Sister Feng, you are leaving now? Since the younger sisters are busy, I will not delay you. The two younger sisters please take care.”
Feng Qian showed an expression of being startled. Actually, she did not plan to leave with Ji Xinxian. Did Tang Shishi just decide for her? However, Tang Shishi was one step ahead. Since the words had already been spoken, Feng Qian had to leave even if she did not want to. Feng Qian got up and smiled gently, “Sister Tang please stop. It’s cold outside, please be careful of the wind. We’ll leave first. Sister, please stay healthy, and I will come to visit you some other day.”
Feng Qian gave in politely. Tang Shishi immediately stopped but kept on blabbering, and did not do anything, “Aiya, how improper is this? Two sisters, please be careful on the way. Dujuan, send the two sisters out for me.”
Tang Shishi stood in front of the hundred treasure pavilion and gave in falsely. After Feng Qian and Ji Xinxian left, she sat back in the inner room again, picked up the little fox, and rolled her eyes unabashedly.
“The two troublemakers are finally gone.” Tang Shishi murmured. She brushed the little fox’s fur for a while, and said lazily to the maids, “You have worked hard serving for a year now. Today is the first day of the New Year. It’s a rare holiday, you all can go back to rest.”
The maids showed obvious joy but somewhat hesitated, “Miss, this is against the rules…”
“My place, my rules.” Tang Shishi held the fox in her arms and said, “Go back now. If you have family members, go meet your family members. If you don’t have family members, just chat among sisters. I’m in the main room and will not go out for a while. If something happens, I will call you.”
The maids were overjoyed, saluted Tang Shishi, and went out happily. Tang Shishi seemed to be teasing the fox, but in fact, her ears kept listening to the movement outside. After she was sure that there was no one nearby, she patted the fox and said, “Guard the door. If someone comes, barks immediately.”
The little fox was carried to the cold hard floor. It scratched its ears aggrievedly and lay down pitifully holding its tail. Taking advantage of no one in the room, Tang Shishi took out her treasured book and quietly opened it to check the progress.
She had not read it for a long time, and there was some progress in the plot. Tang Shishi turned to the latest chapter and found that it was related to Madam Xu.
Madam Xu received a cold shoulder from Lu Yufei. After she came out, she was so devastated that she accidentally bumped into someone when she was walking, who happened to be Zhou Shunhua.
Zhou Shunhua was gentle and generous and asked Madam Xu gently. She immediately warmed Madam Xu’s heart and by accident, she learned that Shizi’s Uncle Chen Tai was being detained in the gambling house.
When Tang Shishi saw this line of words, her expression immediately became bad. She calculated the time and found that the time Zhou Shunhua ran into Madam Xu was shortly after Tang Shishi left Madam Xu.
“…” Tang Shishi was sure, she was really a vicious female supporting character. There was once a plot before her, but she did not cherish it. As long as she was a little more kind, the ending would be completely different.
Tang Shishi cursed herself vigorously in her heart.
Tang Shishi exhaled and inhaled deeply. Only after she calmed down, then she was able to continue to read on. At the end of the plot, Zhou Shunhua learned about Chen Tai’s affairs. Zhou Shunhua gently and generously sent Madam Xu away and promised that she would tell her son about it.
At the end of the chapter it was written, “After Zhou Shunhua sent Madam Xu away, she stood there for a long time. As the handwarmer began to get cold, Zhou Shunhua tightened her fur cloak tightly on her body, turned around, and walked back. She originally planned to go to the Yinian courtyard to pay respect to Shizifei, but now it seemed that there was no need to go anymore.”
Tang Shishi immediately felt that something was wrong. Based on her understanding of Zhou Shunhua, this person seemed to be as noble as a lotus and did not seek fame or wealth. In fact, she thought highly of herself. Among the many women in the mansion, Zhou Shunhua was the most easygoing and kind, but on the contrary, Zhou Shunhua was the one who attached great importance to the concept of family.
Lu Yufei clearly showed her disdain for Madam Xu. Although Zhou Shunhua did not express it, based on her background and education, Tang Shishi did not believe that Zhou Shunhua would look up to Madam Xu.
What did Zhou Shunhua want to do?
The following content was a blank. Tang Shishi flipped the pages in vain and could only guess the following content. She has read this section back and forth countless times, but she did not expect when she read it again this time, she found another secret.
Zhou Shunhua’s return to favor coincided with Madam Xu’s visit. It was obvious from the contents that Lu Yufei quickly fell out of favor this time, and there was no chance of recovery afterward. The gap between Lu Yufei and Zhao Zixun became wider and wider to the point that Lu Yufei could not even keep her dignity as the legitimate wife.
Tang Shishi held her chin and fell into deep thinking. What exactly did Zhou Shunhua do to make Zhao Zixun’s attitude towards Lu Yufei plummet? Was it really just a coincidence with Madam Xu’s visit?
Tang Shishi did not believe it. She only believed that one could achieve anything with effort, and all other coincidences were the inevitable result of a person’s nature. Tang Shishi closed the book and planned to observe the changes. Now there was still time before the Lantern Festival. No matter what Zhou Shunhua did, Tang Shishi should keep a close eye on it.
It was such a good opportunity for a wife and concubine to fight, how could Tang Shishi not make a fortune out of it?
Over the next few days, Tang Shishi had been paying close attention to the movement around the mansion. However, it was strange that the situation was calm all over the place, and the Yinian courtyard was even more peaceful, without any hoo-ha. In the blink of an eye, the Lantern Festival arrived, and the mansion became lively again.
After Lu Yufei hosted the grand New Year’s Eve banquet, she also wanted to host another grand Lantern Festival. Of course, there would be a banquet for viewing lanterns during the Lantern Festival. Since Lu Yufei thought it was not decent to go outside and crammed with the common people, she let the craftsmen make and sent the colorful lanterns to Jing Wang’s mansion. Then, she led the womenfolk to watch the lanterns in the mansion by herself.
Tang Shishi did not have the right to complain since she did not have to pay or work for it. However, Tang Shishi really wanted to lament that Lu Yufei could really spend a lot of money.
How much money did it cost for this banquet? It was not a big deal to have a grand New Year’s Eve since it was for the New Year. It was obvious that lanterns could be watched on the street during the Lanterns Festival, but Lu Yufei insisted on setting up the lanterns by herself. According to her logic, there would be Shangsi Festival in the third month, the Thousand Autumn Festival in the fourth month, the Dragon Boat Festival in the fifth month, then followed by the Chinese Valentine’s Festival, Ghost Festival, Double Ninth Festival, Start of Winter Festival, and so on. In addition to the birthdays of all the masters in the mansion, countless banquets would be held throughout the year. Tang Shishi thought that the Tang family was extravagant and wasteful, and she had never seen this kind of flushing money down the toilet method before.
The background of the Jing Wang mansion could naturally withstand Lu Yufei’s extravagance, but this was not a long-term solution at all.
However, Tang Shishi was just a little maid. Since Shizifei liked to be lively, and Jing Wang and Shizi did not say anything, when would it be Tang Shishi’s turn to complain? Tang Shishi did not make any comments. On the 15th day, she changed into a white silk coat and put on a blue forged horse-faced skirt. The cuffs and skirts were embroidered with golden patterns. In order to match the white gold-woven coat, Tang Shishi deliberately changed to light golden earrings and hairpins. When she moved, the golden light flowed, just like the moon shining on the still lake or sunset on the snow-capped mountain. The plain white shone with golden light which created an illusion of peacefulness and luxuriousness.
After Tang Shishi entered the reception hall, Lu Yufei saw her and greeted her with a smile, “Miss Tang is here. I’m very busy today, and I can’t entertain you. Please help to find your own seat. After I’m done with all this, I’ll host a dinner just for you.”
“How can Shizifei say that?” Tang Shishi smiled, “We are all family, why do you need to be so polite? I can do it by myself. Shizifei quickly goes to entertain the guests.”
Lu Yufei held Tang Shishi’s hand and said a few polite remarks, and hurriedly went to greet the new guests. Tang Shishi glanced at Lu Yufei’s back and found a quiet place to sit down.
New Year’s Eve was a family banquet. At this Lanterns Festival, Lu Yufei was finally able to hold a big banquet as she wished. She invited many madams and young ladies from other mansions and also invited classmates of Shizi. Shizi entertained the male guests on the outside, while Lu Yufei only needed to take care of the womenfolk on the inside.
The banquet did not involve Jing Wang. It was only for the younger generation, thus it was also more casual. Tang Shishi had something to do today and did not want to compete with those women. She avoided the crowd and found a place by herself.
After Tang Shishi sat down, she heard the womenfolk on the next table said enviously, “Shizifei is really capable. Only the second month after entering the door, she was able to host such a big banquet. I’ve been in Xiping for so many years, never seen those colorful lanterns before.”
“She is Shizifei of the Jing Wang mansion. She only needs to give an order. So, why can’t she find any skilled craftsmen?” The other lady was fanning herself and said slowly, “Shizifei has a good life, unlike ours.”
The madam sighed and said, “I think the future Wangfei will be really good. The son is excellent, the daughter-in-law is capable, and the mother-in-law is far away in Jinling. She only needs to enjoy the blessing when she gets married, and she doesn’t have to worry about anything. I don’t know whose daughter will have such blessings in the future.”
After this sentence was spoken, the next table fell into silence momentarily. The madams were fanning their fans and looked at the doorway silently without saying a word.
Finally, Madam Xi arrived with her daughter and was chatting with Lu Yufei by the door. Lu Yufei held Xi Yunchu’s hand intimately, and they talked a lot. Then only Lu Yufei asks her personal maid to escort Xi Yunchu to take a seat.
The womenfolk at the next table was worried that this was the Jing Wang mansion, therefore, they did not dare to talk more about Wangfei. Instead, they talked about Lu Yufei. They were all envious of Lu Yufei’s good life. Just after she got married, she was able to obtain the power of the housekeeper of her husband’s household. After a short period, several waves of people come to Lu Yufei to ask for advice. Lu Yufei went to the reception hall door to greet the guests. An old woman in charge of reporting came to the door looking for Lu Yufei and then Lu Yufei went to the back to arrange the offerings. Without saying much, another new guest came.
Lu Yufei was walking back and forth, she was so busy going round and round that she did not even have the time to sit down and drink some water. Some of the ladies at the next table envied Lu Yufei’s creditability, and some felt sorry for Lu Yufei’s exhaustion. Tang Shishi lowered her head and took a sip of tea, thinking she was only asking for trouble.
Although Lu Yufei looked very busy, in fact, this kind of busyness was useless. Was there any usefulness in doing repetitive things constantly? Empress Dowager Yao was in charge of the Imperial Court, and she also looked at the memorials on behalf of the emperor. Was not she busier than a young Shizifei, Lu Yufei? However, Empress Dowager Yao lived a very nourishing life, enjoying life and holding great power, without dropping the ball.
Lu Yufei kept herself busy just to show it to herself. If she really planned it well, she would not be like this.
Madam Xi could be considered the last one to arrive. When the Xi family was seated, the guests came in together. Lu Yufei’s face was red, and she toasted, “I’m young and this is the first time to host such a big banquet. Many of you here are my elders, relatives, and friends. I know many of you are better than me. I’m extremely daring to take the lead this time. Thank you for giving me the face. If there is anything wrong at the banquet, please forgive me.”
A group of crowds in the banquet said, “Shizifei is too polite”. Lu Yufei raised her head and drank three cups of wine in a row. There was thunderous applause from the seats, and everyone laughed, “Shizifei is forthright, and Shizifei is good at drinking.”
Tang Shishi finished drinking the tea in the cup in silence. The madam beside her was busy clapping. When she saw Tang Shishi, she asked, “Miss, why do you only drink tea and not wine?”
Tang Shishi smiled, “I don’t drink well, and I don’t want to make a fool of myself in front of Shizifei.”
The madam understood, and smiled, “I understand that Shizifei is a heroine among the young ladies, and it’s difficult for a woman to have the same amount of alcohol tolerance as Shizifei. Since you can’t drink, then just forget it.”
Tang Shishi nodded and acted like a salted fish with peace of mind. After Lu Yufei drank three cups in a row, the whole hall warmed up. Lu Yufei’s face was bright red. She said a few more words while feeling tipsy and then walked to one table after another to entertain the guests. Like a butterfly, she refused to leave any table in the cold.
Lu Yufei was soon walked to Tang Shishi’s area. When she saw where Tang Shishi sat, she was very surprised, “Miss Tang, why are you here? It was my negligence that caused Miss Tang to be wronged like this. Miss Tang, please come sit with me.”
“No need, it’s fine here.” Tang Shishi has another plan today, so she did not want to sit at the front table and be noticed by everyone. Tang Shishi said with a smile, “It has nothing to do with Shizifei. Shizifei has done a good job. I’m not feeling well today, so I wanted to find a quiet place to sit for a while.”
Lu Yufei urged her several times. When she saw that Tang Shishi refused to move, she took the initiative to take the wine pot and pour the wine for Tang Shishi, “As the host, I’m so negligent. I’d like to propose a toast and make amends to Miss Tang.”
Tang Shishi glanced at the cup and found that there was fruit wine in it. Fruit wine was meaningless. Tang Shishi declined, “Forget about it. Shizifei has already drunk a lot. So this wine is not necessary.”
“I’m not drunk.” Lu Yufei said firmly, “I’m good at drinking. If Miss Tang can’t drink, then you can do as you wish, and I’ll finish it all.”
Tang Shishi looked at Lu Yufei, rather quite speechless. Whoever was drunk felt that they were not drunk. Tang Shishi meant well, but Lu Yufei turned around and urged Tang Shishi.
All right. Tang Shishi took the fruit wine and said, “Since Shizifei is making a toast, there’s no reason for me to avoid it. But I’m not good at drinking. I can only drink half of it. If Shizifei can’t drink anymore, don’t force it.”
Lu Yufei’s face was all red, and said with confidence, “Of course. Miss Tang, be at ease.”
Tang Shishi, who was “not strong enough to drink”, leaned on the table and watched Lu Yufei fill more than half a cup, her body visibly swayed. Tang Shishi slowly turned her wine cup and said, “If Shizifei can’t continue to drink, then forget it.”
“I can.” Lu Yufei drank it all. Tang Shishi deliberately raised her head and peeked at Lu Yufei’s wine cup. Seeing that it was all empty, she said with a smile, “Shizifei is really good at drinking. I admire you.”
“I don’t deserve it.” Lu Yufei almost fell down when she said that and was quickly helped up by a maid. Lu Yufei leaned against the maid and said, “I have to go and see guests at other tables. Miss Tang, excuse me.”
Tang Shishi nodded with a smile and watched her walk away. After she left, Tang Shishi looked at the remaining wine in her cup and put it down without any reluctance.
The person next to her understood clearly, and leaned closer, “This drink is strong! I just say, don’t force yourself if you can’t drink it. If you feel dizzy, you might as well go outside to sober up.”
Tang Shishi nodded with a smile, “Thanks a lot. I’ll leave first. If someone asks about me, please help say a few words for me.”
The other party responded, “Of course.”
Tang Shishi took the handwarmer and righteously left the reception hall. After she walked out of the reception hall, she turned left and right, and saw that no one was following her. She quietly walked to the area where the male guests were entertained.
Tang Shishi hesitated a bit as after meeting Madam Xu that day, the plot had not been updated. However, the title clearly stated that a major event would happen at the Lanterns Festival. What was the major event?
Tang Shishi was in deep thinking while standing behind the bushes. She was wearing a dark red cloak today and there was no light nearby. She stood behind the bushes as if blended into the darkness, very inconspicuous. Tang Shishi was pulling the leaf in distress and suddenly heard the sound of footsteps coming from outside. She quickly looked out and found a familiar figure walking by in a hurry. That person was stumbling and acting out of order, which looked very fishy.
Tang Shishi frowned. Was not this Zhao Zixun? What was wrong with him?
Tang Shishi looked around, lifted her skirt, and followed quietly. Zhao Zixun went into a courtyard and disappeared. Tang Shishi walked to the door and listened closely. Her intuition told her that Zhao Zixun was inside.
Tang Shishi’s palm was on the door. In a split second while she was about to push the door, she suddenly hesitated.
She had enough of guessing the plot wrongly, and now, obviously, this was another multiple-choice question.
What should she choose?