IBTBTED Chapter 47
It’s Better to be the Emperess Dowager
Chapter 47 Out of Favor
Tang Shishi finally understood Zhou Shunhua’s plan, but it was too late already. Now, only Tang Shishi left stood alone under the eaves, after Jing Wang and Zhou Shunhua had left one after another, she felt surprisingly out of place.
Zhao Zixun’s personal young menservants lowered their heads when they saw Tang Shishi, and one by one walked around her. Tang Shishi wanted to explain, but she really did not know what she was going to say to appear less sophistry. Tang Shishi tried for a while, and finally decided to shut up was the best option.
Tang Shishi gathered her cloak tightly, and quietly left without being noticed.
Tang Shishi was in a bad mood and did not even want to go back to the banquet hall. Anyway, no one really cared about her at the banquet. Tang Shishi went straight back to her Jianjia courtyard.
Tang Shishi walked alone in the harsh winter, and it was pitch-black all around. Not knowing what was going on in this section of the road, the lights went out several times, the road was particularly desolate, and the shadows of the trees were swaying in the dark. Tang Shishi tied her cloak tightly and wanted to go back as soon as possible.
But halfway through, she heard hoots of an owl. The owl made three long and three short hoots, which seemed to have a unique call to it. Tang Shishi’s steps stopped gradually. She listened for a while, looked behind her, and walked slowly in the direction where the hoots came from.
Tang Shishi walked to a shade of a tree, and coughed softly, “It’s me.”
A person jumped out from behind the tree, and it was the old woman Wu. Granny Wu quickly glanced around and took Tang Shishi to hide in the dark.
Tang Shishi put up with her discomfort in her hand and said with a smile, “Granny Wu, you came to look for me. What can I do for you?”
Granny Wu’s speaking style was the same as before, without any sloppiness, and directly asked, “Did you bring Jing Wang to Shizi today?”
Tang Shishi clenched her fingers, without exposing any expression, and said calmly, “Yes.”
“The woman next to Shizi was Zhou Shunhua?”
Tang Shishi’s mood sank. It seemed that Granny Wu knew far more than she had imagined. She, Zhou Shunhua, and Ren Yujun were all under the control of Granny Wu. It was ridiculous that they were still fighting among themselves. In fact, they were just pawns in the hands of Empress Dowager.
Tang Shishi did not change her face, and replied, “Yes.”
Granny Wu stared at Tang Shishi closely, Tang Shishi’s heart was already panicked, but she persisted in looking directly at Granny Wu’s eyes. Granny Wu suddenly laughed out loud, and gripped Tang Shishi’s hand harder, “You did well. I was suspicious of you before, but now it seems that Feng Momo’s vision can’t be wrong.”
“… …” Tang Shishi was stunned for a moment and asked in confusion, “Huh?”
“You’ve done a very good job today. You didn’t act rashly after noticing Shizi’s drug. Instead, you deliberately led Jing Wang to Shizi’s room. On one hand, you drove a wedge between Jing Wang and Shizi, and on the other hand, you destroyed Shizi’s marriage with Shizifei. Killing two birds with one stone is really a wise move.”
Tang Shishi was silent and slowly doubted herself. Was that true? Was that her real intention?
Tang Shishi thought this was ridiculous, but these smart people always had their preconceived ideas and judge others by themselves. Obviously, it was a very simple matter, but they preferred to think in a complicated way. Previously, it was Feng Momo, and now it was Granny Wu and even Jing Wang were all like this.
Tang Shishi accepted Granny Wu’s praise with a guilty conscience and said, “Granny’s praise is absurd. I just did what I should do.”
Granny Wu’s eyes were full of admiration, and she was quite impressed with Tang Shishi. She said, “I originally thought that a beautiful woman like you was most likely to be bewitched by the imperial power and wealth. I didn’t expect you to be clear-headed. On the contrary, Zhou Shunhua, who was born from a court official family, was fascinated. I have already checked on Zhou Shunhua’s affairs, including what she has done during this time, I know everything clearly. When a man is caught in a whirlpool of emotions, he can still get out of it but once a woman falls in love with a man, she can’t help herself. It’s a pity, she is obviously such a smart person.”
There was no regret in Granny Wu’s words. Tang Shishi felt that things were a bit beyond her control. She did not dare to express her position rashly and asked tentatively, “Granny, you mean…”
“She can’t stay.” Without blinking her eyes, Granny Wu said very ruthlessly, “As a chess piece, she fell in love with Jing Wang’s Shizi and tried to live with him forever. A chess piece who has forgotten her identity is not qualified to stay on the chessboard.”
Tang Shishi was silent. She knew that Granny Wu was suspicious of Zhou Shunhua, which was clearly what she wanted to see most. However, when she got to this point, Tang Shishi only felt chills.
It might be a bit hypocritical to say that the stakes were closely related, but Tang Shishi could not help but feel sad about it. Zhou Shunhua was the legitimate daughter of the court official and Tang Shishi, more so, a merchant young lady with no background looked like an ant in the eyes of those big people. Would not she be crushed to death if they said so?
The power of life and death was in the hand of others. Poor those ten beauties who were still scheming each other. Little did they know, they were just meat on other people’s cutting board.
Perhaps seeing that Tang Shishi’s expression was not good, Granny Wu changed the way she spoke and said, “Don’t worry, Empress Dowager is a person who distinguishes between rewards and punishments. As long as you don’t have two hearts like those women, Empress Dowager will not treat you badly. Zhou Shunhua has already been abandoned. Once a woman gives birth to love, she is completely hopeless. However, Shizi is very interested in her, and it’s rare to arrange a woman inside the Jing Wang mansion. So, just let her be for now. When Empress Dowager gets the news she wants, she can disappear.”
Tang Shishi bowed her head and said, “This little girl is at the mercy of granny.”
“Get up.” Granny Wu personally helped Tang Shishi up and said, “You stay with Jing Wang for the time being and don’t act rashly. Jing Wang is not an easy person to get close to, only a few people can get his trust. Now, you are making good progress. Keep it up and don’t worry so as not to ruin the bigger picture. The medicine I gave you last time should be with you all the time. If Jing Wang found out, swallow the medicine immediately, so you can walk innocently. As for the other women… You only need to do your own thing and don’t care about them. No matter how much disturbances they caused, they’ll never surpass you.”
Tang Shishi breathed a sigh of relief silently. Granny Wu and Empress Dowager Yao still seemed to trust her very much. This was a good sign. Tang Shishi lowered her head and said, “Thank you, Empress Dowager. Thank you, granny. This little girl always remembers granny’s guidance and will not let granny and the Empress Dowager down.”
“Good child.” Granny Wu praised and said, “You go back quickly, don’t let Jing Wang’s people be suspicious of you.”
Tang Shishi responded and stepped back slowly. After she came out from the shade among the trees, she looked back and saw there was still a figure under the tree.
Tang Shishi gathered her cloak tightly, and without looking back, she quickly walked towards Jianjia courtyard.
Jianjia courtyard stood peacefully in the wind. The door was closed. Although the light inside was bright, there was no movement except the red lanterns hitting the wall one after another. Tang Shishi lifted her skirt, walked up the steps, and knocked on the door, “It’s me. Open the door.”
Tang Shishi knocked for a while before she heard some movement inside. A little maid carefully cracked open the door and saw that it was Tang Shishi. She was surprised and asked, “Miss, why are you back?”
Tang Shishi crossed over the threshold and walked towards the main room while exhaling to warm her hands, “I had a few drinks at the banquet, and then I came back first. What about the others?”
“Shizifei put up the colored lanterns in the garden. They went outside to look at the lights.” The little maid nervously followed Tang Shishi, and said quickly, “I waited thinking that miss would come back after the banquet was over. This is impetuous. Miss, please forgive me. I’ll go and call them back.”
“No need.” Tang Shishi entered the room and untied the cloak by herself. Upon seeing this, the little maid promptly came forward to pick up the cloak. There was charcoal burning in the room. When Tang Shishi returned to the warm room and held the hot tea, then only did she feel that she had regained her consciousness.
The mist of tea was dense in front of her eyes, causing a thin white mist to hang on Tang Shishi’s eyelashes. Tang Shishi’s eyes seemed to be empty, and she whispered softly, “No need to call. Anyway, after a while, they will come back by themselves.”
The little maid was busy delivering tea and water to Tang Shishi. She handed the newly heated handwarmer to Tang Shishi and asked in confusion, “Miss, how do you know?”
Tang Shishi smiled, took the copper handwarmer, and said, “I just guess randomly.”
The little maid stood on one side. She was the little maid in charge of cleaning the floor in the courtyard. On normal days, it would not be her turn to serve her this close. For the first time, she was so close to Tang Shishi that she was a bit nervous, “Miss, do you still want to drink hot tea? Sister Yulan and others are not here. This maid is clumsy and can’t serve people.”
“It’s nothing.” It was extremely difficult for Tang Shishi to deal with Zhou Shunhua and Ji Xinxian, but she was very easy-going in her own place. She said, “The Lantern Festival is only celebrated once a year, and it’s rare to set up lights in the mansion this year. It’s normal for them to want to see the lights. I just think the front was too noisy and came back to rest for a while. You don’t have to be nervous.”
The little maid looked at Tang Shishi and flattered, “Today, Shizifei has invited many people to the banquet. Miss, you are the most important person in front of Wangye. Naturally, many people want to talk to you. It’s no wonder that you feel tired.”
“Yes, there were so many people.” Tang Shishi slowly sipped tea, and it was a pity that this would be the last grandeur of Lu Yufei.
Tang Shishi slowly counted the time. By now, Shizi’s accident over there would have been passed to Lu Yufei’s ears. Soon, Lu Yufei would no longer have the mood to visit the garden to watch the lights.
Tang Shishi’s expectations were not bad. It did not take long for the maids who went out to watch the lanterns to come back one by one. When they came in, they found that Tang Shishi was already there, and they begged for forgiveness in a hurry.
“Miss, please forgive us. This maid was playful, and did not know you’re back…”
Tang Shishi had changed into her comfortable clothes, held the little fox in her arms, and talked to a group of maids in a lazy tone, “It’s a good day. There’s no need to be nervous, just this once. Let’s all get up.”
“Miss, thank you.”
The maids got up one after another, not daring to talk too much, and quietly scattered to do things. Dujuan brought a pot of hot tea, changed the water carefully, and did not dare to speak at all.
When the master came back and there was no one in the house, this was considered great negligence. In fact, Tang Shishi really did not care so much. She had experienced a lot more negligence in the Tang family, and this level was only scratching the surface for Tang Shishi. Besides, the maids were not negligent on purpose. They were also humans, and they also had feelings and desires. They were just looking at the lights on the Lantern Festival, which could not be considered as making mistakes.
Tang Shishi slowly grabbed the little fox’s fur and asked, “I came back early, and I didn’t see the lantern displays of Shizifei. What lights are there in the garden?”
Dujuan looked at Tang Shishi’s complexion and said carefully, “There are golden screen lanterns, jade tower lanterns, lotus lanterns, and white elephant lanterns. The most beautiful one is the crystal glass wind lanterns, and when it turned, it’s like silver lights in snow wave…”
Tang Shishi sighed softly and said, “Shizifei is really generous. I admire her.”
Dujuan thought that Tang Shishi was regretting that she did not get to see the lanterns and quickly comforted Tang Shishi, “Miss, don’t worry. Shizifei said that the colored lanterns will be displayed for three consecutive days, and it will continue tomorrow night. Tomorrow, I’ll accompany you to see it.”
Tang Shishi shook her head. It was not that she had never seen a colored lantern before. Linqing was next to the canal, the merchants were rich, and the Lantern Festival was no worse than that of the capital. The Lantern Festival of the Tang family was also very lively. After watching the lanterns, common people’s homes should end, and the Tang family’s program has just begun. Tang Mingzhe would put on a stage, play, sing, play cards and have fun, and would make noises until dawn before dispersing.
These money-burning events were always similar. To put it bluntly, the uniqueness was not the excitement, but the people who accompany them.
Tang Shishi had never liked the excitement, and it could even be said that she even hated it very much. Tang Mingzhe, Tang Yanyan’s mother and her spent a lot of money, and the home was full of guests, but she and her mother could only stay in the secluded courtyard, enduring the noise and waiting for dawn.
Regardless of whether the Tang family or the Jing Wang mansion, those who sang and laughed had nothing to do with Tang Shishi. The Tang family was the show venue for concubine Su and Tang Yanyan. Now, the person on stage was just replaced by Lu Yufei, there was no difference.
Of course, the most important thing was that there would be no lights display tomorrow.
Dujuan was still immersed in joy and said with enthusiasm, “Since entering the mansion, this maid has never seen such a lively banquet. Shizifei has such a huge reputation!”
Dujuan had still not fully expressed herself yet and sighed with regret, “It’s a pity that Shizifei left early today. Not sure what happened to Shizifei. When she was gone halfway, she asked someone to send the guests away, and we didn’t finish watching the lights yet. Miss, you must wait for tomorrow and have a look.”
“Good.” Tang Shishi replied casually, “I’ll wait.”
This was just the beginning.
The next day, even though Tang Shishi was reluctant in every possible way, she still had to get up early and go to the study room to work.
She had been dillydallying and slacking off all morning. After lunch, Tang Shishi returned to the pavilion and found that the inkstone was out of ink.
This was simply a happy thing for her. Tang Shishi immediately reported to Liu Ji and went to the warehouse to get the ink in person. Liu Ji said to let the young manservant go for her, but Tang Shishi refused it outright.
What a joke. How much time could be lost like this? How could she let someone else do it for her?
Tang Shishi put on her cloak and walked slowly to the warehouse. The sun was shining brightly today. Outside the warehouse, two old women were sitting on a low stool under the eaves, eating melon seeds while gossiping.
When Tang Shishi arrived, the two were talking enthusiastically. Tang Shishi intended to pry for information. She trod lightly on purpose, stopped outside the door, and did not go in.
The two were in their forties and plump. At a glance, they could be seen as prosperous. Guarding the warehouse was a dignified job with little work, idle and well paid. There was no lack of people that curry favor with them, therefore those who could remain here were all not fuel-efficient lamps.
These two old women were like this. They were full of confidence, speak more recklessly, and even dare to talk about the master’s gossip. A tall and stout old woman said, “Yesterday’s banquet was really magnificent. Oh, I have lived for more than forty years, and I haven’t seen such a grand event before. Magnificence is magnificent, but it costs too much. After going back last night, I heard that Shizi and Shizifei had a fight, and then Shizi went out furiously. By looking at the direction he headed to, it seemed he went to the concubine’s room.”
“Really? Which mistress’s room did Shizi go to?”
“Who else can it be?” The tall and stout old woman pouted while pointing in one direction, “It’s that beauty Zhou.”
“Oh! This mistress is really amazing.” The other old woman lowered her voice and said, “My niece is working in the Yinian courtyard. She said that beauty Zhou has been out of favor for several months. She suddenly came back with messy clothes last night. Shortly after that, Shizi and Shizifei quarreled. Today, when she went to greet Shizifei, Shizifei didn’t have a good appearance when she saw her.”
“After all, they are the people from the palace. Who knows what they brought along with them? I heard that there are specialized momos in the Imperial Palace whose job was to teach the maids how to serve men in bed…”
The other old woman slapped her nose in disdain, and said disgustedly, “Don’t you have to clean up your dirty ears after hearing such filthy things. I think these people who came from the palace are not good things. They are like foxes who came here to seduce men. Original, the mansion was peaceful, but they brought wind and waves when they came in. Wangye was still good, but Shizi was like having a nightmare. Don’t you know, this morning, many people were called to Yinian courtyard and there were both interrogated and beaten. It was extremely lively.”
The tall and stout old woman asked in surprise, “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. The people being interrogated zipped their mouths tightly and won’t say anything to the outside. But in my opinion, perhaps someone has lost something because there were so many people at the banquet yesterday.”
“There’s nothing in the mansion. How can they move people like this?”
“Who knows? But this seems to be more than that. Last night, it seemed that Wangye’s guards also went out… “
“Wangye!” The tall and stout old woman covered her mouth and exclaimed. No one dared to say anything more when Jing Wang was being mentioned. At this time, the other old woman suddenly saw a corner of clothes outside and hastily stood up, “Miss Tang? Ah! why are you here…”
Tang Shishi pretended to have just arrived, and calmly walked out from behind the wall, “I came to get some things. By the way, I seemed to hear you mention Wangye. What happened to Wangye?”
“Nothing, nothing, we were just chatting. How dare we gossip about Wangye? Miss may have heard it wrong.” This old woman was embarrassed and asked carefully, “Miss, were there any orders from Wangye?”
“It’s not Wangye’s order.” Tang Shishi remain calm and said, “I’ve run out of ink. I want to get some new ink. I wonder if it’s convenient?”
“Convenient, convenient!” The two old women said hurriedly, “Miss, wait a minute. There is the finest She inkstone in the warehouse. Miss, wait a minute and I’ll go find it now.”
While they were talking here, another person came in through the door. When Lu Yufei’s old momo saw Tang Shishi there, she slowed down unconsciously, “Oh! It’s so lively here?”
Tang Shishi smiled and nodded at her, “Zhang Momo.”
Nowadays, Zhang Momo would get upset whenever she saw these Imperial Court beauties. She had no mood to greet Tang Shishi and said directly to the two old women, “The agate gourd in Shizifei’s room was broken by a maid. I heard that there were four gourds were originally made. Shizifei asked me to get the other pair.”
The two old women looked at each other, and the tall and stout old woman said, “The agate gourd is still here, but it takes a long time to find out. I’m afraid it will take a lot of effort to find it. Zhang Momo please wait a while, I’ll find something for Miss Tang first.”
Zhang Momo frowned. How dare these unruly maids who ate inside and outside shirk away from the things that Shizifei wanted? Zhang Momo was annoyed and said, “The gourd in Shizifei’s room is used to beckon an heir, which is related to the future generations of the mansion. It can’t be delayed.”
“Everything based on the order of arrival. Zhang Momo please wait a while.” The tall and stout old woman said and rolled her eyes where no one was looking. Only they dared to say to beckon an heir, who knew whether the maid really smashed it. Perhaps it was broken during the quarrel last night?
The other old woman went in for a long time, walked out after a while, and happily handed the wrapped inkstone to Tang Shishi’s hands, “Miss Tang has waited for a long time. This is the finest She inkstone, a tribute in the fourth year of Yongxi. Miss is a refined person. You must use the brush quickly when dealing with calligraphy and ink all day. These are two dark purple rabbit fur brushes. Miss Tang, take them together.”
When Tang Shishi saw this, she quickly declined, “How can this be done? The warehouse has to make a record for everything. How can I act on my own?”
“Don’t worry. Miss, go ahead and use it without hesitation. No one dares to blabber.”
Tang Shishi sincerely declined with a few words and then accepted the things. The warehouse was not in her control. Since these two old women dared to give it to her, why could not she dare to use it?
Anyway, Jing Wang’s family business was so big that did not care about this trivial matter.
Zhang Momo watched from the side and her face turned black. These two unruly maids deceived people too much! However, Tang Shishi was the person beside Jing Wang after all. Shizifei fought with Shizi last night. In any case, Zhang Momo dared not offend Tang Shishi.
Shizi had been stolen away by that beloved fox. If Jing Wang was unhappy again, how could Shizifei gain a foothold in the mansion?
Tang Shishi collected the things, nodded to Zhang Momo, and left with a refreshing attitude. Zhang Momo was so angry, but she dared not provoke Tang Shishi. She smiled stiffly and said, “Miss Tang, take care.”
Tang Shishi finally felt the contentment of the privileged class. She returned to the study room and saw a guard standing at the door. Tang Shishi’s steps gradually slowed down. There was someone in the study room.
Tang Shishi quietly walked into the entrance hall. She took off her cloak in the pavilion, and asked the servant in a low voice, “Who is inside?”
The young handsome eunuch quietly lipped to Tang Shishi, “Shizi and Shizifei.”
Tang Shishi understood. She turned her eyes around, and handed the brushes and ink to the young eunuch, “Please put the brushes and ink on my desk. I’ll go to greet Shizifei.”
Tang Shishi’s position in the study had always been second only to Jing Wang. The young eunuch did not dare to refuse. He walked away with the inkstone and brushes. At this time, the curtain of the door was lifted, and a maid came in from the outside. Tang Shishi waved to the maid, took the tray in her hand, and whispered, “I’ll send tea. You can go back.”
Tang Shishi slowly walked to the hall where Zhao Chengjun normally received outside visitors and quietly sneak into a group of attendants. In the middle of the main hall, Zhao Chengjun sat on the master seat, while Zhao Zixun and Lu Yufei stood in the open space with their heads and hands down.
Zhao Chengjun had a cup of tea in his hand, but he did not intend to move at all. Zhao Chengjun’s voice was calm and asked, “What did you find out about last night?”