C52 – Trap
A pleasant surprise arrived in the afternoon when the elderly butler from the Zuo family mansion hurried into the study room in the front yard once again. “Master… Master…” He exclaimed with excitement, “Great news, Master! Young Lord San has achieved something remarkable…”
Zuo Yunwen paused his brushwork and blew gently on the parchment before calmly inquiring, “What’s all this commotion about? Why are you so worked up? What has happened?”
The elderly steward’s face reddened with enthusiasm as he eagerly shared, “Young Lord San has excelled in the national examination! The messengers with the good news have already reached the town.”
“What?” Zuo Yunwen accidentally dropped his sketch, his expression mirroring his astonishment. “Shao Qing…” He murmured, “In the provincial exams?”
The old butler nodded vigorously, saying, “Indeed, that’s correct. The messengers have been spreading the news all along their way here.”
“Quick, quick!” Zuo’s Mansion officials entered the premises with beaming smiles and paid their respects to Zuo Yunwen, who occupied the main seat. “Congratulations, Master Zuo. Your third son, the top scorer of the Senior High School entrance exam, has a bright future ahead!”
Zuo Yunwen chuckled modestly and replied, “Oh, no… Just a stroke of luck.” Deep inside, though, his heart brimmed with pride.
Master Lu had truly brought good fortune to the Zuo family. In the morning, they had lifted the family’s restriction, and in the afternoon, their third son achieved excellence. They hadn’t anticipated experiencing such double blessings in their middle age.
In the backyard, Mrs. Xue received the news of Zuo Shaoqing’s success immediately. She expressed her frustration by smashing a teapot and some teacups on the ground, muttering, “That boy! How can he be so lucky!”
On the other hand, Zuo Shuhui remained unruffled. She consoled Mrs. Xue, saying, “Mother, even if he topped the provincial exam, Big Brother has been a High Scholar for many years. In terms of qualifications, a thirteen-year-old can’t compare to him.”
After Mrs. Xue received a stern glare, Zuo Shuhui paused and continued, “Please rest assured. Regardless of his good fortune, he bears the Zuo family name. Eventually, he will have to acknowledge you as his mother. Do you think he would dare to be unfilial?”
Mrs. Xue understood the logic behind this argument. However, her own son had been surpassed by an outsider, which was hard to accept.
Despite her anger, Mrs. Xue remained rational. She analyzed calmly, “Now that the Zuo family has gained recognition, your father will surely send that boy to the capital with Big Brother next year. At that time, no matter who goes to Senior High School, we will have the excuse to move our family to the capital.”
“Mother, are you suggesting that… we should relocate to the capital?”
Mrs. Xue wore a nostalgic expression as she replied, “Indeed. We’ve finally made it back. Why should we continue to confine ourselves in this place? The capital is a vibrant and exciting city.”
Zuo Shuhui blushed slightly as she asked her mother, “Mom, do you think Master Lu is genuinely interested in getting married?”
Mrs. Xue regained her composure and replied, “Whether it’s genuine or not, you should take the initiative. Instead of waiting around for news from Master Lu, it’s better to make your move.”
Zuo Shuhui hesitated for a moment, saying, “Mom, Big Brother Cao is still residing in the mansion. If he urges us to marry soon, it might not be wise to decline at this point.”
Master Lu didn’t completely trust their excuse to deter the Cao Family, but Zuo Shuhui was reluctant to proceed with the marriage to the Cao Family.
As Mrs. Xue had suggested, the capital should be her ultimate destination.
Mrs. Xue toyed with her teacup, a hint of determination in her eyes. “Hmph. A mother always finds a way to make him willingly cancel the marriage.”
That night, Zuo’s Mansion held a celebration. It was to mark the mansion’s return and also celebrate Third Master Zuo’s top-ranking achievement in high school.
While they were uncertain about the mansion’s prospects, they didn’t dare underestimate the city’s top family, known for its scholarly reputation and the glory of the Three High Scholars.
Cao Zongguan was among the guests. As a prospective brother-in-law from high school, he was delighted and toasted Zuo Shaoqing repeatedly.
Zuo Shaoqing had a decent alcohol tolerance in his previous life, but tonight, he felt dizzy after just one round of toasts.
He raised his glass to the crowd, apologizing, and then assisted Luo Xiaoliu out of the hall, heading back to their own quarters.
In the middle of their journey, Luo Xiaoliu suddenly pointed and whispered, “Hey, Master San, look over there… Is that guy Master Cao?”
Zuo Shaoqing’s half-closed eyes struggled to focus, and he saw a man resembling Cao Zongguan being supported into the backyard by two attendants.
“Grandpa Cao?” Zuo Shaoqing mumbled to himself. “What’s he doing in the backyard?”
“You’re right. The backyard is meant for women. How could an outsider like him enter?” Luo Xiaoliu was equally puzzled. “But it seems like they were assisted in. Do those two attendants not know the rules?”
Zuo Shaoqing gradually roused from the effects of alcohol. He shook his groggy head and used Luo Xiaoliu’s assistance to steady himself. “Do you recognize those two attendants?”
“He doesn’t seem like your typical servant. He looks somewhat like a stablehand.”
Zuo Shaoqing’s initial thought was that Zuo Shuhui should take advantage of this situation to meet with Cao Zongguan, but she swiftly dismissed the idea. Zuo Shuhui had already convinced herself that Lu Zheng had an interest in her and wouldn’t want to reconnect with Cao Zongguan.
Perhaps… Someone had taken advantage of Cao Zongguan’s inebriation to engage in some disgraceful activity.
It wasn’t clear which of the two was the mastermind.
“Why worry so much? Let’s head back.” After piecing together the sequence of events, Zuo Shaoqing didn’t believe this incident would harm Cao Zongguan in any significant way. He continued to support Luo Xiaoliu as they moved forward.
Upon returning to his room, Nanny Liu had already prepared a steaming pot of water. It took Zuo Shaoqing less than an hour to soak in the tub.
The following day, when he woke up, sunlight streamed in through the window onto his bed. Sitting up, he exclaimed, “Lil’ Six, why didn’t you wake me? What time is it now? Have we missed our morning greetings?”
Nanny Liu entered with breakfast, casting him a wry smile upon hearing his words. “Oh dear, you’ve forgotten. Last night, Master decided to grant you a morning reprieve. She allowed you to enjoy a full night’s rest.”
“I see.” Zuo Shaoqing reclined back in bed, a rare luxury. He began to reminisce about the time when he was “injured,” not having to rise early to attend to family matters.
Nanny Liu approached him and lifted the covers, coaxing him out of bed. “It’s time to rise. There’s quite a commotion outside. It’s best not to remain oblivious.”
Zuo Shaoqing was intrigued. “Has it begun? What’s happening?” Could it be related to Cao Zongguan?
As Nanny Liu helped him dress, she replied, “I’ve instructed Lil’ Six to inquire. News will reach us shortly.”
After finishing breakfast, Luo Xiaoliu burst into the room. His face was flushed, and his eyes were furtive.
Drawing near to Zuo Shaoqing, he asked in a hushed tone, “Master, can you guess what’s transpired ahead?”
Zuo Shaoqing playfully tapped him on the forehead. “Just tell me!”
“Hehe…” You’d never believe it, but Master Cao, our esteemed guest, had a bit too much to drink last night, and… “And the Third Young Miss…” Luo Xiaoliu’s face turned crimson as he struggled to voice the phrase “indiscreet behavior.”
In the end, he was still a modest youth with a thin skin.
Zuo Shaoqing’s attention wasn’t on that matter. He asked in surprise, “Third Miss?”
“Indeed, everyone is talking about how shameless the Cao Family is. Despite being betrothed to the Eldest Miss, Cao Zongguan is now involved with the Third Miss. Our Liuxiang Family doesn’t have the tradition of sisters marrying one another. The only one who can marry is the Third Miss. I even heard a rumor…” Luo Xiaoliu leaned in close and whispered in Zuo Shaoqing’s ear, “Our precious young miss is shedding tears in his chamber…”
Zuo Shaoqing secretly admired Mrs. Xue and her daughter’s cleverness. They had executed a brilliant exchange, trading a concubine for the bright future of their eldest daughter. This deal was indeed worthwhile.
And would Zuo Shuhui cry? She must be laughing so hard that tears were streaming down her face. Zuo Shaoqing smirked.