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Such a huge scandal had occurred in the Zhu family. Although Zhu Xinjie wanted to do everything possible to keep it suppressed and kept in the manor, word of this matter had somehow spread throughout the entirety of Peng Zhou within two days.
Zhu Xinjie no longer had the face to even go outside. He felt as though there was always a group following along behind him, using him as the butt of their jokes. He regretted not killing off all of the servants who were savvy to the situation. But in the end, he was just a sixth rank official, and his family did not have that much power, nor did it have the money to raise a large number of servants that could be killed. As for those that could not be killed, if they died in his manor, the government office would begin investigating for blame.
He felt dejected and fell sick within a few days. While sick, he remained hidden for a few days. Just as he regained a bit of strength and could get out of bed, the first thing that he did was pick up a whip and rush to the firewood storage where Liu shi was living. There, he gave Liu shi a fierce beating.
Liu shi was whipped until her face was bleeding, and her life was shortened by quite a bit; however, she continued to shout about how she was the aunt of princes, and that the Zhu family would suffer retribution after treating her like this.
Zhu Xinjie grew tired from whipping her and was advised by the head madam to continue lying down. The head madam saw him repeatedly sighing, thus she said to him: “Husband, as this wife sees it, this matter being spread is a good thing.” Seeing that Zhu Xinjie was glaring at her, she quickly added: “Husband, don’t be in such a rush to get agitated and listen to this wife analyze it for you. If we do all that we can to suppress this, there will come a day when the capital will receive this news. When that time comes, that third girl will add fuel to the fire with her cousin, a prince, and her aunts, members of the imperial harem. They will definitely support Liu shi. When that time comes, no matter how dejected you might feel, you will need to act as if nothing happened and let Liu shi out of the firewood storage room. But if things are like the letter from the capital said, the third girl is not thinking of our family in the slightest. If you want to seek promotion through that route, it’s just not possible. When that time comes, there will be no promotion, and there will be no wealth. The family will also need to support Liu shi. That would truly be depressing. But now, things are different. Everyone knows about this matter, and even if they are from the imperial family, they cannot go against public opinion and shield her.”
Zhu Xinjie disagreed and said: “So what if they don’t shield her? Based on my understanding of the Liu family, they will not choose to sacrifice family relations for the sake of righteousness. Liu shi will still need to be left to live happily.”
“But we can discuss conditions with them! Either cast away the wife or let the Liu family or the ones in the capital show some good faith. It must be known that once our Zhu family casts out a wife, that third girl’s future will also be doomed. Would the eighth prince want an official princess, whose birth mother was cast out?”
The head madam’s words reminded Zhu Xinjie, and he nodded repeatedly upon hearing them: “Right, we can’t suffer this loss for nothing. The capital also can’t use our daughter for free. They need to provide the Zhu family with some benefits. Wife, what sort of reparations should we demand?”
The head madam thought for a bit and said: “Of course, it’s husband’s position. Only with your rank being improved can husband’s financial situation improve. Only like that can our Zhu family also see an improvement.” She thought to herself that once the Zhu family saw an improvement, her family’s business would also improve. At that time, doing business with the imperial family and earning money from the imperial family would be a great situation.
Zhu Xinjie also felt that this was reasonable. The one thing that he had been troubled the most over in this life was his official rank. Thinking back to when he had married Liu shi, the Liu family had done so with great reluctance and unhappiness. No matter what was said, even though she was just a daughter of a concubine, she should not have been given to a sixth rank official; moreover, as a concubine. But later on, they somehow suddenly agreed. Even to this day, whenever he recalled that matter, he could not understand it.
The matter with Liu shi could not be suppressed. After it had been spread throughout Peng Zhou, it quickly spread to the capital. In the capital, however, it did not spread very widely. When it came to other people’s matters, it would only be brought up in small circles. It would be a supplemental topic of discussion during meals and tea. But even if this was the case, it had a certain amount of impact on Zhu Kongshan’s reputation. Even when she was in the northern part of the city, the people would point at her when they saw her, and they would look at her with disdain.
In the beginning, Zhu Kongshan did not understand what was going on, and she was confused as to why she would have people roll their eyes at her when she did good things. It was only after A-Huan and A-Ruo inquired around that they told her about the rumors that had spread. Only then did she stare wide-eyed with her mouth agape in disbelief; however, she did not say a single thing to defend Liu shi.
Having an affair with a housekeeper, this was something that Zhu Kongshan knew very clearly was true because she had personally seen it. She had even reminded and warned Liu shi about this. Liu shi had clearly promised that she would not do it again; however, who knew that not only did she do it again at this critical moment, but she was actually discovered by her father. At this moment, Zhu Kongshan’s heart was filled with hatred, as she was currently being very careful in the capital while doing things for the eighth prince. She was doing everything possible to plot out a path to preserve her and Liu shi’s position in the Zhu family; however, who knew that the one dragging her down at this critical moment would be her own mother. To do such a shameful thing, for it to have spread to the capital, it made it impossible for her to plead her case even if she wanted to!
Seeing Zhu Kongshan’s expression, A-Huan and A-Ruo were extremely elated. The oppression that they had been subjected to for the past little while had found a place to vent, as A-Huan said: “Who knew that concubine mother Liu was that sort of person. To openly get with someone in the manor and even get caught by master in bed, if I was concubine mother Liu, I would just hang myself to death. What face would I have left to face this world.”
“That’s right.” A-Ruo also chimed in: “The one thing that is most important to a woman is her purity. Even people who were raped and defiled need to die to regain their purity; moreover, this was a case of being caught in bed. But I heard that concubine mother Liu is still alive. Master did not do anything to her. Thinking about it, master is a merciful person and could not bear to do anything!”
A-Huan continued: “That’s right! This is master and the head madam’s mercy. If not, based on her being a lowly concubine, whether she lives or dies, it’s up to the manor to decide.”
These words caused Zhu Kongshan’s heart to suddenly twitch. But of course! A concubine’s existence could not even compare to that of a servant who could be killed. Whether they lived or died was just a matter of a few words from the manor. With this sort of thing happening, her father, Zhu Xinjie, could immediately have Liu shi killed. The government office would not even check for guilt. But she had not been killed… Her mind came up with a thought, as she immediately understood what the Zhu family intended. She could not help but grit her teeth with hatred. She thought to herself that none of them would allow her to have peace of mind. They were actually using this method to coerce her. But thinking a bit more, this could not be blamed on the Zhu family. Who told Liu shi to do this sort of thing?
Zhu Kongshan was no longer in the right frame of mind to continue handing out food, especially when she saw the way that the people coming and going were looking at her. She hated that she could not find a crack to crawl into. A few days earlier, the people had been looking at her as if she was a Bodhisattva, but in the blink of an eye, it was as though they were looking at a monster. Standing there, she was being observed by everyone.
She could not continue to stay. Throwing down the ladle in her hand, she turned and ran away. A-Huan, A-Ruo, and the servant from the Sheng Palace quickly followed behind her. They followed Zhu Kongshan and got into the carriage with her, returning to the Sheng Palace. They saw Zhu Kongshan rush straight for the eighth prince’s courtyard.
The three servants followed along behind her but stopped in front of the entrance to the courtyard and did not enter. The servant from the Sheng Palace looked at A-Huan then cautiously asked: “Was what you two said the truth?”
A-Huan rolled her eyes and said: “Whether it’s true or false, don’t ask me! Go out and ask around for yourself. We also found out about it by inquiring. As for the Zhu family! Look, after young miss heard about this matter, did she say anything about it being false or anything about innocence? She did not even say such words. That means that she understands the situation with concubine mother Liu.”
The servant heard this and felt that this was reasonable and did not continue to ask; however, she began to think. If things really were like the rumors outside, it would be extremely bad for Zhu Kongshan. Of course, she did not care whether things were bad for Zhu Kongshan. She only cared if it would affect the eighth prince. The reputation that had finally been repaired must not drop back down because of this. Also, with that sort of mother, Zhu Kongshan would be considered ruined for the rest of her life. How could a daughter born from that sort of person marry into the Sheng Palace? Even if she was his cousin, it was still no good.
If she could think of it, Xuan Tianmo himself was naturally able to think of it. He had returned early today after court was dismissed, and he had also just heard the rumors. He also thought things over for himself. Among these thoughts, the most prominent was that he had to stabilize Zhu Kongshan. He would give it one more push to squeeze out the last bit of usefulness from Zhu Kongshan. When she was no longer of any use, he would just dispose of her.
Of course, he also understood that something that had already spread through the capital would be even more widely known in Peng Zhou. That was why neither the Sheng Palace nor the two members of the imperial harem could support Liu shi. That would just cause them to become topics of discussion. They would become known for helping the wicked.
Just as he was thinking, Zhu Kongshan barged in. The servant outside had failed to stop her and was currently kneeling outside, pleading for forgiveness.
He waved his hand and had the servant dismissed. Seeing the door closed, he then said to Zhu Kongshan: “You have always been a steady person. This prince also admires your steady personality the most. Why is it that you’re in such disarray today? You do know that my study is not a place that just anyone can enter, right?”
Zhu Kongshan did not say a word and dropped to her knees before Xuan Tianmo, saying: “I beg cousin to save my mother.”
Xuan Tianmo looked at her with an expression that showed his displeasure for her lack of growth. He asked Zhu Kongshan: “Do you feel that she should be saved? Also, why should she be saved? Has the Zhu family said that they want her dead?”
Zhu Kongshan shook her head, “I still don’t know what the exact situation over there is, but thinking about it, father will not kill mother. After all… she is the aunt of two princes. But even if she is not killed, having done this sort of thing, mother’s days in the Zhu manor have suffered a drastic decline!”
“You also know that she did that sort of thing, but just how luxurious a life do you want her to live?” Xuan Tianmo very nearly began laughing, “Kongshan, oh Kongshan, smart for one thing but foolish about the world. At a time like this, if we step in, the Zhu family will feel that they have even less face. They will feel that we are using our influence to suppress them and have them suffer this loss. Think about it, for the Zhu family’s secret to be let out, if we intervene, who knows what the rumors would become. At that time, all of your efforts in the capital would have been completely ruined for the sake of Liu shi!”
“But…” Zhu Kongshan spoke with a trembling voice: “But she is my mother! I can’t just sit idly by and ignore her!”
“When she did that sort of thing, did she think about you? Did she think that once it was discovered, your future would be ruined?” Xuan Tianmo desperately advised Zhu Kongshan, “Put aside your impulses and regain your rationality. No matter what, the Zhu family will not dare to do anything to your mother. Temporarily suffering some hardship is something that she ought to do. As for you, the most important thing is to calm your mood and do what should be done. Naturally, I will take care of the situation in the capital. Only by strengthening yourself can you truly stage a comeback in the future and save your mother from all troubles. Do you understand?”
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