It was not the first time Wang Li had met this old man, but she still couldn’t get used to the awfully creepy experience of seeing his face in the middle of the night.
She paused and greeted him with, “Hello, Uncle Chen.” Pointing at Tang Tian, she continued, “I have brought Xiao Tang1 over.
I would be grateful if you could take good care of her for a few days.
Boss Chen mentioned that he would be back after that time.”
She then turned to Tang Tian and explained, “This is Uncle Chen who has been in charge of managing the Chen ancestral estate all these years.
No need to worry about anything, just stay here for a few days.
If there’re any issues, you know how to find me.
I’ll be off now!”
She had met the weird old geezer, Uncle Chen, a while back when she was helping out with Chen Xu’s funeral.
All she wanted was to have nothing to do with him ever again.
Without giving Tang Tian a chance to ask any questions, she walked briskly down the front steps and jumped right into the car.
Tang Tian watched the black vehicle speed away into the darkness.
For a social butterfly like Wang Li, who was cunning yet adaptive in any situation, to run away at the first sight of this old man showed that he was not someone to be messed with.
Turning back to the old man, she met his gaze through the half-opened door.
The old man held the lantern up higher and squinted as he scrutinized Tang Tian from head to toe.
His eyes seemed to pierce and probe, as if he was judging the ugly daughter-in-law paying her first visit.
“Good evening, Uncle Chen.”
Tang Tian maintained her amicable smile, but the old man’s expression was stiff, the skin on his wrinkled features taut and dry as old parchment, his mouth a flat line.
An awkward silence filled the air.
Just when she was sure he was going to slam the door shut, the old man finally pushed the door wide open for her.
His movements were extremely sluggish, perhaps ten times slower than that of a normal person.
Tang Tian picked up her luggage and followed the old man into the estate grounds.
The estate’s courtyards featured the classic Jin-style architecture2.
The entire inner compound was arranged in a rectangular-shaped layout, where the distance from the east to west walls were narrower than from the north to south.
There were a total of three courtyards.
The chamber separating the innermost courtyard from the rest, along with the main house, were two-story buildings, unlike the side houses3.
As white lanterns with the letter “奠” were hung by every door and every window, any visitor unfamiliar with the estate would surely think they were going in circles.
“This is the front hall, that’s the Young Master’s4 study.
At the very back is the ancestral shrine.
Don’t go wandering around there without a good reason.”
The old man spoke in a hoarse voice, and only as necessary.
While Tang Tian followed him on what seemed like a tour of the estate, a few people happened to cross their path.
These were people in their forties or fifties, who seemed to be caretakers of the estate in one way or another.
“This is Auntie Zhang, who is in charge of the kitchen.
This is Old Wang, who sweeps the courtyard daily…”
Upon seeing Uncle Chen, a few men greeted him.
Although Uncle Chen never introduced Tang Tian to them, they looked as if they already knew who she was.
Their curious gazes never left her even after she walked away, and they started to gossip in a low tone.
“I heard that…”
“This young lady is the one?”
“She is rather pretty.”
“Such a pity.”
The gentle summer night breeze ruffled Tang Tian’s hair and carried bits and pieces of what they said to her ears, but she pretended not to hear anything.
She merely tucked a few loose strands of hair behind her ear and walked closely behind the old man with her luggage in hand.
For such a large, ancient estate, only a few rooms were lit.
Wang Li was right—this ancestral estate was well-kept only for appearances’ sake.
Barely anyone came back to stay here.
With hardly anyone around, the surroundings were so quiet that the soft rattling noises of insects could easily be heard.
“This is your room.
You’ll stay in this courtyard for the time being; do not wander off anywhere else.
Food will be provided to you.”
The old man guided Tang Tian into a courtyard and nudged open the wooden doors to one of the many guestrooms on the second floor.
“Not many people stay in this estate, so just make yourself at home.”
After instructing Tang Tian, the old man turned around and walked slowly away while the white lantern he carried swung slightly from side to side.
The flickering candlelight from the lantern somehow cast an eerily long shadow that only grew longer the further away his gaunt figure receded, like the appendage of some monster, prowling beyond the pitch-darkness, waiting for the right moment to pounce.
Out of the three large courtyards, she had been placed in the innermost building, with no one else nearby.
Deep within this largely vacant, enormous estate, the silence could be rather frightening.
Tang Tian stopped studying her surroundings and placed a hand on the wall, trying to search for a light switch in the dark.
When she turned it on, the bedroom lit up right away, and the darkness dispersed into nothing.
Her lips curled up into a half smile.
Perhaps she would feel more at ease with no one around.
She didn’t need special care either, and since the old man said to make herself at home, she stepped into the room as if it were her own, put her luggage away, and brushed her hand over the furniture in the room.
Although the old man didn’t seem to like her very much, he had still ordered the servants to tidy up the room intended for her stay.
Everything was neat and spotless.
The bedding seemed to be brand new, but something about it…
“…It’s bright red.” Tang Tian muttered as the corner of her lips twitched.
The furniture was arranged in traditional Chinese style, whereas the bedding was covered in bright red satin embroidered with a pair of Yuanyang5.
If Uncle Chen hadn’t mentioned that the Young Master stayed in the second room on the left side of the main house when he was alive, and that no one had stayed in her room before this, she would have assumed this was their wedding room6.
Xiao Tang (小唐) is the female lead’s nickname.
Likely referring to the style of Siheyuan (四合院) that can be found in the Shanxi province.
Side houses or Xiang fang (厢房) are usually residential chambers for guests, usually located on the western and eastern sides of an estate.
The main house where the owner of the estate stays will be on the northern side, facing south.
The title of Young Master refers to the late eldest son of the family.
Yuanyang (鸳鸯) literally refers to a symbol of a male and female mandarin duck.
It is a symbol of a faithful union in traditional Chinese culture.
Wedding room (婚房) is the room prepared for the bride and groom to stay in right after the marriage ceremony.
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