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Chapter 13 Frightened into Place
"Zi Ran, Fourth Auntie heard that you're planning on returning all the loan receipts to the farmers. Is this true?" Within three days, An Changfu's three wives rushed over immediately when they heard the news. The one who spoke first was Wang Qinglan, who had no children and could only count on appeasing An Ziran to maintain her position in the An family at all.
Hearing the news shocked her beyond all belief. While she didn't know the exact sum of the receipts, she knew that they amounted to a huge sum. If they gave it all to Anyuan county's farmers, it would be a huge loss. Quite a bit of the An family's income was from the profit that farmers turned.
Fang Junping and Zheng Bi followed her into the study. Both of them looked uneasy. As the concubines of the An family, they knew how much the old man had valued those receipts when he was still alive.
Now An Ziran wanted to give all the loan receipts to the farmers as if he thought the An family was some kind of charity? Crazy talk, through and through!
An Ziran glanced at them coolly. His eyes swept over them, absorbing every detail of their expressions. Even if they didn't speak, he could read their thoughts. Lowering his gaze, he spoke, his voice without even a tremor of emotion. "Has this family become lawless with my father's death?"
The three of them stood there, stunned, for a long moment before realizing what he meant.
When An Changfu was alive, the concubines were not allowed to inquire after anything related to business. Even slips of the tongue were not permitted. Failure to observe this rule would result in punishment. And then, of course, there was the other rule about the study.
The study was also the room for accounts. An Changfu took this very seriously, and included it as part of the the An family's family rulers. Aside from the principal wife Liu Meixiang and Housekeeper Su, no one else was allowed to enter the study unless the head of the family expressly allowed it. Now they had violated two rules in a row. If An Changfu was alive, they'd suffer a harsh lecture at best, a beating at worst.
The three of them were frightened into silence.
Wang Qinglan considered speaking out, but said nothing. Angering An Ziran wasn't a smart move.
But Fang Junping wasn't nearly as smart as Wang Qinglan. An Changfu often neglected her, a fact that was only compounded by her already problematic personality–a cold, tactless face, that expressed all of her discontent. Her first reaction was to mouth off at him.
"An Ziran, don't think that just because your father is dead, you can be so rude. We're at least your elders!"
"Elders?" The brush in An Ziran's hand didn't even pause. He raised his gaze to them ever slightly. "So elders can disregard the An family rules? Elders can play on being elders to get their way? What's the point of family rules, then? Without rules, a household will fall apart. You should understand that. Father may be dead, but I'm not. If your life is feeling too uneventful and you want some thrills, I can help you find a dwelling somewhere outside. You can move there, and even take your daughter there–if that's what you wish!"
Fang Junping's expression soured. She thundered, "You wouldn't dare!"
That would be imprisonment under another name. Isolated from the An family, she'd have little hope for the rest of her life. Even Qiaoe might be dragged down as well.
"Wouldn't dare? I'm the head of this family. Why would I not dare?" An Ziran said calmly. "Don't forget, Second Auntie. Qiaoe isn't married yet. If you don't want to ruin her name and her prospects of marriage, you'd better obey the rules of this family."
Fang Junping's eyes went wide. How dare he use Qiaoe to threaten her? An Qiaoe was her weakness. She had been planning to have her daughter marry well; if she ruined her own daughter's life, she would spend the rest of her own in regret. Thinking about this killed all rebellious thoughts she had been having, and she gave up in that moment.
Zhengbi, who had been thinking on her own account, gave it a rest as well. An Ziran was obviously using Fang Junping to threaten her and Wang Qinglan as well, giving them an example of what he could do. If she didn't play by his rules, she wouldn't be able to survive in this family. This An Ziran was decisive, completely different from the good-for-nothing fatso he used to be.
The three of them left the study emptyhanded–without the response they wanted, and frustrated on top of that.
Wang Qinglan had a feeling that An Ziran wouldn't be as easy to manage as he was before. Seems like she couldn't rely on her old methods anymore.