Chapter 41: Teaching, Butler
Bai Xiangxiu’s expression at first was perplexed, then astonished. After that, she ended up staring speechlessly at Long Heng before her face turned beet red. This guy was surely taking liberties with her! Long Heng was amused as he watched her face flip through various expressions. He couldn’t help but feel that this girl was too innocent and cute. Everything she felt was written clearly on her face.
Unfortunately, someone so free of schemes was due to be bullied sooner or later.
But he couldn’t hold back a light cough upon seeing her reddened face. He couldn’t sit any longer in this room that smelled of medicine and said, “Rest well,” before standing up to leave.
Xiao Shi and Ye-mama escorted him out before they let out a collective breath. Everyone said pinning down a lady’s thoughts was like trying to find a needle at the bottom of the sea, but it looked like understanding men’s thoughts were even harder. Perhaps His Highness harbored feelings for their mistress, but he never sat here for long when he came to visit. He’d only come for a look before hurrying away. Perhaps he didn’t have any feelings, but he didn’t visit any of the other madames. It was really hard to figure him out.
Still, Bai Xiangxiu felt relieved. Sticking a giant man in her rooms only made her feel the pressure of an entire mountain. Her muscles relaxed when he left, and only then did she feel the pain from her wound. As a result, a message was passed on that Madame Xiu spent an entire sleepless night crying from pain.
The next morning, the one who’d reported this information was currently feeding Bai Xiangxiu medicine. Her mission here was to help Madame Xiu seduce the prince. Though she couldn’t be too obvious, she could still assist from the sidelines.
See now, hadn’t the doctor dropped by again early morning? He only left after making sure she was all right. Ye-mama was now certain that the prince still had feelings for their mistress. Once her injury was healed, wouldn’t they move thunder and fire together? 1
After digging out the truth of the situation, she reported it to the old madame, who also felt that this Miss Bai was quite unlucky. Her body was either constantly being scared witless, or getting hurt by rogues. Fortunately, her personality wasn’t bad. Ye-mama had commended her highly, only mentioning how she seemed a bit clumsy and awkward, with no ambitions.
Being stupid was fine, and so was having no ambition. Only then could her heart match that of the future lady of the house, saving her mother-in-law the pain of worrying over these junior members of the family. The old madame’s health had been getting worse and worse recently so it looked like she’d have to guide and teach Bai Xiangxiu after her injury healed.
Bai Xiangxiu was still young after all. Between the meticulous care she was provided with and her youthful recovery abilities, she was almost back to full form in ten days. In those ten days, Song Jiaoyue had also sent people with gifts, inquiring after her. However, bound by propriety, they were all delivered to the prince for him to forward them along.
Supporting male, you’re too just and honorable! Bai Xiangxiu felt less and less confident. She’d already taken a knife for him and still saw no results. Was he still in the dark about her intentions? She gritted her teeth. Next time, she had to find a chance to bring it out into the open. If he was interested, she’d continue. If he wasn’t, then she would prepare to stay here quietly for a year, then prick herself with the cactus to return.
Just then, the old madame sent people to summon her. Clueless, Bai Xiangxiu dressed herself and brought Ye-mama and Xiao Shi to slowly make the walk over.
Although her injury had recovered over the course of these 10 days, her face had clearly thinned with weight loss. She swayed as she walked, looking gentle and lovely as well as extremely pitiful. There was no helping it. Beauties were beauties regardless of time and place.
Long Heng sat on his high seat, his heart palpitating as he watched slowly make her way over. He was struck by the thought that she was a good indicator of the winds. If the winds were too strong, she would’ve been blown away long ago! He only quietly let out his breath after she paid her respects and sat down. He paid close attention as the old madame leaned forward. The old madame could tell that she was only barely healthy again, and so asked, ““Have you ever read books back when you were home?”
Why are they asking about reading books?
Bai Xiangxiu blinked. “Yes, I’ve read them.” No one would believe her even if she said she hadn’t. She came from a family of literati.
Long Heng’s expression was calm, but he was thinking inwardly, Not only has she read books, her poems aren’t bad either. She’s a gifted young female scholar!
The old madame said again, “And have you learned arithmetic?”
“I’ve learned a bit.” How shameful would it be for a modern person to not know math? So, Bai Xiangxiu braced herself to reply, though she had no idea why the old madame was asking her these things.
“Then take these back to have a look,” Old Madame smiled, signaling with her eyes. An old female servant brought over three bound volumes, handing them to Bai Xiangxiu.
A curious Bai Xiangxiu flipped open one of the volumes, and quickly realized what he held. It was an account book of the estate’s expenses. She quickly put it down and said, “Old Madame…this, you…” What did she mean by this? She was again resolved to run away away as quick as she could. Women in novels struggled and beat themselves bloody for a chance to take charge of the family accounts. She didn’t want to get beaten to death so soon!
The old madame sipped her tea and spoke slowly, “Madame Bai, you’ve been in the estate for some time now, so you should know that this estate was given to us a few years ago. His Majesty found favor with us and bestowed the Prince Li Estate on us, but it’s still a relatively new residence. Since there aren’t many useful people around to help me, and my body’s been getting worse recently, I need someone to help me take care of things.”
“Old Madame’s body is the very definition of healthy, and doesn’t need any helpers at all.” For once, Bai Xiangxiu interrupted quickly, afraid that she’d turn into a housekeeper nanny if she was too slow to react. She really didn’t want to shoulder this task. The old madame had precisely identified her qualities matching that post. She was honest, tolerant, and obedient, a person who wasn’t covetous or a troublemaker.
“This is what I’ve seen in you. You’re not like the others who fight and compete over trifles until they ruin their reputations as young ladies of well-known aristocratic families. No matter what, I’ll need someone to help me eventually.”
“Those other three concubines have unstable personalities, nor are they likely to know arithmetic. Take these and have a look. If there’s anything you don’t understand, have Feng-mama and Xiao-mama help you. I brought them over from my parental home, so they’re rather clear on the situation of this estate.” The old madame didn’t allow her to refuse, nor did she leave any room for refusal in her words.
“Then, many thanks for Old Madame’s favor.” It looked like she’d have to do this job no matter what. If that was the case, she could only accept silently. She was sitting around idle in any case, so looking through a few account books wouldn’t keep her too busy.
Unfortunately, she didn’t expect that the old madame had wanted to personally instruct her, so she ended up talking with her for a long time. Something about how expenses were divided between inside and outside the estate, while the prince’s personal expenses had the least limitations because men in general had social engagements outside.
Actually, none of this was very hard. Although she’d worked in a horticulture job, she was naturally adept at selecting and bargaining for flower trimmings. A constant flow of expenses like these were of no difficulty to her. It only took her a while to listen, understand, and remember everything. Her understanding was a few points higher than an ordinary female’s.
The old madame was rather astonished by her replies. How was this person considered stupid? She was clearly extremely quick-witted. It seemed like her foolishness only applied to interpersonal relationships.
Long Heng was patient enough to listen from beginning to end without interrupting, playing with a teacup in his hands. When the two of them were just about done, he said, “Let’s set up the meal!”
So now it’s lunchtime?
Bai Xiangxiu was about to politely take her leave when Old Madame said, “Stay with us!”
That’s not right. You guys eat while I watch, you guys tuck in while I stand by. How aggrieving. Though I’m not hungry, you shouldn’t torment someone like this! But this was the fate of a concubine in ancient times. She silently lowered her head. There was no two ways about it. Who told her to transmigrate as a concubine?
When everything had been set on the table, the young and old female servants helped the old madame rinse her mouth before taking her seat.
Long Heng went through the same motions before using his chopsticks to place some morsels into the old madame’s bowl. Then he glanced mutely at Bai Xiangxiu.
He might not have spoken, but the old madame understood. When a son took care of filling her mother’s plate, the concubine didn’t need to worry about serving the old madame later. Smiling, she said, “You sit down too. There’s no outsiders here, so why worry about etiquette? Moreover, your injury isn’t fully healed yet, so you shouldn’t tire yourself out.”
“Many thanks to Old Madame.” It was great that she didn’t have to stand, but she was still nervous sitting in front of this mother and son pair. She didn’t even keep track of what she was eating, only realizing that she’d quickly polished off her bowl of rice before she knew it.
- Euphemism for loud, passionate sex and/or relationship ↩