Chapter 94: Servant Loyal Unto Death
Someone who dared to set a fire in the prince’s estate, and was so bold as to nearly mortally wound its mistress wouldn’t be let off lightly. But right now, the person inside was so fragile he feared that the news may actually send her life flying away. It would be better to hide this for now.
“Steward, what should we do about the cotton clothing? We can’t afford any more delays right now… cough cough…” Bai Xiangxiu felt that the other definitely couldn’t hear her speak clearly. Even she herself had difficulty discerning her own words.
But in reality, her words were as clear as a bell to him. He quickly replied, “It might be a bit difficult. This humble one shall endeavor to do his best, so Madame Xiu needn’t worry. Just set your mind at rest and treat your illness.”
“Mm, then try to do it as soon as possible. The weather’s getting chillier as we speak, so if we delay too long, someone will catch a cold.”
“Yes.” She is rather kind-hearted. Long Shuting left as soon as he agreed, and indeed, did things as best he could. But all of the larger embroidery workshops were all busy, so there was no way they could accept such a huge order to be completed in so short a time.
Bai Xiangxiu recuperated for two whole days before she reached a semblance of health. Though she could speak, her voice was still marred by the smoke damage. Still, Ye-mama recalled something; the prince and Old Madame should’ve arrived by now. Shouldn’t they write them a letter from home?
“……” Bai Xiangxiu had no idea what to write as she picked up her brush, zoning out.
Xiao Shi stood by the side and hesitantly made a proposal. “Before the prince left, you made him angry. Why not…”
Bai Xiangxiu sucked in a breath as she understood. Since she’d offended her superior, she had to find ways to make amends. What if he returned and vented his rage on her? Would that be her tragic fate? After enduring for a while, she was forced to concede defeat.
Raising the brush, she wrote a line from a certain nameless poem: 1 it was difficult for us to chance and meet, and the time of parting was equally so; the east wind has arisen now and a hundred flowers are gone 2.
These two lines expressed her thoughts, which was that she missed him and was very sad and whatnot after he’d left. She didn’t write the rest of the lines because they were all too much; she didn’t want to convey the message that she couldn’t bear to be parted from him. After the poetry, she added a few lines about the situation at the estate. But she didn’t mention the fire or how she’d gotten injured.
After all, these things weren’t worth them worrying over! She should wait until she’d resolved the main point of the cotton clothing before she made a report.
After resting for awhile, she felt that it would only be proper if she checked the incident site. At the very least, she should see if there was anything salvageable from the fire. Hopefully, things hadn’t been completely destroyed, or that would really be a loss. With these thoughts running through her mind, she had Xiao Shi and Bao Qin accompany her outside, only to see a maidservant kneeling on the ground, kowtowing towards her rooms.
“……” She wasn’t some sort of saint, so why was she being worshipped?
Bao Qin smiled. “She’s certainly punctual, coming over here again.”
“Who is she?” Bai Xiangxiu asked, perplexed.
“You saved her before, in the fire.” Xiao Shi reminded.
So it was her. No wonder she came over to pay respects.
“Eh, then what’s your name?” Bai Xiangxiu asked as she walked over. She didn’t want the other to keep kneeling; it felt much too awkward.
That maidservant lifted her head to see Bai Xiangxiu. Her face had been injured as well, and a red burn scar graced her forehead. It wasn’t very prominent, but it really did affect her beauty. The maidservant’s heart trembled as she pressed her forehead to the ground again. “Madame Xiu, this servant is Xiao Huan and gives many thanks for saving my life. But this servant has caused you to get hurt and is very sorry.”
“Xiao Huan, is it? You didn’t cause my injuries. Get up, child, don’t keep kneeling.” Bai Xiangxiu extended her hand, but the other refused to rise and kept kneeling before her.
“Madame Xiu, please allow this servant to stay by your side and serve you. Even if it’s coarse work outdoors, it’s still fine. This servant has been an orphan since youth, but you were the only one in this world to see me as an actual person.” Bai Xiangxiu felt that the maidservant was being a tad excessive, but it looked like she was unwilling to take a step back. Since that was the case, she might as well stay. It wasn’t as if Bai Xiangxiu wanted for maids. Moreover, she looked pretty pitiful, and the injury on her face had yet to heal.
“All right. Xiao Shi, arrange for her to work in Winter Garden!” When Xiao Huan heard this, she was so moved that she expressed her gratitude again while kneeling. Bai Xiangxiu felt extremely embarrassed as a result and pulled her to her feet.
“Don’t be so polite. Get up and heal your injuries first before going to work! My Winter Garden is small, so I’m afraid you’ll have to squeeze in with someone else.” She didn’t look much older than her teens, around the same age as Xiao Shi. Hearing these words, Xiao Huan was extremely moved and kept thanking her without pause.
Bai Xiangxiu felt embarrassed by all of this displayed gratitude. Once she’d seen the person off, she brought Xiao Shi and Bao Qin to the bedding and clothing storage. The fire had already reduced the place to ashes, but something seemed a bit off. She stood there looking at the building until she blanked out.
Xiao Shi asked, “Mistress, are you alright?”
Bai Xiangxiu pointed at the clothing storage. “It’s very strange.”
Xiao Shi observed carefully as well. “Where is the strangeness?” The conflagration had left an awful aftermath. If not for her mistress’ vigilance, they might’ve burned to death inside already.
“This storage used to be two rooms. Everyone knows that there are cotton clothes inside, so naturally no one would build fires indoors.”
“So the most probable possibility is that the building caught fire from some flames outside. But it’s the inner room where we keep the bedding that’s been the most thoroughly burnt. That might be where the fire started.” Bai Xiangxiu analyzed as she observed.
“I never expected Madame Xiu to understand such things as well. Nevertheless, your words are completely accurate.” Long Shuting walked in from behind just in time to catch her words. He never expected a women of the inner chambers to have such insight and correct analysis. The fire had indeed started from that point.
“So it’s the head steward.” Why had the head steward come here?
She really was a beauty. Even when injured, she was still as elegant and lovely as ever. More importantly, she had intelligence as well as looks. No wonder the prince liked her.
“So, these signs indicate that this wasn’t an accident after all?”
“That’s right. But this humble one shall investigate clearly. I ask that Madame Xiu returns to your residence since resting is more important.”
“And the matter of the cotton clothes?”
“This humble one has already sent someone to ask the various shops. I await news at this moment.”
“Mm, then I’ll have you investigate the cause of this fire!” Bai Xiangxiu knew that there were certain things she couldn’t meddle in, even if she felt indignant. Of course, she was puzzled as well. Why would someone try to burn her to death if she hadn’t ever offended anyone?
If they couldn’t find the culprit, how was she supposed to stay on in this manor? At the very least, for the sake of her survival, she couldn’t allow such a harmful person to keep lurking by her side.
“Madame Xiu, what kind of person do you think wants to kill Xiao Huan?” Xiao Shi couldn’t help but give vent to her curiosity as they walked.
“Ah?” Why was it about killing Xiao Huan? Weren’t they trying to kill her instead?
“Who else could it be but her? Could it be they want to kill you… oh no!” Xiao Shi gave a start. She didn’t know who had the guts to want to kill Madame Xiu. Even if she was a concubine, she was a mistress of this estate and the prince’s admired, respected woman.
“Why would anyone want to kill a little maidservant like her? And use so much effort to accomplish the ends? Moreover, they didn’t need to drag me into things just to kill a maidservant; that wouldn’t make sense.” If anyone wanted to kill a maidservant, they’d usually change their plans once they saw Bai Xiangxiu there. But that person hadn’t, which proved they was after her life.
- nameless poem (无题诗) – the lines in question come from a titleless poem written by Li Shangyin (c.813-858), a poet of the Later Tang Dynasty. ↩
- From Li Shangyin’s untitled poem, “To One Unnamed III.” The original poem went: Time was long before I met her, but is longer since we parted,
And the east wind has arisen and a hundred flowers are gone,
And the silkworms of spring will weave until they die
And every night the candles will weep their wicks away.
Mornings in her mirror she sees her hair-cloud changing,
Yet she dares the chill of moonlight with her evening song.
…It is not so very far to her Enchanted Mountain
O bluebirds, be listening! Bring me what she says! ↩