Chapter 92: Fire!
However, Bai Xiangxiu also understood that sneaking out was a lot more difficult in this world than she could imagine. That’s why she’d placed it as a last resort, a path to take when her back was up against a wall. Having witnessed Granny Liu receive her twenty taels, Bai Xiangxiu then had the granny escorted out and then took a look at the people sitting in the room. In honest truth, every one of them played above average roles in the kitchen. They were all more than qualified to become the kitchen steward.
However, she wasn’t familiar with any of them. So, she smiled and greeted them all with the words, “I’m sure everyone knows that is my first time here. So, I still don’t know any of you…”
One forthright woman amongst the crowd stood up. She was about thirty years of age and seemed rather friendly.
“In response to Fourth Madame, this humble servant’s married surname is Bai, and everyone calls me as the second daughter-in-law Bai. Since Fourth Madame isn’t familiar with everyone, let me give you an introduction!” She smiled and pointed at the people around her to introduce them.
This kitchen had more than a dozen servants assigned to it. Mrs. Bai didn’t show any signs of bias when introducing any of them, nor did she hide any of their past contributions. After the introduction, she even poured some tea for all of them. She also seemed to be the youngest of the group. Did she often take on tasks like this because of her lack of seniority?
However, Bai Xiangxiu still rather liked her. So, she said, “Mrs. Bai, even if you told me the tiniest details about everyone here, I still wouldn’t truly know any of them. How about I leave the steward position to you?”
What? Everyone was shocked, especially Mrs. Bai. Although she had other family members that worked in the estate as well, they were no more than ordinary administrators. She had just completed her third year of working in the kitchen. Everyone else who was present here had a longer tenure than her. Moreover, was a new kitchen steward candidate supposed to be this easily decided?
“I know everyone has their own doubts. To allay that, how about we do things this way? Mrs. Bai, you will undergo a month’s trial period. If you do not perform up to par, you will then be replaced with another person. Is that fine with you?” Bai Xiangxiu was a person from modern times. She was unknowingly imposing her modern values into this situation.
How would there be such a thing as a trial period in the olden days? Mrs. Bai was naturally ecstatic. She’d never have dreamed that she’d be able to hold such an esteemed position after so short a period of working. But since such an opportunity was dangling in front of her, she would hold on with all her might. So, she gently gave a respectful bow and said, “Since Fourth Madame places that much trust in this servant, then this is naturally not a problem.”
Bai Xiangxiu liked her bold personality. She smiled and nodded, saying, “Then this matter is settled. You can have the key for a month. We shall speak again after your results are clear. However, don’t be afraid either if anyone doesn’t listen to your orders or tries to pick faults with you. If that happens, I will find that person and have a heart to heart talk with them.”
Pfft… Mrs. Bai did not expect that the fourth madame would know how to crack a joke as well, and began to laugh out loud. But unlike her, the others found it difficult to laugh at this moment. They didn’t dare to voice their objections because they were still unsure of the fourth madame’s temper. She seemed good-tempered, but yet she didn’t seem to be as weak as she appeared to be. Sometimes when her gaze flitted over them, it didn’t seem like the gaze of a lady who had never seen the world.
Although Bai Xiangxiu was an ignorant homebody by modern standards, she had still been the recipient of an education and culture that had evolved for thousands of years. Her very essence was different from theirs. She was fully aware that solving the kitchen issue so readily and quickly would result in people who would refuse to comply behind her back.
Except, she didn’t expect that someone would complain to the chief steward right after she left. Sentences like, “This Fourth Madame acts arrogantly and recklessly chooses people” and “She doesn’t care about the thoughts of the people beneath her at all!” were being thrown around.
“She said all sorts of eccentric stuff, and even came up with the idea of a trial period or something.”
“Trial period?” What a good idea! How come I’ve never thought of that! If the stores outside used this method to hire people as well, then they could evaluate individual work ethic beforehand. It wasn’t easy to fire bad workers after they had already been hired.
Long Shuting put the book in his hand down and spoke, a frosty look on his face. “Is this how you criticize your mistress’ decisions behind her back? If the prince got wind of this…” He didn’t elaborate further, leaving the implied threat hanging as he changed the topic of the conversation.
“Since the old madame has left everything for the fourth madame to decide, it means that the old madame trusts her. If you have any other opinions you wish to share, you can tell the old madame when she returns. I’m just a chief steward, I have no say in what she does.” After he dismissed the kitchen administrators, he felt that he had indeed underestimated the fourth madame.
Actually, he had planned on passing the position to Mrs. Bai as well. A considerate and orderly person, her cooking skills weren’t anything to scoff at either. But because she didn’t have as much tenure as the others, it was unavoidable that some people wouldn’t accept her. He hadn’t expected that Bai Xiangxiu would settle the matter so quickly. It seemed that she had pretty sharp eyes for people too.
Just when he’d finished evaluating the skills of the fourth madame, he was informed of a major matter. Worse, the incident involved the madame he was just praising. She’d gone over to the bedding and clothing storage to settle some matters, but had been caught in a fire!
Long Shuting was nearly frightened to death when he heard the news of a fire. One had to understand, the fourth madame may just have been a concubine, but she was the only person who had caught the prince’s eye after he’d returned from the battlefield. If something happened to her, then Long Shuting’s life was the only recompense that would be deemed acceptable. He dropped everything and took off at a dead run for the bedding and clothing storage. In his haste, he didn’t get the full message. Bai Xiangxiu and Xiao Shi were already trapped in a small room, surrounded by the blazing flames. However, there was also another maidservant trapped in there with them, the one who’d brought the two to look at the winter clothing.
At this moment, Bai Xiangxiu was feeling incredibly unlucky as well. There had been an issue in the production of the winter clothing. Apparently, the outer layer of the clothing looked fine, but the inner padding was actually made out of willow catkins. How would this be acceptable? She was so angry that she ran all the way here to have a look. She found out that the padding in some of the clothing for the servants had indeed been made out of willow catkins.
Cotton and catkins were miles apart. If they had to wear this during winter, wouldn’t they freeze to death? Although most people in this time period treated their servants worse than dogs, in her heart they were still fellow humans!
But she didn’t expect that her nose would catch a whiff of smoke as soon as she entered the room to inspect the goods. Just when she wondered where the smoke was coming from, the flames suddenly exploded out to cover the room! The storage was filled with combustibles. Once a fire got going, there was no way to stop it.
When Bai Xiangxiu noticed that even the door was on fire, her eyes grew bloodshot with panic. She still wanted to go home! There was no way she would willingly die in a place like this! However, the flames had already surrounded them. Escaping was going to be a bit more difficult. Turning to the two beside her, Bai Xiangxiu snapped out an order, “Cover your nose and stoop down.”
It was common sense that most people died in a fire due to asphyxiation from smoke inhalation rather than burning. So, in such a situation, it was best to stay low and cover their nose and mouth. When she crouched on the floor, she noticed something in a corner of the room. It was a basin of water, meat for washing and wetting clothes. Although the water was dirty, she wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Bai Xiangxiu went from panic to elation in a moment. She quickly took a few cotton shirts and submerged them into the water until the robes were thoroughly drenched. Then, she threw one of the robes over Xiao Shi and urged, “Hold tightly onto the robe and jump out the window!”
“Window… but the window is on fire as well…” Xiao Shi’s legs were shaking as she turned her head to look at the raging flames that were licking the window. But why would Bai Xiangxiu care for her timidity at that moment? There were more important things at stake! She grabbed a nearby chair and hurled it at the window. In that instant, it was like she’d transformed from a goddess of beauty into a goddess of war. Before Xiao Shi could recover from her shock, she was dragged to the window. With a strong push to her back, she was sent flying out the window!