Chapter 108: Those Who Touched Ink Will be Stained
Translated by Gumihou
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Ignoring all protestations, the set of ruby hairpins were taken out and placed in Duan Xinqi’s hair. Xiang Yun chirped, “The red rubies really set off a most elegant and noble air. I used to think that rubies are meant of married noble ladies, who would have thought that it could look so fresh and pretty on young miss. Especially in that light coloured dress, it really complemented on young miss well.”
“Is it too flashy?” Duan Xinqi eyed herself in the mirror as she fidgeted. Is that elegant young miss in the mirror really herself? She really couldn’t believe it. After spending so many years as an invisible person in her own house, she couldn’t get use to seeing this side of herself.
“So what if it’s flashy? You’re the marquis house only young miss, and at a marriageable age too. So, of course you have to dress nicely.”
Duan Xinqi stared at her blankly for a long moment. Then, light began to dawn in her eyes. She was 13 this year, an age that was considered marriageable among aristocratic members of society. The competition for good husbands was quite stiff, some might even struggle for years and still not be able to marry well. Girls her own age should have started expanding their network by now, she was the only exception. That was because of her former invisible status within the marquis house, aside from her secretly anxious concubine, no one else even thought of assisting her in this matter.
She knew that elder madam and Madam Min occasionally gave a stray thought to her well being, but dismissed the matter with a ‘Well, it’s not like she’s anything special, we can just find a man for her from some random family when she’s of age.’ who would have thought that the sister-in-law who was only interested in eating would actually give so much thought about her future.
“Sister-in-law,” Duan Xinqi snuggled up to Su Nuan Nuan’s side, and said in a choked voice. “How old am I? What’s the rush? When the time comes, sister-in-law can help me matchmake. It’s fine if we can’t find a match. In fact, that’s even better. I can be an old maid and spend the rest of my life with sister-in-law. In the future, the title will be inherited by first brother, and I know that sister-in-law won’t kick me out.”
“That’s for sure. Our second miss is so sweet and pretty, if we can’t find a good family for you, even if your concubine mother allows it, I refuse to let you waste your life with a stinky, undeserving lowlife. Be at ease, your home will be yours forever, you can count on me as your refuge. However, I’ve already spoken to your brother about finding some good matches for you. Next year will be a crucial year for our country and there will be lots of talented young man flocking into the city, so you can keep your hopes up a little.
Su Nuan Nuan patted Duan Xinqi’s hair into place and looked her up and down. Then, she pulled up the girl’s hands to study the pair of bracelets decorating those fair wrists. Suddenly, a gentle thrill of laughter came from outside, “Dear me, I came here thinking I should come and give elder sister a hand, I never thought that second miss would be a step ahead of me.”
Concubine Jing’s beautiful form floated in, as a frequent guest of Spring Breeze Court the maids hadn’t bothered to announce her arrival or block her from entering.
Su Nuan Nuan smiled up at her, “Sister is the best person to ask about make-up. Quick, come and have a look at second young miss. I feel that having just a pair of bracelets is too lacking, with so many important people and their noble wives visiting later, we must make sure that our young lady be decked out properly today.”
Concubine Jing paused. However, she soon understood Su Nuan Nuan’s meaning, smiled, and made a show of studying Duan Xinqi’s outfit and nodded, “It’s rare to see such promising beauty on one so young. Moreover, she speaks well, is capable and elegant. The outfit is unique too, only second miss could pull it off. The most striking part of it is the ruby head accessory, it’s dazzling brightness really highlights the overall outfit. As for the wrist…” she paused, as though in deep thought, then smiled. “Yes, I see. If she wears ruby accessories all over, it would look tacky, but this jade bracelet looks out of place too. Perhaps red corals, yes, a red coral bracelet would complement the overall look better.”
Su Nuan Nuan said, “I’ve never liked red corals, so I don’t have any here. Hong Lian, go fetch the key to your master’s warehouse. See if there are any red coral bracelets there…”
Duan Xinqi anxiously cut in, “Sister-in-law, we musn’t touch brother’s warehouse. This is good enough, surely there’s no need to be too perfect?”
Concubine Jing laughed, “I must agree that it is a little excessive. If anyone found out, tongues would wag. Even if sister isn’t afraid of gossip, you might consider of second sister’s sensibilities. It just so happen that the bracelet on my wrist is last year’s birthday gift from the lord. Though I dare not say that it is anything valuable, if second young miss does not mind, please wear it.”
With that, she lifted her sleeve and removed the bracelet from her wrist. Su Nuan Nuan studied the bracelet. It was made from good quality red corals and its luster was moist and bright as stone gems. It was clearly an incredibly valuable item. She smiled at Concubine Jing, “Sister is too modest, how could the lord give anything poorly made for your birthday? This is quite excellent, if you are willing to lend this to second young miss, I shall ask the lord to gift you something of your choice.”
Duan Xinqi was shaking with fear now, even as Concubine Jing laughed merrily, “Just wear it, dear. First madam is right, this is the time for you to shine. Both of us are last season’s chrysanthemums, it’s fine for us to remain as background scenery.” seeing the young lady still conflicted face, she stamped her feet and said, “Second young miss really can’t see sense. Can’t you tell what my true intention is? Must you force me to say that I wish to get a new set of accessories from first madam before you’ll accept this one bracelet?”
This little statement garnered laughter from everyone. Duan Xinqi, too, finally relaxed. Concubine Jing took the chance to slip the bracelet onto the young girl’s wrist and made a great show of looking at her from all sides and declared, “Well, there’s nothing else, right? It’s getting late, we should really busy soon. Oh yes, I’ve arranged some flowers and had them sent to old madam yesterday, does madam have any idea if she likes it?”
“Of course she likes them, what’s not to like? Old madam especially liked the basket it came in, said it was an incredibly original approach to flower arrangement. She even said she’ll display that large basket of flowers at a prominent place tomorrow and enjoy bragging about it to everyone.”
“The basket is first madam’s idea, what does it have to do with me? Even the design of the basket was drawn by you, I only found someone to weave it together.”
The three continue to chat idly as they made their way to the kitchen. When she saw that only Hong Lian and Xiang Yun came in after them, Concubine Jing lowered her voice and said, “Sister-in-law, when you make that Snow Cream next time, please be mindful. The second lady has been by my place a few times already, all she could talked about is the Snow Cream. I think there’s something not quite right there, and thought you should know about it.”
“Be at ease, I will deal with it.” Su Nuan Nuan smirked as she hefted up two bags of flour. “Today we shall be making Chiffon Cake. You must keep this cooking method a secret too. In the future, when I make money from this, you two will get something out of it too.”
“Chiffon Cake?” Concubine Jing’s eyes brightened, her lips perked up and she smiled, “I really can’t tell where first madam gets all these odd ideas from. And what’s this Chiffon Cake? Please tell us.”
“You’ll know soon enough. I have plenty more weirder ideas, this is nothing.” said Su Nuan Nuan. Then, she proceeded to separate several jins of the two different bags flour into several large bowls. Duan Xinqi looked on curiously, “What kind of flour are those?”
“This is wheat flour, that one is starch. When mixed together we’ll get low gluten cake flour. Cake must be made from low gluten flour for it to be soft and delicious…”
Su Nuan Nuan continued to explain even as she ordered her willing helpers around. In her past life, she used to enjoy reading transmigrator novels, and had often wondered how they’d get their hands on modern snacks and desserts. Because of this, she did a lot of research on ancient ingredients and resources. What she found out was, things like tapioca flour and cream of tartar did not exist in the ancient past, however, it was possible to replace it with existing ingredients. While it would take some trouble, it was not impossible with her cooking skills. Therefore, when Duan Tingxuan mentioned old madam’s birthday feast, she was determined to make a birthday cake. Not to buy her way into the old madam’s heart, but to give the old lady a memorable and happy birthday.
After some time, the prep work was done and everyone was wiping sweat off their foreheads when Duan Tingxuan’s voice was heard from outside. The little marquis was back and he wanted his breakfast.
Breakfast that day was Steamed Chinese Bread Roll and thin congee made by Hong Lian. For side dishes, there was Fermented Tofu Pickled Mustard Tuber  and Salted Duck’s Egg . When he heard that Su Nuan Nuan even managed to sneak time to fry up a dish of Firm Tofu with Eggs, the little marquis was beyond touched.
Breakfast was quickly consumed, and the ladies were soon back to work again. Duan Tingxuan too wanted to enter the kitchen, but was chased out by Su Nuan Nuan with a loud, “You better forget setting foot in this place. Have you forgotten what today is? Go and welcome the guests, what are you doing here anyway? Still don’t know how to differentiate the important from the petty?”
She had just finished speaking when Cong’er came in, “Master, third young master is at the door. He said that the lord marquis is looking for you. He also said there’s no need for you to supervise whatever first madam is doing and to receive the guests with him. Marquis of Jinxiang, Marquis of Changsheng as well as Senior Uncle Shou Ning had already arrived.”
“As he lives, Man is never satisfied, the following day, skiffs are sent out once more.”
Duan Tingxuan sighed as he looked up at the sky, and gloomily made his way out of the house. On his way out, the silvery laughter of his wife tickled his ears, “Did you hear that? He’s still not satisfied, under what circumstances did Li Taibai wrote this poem? You dare compare with him? Your greed will earn you a lightning strike one day.”
As it turned out, Duan Tingfang was just outside. From the look on his face , Duan Tingxuan knew that his third brother had heard Su Nuan Nuan remark. Somehow, a sense of embarrassment still managed to creep up his face as he coughed into his hand, “Your sister-in-law’s temperament has always been like this, don’t mind it.”
Duan Tingfang’s cheeks were flushed red, he huffed and puffed for a long time, but still unable to spit out his words. Finally, he managed to say, “How could I mind it? I should be saying this to elder brother instead.”
“Third brother, are you always this honest even at school?” Duan Tingxuan gave his third brother as ‘fierce look’, but the third young master only laughed lightly and said, “How could I? If I act like this in school, I would have been beaten up black and blue all over by now.”
This third brother of his… he seemed to be little different today. How odd, he hadn’t been that close to Nuan Nuan, so how was it that he too was dyed by her black attitude?
Duan Tingxuan sighed as he considered. He never foresee that Duan Tingfang could turn out this way. At best, he had merely sent this brother of his some good ink and praised his work randomly. Third young master Duan might be prideful and aloof young man, but he treated the gifts of ink stone and little praises as Duan Tingxuan acknowledging his existence. This caused him to develop some feelings of intimacy with this great brother of his.
No matter how antisocial he was, he was still craved a maturing young man craving acknowledgement. It was lucky that Su Nuan Nuan transmigrated into the time when this third young master was still at his developing stage. Otherwise, his antisocial behaviour would have gotten more serious and difficult to change, even with the little marquis’ intervention.
 last season’s chrysanthemums – outdated goods, lol  Fermented Tofu – 腐乳- I can’t believe there’s an English language website featuring this recipe! Here!  Firm Tofu with Eggs – 幹豆腐雞蛋 – Basically stir fried tofu with scrambled eggs  Li Taibai, also known as the poet Li Bai – one of the three most famous poets in ancient China. The poem Duan Tingxuan quoted is the final line of a poem called ‘Little Boat’ I did my best translating it ^_^, but I’m afraid I didn’t do it justice.
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Translated by Gumihou from kitchennovel dot com.
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