The Feast – 254 – Seeking Help

The Feast – 254 – Seeking Help

Chapter 254: Seeking Help

 

Translated by Gumihou

Edited by Onionpi

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Yang’shi was flabbergasted, “Didn’t you say that you were going to maintain a respectful distance this morning? What happened to ‘preventing people from seeing you as some kind of ungrateful beast’?”

Concubine Jiang smiled, “I am merely going over to convey my thanks, what’s so ungrateful about that? It’s good manners after all. Naturally, it is only right for me to show respect from a distance.”

Yang’shi sighed, “What do you mean to show respect from a distance? Times when you should show distance you refused to stay away, times when you should ingrate yourself it’s all ‘maintain respect from a distance’. Aih! You’ve become too strange for words, I really don’t know how to advise you anymore.”

“Be at ease, sister. I know what to do.” Concubine Jiang’s smile contained a trace of bitterness. She thought secretly: How could you understand the fear and confusion in my heart? Aih! What a horrible tangle. How scary it is to have to face the different layers of schemes laid by all these cunning people at once. Looks like the saying, ‘Those Who Saw Through the World of Mortals Will be Scared Stiff [1]’ exists for a reason.

However, these were words that she could not simply speak to just anyone. When evening came, Concubine Jiang took into consideration Su Nuan Nuan’s afternoon nap time, estimated that she should be awake by now. She dressed herself up a little and made her way towards Spring Breeze Court. When she arrived at the court, she saw Duan Tingxuan and Su Nuan Nuan standing together, teasing a few myna birds fluttering in a large cage. At the sight of her, Su Nuan Nuan greeted with a smile, “The sun is still bright, what are you doing here?”

Concubine Jiang quickly bent her knees in a proper salute, but her eyes never drifted towards Duan Tingxuan’s person. After experiencing so many things, she had already seen through the Lord’s heart and knew that it was pointless to hope for favours from that side. Right now, she only had thoughts for her son. In such a large estate, one should be able to spend one’s days in tranquillity and need not worry about food or clothing. However, under the current circumstances, even such a modest wish might be difficult to fulfil.

“Enough, the two of you should speak together in the house. I am going to my study…” Duan Tingxuan had no interest in listening to female talk, and was just about to leave when Si Ping’s voice called from outside, “Master, the crown prince is here. He’s at the Lord Marquis’ study. The Lord asked you to come quickly.”

“My heavens, ah.” Duan Tingxuan slapped himself lightly on the head and muttered, “Didn’t I asked second prince to inform him that we’ll only be making the Buddha Jumps over the Wall tomorrow? Why is he here now? I wonder if he had gotten any thinner?”

Even as he spoke, he was already hurrying outside. At this, Concubine Jiang smiled, “Madam’s skill is too incredible. Look, even the crown prince has personally rushed over. All the for sake of tasting that Buddha Jumps over the Wall. I’m afraid that in this world, aside from the empress and dowager empress, Madam is the only other woman in the world who could influence the crown prince to this point.”

“My concern is how much weight the crown prince had lost. To think that he’d rush over here just for Buddha Jumps over the Wall, I really don’t know what to think anymore.” Su Nuan Nuan dusted off the remaining bird food from her hands and entered the house with Concubine Jiang.

They sat together and Concubine Jiang opened the conversation by thanking her for the souvenirs and the kelp strand noodles. Su Nuan Nuan smiled and said, “Oh, it’s nothing much. After all, everyone gets the same thing. Do you really think I’d short change you? Don’t see this as me favouring Chuan’er. Even if I don’t like little Chuan’er, I’d still share my things as proper family members.”

As she spoke, she waved a hand at Hong Lian and had her bring a pouch from a drawer in the room. She opened the pouch and withdrew 10 pearls and placed them in Concubine Jiang’s hands. “These came to me through some outrageously good luck. I managed to collect 200 of these. Naturally, I’ve given some to the senior madams as filial consideration and gifted some to other people. There aren’t many left in my hands, but since you have the courtesy to come visit me, I shall share some with you. As for those who did not trouble themselves to come, I’m too lazy to bother with them.”

What were 10 pearls to the women of noble houses? However, Concubine Jiang’s practised eye soon discerned their true value. In shock, she said, “These aren’t ordinary pearls. They look like Eastern Pearls from the Ussuri River, but their size… even Hepu Pearls aren’t as large or exquisite. Just how did Madam get your hands on them? These are too precious.”

Su Nuan Nuan grinned, “Don’t talk as though you’re a country bumpkin who’d never seen the world before. While they really are Eastern Pearls, their value is still slightly inferior to Hepu Pearls. Take them. You can string them into a necklace if you can match them with similar pearls, or make yourself a bracelet. You can also turn them into a set of earrings and a few rings if you like, it’s up to you how you want to use them.”

“Then, this concubine thanks madam for her generosity.” Concubine Jiang immediately got off her chair to give a proper salute in thanks. The two spoke of trivial things a while when eventually, Concubine Jiang lowered her head and fell silent. When Su Nuan Nuan saw this, she felt puzzled. She smiled and said, “What is it? For you to visit me so suddenly, is there something you wish to speak to me about?”

“It’s nothing much, truly. This concubine heard a story a few days ago and was distressed by it. The story occupied my mind for a long time. If I had been a character in the story, I would not know what to do. Because First Madam is clever and wise, this concubine thought to ask for Madam’s advice.”

“Oh?” Su Nuan Nuan was immediately interested. This is quite unusual, she thought, though I am not sure what had happened, but this woman must have come to a point where she’s desperate for help. The question is, why come to me? Why couldn’t she go to Madam Yun? Have I accidentally bought her loyalty with those 10 Eastern Pearls?

While she was still thinking, Concubine Jiang had begun, “There was once a servant girl who followed her mistress as a dowry maid into a noble family. She became the bed companion of her mistress’ husband after catching his eye…”

This was clearly Concubine Jiang’s own story. At first, Su Nuan Nuan was curious why Concubine Jiang would want to speak about this with her of all people. As she continued to listen, however, her heart grew heavier and heavier. When they came to the part where the maid’s mistress decided to harm the concubine’s child as part of her scheme, but ultimately failed in the end, she grew even more distressed. The concubine maid eventually fell into a storm of confusion and anger, unsure of what to do next.

Su Nuan Nuan’s hands clenched into fists as the story progressed.

In the story, the ‘mistress’ was not Su Nuan Nuan, could it be that she had found out the real culprit who had harmed Chuan’er? That the culprit, no culprits, were both Xu Ran Yun and Xue Zhi Lan?

When the thought occurred to her, her breathing grew harsh and she had to take two deep breaths to calm herself down. In a low voice, she said, “What is there to be confused or distressed about? Didn’t you say that the master of the house is not a bad person? So why not beg him for justice?”

“There is no evidence, everything is just her speculation. She had already made a mistake once, rashly accusing an innocent person of some imaginary ill. With such a past behind her, who would believe her? She was afraid that if she voiced out any of her suspicions, they would only say that she is making trouble for no reason again.”

Concubine Jiang sighed again. She was so regretful that her guts were practically green. If she had not been so hasty that day, so convinced of Su Nuan Nuan’s guilt that she had persuaded even Chuan’er to lie in front of Old Madam to frame Su Nuan Nuan, she would not be in such a dilemma.

“So, what has the maid decided to do?”

No concrete evidence. Even Su Nuan Nuan could do nothing to help her because of these three fatal words. Xu Ran Yun was no ordinary little wife, knowing her vicious heart, even without evidence they could just fabricate some excuse and send her out if she had been some ordinary woman. However, in the end, she’s still an earl’s daughter. No matter what kind of vicious things she might have done, without proper proof and witnesses, they had no way of getting rid of her. Just like the Su Meng Nuan of the past. Though she had done a lot of bad things and even caused the death of a maid and unborn child, it was not until the fall of Duke of Ping’s family that they could punish her. Even then it was merely exile into Mei Yue Lou.

Concubine Jiang gave a bitter smiled, “She had no idea what to do. She thought to risk her life, but then she could not bear to leave her child. Once she died, who would protect her son? She thought to swallow all her resentment down but was afraid that things will end well if she did nothing. It was one thing if misfortune were to fall on her head, but what if her child was also pulled in with her? This concubine thought about it for a long time. If a dilemma like this befell me, I don’t know what I should do either. Madam’s wisdom is great, perhaps you might see a way out?”

Su Nuan Nuan fully understood the struggle Concubine Jiang was going through. However, she had no good solution to this issue either. If she informed Duan Tingxuan about it, it would only distress him and nothing could be solved without proper proof.

After some thought, she said gently, “If that is the case, I can only advice the maid to remain at a respectful distance to her mistress. She must refrain herself from ‘Destroying both Jade and Common Stone [2]’. As she had determined, who would protect her child once she is gone? Fortunately, she had married into a rich and powerful family. If she cannot afford to provoke, surely she can afford to hide? The enemy’s whip can only reach so far. As long as mother and son are out of reach, they will be safe.”

Concubine Jiang sighed, feeling a little disappointed. She quietly thought: Could it be that even First Madam cannot think of a way out?

But then, she thought again: However, when it comes to this kind of delicate, complicated matter, who on earth would be able to untangle it? Even the most honest and upright officials could not distance themselves from household matters. That First Madam was willing to play along with her ‘story’ could be considered as granting her great benevolence. If it had been anyone else, they would have merely considered it a case of bad luck on her part, and take joy in her misery. Very few people would spare such kind words for her.

After a short silence, Su Nuan Nuan continued, “If that maid felt it difficult to voice out her distress, perhaps she might find it better to entrust her safety to others? Whether it’s to the Elder Madam or Old Madam, surely she could be called upon to be a companion for them?” The ‘Elder Madam’ and ‘Old Madam’ in this story were both euphemisms for herself. After all, in Concubine Jiang’s story, the main character Xu Ran Yun had been made the official wife of the noble son.

In fact, she could even let Duan Maochuan stay at Spring Breeze Court for his safety. However, Su Nuan Nuan never did like the idea of taking other people’s children has her own, though she liked Duan Maochuan well enough. Moreover, she intended to ease Concubine Jiang’s worry, and not make the other party anxious over losing her precious son to the official wife.

“I suppose, aside from staying far away from the problem, there really isn’t a proper solution to this matter.” Concubine Jiang sighed. Finally, she stood up and smiled, “Look at me, taking up so much of madam’s time with my silly story. I should leave now.”

Su Nuan Nuan nodded and ordered Hong Lian to escort her out. A short while later, Hong Lian came back, and asked, “Missy, just what wind blew Concubine Jiang our way? Since when did she become so close to Missy?”

“She is struggling through some difficult problems and came to me for advice.” Su Nuan Nuan shook her head with a sigh and told Hong Lian the whole story. Hong Lian’s eyes widened and she muttered, “If we’re to believe Concubine Jiang, then the whole scheme was concocted by Madam Lan? My heavens, this is so hard to believe. Madam Lan had always been so gentle and warm, who would have thought that she would be so cold and calculative? One really can’t know people’s heart from looking at their faces.”

At that point, she paused, then said solemnly, “However, these are only Concubine Jiang’s words. The incident with Chuan’er might not be anyone’s fault. It would be reckless to take everything at her word. This maid understands Missy’s thoughts, since Spring Breeze Court is quite large, having the mother and child here will add no extra burden to us. Moreover, since her colour had faded due to old age, the master won’t pay any attention to her either. But Missy, you must also remember, though we must harbour no evil thoughts against others, we should still guard against others, ah.

How would you know if she is sincere in coming to you for help? What if she’s here under Madam Yun’s instigation? Surely you understand the trick of injuring oneself to gain enemy’s confidence? I don’t believe that Madam Yun would be so careless as to let her movements be seen through so easily by others. As for Madam Lan, where did she get the idea that Madam Lan was pulling strings behind the scenes?

What if she’s just here to create trouble and sow discord? She has been with Madam Yun for over ten years, so how could she turn her back onto her mistress so easily?”

 

[Gumihou: … this is too underneath the underneath the underneath for me…]

[1] Those Who Saw Through the World of Mortals Will be Scared Stiff – Basically, people who are disillusioned by the horrors of human society, politics, fights et cetera would be shocked by it.

[2] Destroy both Jade and Common Stone – Lash out or destroy indiscriminately 

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