Chapter 65: Entertaining Guests
Translated by Gumihou
Proofread by Pill Bug
Old Madam Jin nodded privately to herself. She thought: This Fu’shi is a truly virtuous one. See how well brought up the two children are? Clearly, my daughter-in-law doesn’t like them, nor do they like this grandmother much either, but the children still persevered and did not allow their dislike to show too much on their faces or stop them from showing their filial piety. On this point alone, they are already superior to Fengju’s other children.
While she pondered over this, Fu Qiuning, along with Yu Jie and Aunt Yu, quickly came in to give their greetings to Madam Jiang.
When Jiang Wanying saw the scarf-covered head and plain clothes and skirt covered in a bit of dust and ash, she privately sneered. No matter how one looked at it, this so-called first wife looked no different from those common peasant farmer wives in the wild. Her face might be prettier than those coarse women, but that was it. She frowned and thought: Have I really overthought matters? How could this kind of crude-looking female attract Cousin’s love? He is, after all, a great and dignified Young Marquis, not some uneducated toad by the road.
At this, she let go of the breath she had been holding. Suddenly, she stiffened again. No, she cannot let go of her guard as yet. The most desirable object is the one that is out of their grasp. While he might not show open interest, Cousin might still be eyeing this creature secretly. It’s best not to relax completely. No matter what, this woman could prove to be trouble later. For now, this problem could still be removed, but not right away. So long as she did not rid herself of that woman, she could not take things lightly.
“From what Fengju said, Old Madam likes the sweet potatoes from your place. So go fetch some now. Still, are the sweet potatoes in the inner court all gone? Must you personally dig through the mud for them? Have you no servants? If someone sees you like this, how unsightly is it?” Madam Jiang slowly sipped her tea, her eyes slowly scalding their way up and down Fu Qiuning’s person. A frown between her eyebrows showed her dissatisfaction.
“We only managed to collect a hundred jin from the yard. I have already chosen the best ones to be steamed,”  Fu Qiuning decided to pretend to be deaf and stupid, answering as though she had merely received questions about sweet potatoes. She thought: Wei, I only have two servants here. If I don’t help them, how long do you think it would take before you even get to nibble on a potato? You are here to eat my food and still want to tell me how to do things. Is there any justice in this world?
At this, Old Madam Jin  suddenly laughed out loud and said, “One should follow the customs of the village one visits; even I haven’t said anything yet. Daughter-in-law, you shouldn’t nit-pick too much. Isn’t it good enough to receive satisfactory food here? If you are not used to it, there’s no need for you to stay and serve me. You all can go back now. I believe Wan girl also has plenty to do and should not leave her work.”
“What is Old Ancestor saying? Are you afraid that I will snatch food from you?” Jiang Wanying quickly lowered her teacup to smile brightly at the Old Madam. “Didn’t Elder Sister say she had collected a hundred jin of sweet potatoes? No matter how much Old Madam could eat, surely a hundred jin is still too much? You shouldn’t be too greedy and think that we’re here to snatch your things. We have been spoilt by Old Ancestor’s blessings, but surely you could still let us have a little taste? Are you really that unwilling to indulge us?”
Old Madam Jin smiled, “If you want to have a taste, you may stay. How dare you imply that this old lady is greedy? You are getting more and more daring, to actually say such a thing to my face.” She turned to the maid next to her, “Luo Cui, send a girl to Fengju’s place and invite him to come too. Otherwise, he would complain about how everything had been eaten by this Old Ancestor, causing him to suffer a loss.”
Madam Jiang  also quickly pasted on a smile and said, “He has not been by this morning to give his morning greeting. I believe he must have left for the morning court for some business. According to Wan girl, Prince Rong’s Palace also sent people over to look for him a few times now; I believe he won’t be around. Therefore, Old Ancestor can enjoy today’s meal with a peaceful mind. I shall have someone send some to him later.”
Old Madam Jin answered with a little nod, “En, that’s fine.”
Fu Qiuning said, “Old Madam, Madam, do please continue to sit for a bit, I shall go and tend to the fire.”
She was about to leave when Xu’shi  sniggered and said, “What’s this? Is Elder Sister a cook? Are you saying that those sweet potatoes won’t cook if you don’t personally oversee them? What’s the use of having servants? You should sit and chat with us. Naturally, if Elder Sister is sure that work could not happen without your personal supervision, this younger sister dare not stop you. We must take care to ensure that everything is to Old Madam’s taste, after all,”
Fu Qiuning looked over at Xu’shi. Her  smile was wintry as she answered in a low voice, “Unfortunately, I have shown a ridiculous side to Little Sister. These matters really do need my personal supervision. With such an eloquent person as litter sister to entertain Old Madam and Elder Madam, surely my presence would not be missed?”
With a final slight nod, she left.
Xu’shi sneered at Fu Qiuning’s disappearing back, “Clearly a shu-born daughter is still a shu-born daughter, without half the manners or sensibilities of a well brought up person. To think that she would treat herself like a cook and demean herself before the servants-” Old Madam Jin coughed, cutting off her diatribe.
Xu’shi suddenly switched direction and laughingly said, “That’s right, I am bad at speaking. When it comes to the virtues of women, good cooking skills also count as one. Otherwise, where does the phrase ‘To wash one’s hands and make soup ’ comes from? For Elder Sister to personally enter the kitchen, isn’t it showing great filial piety to Old Ancestor? I have always wished to honour Old Ancestor by entering the kitchen myself, but I never did have such an opportunity. I believe our Second Madam is not as unlucky as me. Who knows how many dishes she had personally made for Old Ancestor?”
Right now, this hatred in Jiang Wanying’s heart, ah…
This Xu’shi was the most difficult to deal with among all of the concubines. Aside from acting sweet before Jin Fengju, she had no respect for anyone else. However, she was very restrained with her actions and did not act recklessly, merely insinuating with her words. This was the reason why Jiang Wanying was willing to let Jin Changfeng and Jin Changjiao enter the clan school. Once the two sides inevitably got into a fight, at least she could be rid of one or the other. This woman was like an ugly toad, whether she bites or not, having such a repulsive creature by her side was enough to disgust her.
Therefore, she quickly sneered and said, “Little Sister has spoken wrongly. How could I be anywhere as skilled as you? Back then, my mother only advised me that as the granddaughter of the Duke of Lu, I must learn how to manage a household as I would one day be in charge of my husband’s property. Therefore, my time spent learning cooking and other female arts was relatively short, and I dare not show such poor skills before Old Ancestor.
Unlike Little Sister, ah. Speaking of which, Little Sister is clearly more skilled than Elder Sister. Elder Sister is a shu-born daughter and had no need to learn matters concerning household management, thus, she could focus her attention on cooking skills and other female arts. However, isn’t Little Sister a di-born daughter? Though your father may not be some prominent king, he is at least a fourth-rank official, isn’t he? Why did he not let you learn some household management skills and focus on these little female arts instead?
Could it be that Little Sister already knew that you would marry into a family as a conc… well, well, enough about that. There’s no need to speak of this matter anymore. Perhaps I am too stupid. I do believe that Little Sister must be very clever and talented indeed and have no need to study anything beforehand.”
Old Madam Jin had long since been accustomed to this kind of battle of the tongues among the so-called ‘well-bred noblewomen’. In fact, she used to be one of them. Back then, the Old Marquis was also quite a sought after man and the struggle between herself and those secondary wives and concubines was even fiercer. What’s a little heated lip battle? Who cared about all these frigid ironies and scorching satires being thrown about?
The most frightening thing about these inner court battles was that there was no way to know how many human lives were lost as a result of a hidden scheme. Although there had been many open and secret battles within Jin Fengju’s inner court, no one had died so far. This spoke well of her grandson’s intelligence and ability to manage his family well. He had installed enough fear within the hearts of all his wives and concubines and kept them from being reckless.
The Old Madam was so lost in thought that it was as if she had fallen into a trance. Meanwhile, Madam Jiang and the others kept a perfunctory conversation going, when suddenly, a sweet fragrance wafted into the room. Soon after, Fu Qiuning, Yu Jie and Aunt Yu came out bearing large trays filled with little plates of food. The sweet fragrance came from these plates.
“Old Ancestor, these are Baked Sweet Potato Slices. The steamed ones are done, they are now cooling in the kitchen. It’s too hot to eat those now,” said Fu Qiuning as she laid a plate carefully before her.
Jin Changjiao immediately picked up a piece of golden Baked Potato Slice and said childishly, “Great-grandmother, I’ve just washed my hands, let me peel it for you first. Baked Sweet Potatoes are very delicious,”
Old Madam smiled, “Good, good, good, my great-granddaughter is very filial.”
Fu Qiuning handed a plate to Jin Changfeng, “Give this to Elder Madam.”
Jin Changfeng took the plate and brought it to Madam Jiang. As he peeled the sweet potato, he said, “Elder Madam, please try it. I have also washed my hands,” Then, he held out the peeled sweet potato to Madam Jiang.
Madam Jiang allowed a trace of a smile on her face as she nodded and accepted the sweet potato. She took a small bite and chewed it slowly.
As for Jiang Wanying, Xu’shi, Huo’shi etc, none of them received this special treatment. No matter what, Fu Qiuning was still the official wife, and therefore did not need to serve them. They were served by Yu Jie and Aunt Yu instead.
Speaking of which, although Jiang Wanying was only a secondary wife, her position was only slightly inferior to Fu Qiuning. However, with the household matters in her hands, she held the true power in the family. If she had been an ordinary woman, Fu Qiuning might have curried favour by bringing a plate of sweet potatoes to her and flattering her a little bit to gain some benefits. It was really no skin off her nose if she did this for her future benefits.
However, just who was Fu Qiuning?
Although life had been a bit difficult, she had gotten through years of life as an abandoned (free) woman in the remote location that was Night Breeze Pavilion. How could she be willing to surrender this little bit of status for the sake of some random benefits she did not need?
Thus, as Jiang Wanying choked down the Baked Sweet Potato, her heart continued to be troubled. However, there was nothing she could say as her position was indeed inferior to the other. The jealousy that had been barely suppressed in her heart reared its ugly head again. She thought: No, this woman might be neither humble nor arrogant, however, the moment she sticks her head out, wouldn’t it be impossible to suppress her? Since you are unwilling to bow your head, don’t blame me for being ruthless. No matter what, I must find a way to drive her out of this marquisate. I can’t let her continue to sit in my position forever.
Several ideas sprouted in her mind but for the moment, none of them appeared to be feasible.
Jiang Wanying desperately thought: I must plan things out secretly, so secretly that not even my shrewd cousin can find a trace of it.
Everyone had their own thoughts. In fact, those sweet potatoes did not really taste too unique from the ones they had, but Old Madam kept praising them. Fu Qiuning smiled and said, “Old Madam, if you like them, please take a few back with you.” She turned to Yu Jie and Aunt Yu, “Go to the backyard and dig a few more, be careful not to injure the potatoes.”
Yu Jie and Aunt Yu accepted the order and went off. Fu Qiuning sat down to accompany Old Madam Jin and Madam Jiang for a little chat. Suddenly, Madam Jiang said, “Speaking of which, this is the first time I visited Night Breeze Pavilion ever since I entered the marquisate. The rooms are very neat, why don’t you take us for a little tour?”
Fu Qiuning knew that Madam Jiang probably did not believe that the rest of the rooms were as simple and plain as the little hall and privately snickered. Are you that afraid that your son would gift all his good stuff to me?
Even his place had not been filled up, how could he be willing to part with any treasures to me? Besides, even if he wanted to please me, surely he would not be as brainless as to stuff my place with things when Old Madam had been threatening to visit?
This was clearly trying to find a water source when there was hardly a drop of water to be found. Nevertheless, Fu Qiuning stood up, saluted the Old Madam, who would not be going with them, and led Madam Jiang, Jiang Wanying and the others into each room. As they walked, she explained, “There are many rooms but few people. Therefore, there was no need to keep every room spotless. However, we do clean all the general rooms we used,”
[Gumihou: …Old Madam, you are part of the problem… Also, they are probably going to see the white lions…]
 Small fixes so that the text is aligned.
Expand upon all the: he smiled, she smiled, they smiled quickly, she sneered hurriedly, they sneered, said with a smile, said with a laugh…
Expand your vocabulary, woman! Deleted. There’s a dialogue that was just… floating there and not addressed later. Deleted it.  Added Details, because her answer doesn’t align with Madam Jiang or Jiang Wanying’s question/provocations.  To Wash One’s Hands and Make Soup – From a Tang Dynasty poem called ‘New Bride’ by poet Wang Jian.
Where on the 3rd day of marriage, the young bride should make soup for the parents-in-law.
Can’t say I like the translation though…
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