Chapter 67: Time for School
Author: White Pear Flower
Translated by Pill Bug
Proofread by Gumihou
Jin Fengju waved his hand, interrupting Fu Qiuning with a laugh, ”What’s this nonsense? Why should I care what they think when I give out my belongings? Feng’er and Jiao’er have never received anything from me since their childhood. As for the pair of broken dragon and phoenix pendants, could they really not understand what happened? At any rate, it is good for them to see those paperweights.
This will let them know that should they keep breaking things, I shall keep granting better things for the twins. Nevertheless, matters would become very complicated for them if they break something bestowed by the emperor. I might not even be able to cover for them should such a terrible thing happen.” He smiled at Fu Qiuning, “Why are you wasting your worries over such trivialities? Naturally, I have my own reasons for doing things.”
Fu Qiuning nodded, “So long as it does not trouble you. Naturally, the Young Marquis is powerful and wise, however, the cries and complaints from your wives and concubines would still be vexing, to say the least.” In front of Jin Fengju, she refused to address those women as ‘sisters’. That’s because she does not consider herself his wife. She merely plays the role of the official wife from time to time as needed.
After giving the matter a little more thought, she continued, “My meaning is, Feng’er and Jiao’er are not greedy children. Therefore, you need not take too much care over your gifts. It’s fine to gift them the occasional trinkets. There’s no need to give children anything too precious or expensive.
So long as the father’s intentions are true, who would care about the value of things? Precious things also brought with them their own line of trouble. You were not here to see the ladies’ faces when they saw those white jade lions-” she suddenly stopped herself. It felt as though she was stirring up trouble with this line of thought, better to stop it. Fu Qiuning gave a little awkward smile and continued, “Regardless, it is best to stop giving things that are too precious.”
“Naturally, I have my own thoughts on the matter,” Jin Fengju smiled as he picked up his teacup and took a sip. He said, “In a few days, Great Scholar Lin will arrive. I have also invited a female teacher to teach the Four Arts to the clan girls, so have Jiao’er attend too. Be sure to prepare them for school.
Also, seeing how the school is a little far from here and though Aunt Yu and Yu Jie are your most trusted helpers, it is not good to have them accompany the children due to their age. How about attaching a young serving boy and a young serving girl as the children’s companions? What do you think?”
Fu Qiuning immediately frowned.
Knowing what she must be thinking, Jin Fengju said, “There’s no need to worry. I shall have Jin Ming pick out some clever, honest and clean children from outside. There’s no need to use the ones within the marquisate. You also have no need to worry about letting spies into Night Breeze Pavilion.”
Fu Qiuning’s face flushed at the thought of being so easily read. She said softly, “Many thanks for your consideration. I am fine, regardless. However, the children are akin to my own life. I cannot allow any mistakes to harm them.”
Jin Fengju smiled, “Why the need to thank me? You’re not their blood mother and yet you care for them to this extent. What of me, their biological father? Enough about that, it is nearly mid-autumn now. I shall have Jin Ming purchase some materials for autumn and winter use. He should be here soon. I see that the clothes you make are no worse than the ones made by tailors outside. However, if you’re tired, you may have tailors come and measure everyone for a few sets of clothes. The Mid-autumn family banquet will be here soon, [a] therefore, you should have at least two new sets of clothes.”
Fu Qiuning was surprised: “What? Mid-autumn family banquet?” Immediately after her outburst, she awkwardly said, “Yes, it should be so. I am the one confused. Mid-Autumn Festival is the time when families are reunited with each other. How could a family like ours not prepare a banquet?”
Jin Fengju laughed and said, “Exactly. I’m afraid the family banquet won’t be that interesting. Just wait until the New Year’s Eve banquet. Now that one would truly be lively. Father and Elder Brother would hurry back home from their official duties in the field and we shall have lots of people gathered together.”
Seeing Fu Qiuning turn pale, his mischievous nature took over him and he coughed slightly, “Ahem, not only would it be very lively, but the amount of work would increase too. Mother suffers from some illness while Wanying is delicate. As for Xu’shi and Huo’shi, those two are a little pushy and rather unreliable. Cui’shi and Yue Lan have weak personalities and cannot be counted on to lead.
In the end, I had to depend on Wanying for everything. However, this time, I’m afraid Wanying might encounter some difficulties. You happen to have the stable and calm personality needed for leadership, and also have many good ideas. How about sharing some of her burdens and assisting her a little?” 
“You had better not bring harm to me,” Fu Qiuning glared at Jin Fengju. There was no need to put up any pretence of the ‘benevolent woman’ in front of this man. She lowered her embroidery and said, “I see that Second Madam is a very capable and hard-working person who loves to show off her talent. As the saying goes, ‘the skilled will be given more work’. Your job is to praise her whenever she complains about how hard she is working. What’s the cost of saying a few words of praise to a hard-working person?
So long as you praise her, she will be more than happy to ensure that everything is properly arranged for you, so why drag me underwater? Are you afraid that I am not hated enough by the others? Well, I’m afraid that Second Madam hates that she could not just eat me up. I wonder, back then, who was it who solemnly promised to let me grow old in peace?”
Jin Fengju laughed, “Why are you calling her Second Madam too? As position goes, you are senior, so it sounds strange and awkward.”
Fu Qiuning replied, “She addressed me as Elder Sister to my face, therefore, I should call her Younger Sister. However, she is still your secondary wife, therefore, it is fine for me to call her Second Madam. This is all irrelevant. All you need to remember is to avoid ignoring my thoughts and allow us to pass our lives quietly here.”
Hearing her resolute words, Jin Fengju no longer insisted. He thought: This is fine, things should proceed slowly. Impatience would only ruin things. Not to mention, the influence of Prince Hong’s Palace has not been fully suppressed, therefore, it is better to let her stay out here for the time being. When the time comes, naturally, it will not be up to her to decide.
Fu Qiuning did not discover Jin Fengju’s hidden intention. The remaining few days were spent discussing clothing patterns with Yu Jie and Aunt Yu and preparing book bags for the Jin twins. The siblings were very excited about the prospect of attending school. The two had always enjoyed learning and had been envious of their friends who attended school without them. However, they also understood their unique position in the family, and more importantly, they were afraid of making Fu Qiuning sad and were therefore very careful to never say a word about their wish. Now though, they were finally about to attend school! How could they not be excited?[a] A few days later, Jin Fengju and Jin Ming brought two children into Night Breeze Pavilion, a boy named Jin Zhuan and a girl called Lu Hua. Both were about eight or nine years old, good-looking and nimble. Jin Ming smiled and explained that he had personally looked through the marketplace for a long time before picking out these two. Fu Qiuning also thought they looked like a pair of good children and praised him for his effort. [a] Later, two days before the Mid-Autumn Festival Banquet, Jin Ming came with plenty of snacks for the family and news that Great Scholar Lin had finally arrived at the marquisate. He tactfully asked after the preparations Fu Qiuning had made for the children, meaning to find out if she needed anything for either the banquet or the school.
Fu Qiuning smiled and said, “To be honest, seeing how much effort you’ve put in for us, I should really reward you with a few taels of silver. Unfortunately, my place doesn’t have much money. If I gave you too little, I’m afraid it would just invite scorn. But, never fear, I shall speak to your master and have him reward you well. After all, as a pampered young master, he should act like it and be generous with his rewards.”
Jin Ming, already familiar with her sassy way of speaking, quickly laughed and said, “What is Madam saying? It is all part of this servant’s job. Please, please do not speak to Master about rewarding this undeserving one. Otherwise, instead of money, I would suffer two kicks from the Master. Moreover, Master would say that this lowly one is greedy and has spoken unnecessary things in front of Madam to instigate Madam into speaking out!
Madam, please don’t bring harm to this servant. In fact, the reward this servant gets from Master is not low. Moreover, even if others do not understand Madam’s situation, how could this servant not know? There’s no need to bring this matter up.” After that final speech and another reminder to Fu Qiuning to prepare well, he left.
After Jin Ming left, Fu Qiuning called for the four children, Jin Changfeng, Jin Changjiao, Lu Hua and Jin Zhuan, and spoke to them gently, “Tomorrow, you shall all attend the clan school and study there. You will see and experience both good and bad things. You will encounter children with deep schemes as well as those who act brashly without regard. However, that does not mean that good children do not exist. The two of you must remember to stay close to kinder classmates and to stay away from the schemers and the reckless. However, you must also be careful not to appear withdrawn or fearful, and to never approach strangers.”
After directing the twins, she turned to Lu Hua and Jin Zhuang, “This will be your first time mixing with people from a great house. I’m afraid there will be many things you do not know and this lack of knowledge could be dangerous. But, no matter, you will learn things slowly. You might suffer a couple of setbacks. However, there is no such thing as a smooth sailing life. What’s more, your identities as slaves will work against you. Nevertheless, I hope that you four children will act with one heart and support each other.
To outsiders, you might be called masters and servants, but in fact, you are more like brothers and sisters to each other. Remember that a single chopstick is easy to break, but who could break a bundle of chopsticks? It’s fine to suffer a small loss now and then, so long as you maintain your unity.” After this long and sincere sermon, she said, “Enough, it is getting late. Be sure to sleep well, tomorrow you must wake up early and Jin Ming will guide you to the clan school.”
That night, Fu Qiuning tossed and turned in bed, unable to take her own advice and sleep well. She thought of the children, who were brought to her side at barely three years old. Since then, they had lived together for more than five years as mother and children. For more than 1,600 days they were never half a step away from her line of sight. Now they would leave in the morning for the clan school and only return in the evening. She would have to repeatedly endure whole days of not knowing whether they suffered from others’ anger, exhaustion or even a teacher’s reprimands and scolding. She felt so anxious that she finally sat up in bed and stared blankly into the courtyard as shadows and moonlight slowly moved across her sight.
“How unexpected. After two lifetimes as a human, without even experiencing pregnancy or carrying a child to term, I still experienced the emotions of motherhood. Aih! Hopefully, the heavens will protect me and let my children grow up safe and sound. That is all I hope for.” Fu Qiuning muttered over her folded hands. Then, she remembered that she never believed in Buddhism in either of her lives. She had no idea whether it was useful to hug Buddha’s feet  right now.
The next day, just after dawn, Jin Changfeng and Jin Changjiao got up. Jin Zhuan and Lu Hua had already gotten up and packed their bags. After leaving the twins to freshen up under Aunt Yu’s care, Fu Qiuning called for the two slave children to come in for breakfast. Everyone sat down to a breakfast of thin porridge and two boiled chicken eggs each.
When Jin Ming entered the courtyard, he found the twins all packed up and ready to leave. He smiled and said, “The Master is afraid that Madam and the children might have overslept and sent this servant over to call you. Unexpectedly, everyone is ready to go. Since everyone is ready, we may set out a little earlier.”
Fu Qiuning had loaded things that Jin Ming had informed her to prepare into schoolbags for the children. These included books, brushes, paper, ink stones and ink sticks. The schoolbags sewed by her looked like ordinary cloth bags from the outside, but the inside had compartments for the stationeries, making it very convenient for the children to access the items in their bags and not let the inkstones or brushes stain the books or papers.
[Gumihou: Well, this slag man clearly has no intention of keeping his promise]
Pill Bug TL Notes:
 I really hate being ‘volunteered’ for work like this. How shameless!
Gumihou: Me too! Shameless! Hugging Buddha’s feet 临时抱佛脚, part of a Chinese idiom that means “to profess devotion only when in trouble”. The full version is 平时不烧香临时抱佛脚 “never usually lighting any incense, hugging buddha’s feet when your time comes”.
It’s like asking ‘God help me!’ one hour before your final exams.
Gumihou: Or the last ‘Hail Mary!’ before a disaster
[a] Okay, timing! Timing very important!
First, ‘need to make 2 sets of clothes for Mid-autumn Banquet’
Second, ‘that evening’, Jin Ming brought 2 children in, Jin Zhuan and Lu Hua
Change to ‘A few days later’ to at least give a few days’ gap between all these random happenings.
Third, ‘suddenly, on this day Jin Ming came again’
Fourth, ‘Fu Qiuning was informed that she was to attend the Mid-autumn banquet in 2 days’.
All four separate events on the same day???!!
Gumi lowers her face into her hands in despair.
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