Chapter 222: Traitor
Author: White Pear Flower
Translated by Pill Bug
Edited by Gumihou
When the women heard the maids announcing the arrival of the appearance of the distinguished Young Marquis, they all quickly stood up to greet him. Jin Yanfang smiled and said, “Second Elder Brother, you have returned early today. Do you not have to spend some hours pretending to work at the government office? Oh my, how untactful of me. Today is Sister-in-law’s rare day of rest! Very well, I shall be considerate and make myself scarce~” She was thrilled by the laughter she managed to elicit from the others around her. When she stood up, the rest of her entourage stood with her and they all filed out of the room. Luo’shi and Yu’shi took one look at Jin Fengju’s gloomy expression and withdrew from the area as well.[a] Fu Qiuning was more alarmed by the anxious expression on Jin Zhenxuan and Jin Xiuzhen’s faces than that person’s latest shenanigans. Just what the heck had their dear old dad done now? [b] And why was he carrying them in like sacks of flour under his arms?
Ignoring Jin Fengju, she looked at the children and said, “Brother Feng and Brother Yi are in the study why don’t you all go there? The girls should also be there with them with their embroidery.” She nodded at Yu Jie, “Take the children to the study.” [b]
Jin Zhenxuan and Jin Xiuzhen hesitated for a moment, [c] but they heard their father’s impatient voice saying, “Well, go on. Follow Yu Jie. No matter what, it’s still better than being locked up in Clear Soft Pavilion. Don’t you think so, Qiuning?”[c] There was no mistaking the resentful glares by those two the moment Jin Fengju’s voice turned almost sickly sweet when addressing her. Fu Qiuning resisted the urge to smack herself in the face, if only because it would ruin her makeup.
Regardless, the children left. The two were left in an awkward silence where Jin Fengju was beaming eagerly at her, perhaps hoping for praise on how he had brought even more of his children to her. She was still trying to think of something suitably scathing to say when the faint sound of qin floated through the rooms. Jin Fengju eagerly leaned over to beam and said, “Zhen’er is excellent at the qin, it’s so lovely to hear the girls playing the qin together. Xuan’er must be bored by himself too. It is good for the children to forge a closer bond together. In the future, I will have them come over more often.”
Fu Qiuning, “… I see…”
However, that was clearly not what Jin Fengju was hoping to hear. On the other hand, Fu Qiuning had no interest in coaxing this man out of his bad mood. He should learn how to manage his emotions by himself.
Unfortunately for Fu Qiuning, Jin Fengju was more than happy to talk even as she maintained her silence. Words seemed to spill out of him as he complained, “That woman at Clear Soft Pavilion is truly vile. If she had only half of your wisdom and generosity, I would be chanting ‘Amitabha’ in gratitude. Why can’t she be more gentle and mature?”[d] Fu Qiuning shrugged, “It was you who decided to marry her back then.” [c] She was careful not to give the words ‘back then’ any sort of inflexion. However, it looked like Jin Fengju still managed to read something into it as he chuckled indulgently, putting his paw over her hand and saying, “Goodness, is my Qiuning jealous? How rare, I would love to see it~”
Fu Qiuning slipped her hand away and said, “Jealousy is one of a woman’s greatest sins. Unlike Second Madam Jiang, I would never.” What she did not say, and what lingered between them was ‘Jiang Wanying loved you so much that her jealousy nearly overwhelmed her. What does it mean for me to never show jealousy?’
There was no way Jin Fengju could miss that implication. However, all he did was laugh even more loudly and grabbed her hands again, saying, “Right, right, my Qiuning is right, of course! Please do not say such things. Honestly, if Wanying had maintained her poise and steadiness, I might still have some shred of affection for her. Even if I do not truly love her, my heart would be swamped with guilt instead of annoyance. Haih… just thinking about that courtyard is so annoying. Not… because I was flustered by her sarcasm or bitter words! No, I am just… haih… if she had just directed her anger at me, it would have been fined. However, she tried to incite Xuan’er and Zhen’er against me.”
“I see,” said Fu Qiuning, she nodded sympathetically and said, “Indeed, this is the tragedy of those who married three wives and four concubines. How you must have suffered trying to be fair to all the women in your harem. Poor Second Madam Wan, she must be very sad after having your affection all these years turned away all of a sudden.”
Jin Fengju eagerly nodded, “As the saying goes, ‘pitiful people must have something hateful about them’.  Well, to be honest, I do feel that both sides hold some blame. Let us stop talking about this. Surely this must be quite unpleasant for you? Also, I heard from Yu Jie that you ordered her to stew a batch of Snow Pear & Lotus Seed Porridge just for me. That’s the best thing for nourishing the lungs and clearing away internal heat. How thoughtful you are, Qiuning!”
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The news of the succeeding Crown Prince spread quickly under the heavens, and, naturally, it reached the Jing Dukedom. For a while, although the estate didn’t appear to be covered in gloom, everyone’s mood had lowered substantially. Fortunately, Jin Fengju and Jin Shi’s official positions were not affected. The Jing Duke’s title remained. Jin Pengzhan’s performance in Jiangnan was also outstanding. The salt tax presented in late autumn was almost three times that of previous years, delighting the emperor, who personally issued a commendation. Thanks to these events, the lingering sense of desolation in the estate was gradually dispelled.
As the twelfth lunar month approached, Fu Qiuning had been working hard and had just released another Huangmei opera. It was <<The Female Prince Consort>>, about a woman who, despite going through hardships, had an ending where the lovers got married. It was a suitable show for the year-end.  It was to be presented to the Empress Dowager and the Emperor during the New Year celebrations. After the busy period, she finally had a little leisure time.
One day, after sending off Jin Fengju to court and the children to school, Fu Qiuning had some leisure time to herself in the wake of the second completed opera. She went to Pillow Moon Pavilion for a visit, mostly to show the young women that she had nothing against them and was still searching for suitable marriage partners for them. She then left for Health & Longevity Court, already bracing herself for questions about when a third opera would be made.
On the way out, she happened to encounter Jiang Wanying, who was also on her way to Old Madam’s place. Jiang Wanying, despite having been neglected by Jin Fengju, was looking radiant and spirited. In fact, she looked even better than before. [e] Fu Qiuning was taken aback for a moment, before silently wishing this ‘Little Sister’ well. Hopefully, she had achieved enlightenment and realised that the man she was in love with was a scum and wasn’t worth her attention at all.
Beside her was a reticent Huo’shi, who actually raised her chin at Fu Qiuning, although no barbed words came from her. Within Jiang Wanying’s entourage were Cui’shi and Yue Lan and… Fu Qiuning realised that she was basically looking at Jin Fengju’s troupe of ‘abandoned women’.
Jiang Wanying’s eyes actually lit up at the sight of Fu Qiuning and even called out to her. Bemused and confused, Fu Qiuning cautiously stopped to speak with Jiang Wanying. Their conversation was brief as there was never really anything between them to talk about aside from the children and Old Madam’s health. There was no way to bring up their mutual husband and talking about Fu Qiuning’s achievements in opera would only diminish Jiang Wanying’s thankless work as housekeeper.
In the end, Fu Qiuning could only end the painful conversation by citing urgent matters at Elegant Mansion. When Huo’shi tried to speak up Yu Jie loudly made up a list of things that required Fu Qiuning’s ‘urgent’ attention.
When they were far away enough, Yu Jie snorted and said, That person should not be too proud of her position. Fortune is always changing, so who knows what will happen in the future?”
Fu Qiuning turned her curious eyes at her. This maid had always liked to move on her own and ‘anticipate’ her masters’ intention. She would likely go far, but even she could not control herself when being baited by Concubine Huo.
“Why are you so angry?” she asked, genuinely curious to know.
Yu Jie stomped her foot and said, “Is Madam making fun of me or is your magnanimity too great? Well, this maid is not as broad-minded as Madam’s. I simply cannot stand that Concubine Huo. Before this, she made several trips to Elegant Mansion, bringing snacks and jewellery. Yet, once she heard that Madam would not manage the household, she immediately stopped coming. Truly, she is a petty and opportunistic person.”
Fu Qiuning shrugged and said, “Even if it was petty and opportunistic, what does it have to do with you?”
“More than that, what does it have to do with me? Or, are you saying that you missed serving her tea and snacks?”[f] This Yu Jie liked to poke her nose into other people’s business too much. It would be best to educate her a little and get her to stop snooping around and do things ‘in the best interest’ of others. Yes, Fu Qiuning was recalling that Snow Pear & Lotus Seed Porridge incident. A maid had taken it upon herself to make the master feel better instead of taking her mistress’s side. Jin Fengju had certainly won her over thoroughly. [f] Still, Fu Qiuning had to admit that Yu Jie had chosen her master well, seeing how she was now to be married to an imperial guard with a fairly decent family. However, this kind of behaviour should not be encouraged, or Yu Jie would start to believe that sticking her nose into other people’s business would reward her interfering nature.
Eventually, both mistress and maid reached Elegant Mansion.
There, they found Jian Feng sitting in the corridor with two lines of maids and servants standing with their heads lowered.[g] Fu Qiuning thought: Wonderful, what is it now? Theft? Damaged goods? A runaway? Or, the ancients’ favourite gossip source, ‘illicit relationships’? [g] She turned to look at Jian Feng and said, “Well? What’s all this?”
Jian Feng had hopped to her feet quickly and waved for the people to disperse. Then, in a super secretive way, she wrung her hands, hemmed and hawed behind Fu Qiuning as she made her way to her rooms. All the maids were shooed away before Jian Feng said through clenched teeth, “Madam must find it strange why I gathered them at this time, right?”
Fu Qiuning waved for Yu Jie to take out her hair ornaments and said, “Not really, but I see you are eager to tell me.”
“Madam! This is not a joke! Something truly exasperating happened! This morning, Madam asked me to open the box and take out the fabric to make some little padded jackets for the young ladies and the two young masters. When I opened the box just now, I found that many fabrics on top were messed up. It must have been tampered with, or else, how could it be so messy? Fortunately, after I counted them, nothing was missing.”
Fu Qiuning frowned and said, “Hold it, did you say nothing was missing?”
Jian Feng nodded eagerly, relief obvious on her face as she continued her rage-filled rant, “Otherwise if there really was a thief in our Elegant Mansion and news of it got out, we would become such a huge joke that people would laugh their teeth out. Who knows how many people would make literary works out of it, and how many people would revel in our misfortune?”
Yu Jie interrupted to say, “Yi? Such a thing happened? Recently, I found Madam’s jewellery box in a mess a few times. I tidied it up and rearranged everything, but after a few days, it became messy again. I even thought it was Qiu Shuang who sometimes did not tidy up properly after dressing up Madam and was tossing things around randomly. Could it actually be something suspicious?”
Yu Jie sounded more eager than worried. Perhaps she was excited to have a mystery in her hands. A loud cry of protest interrupted them. It was Qiu Shuang with a tea tray in her hands. Fu Qiuning thought wryly: This is just too perfect. Somehow the obligatory ‘whodunit’ scene had just started and the centre of it appears to be my messed up jewellery box with nothing missing in it. How exciting.
On cue, Qiu Shuang set the tea tray down to bow and say, “Elder Sister, please do not blame me. How many times have I combed Madam’s hair and changed her clothes? Every time, everything was neatly arranged. But lately, there have also been a few times where I saw that it was messy. I thought Elder Sister was in a hurry and left it like that a couple of times, and I have even tidied it up a couple of times afterwards.”
Fu Qiuning studied the anxious, outraged and excited faces before her. She said reasonably, “If nothing is missing, perhaps they are searching for something. You three should go through all the ju- the things that the Young Marquis left here and see if there’s anything missing.”
“This servant feels that it would be unlikely. Although Young Marquis’s things are precious, other than books and paintings, they are mostly antiques, and they are not small. This Elegant Mansion is full of people. I do not believe they’ve all turned into thieves, right? If they meet one or two people and are caught and exposed, wouldn’t it be over? What this servant worried about now is that this: This matter is definitely the work of a traitor. Since that is the case, if we cannot dig them out, how can we be at ease?”
[Gumihou: It is unclear how kleber or how dumb the author really wanted Fu Qiuning to be. Pick an IQ level and stick with it, please]
[a] Deleted: Noticing the gloomy expression on Jin Fengju’s face and looking at Jin Zhenxuan and Jin Xiuzhen, Fu Qiuning knew he must have been to the Clear Soft Pavilion.
Gumihou: This was followed by ‘tee hee, now you know what hot peppers your women are, tee hee~’
Fu Qiuning: Why should I care about his miserable face? What about those poor children?![b] Bla Bla, I talk much and think lots~~ I so kleberrrrr [c] Realistic JFJ, not the shiny angel wow amazeballs good dad yay JFJ [d] Deleted ‘hee hee, aww shucks’ moments from AR Qiuning [e] Let us wish JWY well [f] Instrospect a little on Yu Jie’s ‘loyalty’ [g] Fu Qiuning is suddenly suuuuper dumb here, raise her IQ back to normal levels. I mean, you don’t have to have a ridiculously high IQ to start ‘speculating’ per normal drama tropes.
Actually, no, FQN is not dumb here, she was just blinded per author’s intention for suspension purposes. However, instead of building suspense, only my annoyance level went up. Ugh.
Pill Bug TL Notes: Ugh, victim blaming. Not everyone chooses to be pitiful, you know! Blaming someone for something beyond their control is disgusting.
Gumihou: Indeed, it’s hideous! <<女驸马>> You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85rfsMZLk6A
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