Chapter 223: Idle Chatter
Author: White Pear Flower
Translated by Gumihou
Proofread by Pill Bug
Gumihou: Eh well, let’s have some fun with the chapter.
Fu Qiuning nodded slowly, “Yes, that is true… well, do your best and check everything. Yu Jie, I shall depend on you and Jian Feng…”
“No! Madam must come with us and verify everything!” cried Jian Feng, clearly caught up in the whodunit drama.
“That’s right! Madam should trust no one!” exclaimed Yu Jie. “Well, aside from me, and Aunt Yu. Oh, and Jian Feng too.”
“What about me?!” cried Qiu Shuang. “Am I not trustworthy? Madam believes me, right?”
“What…” Fu Qiuning looked at these maids with their excited faces. Do they not have enough work? Are they bored?
Jian Feng immediately rushed forward to say, “It’s not that Madam does not believe you. However, to maintain your innocence, it is best to have only Yu Jie and I investigate Madam’s rooms. The best thing for you to do now is to keep your head down and not talk to anyone about this.”
Qiu Shuang nodded earnestly, clearly pleased to be told as much.
Fu Qiuning watched the whodunit drama happening in the middle of her living room and thought she might as well humour these detective wannabes and see where this goes. Privately, she had her own theories. For one thing, if nothing was taken, that left two possibilities. Either the culprit was looking for something as Jian Feng passionately supposed, or, the culprit wanted to plant something into her belongings.
She was not too concerned either, because what’s the worst that could happen? Jin Fengju would be too eager to defend her from whatever it is that could be blamed on her. She also had the palace’s backing. If nothing else, she could still work as an opera writer. Her name was already sufficiently famous and as a ‘creator’ of opera, it’s not like they could replace her easily. The children would have to stay with the family, but there’s nothing to stop her from saving money, buying buildings or even leaving this wretched country altogether.
Fu Qiuning unlocked the door to the room where the many deeds and things were kept and sat in a corner, staring into the distance while Jian Feng and Yu Jie went through everything with a fine-toothed comb. When they found nothing missing, the ladies adjourned to her private room and went through all of her jewellery, bolts of cloth and other valuables. Qiu Shuang was brought in to check this room since she already had access to it.
In the end, they found nothing.
Well, that was not quite right.
They found everything as it should be there with nothing missing, not even a single pearl earring was misplaced.
Later, when Jin Fengju appeared, Fu Qiuning was still busy pondering over possible motives when Yu Jie blurted out what they had been doing that entire afternoon. Naturally, Jin Fengju was very worried and expressed his concerns with many questions. Most of which Fu Qiuning just shrugged at.
No, she did not know who it was.
No, nothing was stolen.
No, she’s not worried.
No, you don’t have to stay here.
No, I don’t need you to fix it.
After being stone-walled at nearly every turn, Jin Fengju desperately groped for a topic of interest and said, “S-speaking of which, I wish to discuss entering the children into the family register!”
Fu Qiuning paused. Then, she said, “What is there to discuss? Hasn’t everything been agreed upon?”
“I was going to make arrangements for them to enter the family register last year,” he said hastily. “Please do not think that I am in any way delaying it for any reason. After I returned injured from Jiangnan, there was such a huge uproar in the family, so how could anyone even spare a thought for it? Not… which they should! They should have spared a thought for the children, but it is much, much better to do it now since my father and second uncle are both home and can oversee the Feng’er’s registration. Feng’er will be eleven this coming new year and although I saw that there was still some immaturity in his essays, it was fairly steady and thoughtful. Perhaps he could even participate in the  Tong Sheng exams. What do you think?”
“It would be good for the twins,” said Fu Qiuning, emphasising the word ‘twins’ since Jin Fengju had apparently forgotten that he had sired a set of them. Had he completely overlooked Jiao’er now that there were more children running around Elegant Mansion? Or do girls automatically become sub-human in the eyes of their fathers?
Jing Fengju nodded quickly, “Of course, of course, Jiao’er too! Speaking of which, did I mention that the children’s names should be changed before they are entered into the register? Well, it has been so many years since and everyone, including the Old Madam, not to mention the servants, is used to calling them by their present names. So, perhaps it is better to let them keep the names you have so graciously bestowed upon them so long ago.
Ah, I have also taken the liberty to inquire with Lord He, the Minister of Rites, about this and he said that it is fine to enter their names they are without changing them. There is no fear of inviting criticism from others even if we do not change their names. I trust that Feng’er and Jiao’er will not be willing to change their names either since they have received it from you and their names contain your most heartfelt feelings and sincere wish for their future.”
“Indeed,” said Fu Qiuning a little faintly, unsure what she should do with this sudden overflow of words over something as simple as names. Feng’er and Jiao’er would always be Feng’er and Jiao’er to her, regardless of their potential name change, but for some reason, Jin Fengju was acting as though he was doing her a grand favour by letting the twins keep the names she had given them back when their father refused to even spare them a glance, let alone a nickname.
Just then, a maid called from the courtyard to say, “Brother Xuan and Second Miss have arrived.”
 The two children entered and predictably, their eyes sought Jin Fengju first. Fu Qiuning could see the way their eyes lit up at the sight of their father. Jin Fengju gave the brother and sister a nod, before turning eager eyes back at her.
 Jin Xiuzhen bravely ventured to say, “Father and… Mother, we are here to play.”
 She nudged Jin Zhenxuan who also stammered, “Father and M-mother,”
 Fu Qiuning did not bother to keep the siblings there too long. She knew that their goal in coming was to see their father, and maybe gather some intel for their mother. Or, was there a third, more sinister reason…
 But, regardless of their reason, there was no need to speculate overly much on their reason for being there. It was… probably not good to be around Jiang Wanying too much, especially if she spat vitriol around the house. Not to mention, it was better for the children to socialise with their peers a bit more, and she could trust Feng’er, and to a certain point, Jin Xiunan to keep their brothers and sisters under control. Jin Zhenyi and Jiao’er could be counted on to break the ice and make sure everyone had fun.
After the maids were sent to lead Jin Zhenxuan and Jin Xiuzhen to where the rest of the children were, Jin Fengju commented, “Those siblings had been here quite a few times now. I trust that they are no longer as awkward with our Feng’er?”
Fu Qiuning paused in the act of taking a sip of her tea. She thought: Sir, why do you talk like those kids are not yours?
Jin Fengju must have read something in her expression, because he suddenly waved his hands and loudly said, “Since they are all my children, of course I wish them well! It’s just… those two have… quite the personalities. It would be wonderful if they were here to have fun. However, if they are sent by their mother…”
Fu Qiuning lowered her teacup and said, “Shall I remind you who it was that brought them to my place-”
“Ha ha ha! You’re right! It is all my fault, of course! However, I believe in the saying, ‘those close to vermilion are dyed red, while those close to ink are dyed black’! It can only be good for them to be here! I fear that if they stayed shut inside Clear Soft Pavilion, they would become too much like.. someone. To see them willing to come out and walk around a bit more is wonderful. Though they are a little gloomy and secretive, being outside clears the mind and opens one’s heart more. Is that why my Qiuning is so wonderfully open-minded? Look at Brother Yi, even he became more well-behaved after coming here!”
“Hmm,” was all Fu Qiuning could say to that barrage of words. Talking more would only encourage him, so it was best to be taciturn.
“Speaking of which, I am so relieved that the children are here at your place. I can see that you are someone who loves children, unlike Elder Madam. Elder Madam has no appreciation for small children. Oh, but Old Madam loves being surrounded by grandchildren and great-grandchildren very much. It’s just… why is there no movement on your side yet?”
It took Fu Qiuning a few moments to realise what he meant.  When it did, her hand jerked and her teacup tipped over and nearly rolled off the table. Her hand reflexive caught the teacup, which must have been shockingly expensive, and set it back on the table calmly. She smiled at Jin Fengju, “Fortunately, it is mostly empty. Goodness, if we were to talk about movement, there is plenty in my courtyard now thanks to all the children here.”
Her voice was light, but the smile on her face was a warning not to press the matter. Fortunately, Jin Fengju had the mind to take the hint and hastily changed the subject, “Speaking of movements! Let’s speak of the crown prince!” When Fu Qiuning remained silent, he barged forward to laugh and say, “Right now, he is not in a position to worry about my movements. No matter what, I am still considered part of the imperial family. The reason why I have some leisure time now is because there has not been much going on lately. Most of the memorials that came back all reported peaceful governance.
Even so, I fear that after the New Year and towards the beginning of spring, I shall have no choice but to go out on an inspection tour, especially around the area of the Yellow River. A few corrupt officials were arrested a few days ago and it was revealed that the Yellow River’s embankment was not very secure. Therefore, there is no telling what will happen come spring. Although people had been sent to inspect the river, there was nothing we could do about it with winter coming fast. The only thing we can do is to take some extra precautions so as not to be caught off guard should there be a flood. Still, since I am no expert when it comes to river and water works, I may not be sent there.”
Fu Qiuning thought: And… so what is that long speech about?
 Instead of paying attention to the babbling man, she touched the side of the pot, deemed it still warm enough, and poured herself another cup of tea. She saw Jin Fengju twitch before stopping himself, clearly remembering her outrage the last time he had thrown tea to the floor.
He downed the tea in his hand and poured himself another, since Fu Qiuning had not bothered to pour for him, and continued, “Where was I? Ah yes, Prince Lie, well. There is really nothing to say. He will pretend to be a good prince for a bit whilst under the scrutiny of others. However, there is no way a villain like him would hide his spots for long. Especially not when news about the emperor being sick has circulated the court. I can see that he is visibly becoming more and more impatient. It is only natural for him to be this way since he has always been the reckless type. He would not like being made to observe all the courtly rules of the palace.”
Only one thing in that babbling caught Fu Qiuning’s attention, “The emperor is sick?” she thought: Was he really sick or just faking it?
Jin Fengju quickly waved a hand and said, “It’s nothing serious, just a cold. The imperial physicians said that he would be fine in three to five days, which is why we do not have to go to court and that any urgent matters should be reported to the crown prince. As you can see, while that fellow may not leave us alone, he will be too busy to do anything to us. That’s right, in a few days, there will be a grand fair in the capital selling New Year goods. Why don’t I take you around for a little stroll?”
Fu Qiuning paused. On the one hand, it would be a nice change to get out of the Jin Estate for anything aside from work, but on the other hand, she would have to endure a date with someone who fancied himself desperately in love.
 Jin Fengju, sensing weakness, began to pester her, and in the end, she gave in. The prospect of being able to go out was too tempting to refuse. Sure, she had gone out a couple of times before, but only to the Imperial Palace, Zhenjiang Palace and… the farmstead. She never had the opportunity to mingle with the regular people of this world. Her social circle consisted of a scum male husband, some jealous wives and concubines as well as an overbearing mother-in-law. The servants were… servants. She had made the mistake of believing Yu Jie to be her friend, and maybe this was true to an extent, but the thought processes of the maids, as well as the rest of the women in this world, were so strange that they might as well be aliens.
 Thus far, the only types of people she could properly interact with were the performers and musicians. Even then, they were far more absorbed in learning new skills from her and furthering their art over something as mundane as ‘making friends’.
As for Jin Fengju, the moment he secured Fu Qiuning’s agreement to visit the market together, nothing could bring down the corners of his lips for the rest of the day.
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The 10th day of the 12th lunar month was the promised grand fair. Despite herself, Fu Qiuning looked forward to going and got up early to prepare.
After sending the children to school and waving off an even more excited Jin Fengju to court, she got dressed and told Yu Jie, “It will be your wedding day after spring, right? It is never too early to prepare for a wedding. We will go out together and I will buy whatever that catches your eye. Do not worry about money, even if your mistress does not have enough, your master will certainly supplement the rest.”
She half-implied that Yu Jie had chosen to side with the enemy over money, but instead of looking ashamed, Yu Jie merely blushed and said half angrily, “What is there to prepare? I am just a slave. It is not like his family did not know this…”
Fu Qiuning shrugged, “Well, if you do not want to. I can take Jian Feng instead-”
Yu Jie stomped her foot at this and cried, “Madam is teasing me! I just knew it!” Then, realising she was throwing a tantrum in front of her, albeit indulgent, mistress, Yu Jie coughed and said, “About Madam’s jewellery and things, we have looked through everything, but nothing is missing. Madam, don’t you think this is strange? No matter how I think, I cannot see the reason for doing this.”
Fu Qiuning  looked thoughtful for a moment before saying, “Just continue to keep an eye on things. Make sure to record who it was that found the mess and how many times they did so. Who knows, we may be able to find out a little more this way.”
Yu Jie’s eyes brightened, “Madam is so smart! I shall inform Jian Feng at once!”
“I am already here, what is it you want to tell me?” came Jian Feng’s voice as she entered the room with a long coat made of crimson velvet and embroidered with lotus branches. She also brought a pair of thin cotton trousers, a pleated skirt embroidered with mimosa flowers at the hem and finally, a fox fur coat complete with a hat.
Fu Qiuning allowed herself to be dressed up to the nines. For one thing, since she was going out with Yu Jie only, it was better to either dress inconspicuously or to be so ostentatious that most thieves and cutthroats would just avoid her, fearing the repercussions of stealing from an obviously rich noblewoman.
For a moment, she admired the figure in the mirror and turned a few times to admire the clothes.
Jian Feng clapped her hands and declared, “Now Madam will not suffer from the cold!”
Fu Qiuning cast her an amused glance, saying, “It is not that cold. You are just making things up out of nothing.”  Then, she looked wistfully towards the study room and said, “I wish I could have brought the children with me.”
 Yu Jie, ever the loyal self-appointed smoother of things between her master and mistress, quickly jumped in to say, “There is really nothing Madam can do! The day is already so cold, not to mention, there are not enough guards. With so many children running around, we do not have enough pairs of eyes or hands to look after them. If a disaster were to happen, wouldn’t that be terrible?”
 “That’s right,” Jian Feng quickly ventured forth to soothe Fu Qiuning’s conscience, “It may be alright to bring one or two children with you, but how to decide? Rather than letting people say that the Master is partial, it is better not to take any of them.”
Fu Qiuning looked at Jian Feng and Yu Jie’s beaming faces and felt a hollow sensation within her heart. The rich clothes on her body suddenly felt heavy and oppressive. She looked into the mirror again and murmured, “Rather than letting people say the Master is partial, it is better not to take any of them, you say?”
“Of course, that’s the best decision!” said Jian Feng, with Yu Jie nodding fervently in the background.
“You’re right,” said Fu Qiuning as she undid the fastening to the fox fur cloak, “It is best that nobody goes…”
“No! No! That is not what we meant!”
There was a short commotion afterwards with the maids trying to put her back into her clothes and Fu Qiuning muttering juvenile emo words which she had once heard one of her more… unique students utter during one of their rare outings. That child was a bit of a pain to look after, but was one of the better dramatic singers in her school. The child’s parents were perfectly normal, but for some reason, that child enjoyed making the people around her shriek and flutter about with negative words like this.
Fu Qiuning was a little ashamed to act like such a child, but really, the maids’ attitude was starting to grate on her. Were they really telling her that it is better to neglect all of the children than to avoid looking like she was favouring one or two? Was this what Jin Fengju had been doing to his children? Or was this something these terrible noble houses told themselves? That they were neglecting the children ‘for their own good’ because it was bad to appear ‘partial’?
What complete, utter nonsense.
 “…Madam has not seen Aunt Yu ever since she had gotten pregnant, right? Why don’t we pay a visit to her one day? Maybe the children could also go too!” Yu Jie was obviously desperately saying whatever was coming to her mind right now.
 “That’s right! A visit to the festival is… not good for the children because it is too crowded, but surely the children would welcome a visit to Aunt Yu’s place?”
 “Would the Master allow it though? It is a commoner’s house after all…”
 “So long as Madam requests it, I’m sure it can be done! Don’t you think this is a good idea? The children would get to go out and Madam would get to see Aunt Yu too! I am sure Aunt Yu would be happy to see you!”
In the end, Fu Qiuning was still an adult. She allowed herself to be coaxed back into her clothes. She had achieved her objectives in making those maids think before they spout all that nonsense out of their mouths. Since the children could not go, she could only buy things for them. Or, perhaps it was better to buy something that they all could do together as a project…
[Gumihou: I am… kind of disturbed by how easily I can ruin a ‘good atmosphere’.]
 Tong Sheng Exams – the junior scholar’s examination. The first of many examinations you take to become a scholar.
 In the original text, the children arrived, and then they were gone. Only there to make Fu Qiuning look good and Jiang Wanying look bad in contrast. However, let’s have them linger for a little longer, hmm?
 The talk about pregnancy here was just a ploy for AR Qiuning to thrill about how much she luurrrrvesss childrennn and how much JFJ luurrrrvvess his Qiuning for being such a luuuuurrrvly person.
However, Actual Qiuning would feel oppressed when the issue of pregnancy is brought up.
For those who are not aware of the euphemism ‘movement’ which is used to indicate ‘movement in the belly’ to mean pregnancy,
 Eiii, let’s just ignore that babbler. There’s no need to play fascinated audience to catch his attention. In fact, doing the opposite would secure his attention better
 Hint at Fu Qiuning’s loneliness and helplessness. It’s really sad to have common sense and more than half a brain in this toxic world.
 Replaced haughty sneering with thoughtful thinking, because ma’am, please remember you’re not Jiang Wanying
 FQN said a bunch of stuff about not bringing the children because it was too troublesome smacks of JFJ School of Whelping, so let those treacherous maids speak this nonsense instead.
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