I was just heading towards kitchen, eyes only looking ahead, when suddenly, someone affectionately calls me: “Ah-Lan!”
A set of light running steps followed, and a young lass with flushed cheeks is stood before me, smiling with her teeth showing, not caring for her image at all: “Ah-Lan, where are you going?”
I was just about to ask who she is, when she once again spoke: “I’m Qing Ya, also under Young Lady.”
Only now do I recall, I have indeed seen her before, and so I honestly answer: “Going to kitchen.”
“Kitchen?” Qing Ya scrunches up her nose, looking somewhat funny yet very cute. “You’re going to get Young Lady’s bird nest?”
I nod, “En.”
And so, Qing Ya acts very familiar with me, holding my hands as she says: “I’ll come with you then. Ah-Lan, your hands are so soft ah, feels so nice.”
I cannot be bothered thinking too deeply into what her words mean, and leave her to accompany me to the kitchen like a sparrow.
The boss of the kitchen is a middle aged woman called Aunt Cui, her fat body even worse than that of the average men, that’s why that particular saying is correct, those that work in the kitchen are generally not slim, unless the food they cook is deemed inedible by themselves.
A long time servant becomes a master, such is Aunt Cui.
I heard that Aunt Cui came to the estate before Young Master was even born, of course, at that time she was just a Loli (a term that refers to young girls).
I heard that Aunt Cui was also Young Master’s wet nurse.
I heard that even when the housekeeper sees Aunt Cui, he must be polite.
I heard that this was heard by so many, it thus became reality.
When we had walked in, Aunt Cui was sitting on the bench chatting to the people in the kitchen, only giving us a quick glance when she sees us and continues with her conversation.
Qing Ya beside me, smartly steps forward upon seeing the situation, saying: “Greetings Aunt Cui.”
Aunt Cui speaks without much of an expression: “En, which courtyard are you from?”
Qing Ya brightly smiles: “I’m Qing Ya from Young Lady’s courtyard, it hasn’t been long since I’ve come here, this is the first time meeting Aunt Cui. Please kindly watch over me in future.”
I don’t say a word and fall into silence, not following suit, nor do I change my expression. Watch over? Watch over you cooking, or watch over which dish should be made more when cooking? It’s a bit unlikely, because what we eat is a huge pot of rice.
But clearly, Aunt Cui is pleased to hear those words, finally showing a smile, “Indeed a smart girl.”
I sensitively notice her sweep a glance at me after saying this, as to why she would glance, uh, I believe it is probably because Qing Ya and I standing together, makes a huge contrast.
Aunt Cui then says: “Came to get Young Lady’s bird nest right? It’s not done yet, need to wait another quarter of a hour.”
Hearing this, Qing Ya obediently say: “We shall wait here then.”
And then Qing Ya starts conversing with Aunt Cui with great admiration and passion. As for me, I stare at the bowl of bird nest with disinterest, watching it slow cook, until the tonic was done.
Aunt Cui skilfully places the bird nest on the table, just when I had got the snacks ready and held up the bird nest, someone enters.
“Aunt Cui.” The person crisply calls out.
Aunt Cui who did not warm up to us all along, immediately becomes all friendly upon hearing the voice: “San-er you’re here, what, is Young Lady [of extended family] back?”
That maid called San-er is very delicate and pretty, showing a shy appearance, she says: “En, Young Lady has just come back, I’ve come to get Young Lady’s bird nest.”
I suddenly get a bad feeling stir within.
Aunt Cui pauses, then mightily smacks her thigh! “Did I forget?”
I was shook by that sound of “pia”, Aunt, does that not hurt?
“Forget?” San-er blinks, doubtfully looking at the bird nest by my hand, asking: “Is that not it?”
I look at San-er, inwardly feeling pleased……same kind?
Aunt Cui also looks at me and says: “That is originally for Young Lady, how about you take it first.”
Qing Ya on the side immediately says: “Aunt Cui, that-”
Aunt Cui cuts off Qing Ya’s words: “It was San-er who had come ask for it first, just that I was interrupted by that girl Qiu Hua, if not, how could I have forgotten? Hasn’t Young Lady not returned yet? This bowl shall be given to Young Lady [of extended family] first, you two head back for now, come again a little while later.
I see Qing Ya’s face of unyielding feelings, and that San-er with a face of difficulty, mumbling: “Aunt Cui, this isn’t good, how about I wait.”
Aunt Cui hands over the bird nest with her big hands: “Take hold of it, quickly take it back for Young Lady [of extended family] to drink, or it’ll cool down.”
San-er lowers her head as she glances at Qing Ya and I, softly saying: “Then, thank you sisters.”
I find it laughable, she really thinks I’m stupid? Think I don’t see the look in her eyes say otherwise?
This person ah, is an enemy that cannot be underestimated at any moment, because with one falter, one can accidentally reveal their flaw.
Like a mindlessly rash fellow, I step forward and slowly say: “This is our Young Lady’s.”
San-er shrinks back, “I, I’ll just wait.”
Aunt Cui knit her brows, glancing at me with disdain: “I let San-er take it first so take it, should Young Lady throw a temper then go ahead and come to me. What lass is this, to actually be like this in front of me, is this how Young Lady taught you?”
Now I have come to understand, that lass — Ying Lu — is not seen favourably by others, the reason could very well be due to this San-er’s master.
“San-er, you go ahead first.” San-er faintly smiles at us, turning to leave.
Of course I did not miss the look of ridicule in her eyes the moment she turned around, deep down I grew a little fired up, en, this will surely be fun, this San-er is quite interesting, just don’t know what kind of a person that Young Lady [of extended family] is?
When returning, Qing Ya was fuming: “Are they not just from Young Lady [of extended family]’s courtyard? Even if Young Lady [of extended family] really does become the young madam of the house, so what? In the end, Young Lady is Young Master’s biological sister! Such blood bound relationship cannot be broken! To go to the extent of fawning over a maid, that Aunt Cui sure is formidable!”
I inwardly think, Aunt Cui is not completely fawning over here, I’m guessing she truly does like that San-er. As for this bird nest matter, was it a situation initiated by Aunt Cui? It was clearly a plot lead by San-er. At that time, I had already placed the bird nest on the tray, yet that lass still played innocent as she pointed at the bowl asking if it is for her Young Lady, the underlying meaning being, ‘did you forget about my Young Lady? It’s fine, there’s a ready-made one there, just let me take it away first’.
Although it is said that birds of a feather flocks together, I clearly don’t have any good impression of that San-er. Why you may ask? En……perhaps it is because she snatched away the bird nest I waited an entire fifteen minutes for.
Truthfully speaking, I am feeling very displeased at heart, the seed of hate has already been planted.
Qing Ya is still speaking at the side: “But that San-er really is Young Lady [of extended family]’s favoured one, it’s said that even Young Master has taken a liking to her, who knows? Perhaps she could even be able to marry into Young Master’s harem. San-er is originally called San Jin, I heard that this one time, Young Master had playfully called her San-er, Young Lady [of extended family] also followed suit in calling her that, leading everyone else in the estate to also follow suit. San-er is indeed delicately pretty, plus being under a master like Young Lady [of extended family], she sure is living a lucky life. Unlike us……ai~.”
I think to myself, is that lass — Ying Lu — really that unlikeable? But I find that other than not being very quiet, there is nothing particularly annoying about her ah, or is it because of that Young Lady [of extended family], that she’s made out to be bad in contrast? Just like the characters Zi Ling and Lu Ping who were created under Grandmother Chiung Yao’s pen (the author of Princess Pearl, the characters mentioned here are the from Fantasies Behind the Pearly Curtain / 一帘幽梦), also just like the pretty and smart San Jin and the dull and soulless I?
There is no way of knowing the answer right now.
When Qing Ya and I return to the courtyard, from the distance, we hear the sound of pi-li-pa-la coming from Young Lady’s room.
Qing Ya looks at me fearfully, but still bites the bullet and walks up.
“Ai~, Young Lady is throwing a tantrum again.” She softly says.
Upon reaching the room doors, I find that a few maids are currently scurrying around all over the place, as to why they are scurrying around? Well, it’s because Ying Lu is currently lashing her whip out at them.
The long silver whip waves, like a line of silver light, leaving a mess wherever it lands. The stool on the ground had been whipped from east to west, the teacups and teapot shattered across the ground, the things from the dressing table all swept clean, as though a strong gust of wind had passed by. And that young lass dressed in peach blossom pink has her beautiful eyes wide opened, due to the anger, her flushed cheeks has a sunset-like beauty, that agile figure valiantly stands……
……eh, apologies, I’m going into wuxia here.
The situation right now is, Ying Lu sees Qing Ya and I at the door and lashes out her whip towards us, anger alarming the heavens as she says: “Where did you two laze off to, to only come back now?!”
Qing Ya had long shielded her head as she scampers off like a rat, hearing those words she even tries to justify herself: “Young Lady, we went to get your bird nest.”
I fall into an unbelievably gloomy state, this fool, you’re really asking for it.
Indeed, upon hearing this, Ying Lu is even more angered, coldly smiling as she says: “Where’s the bird nest then?”
Only then did Qing Ya realise her improper remark, hesitatingly saying: “The bird nest, the bird nest was taken away by San-er from Young Lady [of extended family]’s courtyard.”
I think to myself, truly appalling, she isn’t asking to get whipped, she is practically asking for death.
Ying Lu’s face sinks, with not a word, she fiercely lashes out the whip, the whip dangerously skims past Qing Ya, although it did not hit her, it frightened her out of her senses.
The other few people were even more focused on avoiding the attacks upon seeing Ying Lu grow even angrier, their throats issuing sounds of horrified cries every now and then.
“You!” Ying Lu turns to point at me: “I tell you to take care of Xiao Hei, but what exactly have you done? Xiao Hei is starving to the point of continuously crying out, yet you’re still taking your sweet little time, do you not hold Young Lady — I — in regard now huh?”
Having said that, she does not give me the time to react, the whip immediately thrown out towards me. The few people in the corner cries out “ah” as they close their eyes, in fear of witnessing a tragedy.
But in fact, I did not make a slightest move and remained standing on the spot, leaving the whip to hit the ground, causing the dust to fly up into the air.
Ying Lu opens her small mouth, speechlessly saying: “You, why didn’t you avoid it?”
I deliberately act confused, tilting my head: “Why avoid it?”
Ying Lu freezes upon hearing this, then asks: “Are you not afraid of my whip?”
I continue to feign utter cluelessness: “Why be afraid?”
Ying Lu has been lashing out her whips at people with great force, but every time it will only come dangerously close, there isn’t the intention to harm others at all, this can be seen from the fact that not a single person in this room is injured.
Ying Lu tightens her hold on the whip: “Could it be that you don’t know I’m in a bad mood?”
I straighten my head again, heck, feigning utter cluelessness sure is goddamn tiring. “I know.”
“Then are you not afraid of me being like this?” I presume she really finds it strange.
I speak as though narrating: “Young Lady is angry, is in a bad mood, and hence should vent it all out.”
Bottling it up will only harm the body and mind.
Ying Lu laughs, speaking with satire: “Then you tell me, how should I vent it out?”
I ponder for a moment, and then without the slightest of hesitation, I walk over to the bed side where a vase half the size of human is, and push it onto the ground, speaking in a calm and placid manner: “Vent it out like this.”
Within an instant, the shattering vase and the deep inhaling of the maids sound in unison.
That vase is said to be made by a certain famous figure over a hundred years ago, on it is also the handwritten calligraphy of a certain great writer, the important point being, it is a gift Ying Lu’s little uncle had given her for her seventh birthday.
Just to make things clear, the Young Lady [of extended family] is basically Ying Lu and Young Master’s cousin, specifically maternal cousin, the term is so much more simpler and makes more sense in Chinese. You might find it strange that Qing Ya mentions the possibility of the Young Lady [of extended family] becoming the young madam of the house, as in Young Master’s wife, but remember that cousin marriages used to be common back then.
Again for any Thai readers, Bella has re-translated Chaos of Beauty to Thai: https://my.dek-d.com/haebe/writer/view.php?id=1465087