Chapter 39: Paying a Call with a Motive
The senior madame, although rather plump, had a woman’s naturally graceful bearing. She always wore a slight smile when she saw others, easily leaving a favorable impression on them. Born from a wealthy merchant family, her family had money but no power. This was why they’d joined their family up with the prince. Though a concubine’s family couldn’t be considered a proper wife’s family, it was still a relationship that could allow the family to bask in a bit of honor.
As for second madame, her father was a minor official of the seventh rank. She was the daughter of a concubine, chosen from her envious sisters because her birthdate was deemed fortuitous. Even now, those sisters were trying to find a way to enter the estate and seize the chance to marry into higher status.
These were all things that Ye-mama had told her beforehand, but Bai Xiangxiu was in the dark as to why they’d chosen now to suddenly make a visit. As the two walked in, they brought with them the trappings of their wealth, both attired in expensive dresses. Accompanying their entrance was something that immediately made Bai Xiangxiu sneeze.
Not because of anything else, but because she’d long stopped using silly things like incense when she started her in depth study of plants. The sudden scent of incense mixed with ancient rouge that accompanied the two madames was a bit hard to bear. Their wild and contrasting scent profile attacked her nostrils and made them itch.
It wasn’t just her. Xiao Shi had also become used to the natural scents of Winter Garden and couldn’t take it either, discreetly turning away to rub her nose.
“What kind of breeze has blown these two sisters in? Please, hurry and sit.” Everyone was a concubine, so despite being elder and younger sisters, their statuses were equal. Thus, she merely bent her body without rising to greet them.
The two visitors sat down accordingly, and the senior madame smiled as she started the conversation, “Is Fourth Sister doing better? I heard you’d been severely injured.”
“It’s nothing serious anymore. It’s fine as long as I’m careful not to touch the injury.” Her complexion still hadn’t regained its natural glow, remaining a pale white. She hadn’t had the chance to eat anything particularly nutritious since she’d come back, but her constitution was perfectly fine.
The two madames clucked their tongues. “Look, look, look, Fourth Sister is indeed a beauty. Being ill only makes you akin to a sickly Xishi1. Not to mention men, even women would feel distressed by the sight.”
Huh, they’re actually complimenting me. There has to be a motive. Bai Xiangxiu had always feared the old madame and the prince, but she had no such reservations toward these two. Thus, it wasn’t very difficult to handle them.
“How could that be? These two elder sisters also possess outstandingly elegant bearing.” She smiled as she waved a hand, gesturing for Xiao Shi to pour some tea. When Xiao Shi left, she glanced at Ye-mama, who took the hint. The two of them left to quietly exchange a few words outside.
“Can you tell what they’re here for?” Ye-mama asked.
“Doesn’t look like anything good,” Xiao Shi could sense that these two overbearing, dressed-up women definitely had bad intentions.
“Keep an eye on them first. I’ll go find His Highness if they make a fuss.” The prince had warned her repeatedly that if anything bad happened to Madame Xiu, she’d face a fate far more horrific than she could imagine.
“All right, I’ll keep watch. You listen from the outside as well. If something’s off, don’t hesitate to ask for the His Highness to come over!” Xiao Shi also knew that the prince treated her Mistress differently. Although he hadn’t come by since her return, he’d sent someone to look after her.
After the two finished talking outside, Xiao Shai made tea and entered the room, only to find her mistress’s expression to be a bit strange. A smile with a hint of a sneer, it was her first time seeing such an expression on her mistress’s face. Had something happened?
Just when she saw that odd expression, she heard senior madame laugh and say, “Fourth Sister should know as well. Once that young miss from the Lin family enters the household, our food and drink will depend on her moods. For right now, we can only maintain our positions by gaining favor from His Highness.” As she finished, she sipped her tea. Almost immediately, her fingers trembled involuntarily. She had come from a family of merchants, so she was very familiar with teas.
Though she hadn’t been harshly criticized by anyone since stepping into the estate, the tea sent to them every month was merely top-grade jasmine or top-grade green tea. But here at the fourth madame’s was the highest quality Pu’er tea. Just a simple sip was enough to leave a lingering fragrance on her lips and teeth. This was more than a single level of difference between them.
The second madame didn’t recognize the tea, so all she thought was that tea was fragrant, “Hmm? Fourth sister’s tea is a bit different from ours. What kind of tea is it?”
“I’m not very sure.” These were true words. She’d never paid particular attention to tasting teas, much less noticed that her tea had changed recently.
“It’s quite tasty,” The second madame drank another mouthful. “As elder sister said, right now we’re all like grasshoppers on a rope, so we need to advance together.”
“Oh? Is it the same with the third madame as well?” Why did only these two come over?
“Third Madame? No no no, she’s still a proper concubine-born daughter from a house of a fifth-rank official. How would she be the same as us? Moreover, the Lin family and Third Madame’s family are even distant relatives, so Miss Lin naturally treats her better than the rest of us.” The senior madame looked at Bai Xiangxiu as soon as she’d finished speaking. Seeing that the other had no reaction, she thought, sure enough, she’s a soft one. All she has going for her is a pretty face. As long as we can grab her, we’ll get a lot of benefits.
Bai Xiangxiu only laughed twice as she mused, Who’s on the same rope as you guys? I’m planning to run away.
The senior madame merely sighed as she watched Bai Xiangxiu lower her head. “We know little sister is being favored right now, so how could she admire me or Second Sister? After all, His Highness hasn’t even stepped into our rooms yet.”
Were they here to whine and complain? Even if the prince had entered Bai Xiangxiu’s rooms, he’d never done anything!
“Is that so? Then these two sisters mean?” Just what are they here for?
Second Madame was more blunt, so she said, “Fourth Sister’s been heavily injured this time, so I’m afraid you won’t be able to serve His Highness for a couple of days. It’ll be even worse if Old Third found a chance to strike.”
“Elder sister and I talked things over, and we’d like you to look after us. If you could put in a few more good words for us before His Highness. That way, even when Miss Lin becomes the official wife, His Highness will still harbor feelings for the three of us. She wouldn’t be able to fully suppress us then.”
Bai Xiangxiu opened her mouth so wide that she forgot to close it. Did these two want her to pimp them out? Although the male lead was a despotic type and frighteningly ferocious, he wasn’t trash. At the very least, he was extremely earnest about his feelings, so how could he casually climb into others’ beds? She narrowly avoided rolling her eyes at them, but remained sitting in a good temper, though her smile was a bit forced.
“What, does Fourth Sister disagree? Or perhaps, you want to monopolize His Highness’ favor? Heheh, Fourth Sister, I’m not scolding you. I won’t talk about how all the crows in the world are black, but is there any man who doesn’t like to take a dip into different pools? Don’t tell me you’re actually counting on him to keep his body as pure as jade?”
“Not to mention, once Miss Lin enters the household, I’m afraid even someone as favored as you would be sold off. Why not have everyone be the same? It’s better than someone making an example of you. We’re thinking for your sake as well!” The senior madame spoke mildly, her words implying that she’d taken Bai Xiangxiu into consideration as well. It even sounded like she made sense.
Bai Xiangxiu’s lips twitched. She wasn’t some woman of some lord, so who cared if they were all crows or sparrows? Thus, she said, “Senior Madame’s words are right. But I’m afraid that his lordship won’t be coming here for awhile. When he does, I’ll find a way to put in some good words for you.” Agree with them first. Wouldn’t that be the same as agreeing and doing nothing afterwards? Yet she didn’t expect that Ye-mama had already left before she spoke to find Prince Li.
Ye-mama’s heart throbbed as she walked. The old madame both feared and loathed the possibility of those concubines joining together to harm the official wife. If she knew, wouldn’t she punish them severely? Even Prince Li was unlikely to spare them.
1. Xishi (西施) – (c.450) first and foremost of China’s four great beauties, given by King Gou Jian of Yue as a concubine to the King of Wu to successfully destroy the country.