Chapter 439 - The Young Ladies of the Capital

Hechun’s face reddened from their mockings and she retorted, “It looks bad, but it works better than the soap we buy from outside! Using the aloe vera soap moisturizes your hands and using honey and milk soap won’t dry your hands. In fact, it’ll even make them feel fine and smooth!”  

Wutong continued to mock her, “With your lousy skills, others won’t even buy it for half a tael, much less for five taels! Hurry and take it back, don’t humiliate yourself!” 

Yu Xiaocao’s gaze lightly slid over her, and Wutong knew to immediately shut her mouth. 

“Let me see it!” Yu Xiaocao took the two handmade soaps from the maidservant. Their shapes were indeed too horrible to look at. Hechun was too careless with this. Did she just casually shape them with her hands? She placed the light green soap to her nose and took a light sniff. The smell was quite refreshing and exquisite, with a hint of the fresh scent of aloe. The coloring of the soap was uneven. It was probably because Hechun had not thoroughly stirred the mixture when she had poured in the aloe juice. 

She let Wutong bring in a pot of water and used the honey and milk soap to wash her hands. The soap suds were quite fine, and her hands felt smooth and moisturized after washing. There was a slight smell of milk candy leftover. The soap worked quite well; the only thing lacking was the appearance. 

She gave Hechun some tips and a bottle of mystic-stone water, claiming that it was an extract of many herbs that had many benefits for the skin. She instructed the maid tol drip a drop of the ‘herbal extract’ into the mixture the next time she made soap, so the effects would be better. 

Hechun revered her mistress’s skills in medicine. If her mistress said that this extract was beneficial to the skin, then soaps containing this extract would definitely have the same effects as her mistress had claimed. They would be able to brighten, moisturize, and remove pimples from a person’s skin… 

In Hechun’s heart, her young miss was an existence comparable to the gods. Older Sisters Yingtao and Yangliu were both people that she admired and also the target she was working hard towards. Older Sister Yingtao was talented in medicine, which was why she became the manager of the pharmaceutical workshop. Meanwhile, Older Sister Yangliu showed great talent in the culinary arts and was placed in charge of the kitchen of their braised food store in the capital. If she could perfect these handmade soaps and add some finishings, could she also become young miss’s important subordinate like them in the future? 

Lady Fang smiled as she watched her daughter ‘fool around’ with the maidservants. Seeing Hechun getting fooled by her daughter with just a few sentences, she laughed, “Hechun, your young miss has a lot of unique ideas, and what she really requires are girls like you who have the guts to try and like to take action. Try your best, this might be your chance!” 

Yu Xiaocao only smiled, but Hechun was full of vigour. At the side, Wutong sulked, ‘Does the young miss not like me? She’d rather promote that lowly little girl than give me a chance. Could it be...that wretch had told the young miss that I was unwilling to follow her to the outskirts to suffer, and that I had even said some sarcastic remarks at that time?’ Her worries consumed her as she thought really hard about what she could do to let her mistress change her opinion of her. 

On the other side, Xiaocao and her godmother were discussing the young ladies of the capital. 

“Cao’er, Royal Princess Minglan has already personally sent the invite over for next month’s flower war party. If we continue to decline her invite, others might say that we’re arrogant and disrespectful, but I’m afraid you’ll suffer grievances if you go…” Lady Fang was also very hesitant. On one hand, she wanted her daughter to interact with more peers and slowly create her own circle of friends, but on the other hand, she was fearful that the other arrogant, pampered little misses would look down upon her daughter’s lowly birth and use it to mock her. 

Yu Xiaocao smiled and said, “There’s nothing to be aggrieved about. Those supposed well-bred maidens of prestigious families only behave so because they’re backed by their family. If we disregard their backgrounds, what else is left for them to be arrogant about? Rest assured, Godmother, I won’t get upset because of people who are unrelated to me.” 

“You’ve always been free and easy, so I won’t say any more. You’re right, making friends require fate. We should just go with the flow!” Seeing that Xiaocao understood the current situation, Lady Fang didn’t say anymore on that topic, “Royal Princess Minglan’s quite brisk and generous, unlike others. However, she does tend to be really down-to-earth with her words, so she doesn’t necessarily have prejudices against you if she said something that’s a bit offensive. This, you’ll have to feel for yourself!” 

Yu Xiaocao obediently nodded as Lady Fang continued, “It’s not a secret in the capital that Royal Princess Minglan loves chrysanthemums. For the flower war, you should bring the pot of ‘Two Qiaos’ from our greenhouse and present her the thing that she likes. Even if you can’t get first place, Royal Princess Minglan would still look at you differently.” 

After a thinking a bit, Lady Fang still did not feel completely at ease, so she started to prattle about the other well-bred maidens of the capital, “Among the ladies of the capital, the ones who are most well known are the ‘four talented girls of the capital’ and the ‘two beauties’. Among the four talented girls are the Chancellor of the Imperial Academy’s daughter, Cao Panyun; the granddaughter of the Grand Secretary of the Imperial Library, Wu Lingfu; Wen Shuhan, daughter of a scholar at Hanlin Academy; and Lin Weiyu, daughter of an official under the Grand Secretariat. They’re all skilled in many aspects and are the target of pursuit of many scholars in the capital. These people are aloof and conceited, but they care very much about their reputation and won’t offend others easily.” 

“As for the ‘two beauties’, they’re judged by their appearance and bearing. One of them is the daughter of Prime Minister Yuan, Yuan Xueyan, who likes to wear white and is usually cold. The other is the granddaughter of the Princess Royal, He Wanning, who wears red and has a fiery temperament. Although the two of them have opposing temperaments, they’re actually quite good friends. Yuan Xueyan is fine, but remember to never offend He Wanning. If she’s angry with you, she’ll hit you no matter who you are…” 

Lady Fang also introduced the traits and temperaments of other young ladies and was unwilling to stop even when she had ranted on until dinnertime. She was afraid that if she missed out even just the slightest detail, her daughter might be at a disadvantage. 

Yu Xiaocao only quietly listened to her. She had not intended to interact much with those well-bred young maidens who carried themselves arrogantly and seemed so fake. When the time came, it would be just fine as long as they could get along on the surface. 

Days passed. As the weather slowly turned colder and colder, the greenhouse vegetables now fully displayed their charm. The farmstead had only tried cultivating a hundred mu of vegetables this year, but the capital was full of people that had wealth and authority. If one were to casually throw a stick on Chaoyang Street, they would hit a person that was either rich or distinguished. Neither the wealthy nor the powerful lacked money, so when the supply of greenhouse vegetables could not reach the demand, the prices of the vegetables spiked. 

Even at the price of fifty copper coins a catty, one wouldn’t necessarily be able to buy the green, leafy vegetables that normally sold at a few copper coins per catty. The prices were even higher for eggplants, yardlong beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and the likes. People would still fight for them even if they were sold at the price of one tael per catty. People queued in front of the fruit and vegetable stores at the east and west sides of the city even before dawn, and all the limited quantities of produce would definitely be sold out before half the day had gone by. 

The person who suffered the most because of this was definitely Imperial Prince Jing. Once the people found out that the fruit and vegetable stores in the east and west of the city were owned Prince Jing, all of his peers, regardless of whether they had been acquainted before or not, approached him to chat, but every one of them eventually led to topics relating to fruits and vegetables, hoping that he would supply them with more produce outside of the set quantities under the table.  

Imperial Prince Jing was so annoyed he could only sell out the emperor, “The greenhouse vegetables are the result of a cooperation between the emperor and Official Yu under the Ministry of Revenue and has nothing to do with the Imperial Prince Jing’s Estate. We’re only in charge of sales. I’m an imperial prince, but I really have no say in this matter! Rather than wasting your time here, it’d be better if you tried their luck with the little Official Yu instead.” 

Those civil and military officials were mostly against the appointment of Yu Xiaocao as an official. Back then, when she was being appointed, some officials who were more headstrong and obstinate almost rammed their heads into a pillar. How could they, for the sake of fulfilling their cravings, put down their dignity to beg a mere sixth-ranked official? Some of them even began to accuse Yu Xiaocao of not trying to fix her relationships with other court officials… These people wanted her vegetables, yet still acted haughtily while expecting her to hurriedly hand them over. It was really stupefying! 

Yu Xiaocao would definitely spit her rice out if she knew how these people thought. The emperor only appointed her as a small official for practicality sake. She did not think that she could be promoted to a first-ranked official just by cultivating agricultural produce. Sixth-ranked was as far as she could go! 

However, the general's estate received an increasing amount of calling cards recently. A small part of them came for Yu Xiaocao from some unknown young ladies with unknown motives. The rest were invites for Lady Fang to some gatherings that also specified for her to bring along her daughter, Yu Xiaocao, but Xiaocao had tactfully declined all of them under the pretense that she was busy with work. Rather than deal with those pretentious young ladies, she felt it was easier to go to the plantation and do some actual work! 

It was exactly because she rarely attended these gatherings that she became a mystery among the young ladies of the capital. Of course, the young ladies whose invitations she had declined had spoken badly about her, like how she was so arrogant, petty, how they gave her face but she didn't want to save face and the likes...This had incited more curiosity from others. What kind of person was this twelve year old girl who was born in a farmer's family but was now a sixth-ranked official? 

The day of the ‘flower war party’ arrived quickly. Days before the event, a lot of people were already asking about, trying to see if Official Yu under the Ministry of Revenue was attending the event. Even more eagerly awaited for a good show. If that person surnamed Yu would dare to not give face to Royal Princess Minglan, then she could only wait to be left out of the circle of well-bred young ladies! (Yu Xiaocao: Is this even important?) 

Jiang Siniang had sent the Qi-style attire she had made to the general's estate in advance. The Qi-style clothing was about to make its first appearance on Exquisite Garments' display. She wanted to use this flower war party as an opportunity to create a huge sensation for it among the prestigious circles in the capital. 

When Yu Xiaocao was trying on the clothes, she even mocked herself, "Older Sister, I'm only afraid that I'll go in bright and beautifully, but come out covered in ash and mud. Wouldn't it be a shame if someone were to 'accidentally' spill tea or some sauce over such a pretty set of clothes?" 

Jiang Siniang's hand, which was helping her to adjust the garment, paused. She recalled the difficult times at the beginning when she was barely holding up Exquisite Garments and her lips thinned into a line. She proclaimed coldly, "It's alright! Those people still want to maintain their reputation, so they won't dare to do anything to you directly. At most, they'll say some unkind words—just take it as wild dogs barking. I've brought you an additional set, just remember to be careful while you're changing, or else you might fall into someone's trap. You'll have to guard against the secrets and schemes of the young ladies."

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Myst's Thoughts

Translator: Vera