Chapter 194: Scattering After a Fall
“Miss! Horrible news!”
A frantic pattering of footsteps entered the yard. Up in the attic, Qin Yining frowned at the disturbance. Holding a dangling pearl earring that she hadn’t had time to put into ear, she peered out of the window.
“What is it for you to be yelling like this?”
A serving girl panted in front of the door, her hands on her knees and face beet red. She looked up at the miss and huffed out, “Xihua, Xihua’s lost. Apparently, little prince, Pang, killed a lot, a lot of people. He chopped, off their heads, and put them on pikes. He stuck them, over the city gates, for people to see. Everything’s crazy outside. All of the people, are running away. The prince is coming! Our, our heads, will all be chopped off and put on pikes!”
The little girl sagged to her knees, leaning against the doorframe and started bawling from terror. In the yard, everyone’s expression changed drastically. Some maids and granny servants held each other as they cried from fear as well.
Qin Yining slowed closed the window and sat back down in front of her vanity. She stared silently at herself in the bronze mirror for a long while.
Has this day finally come?
Although she’d anticipated this future, it still felt surreal when it actually arrived. Her heart was stuck in her throat and the bottom of her stomach seemed to have dropped away.
Bingtang and Songlan were also white as a sheet. Qiulu shook like a leaf, sloshing out half of the tea from the cup she was holding. Only Jiyun kept her head, taking the pearl dangle from Qin Yining and putting it onto her mistress. She brought out a white jade hairpin shaped like an orchid flower and slid it into the fourth miss’ hair.
“Miss, the prince, he…” Jiyun started hesitantly.
Qin Yining smiled wryly and waved lightly to cut the maid off. “I know, I know. This isn’t his fault. This is war and not child’s play. Great Yan soldiers would do the same thing if they had a chance to charge into Great Zhou. It’s not anyone’s fault, but the war’s fault. I’m just wondering when these days will end.”
Jiyun lowered her head, touched and pained. Their world was about to shatter and break. No one would feel good with such helplessness and trepidation on their shoulders. It was impressive that her miss could treat the matter calmly and logically, despite how sad she might feel about it.
“Miss, what should we do?” Songlan’s tone trembled.
“There’s nothing much we can do. Let’s take each step as it comes.” Qin Yining rose and took a few deep breaths in to forcibly raise her spirits. “Let’s go to the Garden of Tranquility first. It’s almost time for the daily reports. As chaotic as things are outside, life still goes on.”
“Yes.” Some calm returned to the maids when they saw how self-possessed the miss was.
As she made her way to the Garden of Tranquility, Qin Yining passed by servants who felt the sky was caving in on them or that their funerals were not too far off. If it was like this in the Marquis of Anping Manor, then it was easy to imagine what a mess the streets would be.
The fourth miss listened to the reports as usual and handled some daily affairs, collecting and distributing command tokens as needed. When she saw some of the granny servants hesitate, seemingly wanting to say something, she could more or less guess what was on their minds.
“Li-mama and Fang-mama, do you have something to say?”
The other overseers and servants stopped when they saw that Qin Yining had brought the subject up. Li-mama was a diffident person whereas Fang-mama was more assertive. The latter smiled apologetically. “You are truly wise, miss. This servant does indeed have some matters, but I don’t know if I can speak of them.”
Qin Yining dimpled. “Please, say what’s on your mind, Fang-mama.”
“Well, it’s this. I have a nephew in the south whose business has done well over the past two years. He wants the family to move down with him. My family’s due to set off in the next couple of days, but I work in the manor and don’t think it’d be good to leave just like this. However, I would like to be with my family, so I’ve been wondering what to do.”
Qin Yining nodded understandingly. The other serving girls and granny servants all looked cautiously at the fourth miss’ face.
She ran her finger lightly across the rim of the teacup lid and thought for a moment. “Fang-mama is a senior servant who’s given the manor her best effort for many years. Now that you have a good place to go to, how would we possibly not let you go?”
The old servant was overjoyed and quickly returned the command token she’d just received to the square end table by Qin Yining’s hand. The fourth miss trained her eyes on the former servant who’d turned to leave, then flicked her gaze at the other overseers. Many subconsciously shifted their eyes away, not daring to meet her eyes.
“And all of you? Do your families have other arrangements and you’d like to take your leave?”
When hearing that, Li-mama stammered out, “Miss, my, my daughter and son-in-law are in the south as well. They’d like, like me to go to them for retirement.”
“Mm. Li-mama is at an age to just relax and enjoy life as well.”
Emboldened, others stepped forward when they heard the fourth miss’ words. Five more walked up to say that there were matters at home they had to take care of. Those who’d sold themselves hoped to receive their release papers, and those who’d flocked to the Qin banner wanted to take their leave.
Standing by Qin Yining’s side, Bingtang, Songlan, Qiulu, and Jiyun all had extremely ugly expressions on their faces. What matters at home to take care of? These people just wanted to get out because they felt things were going south! The Qins had always treated them well, but here they were, ignoring everything their masters had done for them and wanting to run because of impending danger!
However, Qin Yining was particularly calm and nodded slightly. “Well then, I know what to do. Let’s do things this way, since the hour’s early.” She rose and gave the orders, “Have all of the inner residence servants gather in the open area in front of the rear gardens. I have something to say to everyone.”
The overseers took the order and ran off to execute them. The fourth miss then turned to Songlan. “Make a trip to the outer residence and see if my father’s home. If so, please have him come. If not, then have either second uncle, third uncle, senior cousin, or second cousin come. Or whoever’s around.”
“Understood.” Songlan also trotted out.
The brightly lit flower hall was quiet in the absence of people. Only Qin Yining and three maids were left. Née Sun finally couldn’t suppress her emotions and walked out. She took her daughter’s hand.
“Daughter Yi, what should we do about this? Great Zhou’s taken Xihua and I bet you these servants just don’t want to work anymore. What will we do when they all leave…”
Qin Yining patted née Sun’s arm comfortingly. “Don’t panic, mother. We can’t force cattle to drink water, can we? We can take advantage of the situation today to cut away the chaff. In these tense times, it’s actually not that good to have too many people in our household. Paring down our numbers is actually a good thing.”
Née Sun nodded after hearing this.
The various branches all received news before long. It was Qin Yining giving the orders, but currently the old dowager, heads of the second and third branch of the family were all congregated on the open area in the rear gardens. All of the maids and granny servants of the inner residents, down to the littlest serving girl, were all present.
The servants placed round chairs down for their mistresses and masters. Qin Huaiyuan, the second elder master, and third elder master sat next to the old dowager at the head seat. The second and third madame sat or stood with their family members behind the old dowager. Judging from the set up, it looked like they wanted to turning power over to Qin Yining and was going to let her handle the matter herself.
The servants were lined up in the open area according to their respective family branch and profession. Not one peep was heard out of so many. It was so quiet that it seemed more like a military camp than a collection of inner residence servants.
Qin Yining stood at the head of the crowd, gently waving the crabapple blossom-shaped velvet fan in her hand. She swept her gaze around all of the assembled, taking in everyone who’d gathered.
“There are 243 inner residence servants of all levels and ages, from the post at the inner door and the keeper of the back door. Are we all here? Overseers, please make sure those under your jurisdiction are all present and accounted for.”
The precise figure of 243 caused minute changes to wash over the faces of old dowager, née Sun, and the others. They’d never paid attention to how many servants there were, not in all their years of being in charge of the household!
The old dowager was actually a bit unhappy that the command token hadn’t returned to her hand after Qin Huaiyuan had come back. The girl had only gotten it because they didn’t want the household to accidentally make the wrong move when the lord was away. But now that he was back, the girl didn’t need to remain in charge, did she?
But Qin Huaiyuan hadn’t given any orders otherwise and Qin Yining hadn’t offered up the token. The matriarch couldn’t bear the loss of face that would come from fighting her granddaughter for the token. Thus, she was forced to keep silent and agree to Qin Yining as the head of the inner household.
Today, upon seeing the fourth miss speak to the servants with aplomb and how they didn’t even dare murmur to themselves in front of her, and the casual dropping of an accurate headcount, the old dowager knew that there was real substance behind Qin Yining’s words. The girl really did have the ability to keep the household in order. Thoughts of letting go and enjoying the remainder of her days arose in the old dowager’s mind.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter