Chapter 195: A Family
It only took a moment before the overseers counted up their people and reported the tally. Qin Yining nodded. “We’re missing four. Remember to pass on my words to them.”
“Yes, please give your orders, miss.” Fang-mama smiled amiably.
“You’ve all been with the family for a long time and served us for many years with your best efforts. Some of you were sold into the manor, others came with letters of succor. No matter how you ended up here, the family hasn’t mistreated you.
“I’m sure everyone’s heard of the situation outside. Some of you came to me to resign this morning, so I decided I might as well summon everyone and go over this clearly.
“The Qins have never been bad masters! Shared destinies brought us together as master and servant. There’s no need to make things ugly when it comes time to part. I’ll say this plainly today. If you follow the family, then you must walk the family’s path. You’ll share any sweets we have and any bitterness we taste. If there’s any of you who’d like to leave or have other arrangements outside, or have relatives that you can flee to in the south, you may step forward now.”
Silence rang loudly after her words. No one dared step forward. Qin Yining smiled at this.
“Don’t be shy, we’re not taking an account of who we need to punish. For those who want to leave, I won’t demand your freedom silver. I’ll also give you two taels of silver each for your journey. Whoever steps forward now and registers will receive their silver.”
Some faltered as they contrasted Qin Yining’s gentle expression and serious attitude with the trouble raging outside. They stepped forward with trepidation, silently taking up spots on the empty ground nearby.
With disaster staring at them in the face and their lives on the line, more followed after the first person took a step. Another… and another… and another…
More left the assembled crowd to take a spot on the empty ground. Those who wanted to leave weren’t limited to one particular branch or department. There were messengers, chefs, and head maids, such as the sixth miss’ head maid and eighth miss’ wet nurse.
Qin Yining watched them mutely, seeing the original crowd grow sparse and the previously empty area become crowded. There were less than forty servants who wanted to stay.
The masters and mistresses standing behind Qin Yining were assailed by complicated, but mostly bitter emotions, particularly the ones whose body servants wanted to leave. The sixth and eighth miss were crying silently, drawing similar emotions from the servants who wanted to leave. Some lowered reddened faces, others quietly wiped away tears.
When it seemed that everyone had taken a stand, Qin Yining asked again, “Is there anyone else who wants to leave? If you leave now, you can go with silver in your hands. If you choose to stay, then you’ll need to live and die with the Qins.”
Her voice had scarcely fell when another hesitating woman switched sides.
Another beat later, it seemed that all decisions had been made. Qin Yining nodded with a smile. “Thank you all for your care during this time. Jiyun.”
The maid walked out with some pageboys lifting a chest.
“Form a line here. You’ll receive two taels of silver when you reach the head of the line, as well as your deed of sale or declaration letter. After that, you can go back and pack your things to leave.”
The chest opened to dazzling silver, so bright that it wasn’t possible for a direct look.
Qin Yining stood next to the chest, keeping an eye on the overseer’s records and often adding a word of advice.
“Go as south as possible once you leave.”
“If you have relatives on the coast of the southern sea, that’d be for the best.”
“With how chaotic Xihua is now, avoid the north if you can.”
“If you really have no place to go, then somewhere in the suburbs of the capital should keep you safe.”
No one had ever seen a master like this. It was one thing to calmly send off people who’d come asking for shelter, but another thing entirely to let go those who’d sold themselves into the family. That was stark betrayal, but the Qins were being so merciful. They weren’t making a big fuss over the matter and even handing out money for the journey ahead, giving them advice on where to go.
Those like Fang-mama and Li-mama who’d come up with lies in the beginning felt like they’d been slapped a few times across the face. They were ashamed and touched by Qin Yining’s patient reminders.
A large amount of people were being let go today, but no one had any complaints. When the silver was handed out, everyone knelt down and kowtowed to Qin Yining and the rest of the Qins behind her.
The fourth miss waved a hand. “Our lives will go in separate ways after today’s departure. Be well, and may we all be safe.”
“Many thanks to the fourth miss! Many thanks to the lord!” Everyone touched their foreheads to the ground and clamored a profusion of thanks. The hubbub continued a while longer before they left.
Qin Yining looked back at the thirty nine willing to stay. “The Qins won’t question your loyalty or forget your sincerity in sticking with us! Don’t worry, as long as we’re here, we’ll shelter you. As long as we have food to eat, we won’t let you starve! We’re one family now and share each other’s glory and destiny!”
The words sent emotions surging.
“Alright then,” Qin Yining smiled. “Come up and register your names as well. Everyone will receive ten taels of silver. I’ll also reassign everyone’s duties. There are many places that we’ll have to depend on all of you for in a manor as large as this.”
Of the ones willing to stay, there were granny servants and little girls with their hair still down. There were also maids and mamas that served the madames and misses. They were already very touched by how Qin Yining’s treatment of the other servants. They felt that the Qins were a good family worth entrusting their futures to. After the fourth miss’ latest string of words and her generosity of awarding ten taels to everyone, they were even happier and convinced that they’d made the right decision.
Qin Yining reassigned duties for the thirty nine in the following ways. Qin-mama would still serve the old dowager. Jixiang and Ruyi had also stayed, so apart from serving the old dowager, they would also do some embroidery and help in the kitchens for the old dowager’s meals.
While the servants’ numbers had decreased, the work remained the same. Therefore, the amount of work each person was in charge of would increase. But Qin Yining’s words were an immense motivation. They were receiving generous awards and an increased monthly stipend, so everyone was full of enthusiasm.
The crowd was dismissed after the new instructions were given out. Qin Yining took her place in front of the old dowager and Qin Huaiyuan. “Father, you won’t blame me for doing all this, will you?”
Qin Huaiyuan arched a brow in amusement. “What would I blame you for? Us two boys share the same thoughts. I was just discussing with your second and third uncle how to run a leaner ship in the manor, but you swept in like a storm and did everything we wanted to before we decided on what to do. It’s just as well, it saves us a bit of effort.”
“Doesn’t it? The husbands and sons of some of those who are leaving also work in the manor. I’ll head to the outer residence in a moment and release a batch of people the way niece Yi has just done,” the third elder master said.
The old dowager looked at her sons and then at Qin Yining. “Can such a large family carry on after suddenly losing so many people?”
Qin Huaiyuan held the old dowager’s hand with a smile. “Mother, times now are not what they were before. Our family is no longer the same. I’m even thinking of how to concentrate our living quarters to make it easier to defend.”
The second elder master agreed. “Let’s not be stuck on what kind of residences we should have. All of us should bunk together and move to the residences by the Garden of Loving Piety.”
“I have my eye on the small house behind the old dowager’s gardens.” The third madame smiled. “Don’t be unwilling to give it to me, Old Dowager!”
A chuckled was teased out of the matriarch.
“That’s wonderful.” Qin Yining smiled at her cousins. “I have some empty houses in my Venerable Study Hall. If you don’t mind, sisters, why don’t you all move in? It’ll make for a cozy and fun time.”
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