Chapter 6: Making Arrangements
Qin Yining had no idea that someone had been present, let alone spent time watching her. Nevertheless, she waited well into the afternoon, and was freezing to the bone before Jin-mama arrived with the maids.
“It ended up being a while longer as the madame gave me some errands just now which delayed things.” Jin-mama only made the barest of explanations and didn’t give Qin Yining time to speak before introducing the four maids behind her. “This is Yuxiang and Ruilan, second-rank maids by the senior madame’s side. They are exceedingly gentle and amiable, and have been specially sent to serve you. These two are Liuya and Qiulu, third-rank maids.”
Qin Yining sized the four up. They were all around seventeen years old. Yuxiang was tall and skinny with eye-catching looks, but her eyes roved a little too aggressively. Ruilan had more meat on her and an open, honest smile. Liuya’s lips were thin, seemingly indicating someone who was quite eloquent. Qiulu had her head trailed downwards and rather lacked presence. She was most likely a person accustomed to being quiet.
The four of them walked up to curtsey to Qin Yining. She nodded lightly back at them and gestured for them to stand to the side.
“We also have a mama in charge of the general household and some serving girls in charge of sweeping and cleaning.” Jin-mama continued, her words accompanied by the entrance of an old lady and three 10 year old girls wearing red and green. “This is Zhu-mama, she will be in charge of all manner of things in Snowpear Courtyard in the future. These are some serving girls for your needs.”
“This servant greets the fourth miss.” Zhu-mama was a chubby woman with an honest expression. Wisps of white had already begun to decorate her sideburns, putting her age somewhere around fifty.
“Please rise, Zhu-mama.” Qin Yining responded serenely.
“I’ve already brought your people here, so miss can command them however you like. Miss can come find this servant if you have any orders,” Jin-mama remarked.
“Many thanks to Jin-mama.” The old servant departed after curtseying, causing Qin Yining to slightly crease her brow. She was newly arrived and had no money on her to give as largesse. If Jin-mama had felt more kindly disposed towards the girl, she could’ve easily given a few orders to these new servants. With the old servant’s status in the manor, her words would be so much more effective than Qin Yining’s.
But Jin-mama had only paid lip service to her duties and hadn’t been willing to say another word to these people. She was one of Senior Madame’s people, so her will was the senior madame’s will. It looked like her birth mother really didn’t like her.
Qin Yining took a shallow breath in and looked at the eight people standing in front of her. Her life since her youth had been a struggle for one more day, where would she have learned to order people around? She really didn’t know what to do at this moment. When they saw their new mistress silently gazing at them, the servants looked at each other, uncertain of what to do.
After a while, Qin Yining looked at the locked principal residence and wing houses and spoke slowly, “I’m sure you’re all well aware of my situation. It is indeed hard on you all to be sent here. Although I wasn’t so lucky before today to grow up beside my parents, I am my father’s daughter after all. Just do your jobs well and we’ll make it through the future together.”
These words held many meanings, and they were the most suitable words that Qin Yining could think of. She just wanted to live out the rest of her days peacefully.
“Understood.” The eight servants made the return greetings as befitted their stations and also snuck a few looks at their new mistress. It was said that this lady looked remarkably similar to Prime Minister Qin, but they didn’t understand just how similar until they’d personally set eyes on her.
Although she’d grown up in the countryside and had lived for a time on a mountain as a barbarian, that bearing emanating from her was no illusion. No one dared overstep themselves after looking at her. The servants privately dismissed a portion of their complaints about their bad luck.
Qin Yining’s first order was to clean up the houses. The three houses of the principal residence would be her quarters. One of the east wing houses was arranged for Zhu-mama, the other for the two second-rank maids. One of the west wing houses was set aside for the two third-rank maids, and the serving girls were sent to the servant houses that faced the rear. Those also neighbored the little kitchen on the grounds.
They had just finished a cursory cleaning when Jin-mama came by again. She arrived with blankets, bed curtains, containers, decorations, the four treasures of the study, clothing, socks, shoes, and powder. She also handed over two taels of silver to Qin Yining.
“Miss, this is the stipend for this month. The manor’s rules are to give two taels each for the young ladies. You’ll need to send someone to the main kitchen each meal to fetch the meal boxes. You’ll also need to greet your parents in the morning and evening…” The old servant grew irritated at having to explain so much. “You’ll understand it all after living here for a while.”
“Many thanks to Jin-mama, I’ll call on the senior madame after a short while.” Qin Yining smiled faintly. The old servant smiled in return and left with great fanfare without saying anything else.
The residences looked completely different after two hours of work. Furniture was already present in the houses, so they only switched in some new pale-green seat and arm cushions. Brand new pale-green netting was draped around the bed , and there was even an exquisite fragrance ball placed on it. The blankets were laid down generously, and Zhu-mama was inserting a foot-warmer into them for warmth.
Yuxiang and Ruilan were organizing her trousseau and wardrobe, fiddling around with some bottles and containers. After everything was in order, they placed some flowers around to brighten the rooms. The little serving girls were walking in and out with wooden basins, hurriedly cleaning up the wing residences and rear servant quarters.
This would be her home in the future. Although there was still an abandoned atmosphere in the air and a slight humidity that spoke of long vacancy, it was so much better than her cave in the mountains. She wasn’t sure if those beside her were kindly disposed towards her, but having someone to talk to other than the squirrels and rabbits would be a nice change. She had faith that things would turn better if she was patient and worked hard. Qin Yining sat on a soft seat cushion in the main hall, a slight smile blossoming on her beautiful face.
“Miss.” Qiulu walked up with a tea tray and set down a white porcelain tea cup with wintersweet detailing next to Qin Yining’s hand on the black, lacquered square table.
She hadn’t had a drop to drink since returning to the manor, and she had also endured the bitter cold outside for two hours. She’d long since been chilled through and through. The warmth rising from the tea cup seeped into her very heart, and Qin Yining couldn’t help but smile.
“This servant doesn’t dare,” Qiulu hastily responded. When she heard the disturbance, Yuxiang pursed her lips from her position organizing the trousseau. Ruilan looked at Qiulu and took out a beige brocade cloak from a redwood dresser. It’d just arrived, and the maid offered it with a smile.
“Miss, wear this for now. Don’t get sick from the cold. I will have someone go fetch the meal box.”
Qiulu left with the tea tray, and Liuya came in with a hot water thermos, wrapping it in a handkerchief and placing it on Qin Yining’s legs. Qin Yining smiled at her as well, but didn’t thank the servant because she had seen Ruilan’s look just now. She had to get used to her new identity, and fast. Qin Yining happened to glimpse something out the corner of her eye. Yuxiang was cradling a record book.
“What is that? I’d like to take a look.” The new Qin fourth miss set down the teacup in her hand.
Her back to her mistress, Yuxiang rolled her eyes before turning around with a face wreathed in smiles, handing the record book over. “This is an inventory of all items in Snowpear Courtyard.”
Qin Yining began leafing through it with great interest. Yuxiang curled her lip and locked eyes with Ruilan over their mistress’ head. No way she knows how to read!
There was a moderate amount of items within the houses, and Qin Yining stopped when she reached the trousseau’s page. She pointed at a line.
“I haven’t seen this gold headband that’s embedded with pearls yet.”
Yuxiang’s expression froze. Hasn’t she just been sitting there, not moving? So many people have been walking in and out, each of them bringing armfuls of stuff. How can she have remembered everything?
Ruilan quickly walked towards the trousseau and looked around, then searched the luohan bed with her back to Qin Yining. She pulled out the headband after a while, smiling.
“Found it! This servant didn’t pay attention and left it beneath the blankets.”
Qin Yining smiled faintly and pointed at the clothing and accessories page.
“I haven’t seen the blood-jade gourd dress weight  listed here either.” She closed the book and handed it back to Yuxiang, dimpling, “Make sure you’re cleaning up properly, I don’t want to step on an earring when I put my shoes on one day.”
Her small joke made Yuxiang flush to the tips of her ears and caused an awkward expression to appear on Ruilan’s face. Qin Yining didn’t say anything further as she continued to hug the thermos, while a few more small items magically reappeared in the trousseau and wardrobe. She looked downwards, finding the situation comical.
Qin Yining knew that it was a tall order for her to command respect and obedience as soon as she arrived, but she hadn’t thought that the maids of her house would openly steal her things. They likely didn’t know that her memory was extraordinarily retentive. Her many years of bartering with hunters and medicine ingredient merchants had imbued her with an internal set of scales. She could estimate weights with just her hand, and she was always accurate to within 50 grams.
She rested her callused and scarred yet fair hands on the hot water thermos for warmth. It looked like her future path would be littered with some more hardships. She would have to settle those by her side first.
“Have all the arrangements been made properly?” Qin Huining asked née Cai with a smile after partaking of dinner. Bitong had handed her a cup of tea to cleanse her palate.
“In response to the young miss, everything is done. We switched out three of the original group and sent Yuxiang, Ruilan, and Liuya instead. They all have exceedingly good temperaments, and we’ve sent Zhu-mama as the overseeing mama.”
“Zhu-mama?” Qin Huining indicated unfamiliarity.
“Her son's the overseer in the stables and her daughter-in-law works in the kitchen,” née Cai explained.
“Zhu-mama has a gentle temper and will be able to coexist peacefully with Yuxiang, Ruilan, and Liuya.” Qin Huining smiled at the report and held the old servant’s hands with both of her own. She smiled, “Thank you for your help in this, wet nurse.”
Née Cai looked back to Qin Huining with a look full of love. “What’s all this, miss? I was your wet nurse, and if I could say something out of turn, I see you as my own child. How could I bear seeing you in this situation? Don’t worry, the days ahead are long yet, and this manor’s waters run deep.”
This was precisely what Qin Huining wanted to hear. She hugged her wet nurse in gratitude. “Come, let’s go to Garden of Tranquility for the evening greeting.”
“The newcomer might not even know that this needs to be done.” Née Cai laughed.
Qin Huining flung on the red silk woven cloak that her maid handed her and laughed in response, “She’ll understand later on.” But it’ll be too late when she does, her uncouth reputation will have spread already.
Qin Huining brought née Cai and Bitong to the senior madame’s residence. She’d thought that Qin Yining wouldn’t understand the rules and not know to come every morning and evening, but to her very great surprise, she actually bumped headlong into Qin Yining dressed in a beige damask cloak, walking over with Ruilan and Qiulu.