Chapter 78: Total Victory
Translated by Gumihou
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The moment Su Nuan Nuan stormed towards the branch house in fury, the eyes of ever busybody in the mansion fixed upon her. They followed with bated breath as the show neared its climax. Thus, when Su Nuan Nuan began to leisurely question the young maid, some folks in the peanut gallery, including Shi Yu Rou, nearly spat up blood.
“This maid knows the cat belongs to first madam. However, this maid did not let it go for first madam’s sake. This slave belongs to the branch house lady so how could I betray my mistress? Only… only… the cat is an innocent living thing, so how could I… this slave could not bear to see it die and decided to give it a chance to escape. However, this slave had to be careful and choose a critical moment to act. Only, this maid didn’t know that Granny Zou saw through this maid’s actions and was punished for it.”
It was unclear whether this Xing’er was an artless innocent or a cunning schemer, but Su Nuan Nuan saw that she clearly had a spine on her. Perhaps being a servant had taught her to conceal this pride, but in the end had found it difficult to go against her own nature. Clearly, Su Nuan Nuan’s words had provoked this poorly concealed pride to rear up.
With a shallow sigh, Su Nuan Nuan nodded at Xing’er, “You have done a good deed.” With that, she turned to Shi Yu Rou and smiled grimly. “It looks like everything has been properly revealed. Well, Granny Liu, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Granny Liu’s face paled, she fell silent for a long while before kowtowing in panic, “First madam have mercy, this slave is in the wrong. It is us who beat the cat, but we have no idea it belonged to first madam, ah. We only know that Concubine Lin’s cat had taken a bite out of the lady’s Persian cat and wanted to beat him to death. This… this slave was just trying to gain the lady’s approval and acted on our own, but, but this slave really did not know this cat belongs to first madam, ah. If we know, this maid would never have dared, not even if beaten ten times, to even harm a hair on its head, ah. Would first madam, please understand, ah.”
“What a bunch of nonsense.”
Xiang Yun could no longer stand it. She stepped out and pointed at Granny Liu and said, “The entire mansion knows that second young miss’ cat is now under the care of our first madam. Even the master adores him. You are high class slaves with connections, and knows every mouse hole in every corner of this place, how could you not know this? You have the guts to beat Zhao Chai because you never thought Missy would strike out on behalf of a mere cat, ba? Now that our Missy is here, you dare to lie to her face and say you did not know our courtyard’s cat? Trying to confuse us? Pei! You wish!”
“Yo~! This maid sure has a mouth on her, too bad she’s born a girl. If she had been a boy, she could probably be a great judge or prosecutor, no?” Shi Yu Rou gave a little thrilling laugh, cutting off Xiang Yun’s speech. The maid grew angrier and clearly wanted to say more, but subsided unhappily at Hong Lian’s slight tug on her sleeve.
Hong Lian’s meaning was clear: the lady was trying to provoke them. While they could mouth off as much as they like in front of first madam, it was actually against the rules speak in such a way to one’s masters. Su Nuan Nuan had spoiled them too much, as expected, their mistress began to defend them. “Sister-in-law, surely there’s no need to belittle the maid this way? She was just emotional over the fact that our dear Zhao Chai almost died.”
Then, Su Nuan Nuan turned towards Granny Liu and came a few steps closer looking very thoughtful. When she judged that Granny Liu was sufficiently panicked, she said, “Now, I want you to answer a few questions from me. No need to think too deeply, just say the first thing that comes to your mind. Once you’ve answered all my questions, I shall consider you as someone who didn’t know better and won’t hold this against you. How about it? Are you ready to answer my questions?”
Granny Liu did not want to answer anything at all, however, she dared not say it. Instead she gritted her teeth and said, “Would madam please ask your questions, this old servant will answer.”
“Good.” Su Nuan Nuan nodded, “I shall start now. What’s the colour of your mistress’ cat?”
“What’s its name?”
“When did she got into a fight with second miss’ cat? You may give an approximate time.”
“Wu! About three months ago.”
“Who were the ones who went to Concubine Lin’s place that time?”
“Me, Granny Fang, Tao’er, Bi Yu and two young manservant, Da Xi and Er Xi.”
“So many people and yet the cat escaped?”
“The cat was quick on his feet and cunning.”
“When I took in the cat, what did the servants thought about it?”
“We all thought that first madam did not give face to the branch house…”
Her voice trailed off, face turning pale as she clapped her hands over her mouth. However, it was too late. In a state of panic, she had answered too quickly and inadvertently blurted out the truth. Su Nuan Nuan gave a sneering laugh and looked calmly at Shi Yu Rou. She said almost gently, “You’ve heard it, have you not? What do you have to say to that?”
Shi Yu Rou’s face was the colour of pig’s liver. The way she was glaring at Granny Liu was almost like she was about to swallow the woman whole. Su Nuan Nuan too looked down at Granny Liu, she snarled, “So, you felt that by taking in Zhao Chai I don’t give face to your branch house, and thus schemed against me. Heh heh! Your plan isn’t to kill my cat, is it? You just want to slap me, the first wife of the main house, in the face! If I don’t punish you today the people of the mansion will think that my face can be stepped on and that slapping me in the face will incur no consequences. Second lady, what do you say to this?”
“Sister-in-law’s words make sense.” since the matter had gone out of hand like this, Shi Yu Rou had no choice but to cut her losses. She could only grit her teeth and snarled out each word, “These servants… have clearly overstepped their bounds. Sister-in-law, take them away, and punish them as you see fit.”
“Madam, please don’t do this, ah…”
Madam Liu was nearly senseless with fright. Who doesn’t know how fierce and vicious this first madam is? She even dared to secretly plot He Xiang’s death when she was found pregnant with the master’s child. How could a mere old servant like her even get out alive once fallen into this woman’s hand? Fear addled her mind and she cried out desperately, “Lady, we were only carrying out your orders, we…”
“Shut up.” Shi Yu Rou was so angry that her eyes turned red. She had thought that once Granny Liu and the rest have passed through this trial, she would be able to devote some time to nurture more loyal servants by her side. After all, it’s not easy to find truly loyal servants. Who would have thought that this old bat would crack at such a crucial moment. If it was at all possible, Shi Yu Rou really wanted to kicked this woman to death.
“Sister-in-law, looks like this old servant really couldn’t be relied upon. First, daring to presume what I am thinking, then acting on her own to gain favour and trying to create conflict between us sisters-in-law. Right now, she even tries to frame me for her actions, this kind of crafty shameless slaves could not be tamed, we should just have her beaten to death with planks as a warning to others.”
Shi Yu Rou’s killing intent was fairly steaming off her body, her beautiful face had taken on a rather sinister cast.
“Well, it does seemed unreasonable to beat someone to death over a cat. Sister-in-law, please be at ease, the punishment will be in accordance to common sense.”
For Su Nuan Nuan’s benevolence to suddenly appear right now pissed Shi Yu Rou so much that her whole body trembled. She thought, curse you, now you want to act in according to common sense? Where was your common sense when you storm my place with a whole troupe of people? Where was your common sense when you needed it? Why is your common sense appearing now when it’s the least needed? Are you messing with me?
In the end, Su Nuan Nuan had the maids publicly smacked with wooden planks. The older women were given ten smacks, and half a year’s worth of their salary docked. The two younger maids were given five smacks and had three months of salary docked. Which should be enough, the first wife announced to all and sundry, to teach the young ones a lesson on proper behaviour and moderation. She also took the time to remind them to be honest and goodhearted, to follow the rules of the court and that a hateful and vicious behaviour will only bring them bad karma.
News of this singular lecture reached the ears of various master eliciting different reactions. Madam Yang had been enjoying a spot of tea when the news reached her ears, causing her to spat out a mouthful of tea. She wiped her mouth and muttered, “The sun must be rising from the west now, the most vicious and hateful woman is now giving out sermons about kindness and goodhearted behaviour. Had she truly repented, or was this a mere show for others? I really can’t tell.”
Old madam was playing dominoes with her personal maid when the news reached her, she said nothing for a long time. Finally, she waved the messenger away, leaving only herself and Qiu Ling within the room. She laughed as she took the dominoes apart, saying, “Looks like this child really couldn’t bear the slightest provocation. Just a bit of teasing and she nearly lost her head. Then again, by crushing her opponent like this she had just ensured that everyone now understands her position.”
Qiu Ling sneered, “Well, she never could take the slightest provocation, ah. Otherwise, how she would never pluck up the nerve to storm the branch lady’s place? Only, I’d never have expect her to dole out such a light sentence, especially when she has the moral high ground.”
Old Madam Fang laughed, “Well, it was the right thing to do. Tingye and his wife’s behaviour had been getting quite disappointing this past two years. As for those old maids, though their behaviour had been quite despicable, we still can’t kill them over a cat. That would be literally overkill. The punishment matches the sin, by docking their pay and smacking them a little, they would at least behave themselves for a few months. It’s fine, they weren’t the real source of the evil deed, which was why Nuan Nuan took it easy with them.”
Qiu Ling sneered again, “Old madam’s words made sense. However, this maid felt that first madam’s action was too rash this time. Just wait, the next few days will bring a lot of complaints to your door. For her to use such a big move over a cat, I can’t imagine how many people would would be mulling over this matter.”
Madam Fang answered lightly, “It’s true that this whole drama is over a mere cat. However, don’t forget, there have been many eyes on this cat for many days now. It’s been years since I’ve looked into matters within the inner court and it looked like the people there are starting to act in most unreasonable ways. Everyone knows how much I valued the rules and regulations, therefore they all tried to look pious on the surface and pretended to get along with each other even as they scheme in the background. Some schemes I know, while others escaped my notice.
Most of the time I was just couldn’t be bothered to really look into what they’re doing. It’s not like they could do real harm. In reality, the women of this mansion don’t really understand me. What’s the use of giving me all these surface performance? Only the feelings in the heart really count, ah. This is why I’ve never really said anything about Su Nuan Nuan’s wilful behaviour. All of you probably thought that I was in love with her cooking and ignored her behaviour. How could this be the reason? I like her attitude, but I know from how she treats her maids that she’s a good girl who keeps the rules in her hear. This is why I like her.”
[Gumihou: Well, we all saw this a mile away]