Chapter 96: Beauty Speaks
Translated by Gumihou
Please read this at kitchennovel dot com
Hong Lian grinned, “Concubine Jiang, please don’t just admire the colour. You must taste some. Our madam has been looking forward to your opinion. Though our mistress was pleased with our flattery, us lowly servants’ opinions matter little. No matter how much we praised her, we’re no longer allowed another mouthful of this.”
“Surely you’re exaggerating?” Su Nuan Nuan glared at Hong Lian. “Why don’t you just tell everyone how you swallowed down four or five pieces of the Snow Cream balls in one go? How you ate until your teeth and stomach couldn’t take it anymore? Also, how much of this had been sent to the elder madams? Not to mention your greedy master who stormed this place late last night just for this? Don’t think I don’t know the master got up early in the morning and forced you to hide some away for him. Still dare to show your thick face to me?”
Concubine Jing, who had been smiling at this little exchange suddenly looked up with shock at the last remark. Hong Lian blinked at the suddenly glare, touching her own face curiously as she asked, “Is there something offensive on this maid’s face?”
“Sister has gifted Hong Lian to the lord?”
Concubine Jing did not mince words as she questioned Su Nuan Nuan, who blinked stupidly at her. “Gifted? Give what to the lord?”
Hong Lian caught on to her meaning quicker, she blushed up to the tips of her ears and squirmed in place, “What… this?… This slave… the master… how could it be? Our madam…” At this, the sudden image of her mistress and master in a compromising pose bloomed in her mind, and the maid ran out of the room, shamed by her own imagination.
By now, even Su Nuan Nuan had realized what Concubine Jing was talking about. She laughed heartily, “Oh, so it’s this. How can this be? Hong Lian is a good girl, and I plan to find a good husband for her in the future. There’s no way I’d let her suffer the attention of that man. Also, didn’t Duan Tingxuan already collected several cabbages on his own? Even you and Madam Lan, the best blossoms in the bouquet, couldn’t satisfy him. Any other man would have gone on their knees thanking heaven and earth for one of you, but that guy is still not satisfied. Really not afraid of being struck by lightning, ah.”
“Madam flatters this one, how could this one compare? This one dare not receive madam’s compliments, moreover, did madam not know? A woman’s beauty is as fleeting as a flower’s bloom. Looks only last between twelve and twenty years old.”
“Nonsense, how can a woman’s beauty last less than a decade? A woman’s youth lasts between 15 up to 30 years, that’s 15 years of beauty; at 30 to 40 years old she’s a vivid flower at its peak, that’s another 10 years of beauty; between 40 to 50 the flower gains maturity along with elegance, her beauty is like the sun just before it sets, her gaze most pleasing and comfortable to look at.
That’s almost 50 years of beauty. Though a woman may grow older as the years passed her, what she lost in youth, she gains in tranquility and joy. Surrounded by grandchildren in the twilight of her years. A life long lived is a lifetime of happiness gain. A woman’s beauty is in her life, and the happiness we bring upon others.”
Concubine Jiang stood there, stunned, looking at Su Nuan Nuan with her mouth opened: To think, a woman’s life could be interpreted this way. Surely this… this was some kind of false teaching? But… there was some undeniable sense in her words, and, what’s this stirring in her heart? It was as though her feelings had emerged, like a fish leaping out of a calm lake to create ripples: To think that a woman’s life could be like this?
“This undeserving one finally understood why the lord loves to spend his days with madam.” Concubine Jiang lowered her head reverently. “When madam spoke just now, it was like a light had shone into this unworthy one’s eyes. The light is so bright that it pierces this slave’s heart, which this one had thought had turned to dead water the moment this one set foot in this mansion. This one thought she had gained peace at last, but the truth is her heart was dead. This one had believed herself content, but then these words of yours… it was like, like this one had gained insight on what true happiness might be.”
“What’s all this silly talk? What dead water heart? And what insight have you gotten? You…”
Su Nuan Nuan was just too bewildered, she scratched her head, causing Concubine Jiang to giggle at this cute gesture. Concubine Jing gave a beautiful smile, “Madam has not experienced what this lowly one had, therefore it is natural that you won’t understand my heart. When this one was rescued by the master from that hell, naturally this slave is grateful… being able to escape that fate calmed this one’s heart, erasing all that endless worrying and anxiousness was enough to make this one content.
Living in this mansion, under the protection of the lord, this one never saw suffering again, but nothing excites her heart either. Gardening was just something to pass the time without any real passion behind it. After hearing madam’s words, this one understood that her life was like empty water, tasteless, plain, though scholars might call an ordinary life is true to life, mine was just too dull. If it’s at all possible, this one would like to be just like madam, and live life to the fullest with confidence and ease.”
Su Nuan Nuan blinked. Well, it’s not like she didn’t understand what Concubine Jing was talking about, but she couldn’t quite believed how her words were being taken. Also, Concubine Jing’s worshipful gaze… ah, but Su Nuan Nuan was a simple foodie who didn’t like complicated thoughts. Let’s ignore this, thought Nuan Nuan as she said, “It’s all fine, you seem to have heard something you like from my speech. Well, if that’s the case, please do your best to live your life to the fullest. If a great beauty like you were to spend the rest your days depressed, I have a feeling the heavens will revolt. Do you really think that the heavens really intent for you to live like a nun after granting you a face like that? What kind of wastefulness is this?”
Concubine Jing could no longer hold back her laughter, she shook her head, “Madam is too witty for me, such flattery is too much. What do you mean living like a nun? This one was just living a quiet life, look, I still have my hair…”
She was just speaking when a clear, youthful voice called across the courtyard, “Sister-in-law, sister-in-law, just how did you make that Snow Cream? Heavens, it’s just too delicious. My brother and I almost got into blows fighting over the last bite. Concubine mother also thought it was delicious. So much that she got together with brother to urge me to come over to ask if you have any left.”
Following this little speech, Second Young Miss Duan Xinqi ran in with a bright flush on her youthful cheeks. Her cheerful pattering stopped when she saw Concubine Jing. For a moment, she fluttered about anxiously before calming down at the sight of Su Nuan Nuan. Though she was now used to Su Nuan Nuan’s bossy presence, she still sank back to her timid behaviour in front of other people.
“Oh, it’s the second young miss.” Concubine Jing got up with some surprised: Was this really that timid second young miss in her memory? Has she always been this lively and pretty? Why has she never seen this side of the girl?
“Pei! As expected, those who had gotten an inch wants a mile. I managed to get hold of your brother yesterday to make cream. It takes time to make that into Snow Cream, you know? Also, I’ve given a portion to old madam and elder madam, there’s no more you know? No more.”
Su Nuan Nuan had also stood up, reaching out to tidy up Duan Xinqi’s clothes as she said, “Did you really run all the way here? Aren’t you worried about people seeing you?”
Something prickled within Concubine Jing’s heart. She had always assumed that Duan Xinqi was naturally gloomy creature. A pitiful girl who could not stand raised voices. Seeing this cheerful and upbeat Duan Xinqi nearly made her eyes popped out. Especially when she pouted and said sassily, “Sister-in-law, quickly make more when you can. This thing is just too delicious in summer. Give me a bit more next time, alright? I’ll get mother to embroider the most exquisite purse for you, how about it? Mother’s embroidery is the best, even professional embroiderers can’t compare.”
“Your mother, your mother, everything is from your mother. You’re already 13, when are you going to personally make something for me?” scolded Su Nuan Nuan even as she herded Duan Xinqi into a chair. Duan Xinqi said sadly, “Surely sister-in-law knows how poor my womanly arts are? Even mother has been urging me to learn them properly, and I’ve been practicing, truly, but so far I can only make rough, basic things. Sister-in-law, please be patient, I’m sure in two years time I can make something respectable for you.”
“Very well, very well, I shall await that day.” Su Nuan Nuan said indulgently. She turned to Xiang Yun, “Where’s that hussy Hong Lian? Find her and tell her second young miss is here. I’ve reserved a few rolls of silk just for the young miss, tell her to bring them out.”
Xiang Yun bobbed in acknowledgement and left. Duan Xinqi was beaming her thanks at Su Nuan Nuan a bowl in Concubine Jing’s hand caught her eye and she cried out, “Why haven’t you eaten them, concubine mother? You don’t like them? But, but, if you don’t like them, what do you like?”
“Oh, it’s not like that.” Concubine Jing shook her head in surprised. Su Nuan Nuan glared at the girl, “What nonsense is this? Your concubine mother didn’t have the chance to eat any yet because she’s busy chatting with me. I can guarantee that she’ll like it.”
Concubine Jing watched as Duan Xinqi’s cheerful little face fell and knew the reasoning behind her little inquiry. However, who was she to quarrel with a young miss over food? She was about to offer her dish of Snow Cream when Su Nuan Nuan laughed heartily, “Ignore her, she’s just pretending to be pitiful. I sent quite a lot to Concubine Lin’s place. You eat yours quickly, or it will melt into a snow puddle before long.”
Concubine Jing could only chuckle and scooped a tiny bit of the cream into her mouth, she carefully tasted the cream and nodded, “This is certainly delicious, no wonder second young miss ran over here so quickly. If there were any extra left, this one would love to bring some back too.” After eating two more bites, she smiled at Su Nuan Nuan. “This one shall bring the rest back home to eat. If madam don’t mind, this one shall take this plate with me. But this one shall bring it back later, of course.”
“What nonsense is this? What kind of person are do you take me for?” Su Nuan Nuan rolled her eyes. “It’s just plate and not something valuable. Take it, take it.”
“This one knows that madam is generous.” Concubine Jing smiled. Just then, someone called from outside, “Is first madam here? Old madam bade you to come over.” It was Qiu Ling’s voice and as expected, the person who came in was none other than Qiu Ling.
[Gumihou: Ohohoho, any guesses as to why Qiu Ling is here?]