Chapter 13 Shameless Concubine
She should have known the answers. A concubine would never visit her courtyard for fun with such a large troop behind her. Besides, being a daughter of a late concubine, the Third Miss had the most broken courtyard that didn’t even worth a visit.
Concubine Liu put one finger with a bright red polished nail on the corner of her lips lazily and smiled, “Ah, Third Miss loves to joke. I’m a bit of a boor, and I don’t have that high spirits. It’s just that I had lost a hairpin and was looking around for it since I can’t remember where it was.”
She said so, giving Qin Yunuan a meaningful glance. If this little girl dared to stop, her disrespect for elders could be added to her crime.
“Well, I see.” Qin Yunuan dragged her tone and smiled indifferently. “Then please, Concubine. Baochuan was about to rise, and I have to go and see.” Finishing her words, she went straight to the tiny room eastside, without paying any attention to those searching servant girls that crowded the yard.
“You guys, search for me carefully. Don’t even miss a single mouse hole.” Concubine Liu put on airs as she thought, “Hmm, I’ll make you pay when I find that white jade hairpin.”
Qin Yunuan’s yard was not that big, but Concubine Liu took almost two hours in searching. She stood anxiously in the middle of the yard at this time, firing questions in a low voice over and over again, to those servant girls and nannies who reported to her. “How could there be nothing? Don’t be lazy. Search for me carefully, one by one.”
Compared with Concubine Liu’s anxiety, Qin Yunuan seemed extremely calm. The sun was shining brightly today, so she moved her embroidery frame to the yard. While doing needlework, she supervised Qin Baochuan to write with a wooden stick on the sand.
As they couldn’t afford pens, ink or rice paper, Qin Baochuan could only write on the sand. Fortunately, Qin Baochuan was patient, discerning and intelligent. He learned quickly.
Qin Baochuan was devoting effort to the four words, “propriety, righteousness, honesty, and shame”, but he stopped after three words.
“What happened?” Qin Yunuan observed as Qin Baochuan meditated, holding a small wooden stick. She stopped her work as well. “Why not write the word ‘shame’?”
Qin Baochuan’s black eyes turned and glanced at Concubine Liu. Then he looked back at Qin Yunuan eagerly. Yunuan suddenly understood.
“Really?” Qin Yunuan laughed, pointing at those words on the sand. “People can be ‘shameless’, but we shouldn’t. Add ‘shame’ now, or I’ll not teach you literacy again.”
She lifted her head and looked at Concubine Liu after finishing her words. Liu was utterly discomfited, so she said, “Excuse us, please. Did you find the thing?”
Concubine Liu was badly battered at that time. She didn’t even realize the sarcasm in the words of the brother and sister Qin. Now that Qin Yunuan asked, she had to respond stiffly, “No.” Raising her tone, she added, “But I’ll find it sooner or later.”
“Concubine, we’ve searched all over the yard. We couldn’t find the jade hairpin.” The nanny came, looking perturbed.
“Fine, let’s go.” It’s no use staying here for too long. Things would go against her favor if she became the subject for ridicule.
Concubine Liu didn’t cross the threshold before a little servant girl came to report. “Concubine, your white jade hairpin was found.”
“Found?” Concubine Liu didn’t buy it. “Where?”
“In the stable of the backyard.”
The stable was located at the outer courtyard, where most male servants gathered and lived just steps away from it. Concubine Liu was a lady of the inner courtyard. It made people wonder how her hairpin could have been found in the outer courtyard.
“It must be a thief. It must be.” Concubine Liu squeezed her handkerchief on the side, cursing and gritting her teeth.
Dou Qing’e was wearing a lilac Chinese gown today, matching nicely with the golden finch-shape hairpin on her head. Compared to Concubine Liu’s heavy makeup, her light one was more attractive. Wiping off tea dust with the teacup cover, she replied without lifting her head. “I just ordered them to check about it. Those in the backyard were either at work yesterday or proved to have no chance of stealing your hairpin.”
“Sister, believe me. This was the white jade hairpin given by Master Qin. I only wear it on special occasions. If it weren’t stolen, how could it appear in the backyard?” Concubine Liu stepped forward and said, “Sister, you are always the fairest. Don’t be partial this time.”
“I’m partial?” Dou Qing’e thought funny of her. “Who do I have a partiality for? Now that everyone’s here, why don’t you make it clear? From the beginning to the end, who has partiality?”
Dou Qing’e and Concubine Liu were the only two holding their heads up. Concubine Chang, Qin Yunuan, all the servant girls and nanny stood silently in the yard with their heads down.
Qin Yunuan’s simple but elegant dress had been unspectacular compared to others today, but it also caused Dou Qing’e to look twice. No wonder that her daughter would be so angry last night. To her, it was not only because of her temporarily ruined appearance, but it was also the emergence of another beauty in the Mansion, Qin Yunuan. She grew up more eye-catching day by day. But she was, after all, the daughter of a concubine. Everything was still in control.
“Anyway,” Concubine Liu said with confidence, “I went to sister’s place firstly yesterday, then my own place and the Third Miss’ in the afternoon. I haven’t been to other places, not to mention the stable.” She stared at Qin Yunuan’s elegant face after finishing her words. She threw her hairpin in the parterre of this little girl yesterday. How could she never find it today? It was weird.
“Oh, so you are suspecting me?” Dou Qing’e tilted her head, with her voice provocative and arrogant.
“How would I ever dare to do that?” Concubine Liu fawned on her again. “Sister, you won’t even care about a house of gold or silver, let alone a white jade hairpin. You came out of a big family. There’s no good thing that you haven’t seen. And as for me, I can’t put on a play. You’re busy enough these days, so I don’t have the reason to be mischievous. So, there’s the only…” After that, her eyes landed on Qin Yunuan.
Qin Yunuan stayed calm, however, not even blinking her eyes. Concubine Liu had to speak for herself, “Third Miss, I know that you are in straitened circumstances. It’s better to admit your mistake…”
“Concubine Liu, you’re saying weird things again.” Qin Yunuan opened her cherry lips and said calmly. “You’ve found it in the stable, haven’t you? Why it’s my blame?”
Concubine Liu stopped being polite. “There was a case some time ago, in Ministry Councilor Liu’s house in the suburbs of the Royal City. The servant girl of the inner courtyard hid the jewelry of female family members in the stable, and then it would be taken out and pawned by the groom. It would be a large amount of money if you do this for a year.”
“But even so, I was not in the house yesterday. How much time do I have to hide things in the outer courtyard?” Qin Yunuan looked to be struggling for a reason. She was just a suspect by then, but now Concubine Liu accused her by name. Under pressure, she grabbed a sachet tightly in her sleeve.
“Oh, you don’t have that time. But your servant girls have, and you still have that little bastard in your yard, right?” Concubine Liu waved her hand and asked sternly.
“Baochuan is only five years old. How could he know so much?” Qin Yunuan’s small face turned red, and her fingertips buckled into the sleeve again. Dou Qing’e, who was quietly observing, caught her on the spot.
“What’s in your sleeve?” Dou Qing’e opened her mouth slowly. Concubine Liu took the chance and continued on the topic. She shouted, “Ha! You are a thief indeed! What are you hiding? Hand it out.” She reached out her hand and Qin Yunuan’s sleeves without hesitation as if trying to drag something out of Qin Yunuan’s sleeve.
Qin Yunuan tried to struggle, but Concubine Liu was too brutal to defeat. A red-stained white sachet was dragged out and torn apart into two pieces during the rally of the two. A piece of yellow notepaper folded into a triangle shape fell along with dried flowers.
“Great.” Concubine Liu picked up the yellow rune paper on the ground quickly and shouted, “Something unclean. Sister, have a look. I don’t know what rune is painted on it. No wonder the house was restless these days. The return of Master’s southern tour was postponed a few times, and many servant girls and nannies said they were losing their salary money. It could be the rune’s fault!”
“Shut up,” Dou Qing’e glared. “How dare you say such things like ‘the house was restless’? The master returned late to accompany the Grand Prince on experiencing and observing the conditions of people. Losing the money was only caused by the carelessness of those little servant girls.” However, she knew it well in her heart that the lost money either supported her mother’s family or was spent in the shop. She was very careful and handed out the same amount of money and ordered her confidants secretly to take it back.
It was not the time to care about this. Dou Qing’e swallowed her anger and took the yellow rune paper that Concubine Liu handed to her. However, she froze when the paper was unfolded.
“Is this…?” Dou Qing’e looked up at Qin Yunuan, whose eyes already turned red.
Qin Yunuan seized the opportunity. She knelt and cried, “The peace token of Lingtai temple. I have asked for it for a long time. I sewed it in the sachet especially, and I put your favorite dried peony flowers in it. I was planning to give it to you today, but Concubine Liu, she framed me for stealing her hairpin and accused me of cursing the family for this yellow rune paper. Now that she tore my embroidered sachet for you. Mother, you have to make the right decision for your daughter.”
“All right, all right, you get up first.” Dou Qing’e frowned. Although she always disliked her illegitimate daughter, she shouldn’t behave in this way. Moreover, Liu was over the top this time.