Xiao Hua awoke with a start. Chills ran down her spine as she realized she’d had another nightmare.
She wiped the cold sweat off her brow, and looked around with lingering fear in her heart.
Dawn was breaking, and her surroundings gradually became clear.
Two tester beds 1 lay near the walls of the small room. Between the beds a lady’s makeup box rested on a stand. A square table stood in the center of the room, and a washbasin in the corner completed the picture.
The layout was simple, but in the Jinyang Marquis Estate only the young masters’ senior maids could live in such a double room. All the other maids lived 8 per room.
From her position, she could faintly see Bi Yuan’s hair peeking out of the blankets on the other bed.
Xiao Hua let out a breath and lay back down.
She gazed blankly at the sky, which still showed signs of lingering dusk. She remained spaced out until she heard movement outside the door. She shook herself awake, and gave her arm a pinch.
She was really back…back as her fourteen year old self.
Today would be Xiao Hua’s first day as a senior maid, and she dared delay no further. She hurriedly dressed herself, and got out of bed.
Bi Yuan’s bed showed no signs of movement and she left it that way, carefully stepping out with the washbasin to freshen up.
The servants’ small wayside pavilion housed the young and elderly maids that served the Jinxiu2 Pavilion. It had a small kitchen, where old kitchen maids were responsible for heating water. The maids could therefore take advantage of this hot water to freshen up.
Xiao Hua carried her washbasin to the small kitchen, passing through the hustle and bustle of the wayside pavilion. A servant’s life was not as easy as their masters’, so while most of the latter were still asleep the former were already up and running.
Once she reached the kitchen, she saw that the old woman by the stove had indeed already heated the water. Seeing Xiao Hua, she smilingly drew the water for her.
“Little lass Xiao Hua, you’re up early! Oh…that’s right. I hear it’s your first day of work. Don’t be late!”
This old kitchen maid was surnamed Wang, and everyone called her Grandma Wang. She was well advanced in age, and should have long been retired from the household. In recognition of her many years of dedicated service and her lack of children to take care of her, the madam of the house left her a place and role.
Grandma Wang wore a light gray traditional skirt, her snow white hair bunned up and adorned with a headband. Her face was full of wrinkles, her cheeks shriveled and her front teeth missing. Yet she was still spry, with spirited eyes and keen ears.
“Yes, Granny Wang, it’s my first day on the job.”
Grandma Wang’s smile held no underlying motives, no intent to curry favor, and no contempt of Xiao Hua’s unstable new position. Therefore, Xiao Hua was willing to converse with her a little.
The point in time she returned to was very unfortunate. Unresigned to her lot in life doing hard labor, she used various means and got the young master to elevate her position. Rumors of her achieving her status through trickery spread through the Jinxiu Pavilion, and everyone declared her new position to be precarious. Words spoken to her were filled with either barbs or ulterior motives.
Luckily Xiao Hua was no longer the blabbermouth of her past life. Though it didn’t seem like a big deal, her current taciturn self was only willing to speak due to Grandma Wang’s sincerity and lack of disdain.
“Then hurry along and clean yourself up. Dress up nicely and go work. Such a lively-looking young lady like yourself definitely has some promising prospects for the future.”
Xiao Hua smiled, and without speaking further carried the washbasin to go freshen up.
In the minds of these servants, the so called “promising prospects” referred to becoming the personal chambermaids of the young masters, or giving birth to their children and being raised as a concubine. She had thought the same in her past life, but unfortunately….
After freshening up, she poured the water out and returned to the kitchen for a new basin of water.
Grandma Wang spoke while drawing her water again. “Xiao Hua is really thoughtful, this water is for Bi Yuan isn’t it? These past few days you’ve been fetching her water for her. Well, she does have a lot of sway in the Jinxiu Pavilion, and she’s also a senior maid who’s responsible for many things. She’s certainly worth buttering up.”
It’s a pity she had failed to understand this in her past life. As a newbie she had been constantly reprimanded by Bi Yuan, and to suck up to her she indeed fetched her water every morning. One day Grandma Wang had said the same words to her, yet her previous self felt that this wise elder was poking fun at her little scheme. She’d flipped out, and even had an argument with Grandma Wang.
From that moment on she had never fetched water for Bi Yuan again. In fact, whenever their paths crossed her face would be filled with dissatisfaction. Past and present grievances accumulated in her heart. She felt that she wasn’t any worse in comparison. They were both senior maids, so why would she have to curry favor with her?
Now, as she heard the words that had once flustered her so, Xiao Hua merely lowered her eyes bashfully.
“You’re right. I’m still young and just starting out as a senior maid. I’m hoping sister Bi Yuan can show me the ropes. I want to properly learn from her, so fetching water is no big deal. It’s an act of respect.”
Grandma Wang’s wrinkled face blossomed into a smile. “That’s not what I meant. You are the youngest one though, so you should properly learn from them all.” She was referring to the three senior maids.
“Granny Wang, I’ll stop bothering you. I’m heading out.”
- Ancient four-poster beds