Xiao Hua returned to the small wayside pavilion after getting off work. The people in charge of the servants’ dinners were coming around and she took her portion. After eating, she headed towards the small kitchen to fetch hot water, planning to wash herself and sleep.
In the small kitchen, Grandma Wang who was tending the fire smiled upon seeing her. “Xiao Hua lass, done with your shift?”
“That’s right Granny Wang.”
Grandma Wang handed her a small stool. “Here, come chat with this old lady for a bit.”
Xiao Hua put down the washbasin in her hands and sat down beside Grandma Wang.
Grandma Wang stirred the stove embers. “How was work today? Was there anything you weren’t used to?”
Xiao Hua quite liked this jovial grandma. Ever since reincarnating, she didn’t really have anyone to talk to. The lower maids were either jealous or secretly dismissive of her unorthodox promotion. Even the “good sisters” she was previously close with as a sweeper girl were now estranged, and she also didn’t feel like speaking with them. Now, sitting in the warm kitchen next to a kindly old granny, she couldn’t help but start speaking more.
“I didn’t really have to consider whether or not I was used to things. I merely followed the older sisters, learning how to serve the young master. Otherwise it was quite leisurely. I sat in the tea room in the afternoon, and before I knew it my shift had ended.”
Grandma Wang smiled and didn’t ask further, instead casually chatting with Xiao Hua about the characters and taboos of the estate’s young masters. She also brought up some of her old friends who were competent in their tasks and cleverly performed their roles, catching the master’s eye and receiving additional responsibilities. After giving birth to children, they returned to duty and were now all elders in charge of various things.
Xiao Hua listened silently without speaking, but her eyes flashed briefly.
Grandma Wang spoke for a while before remembering Xiao Hua was here for water.
“Look at this old lady, my old mind is wandering. You are here for water but I am chattering the night away.”
“It’s fine Granny Wang. I’m off work so there’s nothing for me to do.”
“Enough, enough, I know you’re just trying to comfort this old lady. Go wash up and rest, you still have to get up early for work.”
Xiao Hua drew the water, washed herself simply and lay down. Bi Yuan had yet to return, though she always returned very late so Xiao Hua was not surprised.
She understood Grandma Wang’s words clearly. She was pointing out another path for her to follow.
That’s right, having struggled harder than anyone else, the previous her would have never chosen that path.
Her eyes shut and her heart grew calm. The current her only wanted to reach the age where she could be freed from service. What happens after that can be decided later.
Just like that, Xiao Hua started her life as a senior maid. Although a senior maid in name, she often times performed the duties assigned to common maids.
She just never refused, was always unflustered, quick with her hands and feet, and never participated in gossip. Most importantly, she never made a move towards the young master.
Gradually, the other three senior maids let down their guards towards her, and even turned a blind eye to her occasional slacking.
The lower maids also got to clearly see Xiao Hua’s behavior, and the mockery died down on the surface. They took her for a blockhead with no ambition, but refrained from finding trouble with her. They treated her as an invisible person, only a senior maid in name.
Xiao Hua was more than happy with the situation. Starting and finishing her shift on the dot, shirking her duties on occasion, her days passed by quite leisurely.
Today after her shift ended, Xiao Hua went to the kitchen again to chat with Grandma Wang.
One was an elderly person without much company and the other someone unwilling to provoke anything and disinclined to interact with people. They matched up quite well and got along quite happily.
Xiao Hua sat in her old spot and fished out a bundle of snacks from her bosom.
“Granny Wang, the old kitchen maid in the main kitchen gave this to me today. I brought some back especially for you to try.”
Being a senior maid came with benefits. Just wearing the uniform, let alone serving by the 4th young master’s side, was enough to cause the old ladies in the kitchen to eagerly suck up to her. Xiao Hua wasn’t a stickler for rules either, and if someone gave her treats she would accept. She would bring it back to eat herself, or share some with Grandma Wang.
“You lass, still thinking of me while eating cake. You know, my teeth aren’t as good anymore so I love eating soft things.” Grandma Wang’s face blossomed into a smile. She knew Xiao Hua’s character, but she also didn’t refuse.
Xia Hua opened the bundle, and both young and old began eating the cake.
“Xiao Hua, how were these past couple of days? The old ladies heard a lot of common maids chattering about the huge argument Bi Yuan and Cui Lan had. You weren’t swept into it, were you?”
Xiao Hua shook her head and craftily smiled.
“I saw things were heading south before they started and got out of there. I only returned after they were done.”
Grandma Wang was relieved and smilingly said: “You sneaky lass. That was definitely the right move. Those three were born into the household, and since you aren’t interested you might as well avoid getting mixed into it and stay further away.”
After getting to know Xiao Hua better, Grandma Wang also realized she had no interest in climbing the ranks. She was merely swept along by the waves due to her controversial position.
Grandma Wang had no children, and normally only had Xiao Hua to talk to. She started viewing her as her own granddaughter, thus unavoidably becoming concerned with her affairs. In the past Grandma Wang had always kept to herself and minded her own business, but now with Xiao Hua in her heart she naturally kept her ears open to current events.
With so many servants passing through the little wayside pavilion, gossip would inevitably spread. People were aware of Grandma Wang’s status as a loner who rarely interacted with others and weren’t as guarded around her, allowing her to pick up many rumors.
Grandma Wang laughed and chatted with Xiao Hua a little more before lowering her voice and whispering by her ear: “The 4th young master’s wife has broken several bowls now. It seems like she’s unable to hold in her anger any longer.”
Xiao Hua furtively squeezed Grandma Wang’s arm, indicating that she understood.
It was also around this time in her previous life that Qiao-Shi could no longer sit still. Whether the same events would come to pass in this life remained to be seen. But Xiao Hua reasoned that having remained low key and avoided offending anyone, there was no reason for her to be implicated in anything.
They talked a little more while eating their cakes with gusto. The maids passing by the small kitchen all looked upon the two with contempt.
Most of it was still directed at Xiao Hua. The whole Jinxiu Pavillion knew that she had no prospects, clinging onto her senior maid title while never performing her “proper duties”.
Strangest of all was what happened when numerous common maids tried to screw her over and went to snitch on her to the three other senior maids. Those three normally stuck their noses in everything, and took delight in exercising their authority as senior maids. Yet in this case, they ignored it and didn’t say a word. In fact, those who continued to insist were the ones who got scolded instead.
Afterwards, people finally understood. The three senior maids were competing fiercely with each other. Having the 4th senior maid spot occupied by someone who stayed out of the way was exactly what they wanted. If they took action and switched her out for someone else, wouldn’t they be increasing the number of competitors? They’d have to be idiots to do something like that.
People gradually stopped coming to provoke Xiao Hua, knowing she was under the three senior maids’ protection. Xiao Hua’s days became even more ideal, miles ahead of those days in her memory.
The days grew warmer as April arrived.
Everyone switched out their traditional light jackets for button ups. Flowers were in full bloom in Jinxiu Pavilion. The 4th young master loved flowers, so the pavilion was filled with them and tended daily by gardeners.
On this day, Xiao Hua was setting the table with two junior maids when a common maid announced the arrival of Chun Tao, the personal maid of the 4th young master’s wife. The 4th young master had just changed clothes and come out from the house. Although he resented Qiao-Shi in his heart, she had kept to herself these past few days and he did not want to embarrass her in front of the servants, and so allowed Chun Tao to enter.
Chun Tao walked in carrying a tray that held a small porcelain goblet.
“Young master, the madam said you must be tired from all the studying. She personally brewed a bowl of nourishing soup and bid this servant bring it to you.”
Chun Tao accompanied Qiao-Shi as her dowry. Her figure was small and round, with narrow eyes and a stubby nose. Qiao-Shi herself was not good looking, and the maids by her side were also nothing much to look at.
Xiao Hua was familiar with Chun Tao. In her previous life, Chun Tao had been a huge help to Qiao-Shi. Despite being mediocre in the looks department, she was quick with her hands and wit. She remained unwed after coming of age, and continued to serve wholeheartedly by Qiao-Shi’s side. At the time of Xiao Hua’s death, Chun Tao was the matron in charge of the Jinxiu Pavilion.
Was Qiao-Shi trying to gain his favor?
Recalling Qiao-Shi’s dumb-as-a-pig appearance, the 4th young master immediately lost his appetite.
Yet since her maid was already here, he couldn’t act too outrageously.
The 4th young master gestured for a maid to take the soup and allow Chun Tao to leave. Xiao Hua happened to be closest and received the goblet in her hands.
As she started to make room on the table, the 4th young master suddenly spoke: “I shall bestow this soup upon you.”
At this moment there were several maids, and it wasn’t clear who the young master was referring to. However, it was certainly impossible for it to be a junior maid, leaving the four senior maids as options.
Xiao Hua being one of them.
Xiao Hua moved swiftly without thinking, retreating after placing the goblet on the table.
Bi Yuan happened to be by her side and smoothly raised her hand in acknowledgement.
“Thank you for your grace, young master.” Her voice was graceful and intimate.
Cui Lan and Liu Ye were too far away, and could only curse their own inadequacy as they glared daggers at Bi Yuan.
In reality the 4th young master had watched Xiao Hua carry the bowl over, and conveniently decided to offer it to her. But seeing Xiao Hua place it down and Bi Yuan’s misunderstanding, he didn’t say anything to the contrary.
This life was different from the past. Xiao Hua did not know to show restraint previously, and used all sorts of means to serve the young master closely, often acting cleverly in front of him.
The 4th young master was truly fond of the sweet talking, clever and exquisite little maid, and when Qiao Shi offered the soup at that time, he had looked at Xiao Hua’s delicate and frail figure before offering it to her directly. This time, his wording was much more ambiguous.