The Ningxiang Chambers also had its allowance reduced. However, Yan Yan had been low-key recently and hearing Matron Zhou say that the reduction was applied everywhere, she didn’t say anything about it. If she needed something and the estate wasn’t willing to provide it, she used her own money to buy it.
Yan Yan had been pampered from birth, and her storage was rather substantial. The Zhenguo Duke Estate also sent over the ingredients for the small kitchen and Ah Mo’s medicine, so the Ningxiang Chambers didn’t have too many expenses.
Therefore, while complaints abounded outside, the people in the Ningxiang Chambers still passed their days as before, as though nothing had changed.
The weather started turning cold in the blink of an eye. The sky was covered in grey and dead leaves fell one after the other. The sweeper maids in the estate had to sweep several times every day to keep the roads clean.
At this time, Concubine Pei’s headache grew.
Since the cold was coming, they needed to prepare things for the winter. The estate’s convention was to give out four sets of clothing every year. The winter clothes were thicker, so they naturally weren’t cheap. Furthermore, the estate used ten thousand catties of coal for warmth every winter. This was also a large expense.
The servants could do without new winter clothing since they could wear their old ones, but charcoal couldn’t be lacking. They couldn’t have the masters and servants all freezing when the snow started falling. Therefore, charcoal was something that they should have started preparing in the summer. It became more expensive as the weather grew colder. Purchasing it now was already a little late.
Concubine Pei gave the orders to first buy five thousand catties of charcoal. The granny responsible for making winter clothes for the servants was still waiting outside. Concubine Pei had Xiang Liu send her away.
That granny’s expression didn’t look too good prior to leaving. She had already made two trips, but had never been given permission to start. Could it truly be as others were saying, that Concubine Pei was cutting costs and keeping silver for herself?
All sorts of discussions and rumors were spreading around the estate recently. Concubine Pei had heard about it as well, but they continued to spread despite her efforts.
Once one thing was dealt with, another would spring up.
Everyone had their biases. Concubine Pei wanting the role of household manager wasn’t just for the status. It was also for the convenience.
Concubine Pei could treat everyone strictly, but it wasn’t possible for her to treat her own children this way. Yan Qian and Yan Hong were both spoiled since birth. Therefore, while the other misses and young masters had to fuss with their own moms for a bowl of swallow’s nest or a piece of clothing, Yan Qian and Yan Hong didn’t have these worries.
This day, Yan Ru took Yan Ling over to chat with Yan Qian. The three of them usually played together.
Yan Qian and Yan Ru sat together picking out knitting patterns while Yan Ling accommodated them on the side.
At this time, a little lass carried a gold outlined engraved saucer with a small porcelain bowl on top of it over.
“Miss, hurry and eat or it’ll get cold.”
That little lass placed the bowl on the black lacquered sculpted rosewood table, and placed a soup spoon in the bowl.
Yan Qian’s eyes flashed with annoyance. She told Yan Ru to carry on picking without her and got off the kiln. Yan Ru nodded and continued looking at the book of patterns, but her nose twitched.
On the other side, Yan Qian received the bowl from the little lass and ate a couple of bites before pushing it aside. She returned to the kiln.
Yan Ling who was sitting on the kiln looked over and said in praise: “Second big sis is really wasteful. That swallow’s nest is the highest quality, right? Look at that clear and glutinous soup. Why did you push it aside after a bite?”
Yan Qian gave Yan Ling a glance. She knew that this fourth little sis was often scolded by her principal mother, and had never taken her seriously.
“If fourth sis is hungry, then you can help big sis eat that bowl of swallow’s nest. I ate too much for lunch, and can’t eat anymore at the moment.”
Yan Ling’s eyes flashed as she smiled innocently: “Little sis isn’t hungry. I just felt second sis is a little wasteful.” She acted nonchalant as she gave Yan Qian a glance, saying: “Second sis’s concubine mother manages the household, so she’s naturally different from us sisters. Second sis is wearing new clothing, right? How beautiful!”
Yan Ru’s expression had long since turned ugly. Now, her gaze towards Yan Qian was faintly resentful.
The eldest branch had long since stopped getting any nourishments like swallow’s nests. Even when they ordered normal dishes, the kitchen would make all sorts of excuses. Towards Yan Qian’s appearance, which showed complete disregard towards this bowl of swallow’s nest, Yan Ru was already burning with anger.
Then, she looked at Yan Qian’s clothes: a pink jacket with red cherries and a pale blue patterned skirt. There was a pair of jade bracelets on her wrists. Their color was extremely good, and they were clearly precious objects. The clothes were also brand new, clearly newly made and never washed before.
She then looked at herself. It had been two months since Yan Ru had new clothes, especially since expenses were being cut recently. Xue-shi who had always spoiled her had started putting restrictions on her. She no longer made new clothing for her according to her whims, and had her randomly wear old clothes.
Yan Ru wore a jacket embroidered with orchid grass that looked half-worn from washing. Her skirt was also old. There was no need to mention Yan Ling, who always got her older sister’s hand-me-downs.
Yan Qian hadn’t noticed Yan Ru’s expression yet. She gave a disdainful glance at Yan Ling. What a frog in the well!
“It’s newly made. This pattern was made by my personal maid with a lot of effort. Does it look good?”
“It looks really good.” Yan Ling’s eyes revealed some envy.
Yan Ling’s worship made Yan Qian feel very comfortable. “After I wash it a couple of times and no longer want to wear it, I’ll give it to you….”
Yan Ru suddenly flung the book of patterns down and sneered coldly. “We’re all sisters here. Second sis, you don’t have to shame others so, right?!”
Yan Qian froze, and then responded. “Me giving fourth little sis clothing is shaming her? Then why don’t you say anything when fourth sis gets your old clothing every day?!”
Yan Ru flushed and denounced loudly: “Aren’t you shaming others? You offer Yan Ling your leftover food, as though you’re so well off? No matter how you put it, you’re just a concubine’s daughter. Did you really think you were a phoenix? If you’re so capable, why don’t you go put on airs in front of third little sis? She’s your second branch’s true-blooded daughter. What do you even count as?”
Yan Ru and Yan Qian’s relationship wasn’t actually that good. It was just that the second branch’s Yan Yan was proud, and never played with them. The third branch’s two misses were too young, so only Yan Qian was left for her to play with. Putting Yan Ling aside, Yan Ru and Yan Qian were only one year apart. One was the principal daughter of the concubine born eldest branch. The other was a concubine’s daughter from the second branch. Their statuses were about the same, but Yan Ru always referred to herself as a principal daughter while Yan Qian was concubine born.
But the concubine’s daughter Yan Qian ate and dressed the same as her, and even had it better. The two of them were still young, and liked comparing themselves against each other. If one had a new skirt today, the other wanted a new jacket the next. Xue-shi always spoiled Yan Ru, which resulted in the eldest branch’s lack of funds. Even Xue-shi didn’t wear new clothing, but Yan Ru was never lacking.
Yan Ru had always been haughty. How could she endure the comparison at this time?
Yan Qian also got angry. “Big sis, what are you talking about? Didn’t I offer the leftover food because I saw she was eyeing it covetously?”
Yan Ling interrupted in grievance on the side: “I wasn’t eyeing it. I just felt second sis was wasteful. Our eldest branch’s swallow’s nest and other luxuries have long since been cut off. I just felt it was a pity.”
The little lass saw the eldest miss arguing with her own miss so she definitely had to speak up for her. “What’s so rare about these things? Our miss has never been lacking, and is already tired of eating them.”
Yan Qian looked pleased. “Exactly. Just because your eldest branch is poor, don’t assume everyone else is the same!”
These words truly enraged Yan Ru. She glared harshly at Yan Qian before turning her head and walking way. Yan Ling also didn’t delay and followed behind her with her head lowered.
Yan Qian sneered disdainfully. “Comparing yourself to me!?”
Yan Ru returned angrily to the Yusheng Pavilion. She started crying the moment she entered her room.
Xue-shi had two sons and only this one daughter. She naturally cherished her. Yan Ling shrunk her neck and didn’t dare utter a sound. Yan Ru merely cried without speaking.
Xue-shi could only look sharply at Yan Ling and ask her what was going on.
Yan Ling spoke more or less truthfully. She didn’t hide her envy towards Yan Qian. She was still young, it wasn’t a big deal for her to be jealous of her extravagant older sister. Normally, Xue-shi would naturally feel she was stirring things up, but this time Yan Qian’s actions had not just infuriated Yan Ru. Even Xue-shi felt angered, especially since Yan Qian said their eldest branch was poor.
This was no longer an individual matter. Yan Qian wasn’t just calling Yan Ling poor, but also Yan Ru, and their entire eldest branch. Xue-shi was normally an extremely slippery character. Could she still endure it this time?
“Mom, they’re truly bullying others too much. Even if dad is concubine born, he’s still grandmother’s son. What does Yan Qian count for? Just a concubine’s daughter. Everyone is living frugally while she’s living large. Based on her concubine mother’s status as household manager, she gets to wear new jewelry and clothing. Everyone’s swallow’s nest had been cut off, while she’s doing fine, and is even tired of it. What did that little lass say? Our miss has never been lacking, and is tired of eating them! Isn’t this just bullying others!?” Yan Ru cried and complained.
Xue-shi’s expression was ugly.
In the past, she naturally wouldn’t have gone to provoke Concubine Pei. Concubine Pei was the old madam’s niece after all. But now that they openly slapped the eldest branch’s face and Concubine Pei’s restrictions had truly angered the masses….
She muttered to herself for a while and said: “Ru’er, don’t cry. I’ll go find your third aunt.”
Xue-shi went out. Yan Ru continued to sob. Yan Ling stood on one side, a hint of Schadenfreude in her eyes.
Whether expenses were cut or not, it wouldn’t affect her. If they were happy to argue, then she would happily watch the show.
“What do you think is going on, third sis-in-law…..”
Within the third branch’s Songbai1 Pavilion, Xue-shi sat on the red painted golden chair embroidered with the fortune character. She sat across from third madam Chen-shi and complained.
“That Concubine Pei said mom has ordered the estate’s expenses to be cut, so we didn’t say anything. It’s fine if our days are a little harder. But now I’m wondering if she’s telling lies while benefitting herself. After so many years, I can also tell this Concubine Pei isn’t easy to deal with….”
Chen-shi looked hesitant. “She wouldn’t be so daring, right?”
Actually Chen-shi had also heard such rumors, but she ignored them since she never liked to cause problems.
“But think about it. Mom never said anything about this whenever we go pay respects at the Rongan Hall. It’s just her doing her own thing. She’s managed the household for so many years, and everything is managed by her. Who knows if she was the one who ordered it?”
“We’re living frugally while they eat fresh. Such a good thing like swallow’s nest was actually tossed aside after a few bites….you don’t know how that child Ru’er came back angered to tears. It’s fine if our eldest branch suffers, but the children are our lifeblood. As a mom, my heart also aches….”
Chen-shi recalled how the sixth miss wanted to eat crab-roe buns a few days ago but the kitchen refused to make it. They even mocked her secretly, saying “Still wanting to eat crab-roe buns? You really know to enjoy yourself”. She herself had the habit of eating a bowl of high-quality swallow’s nest daily, but that was also discontinued….
Xue-shi wiped her eyes and said stiffly: “I only came to you because I have no one to tell. This time I truly can’t endure anymore. I’m going to ask mom why we have to live frugally while Concubine Pei’s daughter eats extravagantly. And she still ridiculed others to boot!”
She stood up and was about to walk out before stopping and asking. “Third sis-in-law, do you want to come with?”
She seemed to be casually asking.
The usually well-behaved Chen-shi stood up. “I’ll go take a look with eldest sis-in-law.”
It’s fine as long as you come, Xue-shi secretly thought.
Xue-shi is quite impressive when she makes a move, right? In the past she didn’t struggle firstly because she lacked people on her side and secondly her benefits weren’t being infringed upon. First we’ll put the pressure on Concubine Pei. Of course, this matter definitely wouldn’t be so simple.
This is grandma’s error for trying to save face at the expense of family unity. If things are bad, the family needs to know. To survive a tough time they need unity. What’s more, more heads thinking up solutions is obviously better.
I guess it’s no surprise this family is chronically short sighted in areas that matter 😤