Chapter 3 — Smallpox
All was quiet and still. Threads of light from the east side of the horizon strung together to illuminate the baby blue sky, indicating the arrival of a new day.
“Young Miss, Young Miss, wake up. Young Miss, I’m begging you, please wake up…”
Yuxi opened her eyes. Beside her was a woman who looked about the age of thirty. The woman’s combed-back bun served to accentuate her round face, and her clothes were in a shade of cyan. When the woman saw Yuxi’s eyes flutter open, she gave a shout of pleasant surprise, “Young Miss, you’re awake, you’re finally awake!”
Yuxi stared blankly at the woman standing before her. So Mama Fang1 was here to receive her? Good… If Mama Fang was here to receive her, then that meant she would be able to reunite with her mother soon. For the first time, she would be able to see her mother!
Mama Fang stroked Yuxi’s head and spoke happily, “Young Miss, your fever has gone down.” That indicated the passing of a dangerous juncture in the illness. Meanwhile, Yuxi wanted to ask where they were, but upon opening her mouth, she realized her throat was burning too intensely that she was rendered completely incapable of speaking.
Although Mama Fang noticed Yuxi’s stupefied look, she didn’t think too much of it. After all, the Young Miss had just woken up after being unconscious for several days, so feeling a bit befuddled was normal.
“Young Miss, are you hungry? I’ll go get you a bowl of congee.”
Yuxi nodded, and as soon as the congee was brought to her, she finished it off quickly and efficiently. Her throat felt a bit better, and she immediately called for another bowl. Since her journey to the refugee camp and the meager time she spent there, she had not eaten a single fulfilling meal.
Seeing Yuxi down a bowl of congee in the blink of an eye, Mama Fang couldn’t help but laugh. She was all the more happy to hear Yuxi ask for seconds, as a good appetite meant she was recuperating well.
Once the congee was done, Yuxi finally asked, “Mama, where am I?” Mama Fang stiffened for a brief moment before answering, “Young Miss, we are in the Bamboo Pavilion.” The vacant look on Yuxi’s face prompted her to explain, “Young Miss, although the location of the Bamboo Pavilion is a bit off, it is still within the House, so fear not, Young Miss.”
“The Bamboo Pavilion?” Yuxi murmured to herself. The name was a familiar one. Her reaction caused Mama Fang’s nose to scrunch up, “Young Miss, did you forget? You contacted smallpox, so the Head Madam moved you here. Don’t worry, Young Miss. Now that your fever has gone down, your illness will go away too, and we’ll be able to move back to the Rose Courtyard soon.”
Old Madam wanted Yuxi relocated to the village; thankfully, Head Madam had intervened.
Yuxi finally realized why the place seemed familiar. In the past, during the time she was down with smallpox, she had lived in the Bamboo Pavilion for over a month. Mama Fang, on the other hand, believed Yuxi was simply sad, so she comforted, “Young Miss, I know you’re sad, but right now, you must focus on getting well.”
An unintelligible sound slipped out from Yuxi’s lips as her brain short-circuited. Mama Fang continued, “Young Miss, you should rest a bit more. If you feel uncomfortable anywhere, just give a shout. I’ll be outside.” Yuxi nodded.
Rays of sunlight cascaded in through the window, casting a blanket of light on her body. After looking closely at her two shrunken hands, she muttered to herself, “I’ve been reborn?”
“Young Miss,” called Mama Fang just before a bowl of medicine appeared in front of Yuxi. “Come, drink the medicine, and you’ll get better.”
Normally, Mama Fang would’ve had to coax and trick her into drinking the medicine, but this time, Yuxi gulped down the bowl of medicine without so much a wrinkle between her brows.
The medicine contained sedative herbs, so she soon fell to its effects and remained asleep for an entire afternoon. Upon stirring, she gave herself a firm pinch, and the pain that followed confirmed: She had been reborn and sent back to her childhood years.
Another serving of millet congee was delivered to her, again, by Mama Fang. The sight of it suddenly reminded Yuxi of something.
Since the Bamboo Pavilion was situated in a remote corner of the House and she was suffering from smallpox, the food was prepared solely by Mama Fang.
The main kitchen would only send over one meal a day, and that was in the morning. One time, Mama Fang went to ask the kitchen about food, and the servants there accused her of trying to spread the smallpox disease.
If it weren’t the preparations she made beforehand, she would have been beaten to death already. Afterward, she was kicked out of the House. Because of this, Mama Fang became depressed and before long, she passed away.
Yuxi’s inquiry, “The kitchen hasn’t sent any food over in two days, right?” surprised Mama Fang. How come the Young Miss knew about this?
“Young Miss, the kitchen is probably busy. I’m sure they’re just late.”
Sure enough. Yuxi laughed coldly, “Mama, let’s use the food from the kitchen sparingly!” Her Great Aunt was the Head Madam, and with the Head Madam overseeing the kitchen, it didn’t make sense for the kitchen to slack. Something was fishy.
Ning Shi —Yuxi’s mother— once saved Second Young Master Han Jianye’s life. Head Madam Qiu Shi was someone who knew to distinguish kindness from enmity, so in response to Ningshi saving her son, Qiu Shi promised to take care of Yuxi.
In her previous life, Yuxi was able to grow up peacefully because Qiu Shi had watched over her. If it weren’t for Jiang Hongjin, Yuxi would’ve married the Third Young Master of the Qiu family; granted, her days wouldn’t have been ones of prosperity and riches, but at least they would be calm and happy.
A forced laugh spilled from Mama Fang’s lips, “Don’t worry, Young Miss. I will.” What worried her wasn’t the kitchen but rather the physician, whose arrival was long overdue.
Yuxi assumed Mama Fang wasn’t taking her words to heart, so she decided to directly speak her mind, “Mama, someone must’ve incited the kitchen to not send anything. You mustn’t fall for that person’s schemes. If you do, you won’t be able to stay by my side anymore,” at this moment, tears began to tumble down her cheeks, “Mama, my mother is gone, so I only have you left. If something happens to you, what will I do?”
Mama Fang wrapped Yuxi in a hug and cooed, “Don’t worry, Young Miss. I won’t leave. I’ll remain by Young Miss’s side, always.” Yuxi nodded and proceeded to ask, “The physician isn’t coming today?”
This was the year smallpox ravaged the capital. Quite a few people —especially children— were infected. Two young victims resided within the House: Her and third brother, Han Jianhui. They were half-siblings.
While the Old Madam had an imperial physician invited to treat Yuxi’s third brother, Yuxi herself only had a normal physician who was requested for by the Head Madam. Then, the Old Madam heard that the physician for Yuxi was quite skilled and called him away too; she didn’t care about Yuxi’s life or death at all.
Her Young Miss’s sudden acumen startled Mama Fang. Again, she said, “Don’t worry, Young Miss,” and reassured, “If the physician doesn’t arrive tonight, I’ll go beg the Head Madam,” but Yuxi shook her head.
“No, it’s fine. My fever has already gone down. Nothing will happen to me.” She managed to get through it in her past life, so this life shouldn’t be an exception.
Dinner consisted of more millet congee, which saddened Mama Fang. Her Young Miss needed nutrient-dense foods, but instead, she was stuck eating this kind of stuff.
“Young Miss, please make do with this!” Thankfully, the kitchen had left behind a bag of rice; otherwise, even millet congee would’ve been impossible.
“There’s no harm in having millet congee,” Yuxi responded with a gentle smile. Having access to millet congee was already a blessing in itself. She used to be so picky; now, she would never. Only those who experienced hunger and starvation would truly understand the happiness of having food.
After drinking the congee, she said, “You don’t need to worry, Mama. Great Aunt will know about this soon. We’ll receive the food tomorrow.” Impressively enough, the person working behind-the-scenes had been able to conceal their deeds for two days. If it weren’t for the disorderly state the House was currently in, that person would’ve been found out sooner.
Afraid she would accidentally rouse Yuxi’s suspicions, Mama Fang parted her lips and spoke vaguely, “Mhm. The kitchen servants will definitely come tomorrow,” while hoping the physician would arrive too.
For the past few days, Head Madam Qiu Shi had been swathed with work, while at home, two children were down with smallpox. On top of that, she still had to wait upon the Old Madam, so Qiu Shi was truly exhausted.
When Qiu Shi’s peifang2 Mama Wang, noticed the unpleasant expression on Qiu Shi’s face, she asked, “Madam, what’s wrong? Is Third Young Master unwell?”
Qiu Shi replied with a question of her own, “I told you to go out and invite a physician. How come I haven’t heard anything about that?” The Old Madam had really been unabashed in calling Physician Bai away despite knowing Yuxi was —at the time— in a comatose state.
Mama Wang shook her head, saying, “Madam, you know how chaotic it is outside right now. Finding a physician is not easy!” They didn’t want any barefoot physicians3 either. Qiu Shi’s expression sunk.
“Then… that child’s chances are slim?” On the Third Young Master’s side, even having an imperial physician tending to him wasn’t enough to wake him from his coma; it was unlikely Yuxi would survive. Mama Wang hurriedly comforted, “Madam, you’ve already done all you could.”
The Old Madam meant to send the Fourth Miss out of the House, but Qiu Shi had intervened and even went to great lengths for the sake of inviting the famed Physician Bai. Without Qiu Shi, Yuxi would’ve long since perished.
The expression on Qiu Shi’s face was a heavy one. She’d promised Ning Shi she would raise and take good care of Yuxi, but now she would have to go back on her word.
Right at that moment, a maidservant named Liu Yue came in to report, “Madam, it’s been two days, and the main kitchen hasn’t sent anything to the Bamboo Pavilion.”
Those words added to Qiu Shi’s ire, and she slammed a fist onto her table as she flared with anger, “Who is so audacious to dare take the Fourth Miss’s food?” She didn’t think someone would actually take advantage of the two days she was busy.
“This servant questioned the old maidservant in charge of delivering the food. She said that since the Fourth Miss has been unconscious for three days, bringing food to her would be a waste, so she slacked,” was the muted reply.
Of course, Qiu Shi didn’t believe that. “Tie that old servant up and interrogate her.” From the side, Mama Wang hurriedly advised, “Madam, there are too many things going on the House right now. If the Old Madam hears about this, she won’t be happy. Madam, making a fuss over this matter is not appropriate.”
The lady in charge of the main kitchen happened to be the Old Madam’s peifang, who was someone even Qiu Shi had to respect. After a moment of contemplation, Qiu Shi asked, “Why is it that this matter was discovered only now?”
Two days; it had hidden from her for an entire two days. What did that mean? It meant someone was able to effortlessly deceive her. This time, it was about Yuxi. Then what would happen next time? Having thought to this point, Qiu Shi decided she would not let the matter go so easily.
“It was due to this old servant’s dereliction of duty,” Mama Wang admitted. She never took Yuxi seriously, making it easy for another to find loopholes. Although Mama Wang was Qiu Shi’s peifeng, Mama Wang wasn’t her most trusted confidant. Mama Li was. Alas, a few days ago, Mama Li burned with a fever and then caught a cold, so she was allowed back to the Li family to rest. Such a mistake wouldn’t have happened if Mama Li was present.
Rising to her feet, Qiu Shi said, “We’re going to the Bamboo Pavilion.”