Housekeeper of the Hundred Blossom Palace - Chapter 5
Yui Mei felt refreshed when she woke up on her wooden bed the next morning. She was grateful that she did not have any trouble falling asleep, even if her pillow and bed changed. Yui Mei headed to the dining hall to have her breakfast after tidying her bed and dressing up.
If yesterday’s agreement pushed through, she would be assigned to clean the interior of that residence for today. Interior cleaning was more labor intensive than normal, since she had to move the furniture aside on top of tidying up.
Yui Mei wolfed down her food. She had to eat as much as possible.
“Can you come with me for a second?”
It was the middle-aged woman they first saw yesterday.
Her name was Yang Yu Lin, and she was the overseer of the court ladies, and was in charge of guiding them.
Yui Mei knew she needed to reply, but her mouth was too full; she couldn’t even swallow.
“I’ll wait, so make sure you don’t choke.”
Aunty Yang looked exasperated.
Yui Mei was not a glutton; it was the food’s fault for being too delicious. She hastily chewed her food, and after gulping all of it, she asked anew.
“What might it be?”
“A Beauty made a request regarding the maiden who cleaned her residence yesterday. Lady Wang wanted her to continue again today.”
Yui Mei puckered her brows upon hearing the unfamiliar name. Aunty Yang made another disgusted face when she saw Yui Mei’s expression.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t know? Wasn’t it you who cleaned Lady Wang’s place yesterday?”
‘Oh, so she’s the owner of that residence!’
So she was a concubine with the status of a Beauty. It was the same as her mother, so Yui Mei’s feeling of kinship arbitrarily increased again.
“I was not informed beforehand, and I thought it would be rude to ask the person herself.”
“That girl, really…”
Aunty Yang’s expression turned grim after Yui Mei explained her situation yesterday.
Most likely, she never expected that the ‘supervisor’ woman would not explain anything.
Aunty Yang continued on. Apparently, Lady Wang was worried about Yui Mei’s response, so she negotiated with Aunty Yang directly.
“I also went there after hearing her story. You did well with just half a day’s work, and all by yourself, at that.”
“Cleaning is all about grasping the essentials and proper planning.”
It was important to follow the cleaning procedures carefully, and the scope must also be established properly. She managed somehow, because she clearly decided that she would only clean the exterior.
“…You know some big words, don’t you.”
Aunty Yang suspiciously stared at Yui Mei, and then she heaved a great sigh.
“You were the only one who worked that hard on her first day. The rest of the girls just listened to their supervisors; they did not even do any work.”
So it seemed that right from the beginning, there was no intention to let the girls, including Yui Mei, work on their first day. Everything was due to the reckless behavior of that supervisor.
“The truth is— I was hoping Mei would also work responsibly if she’s paired with a novice.”
The supervisor’s name was Li Mei, and it seemed that she was a slacker.
‘They already knew the circumstances. Why didn’t they assign that place to somebody else? The trash piled up, and that residence’s condition was terrible.’
It was not that heavy a load if the residence was regularly maintained, but it was neglected for too long, so it became troublesome to clean. They didn’t have to leave it in the hands of Mei; they could have deployed the other court ladies, instead. But since they did not do that, there must be a deeper reason behind it. This was the Inner Palace after all – it bore all the grudges of women within its walls.
“Anyway, I’ll leave the cleaning of Lady Wang’s residence to you.”
Aunty Yang placed a manju wrapped in cloth on the table top.
‘Hurray! It’s today’s treat!’
And so, Yui Mei gathered her cleaning tools after eating breakfast, and went back to the place she cleaned yesterday. Lady Wang and her maid were waiting for her.
“We will be going now, so please clean the residence while we are away,” the maid said.
“I understand. Is there anything I cannot touch?”
“……The vase and the mirror are gifts from the Emperor, so please take care in handling them.”
The maid paused for a while before replying to Yui Mei’s question. After seeing the two of them off, it was time to start cleaning. She wore her hood and mask just like yesterday.
“Please excuse me!”
There was no one inside, but Yui Mei still greeted in a loud voice as she opened the door.
‘Yeah, even the air feels dusty in here.’
Yui Mei opened the windows to improve air circulation. Even if the climate here was warmer than in the remote regions, the wind was still cold, so Lady Wang and her maid probably left the windows closed due to this reason. Regardless, as long as it was cleaned, then ventilation would improve, too.
— ‘Finally, they must have sent one of the cleaning staff.’
The maid said that, so the dust must have accumulated since they didn’t clean the residence themselves. If Lady Wang was indeed a former court lady, as Yui Mei had guessed, then she must have been frustrated at the dirty condition. It must have been faster if she did the cleaning herself, but since she became an esteemed person, she could no longer do as she pleased.
Menial jobs such as cleaning were the work of court ladies, so she would be mocked by the other concubines if word came out that she did her own cleaning. If that happened, then her status within the Inner Palace would plummet.
‘The Imperial wives sure got it hard.’
But it’s not the time to wallow in sentimentality right now.
After improving ventilation, Yui Mei removed the blankets on the wooden bed and brought them outside to be sunned. She hanged them on the sunniest part of the balustrades she had cleaned yesterday. She took the make-shift duster and vigorously beat the blankets with the bamboo end.
“Whoah, so dusty!”
A cloud of dust flurried around. No doubt about it; one won’t be able to stop sneezing if she were to sleep on them. Furthermore. it would be a total disaster if she had allergies.
After doing that, Yui Mei moved the various small items outdoors, and put it all together in one place. She removed the mirror and the vase, which were allegedly bestowed by the emperor, from the shelves. She put them in a place where she can keep an eye on them, just for safety. She secured them right from the beginning, in order to prevent their breakage.
After doing all these things, she did the same procedure as yesterday. She dusted the ceilings, swept the floor, and scoured and wiped everything as a finishing touch. She paid attention to places that were prone to dust accumulation. She thoroughly dusted and polished the small objects, vases, and mirrors, then returned them to their proper places.
She then took a break and ate the steamed bun she got from Aunty Yang. Thus, a whole day of cleaning passed, and she managed to finish everything before the sun set.
“Well, I did a great job, right?”
Yui Mei was praising her handiwork, when Lady Wang returned. Yui Mei took off her hood and mask, and bowed her head.
“How nice, everything has become so splendid. I can also breathe more easily.”
“Indeed, my lady.”
Lady Wang was moved to tears upon seeing the clean, dust-free residence, and the maid also rejoiced along with her.
“Pardon me, but are you afflicted by any kind of illness?”
Yui Mei was drawn to Lady Wang’s words, so she blurted out the question, even though she inwardly thought that she was being a busybody. Lady Wang answered her honestly.
“No, that is not the case. But it is true that I had been coughing a lot even in the past. There were severe instances when I did not stop coughing for a long time. However, it has been better now compared to when I was a child.”
‘Maybe Lady Wang has asthma?’
It should have been tough for her, living in such a dusty condition. Furthermore, her cough worsened when staying indoors, so she spent her whole day leisurely strolling, or resting in sunny places, from morning until sunset. The wind was still cold during this season, yet she was inflicting suffering on herself just to escape.
“I already cleaned the interior carefully, so please rest assured that your tussis will get better. Also, if possible, please boil some water indoors. The added humidity will help make this arid season bearable, and it will also help prevent colds.”
She wanted to give advice based on her experience as a nurse in her previous world, so she nosily said that, albeit unwittingly.
“Oh, is that so?”
“We received great information.”
Lady Wang’s eyes widened in surprise, while her lady-in-waiting nodded. The maid must be itching to prepare the hot water immediately.
“I am truly grateful for the cleaning work you have done. What is your name?”
“It is Yui Mei.”
Lady Wang asked her while giving her thanks, so Yui Mei introduced herself.
“Well, Yui Mei, here is your reward.”
Lady Wang passed some mushipan to her maid.
The castella-like aroma assailed Yui Mei’s senses, right before dinner time.
“Is it really fine for me to receive this?”
“Of course. Didn’t I tell you? It’s your reward.”
Cleaning was Yui Mei’s job, so there was no need to reward her. But she was a little bit happy that Lady Wang did not take her service for granted.
“Then, thank you for the food.”
Lady Wang smiled at Yui Mei, who can’t help but grin widely since she got some sweets.
“I am also happy that this place became beautiful once again,for a reason apart from my own satisfaction.”
Lady Wang continued her story as Yui Mei’s eyes twinkled in curiosity.
“A Beauty also resided in this place before me. I had the opportunity to ask the emperor before, and I was told that she was a very kind person.”
Yui Mei’s heart pounded.
It might be far-fetched, but she thought the Beauty that was mentioned might be her mother.
She was speaking in past tense, so that meant the person in question was no longer residing in the Inner Palace.
There were numerous Beauties, but only a handful of them were chased out.
Her mother stayed for only a short period of time as a Beauty, and she was driven out soon after, so it was probable.
In that case, then Yui Mei might have been born here.
Although this theory was to be taken with a grain of salt, Yui Mei could not dispel that nagging feeling of possibility.
‘So this means I’ve discovered my (provisionary) birth home.’
“Should you summon me, I will come again to clean.”
Yui Mei bowed and left.
T/N: Oh, curious coincidences 🙂
*Lady Wang was a concubine with Beauty status, with the original text written as 王(ワン)美人. Since it’s weird to say Beauty Wang or Wang Beauty, I used the Chinese counterpart – Mei Ren – for the title, and then Lady Wang for the rest of the chapter, for the sake of a smooth reading experience (but mainly because I’m too lazy to make an intricate set of numbered footnotes, so please pardon me 😀 )
Also, the steamed bun Aunty Yang gave was manju, while Lady Wang gave her a mushipan. Both of them are variations of steamed bread.
mushipan (Credits: https://www.tasteatlas.com/mushipan)
manju (Credits: https://www.justonecookbook.com/manju/)
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