C28 – What a Sin!
When the old mistress came, Mrs. Xue was instructing the steward to carry out the family rules, hitting thirty big boards each. Dozens of strong and robust attendant pulled up his wife who was kneeling on the floor and pressed her down on the bench.
“Madam… Your servant also loves her very much…”
As the commotion engulfed the courtyard, the elderly mistress, leaning on her walking stick with the assistance of two maids, entered the scene and questioned, “What’s all this commotion about?”
In that instant, Zi Zhu’s mother and the other wives reacted as if they had encountered a savior, uttering “madame” with immense distress.
Mrs. Xue wore a stern expression, yet she refrained from holding Qiao Qiao’s hand. Instead, she forced a smile and hastened to the mistress, greeting her, “Mother, how did you manage to come out in the middle of the night? What if the cold wind blows? Which wretched servant dared to disturb you at this hour? She needs to be exposed and punished.”
The elderly mistress retorted impatiently, “Why are you all sleeping in this noisy backyard?”
The corner of Mrs. Xue’s mouth twitched as she silently thought, “Even if you set off fireworks in your Buddhist temple or the Wu Heng Academy, the noise wouldn’t reach here. Who do you think you’re fooling?”
She gently wiped her lips with a handkerchief and offered her arm to support the old lady. “Mother, these wives have caused a bit of trouble. My wife is dealing with it. Why don’t you return inside for now?”
The mistress waved her hand away and settled into the solitary chair in the courtyard. “Who says what happened? Even though I’m no longer interested in such matters, I can’t just sit idly by while the household descends into chaos!”
A hush fell over the crowd, and the servant girls discreetly cast sidelong glances at Mrs. Xue. After all, everyone was well aware of who held the real authority, and the consequences of aligning with the wrong side had been made abundantly clear.
The elderly mistress rapped her cane on the ground a few times. “What’s this? You were all shouting so loudly earlier, and now you’re mute? Mrs. Wu, you explain!”
Zi Zhu’s mother, mentally prepared for this moment, knelt on the ground with teary eyes and recounted the entire story. She only touched upon the circumstances of Zi Zhu’s demise, as the mistress had a keen understanding of the world.
The elderly mistress was taken aback and filled with astonishment. She turned to Mrs. Xue and inquired loudly, “Is this accurate?” “Shao Yue, he…”
“Mother!” With reluctance in her heart, Mrs. Xue approached and knelt down, willingly taking responsibility. “It’s my negligence in disciplining my daughter-in-law!”
“What a grave mistake!” “Mistake…” The elderly mistress shut her eyes, and her once-straight posture slumped. She then instructed the steward with frailty, “Summon the master!”
“Mother…” Mrs. Xue wished to intercede but recognized the significance of the matter. Zuo Shaoyan had been a bit severe with the servants, and if not addressed promptly, it might become a blemish on his character.
“Shut up! A loving mother might have her share of wayward children! Shao Ling’s confusion can be forgiven, but Shao Xi is the eldest son and the future heir of the Zuo family. Certain undesirable traits must be corrected without delay! Must we wait until a major incident occurs before taking action?”
She paused briefly before adding wearily, “Forget it, take this nephew to kneel before our ancestors. Tomorrow, bring him to the Buddhist hall to join this old lady in paying respects to the Buddha. Find peace in your hearts.”
Mrs. Xue couldn’t bear to see her beloved son endure such hardship and countered immediately, “Mother, Shao Yue still holds the position of Registrar Official. He must continue his studies and responsibilities daily…”
The elderly mistress cut her off, stating, “The Qi family governs the world, and cultivation takes precedence. This is the decision. When did he decide to venture out again?”
Throughout her life, the elderly mistress had placed the utmost emphasis on rules and decorum, caring deeply about the reputation of the Zuo Mansion. Were it not for her advanced age and frailty, she would have personally overseen the upbringing of every child in her family.
“And all of you…” The elderly lady rose and surveyed the kneeling wives. “I acknowledge that I have treated you well within the Zuo family, but you seem to care only for your own interests, neglecting the Zuo family’s reputation and honor. Forget the thirty strokes; consider it a way to accumulate merit for your master by kneeling here!”