After she finished the commission, she would have perfectly enough taels to attempt to end the marriage. Although things started off rocky, she was finally getting a grip on this world and had an idea of what to do. Everything was going to work out.
As Yujia layered the finished pencils on top of each other, she made sure to carve little letters in the side of the pencil, raging from "9H" to "F" to "6B". This was the graphite grading scale she was used to in the modern world, and even though the letters and numbers would look like nonsense to everyone else since they were words that didn't exist in this time period, they would make it easier for her to organize and use the pencils.
Within only a few more moments, Yujia was finished with organizing the pencils. Evening was close, but not yet there, so she didn't know what she was to do.
Looking over to Hui'er standing at the side, a sudden idea sparked into her head.
"Hui'er!" She called over, gesturing at a stool next to her. "Come. Sit down."
Her maid seemed wary, but she listened and sat down, asking, "For what reason, miss?"
Yujia picked up a pencil labeled with "4H", then grabbed a piece of loose paper from the shelf and helped herself to a seat a few spaces apart. "I need to practice my portraits."
She hadn't drawn portraits in a while. The last time she did a live portrait was in college, where they would practice with live models every day. Yujia was confident that she would be able to draw a decent one, but she first wanted to make sure that her skills hadn't rusted over the years.
"You're going to… draw me?" Hui'er raised her eyebrows and pointed at herself.
"Why not? Unless you want me to call over Madam Zhang?"
A slight giggle escaped from Hui'er while she imagined the horror that would be displayed on Madam Zhang's face if the Fourth Miss asked to draw her. "No, no. She would be terrified." Hui'er straightened herself. "How long will this take?"
"Not long." Yujia paused a bit, trying to recall her previous experiences. "It should only take two or so hours. No longer than three. And you can move a little too, so you don't have to be stuck in stone for so long."
Hui'er nodded a little, showing that she understood.
With the confirmation, Yujia tilted her paper forward a little and began to sketch, beginning to illustrate the outline of the soft feature of the other girl's face.
Things were going pretty well, as Yujia continued on, lost in the rhythmic movements of drawing.
Or— things were going pretty well until Yujia looked up at Hui'er's face for another time and noticed that the nose that she drew for Hui'er wasn't quite as sharp or high up as she thought it would be. The closer she looked, the more she realized that the nose she was drawing and shading in was too high in comparison to the rest of her features, destroying the accuracy of the portrait.
Yujia's lips flattened into a thin line when she realized the next problem.
She didn't have an eraser.
How did she forget about that?
It should've been common sense for her to know that if she wanted to draw with pencils, then an eraser was also just as necessary. Sketching was not the same as painting. She couldn't just use water and wipe her mistakes away.
Rubber didn't exist in this time period, did it? But then… how was she supposed to erase her mistakes?
Exhaling deeply, Yujia set the pencil in her hand down and looked at Hui'er, shaking her head.
"We'll have to stop here for now."
Hui'er tilted her head. "Why?"
"I made a mistake," Yujia clenched her fingers into her palm, then relaxed them as she explained, "and I suppose I'll have to make a new invention."
It took at least an hour of experimenting with all sorts of different materials until Yujia found something that worked fairly well as an eraser.
A chunk of steamed white bread.
The fact that bread acted as an eraser substitute was insane to Yujia. She tried everything— paper, fabrics, leaves, brush hairs, rice, gritty sand— testing all of the materials out on scrap pieces of paper, and steamed bread was the last thing that she thought would work.
Yet still, the pencil marks transferred off considerably well onto the round steamed bread, leaving Yujia to be in a state of complete shock.
Yujia gripped the chunk of steamed bread in her hand and moved onto the final test, the actual portrait of Hui'er. She tore off a thin layer and rubbed it against the nose of the portrait, watching with amazement as the bread actually took off most of the graphite marks.
A smile slowly spread across her face and she gestured at Hui'er, who was watching with just as much astonishment from the side. Hui'er brought her the steamed bread from the kitchens out of pure random choice, so it was all bewildering on how accidental discoveries worked so well.
Clapping with delight, Yujia asked, "Hui'er, quick, can you get me a whole bowl of this?"
With a terse nod, Hui'er turned and exited the room, leaving Yujia alone to marvel in her own breakthrough.
Steamed bread. One of the cheapest, most common foods in this world.
Who knew that it would work so well as an eraser?
When Hui'er entered the kitchens, there were many servants bustling around, getting the dinner for the household ready. Today, bean sprouts, thin-sliced lotus roots, and fish soup seemed to be on the menu while separately, for the Fourth Miss, a plate of bok choy was prepared as usual.
Hui'er navigated through the kitchen, heading in towards the very back where racks of white bread would be steamed for the servants and their meals. Other households may have been able to afford to give their servants more variety, but in the Yang Household, with the exception of personal servants like Hui'er, all servants had to eat were the steamed bread and any leftovers from the family's meal.
There were always more than enough portions of steamed bread though, so Hui'er didn't think that anyone would miss any if she took a few extra.
As Hui'er reached forward, taking a piece of soft steamed bread in her hands and placing it in a shallow but wide wooden bowl, she felt someone tap on her shoulder. Without much surprise, Hui'er turned around and saw the beaming face of a maid who was quite close with her, Manyu.
Manyu and her were always quite close from the first time that Hui'er entered the Yang Household, both of them finding with interest that their names shared the "Yu" character that stood for jade. And although they had grown slightly distant due to the fact that Hui'er was chosen as a personal maid while Manyu wasn't, the two still had a decent relationship.
"What is it, Manyu?" Hui'er smiled a bit and continued to take another steamed bread to put in the bowl.
Manyu kept her hands held behind her back while she arched her neck to look at what Hui'er was doing. "What's that for? I don't think you can eat that much steamed bread, can you?"
"The Fourth Miss asked for it," replied Hui'er, taking one last piece and setting the bowl she carried on the counter. "Do you need anything?"
"Oh!" With a bright grin, Manyu took her hand out from behind her back, showing that she was carrying a familiar dark blue plate with one red bean cake resting on the top. "I don't know what occasion it is, but Lingsu— you know, the First Miss's maid— dropped this off at the kitchen this morning. I remember you liking to eat these, didn't you? So I saved you one. It was such a struggle as well! You should've seen how many servants fought to steal one, since there were only six!"
The smile on Hui'er's lips dropped, her eyes focusing on the single red bean cake. The plate and cake both looked familiar, and she knew exactly the reason why.
They were the cakes that the Fourth Miss spent the previous night working on just to perfect, the cakes that the First Miss were supposed to accept and enjoy.
So, was that what the First Miss did with them? Not even taking a single bite of it and throwing it to the servants?
Hui'er stared at the bean cake on the plate, recalling all the effort the Fourth Miss put into making each one of them. Yet, look at where they were now. Given to the servants without a single blink from the First Miss. It would've been no different than throwing them away.
Why did the First Miss do this? In Hui'er's memories, back in the past, she knew that the First Miss enjoyed the cakes. She used to have Hui'er make a plate of them every day.
Could it be that her taste buds changed? Or…
It was Hui'er's fault, wasn't it?
If she wasn't the one who delivered the cakes, then it would've been likely that the First Miss would accept it and form a positive relationship with the Fourth Miss. But simply because of Hui'er's presence, all of the Fourth Miss's work was tossed away.
All of the things that happened between Hui'er and the First Miss were already memories of the past. They were actions that happened four years ago. The First Miss should've let go of it already by now.
But she didn't, and that made all the difference.
Manyu looked with a little worry in her gaze upon seeing Hui'er stare at the red bean cake so intently. She nudged the plate a little closer to Hui'er. "Are you not going to eat it?"
Hui'er snapped her head up, coming out of her thoughts. She put on a smile again and shook her head, pushing the plate back to Manyu. "You can have it. My stomach isn't feeling very good today, so I don't have any appetite to eat anything."
"Alright." Manyu continued looking at Hui'er with worry. "If there's any fish soup left, I'll have someone send it over to you to help you with your stomach. Everyone's getting sick these days, and fish soup will help your health."
"Thank you." Hui'er shifted her face away, hastily replying.
She picked up the bowl of steamed bread and nodded at Manyu, then turned herself and left through the back doors of the kitchen, thoughts racing through her head once more.
Was this something that she should tell the Fourth Miss? The girl deserved to know, didn't she? Except, at the same time, Hui'er was a little worried that the Fourth Miss might be upset upon finding out, and she didn't want that…
Hui'er would make the decision to tell her or not when the time came.
Back in her room, Yujia couldn't hold back the beaming smile on her face while she organized the pencils he had made in a neat box. She was absolutely exhilarated.