She wasn't sure if she was supposed to trust that what Yang Qingxia said was accurate, except at the same time, Hui'er— or if she should say now, Huiyu— didn't particularly object either. It was almost surreal to hear the story. Yujia didn't think that something like this would ever occur in real life. It seemed like a complex plan of sabotaging that only happened in novels and movies.
Yet here she was now, running back to her own courtyard, attempting to drown out her own mess of thoughts with her heartbeat.
Yujia never thought that Hui'er would be someone like the person that Yang Qingxia described. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she found out that all she knew about the maid she trusted so easily were superficial qualities.
She knew that Hui'er was kind. Hui'er was obedient. Hui'er was understanding.
Li Huiyu, on the other hand, was someone that Yang Qingxia described as a betrayer, a murderer. Huiyu was calculating. Huiyu was cruel.
Who was the girl that Yujia knew— Hui'er or Huiyu?
To think that Yujia trusted the girl so easily upon first meeting her was almost terrifying to her. Transmigrating wasn't as carefree, relaxed, and thoughtless as she thought it would be. This was a world as real as the world that she used to be in. She couldn't just treat everyone and the people around it as a game, doing things as recklessly as she used to.
She wasn't quite sure how she was supposed to act anymore. She wasn't sure who she was supposed to trust anymore.
Though— what made her trust Yang Qingxia's words more than Hui'er's?
Yujia's footsteps ceased. She slowed down to a complete pause, slowly turning around to face the girl who was chasing after her, Li Huiyu. Hui'er.
"Miss—" Hui'er looked at Yujia in the eyes. "I—"
Her voice caught midway. Yujia stared back at her, straightening herself. She knew what she should say. She knew what she should do.
"I'll give you one chance," Yujia cut in. Her voice came out as a whisper, softer than she expected. "Explain yourself, and I will listen."
Hui'er took in a breath of air and swallowed. She nodded, and then, with both of them standing in the middle of the villa, she began her story.
Years back, there was a young girl who lived with her family in Hangzhou. She had a mother, a father, and a baby brother. They were a good family. Her father was a small government official serving the province, and she grew up without any worries. People looked at the family and saw an ideal, perfect picture.
However, these people did not look beneath the surface.
Her father was a gambler. He gambled during his spare time in all sorts of illegal settlements, gambling away the little fortune he owned. Because of his spending habits, the family eventually soon fell into deep, deep debt.
The head of the province found out about her father's addiction to gambling. Government officials were not supposed to gamble. And thus, at the same time of bringing debt into the family, her father lost his job as well.
Yet still, his gambling addiction continued.
He believed that if perhaps, he just played one more game, he might win a larger fortune for his family. He began to sell everything within the villa he lived in, from the family antiques to servants within. As time went on, his luck did not improve, forcing him to sell the villa itself. His family moved into a small straw hut, and although he promised them that he would win soon, he never did.
On one sleepless night, he looked towards his sleeping daughter and an idea came to mind.
Daughters were not worth much. They could not carry on his descendants or earn much with their work. He could not gain a good bridal price by selling her. She was still too young, and besides, with the current state of their family, who would want to marry her?
Although she was his daughter, for now, she was useless.
Now, if he sold her for money… wouldn't that make the situation different? Wouldn't that give her a purpose?
She had a fairly pretty face too. If he found the right person, bargained a bit, he could sell her for a different price. And this didn't have to be a permanent arrangement either. As soon as he won a game— which he knew he had to— he could buy her right back. It wouldn't hurt.
So, the next morning, against the pleas of her mother, he grabbed her by the hand and sold her. With the new silver in his hand, he went to the nearest gambling house and played with luck again, losing as usual.
The girl, his daughter, the one without a family anymore, was terrified. She was young. She didn't know where she was, why she was where she was, and who the people around her were. There was a sour-faced woman who watched over her and a few other girls who were stuck in a dimly lit room, and soon after that, during one sunny day, a buyer entered the room and bought her.
She was another woman with a pinched mouth, bringing her and another girl into an unknown courtyard and telling them that this was their new household. She would have to work there as a servant, sweeping floors and clearing chamber pots, doing the toughest work of all.
The girl was not adjusted to any of this. She was the young miss of a bigger, better household, yet now, she was reduced to the state of a mere maidservant.
This could not be, though at the same time, it was exactly how it was. It was reality.
The girl learned quickly, keeping low and not drawing attention to herself. While she swept the floors, she observed the exits and entrances. While she cleared the chamber pots, she observed the dark alleys and streets.
On one night, when the rest of the household slept in their beds, the girl crept out under the light of the crescent moon, running out of the villa.
She ran and ran, looking for the direction of her home, the straw hut that they once lived in. She was lucky that the buyer lived in the same area. It wouldn't take long to find her home, and once she was reunited with her family, she would not have to worry about being a maid anymore.
Fate was a funny thing though.
Despite all her hard work, fate decided that this was not to be. When she arrived at the front of her home, or what was left of her home, all she saw were burnt ashes. The girl would not have even recognized her home if it weren't for the large, barren tree at the front of the yard, blackened by the ashes with a few broken strings hanging down from the thickest branch.
This was the tree that she used to swing on with her mother pushing her from behind.
Tears rose up within her eyes. A lonely watchman carrying a yellow lantern by a stick passed by her, and upon seeing her, he stopped. He asked her what she was doing this late in the night. She did not answer, but with a shaking voice, she asked him what happened to the straw hut that was there.
The watchman told her that just two days ago, a fire caught on from inside the house, most likely because of a knocked over candle out of carelessness. The straw hut caught on fire quickly because of the dry material, and the entire house burnt down within the blink of an eye before anyone could think to do anything. When those living around them put out the fire, all they saw were ashes, without the hint of a single person.
They suspected that the family, from seeing the house burn down, were quick enough to escape. They did not leave any last messages with their neighbors and simply left the area, perhaps moving to another town to seek their luck for a new home.
After hearing this, the girl was wordless.
How could her family do this to her? How could they leave her this town, all by herself?
Soon enough, with nowhere to go, the girl found herself stuck with the same seller from before who first sold her to the family who bought her. She was young and without a family. Like many of the other girls in the place, her only option for ever finding a place in life would be to work for a bigger household.
No one was willing to buy someone like her who had the history of running away from her previous household, so the girl spent her days waiting in the dark room, waiting for someone to buy her. With every passing buyer, her fear only increased. If no one was willing to, then she would be soon sold to a lower place, such as some of the dirtier brothels, or even cast out by the seller, left to be homeless in the world.
A few more weeks passed, and finally, fate decided to be merciful to the girl. A buyer, a young girl, chose her out of the crowd of other servants for no particular reason, and brought her along to a new home, one in the capital, far, far away from the city of Hangzhou.
The girl finally had a place to be. She was grateful to the other girl, the First Miss of the Yang household, for buying her, so she swore to serve her dutifully. She learned the rules of the household quickly, earned the favor of the older maids and servants, and established her own place as the personal servant of the First Miss despite her young age.
More time passed, and by then, the First Miss was set to marry a young man from the Huang household. The girl was happy for her young miss, but the marriage turned out to be a failure when the young man died only a few weeks after the marriage.
It was tragic, but the First Miss was given a chance to return to her household, which she accepted. Things all worked out well until the First Miss began to show signs of pregnancy.
The girl noticed it first, after her First Miss continued on vomiting every morning and her stomach grew wider and wider. People soon noticed. Rumors soon started.
The rumors built up more and more until even Madam Zhang, the mother of the First Miss and the first wife of the Old Master heard of the rumors. She looked for herself, saw that they were true, and then the next day, called for the girl to come to her.
The girl didn't know what she wanted, but she listened as Madam Zhang pulled out a bottle with its opening stuffed with red cloth. She put it in the girl's hand, told her to put one droplet of the poison in the water in the First Miss's food or drink every day, and the child would soon be gone.
From hearing this, the girl was horrified. She could not do such a thing. She would not do such a thing. The First Miss saved her. She brought her to a new place that the girl could now call her home. Their relationship was nearly as close as true sisters. The girl would never betray her.
But then, Madam Zhang told her that she had news of her family. She revealed to the girl that she knew where her family was, and that as long as she did as she was told, she would be reunited with her mother, father, and brother in no time.
When Madam Zhang finished with her words, she patted the bottle of poison into the girl's hands and told her to think of her decision carefully. She reminded the girl that it would be a disgrace if the child was born. She said that the future of the First Miss would be ruined, and that the Huang household would be relentless to get the child back no matter what. It would cause the First Miss more pain to birth the child than if it disappeared wordlessly.
The girl returned to the First Miss's room that night. She thought slowly and carefully about Madam Zhang's words, keeping herself awake to wonder what decision to make. By the end of the night, she made her choice.
The next morning, when she fetched the First Miss's breakfast from the kitchen, she slipped one tiny drop of the "medicine" into the layers of fluffy eggs laying innocently on the porcelain plate.
This was a moment where Yujia wasn't sure how she was supposed to feel.