Scarring Jasmine-Charpter Two Maid

03/21/2024 Thursday 28-44F Mostly Sunny

One year after Jasmine was born, Shen was pregnant again. But ten months’ later, she gave birth to a stillborn baby. Shen stayed in bed for three months, and since then she never had another child.

Shen felt guilty. Although she already had had two children with Bai, it wasn’t enough--She wanted one more son so when the two brothers grew up, they could support each other; while a daughter, once she married away, would belong to other family. After all, a son-in-law could never equal a real son; their veins ran different blood.


Besides, Shen also wanted to make up for the stillborn baby. If she could find a girl who was obedient, perhaps she should let her have Bai’s child. Then once another son was born in this house, as the mistress, she could always make an excuse to chase the mother away. Shen pondered. One day she called the young maid Qiu to come to her room, where five-year-old Jasmine was playing.


She asked Qiu to close the door from behind, then pressed her to sit down on a stool. Qiu didn’t know what happened; she had never been offered to sit by her mistress, thus she knelt down and kowtowed to Shen: “Madam, I can’t, I am not allowed to sit in your presence. Please forgive me.”


Shen pulled Qiu up, forced her down on the stool, and sat beside her: “Don’t worry,” Shen said, “Only me and you are here, Jasmine is too little to understand things. To be honest with you, I always consider you my younger sister. Just because I am the mistress, I have to suppress my fondness for you and can’t let others know it. Tell me, how many years have you been working in this house? And what’s your age now?”


Qiu hurried to kneel down again in fear: “Madam, have I offended you? If so, please punish me, but don’t let me go. I don’t know where my father is; I was sold here at the age of ten, now I am twenty-four. This is my only home.” After saying that, Qiu’s tears fell. Jasmine was shocked. She stopped playing but watched them helplessly.


Shen giggled, pushed Qiu back to the stool. Qiu sat at its edge, sobbing, and still was afraid to look at her mistress. Shen held Qiu’s chin, inspected her face for a while, then smiled: “So you have been in this house for fourteen years, even longer than me. I heard the others say that in the past, before master was married, you were the one who served him. You should quite know master’s temper and habits. Now you are twenty-four, big enough to get married, can I ask you that if you have any sweetheart man?”


Qiu’s face reddened. She cast down her eyes and shook her head. Shen continued: “Then how about master? Do you want to marry him? You know, since the stillborn child, I can’t bear any more children myself; while master isn’t forty yet, he has only one son. Of course, I can find some girl from outside to marry master as a concubine, but it is easy to see a person’s face, hard to know her heart. I can’t really trust any of them. You are an obedient, good-looking girl, master always likes you. One or two years later, once you have master’s son, everyone in this house will regard you as the second mistress. Isn’t that good? Being a mistress is far better than being a maid. You should know me, I am not a jealous woman, or else I wouldn’t say these words to you. I am eleven years older than you; you can tell me frankly about what you are thinking.”


Qiu still didn’t answer. Shen stood up, paced around the room, and kept glancing at Qiu. Then, she sat down again, picked up Qiu’s hand and patted it softly: “I know you are shy, that’s ok. If you don’t disagree on this, I will mention it to master tonight.”


“No madam, please don’t!” Qiu rushed off the stool and knelt for the third time. “I respect master, and you. You all are too kind to me. But I don’t want to marry anyone, I would rather be a maid forever.”


“You are talking nonsense now. A girl ought to marry, that’s our destiny; and we rely on men to provide us food and clothes. What’s the good of being an old maid?” Shen was confused.


Qiu lowered her head, weeping: “The year I was nine, I watched my mother die while giving birth. The whole birth process had lasted for two days and three nights; her continuous cries could be heard in the whole village. Finally, the third morning she became quiet, and the midwife told my father that she was dead. I went into the room, found the blood all over the bed, and a dead baby sleeping by her side. The baby was a dark purple, just like a toy made with mud; I touched my mother’s body, it was icy cold. I can’t forget that scene, I swore to myself that I would never want to have a child of my own…”


Shen’s face turned white. When she realized that Jasmine was standing at the side listening, she gave Qiu a furious slap across her face, shouting: “How dare you say that in front of my daughter?! You are evil; you cursed my second son! Get out, you cheap bones!”


Qiu covered her face with her hands, flung open the door and ran off, crying.


From that day, Qiu disappeared from Jasmine’s life.


In fact, Jasmine was very fond of Qiu. Despite that Qiu’s main job was taking care of Jasmine’s brother Mumei, she was the only one who ever played with Jasmine: She sang lullaby for her and had a soft smiling face—Every time Qiu smiled, several slight puckers would appear near her nose bridge. Jasmine liked to watch those puckers a lot. To her, rather than being a maid, Qiu was more like her mother, her elder sister, and her only friend.


Jasmine’s world was small. Her grandmother was too old and only interested in staying in her room chanting Buddhist scripture; her father Bai almost every day was busy in his fabric shops, and came back home at dusk. At the dining table, he would sit Jasmine on his knees asking her how her day was. All day long, that was Jasmine’s most precious moment; her mother Shen was involved in too many social things; also, in her health there were constant issues. For those reasons, Shen spent most of her days either going out to meet friends or staying in bed; Mumei was a schoolboy who had a lot of homework from both his schoolteachers and home teacher to finish. As a kind brother as he was, the difference between a boy and a girl had already divided them into two worlds; A Feng, the wet nurse and nanny, looked tired all the time. She tried to be nice and patient to Jasmine, but since she already had four children of her own to care for, in her crowded heart the space which she could gave Jasmine was very limited.


After Qiu left, Jasmine felt lonelier. She feared to ask her mother where Qiu had gone; she knew that Qiu had made her mother very angry, and that she, as a child, shouldn’t mention anything that might annoy the parents. She had to hold her tongue; one month later, came a new young maid. Since then, Jasmine understood that Qiu would never come back.


One day, when Jasmine was drawing pictures at random on Mumei’s desk, she overheard A Feng and a cook talk quietly about Qiu.


“Do you know where she is? Yesterday Old Zhang told me that our mistress sold Qiu to a whorehouse.” The cook said.


“Impossible, you can’t trust Old Zhang’s mouth. He even forgets his own words—Once before he said that the mistress asked a matchmaker to marry Qiu to an old bachelor.” Then A Feng lowered her voice even more, “Qiu was a good girl. That day she rushed out from the mistress’ room crying. I pulled her to the kitchen, asked her what happened. She just kept saying that she had offended the mistress. I thought that she must have overreacted; after all she had worked in this house for so many years. See what happened to her! No doubt her end won’t be good!”


“But,” the cook asked in curiosity, “didn’t our master say anything? Wasn’t it too heartless to just let her go?”


“Gee, you don’t understand.” It was A Feng’s voice again, “The mistress could always explain it away; certainly she wouldn’t tell our master the truth. If you were her, would you do that? ‘I have sold your favorite maid to a whorehouse’, or ‘I married her to an ugly old man?’ It is sinful to ruin such a loyal girl’s life, regardless of the reason. She has her own daughter; she should accumulate more blessings for the next generation’s sake.”


The cook sighed. Jasmine continued to draw her picture: Under her brush, a girl’s smiling face appeared, then she added a few short lines around that girl’s nose bridge.

At that moment, Jasmine had a strange feeling: Qiu wouldn’t live long—Perhaps she was dead already.


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