After she had finished the last of her chores for the day, Li Li went to the kitchen to make herself a pot of dragon well tea. Her stomach was bothering her since lunch, she thought the tea would soothe it. She noticed Chen Fu waiting outside her room doors, on her way back to her bedroom.
"Chen Fu, what are you doing here? What is the matter?"
"Miss Li Li, there is a beggar girl at the gate."
Li Li set down the tea set in her room and headed towards the front gate. She turned around when she realized Chen Fu did not follow.
"The back gate."
She returned and joined Chen Fu on their way to the gateway in the garden.
The garden was the largest part of the house. Until recently, it was the grandest one in the capital next to the imperial palace.
Now it was not a place you want to visit especially after it gets dark. It became the old lady's sanctuary, after her only son died. And people claimed it was haunted.
It was still quite grand, but in the last few years, parts of it had gone unkept, and caused it to loose some of its former glory.
The mistress of the house now spends her days here. She turned the two-storey pavilion there into her apartment where she prays to the restless spirit of her son Chen Yuan a speedy journey to the next life.
On the best of days, this building always seemed faded. At nights, it even appears to be bathed in shades of greys. It's the one place where the staff believe to have seen the ghost.
Chen Fu guided Li Li through the most direct route to the rear gate. He unlatched the gate and a girl who looked fifteen or there about walked out of the shadows. She was dressed in rags and had grass shoes on her feet. Seeing her shiver tugged on Li Li's heart. If she was not merely a servant, she would have taken her in right off. But she had to adhere to strict rules.
"Give her something to eat and let her stay in the wood shack tonight."
When the girl did not budge, Chen Fu stepped over the threshhold and ushered her in through the gate.