Chapter 10: Ears at the Windows
Qin Yining lowered her eyes, having guessed some of the old dowager’s thoughts from the slightly softened tone and her new name. She gave a docile curtsey, following the old dowager’s wishes.
“Grandmother speaks truly. I will strive to control my emotions and won’t be like this in the future.” If she only knew to sally headlong in a blind charge, then she really would be a “barbarian”. A mix of hard and soft tactics was the most appropriate way to approach this.
The old dowager nodded in satisfaction when she saw this response, her expression loosening greatly. As an elder, she least liked being rebutted by juniors. Although Qin Yining was a bit violent, she was a good girl at heart. This was very much like her eldest son, and guaranteed that the girl’s thoughts wouldn’t go down a dark path. As for Qin Huining…
Old Dowager had vast experience reading people, and felt her head begin to ache. When she started to think of the rumors that would spread on the morrow, she started to fret even more.
“Both of you should learn from today. As young misses of the Prime Minister Manor, you must live together in harmony. How could you two fight like this? How will people talk about you when word of this travels? You both appear quite filial usually, so what of this display today?”
Although the old dowager was saying “you both”, Qin Huining was well aware of the meaning that was hidden beneath those words. How long had it been since Qin Yining had arrived? Yet the former was the one who’d spent longer at their grandmother’s side. The old dowager is giving me a warning! Qin Huining’s heart filled with panic. Her greatest backers in the manor were the old dowager and née Sun. Her life in the lap of luxury was dependent on having those emotional ties to fall back on. If she lost their favor and trust, what else would she have?
“Please don’t be angry grandmother, I know my wrongs.” She didn’t dare argue another word as she was afraid the old dowager would dislike her even more. She could only swallow all the blood, sweat, and tears from today.
The old dowager was heartened by this display of repentance. She’s someone I raised after all, her character won’t be bad. Although she plots a bit too much, it’s understandable. The old lady adopted a solemn tone, “Granddaughter Yi and Hui, disharmony between sisters is an affront to filial piety. Both of you are punished with the task of copying ‘The Classic of Filial Piety’ ten times, to be handed in during the morning greeting in three days. Do you have any objections?”
“Many thanks for grandmother’s care,” Qin Huining hastened to respond first.
The old dowager was quite gratified to hear this response. Granddaughter Hui knows my thoughts alright, she realizes I’m favoring her. Qin Huining had grown up in the Prime Minister Manor, receiving an education of a noble daughter. Writing was no hard task for her. But Qin Yining had grown up in the countryside and didn’t normally touch brush and paper. There were eighteen sections to the entire “Classic of Filial Piety”, so copying it ten times over would tire the latter out tremendously!
At the heart of things, the old dowager still doted on Qin Huining the most and was dissatisfied that Qin Yining had taken to violence. At the same time, she was the matriarch of the household. She couldn’t openly show favoritism when Qin Huining had clearly done wrong. The whole house would fall into chaos then.
Sadly, the old dowager thought wrongly this time. Qin Huining wasn’t grateful for this show of favor at all. She was busy dismissing everything. What grandmother? What love?! It’s all fake! She becomes biased the moment her real granddaughter comes back, and punishes me when I’m the one who was beaten up!
Qin Yining took in both reactions and found it hilarious. It looked like Qin Huining was going to be blind to the old dowager’s good intentions.
The old dowager rubbed the center of her forehead while Jixiang served a cup of warm honey water to wet her mistress’ throat. Qin-mama adeptly massaged her mistress’ temples from off to the side. When they saw that the old dowager looked tired, Qin Yining and Qin Huining took their leave. She waved her hand noncommittally and gave orders to Qin-mama when the two had left. “Lujuan, have servants send the two girls back.”
Qin-mama immediately understood her mistress’ meaning and trotted out. Qin Huining lived in the old dowager’s Garden of Loving Piety, whereas Qin Yining had to travel across half of the internal residence to her Snowpear Courtyard. Qin-mama summoned a serving girl and coached her with a couple of instructions. The serving girl immediately picked up a lantern and ran off in pursuit of Qin Yining, while the old servant herself headed for Qin Huining’s warm quarters.
Inside, everything was in shambles. Wet nurse née Cai and head maid Bitong had both been injured, and Qin Huining’s face was now grotesquely swollen. Maids and old female servants were frantically rushing back and forth with medicine. Pained gasps and sobs filled the room. No one noticed Qin-mama standing just out of sight.
Qin Huining started sniffing and crying again, giving vent to her resentment. Bitong rushed to comfort her, “Don’t cry miss, it won’t do to harm your eyes from too much crying. The old dowager will be heartbroken.”
Bitong hadn’t gone out with them today and wasn’t aware of the details. She’d thought that mentioning the old dowager would soothe her mistress’ heart. Who knew it would needle precisely where it hurt instead?
Qin Huining slapped away Bitong’s hand and wanted to complain about the old dowager’s favoritism, but she was also worried that she wouldn’t be able to control the volume of her voice. She could only shrilly denounce the maid, “Why are you applying medicine so harshly? Don’t you know how to do it at all?”
“This servant didn’t mean to do so, please forgive me miss!” Bitong had no idea what was going on, but didn’t dare say anything else and hastily knelt in front of her mistress.
Qin Huining didn’t feel vindicated enough, so she raised a foot and stomped on Bitong’s chest. “You shameless thing! Poisonous skank! B*tch! You want to be the death of me, don’t you? I’ll stomp the life out of you!”
Bitong fell to the ground with a loud cry. All of the maids in the room cowered and shook; no one dared to speak up. Qin-mama was standing outside the window and discreetly observing everything. She was well aware of what was going on. Resentment had taken root in Miss Huining’s heart, she hated the old dowager now!
The old servant had been part of the old dowager’s dowry and had elected to stay faithfully by her mistress’ side all these years instead of marrying. She had weathered many travails and hardships with her mistress, and there were none more loyal than her. Because of the convenience of her identity, Qin-mama likely understood the characters of those by Old Dowager’s side far better than her mistress did herself.
Miss Huining had been a good one before, erudite and reasonable, always handling things appropriately. She’d was one of the best candidates out of the younger generation and won deep favor from the old dowager as a result. But who knew that her real nature and a greedy heart would begin to show itself with this matter?
The senior master isn’t her father after all. This affects her nature accordingly. Qin-mama sighed softly and returned to the old dowager’s side before anyone spotted her. She really wanted to convey all this to her mistress, but was afraid that the act would backfire given the old dowager’s doting of Qin Huining. Qin-mama hesitated, but swallowed her words in the end. Gradually raising the issue to the old dowager wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
Qin Yining had brought Ruilan and Qiulu with her for the evening greeting today. Ruilan had been sent back to Snowpear Courtyard after a hearty beating, so there was only Qiulu by her side with a lantern. There seemed no end to the long alley beneath the night sky, and an occasional cold gust of air howled to accent the disquieting atmosphere. It darted into collars and clothing, causing the candle in the lantern to flicker, similarly shifting their shadows on the wall and ground.
“You didn’t make a move today.” Qin Yining rubbed her cold hands together.
Qiulu started at the sound of her mistress’ voice and responded a bit clumsily, “This, this servant was scared.”
A laugh escaped Qin Yining. “I know, you’ve likely never seen a young miss act like me. But why didn’t you help Miss Huining capture me?”
Qiulu’s face began burning. She thought her mistress was asking why the maid hadn’t helped her. “Miss, I am your maid and have no reason to help outsiders. Except, I-I really haven’t seen a young miss beat up anyone before. I froze and didn’t think of helping you. When I could move again, you had taken them all out already.”
Qin Yining was in a great mood after hearing Qiulu’s clumsy words. According to her observations, although Qiulu wasn’t poised and self-possessed, she was someone who knew her place well. At least I have one trustworthy person by my side.
Qiulu also relaxed when she saw Qin Yining’s relaxed expression, some goodwill towards her mistress forming as well. She knew of her own drawbacks, that she was awkward and didn’t know what to do sometimes. But if she followed such a strong Fourth Miss in the future, at least no one would dare bully her!
Just as the two continued onwards, the pitter patter of rushed footsteps came from behind them. It was the serving girl Qin-mama had given orders to earlier. The little girl curtseyed to Qin Yining and explained her intentions. She then joined Qiulu in helping Qin Yining back to Snowpear Courtyard.
The little girl discreetly observed the fourth miss as they walked and noted the young miss’ peaceful composure. She took note of everything and would tell Qin-mama later that the fourth miss was the same person they’d previously seen.
When they reached Snowpear Courtyard, Qin Yining recalled that she would always receive a coin or two when she delivered items for the medicine shop in the past. She ordered Qiulu to hand out some largesse since she didn’t know the rules of the manor.
Qiulu had served née Sun before, and although the maid hadn’t been by the senior madame’s side, she had still seen much of the world and knew of the rules. She reached a hand into her money pouch and fished out a handful of copper coins, sending the serving girl happily skipping back to her post.
“You did well.” Qin Yining complimented. Qiulu blushed and looked at her mistress with sparkling eyes, causing Qin Yining to smile in spite of herself. At long last, the two entered their residence.
It was dark and almost winter solstice. The frosty wind was a solemn presence in the quiet yard, making the rustle of the grass seem even louder than usual. All of the servants were in their rooms, with only a serving girl stooped outside the side wing in a corner, fanning the coals with a cattail hand fan.
Qin Yining could hear the faint undertones of a girl complaining from inside the side wing. If she called correctly, that was Ruilan and Yuxiang’s room. She walked towards the room without a word, startling the little servant girl.
The girl stood up and was about to greet her mistress, but Qin Yining stopped her in her tracks with a cold look. The little girl had been standing watch on Yuxiang’s orders, but she was so frightened now that she didn’t dare say anything. The little girl could only stand to the side with her head lowered.
Qin Yining drew close to the window of the room and heard a slightly nasally voice shrill, “…and who the hell is she?! Just a barbarian! Even the pretty maids in the manor are all more noble than her! How dare she beat you up like this, sister! I’ll go tell the old dowager tomorrow and teach her a lesson!”
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