Chapter 134: Touching
Qin-mama lowered her head and frowned ferociously at the old dowager’s words. Looking to your son to clean up your messes at your age, and lying about it?!
“Daughter Yi isn’t the arrogant and willful sort, and she knows the boundaries of appropriateness.” Qin Huaiyuan found this odd. “Why would she purposefully break an imperially gifted snuff bottle?”
The old dowager’s expression stiffened awkwardly as she answered sourly, “I personally went to invite your dearest wife and daughter home today, but not only did I fail, I even got yelled at! Then, granddaughter Yi threw a temper tantrum and broke the snuff bottle, and now she wants to blame it on me! Oh, why is my life so hard?! Why is there such a home-wrecking, chaotic element in my life?!”
The old dowager covered her hands and sniffled loudly. Qin-mama quickly offered a handkerchief and softly tried to placate the old dowager.
Qin Huaiyuan was well acquainted with the old dowager’s nature. This story of hers had gaping holes, making it altogether too suspect. He looked questioningly at the old servant, but the latter averted her gaze in front of Qin Huaiyuan’s assessing look.
She couldn’t refute her own mistress, but it wasn’t right to keep the truth from the lord either. When Qin Huaiyuan saw the mama thus, it only served to confirm his suspicions.
At that moment, a servant called in from the outside. “Reporting to Old Dowager and milord, the senior madame and Fourth Miss have returned and are making their way to the Garden of Loving Piety to greet the old dowager.”
The old dowager was so startled that she burped. That bitch schemed against me! She’d just proclaimed that they’d roundly insulted her and refused to come back, but not even a heartbeat later, here they were! Didn’t that just make her the carrier of tall tales?!
When the old dowager met Qin Huaiyuan’s skeptical eyes, a chill gripped her heart. “That bitch, how dare she saunter back like this to make a greeting!” she spat out.
“But she returned out of respect for your wishes.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled.
His mother looked incredulously back at him. She actually hadn’t generated many tears from her brief spat of crying, but newfound indignation made them swiftly gather in her eyes now.
“You unfilial son! You’ve got your heart set on helping your wife bully your mother! Didn’t you tell me to ask that they return? I did as you said! If you’d been willing to order them home, I bet you they would’ve listened since one’s your wife and the other your daughter! You only treat outsiders well, and now you’re saying all this to hurt me! Sons really do forget their mothers after taking a wife. Oh, what have I done to deserve this?!”
A resigned frown crossed Qin Huaiyuan’s brow. He was most familiar with his mother’s temper. If reason didn’t somehow find a place at her side, she’d just throw a tantrum. Since she’d only do this to family, they’d always give way in the end because of a multitude of reasons. Him in particular, as he could never bear to see the old dowager cry herself sick.
“Mother, you’re speaking too harshly.” Qin Huaiyuan could only adopt a gentle tone in response to her wails. “I’m just summarizing the truth. You gave your orders and they returned. Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Good thing? I’m almost dying from anger because of your wife, is that a good thing?!”
“Don’t forget that you were the one who originally decided upon my marriage,” Qin Huaiyuan could only try and prevaricate. “Née Sun hasn’t done anything wrong since joining our family.”
“Nothing wrong?! She still hasn’t given birth to a son, how is that doing no wrong?”
“She’s already given birth to a daughter, proving that the problem doesn’t lie with her.” Qin Huaiyuan’s patience quickly eroded when they touched upon a sore point.
When she saw her son’s expression darken, the old dowager realized that she’d said something she shouldn’t have in her haste. She actually had her own speculations whether the problem laid with Qin Huaiyuan, but her son was an exceedingly proud person, and she didn’t want to hurt his feelings with extraneous questions.
Before the silence could grow more awkward, a maid called in from the covered hallway from one of the side wings. “Old Dowager, the senior madame and Fourth Miss have returned.”
The ink-green curtains lifted to allow Qin Yining to enter with née Sun. The madame had changed into a plain, ink-green outer robe and dress ensemble that was cinched at the waist. Her hair was done up, with a silver hairpin keeping it in place. On the other hand, Qin Yining was wearing an ivory jacket and skirt outfit, her hair was swept up into twin buns with hair trailing out of them, secured by ribbons. Mother and daughter hadn’t put on any powder, but the charmingly elegant fragrance of pure jasmine charmingly wove around them.
It was the same jasmine perfume from Beauty Works, making the old dowager both envious and vexed. She was also feeling out of sorts from her good cry moments ago, so she settled for glaring fiercely at née Sun and turning away.
This act of pique elicited a corresponding anger from née Sun, but Qin Yining softly pinched her arm right as she opened her mouth. The madame immediately understood and took a deep, calming breath before walking up to curtsey with her daughter.
“Daughter-in-law greets Old Dowager.”
“Granddaughter greets Old Dowager. Mother’s given no thought to her own health and come rushing back after one word from the old dowager.”
“Didn’t you say you were refusing to come back?” The matriarch snorted coldly as her heart pounded fiercely from the thrum of anger. “First lying to me by saying you weren’t coming back, but showing up like this, you were obviously playing this old woman!”
Née Sun bit her lip and lowered her head. Her face was flushed red with indignation. Qin Yining bent her knee.
“Don’t be angry, Old Dowager. You’ve simply overthought things. Mother spent her days recovering outside also because she wanted to avoid the spread of sickness at home. Since the old dowager loves mother so much, how can we ignore your wishes?”
“With such a slippery way with words, I can’t win verbally against you!” The old dowager slammed her hand on the table. Qin Yining pursed her lips and lowered her head, aggrieved by the treatment.
Qin Huaiyuan pinched the bridge of his nose. “Go back first; don’t disturb mother’s peace and quiet.”
“Understood.” Née Sun and Qin Yining swiftly changed their attitudes and took their leave.
“Rest well, mother. I also have official matters to attend to.” Qin Huaiyuan bowed as well.
The old dowager forgot to be angry when she saw that her son was also about to leave. “What about the broken snuff bottle…”
“Mother.” Qin Huaiyuan clapped his hand over his mother’s mouth and muttered, “How can you speak so loudly about something like this? It never happened!”
The old dowager’s heart suddenly skipped a beat. She’d only been thinking of washing the blame from her hands, but had forgotten that this would be a matter of life-or-death to all the Qins if it spread! Her face white as a sheet; she no longer dared continue raising a fuss.
Qin Huaiyuan sighed. “The emperor gives out many presents, and the dowager empress has a great deal of belongings as well. The imperial family doesn’t pay attention to whether things are being kept well and no one will come ask about previous gifts. Just pretend that you don’t know anything, mother.”
The old dowager nodded repeatedly, as docile as a child. Qin Huaiyuan bowed again before taking his leave.
When she saw Qin Huaiyuan had walked off into the distance, the old dowager asked pensively, “Lujuan, do you think I’ve done something wrong?”
Qin-mama inwardly nodded a thousand times, but responded out loud, “You were doing all this because of the new in-laws, so how could any of it be wrong?”
The old dowager shook her head and sighed, the ruby dangling from the gold hairpin tucked in her high coif glinting from the light of the candles.
“I should’ve pretended to know nothing about the snuff bottle at all, and shouldn’t have asked Meng’er. Meng’er is so very smart, he’s probably already guessed at something. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have talked to me that way.”
So the mistress only regrets this matter?! Qin-mama was utterly speechless, but she could only mouth the comforting words that the old dowager liked to hear.
Qin Huaiyuan didn’t immediately head to the outer residence when he left the Garden of Loving Piety. Instead, he made his way to the Garden of Tranquility, where his hunch was confirmed. Qin Yining was keeping née Sun company instead of heading to her residence.
He dismissed the servants and started his questioning when there were only the three of them left. “Daughter Yi, was the snuff bottle really broken today?”
The girl nodded docilely and described what had happened. “Anger probably got to the old dowager’s head, and she wanted to hit mother. She hadn’t thought that I’d try to stop her, and the snuff bottle was sent flying in the scuffle.”
“So that really was the dowager empress’ snuff bottle?” Qin Huaiyuan sighed heavily and knit his brows together.
“Well.” Qin Yining grinned mischievously. “It was certainly the same style as the dowager empress’ snuff bottle.”
Qin Huaiyuan looked at his daughter bringing out her best imitation of a fox’s expression and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Her answer had made the truth of the matter crystal clear, and he tapped Qin Yining’s forehead reprovingly. “You girl, you. You’re thoroughly wicked! You dare trick even your grandmother.”
Qin Yining rubbed her forehead, even though the tap didn’t hurt at all, and stuck out her tongue.
“Don’t be angry, father. I wasn’t intentionally targeting the old dowager. I’m sure the version of the snuff bottle incident you heard was different from the truth I just relayed. All I did was some harmless intimidation so that mother wouldn’t be worse for the wear when you’re not at home.”
Qin Huaiyuan looked warmly at née Sun, who’d long been shocked silly by the way father and daughter were interacting. She smiled awkwardly as Qin Huaiyuan looked at her. “Um… don’t grow angry, my lord. This was all my awful idea.”
“Oh, I know that this must’ve been daughter Yi’s work.” Qin Huaiyuan waved his hand smilingly. “You don’t need to try to keep her out of trouble. You’re an honest person, not like this imp of ours with a head full of tricks.”
Née Sun had no idea how to respond to that, but Qin Yining snorted. “Is that supposed to be a compliment, father?”
Qin Huaiyuan patted his daughter’s shoulder and broke into hearty laughter. Jin-mama, Caiju, and Cailan also joined in the merriment from off to the side.
The laughter and cheerful chatter from indoors travelled out to the exterior hallway where Cao Yuqing was standing. Her face was quite calm and she called out, “My lord, senior madame, this concubine is specially here to greet the madame.”
The laughter inside instantly stilled and Qin Huaiyuan responded blandly, “You may enter.”
Cao Yuqing adjusted her emotions and slowly made her way inside.
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