Chapter 142: Oft Spring Garden (I)
Bingtang was holding up an aqua silk wrap up to Qin Yining and assessing its measurements. “I heard about it from the serving girl at the Garden of Loving Piety, but she only knows some vague words from when she delivered hot water this morning. She doesn’t know the particulars, and only said that the old dowager is of the mind to take the family out for a walk. She didn’t say anything else.”
“I see. These clothes are fine, no need for further adjustments.” Qin Yining looked at the ivory robe and dress ensemble through the bronze mirror and took it off to have Songlan put it away. She sat down on the embroidered cushion of the bowed legged stool in front of her vanity, and saw that Songlan was coming to her with another pale-pink, padded cotton jacket for her to try on. The Qin fourth miss hastily waved a hand. “No need, it doesn’t matter if they’re tighter or looser.”
“Try it on, miss. What if some part doesn’t fit you well?”
“Why does fit matter? Being able to wear it is fine.” Qin Yining was thoroughly tired of repeated fittings and mirror viewings.
Songlan burst out in a chuckle. “Oh miss. If the other girls in the family knew that a beauty didn’t care about her looks… Those who don’t have your looks are all trying various ways to enhance themselves. The sixth miss doesn’t dare eat her fill because she wants to maintain her figure. The seventh miss washes her face everyday with nectar. But you, you don’t care!” She’d put the clothes neatly away into the redwood drawer on the side as she spoke.
Bingtang handed her fellow maid the wrap, a belt, and other accessories. “Our miss is born with fine beauty.” She smiled. “Besides, everyone goes after different things. Why do you think the sixth and seventh miss do all that? Women beautify themselves for self enjoyment. They’re doing that for their own futures. But our miss is different.”
“That’s right. I don’t have anyone I like and don’t care about about any of this.” Qin Yining was plainly uninterested.
“Nono, I don’t mean this when I say our miss is different.” Bingtang chuckled. “You don’t need to mind that much because of your natural beauty, and even if your appearance and health were weak, there’s still a Prince Pang who is utterly devoted to you, no?”
Qin Yining’s face immediately exploded with a blush and she rolled her eyes at Bingtang. “Why, you!”
Bingtang broke out into hearty laughter, heralding the arrival of Riceball with a twitch and a twist of its little butt. Qin Yining’s heart melted when she saw the bunny’s adorable figure by her feet. She picked it up to place it in his lap and stroked it lovingly.
“Prince Pang has gone to a great deal of thought.” Bingtang covered her mouth as she laughed. “He left Riceball with you so that you’ll think of him whenever you see it! So… would this count as… a token of love?” She pointed at the knotted square on the bunny’s neck.
It seemed to understand Bingtang’s words as it twisted and turned in Qin Yining’s lap, looking for a comfortable position. It placed two claws on Qin Yining’s hand and blinked its large eyes up to the girl, looking steadily up at her.
"Don't be silly, we don’t have a relationship at all! How would we exchange any tokens?” Qin Yining retorted in a mock angry tone and looked down at Riceball with a hidden smile. The snow white bunny was marred only by a circle of black fur around its left eye, making it seem like someone had punched it in the face. The effect was both adorable and comical. The girl burst out into chuckles and brought the palm-sized bunny closer for a cuddle.
“Miss, are you going to continue holding Riceball? We need to go make our greetings to the old dowager now. If we’re late, Snowpear Courtyard will have more criticism about us again.” Songlan had put the wardrobe drawer in order by now and took out a pale-blue cape for her mistress. The maid flung it over her mistress and organized her hair over the collar.
Qin Yining handed off the bunny over to Qiulu. “Alright, we’ll go greet the old dowager first and think of something for Riceball later. How come it hasn’t grown any bigger after a month?”
“Maybe it’s the type that won’t grow bigger.” Bingtang helped Qin Yining up with a smile and flanked her out the door with Songlan, making their way to the Garden of Loving Piety.
Pageboys had long since brought out vases with budding greenery from the greenhouse, sprucing up the old dowager’s residence in the throes of spring. A white and blue porcelain vase and green leaves painted a few hints of vitality and gentleness into what had been a slightly cold and hard yard. They quickly walked past the bluestone lined path and up the stairs. Maids lifted the door curtains to pass messages on inside when they saw the fourth miss’ group.
Qin Yining took off her cape in the outer room and handed it to Bingtang, already hearing lively sounds of discussion from inside. She asked Jixiang smilingly, “Is the old dowager in a good mood today? Did she enjoy breakfast?”
“The old dowager is in a wonderful mood today.” Jixiang smiled back. “The empress has been newly gifted the Oft Spring Garden and has invited many noble and titled ladies for an excursion. We’ve also received an invitation, and the old dowager is inside discussing who should be part of the Qin party.”
Qin Yining nodded. As I thought, the little serving girl didn’t have the full picture. She circled past the divider to make her curtsey to the matriarch.
The old dowager was actually still holding a grudge for Qin Yining living outside with née Sun, but she’d seen Qin Huaiyuan’s attitude towards this matter and couldn’t continue a fuss. Not to mention, there was the snuff bottle incident that hung over her head like a blade. Who knew when it would descend? So even if she was angry at Qin Yining and felt that the girl sided with outsiders over family, she still had to rein in her temper.
“Granddaughter Yi’s here, we were just talking about you.” The matriarch tugged her lips upward. “The empress is inviting many noble ladies on an excursion to the Oft Spring Garden to celebrate peace in Great Yan. This is a wondrous imperial favor! There are three of us in the family with titles, and everyone can bring someone with them. You naturally can go with your mother.”
Qin Yining nodded amiably. “I’ve never seen such an occasion. Where might this Oft Spring Garden be?”
Qin Huining took up the conversation with some pride. She placed the newly served snacks respectfully at Qin Huining’s hand.
“You don’t even know about Oft Spring Garden? It’s an estate about twenty kilometers to the south of the capital, located in the Eternal Spring Mountain. Because the mountain has hot springs and is surrounded by other mountains on its sides, cold air can’t make it in. Therefore, Oft Spring Garden is quite warm all year around, and it’s said that even flowers still blossom in the garden throughout winter.” Qin Huining ended with a compliment. “The emperor truly dotes and shows great favor on the empress!”
The old dowager nodded and looked benevolently at Cao Yuqing. “The empress naturally enjoys great imperial favor. Yuqing, come with me on the excursion tomorrow.”
Cao Yuqing hastily put down the bitten snack in her hand and rose elegantly to curtsey. “Many thanks to Old Dowager.”
“Aiya, good child, what are you being so polite with me for?” The old dowager took advantage of the motion to pull the concubine next to her.
Qin Huining raised her brows proudly at Qin Yining when she saw this. The fourth miss was oblivious to this display from her standing position next to née Sun. Her mother had been sitting quietly on the embroidered cushion of a stool without a word. She patted the madame’s shoulder comfortingly.
“I’ll give you all some time to go make your preparations,” the old dowager continued. “Yuqing will naturally be with me. Senior and second daughter-in-law, go back and discuss who you’re bringing as well. Those coming on this excursion will all be madames and misses of great importance, so make sure you conduct yourself carefully.”
What were they to be careful about? Their childrens’ marriages, of course. Even if it was an outing for ladies, it was still a good thing to assess one’s future mother and sisters-in-law.
When she saw the looks of anticipation and subtle undercurrents raging between her second and third aunt, Qin Yining couldn’t help but sigh that spring was really well and truly here! Everyone present had come alive.
The girl helped née Sun to her feet, and the mother-daughter duo took their leave after bidding the old dowager farewell. Cao Yuqing and Qin Huining were walking behind them.
Qin Huining made gestures to take the concubine’s arm. “Foster mother, this excursion is such a wonderful occasion. Will you take me along with you so I can broaden my worldview?”
Frankly, Qin Yining found the foster girl’s sweet voice rather sickening. Née Sun wasn’t looking too well either, and both sped up their paces. However, Cao Yuqing’s response floated into their ears without obstruction.
“I’m just a concubine, how would I have the right to bring someone with me? The old dowager bringing me along is already a great exception. I’m a tagalong, so how could I come with another one?” Cao Yuqing smiled merrily. “Miss Huining should ask the madame instead!”
Tongues of fire spontaneously combusted in née Sun’s heart. That bitch! Qin Huining had stopped her daily greetings at the Garden of Tranquility ever since née Cao had darkened their doorstep, and the foster girl even refused to all née Sun ‘mother’ when the two met. Now that something had arisen, she dared incite Qin Huining to look to the senior madame for help?? She’s doing this on purpose!
Her steps slowed and she prepared to erupt, but Qin Yining tugged her back.
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