Chapter 152: A Great Show (I)
Father was a court official and wasn’t free to do many things himself. His most likely course of action after learning about this would be to report it to the emperor. But this place was under Statesman Cao’s protection. It was a very complicated web of relationships. Who knew how that useless emperor would react? Her father might actually be accused in return, since she didn’t have any tangible evidence.
She had to tell father about this, but only after obtaining concrete proof that these people were Tatar spies. Mere suspicions wouldn’t be convincing enough, and people would suspect Qin Huaiyuan of stirring up trouble instead.
Qin Yining’s face grew solemn as she reached a decision, and she suddenly asked, “Steward Zhong, do we have anyone in the Bureau of Fire Control?”
The Bureau of Fire Control was associated with the Warden’s Office and in charge of all fire-extinguishing efforts in the city.
The steward’s eyes lit up as he understood her meaning. “We do have a brother, he collects night soil for the Bureau.”
Qin Yining blinked and laughed with delight. “Perfect! A night soil collector. Hidden talents abound in the Institute alright! Our connections are exceedingly vast. Then, let’s do it this way. Please search out this brother and prepare 300 taels of silver. He can retire handsomely after finishing this job.”
“What are your orders, miss?” The steward nodded.
The girl had Steward Zhong scoot closer and whispered her plan to him. His head bobbed furiously and he sighed with admiration when she finished. “As expected, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. You truly deserve the title of the ‘Daughter of Wise Pan An’. I bow to your strategic prowess, miss.”
A blush colored Qin Yining’s face from the compliments. “Don’t say that, Steward Zhong. It’s all thanks to your support in everything I do. I’m the lucky one, given that you’re willing to help me.”
“Not at all! If it wasn’t for you, miss, where would my family be now? Don’t worry, miss, I’ll carry out your orders faithfully. Just sit back and wait for the show to begin.”
“Then I’ll thank Steward Zhong in advance for making the preparations. I probably won’t be present when it all happens, so please follow everything I laid out just now.”
“Don’t worry, everything will go as planned. This steward is an old hand at matters like these.” Steward Zhong smiled. Qin Yining nodded and returned to the manor with complete peace of mind.
Nothing much happened over the next two days, and née Sun gradually recovered from her bout of illness. Two days later, Steward Zhong sent word in the morning when the household had just come awake. He was inviting Qin Yining to look over the accounts.
The girl quickly told née Sun that she was going out and brought Bingtang, Songlan, and Jiyun to the steward’s home.
“Everything’s ready, miss. We’ll make our move tonight. Would you like to watch it yourself?” An excited gleam sparkled in Steward Zhong’s eyes.
“Naturally. It’ll be a good show. But with my identity, it’s not good to stay outside for too long. Let me think of a way to legitimately do so with my father.” The mauve jade bracelet on her wrist shifted as she toyed with the white porcelain tea cup. Her translucent nails tapped the cup lightly and she suddenly smiled. “Ah forget it, my father is wise and quick witted. Lying to him or pulling the wool over his eyes in this would be an unwise option.”
Steward Zhong nodded in agreement. “In my opinion, why not tell the lord the truth? It’d be bad if misunderstandings developed instead.”
“Precisely.” Qin Yining went over the preparations again in hushed whispers before returning to the manor.
That afternoon, Qin Yining brought Jiyun with her to the outer study. Qitai was pruning a pot of jasmine buds when he heard footsteps behind him. He quickly bowed in greeting when he saw that it was the fourth miss.
“Is my father in?”
“The lord is, this servant will report your arrival immediately.” Qitai placed the shears to the side and turned, lifting the baby-blue door curtains overlaid on bamboo slabs. It didn’t take long for him to come out and respectfully welcome Qin Yining inside.
Everything was as usual inside the study. Qin Huaiyuan was wearing a light-gray house robe, reading cross legged on the luohan bed next to the window. He smiled when the girl entered. “So you’re here, daughter, come sit.”
Qin Yining sat down on the other end of the square table and dismissed the servants with a wave. “Father, I’d like to invite you to watch a good show.”
Qin Huaiyuan’s eyes flicked to hers in surprise. He automatically put the book down on a nearby table, showing an aquamarine cover with the words ‘A Commentary of the Spring and Autumn Annals’, as he turned the entirety of his attention to his daughter.
“Your daughter has set up the stage and found a suitable theater troupe. Everything is ready, and we lack only father as the audience. Would you like to go watch with me?”
Qin Huaiyuan found it hard to hide his smile when he looked at the little fox-like smirk on his daughter’s face. It was so similar to his own when he was young. “Alright, tell me who you’re plotting against now.”
The old dowager sulking on her luohan bed that dusky evening, holding a loose-leaf tobacco pipe in her hand. A jade mouthpiece decorated the end of the bronze pipe, but its allure wasn’t enough to tempt the old dowager.
Née Sun, the second, and third madame were standing next to her. The third, sixth, seventh, eighth miss, and Qin Huining were all sitting or standing off to the side, trying their best to cheer up their grandmother.
“…I’ve started making slippers for grandmother to wear indoors and have already traced out the pattern. I’ll bring it over for you to take a look later, grandmother. I can change it if you don’t like it.” Qin Huining was snuggling up to the old dowager’s arm as she spoke smilingly.
Although the old dowager didn’t treat Qin Huining as lovingly as she had before, she had still warmed up greatly to the foster girl on account of Cao Yuqing. At any other time, the affectionate display would have elicited a smile in return, but her sulky mood was rather obstinate today. She firmly shrugged off Qin Huining’s hand and gave the tobacco pipe and accompanying pouch to Qin-mama.
“What did he say? He was perfectly fine before getting this busy! And what does he need to take granddaughter Yi with him for? How many days has it been since he’s come to make his greetings!? I say he’s almost forgotten that I’m his mother!”
“Not at all. No one else knows how busy the lord is, but surely you understand, mistress.” Qin-mama smiled in consolation.
Qin Huining piped in. “That’s right, don’t be angry, grandmother. The senior madame was sick a few days ago, so it’s natural that the lord was busy taking care of the madame.”
The old dowager glared at née Sun and sniffed coldly.
Although née Sun no longer held out any hope for Qin Huining, it was still incredibly depressing to see the girl throw away so many years of love and drag née Sun through the mud in front of the old dowager. But the madame had a fiery temper. When had she ever taken anything lying down?
“Don’t mind that, Old Dowager. Setting aside how busy the lord is with court, he also has few ties to the family. Daughter Yi is incredibly intelligent and the lord also likes how similar she looks to him. I’d say that he’s raising her just as he would a son. Perhaps there was some important business they had to handle together today, so it’s natural that they wouldn’t have time to even set foot in the inner residence.”
Although née Sun was smiling, her every word felt like pointed jabs at the old dowager and Qin Huining’s heart. Their son’s (father) thoughts were wholly preoccupied with court, and he didn’t think about them even in his free time, wanting to spend it only with Qin Yining. But she was also right, Qin Yining was very much like her father and worthy of further development.
“You’ve gotten full of yourself with just a few favorable points.” The old dowager sniffed dismissively.
“Thank goodness I have a good daughter with me. I’m not as fortunate as Old Dowager to be surrounded by sons and grandchildren. I only have daughter Yi. Who else could I look to if she became unfilial as well?” Née Sun’s sniff was, if possible, even more disdainful as she glanced mockingly at Qin Huining.
The foster girl bit her lip, lowering her eyes to hide the hate that boiled within. Qin Yining’s her real daughter alright! I’m not née Sun’s anymore! Well, since she’s being this way, she can’t blame me for what’s coming her way! The foster girl already had a plan in mind while she mutely suffered from this great humiliation.
Qin Yining and Qin Huaiyuan didn’t know what was going on the manor, and the fourth miss didn’t have the slightest inkling that Qin Huaiyuan’s favor had incited the old dowager and Qin Huining’s jealousy.
The night watch had just banged the drum after midnight when a manor in the Good Health Alley caught on fire. Thankfully, the Bureau of Fire Control and the Warden’s Office were both close by. The Bureau’s men quickly arrived with carts of water and bravely dashed in to put out the fire.
But for some reason, the fire leapt and burned even more fiercely at their attempts. It was as if they’d dumped a bucket of oil on the flames instead of water. This made the firefighters panic and they hastily sprayed more water on the flames. But to their great dismay, it only fed the conflagration even more.
They finally realized that something was wrong and inspected the water carts, discovering that someone had poured oil into the carts. Less dense than water, the oil had floated to the top and had been siphoned through the hose. So all the liquid they’d been spraying earlier had been oil! Even after spraying all that oil, there still was a thin layer of oil in the water carts, waiting to be used.
And so, an accidental fire became an act of unintentional arson.
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