If one were to peer through the finely wrought holes in the openwork screen from the small room, one could just about make out the shapes of the old dowager and née Sun. Naturally, their conversation traveled into Qin Yining and Qin Huining’s ears as well.
Qin Yining sat quietly, playing with a turquoise teacup lid. Qin Huining on the other hand, was grinding her teeth and just barely keeping her demure seat and bearing.
How am I going to talk to Bao-mama? I need to let my maternal grandmother know how much I’ve suffered! When she heard that the old dowager wanted them to go out, she was taken by glee.
Fortune’s come knocking, my luck is changing! Bao-mama emphasizes manners so much. What kind of good impression will she have of Qin Yining once she learns that this wild brat hit me!?
If Bao-mama didn’t like Qin Yining, then the duchess’ first impression of her would also be negative. Qin Huining had spent more than a decade with her mother and the old dowager. If she had the duchess’ favor as well, her days to come might yet be comfortable.
When her thoughts reached that point, Qin Huining surged to her feet, disregarding the maids who were approaching to help her. She took a few stumbling steps forward, completely forgetting the usual decorum that she valued most.
Qin Yining was the exact opposite as she rose slowly, putting her skirt in order as she did so, and smiled slightly at Jixiang. “Thank you, sister.”
Her smile was so stunning that it dazzled Jixiang for a moment. After recollecting herself, Jixiang helped Qin Yining out with extreme deference. “This servant wouldn’t dare, please call me Jixiang, miss.”
Bao-mama was looking in the direction of the inner room curiously when she saw Qin Huining come barreling out with a cry.
“Mother!” Sobs were already racking her frame as she launched herself into née Sun’s embrace. “You’ve finally come back, mother!”
It was as if the whole world had turned against her in the time née Sun hadn’t been at home. The old dowager frowned at this behavior, and Bao-mama too furrowed her brow slightly, although mostly in confusion. If her eyes hadn’t deceived her earlier, half of Qin Huining’s face looked red and swollen?
Née Sun patted Qin Huining’s back with a smile. “What’s this now? You miss me so much after just one night?”
“Mother, I, I just missed you, that’s all.” Qin Huining lifted her face. It was a devastating effect.
Half of her charming face was now so swollen that one could no longer find their original features. Add her heart wrenching sobs to the mixture, and née Sun’s heart tightened with worry.
“My dear, what’s happened to your face?!” Née Sun’s voice grew shrill with anxiety as she gingerly stroked her daughter’s cheek.
Qin Huining shook her head frantically with a choked up voice, “N-nothing. It was your daughter’s fault.” Even as she spoke, her tears tumbled unceasingly down her cheek.
As mother and daughter spoke, Qin Yining had walked into the room with Jixiang’s support. She gave the old dowager and née Sun a proper, full curtsey, and a half one to Bao-mama.
The old servant hastily rose and turned to the side, not daring to accept the greeting. Bao-mama gave Qin Yining a grand gesture of greeting instead. “Greetings to Fourth Miss. This old servant is née Bao, here to visit you.”
Not knowing what else to do, Qin Yining imitated Bao-mama’s motions from earlier and avoided accepting the old servant’s greeting. She walked forward, raising the old servant with both hands as she responded very politely, “Please rise, Bao-mama. Thank you for making this trip. I’ve wanted to visit my maternal grandparents as well.”
Bao-mama slowly got to her feet and lifted her eyes to fall into a pair of pure, limpid pools. Even one as widely read and experienced as the old servant was momentarily arrested by the beautiful smile. The girl had a striking air about her, her lively and playful almond-shaped eyes in a face whose features were exquisitely carved. Her height was accentuated by a steady, calm bearing.
She did indeed closely resemble a young Qin Huaiyuan, but there were hints of gentleness and purity unique to the fairer sex. There was even a bit of mischief and otherworldliness about her. The girl would grow up to be a charming and charismatic person indeed.
Bao-mama had been carefully observing the two girls from the moment they’d emerged from the inner room. Compared to Qin Huining’s dramatics, Qin Yining was much more demure and proper.
The old servant had seen more than her fair share of inner residence tricks, and could clearly pick out the false tones in Qin Huining’s immensely aggrieved, exaggerated behavior. Only someone blinded by motherly love such as née Sun would fail to realize it to be another scheme.
The old dowager was also greatly displeased to see Qin Huining come running out in tears. Family drama should be kept behind closed doors. Whether Qin Huining was at fault or not, this was something that should’ve been kept under wraps.
Why is this silly girl revisiting this in front of the duke’s household? Thankfully, Qin Yining made up for her lack of education in manners with wit and quick reactions. She deftly imitated those around her in accepting and giving greetings, alleviating some of the old dowager’s gloomy mood.
The old dowager understood Qin Huining’s fear very well. After all, the girl was her favorite child. But at the moment, the matriarch was quite dissatisfied with the girl’s actions. She’d never felt this way before, but now that they’d actually run into a serious, important matter, Qin Huining’s style of dealing with things really did seem a bit crass and uncouth.
Her actions weren’t even as mature as a young girl from the mountains! Seeing that Qin Yining and Bao-mama had met, the old dowager bade everyone sit. “Let’s sit down and chat, everyone.”
“Understood.” The two responded.
Meanwhile, née Sun’s brow had twisted into a knotted rope. She pulled the sniffling and hiccuping Qin Huining closer to her and looked at the old dowager, her voice getting louder with each word, “Old Dowager, I’ve left for only a night, why is darling Hui’s face like this? Has someone bullied her? If this is the case, I won’t let this matter lie! Even though she’s my foster daughter now, there’s no reason for a daughter of our household to be bullied like this!”
Staring at the old dowager, her words rang with righteousness as flames burned in her eyes. Her first assumption was that Qin Huining had done something wrong, so the old dowager had ordered someone to slap her. But how could a mother not step forward for her child when the slapping had been this harsh? At the heart of it all, née Sun would’ve never dreamed Qin Yining to be the one to beat up her beloved daughter.
Née Sun’s indignant expression almost sent the old dowager into a fit of fury again, but she kept her cool. “Eldest daughter-in-law, is this how you speak to your mother-in-law?”
Née Sun lifted her chin and pursed her lips, a retort on the tip of her tongue. But at that moment, the reminders that her mother had painstakingly pounded into her head gave her pause.
The old dowager was no slouch, and could absolutely guess what her daughter-in-law’s mind had gone simply based on the latter’s expression. When she took a look at the sniffling Qin Huining, so upset that she seemingly couldn’t even explain things properly, causing née Sun to suspect the old dowager instead, her spirits instantly sank to a new low. The matriarch couldn’t be bothered with preserving any face for née Sun anymore.
“Née Sun, you don’t need to talk to me like this. Both of us know full well what happened last night. Bao-mama is no outsider either, and I’m already getting on in my years. There’s no need to start animosity like this for the matters of your household. You should first take a look at what kind of daughter you’ve raised.”
The old dowager glared fiercely at née Sun and continued, “You’re heartbroken at granddaughter Hui’s face? She was beaten up because you failed to educate her properly in taking action! She was careless with her words and made you misunderstand granddaughter Yi, yet you started arguing with Meng’er without any proof and then returned to your home. Granddaughter Yi is a girl of action and after you left, felt granddaughter Hui to be the cause of all this. Regardless of whether it was intended or not, that was unforgivable to her, so she punished the source.
“Although one of them didn’t intend for this to happen, and the other grew angry for the sake of her parents’ harmony, sisters must be punished if they don’t live together peacefully. I’ve already taught them a lesson for you. So what kind of fuss are you making now!? You’re the one who left, and now when you come back, you berate the mother-in-law who took care of your children for you? This is beyond ludicrous!”
The old dowager’s words stunned née Sun into silence where she stood, while Bao-mama, off to the side, gleaned some key pieces of information from all this.
Namely, Qin Yining had hit Qin Huining.
Also, Qin Huining’s words had unintentionally caused née Sun to doubt Qin Yining’s background, causing née Sun to fight with Qin Huaiyuan.
Judging from the old dowager’s stance, she didn’t seem to dislike Qin Yining after that altercation either.
These conclusions combined with Qin Yining’s steady bearing just now and Qin Huining teary appearance, not daring to voice what’d happened to her, started to put some context in order in Bao-mama’s mind. She stepped forward, smiling, and tried to smooth things over. “Please be calm, Old Dowager. Our lady is straightforward and speaks her mind without thought. You dote on her so, please don’t misunderstand each other because of something like this.”
Née Sun completely ignored what the old servant said and turned to the quietly standing Qin Yining. “You hit darling Hui?”
“Yes.” Qin Yining responded, her eyes lowered.
“You’re so poisonous!”
“In response to the madame, the connotations in Qin Huining’ words made you misunderstand father and affected your relationship. I took action because I just couldn’t stand for that.”
“What, am I dead?” Née Sun ground her teeth. “Since when was it your turn to punish her?!”
“My lady!” Bao-mama stepped forward quickly, grabbing née Sun’s wrist. The latter’s words were veering dangerously close to inappropriate. She stared deeply into the madame’s eyes and enunciated each word carefully. “Please. Watch. Your. Words.”
Née Sun’s chest heaved in anger as she stared wordlessly into Bao-mama’s eyes. Qin Huining seemed to recover from her shock at that moment and fell to her knees with a thump, distracting née Sun.
“Don’t be angry, mother! It’s my fault, it’s all my fault! Please don’t be angry anymore, it will be all my fault if you hurt yourself with anger!”
Even though née Sun knew that she was supposed to happily accept Qin Yining as her daughter, there was no way she could do so given the hardships her daughter was so bravely facing. If it hadn’t been for Bao-mama reminding her, she really would’ve rushed up and smacked Qin Yining good and proper, turning her face into the same state as Qin Huining’s.
Qin Yining looked calmly at the furious née Sun, her long chilled heart now turning into a block of ice. She was very sensitive to hostility and knew for certain that she hadn’t misjudged the look of utter hate in her mother’s eyes. Now not only did her mother not acknowledge her, but she even wanted to harm her…
She lowered her long lashes and sighed softly. I should really stop holding onto those dreams.
Bao-mama took her leave with a smile when she saw that the old dowager still in a bad mood. The old matriarch didn’t really try to keep the old servant either. Everything was a jumble in her mind and she didn’t want to see any of these people anymore. Even the sight of her usual favorite Qin Huining irritated her now, so she dismissed everyone abruptly.
After leaving Garden of Loving Piety, the group walked silently to the main branch’s Garden of Tranquility. Bao-mama called out to Qin Yining, “Fourth Miss, might this old servant have a few words alone with you?”
This senior madame is maddening! All emotion and no brains!