Qin Yining was a bit dejected after so thoroughly receiving her mother’s enmity. But she forced herself to perk up at Bao-mama’s words and cleared her mind of unnecessary emotions, smiling politely back at the old servant. “Bao-mama is too polite, it’s really too much. Does grandmother have any words for me?”
It was the first time Bao-mama had had the opportunity to inspect Qin Yining up close. A random person may not have been able to discern the connotations hidden in those words, but the old servant was an old hand after so many years in the inner residence. How would she fail to understand?
The first part of Qin Yining’s words expressed respect for the Duchess of Ding and the old servant, giving the latter a good deal of face, but the second part was a subtle reminder of Bao-mama’s identity.
It was a warning to the old servant that she should think twice if she wanted to favor Qin Huining or capitalize on her seniority. Having just seen how the old dowager treated Qin Yining and the girl’s poise, Bao-mama wasn’t angered at all by this veiled warning. In fact, her gaze warmed with a few hints of approval and respect.
“Shall we move over there, miss?” Bao-mama pointed at the mountain of chrysanthemums in Garden of Tranquility. Qin Yining followed the direction of the old servant’s finger and saw that apart from pots of multi-colored flowers making up a small mountain, there was a plot of empty land around it.
It was also a slight distance away from the main residence, side wings, and the covered hallways between the buildings and servant quarters. She didn’t understand at first, but comprehension dawned when the two walked to the mountain of chrysanthemums and looked back at the main residence.
There were no hiding places nearby, so there was no fear that someone would overhear their conversation. Qin Yining made a quick mental note. People who grow up in these noble houses really are very smart.
Bao-mama stood in front of Qin Yining and smiled, “The miss must be undergoing through a period of adjustment since coming back to the manor.”
“I am, really,” Qin Yining responded honestly. “But to be able to return at all is a gift from the heavens. I have no other desires. I just wish to stay by my parents and elders’ side.”
Bao-mama approved of this response. She could tell that Qin Yining wasn’t used to talking to people when she noticed the girl’s slow and deliberate words. It was obvious that she was carefully thinking over what words to use. But she had said the most appropriate things, a clear sign of intelligence.
The old servant had wanted to approach the matter in a roundabout way, but set that intention aside after noting Qin Yining’s reaction. She cut straight to the chase, “Senior Madame has likely shown some resistance to accepting you after you’ve come back, hasn’t she?”
Qin Yining blinked in surprise, but immediately pulled her lips into a smile. “Bao-mama must be joking. No mother would reject her own child. The madame just hasn’t seen things clearly yet. Her motherly heart is something I stand in awe of, not to mention the admiration I feel for Miss Huining as well.”
Bao-mama rearranged the hollowed out silver bangle on her arm as she turned over Qin Yining’s words carefully. Her smile became a touch more genuine. There were four levels of meaning to the girl’s words.
The fourth miss understood that née Sun was only blinded at the moment. She recognized née Sun as a good mother who loved her children. Yet she was still clearly aware who had clouded née Sun’s eyes. But most importantly, she had also made clear that she didn’t hate her mother for not accepting her, and was willing to wait. Her meaning, while veiled by her words, was vivid.
Clearly, the fourth miss had understood the old servant’s thoughts before anything had needed to be said, and given the answer that the duchess had most wanted to know. Even the misses by the duchess’ side may not be as clearsighted as Qin Yining. This alone was proof enough that she was made of stronger stuff than that brash lady of theirs who’d come running back home just last night.
“This old servant understands the fourth miss’ meaning.” Bao-mama returned a solemn curtsy.
Qin Yining shifted to the side, again not fully accepting the gesture, and returned a half one as well. She reached out for Bao-mama’s elderly hands.
“You’re a trusted confidante by my maternal grandmother’s side. In my eyes, you’re also my elder. Please don’t stand on ceremony like this. I don’t know how the madame is arranging things, and don’t know when I can go visit my grandparents. For now, please bring my regards to grandmother.”
“Yes, I’ll do so.” Bao-mama and Qin Yining smiled at each other. In unspoken accord, they slowly walked back to the main residence together, inconsequential small talk filling the air.
The maids in the hallway lifted the door curtains and announced their entrance. Qin Yining and Bao-mama entered to see a furious née Sun sitting on the chaise by the window. Qin Huining was right next to her and tearfully dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.
The frozen atmosphere inside the house let both newcomers know that Qin Huining must’ve just finished venting her feelings in an undoubtedly extremely biased manner.
Née Sun wrested her temper under control with a visible twitch of her lips, and politely smiled at the old servant. “Please sit, Bao-mama. Allow me to take care of some family matters before chatting with you.”
She stiffly had Caiju bring over a stool and didn’t pay attention to whether the old servant had properly taken her seat before pointing at Qin Yining. “You! On your knees!”
Qin Yining had retracted the faint smile on her face as soon as she entered. She raised her slender eyebrows slightly, pursing her light pink lips slightly, and kneeled without a hint of resistance. She kept her gaze lowered as she spoke in an even tone, “Please don’t be angry, madame.”
“Don’t be angry?! How can I not be angry?”! Née Sun shot to her feet, one hand on her waist while the other pointed accusingly at Qin Yining. Her red lacquered fingernail was almost poking the girl’s face.
“You made a move on darling Hui as soon as I left! Do you think you’re still in the mountains?! That this place has no rules here whatsoever?!”
Qin Yining closed her eyes, unable to find even the slightest trace of hope in her frozen heart anymore. Perhaps now that her last hopes were extinguished, she could finally ignore the hurt the words caused.
“In response to the madame, your daughter didn’t do that.”
“You didn’t!? If you didn’t, then did ghosts slap darling Hui?!”
“Since the madame knows that Qin Huining was slapped, then you should also know why she was slapped. As your daughter, how could I stand for someone sowing discord between you and father?”
“Blasphemy! How dare you talk back to me!? How arrogant you must’ve been after I left, huh?! You didn’t grow up by my side, so I don’t expect you to be as learned as the other noble misses, but you can’t bring any of that crass, base, city mannerisms into our manor! Do you think yourself a harlot shrieking on the streets, that whoever has the hardest fist can talk the loudest?! I can tell you, you can just keep dreaming!”
Née Sun’s voice was shrill at the beginning, but by the end, had grown to a full blown shriek as she threw every criticism she could think of. At the end, she gasped for breath, but still didn’t feel like she’d given full vent to her feelings yet. She glared ferociously down at Qin Yining’s head of black hair. She roared, “Lift your head!”
Qin Yining raised her head obediently. She hadn’t cried, but the first hint of tears had just begun to pool in her bright and clear eyes. Her eyes were still as calm as ever, without a trace of dissatisfaction or resentment.
Née Sun felt something crash into her heart simply by the girl looking up at her. The hand she’d raised high to slap the girl with froze right in midair.
Qin Yining lowered her long lashes when she saw her mother’s raised hand. Though her eyelashes trembled, not a single tear slipped past her eyelids.
“Don’t be angry, madame. It’s not worth it to harm your body like this, and worth even less to exert yourself with action. If you’re angry that I hit Qin Huining, you can give me any punishment. Have me kneel on roof tiles, or make me chop wood and haul water.” Her voice fell to a mumble at this point. “I saw a rich family punish their maid like that once when I delivered their firewood.”
Punishing a maid?
Anyone with a bit of conscience would be moved if they took a moment to recall her life thus far. Right then, née Sun wasn’t even treating her like a daughter. Even the maids in the madame’s residence enjoyed better treatment!
The human heart was a soft, tender thing. Bao-mama had gotten to her feet, feeling as though her heart was being squeezed. Née Sun’s hand drifted down listlessly as she looked down at Qin Yining with a complicated look.
“Don’t be angry, my lady. Remember the mistress’ words.” Bao-mama cautioned her at this time.
Née Sun pursed her lips a few times, but ultimately remained silent.
Witnessing the fire go out of her mother, Qin Huining was grinding her teeth ferociously, her hands tightened into fists in her sleeves. It took her a great deal of effort to squeeze out, “Never mind, mother. Really, I’m fine.”
Her words reminded née Sun why she’d been so angry. Except, she could no longer summon that unbearable rage, only a faint sense of heartache.
Bao-mama took a deep look at Qin Huining, quickly understanding more. “My lady, why don’t you rest a bit? Allow this servant to take a walk in the garden.”
Née Sun wasn’t in the mood to overly inquire of the old servant and waved her hand noncommittally. Bao-mama bent her knee in a brief curtsey and summoned a few maids and granny servants. She had some questions of her own.
Qin Yining remained on her knees for forty five minutes before née Sun spoke again, “Forget it. Remember this lesson well. Don’t be this violent in the future. You’re a noble daughter of the prime minister’s manor after all.
“As the official firstborn of the main branch, people will gossip and speak ill of us if we don’t behave in a mannerly fashion, or bring in the undesirable airs of the city. Losing the face of our family means affecting the reputation of all the girls in the family, not just you.”
Née Sun’s tone had softened, so Qin Yining’s response was even more gentle. “Madame speaks truly, your daughter knows now.”
As Née Sun looked at this soft-spoken version of Qin Yining, she suddenly felt that she shouldn’t bully a child who’d led a tough life like this. When she thought of what her mother had said, née Sun sighed. She had to acknowledge this daughter no matter what, in order to consolidate her position in the manor. She might as well do so happily.
Besides, once she’d gotten over her anger, it really didn’t seem like Qin Huaiyuan to confuse the Qin family bloodline like this. Perhaps this girl really was hers… Well, they might be strangers now, but maybe later…
“You’re dismissed.” Née Sun rubbed her forehead, not looking at Qin Yining anymore.
The girl took her leave with a quiet affirmative reply, meeting Ruilan and Qiulu in the outer room for them to help her into a cloak and lead the way back home.
Née Sun took a look at Qin Huining’s reddened eyes and cheeks. Her heart went out to her daughter as she comforted the girl, “Don’t feel so wronged. She’s a pitiful person after all. Just let this matter go. I have some good ointment here, I’ll have Jin-mama apply it in a moment. Your face will heal soon.”
Qin Huining almost broke her teeth from all the silent gnashing. See! It’s so easy to see who’s your real daughter now! Despite this massive knot of resentment, she couldn’t alienate her greatest backer. She wrapped her hands around née Sun’s arm with a practiced smile, “Mother speaks truly. I’ll do whatever you say.”