Chapter 204: An Enraged and Resentful Old Cao
Grand Preceptor Cao looked at Qin Yining with a smile, his hands behind his back. “So it’s the Qin fourth miss. You almost became my granddaughter-in-law.”
The girl had fully caught the contentious conversation between the two men and knew what her attitude should be. She made a perfunctory curtsey.
“This little girl wouldn’t dare reach beyond her station. The Caos have a free and easy family culture, and Sir Cao has fully inherited the essence of the family teachings. This little girl possesses only shallow knowledge and has no courage or eye for talent. I’m not worthy of Sir Cao’s dashing and unbridled character.”
Grand Preceptor Cao’s face was immensely dark. He naturally knew that the empress had wanted the emperor bestow Qin Yining to his grandson, Cao Chengjun. But for some reason, his grandson had taken liberties with the Qin fourth miss in front of the emperor, and apparently tried to molest her as well.
The matter had irritated the emperor and the grand preceptor had even been summoned into the palace for a lecture. Imperial wrath had accused him of lax family governance and failing to raise his grandson properly. Qin Yining bringing up the matter again was a slap in his face!
“Good, good, very good! Like father like daughter alright! You’re just as sharp-tongued as Qin Huaiyuan.” Grand Preceptor Cao sniffed derisively.
Qin Yining flashed a smile. “Many thanks for your compliments, Grand Preceptor. I’m unworthy of them. I’m far inferior compared to the grand preceptor or the empress.”
The grand preceptor’s hand shook from anger. He felt it’d be too demeaning to argue with a little girl and knew that he couldn’t win a verbal spat with this pair of foxes. He decided to brandish his sleeve and leave.
There was no point in saying anything. He just wanted them to die!
“I won’t be sending you off. Farewell, Grand Preceptor!” Qin Huaiyuan bowed with a smile. Qin Yining also led her servants in curtsies.
In his fury, Grand Preceptor Cao set a fast pace out of the Qin Manor. If one only looked at his departing figure, he rather looked like he was running away instead.
Father and daughter sent the official off with their eyes. It wasn’t until their target was far away and the servants had closed the doors that Qin Yining burst out in laughter.
The second elder master wiped off a forehead full of sweat and asked anxiously, “What should we do now? How are you able to still laugh, niece Yi? Didn’t we just offend the grand preceptor to the point of no return?”
Qin Yining and Qin Huaiyuan looked at each other.
“Don’t worry, second uncle.” The girl smiled. “Even if we treated the Caos with respect, they would still bully our family. Did I hear correctly just now that he wants to blame something about the Ministry of Revenue onto you and my father?”
The second elder master nodded. “The Ministry of Revenue has run a deficit for many years. There’s an old and bad habit at court of borrowing from this department. After so many years, there’s only lending slips and no silver at the ministry. The government needs money to fight the war, and the emperor needs talents and liquidity. The grand preceptor is trying to assign us the blame for the shortfall in silver.”
“Isn’t that smart of him. If he uses this as an excuse to say that father is incompetent when the government needs money, the emperor is sure to care very much. Things might take very bad if father becomes a target at this time.” Qin Yining frowned anxiously, her fretful look at odds with the disdainful confidence she’d had in facing the grand preceptor earlier.
Qin Huaiyuan shook his head. “This is just an illustration of disaster knocking on our closed doors. I’m already of a mind to retire and spend my days fishing, living out my days with the emperor, but my enemies still come looking for me. Don’t worry, second brother. They won’t show us mercy even if I kneel and beg. I did indeed impulsively say a lot of things today, but I feel so much better for it. Unfortunately, you’re being dragged into things because of it.”
The second elder master waved a hand. “Don’t say that, big brother. We’re a family. Your matters are my matters. Those who wish us harm will find any excuse to do so. This is just one more example of that.”
Qin Huaiyuan smiled wryly, devoid of the daring flair he’d possessed when talking to Grand Preceptor Cao. His shoulders drooped wearily, completely different from the man usually as tall and upstanding as a mountain.
Father, daughter, and uncle brought the servants through the flower-hung gate to the Garden of Loving Piety.
“The emperor relies heavily on the grand preceptor.” The marquis sighed. “Naturally, he wants to make use of his current power to cause trouble for us. I’ve fallen out of favor and with the emperor's personality, he won't hesitate to take my life if the grand preceptor gives him hope that the Tatars might come to our aid. I really…”
The second elder master almost teared up with distress. His big brother had spared no effort serving the country all of these years. Matters of nation and court had been his wholehearted focus, but look at the straits he was in now. Not only had he been stripped of all his positions and humiliated, but he was being kicked when down!
Qin Yining looked at her father and uncle, perturbed. She knew that it was beyond depressing for people who had been loyal to a fault all their lives to face such persecution, and persecution sanctioned by the emperor to boot. They wouldn’t be easily cheered up by a word or two by outsiders. She could only offer a smile.
“Don’t worry, father and second uncle. I think that things won’t get out of control here. Grand Preceptor Cao has no evidence and can’t raise anything to the emperor. We still have time to think of a plan.” The fourth miss’ gentle smile seemed like a sunflower bathing beneath the sun, giving one vibrant hope.
Qin Huaiyuan shook his head with a smile, wordlessly entering the residence.
These things had to be figured out on one’s own. It wasn’t as if she would be helping if she said more, so Qin Yining trailed behind her father to visit the old dowager.
All of the womenfolk were gathered in the old dowager’s residence. Qin-mama hastily passed on a message inside when she saw Qin Huaiyuan return and lifted up the pearl door curtain for the visitors. Jixiang lifted up the gauze inner door curtain. They quickly lowered the curtains after everyone had set foot inside to prevent insects from following them in.
The old dowager sat up when she saw her son.
“Meng’er, what did Grand Preceptor Cao want? Is something happening again? I feel that if it wasn’t for you, he would’ve brought his men in to raid our manor.”
“Not at all. Everything’s fine.” Qin Huaiyuan sat down next to his mother. “Don’t fret, it’s nothing major. The war requires silver and the Ministry of Revenue has absolutely none. He’s using the time I was the prime minister to pin the missing silver on me. But they have no evidence, so we’re safe for now.”
Safe for now? The color drained from the old dowager’s face as she grew livid with anger. She found it hard to breath.
Qin-mama hastily helped her mistress lie down and coaxed soothingly, feeding the old dowager some water before the matriarch’s complexion improved.
“Do the heavens wish for our family to end? Meng’er is an honest and upright official, how would he ever embezzle? He’s just trumping up a charge so he can condemn us!”
The matriarch’s words brought tears to the eyes of the womenfolk. They were now a scattered bunch after Qin Huaiyuan had been forced out of power. Those who’d close to him no longer visited. The family knew that it’d be incredibly difficult to have anyone speak on their behalf, given what had happened.
Given Grand Preceptor Cao’s renewed position as the foremost official, how would he not make full use of this opportunity to take revenge? Whoever had power at court had the right to speak. The second elder master was an inconsequential official and Qin Huaiyuan was now a nobody, and the Qins didn’t have a single person willing to speak for them!
The group’s expressions were the height of bleak desolation. Just as they all remained silent, with some crying quietly, Qitai’s voice suddenly sounded from outside.
Qin Huaiyuan rose and peered through the screen window to see Qitai standing beneath the covered hallway. The apprehension on his face was clear to see.
“What is it?”
“Milord, the crown prince has come to visit and bumped into the grand preceptor in front of the main doors. The two got into an argument and are now cursing at each other! Please go take a look!”
“I see.” Qin Huaiyuan looked blankly for a moment before turning with a rueful smile. “The crown prince has held his tongue against the grand preceptor for a while as well. He doesn’t dare show his temper normally, but it seems like it’s all come to a head today.”
The third elder master nodded. “I agree. I’ve seen the crown prince interact with grand preceptors, grand tutors, and other personnel assigned to him. He’s the closest to you. So now that the grand preceptor wants to use this time to blame the revenue shortfall on big and second brother, the crown prince will naturally step forward to speak on your behalf.”
“Indeed. The crown prince is candid and straightforward, an outstanding man with significant talent in drawing. What a pity that he was born in the wrong times and the fates are against him…” Qin Huaiyuan’s smile faded and he sighed. “If it’d been times of peace, he would’ve made a fine crown prince to hold down the fort with a couple loyal subjects by his side. But these troubled times of war and suffering leave him no room to showcase his talents at all.”
The second master piped in. “To say something incredibly disrespectful… the country might have a chance if the emperor passed his seat onto the crown prince, executed the trampress and the Caos, and had big brother help the crown prince.”
“With father’s wits, there’s nothing that a ten thousand strong Valiant Tigers can do against our thirty five thousand strong army. Great Yan might not lose. But the emperor listens to traitors and hopes for faraway help. The seat of commander-in-chief is still empty even now. How does an army without a head fight the Valiant Tigers?” Qin Yining grew angrier the more she spoke. She itched to grab the trash emperor and give him a few dozen slaps. Maybe she could beat some clarity into him!