Chapter 23: A Close Relationship
“Understood, I will surely convey the miss’ intentions.” Ruyi and Jixiang curtsied politely. “If the miss has no other orders, we will depart now.”
“Please do as you wish, sisters.” Qin Yining responded with a smile.
Qin-mama also took her leave at this time. “Miss, I’ll be off now.”
“Let me see you out.” Qin Yining lifted her hand in an “after you” gesture, making motions to help the old servant down the stairs with extreme graciousness.
“Here is far enough.” Qin-mama declined courteously, but she was quite pleased, and her image of Qin Yining brightened by a few degrees yet again. Even though she continuously made polite protestations, the fourth miss insisted on seeing her out the door. The mama curtsied yet again before finally taking her leave for good.
Back in her yard, Qin Yining looked at the items forming a small mountain in front of her. “Enter the old dowager’s presents in the records and arrange for Zhan-mama’s accommodations in the side wing.”
“Understood.” Zhu-mama led the servants off.
Ruilan was standing next to Qin Yining and murmured, “Miss, something’s off about this. Zhan-mama was here to teach only you yesterday, why have things changed overnight? Did Senior Madame agree to this as well?”
“She must’ve. Zhan-mama is here because of the main branch. If Senior Madame hadn’t allowed this, then the mama wouldn’t have agreed no matter how others cajoled her.”
Ruilan flushed beet red in indignation. “This is too unreasonable! They’re bullying you, miss! They envy what you have and thought of a way to take a piece of what’s yours!”
“Don’t be angry. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Qin Yining comforted her maid.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way? Ruilan didn’t immediately understand what her mistress meant by that. She picked up her feet to follow Qin Yining back into the main residence. But as she passed by the side wing and saw Zhu-mama closely overlooking the serving girls putting away the palace servant’s belongings, the maid understood her miss’ words.
Zhan-mama had instantly moved to Snowpear Courtyard after accepting the invitation to teach all the girls in the manor. Wasn’t this the clearest explanation?
I was so angry just now, but the miss wasn’t angry at all, and she was the one affected! I was hopping mad, but the miss was as calm as ever and swiftly and clearly analyzed the situation. She’s not moved by any favor or disgrace. Ruilan’s scattered emotions quickly settled as a new thought popped into her mind. I’ll definitely go far if I follow the miss!
Time passed swiftly. It was soon the fifteenth of the month, and the day to hand in her copies of “The Classic of Filial Piety”. Qin Yining had been exceedingly busy the past two days, spending the mornings with her sisters and the afternoons in an outer residence study with the teacher. Zhan-mama would even give her private lessons at night, which left her with only a little bit of spare time to copy the classic.
Despite the frantic schedule, she rather liked this kind of life. She was a dry sponge thrown into water, furiously soaking up all this new knowledge without tiring.
Qin Yining was a hard worker and highly resolute person. Because she’d experienced a much more difficult life, she didn’t feel tired no matter how tiring this learning process was. When the other girls were complaining of how difficult things were or how tired they were, she remained grateful for the experience. She was sharp witted and could remember almost everything with one glance.
Adding her natural work ethic and grace with which she interacted with others, she grew even closer to Zhan-mama after two short days. The mama was dredging up every last bit of information and knowledge she had to teach Qin Yining.
She’d flipped through the “Tao Te Ching” the past two days and saw the lines “misfortune and happiness coexist and depend on each other; misfortune gives rise to happiness, whereas within happiness lies misfortune”. These lines seemed rather apt for her current situation, making her grin as she took a breather from her packed schedule.
That morning, Qin Yining brought Ruilan and Qiulu with her to the morning greetings at Garden of Loving Piety. Walking into the residence, they ran into head maid Ruyi giving orders to a serving girl. Ruyi immediately came over all smiles when she saw Qin Yining, bending at the knee in greeting. “Greetings to Fourth Miss.”
“Hello big sister Ruyi. How is Old Dowager today? Did she enjoy her meal?”
“Old Dowager is well. Miss Huining, Third Miss, Sixth Miss, Seventh Miss, and Eighth Miss are all inside. Please enter as well.” They’d arrived at the covered hallway by the time they’d finished speaking. Ruyi personally lifted the door curtains for the newcomer.
After entering, Qin Yining handed over a newly made crimson-red cape lined with white rabbit fur to Ruilan, and turned past a divider, decorated with magpies alighting on plum blossoms, to enter the main room. The ladies were all sitting or standing, their postures quite at ease.
Qin Huining was handing an exquisite teacup set etched in gold to the old dowager. She lifted her head to see Qin Yining dressed in an ivory vest ensemble. Her pupils contracted violently at the sight even as she pulled a smile on her face. “Younger sister Little Creek is here.”
Qin Yining felt quite disdainful of this petty act. It looked like she didn’t need to give Qin Huining too much credit. Someone as spiteful as this would only know these kinds of tricks in the end. It was just a name. Those in the countryside called “Dog Leftovers” or “Donkey Eggs” [1. I did a straight translation of things for the humor in them. Dog leftovers literally means the leftovers after dogs have eaten. Donkey eggs means someone who’s clumsy and stubborn. In ancient times, giving a child an ugly childhood nickname was born out of the belief that the child would be hardy, healthy, and easy to raise.] still grew up perfectly fine despite those names. What was the point in constantly harping on it? She couldn’t be bothered with reacting to this kind of taunt, and pretended Qin Huining didn’t exist. Instead, she greeted the old dowager with a grand gesture.
However, the eighth miss couldn’t stand for this kind of treatment and mocked back, “It looks like something’s truly wrong with Miss Huining’s memory. You can’t even remember fourth sister’s name.”
Qin Huining inwardly sneered at the eighth miss for being an idiot. You dare kick up a fuss at me in front of the old dowager? She flushed with anger and made her voice tremble, “What do you mean by this, eighth sister?!”
“You don’t understand anything at all? It seems not only is your memory faulty, but your brains haven’t got much going for them either! Senior uncle said that fourth sister’s name is Yining, but you keep making such a big deal out of a nickname! You’re so petty!”
“You!” Tears swam in Qin Huining’s eyes as she looked to the old dowager for help.
The matriarch didn’t like seeing the girls fight in front of her and spoke sternly, “Granddaughter Bao, what on earth are you talking about?”
The eighth miss wanted to talk back to the old dowager, but was quickly restrained by the third and seventh miss. The sixth miss flicked her eyes at Qin Huining, looking sideways back down at Qin Yining. As if unhearing, the fourth miss had already made her obeisance and had yet to rise. She’d been kneeling for longer than necessary because of them.
Qin Huining lowered her head so that no one would be able to see her expression clearly and smirked slightly. A blatant smile was on the sixth miss’ face, whereas Qin Baoning was a bit irked by her own actions.
The old dowager had forgotten about the girl in front of her; she hadn’t meant to purposefully give Qin Yining a hard time. She glared at the eighth miss before saying, “You may rise, granddaughter Yi.”
“Many thanks to Old Dowager.” Qin Yining immediately received an apologetic smile from the eighth miss when she rose. She knew that Qin Baoning hadn’t meant for that to happen and so responded in kind as well.
A maid announced at this time, “Senior, Second, and Third Madame have arrived.”
The girls all rose to their feet and organized themselves into their places by age. Qin-mama showed in the madames in order of seniority as the old dowager straightened her posture. She bade them all sit after all of her daughters-in-law made their greetings.
When Qin Huining saw that everyone had arrived, she immediately took a sheaf of papers from Bitong’s hands and proffered them to the matriarch. She bent her knee and spoke with lowered head, “Old Dowager, your granddaughter spoke too quickly and unintentionally caused turmoil in the house a few days ago. These are ten copies of ‘The Classic of Filial Piety’ for your review.”
The old dowager was pleased by Qin Huining’s docile attitude and appropriate words. She noted that the penmanship on the paper was neat and orderly, obvious evidence of clear effort.
“Mm, you wrote well.” The old dowager turned to look at Qin Yining. “Where’s yours, granddaughter Yi?”
“I’ll have someone bring them in immediately.” Qin Yining called for Ruilan after she spoke. The maid assented and came in with a very thick bundle of papers. She placed the bundle on the short stool in front of the old dowager after curtsying to the various mistresses in the room.
The matriarch picked out a few pieces of paper at random, and her expression immediately darkened after a closer look. “You wrote these?”
“Yes,” Qin Yining quickly responded.
Everyone was busily observing the old dowager’s expressions and couldn’t help but crane forward curiously when they noted the matriarch’s anger. A variety of interesting expressions bloomed when they caught a clear glance of the paper. Née Sun’s expression insantly sank. The second and third madame began adjusting their sleeves and hems, as if they hadn’t seen anything. The girls all lowered their heads and avoided looking at each other, with only the sixth miss muffling a snort of laughter while muttering, “This is your penmanship? A dog rolling around on the paper would’ve done better!”
The second madame looked over very sternly when she heard, making the haughty sixth miss jump. She immediately fell silent. The old dowager shifted the bundle of papers to her knees and placed them next to Qin Huining’s. The comparison made the differences almost glaring.
She still held a grudge towards née Sun for stomping off home after arguing with Qin Huaiyuan, so she couldn’t help but denounce her daughter-in-law, “Née Sun, you should oversee granddaughter Yi’s homework more! Look at her handwriting! Plopping a cockroach in ink and having it crawl around ten times on the paper would still result in better penmanship! What a pity for all this paper and ink!”
Née Sun’s face flushed hot and cold, and she glared ferociously at Qin Yining, who was looking down at the ground. She wasn’t willing to take this kind of abuse silently and fired back, “That isn’t fair, Old Dowager! She’s just come back, and it’s not my fault that her handwriting is bad! I want to teach her, but we didn’t have the fortune to grow together as a family!”
How awful of Qin Huaiyuan to offend others and cause this piteous mother-daughter duo to be separated!
The old dowager sat backwards in her anger, but was quickly struck by a thought. This scene seems rather familiar. When that servant Yuxiang had come complaining, the old dowager had gotten angry and vented her rage, lecturing Qin Yining. But Qin Yining had accepted it gracefully and protected the old dowager and née Sun’s dignity. But today, under similar circumstances, her mother was openly retorting in this kind of tone. Née Sun’s not even as clear minded as a young girl!
The atmosphere within the room chilled, and no one spoke. But Qin-mama broke the silence after taking a look at the two piles of paper. “Old Dowager has set both girls the task of making ten copies. Now that the two misses have handed in their punishments, should we count them?” She elaborated a bit jokingly, “Let’s see if either one was a little too clever and left out a copy or two.”
The old dowager wasn’t willing for the matter to grow much bigger, so she went along with the old servant’s suggestion and rolled her eyes at née Sun before agreeing lazily, “Then let’s count them.”