Née Sun had spoken quite well in her joy. Not only had she complimented a nephew from her mother’s side, she’d also lauded her husband as well. The old dowager doted on her firstborn son the most, so how would she not be pleased such a description? She immediately basked in the shared glory. “Meng’er’s talent in matters of court is indeed without parallel, to say nothing of anything else.”
“And isn’t that due to Old Dowager’s upbringing?” The third madame quipped.
The old dowager smiled so widely at this that her eyes became barely visible creases. Those present were thus inspired by the third madame’s words and started making their own favorable noises on Qin Huaiyuan and the duke’s grandson. Née Sun also felt quite proud when she listened to the veritable flood of compliments.
The merrily smiling old dowager summoned Jixiang. “Prepare the best tea. This is an honored guest, we must treat him well.”
“Understood.” A beaming Jixiang went off to make her preparations.
Since a foreign male was about to enter the inner residence, Qin Yining rose. “Old Dowager, since guests are about to arrive, why don’t we all take our leave for now?” She looked questioningly back at her sisters. The third, seventh, and eighth miss all nodded, but the sixth miss and Qin Huining seemed a bit reluctant. A deep flush had crept upon Qin Huining’s ears.
Qin Yining had been attentive in her lessons from Zhan-mama and had grown more perceptive when it came to picking up behavior. She immediately noted their odd behavior and couldn’t help but wonder what it was about.
The old dowager thought for a moment and exchanged a few hushed words with her daughters-in-law. “No need, your cousin isn’t an outsider. It’s rare that one as talented as he visits us, so you all should stay and broaden your horizons.”
Qin Yining assented with a smile, but was quite mystified. Just how amazing is this cousin? The old dowager treats him so differently.
“Lujuan, go have someone see if grandsons Yu, Han, and Xian are in the outer residence. Tell them that their cousin from the Duke of Ding has come, and bid them come greet him.”
She’s even summoning her own grandsons!
Qin-mama took her leave with a smile, sneaking a glance at the senior madame when she left. The old dowager’s enthusiastic welcome had given her quite some face. Qin Yining remained standing by the old dowager’s side with a faint smile, revealing nothing, but growing more and more mystified.
As she surreptitiously scanned the room, she saw Qin Huining playing with the ribbon on her dress with a lowered head. Even her neck was flushed by now. Qin Yining couldn’t help but arch an eyebrow in question. What’s wrong with her?
The old dowager wasn’t allowing them to leave, but the males and females still needed to be separated, so they couldn’t just remain where they were. The third madame called for the girls to head into the inner room while she had the maids set up an exquisitely carved redwood divider that depicted carp frolicking amongst the lotuses.
If one tried to look inside from the outer room, they would only be able to vaguely make out the silhouettes of people through the divider and intricately carved floor screen. But if the girls inside picked a good angle, they would be able to see clearly outside.
Although Qin Yining was curious, she wasn’t in a hurry to see this mysterious visitor. She sat at a moderate distance and conversed quietly with the third, seventh, and eighth miss. Qin Huining immediately claimed the position closest to the outside as soon as she entered. She’d be able to see everyone in the outer room with a tilt of her head. The sixth miss sat down next to Qin Huining. The two talked softly, flicking glances at Qin Yining every now and then and immediately snickering after.
When she saw the two thus, Qin Yining naturally knew they were deriding her. But she’d never cared about the words of others. It wasn’t any skin off her nose, so she lowered her lashes indifferently and played with the teacups on the short table.
But even though she didn’t care, others didn’t share her equanimity.
“Fourth sister, look at how they are!” Qin Baoning was annoyed and glared maliciously at Qin Huining. The latter looked back coolly, not angry at all, instead smiling even more brightly. The more she acted thus, the angrier the eighth miss became. She leapt to her feet and was about to erupt in full force when Qin Yining pulled on her hand.
“Eighth sister, do you remember everything Zhan-mama said yesterday?” There was a cheerful lilt to her tone, but the strength behind her hand didn’t give an inch.
The third miss heaved a sigh of relief at Qin Yining’s fast reaction and tugged on the eighth miss’ other arm, bringing the young girl to sit next to her.
“Be at peace, little sister,” she urged softly. “This is Old Dowager’s inner room and guests are coming in shortly. If you really did stir up something right now, it’d be your fault in the end. It’s one thing to be punished by our grandmother, but you’d lose face in front of the guest as well. And what if word got out about it afterwards?”
Qin Baoning had a short temper that burned as quickly as a firecracker and was just as impulsive, but she wasn’t stupid. When she carefully reexamined what had just happened, her temper flared again. Her words came out through gritted teeth. “She was doing that on purpose!”
“Since you know that, why be angry?” Qin Yining offered a bit of fruit to the young girl with a silver fork. The eighth miss accepted it, but was unable to bring herself to eat it in the heat of the moment.
“There is only one character for ‘Qin’ in writing,” the third miss continued from before. “No matter what, we’re still one family in the end. When we go our own ways in the future, it’ll be family that helps each other in times of need.”
The eighth miss had always respected the third miss and would listen to her older sister. But she was still angry, so she vented under her breath, “Who wants their help? That kind of petty, base character! Fourth sister hasn’t been in their way at all after she’d returned, but they’re always poking and prodding at her. Get over it!”
“Don’t be angry, eighth sister. I know you mean well for me.” Qin Yining held the eighth miss’ hand and shook it gently, trying to shake the irritation out of the girl. When Qin Baoning looked into her fourth sister’s expressive eyes, she felt her raging mood calm a little.
Qin Huining rolled her eyes. Qin Yining likes to play the good person, huh! Calming other people down! The sixth miss snorted derisively and continued whispering with Qin Huining.
Scattered footsteps sounded from outside at that moment. A group of maids greeted the newcomers, quickly revealed to be a crowd of young men.
When Qin Huining heard their voices, she plastered herself to the screen and held her breath. Even the sixth miss craned her neck, trying to find a good angle. The sixth and eighth misses were also curious, silently getting up and padding over to the floor screen. Only third miss Qin Jianing and Qin Yining remained where they were, discussing matters of embroidery.
The first through the door was a smiling Qin Huaiyuan in a flowing, silvery-gray house robe. [1. http://s13.sinaimg.cn/mw690/001q5Cn8zy6PGK1GheAcc&690] He had a hand on the shoulder of a young man dressed in deep blue flowing robes, imprinted with patterns for good luck. This young man looked limber, with a cleanly shaven rectangular face, two jet-black eyes, thick brows and high nose bridge. He looked to be in good spirits as he chatted animatedly.
Senior Master Qin Yu, Second Master Qin Han, and Fifth Master Qin Xian filed in behind him. Even the young Ninth Master Qin Xuan and six-year-old Tenth Master Qin Rong was in the group. It was the first complete assembly of the ‘bao radical’ generation that Qin Yining had witnessed since returning to the manor. [2. Just like the girls of Qin Yining’s generation all have “ning” in their name, so do the boys of her generation share the same radical, the same part of a character in their name. Think of it as all the boys in the younger generation starting with the letter “b”, ie. Brian, Byron, Brandon, Barry, etc.]
“Has Old Dowager Qin been well? Sun Yu greets the Qin matriarch.” Sun Yu gave a dapper bow, his posture elegant and at ease.
“Rise, oh do rise.” The old dowager helped him up with both hands. “It’s been too long! Grandson Sun’s learning must have grown by leaps and bounds!”
“Surely Old Dowager Qin jests.” Sun Yu’s laugh was as warm as the spring breeze. “I have come to benefit from uncle-in-law’s sage guidance.”
“Come, sit.” The old dowager instructed servants to bring both a chair. “Serve the best tea!”
Sun Yu turned to greet the senior, second, and the third madame. The senior madame smiled merrily. “You came directly from home? How is the old madame’s health?” [3. This would be née Sun’s mother, the duchess.]
“In response to my aunt, grandmother’s health has taken a turn for the better.” Sun Yu smiled in response. “Don’t worry, grandmother’s specially tasked me to request a favor from the old dowager during my visit this time.”
“The duchess is simply too polite.” The old dowager smiled. “We’re in-laws, there’s no need for such ceremony! Just tell me what it is. As for you, it’s rare enough that you’ve come to visit. Do come by more often in the future. Spread some of your character to your cousins so that they may all be as studious and hardworking as you.”
“Old Dowager Qin praises Yuanming too highly, I am ashamed.” Sun Yu gave the old dowager another bow and deftly extracted an invitation from his sleeve. “My grandfather and grandmother sent me to make a request of the old dowager when they learned that Uncle Qin had regained his lost pearl. Namely, that my aunt be allowed to bring cousin Yining back for a visit. Our grandparents would like to see her as well.”
Everyone was rather surprised. If it was just a matter of having née Sun bring Qin Yining for a visit, it’d be enough to send an old granny carrying a message to née Sun. To think that the Duke of Ding would treat this matter with such gravity that he’d send the great scholar Sun Yu to extend the invitation!
The second madame smiled gently. “The duke must dote on this granddaughter very much as well.”
“Indeed, niece Yi is smart and adorable, gentle and polite. Even our Old Dowager dotes greatly on her, much less her maternal grandmother!” The third madame started laughing as well.
When the old dowager recalled what had happened that morning, she too felt Qin Yining to be immensely adorable and joined in benevolently.
“Ah, oh me, I love her to bits. I wouldn’t want her to leave my side at all. But since the duchess misses her granddaughter so and sent even a great talent like Yuanming to be the messenger, how can I not let her go?” She turned to née Sun. “Eldest daughter-in-law, take your daughter back home for a visit tomorrow. Remember to bring the gifts I previously prepared as well.”
What previously prepared gifts? It’s rather my house who sent you gifts! Née Sun snorted disdainfully on the inside, scoffing at the old dowager’s act. However, she responded with a respectful smile. “Of course, your daughter-in-law will do so.”
Sun Yu bowed to the old dowager with both hands folded in front of him. He was a male outsider after all, and wasn’t suited to stay long in the inner residence. He only sat for a little while longer before leaving with Qin Huaiyuan and the other Qin boys.
Qin Huining immediately crawled onto the luohan bed when he left, cracking open the window a touch to sneak a look outside. Cold air gusted into the room, drawing glances from several of the girls.
As dense as Qin Yining might be in this particular area, she too had vaguely grasped the situation from Qin Huining’s untoward actions.
Back in the outer room, the old dowager wondered, “Why is it so cold all of sudden? Is wind coming in from somewhere?”
Qin Huining hastily shut the window.