Chapter 49: Foiled Plans
The carriage rolled to a halt in front of the Qin Manor side door. Née Sun peeked out through the curtains, her expression a bit stiff. Qin Yining was discreetly observing her mother’s demeanor and knew that the latter must be feeling a loss of face in coming back voluntarily. This was how it was always going to end up, so why did you even start it in the first place? No wonder the duchess had been so angry. Née Sun was a mature woman, yet her behavior was completely lackadaisical. It was sheer good luck that she had been able to sit firmly in her position as the prime minister’s wife all these years and get along moderately well with her mother and sisters-in-law. But even so, Qin Yining wouldn’t just sit by and do nothing about her mother.
“Don’t be mad, mother. I know my wrongs.” She purposefully misinterpreted née Sun’s awkwardness as anger and smiled apologetically. “I’ll explain things properly to the old dowager, that you went home for purposes of educating me. The old dowager will be relieved to hear that and will no longer worry about my upbringing.”
Née Sun’s expression went blank when she heard this, not immediately reacting. Yet off to the side, Jin-mama smiled. She was now feeling very differently about Qin Yining. Sincere respect had completely replaced her suspicions of the fourth miss. “See, madame, the fourth miss is so conscientious. Don’t be angry about this anymore. Are we not all one family here? You’ve been a married couple with the lord for so many years now, is there anything that you can’t talk out amongst yourselves? Men have their pride. Everything will easily blow over if you give way slightly.
“Why must I be the one to give way?” Née Sun grumbled softly, but her words didn’t have their usual bite to them.
Qin Yining saw through her mother’s thoughts and racked her brain a bit harder. “Since you’re no longer angry, madame, why don’t we enter the manor? We can make our greetings to Old Dowager, and then you can organize things at Garden of Tranquility. After all, it’s been many days since you’ve been home.”
Née Sun indeed perked up at that. She was definitely curious to know which concubine Qin Huaiyuan had spent his nights with in the days she hadn’t been at home. “We return to the manor!” She lost the last traces of her hesitation and bade a maid to knock on the door. Jin-mama nodded at Qin Yining when she saw this, a ghost of a smile floating across her face. The girl responded in kind, gracing the mama with a dazzling smile of her own.
When the carriage entered the manor, née Sun and Qin Yining quickly changed to a small carriage wallpapered with wax paper until they reached the inner doors. They’d just set foot into Garden of Loving Piety when they saw head maid Ruyi speaking with a serving girl. Qin Yining greeted the maid with a smile. “Sister Ruyi, are you busy?”
When Ruyi saw that it was Qin Yining who’d called on her, her expression grew friendlier. Catching sight of Jin-mama, Caiju, and Cailan helping née Sun along, she dipped in a curtsey. “Greetings to Senior Madame and Fourth Miss. The old dowager has a free moment right now, please do go on in.”
She rose from her curtsey and led the way in; the maids standing in the covered hallway had already sent word inside. Two maids lifted the door curtains, allowing Jixiang and Qin-mama to exit. Qin Yining helped née Sun inside, both taking off their capes and handing it to the two servants who’d come out to welcome them. She lifted her head and caught a glimpse of Bitong. The maid didn’t dare meet Qin Yining’s eyes and quickly ducked her head, shrinking in on herself. Qin Yining pretended to have seen nothing and took née Sun past the black lacquered room divider, decorated with magpies alighting on plum blossoms .
The decorations within had changed yet again. The previous cool-palette seat cushions, table cloth, and arm cushions had all been swapped out for furnishings of crimson red. The fresh flowers in the vase were in shades of crimson too, offset by the petals of the snow-white baby’s breath. The decor gave off a celebratory air, very appropriate for something as joyous as Qin Huaiyuan’s promotion. The old dowager was wearing an outfit of Prussian blue, embroidered with cranes flocking amongst the clouds, paired with a brocade jacket of the same motif. The fiery eyed matriarch was sitting cross-legged on the luohan bed next to the window, smoking tobacco. Waiting off to the side, Qin Huining was holding an exquisite box for the ashes. A flash of surprise colored her face when she saw Qin Yining and née Sun return together.
Qin Yining swept her gaze past the clearly taken aback Qin Huining and helped née Sun to her knees, performing a proper greeting to the old dowager.
“Old Dowager, your daughter-in-law has returned.” Née Sun fought through the awkwardness that’d welled up in her to speak clearly. The old dowager merely took in another deep pull on her pipe and snorted disdainfully, rolling her eyes. Née Sun’s face immediately turned beet red, her flush traveling up her neck and ears. Nevertheless, she grit her teeth and held up heroically through the humiliation. “I was too impulsive a few days ago, I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mind?” The old dowager reached out carelessly and dumped the ashes into the box Qin Huining held, the bronze pipe clinking clearly into the porcelain box. “Wouldn’t I long since have expired from anger if I minded such things like that? Née Sun, have I treated you badly in all your years in our household? Or is it the Qin family that’s done you wrong somewhere? Just what bone do you have to pick with our family that you kick up a fuss every other day? Tell me, is it my son who’s unworthy of you, or does the sight of an old woman like me irritate you?”
Against all odds, née Sun held her tongue.
The old dowager continued, undeterred. “You’ve yet to give birth to a son in all these years of marriage, but have I ever blamed you once? And yet, you created trouble out of nothing at all and stabbed me in the heart with every word you spoke. What would you have an old woman like me do?!” She threw the tobacco pouch away in an aggrieved fit. Qin Huining adroitly snatched it out of the air, carefully extinguished the pipe, and brought over a handkerchief to wipe her grandmother’s hands. The old dowager glanced over the girl and continued. “Well? You don’t know how to raise a child, so I took care of darling Hui myself these past few days. You don’t know how to interact with your sister-in-laws either, so I had to put in no end of good words for you. But you’re blind to everything that people do for you, and worse think it nothing less than your due! Meng’er is a great official at court, and not only do you not help him with his burdens, but you bring even more trouble time and time again. You even argue with him! Where have all your lessons and manners regarding virtue gone to?! Is this the type of upbringing they teach at the Duke of Ding Manor?!”
Née Sun started crying, feeling quite wronged. Should I endure this? Or should I just go home now and never deal with these people again!?
The old dowager felt much better after venting her feelings and sniffed contemptuously when she saw née Sun sobbing. “What? Do you think you’re the victim in all this?”
“Old Dowager.” Qin Yining felt it an appropriate time to interject; her grandmother’s anger should’ve mostly dissipated after that rant. She curtsied gracefully, capturing the old dowager’s attention. “Please don’t be angry, it’s all my fault this time. Madame was most concerned about my education, which was why she acted like that. She has spent these past days at the Duke of Ding Manor discussing the various experiences of raising a child with her family, and immediately hurried back when she’d thought through everything. Please consider the peace of our family, and refrain from anger.”
The old dowager’s impression of Qin Yining now was far removed from when the girl had first entered the manor. The moment the old dowager realized that Qin Huaiyuan was treating her like a son, she attached a certain weight to the girl. She knew full well that she couldn’t actually do anything to née Sun. For better or worse, this daughter-in-law of hers had a very strong background. She still had to live with her in the future, so it wouldn’t do to go overboard. “Forget it, let bygones be bygones. But. Don’t let it happen again.”
“Understood. Thank you, Old Dowager.” Née Sun curtsied to her mother-in-law, inwardly breathing a genuine sigh of relief.
“Thank you for your mercy, Old Dowager.” Qin Yining smiled.
“Oh you silly, you have the sweetest mouth.” The old dowager smiled benevolently down at her granddaughter.
Qin Huining, off to the side, had initially held a few hopes of the matter blowing up, but it seemed that her hopes were doomed. It looked like the old dowager had truly taken Qin Yining for a granddaughter and liked the girl so much that her granddaughter’s word was taken as law. There was nothing to be be salvaged about the situation. What will my life be like in the future if this continues? She bit her lip anxiously and went up to attach herself to née Sun’s arm. “Mother, how have you been these past few days? There were some matters here so I couldn’t come by and visit you.”
Née Sun had been turning over her mother’s words, so her eyes held a complicated look as she looked down at Qin Huining. “Matters? What matters?”
Qin Huining squeezed out a small smile after looking at the old dowager and Qin Yining, as if making a great sacrifice to protect someone else. “Oh, it’s nothing major.”
This was an obvious ploy to elicit née Sun’s interest. First by mentioning something had happened, but saying nothing when asked. If née Sun really did investigate further, bringing up all of the rumors flying around would paint Qin Yining in a bad light. The distasteful rumors that’d circulated when née Sun had been away would decrease her good feelings towards the girl. Qin Yining was well aware of what was going on, but didn’t say anything. She just remained as smiling as before.
Née Sun was indeed a bit curious, but didn’t go into detail because they were still visiting the old dowager. She decided to ask when they’d left the room, but Qin Huining was frustrated at seeing née Sun deviate from her usual behavior of asking immediately. “How come mother’s returned with younger sister Yining? Did you bump into each other on the way?”
Another trap! Qin Yining was a half beat too late in interjecting, so née Sun had already answered artlessly. “I only came back because daughter Yi went to the Ding Manor to kowtow in apology.”
The old dowager frowned when she heard that. Qin Huining felt a thrill of glee when she noted this and nodded, being careful to keep her face expressionless. “Oh I see. Sister Yining really does have it easy, she can leave whenever she wants to.” Isn’t she something, leaving without telling the old dowager! She wanted to make use of this newfound opportunity to denounce Qin Yining for leaving the manor on a whim.
However, Qin Yining knew that this would actually rouse the old dowager’s ire against née Sun.
As expected, the matriarch’s expression darkened further. “You only came back because granddaughter Yi kowtowed in apology? So you wouldn’t have come back if she hadn’t done that?”
“I…” Née Sun started and shook her head. “Don’t misunderstand, Old Dowager, it was just a coincidence. I would come back even without her.”
“Whatever!” The old dowager didn’t want to hear anymore platitudes and waved them off impatiently. “Just go rest. You probably can’t be bothered to see this old face anymore, so don’t bother with the morning and evening greetings either!”
Née Sun’s face went white as she glared angrily at Qin Huining. All of her accumulated resentment and suspicions welled up within her, and it was only through supreme will that she held her tongue in front of the old dowager. “As you wish, Old Dowager, I will take my leave. Daughter Hui and Yi, come with me. I brought things for you.” She whirled away, barely controlled anger in every line of her frame as she stalked out.
Color drained from Qin Huining’s face at her mother’s lance-like glare as she followed with trepidation. Qin Yining shook her head resignedly, and politely took her leave from the old dowager as well, following the duo out.
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