Qin Huining scrabbled at Qin Yining’s wrist with both hands, trying to peel off the latter’s fingers. But Qin Yining’s hand was like a metal clamp; her grip didn’t loosen in the slightest.
Qin Huining’s throat was nearly pinched shut and she began to have trouble breathing. She tried to screech, but her next words came out as a panicked rasp, “What are you all still standing there for?! Help me! Get someone!”
Off to the side, Cai-mama and Bitao were scared silly by Qin Yining’s violent reaction. Their mistress’ shrieks jolted them back into action and they sprang forward to try and rip Qin Yining’s hands off their mistress.
However, they were arrested in their tracks by a single glare. Qin Yining had accumulated quite a reputation thus far, and one look was enough to cause them to freeze in place, shuddering in fear. As for Bitong, she couldn’t even summon the courage to take a step forward.
For a long moment, the only sound that reigned was Qin Huining’s choked breathing.
Finally, Qin Yining flung the other girl away disdainfully. Left to their own devices, Qin Huining’s knees couldn’t handle the sudden weight and collapsed beneath the girl, sending the hacking girl straight to the ground. .
“Oh? Didn’t you lack the face to keep living? The old dowager is benevolent, but a barbarian used to blood and gore has no such qualms. If you’re afraid to take your life because you fear the pain, I’ll gladly help send you on your way.”
While the words that echoed around the hall were horrifying beyond their wildest dreams, Qin Yining’s tone and voice was nothing less than tender and loving.
For just a second, Qin Huining realized that if the other girl truly wanted to kill her, there was no struggle she could put up that would forestall her death. She’d die before she could even breathe a cry for help.
Even further, who would believe that the grand preceptor’s daughter could be a murderer? The other Qin family members would just gloss over this matter out of concern for Qin Huaiyuan’s reputation! Exactly when had Qin Huining’s position in the Qin family become so precarious?! It wasn’t just a matter of wealth and glory anymore, now her very life was at the whim of another!
Qin Yining smiled when she finally saw fear overtake the foster girl’s face. “Finally afraid now, aren’t you? Qin Huining, listen carefully to everything I say next. Your suicide attempt has likely traveled throughout the entire manor by now, and will probably be common gossip for every aristocratic households within the city for the next month. Given this “prior history” you’ve just created for yourself, if you suddenly commit suicide, everyone will simply think that you’re up to old tricks again. So, if you dare try anything in the future, I won’t hesitate in hanging you from this very beam.”
Qin Huining followed Qin Yining’s eyes as the latter looked up, and then back at her. Still smiling, Qin Yining reached to the side, grabbing the crumpled heap that was Cai-mama. She hoisted the old servant up with a single hand, the latter no different than a sack of potatoes.
The mama’s feet were clear off the ground, her eyes wide with shock.
Qin Yining turned back to Qin Huining, her gentle smile in stark contrast to Qin Huining’s terrified face. “Do you see that? I’m not joking. I have more than enough strength to hang you up there. Just try provoking mother again so that she loses face in front of her in-laws, or disturb the peace at home. We’ll see then who’s faster, the people who run to your rescue, or me hanging you from that beam.
“It’s late. Rest, dear sister.” She patted Qin Huining’s shoulder and left.
Qin Huining was petrified, her eyes never leaving the door. Cai-mama was patting her chest and murmuring distractedly, “Is she even human? Is she even human…”
Bitong’s head was lowered as she thought over Steward Zhong’s instructions. The fear and despair in her eyes deepened further. Qin Huining remained quiet for a very long time before suddenly exploding in a shriek and destroying everything in the room in a fit of fury.
In that period of quiet, Qin Yining had gone to look in on the old dowager again, confirmed that nothing was wrong with the matriarch’s body, and leisurely returned to Snowpear Courtyard.
The following morning was the day the crown prince would pay a formal visit to the grand preceptor and host a banquet for his teacher. As a result, the manor was bustling with noise before the sun rose.
Steward Zhong also sent over a certificate from the Central Taoist Registry via Jin-mama of the kitchens early that morning. She came with a message. “The silver has been delivered and the two girls amply prepared.”
Qin Yining started and smiled. “Thank you for making a trip, mama.” She handed over a heavy pouch, embroidered with the character for good fortune. “I’ll have to trouble you lots in the future, so please take this as a token of appreciation.”
“Aiyo, miss, you’re the owner. There’s no need to be so polite.” Jin-mama waved her hands, coming up with every reason she could think of to turn down the pouch.
“We’re all family, so why stand on ceremony? Unless, mama, you think too little of me?” Jin-mama finally accepted the pouch when Qin Yining pretended to be angry. They exchanged some more pleasantries before the old servant took her leave.
Qin Yining returned to nibbling on the bird’s nest that the kitchen had sent and pursed her lips while she made some plans. She gave some orders to Qiulu with a smile. “Clean out a side room off my bedroom. Make sure it’s amply stocked with all necessities and decorations.”
Qiulu nodded and went about her duties, while Qin Yining took Yaoqin and Yuqi, the maids that her father had just given to her, to pay her respects at Garden of Loving Piety.
Everything was calm at the matriarch’s residence today. It seemed that yesterday’s news of Qin Huining’s suicide attempt had yet to spread.
Née Sun, the second and third madame all headed for the outer residence to oversee the matters of welcoming the crown prince and the banquet. The old dowager was speaking with the girls in Garden of Loving Piety. Everyone had turned out splendidly for the day. They would be greeting the crown prince when the banquet started.
Qin Yining sized up Qin Huining and noticed that the latter was wearing a high collared jacket today, one that was just high enough to cover the marks on her neck. She’d also used a suitable amount of powder to hide the née Sun-gifted, swollen redness of her cheek, and was sitting next to the sixth miss. She seemed rather subdued.
It looks like Qin Huining’s the sort that only cooperates after violence. A slap is more useful than a hundred lines of earnest concern. She spared the foster girl no further thought since Qin Huining was behaving herself. Qin Yining joined the other girls in entertaining the old dowager.
At the fifth hour of the day, the hour of the dragon, a serving girl reported in, “The crown prince has arrived and is commencing the disciple ceremony in the front yard.”
Forty five minutes into the hour of the dragon, another runner came in. “The crown prince, the lord, and various masters have gone to the study.”
It was now the sixth hour of the day, the hour of the snake.  A merry Jixiang had come back from a quick check on the situation outside. “Old Dowager, the crown prince, three elder masters, and the younger masters have gone to tour the gardens in the back. Senior Madame says the banquet is ready and can start at noon. You and the misses can set out for Flower Hall now.”
“Noted.” The old dowager nodded spiritedly and inspected the miss’ outfits again. Only fifteen minutes had passed when a serving girl came tearing in from outside, skidding a halt in the covered hallway and rapidly fired off, “Old Dowager! Miss Huining’s maids Bitong and Xiao’ai startled the crown prince in the gardens just now. The lord has already thrown the two out of the manor and has given orders for Miss Huining to be locked in the woodshed. He will be questioning her later.”
Qin Huining surged to her feet, eyes wide with shock. She looked pleadingly at the old dowager. “What’s, what’s going on? Bitong isn’t with me today because it’s that time of the month. I told her to rest because she was feeling uncomfortable. Why would she run into the gardens at the back and even startle the crown prince…”
The old dowager frowned and spoke to Qin-mama. “Lujuan, go find out what’s happened.”
“Understood.” The mama rapidly walked out.
Qin Yining cast her eyes downward, taking a sip of the warm tea. It was bitter when it first hit the palate, but soon came back with a refreshing feeling. Good tea.
The girls had all been excited about the banquet at noon, but were now on tenterhooks, particularly Qin Huining. Her face was ghastly white and sweat poured down her neck as she frantically guessed what had happened. Why would father want to lock her in the woodshed? Qin-mama returned after a while.
“Old Dowager.” Her expression was quite ugly. “This servant has found out about everything. Bitong and Xiao’ai didn’t know that the lord was touring the gardens with the other masters and the crown prince. Both of them had some free time today and were gossiping in the rear of the artificial mountain. As a result, the entire entourage heard their conversation. They said… said…”
“Said what? Speak clearly!” The old dowager frowned.
“I brought the lord’s body servant Qitai. He can make a full report.”
“Get him in here!”
Qitai was thirty some years old and had served Qin Huaiyuan for a long time. He was both loyal and quick-witted. He didn’t enter the inner room, kneeling just outside the divider of magpies alighting on plum blossoms. The girls could see his faint silhouette on the other side.
“…the crown prince and our masters were strolling along when they heard two girls chattering. The girls said that the fourth miss is an idiot short on brains because she didn’t even know that she’d been framed by someone else. The maid who stole the old dowager’s bracelet was set up by Bitong, who’d received her orders from Miss Huining. They also said that the old dowager was an easy one to manipulate if she threw out the fourth miss’ maid just like that.
“This servant was right behind our lord and the crown prince. I heard everything clearly, so the crown prince must have as well. He didn’t say anything, but our lord’s expression was quite ugly. He strongly censured the two gossiping girls and was kind enough to not kill them. He just threw them out of the manor.”
It had gone deathly silent inside. Everyone was looking at Qin Yining and Qin Huining. No wonder the lord wanted to lock Qin Huining up in the woodshed! She’d gone and set up Qin Yining’s maid!
Worse, this had even been revealed in front of the crown prince, and was a case of a foster girl plotting against the official daughter! What kind of ugly gossip would this give rise to when it spread? There would definitely be those who posited that Grand Preceptor Qin was incapable of even keeping his house in order, and question whether he was suitable to indirectly be the world’s teacher via the crown prince?
The old dowager’s face was a blotchy purple in her anger. She viciously flung her brass pipe and the accompanying tobacco pouch hanging off the stem across the room. It smashed right into Qin Huining’s shoulder, making her break into tears after a cry of pain.
“How dare you cry?! Come, shut Qin Huining in the woodshed. No one visits her without the senior elder master’s permission!”
“Old Dowager, I didn’t, I really didn’t! This is a setup! Someone’s framing me!”
“You’re come up with excuses even at a time like this! Take her away, take her away!!” The old dowager pounded the table angrily. Several strong granny servants came in and clapped their hands over Qin Huining’s mouth, dragging her outside.
Silence once again fell inside the house. Many of them had laughed at Qin Yining for failing to discipline her people after Ruilan had been caught for stealing. Some had even gone on to say that Qin Yining was the reason why her servants had ended up crooked.
Now that the truth had come out, they all felt a bit awkward when as their eyes flicked towards Qin Yining. More servants reported from outside at this time, “Old Dowager, the Duchess of Ding has gifted two maids to the fourth miss.”
Jixiang entered with the two new maids with a curious expression on her face. When everyone took a careful look at the maids, their eyes were once again drawn back to Qin Yining. The old dowager pointed at one of them with surprise. “Aren’t you Ruilan?”
“This servant’s name is Songlan, and greets Old Dowager, Fourth Miss.” Rui—no, Songlan curtsied with a smile.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Dun dun dun! Schemes within schemes eh?