Qin Huining hurriedly patted the old dowager’s chest to help the matriarch breath more easily. She turned back to yell angrily, “How dare you act like this! How dare you talk to grandmother like this?!”
“Shut your trap. What right do you have to lecture me?” Qin Yining looked coldly at her.
An involuntary tremble ran through Qin Huining as the color drained from her face. The bellyful of resentment and anger she was nursing withered into fear in the face of Qin Yining’s aura and presence.
“This is ludicrous, ludicrous! She’s rebelling! Servants, drag her out of here, drag her out!” The old dowager commanded.
Off to the side, Qin-mama was frowning. The fourth miss has always been explosive in her methods, there’s no ways she’d let it go when she sees her birth mother being treated like this? Even knocking née Cao down a notch like this, mistress’ bit of temper probably doesn’t matter to her at all. Resigned to the impending cataclysm, she sent servants over to tug Qin Yining away.
“There’s no need for you all to do anything, I’ll leave after I’ve said my piece.” Qin Yining snorted disdainfully when she saw movement out of the corner of her eyes. She looked straight at the old dowager, the glowing coals in her eyes turning fiery.
“I know what you’re thinking of, old dowager. Everyone does as well, we’re no fools. We’ve only known each other for two months, so it’s understandable if you don’t care about me, father’s feelings, and the ties of blood between us. But my mother has poured a great deal of effort into this family, even if she might not have stunning achievements to show for it. She’s kept you company for almost thirty years, so is this the kind of heartless treatment that she’s due? How will second and third aunt feel about this? What about the newly entered Auntie Cao?”
“I recommend grandmother think about all this carefully, and not present too ugly a sight in your doings.”
“Unfilial granddaughter! Servants, beat her out of here! Beat her out!”
“Granddaughter’s words have been improper today and offended the old dowager. Please announce your punishment, grandmother.” Having said all that she wanted to say, Qin Yining lifted the hem of her skirt and knelt primly. Her back was ramrod straight and her proud aura hadn’t faded one bit. Although she was admitting her fault, everyone could see that she was doing so only because of the ties between grandmother and granddaughter, and not because she truly wanted to.
They all felt that they learned something new today when they saw how domineering and feisty Qin Yining was in the face of suppression! The look in Cao Yuqing’s eyes had changed to subtle appreciation and interest.
The old dowager took a deep breath in, nearly screeching. “Lock the fourth miss in the woodshed! Let her out only when she realizes her wrongs!”
Unlike usual, Qin-mama didn’t spring to attention at her mistress’ words. She bit her lip, stamping down on the urge to speak to her mistress. In the same vein, the second and third madame also looked at each other, wondering if they should speak up for Qin Yining.
When Qin Huining saw how those assembled were hesitating to follow the old dowager’s instructions and how differently Qin-mama treated Qin Yining, a surge of jealous anger overcame her self control. She loudly reprimanded the mama, “What, is Qin-mama planning on ignoring grandmother’s instructions?”
The mama started in surprise and looked down. “This servant wouldn’t dare.”
“Impudence! When did it become your place to talk?!” The old dowager frowned and irritably glared at Qin Huining. The girl flushed hotly and looked down sullenly.
Although the old dowager didn’t like Qin Yining’s resistance, she still liked the girl’s smarts, charisma, and manner of dealing with matters. Not only did this type of girl know how to react in any situation, she had a pretty face, and had caught the crown prince’s fancy. She was perfect for a strategic marriage. The old dowager was punishing Qin Yining only for considerations of face.
In comparison, the matriarch quite disliked the fence-sitter that was Qin Huining. To be honest, in moments of calm, she did feel guilty about how she was treating née Sun. However, given the circumstances, she really had no choice.
That Qin Yining was willing to go such depths for née Sun only reminded the old dowager of how fiercely Qin Huaiyuan had protected her when they were both young. Qin Yining had been home for less than two months. Not only was she not close to née Sun, but the madame hadn’t been very nice to her daughter these two months either. Yet here Qin Yining was, steadfast and unrelenting in her support for her mother.
And Qin Huining?
Née Sun had loved that girl like a precious pearl for fourteen years. But now that things had taken a turn for the worse, Qin Huining had wasted no time in cozying up to the new concubine as soon as the latter had arrived. She was completely ignoring the mother who’d raised her, and was even appearing in bright and colorful clothing days after all the Sun males had been executed.
Although the old dowager’s own actions weren’t completely above reproach, she still didn’t like the look of Qin Huining hurrying to curry favor with those in power.
Cao Yuqing smiled when she saw the silent crowd. “Old Dowager, if this humble concubine may say something out of line, it’s frightfully cold and the ground is freezing today. The fourth miss is just a little girl. If she catches a cold in the woodshed, illness might take root in her. If that happens, wouldn’t you be the saddest of us all? Friction is inevitable in a family, but as all our parent, please treat the fourth miss lightly.”
“Indeed, don’t take niece Yi to task for this, mother.” The second madame also entreated.
The old dowager was greatly soothed by someone giving her a way out. She settled for glaring coldly at Qin Yining and was about to speak when a maid announced loudly from outside, “The lord is here!”
Qin Huaiyuan strode in almost as soon as the words were out of the maid’s mouth, a lead-gray brocade cloak topped with black fur flung casually over his shoulders. Frost had touched the tips of his hair and steam still wafted off his skin. It was obvious that he’d just finished bathing and hadn’t even dried his hair before rushing over.
Qin-mama snuck a peek at the door and saw Bingtang’s figure flash by. So the fourth miss was telling Bingtang to summon reinforcements just now. That was quick thinking!
Qin Huaiyuan bowed to his mother as soon as he entered the room. “Mother.”
“Meng’er, why are you here without even drying your hair? You’ll get sick, you know.” The old dowager fretted over her beloved son, telling Qin-mama to quickly fetch towels to tousle Qin Huaiyuan’s hair dry.
The lord of the house sat down on a stool within the old dowager’s line of sight, smiling in thanks at Qin-mama, who had taken it upon herself to dry his hair. “I was perusing ‘The Thirty-Six Stratagems’ when I came across the one of hiding a knife behind a smile. I wanted to discuss it with daughter Yi. Therefore, I came rushing over as soon as I heard she was here.”
There was great meaning in ‘hiding a knife behind a smile’, and everyone drew different conclusions as they digested his words. Regardless of other people’s thoughts, a blush appeared on the old dowager’s face. She snorted uncomfortably. “What would a little girl who hasn’t read many books know of the ‘Thirty-Six Strategems’?”
Qin Huaiyuan smiled happily. “Daughter Yi, which chapter of the ‘Thirty-Six Stratagems’ does this come from?”
“The tenth strategy of the second chapter. ‘Charm and ingratiate yourself with the enemy. When you have gained his trust, move against him in secret. Be of firm inward resolve and outward gentleness.’... Father, your daughter knows her wrongs.” Qin Yining sighed lightly. She’d still been too violent after all.
Her father’s words had snuffed out her fury and brought clarity to her thoughts. Although her way was both simple and effective, it had also erased any possibility of handling the matter in a more peaceful manner. She just wasn’t used to thinking about the people supporting her when she got the short end of the stick. Previously, it’d always been just her. That had formed her personality, which was why she’d clashed so badly with the old dowager.
Her thoughts had been that since the old dowager didn’t care about her, it didn’t matter what she did or didn’t do. However, she’d forgotten to consider her father’s feelings. He was caught in the middle. He’d purposefully referred to ‘hiding a knife behind a smile’ to jab at those doing just that, subtly warning them that their actions weren’t as covert as they thought. He was also teaching her that she should be ‘of firm inward resolve and outward gentleness’.
One had to say, it was no wonder that Qin Huaiyuan was called the ‘Wise Pan An’. His years as a court official hadn’t gone to waste. In just a few words, he’d criticized everyone who had needed it just the right amount, and subtly given pointers to his daughter.
He laughed when he saw how quickly Qin Yining had realized her mistake. “A resonant gong doesn’t need to be beaten with a heavy mallet. Very good, daughter Yi. You’re a good child. You’re just a bit too blunt and should think more carefully before taking action in the future.”
In saying that she was ‘just a bit too blunt’, Qin Huaiyuan had just tacitly admitted that his daughter’s intentions had been correct, simply that she’d been a bit too straightforward about it all. So while he looked like he was lecturing Qin Yining, he was actually complaining about the old dowager’s actions!
There was not a soul in the room who missed that, and cogs started turning as they began to formulate their own opinions of the evening. Meanwhile, the old dowager blushed even redder. She actually felt a bit aggrieved. Who else was she doing all this for if not her son?!
“Understood. Thank you for your teachings, father.” Qin Yining immediately kowtowed docilely towards the old dowager. “Don’t be angry, grandmother. Your granddaughter is only fourteen and has eaten less rice than you have grains of salt. If I’ve offended you, please forgive me on behalf of father.”
The old dowager had had enough unpleasantry for the night. “How would I dare speak of forgiveness?”
Qin-mama had finished drying Qin Huaiyuan’s hair by now and had skillfully retied it in a knot on top of his head. He stood up to interject, “Don’t be angry, mother. Daughter Yi’s faults are because of my mistakes in parenting. Think of all the years she’s spent outside, she’s lacked the chances for proper discipline. She’s had so many years of hardship. Don’t be angry, mother. My heart is fraught with worry whenever you feel angry.”
Qin Huaiyuan was the Grand Preceptor of the Heir Apparent, but still presented such a submissive front to his mother. This gave her the best way out and thoroughly satisfied her sense of dignity. She sighed. “Forget it, just forget it. I’ll just have you set her punishment. You can’t let her off easily, however! I’ll be watching how you punish her.”
“Understood.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled gratefully and turned to Qin Yining. “For your transgressions, daughter, I punish you to copy the ‘Thirty-Six Stratagems’ thirty times over. I’ll inspect them in the outer study two days from now.”
What kind of punishment is this… It was only by virtue of the long years they’d spent practicing manners that the crowd’s jaws didn’t hit the floor en masse. Did Qin Huaiyuan feel that his daughter needed to use more strategy when going against the old dowager in the future?! Even before that, weren’t girls usually punished with copying ‘Lessons for Women’ or ‘The Classic of Filial Piety’, or the liker? Qin Huaiyuan was treating her just like a son!