If one were to peer through the finely wrought holes in the openwork screen from the small room, one could just about make out the shapes of old dowager and née Sun. Naturally, their conversation traveled into Qin Yining and Qin Huining’s ears as well.
Qin Yining sat quietly, playing with a turquoise teacup lid in her hands. Qin Huining on the other hand, was grinding her teeth and keeping herself in a demure sitting position with effort. How am I going to talk to Bao-mama? I need to let my maternal grandmother know how much I’ve suffered! When she heard that the old dowager wanted them to go out, she was taken by glee. Fortune’s come knocking, my luck is changing! Bao-mama emphasizes manners so much. What kind of good impression will she have of Qin Yining once she learns that the wild brat hit me??
If Bao-mama didn’t like Qin Yining, then the duchess’ first impression of her would be bad as well. Qin Huining had spent more than a decade with her mother and the old dowager. If she had the duchess’ favor as well, her days to come might still be comfortable. When her thoughts traveled here, Qin Huining surged to her feet and didn’t wait for maids to help her out. She took a few stumbling steps forward, completely forgetting the usual decorum that she valued most.
Qin Yining was the exact opposite as she rose slowly, put her skirt in order, and smiled slightly at Jixiang. “Thank you, sister.”
Her smile was so stunning that it dazzled Jixiang for a moment. After recollecting herself, Jixiang helped Qin Yining out with extreme deference. “This servant wouldn’t dare, please call me Jixiang, miss.”
Bao-mama was looking in the direction of the inner room with curiosity at the moment and saw Qin Huining come barreling out. “Mother!” She sobbed and launched herself into née Sun’s embrace. “You’ve finally come back, mother!”
It was as if the whole world had been against her when née Sun hadn’t been at home. The old dowager frowned when she saw this, and Bao-mama furrowed her brow slightly with incomprehension when she saw this as well. If her eyes hadn’t deceived her earlier, half of Qin Huining’s face was red and swollen?
Née Sun patted Qin Huining’s back with a smile. “What’s this now? You miss me so much after just one night?”
“Mother, I, I just missed you, that’s all.” Qin Huining lifted her face. Half of her charming face was now so swollen that none of its original features could be seen. Add to that her currently weeping self, it all made née Sun’s heart tighten with worry.
“My dear, what’s happened to your face?!” Née Sun’s voice grew shrill with anxiety as she touched her daughter’s cheek gingerly.
Qin Huining shook her head with a choked up voice, “N-nothing. It was your daughter’s fault.” Her tears tumbled unceasingly down her cheek.
As mother and daughter spoke, Qin Yining had walked up with Jixiang’s support. She gave the old dowager and née Sun a proper, full curtsey, and a half one to Bao-mama. The old servant hastily rose and turned to the side, not daring to accept the greeting. Bao-mama gave Qin Yining a grand gesture of greeting instead. “Greetings to Fourth Miss. This old servant is née Bao, here to visit you.”
Qin Yining imitated Bao-mama’s motions from earlier and avoided accepting the old servant’s greeting. She walked up with both hands to help the old servant up and responded very politely, “Please rise, Bao-mama. Thank you for making this trip. I’ve wanted to visit my maternal grandparents as well.”
Bao-mama stood up and lifted her eyes to barge straight into a pair of pure, limpid pools. Even one as widely read and experienced as the old servant was momentarily arrested by the smile in front of her. The girl had a striking air about her, her almond-shaped eyes lively and playful, her features exquisitely carved, and her tall height enhanced with a steady bearing. This girl did indeed seem much like a young Qin Huaiyuan, but she had hints of gentleness and purity that was unique to the fairer sex. There was even a bit of mischief and otherworldliness about her. She would be a charming and charismatic person indeed.
Bao-mama had been carefully observing the two girls ever since they’d emerged from the inner room. Compared to Qin Huining’s dramatics, Qin Yining was much more demure and proper. The old servant had seen more than her fair share of inner residence tricks, and could clearly pick out the false tones in Qin Huining’s immensely aggrieved, exaggerated state. Only someone blinded by motherly love such as née Sun would fail to realize that this was another scheme.
The old dowager was also greatly displeased to see Qin Huining come running out in tears. Family drama should be kept behind closed doors. Whether Qin Huining was at fault or not, this was something they should’ve taken care of quietly. Why is this silly girl allowing this matter to spread to the duke’s household? Thankfully, Qin Yining made up for her lack of education in manners with her wit and quick reactions. She imitated those around her in accepting and giving greetings, alleviating some of the old dowager’s gloomy mood.
The old dowager favored Qin Huining after all and understood the girl’s fear and awkward situation. But at the moment, the matriarch was quite dissatisfied with the girl’s actions. She’d never felt this way before, but now that they’d actually run into a serious, important matter, Qin Huining’s style really did seem a bit crass and uncouth. Her actions weren’t even as mature as a young girl from the mountains. Seeing that Qin Yining and Bao-mama had met, the old dowager bade everyone sit. “Let’s talk while sitting, everyone.”
“Understood.” The two responded.
Meanwhile, née Sun’s brow had twisted into a knotted rope. She pulled the sniffling and hiccuping Qin Huining with her and looked at the old dowager, raising her voice, “Old Dowager, I’ve left for only a night, why is darling Hui’s face like this? Has someone bullied her? If this is the case, I won’t let this matter lie! Even though she’s my foster daughter now, there’s no reason for a daughter of our household to be bullied like this!”
Her words were suffused with righteousness and flames were burning in her eyes as she stared at the old dowager. Her assumption was that Qin Huining had done something wrong, so the old dowager had ordered someone to slap her. But how could a mother not step forward for her child when the slapping had been this harsh? At the heart of it all, née Sun would’ve never thought that Qin Yining had been the one to beat up her beloved daughter.
Née Sun’s indignant expression almost sent the old dowager into a fit of fury again. “Eldest daughter-in-law, is this how you speak to your mother-in-law?”
Née Sun lifted her chin and pursed her lips, many lines of retort and argumentation flashing through her mind. However, the various reminders her mother had given her earlier today made her pause.
The old dowager could absolutely guess what her daughter-in-law was thinking, based on the latter’s expression. When she took a look at the sniffling Qin Huining, so upset that she couldn’t even explain things properly and had elicited née Sun’s suspicion of the old dowager instead, her spirits instantly sank to a new low. The matriarch couldn’t be bothered with leaving any face for née Sun.
“Née Sun, you don’t need to talk to me like this. Both of us know full well what happened last night. Bao-mama is no outsider either, and I’m up in my years. There’s no need to end up in animosity like this for the matters of your household. You should first take a look at what kind of daughter you’ve raised.” The old dowager glared at née Sun and continued, “You’re heartbroken at granddaughter Hui’s face? She was beaten up because you failed to educate her properly and control your actions! She was careless with her words and made you misunderstand granddaughter Yi, yet you started arguing with Meng’er without any proof and then returned to your home. Granddaughter Yi is a girl of action and after you left, felt that granddaughter Hui was the cause of all this. That was unforgivable whether it was the intended outcome or not, so she punished the source.
“Although one of them didn’t intend for this to happen, and the other grew angry for the harmony of her parents, sisters must be punished if they don’t live together peacefully. I’ve already lessoned them for you. What is all this now? You’re the one who went home and now you’re back to berate the mother-in-law who took care of your children for you? This is beyond ludicrous!”
The old dowager’s words stunned née Sun into silence where she stood, while Bao-mama off to the side had gleaned some key pieces of information from all this:
Qin Yining had hit Qin Huining.
Qin Huining’s words had unintentionally caused née Sun to doubt Qin Yining’s background, causing née Sun to fight with Qin Huaiyuan.
Judging from the old dowager’s stance, she didn’t dislike Qin Yining after that altercation.
These bits combined with Qin Yining’s steady bearing just now and Qin Huining teary appearance, not daring to voice what’d happened to her, made many more correlations appear in Bao-mama’s mind. She smiled and tried to smooth things over. “Please be calm Old Dowager. Our lady is straightforward and speaks her mind. You dote on her so, please don’t misunderstand each other because of this.”
Née Sun completely ignored what the old servant said and turned to the quietly standing Qin Yining. “You hit darling Hui?”
“Yes.” Qin Yining responded with lowered eyes.
“You’re so poisonous!”
“In response to the madame, the connotations in Qin Huining’ words made you misunderstand father and affected your relationship. I took action because I just couldn’t stand for this.”
“What, am I dead?” Née Sun ground her teeth. “When was it your turn to punish her?!”
“My lady!” Bao-mama grabbed née Sun’s wrist when she felt that the latter’s words would grow inappropriate. She stared deeply into the madame’s eyes and enunciated each word carefully. “Please. Watch. Your. Words.”
Née Sun’s chest heaved in anger. Qin Huining seemed to recover from her shock at this time and fell to her knees with a thump. “Don’t be angry, mother! It’s my fault, it’s all my fault! Please don’t be angry anymore, it will be all my fault if you hurt yourself with anger!”
Even though née Sun knew that she was supposed to happily accept Qin Yining as her daughter, there was no way she could do so given how much hardship her daughter was in. If it hadn’t been for Bao-mama restraining her, she really would’ve rushed up and smacked Qin Yining good and proper, turning her face into the same state as Qin Huining’s.
Qin Yining looked calmly at the furious née Sun, her long chilled heart now turning into a block of ice. She was very sensitive to hostility and knew that she hadn’t misjudged the look of utter hate in her mother’s eyes. Not only did her mother not acknowledge her, her mother even wanted to harm her...
She lowered her long lashes and sighed softly. I should really stop holding onto those dreams.
Bao-mama took her leave with a smile when she saw that the old dowager was in a bad mood, and the matriarch didn’t try to keep the old servant either. Everything was in a jumble in her mind and she didn’t want to see any of these people anymore. Even the sight of her usual favorite Qin Huining irritated her now, so she dismissed everyone as well.
After leaving Garden of Loving Piety, the group walked silently to the main branch’s Garden of Tranquility. Bao-mamacalled out to Qin Yining, “Fourth Miss, might this old servant have a few words with you alone?”
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