Qin Yining was a bit dejected after so thoroughly receiving her mother’s enmity. But she forced herself to perk up when she heard Bao-mama’s words and cleared her mind of all emotion, smiling politely back at the old servant. “Bao-mamais too polite, it’s really too much. Does grandmother have any words for me?”
It was the first time Bao-mama had had the opportunity to inspect Qin Yining in close quarters. A random person may not have been able to discern the connotations in those words, but the old servant was an old hand after so many years in the inner residence. How would she not understand?
The first part of Qin Yining’s words had expressed respect for the Duchess of Ding and the old servant, giving the latter a good deal of face, but the second part reminded Bao-mama of her identity. It was a warning to the old servant that she should think twice if she wanted to favor Qin Huining or capitalize on her seniority. Having just seen how the old dowager treated Qin Yining and the girl in action, Bao-mama wasn’t angry at all by this veiled warning. In fact, her look at the girl warmed with a few hints of approval and respect.
“Will you move over there, miss?” Bao-mama pointed at the mountain of chrysanthemums in Garden of Tranquility. Qin Yining followed the direction of the old servant’s finger and saw that, apart from pots of multi-colored flowers making up a small mountain, there was a plot of empty land around it. It was a slight distance away from the main residence, side wings, covered hallways between the buildings and servant quarters. She didn’t understand at first, but comprehension dawned when the two walked to the mountain of chrysanthemums and looked back at the main residence.
There were no hiding places in the area, so there was no fear that someone would overhear their conversation. Qin Yining made a note of this. People who grow up in these noble houses really are very smart.
Bao-mama stood in front of Qin Yining and smiled, “The miss must be undergoing through a period of adjustment since coming back to the manor.”
“Indeed,” Qin Yining responded honestly. “But to be able to return at all is a gift from the heavens. I have no other desires. I just wish that I can stay by my parents and elders’ side.”
Bao-mama approved of this response. She could tell that Qin Yining wasn’t used to talking to people because the girl spoke slowly and deliberately. It was obvious that she was thinking about what words to use. But the fourth miss always said the most appropriate things, a clear sign of intelligence. The old servant had wanted to approach the matter in a roundabout way, but set that intention aside after Qin Yining’s reaction. She cut to the chase, “Senior Madame has likely shown some resistance to accepting you after you’ve come back, hasn’t she?”
Qin Yining blinked and immediately pulled her lips into a smile. “Bao-mama must be joking. No mother would reject her own child. The madame just hasn’t seen things clearly yet. I am in awe of her motherly heart, and am admire Miss Huining as well.”
Bao-mama rearranged the hollowed out silver bangle on her arm and turned over Qin Yining’s words carefully. Her smile became more genuine. There were four levels of meaning to the girls’ words. She knew that née Sun was only blinded at the moment. She knew that née Sun was a good mother who loved her children. She also knew who had clouded née Sun’s eyes. The most important was that she didn’t hate her mother for the lack of acceptance, and she was willing to wait for it. This had been expressed quite vividly. Clearly, the fourth miss had understood the old servant before anything had needed to be said, and given the answer that the duchess had wanted most to know. Even the misses by the duchess’ side may not be as clear minded as Qin Yining. This made her much stronger than that brash lady of theirs who’d come running back home just last night.
“This old servant understands the fourth miss’ meaning.” Bao-mama returned a solemn curtsy.
Qin Yining shifted to the side, not fully accepting the gesture, and returned a half one as well. She reached out for Bao-mama’s elderly hands. “You’re a trusted confidante by my maternal grandmother’s side. You’re also an elder in my eyes. Please don’t stand on ceremony like this. I don’t know how the madame is arranging things, and don’t know when I can go visit my grandparents. Please bring my regards to grandmother.”
“Yes, I’ll do so.” Bao-mama and Qin Yining smiled at each other, walking slowly to the main residence at the same time. They chatted at inconsequential topics along the way.
The maids in the hallway lifted the door curtains and announced their entrance. Qin Yining and Bao-mama entered to see a née Sun in full fury sitting on the chaise by the window. Qin Huining was right next to her and dabbing at her tears with a handkerchief. The frozen atmosphere inside the house let both newcomers know that Qin Huining must’ve just fully vented her feelings in a gravely biased recounting of what’d happened.
Née Sun kept her temper down with effort and tugged her lips in a polite smile to the old servant. “Please sit Bao-mama, allow me to take care of some family matters before chatting with you.” She stiffly had Caiju bring over a stool and didn’t pay attention to whether the old servant had sat down before pointing at Qin Yining. “You! On your knees!”
Qin Yining had retracted the faint smile on her face as soon as she entered. She raised her slender eyebrows slightly, pursed her lips that colored light-pink, and kneeled without a hint of resistance. She looked down as she said evenly, “Please don’t be angry, madame.”
“Don’t be angry?! How can I not be angry?”! Née Sun stood up and shot forward, putting her hands on her waist and pointing at Qin Yining, her red lacquered fingernail almost poking the girl’s face. “You make a move on darling Hui as soon as I leave! Do you think you’re still in the mountains, and there’s no rules here whatsoever?!”
Qin Yining closed her eyes, unable to find the slightest trace of hope in her frozen heart. She felt that she could finally ignore all this after having her heart broken earlier. “In response to the madame, your daughter didn’t do that.”
“You didn’t!? If you didn’t, then did ghosts slap darling Hui?!”
“Since the madame knows that Qin Huining was slapped, then you should also know why she was slapped. As your daughter, how could I stand for someone sowing discord between you and father?”
“Blasphemy! How dare you talk back to me? How arrogant you must’ve been after I left, huh?! You didn’t grow up by my side, so I don’t expect you to be as learned as the other noble misses, but you can’t bring any of that crass, base city mannerisms into our manor either! Do you think you’re a harlot shrieking on the streets, that whoever has the hardest fist can talk the loudest?! I tell you, dream on!” Née Sun’s voice was shrill as she fired off criticism at a high pace. She gasped loudly for air when she paused. She didn’t feel feel like she’d given full vent to her feelings yet and glared ferociously at Qin Yining’s head of black hair. She roared, “Lift your head!”
Qin Yining raised her head docilely. She hadn’t cried, the hint of tears had just pooled in her bright and clear eyes instead. The look in her eyes was very calm. There was no dissatisfaction or resentment. Née Sun felt something crash into her heart simply by the girl looking up at her. The hand she’d raised high to slap the girl with froze midair.
Qin Yining lowered her long lashes when she saw this movement. Though her eyelashes trembled, not a single tear trickled down. “Don’t be angry, madame. It’s not worth it if you harm your body like this, and worth even less to exert yourself with action. If you’re angry that I hit Qin Huining, you can give me any punishment. Have me kneel on roof tiles, or make me chop wood and haul water.” Her voice fell to a mumble at this point. “I saw a rich family punish their maid like this once when I delivered firewood to them.”
Punishing a maid?
Anyone with a bit of conscience would be moved when they recalled her life thus far. However, née Sun wasn’t treating her like a daughter at all. The madame was even nicer to her maids! The human heart was a soft, tender thing. Bao-mama had stood up at this point, feeling that someone had squeezed hers painfully. Née Sun’s hand trailed down listlessly as she looked down at Qin Yining with a complicated look.
“Don’t be angry, my lady. Remember the mistress’ words.” Bao-mama cautioned at this time.
Née Sun pursed her lips a few times and didn’t say anything.
Qin Huining was grinding her teeth ferociously, her hands tightened into fists. It took her a great deal of effort to squeeze out, “Never mind mother. Really, I’m fine.”
Her words reminded née Sun why she’d been so angry. Except, that unbearable rage had been replaced by a faint sense of heartache instead.
Bao-mama took a deep look at Qin Huining, quickly understanding more of what was going on. “My lady, why don’t you rest a bit? Allow this servant to take a walk in the garden.”
Née Sun wasn’t in the mood to overly inquire and waved her hand noncommittally. Bao-mama bent her knee and summoned a few maids and granny servants for some questioning.
Qin Yining was on her knees for forty five minutes before née Sun said, “Forget it. Remember this lesson well. Don’t be this violent in the future. You’re a noble daughter of the prime minister’s manor after all. As the official firstborn of the main branch, people will gossip and speak ill of us if we don’t behave in a mannerly fashion, or bring in the undesirable airs of the city. We’ll lose face for our family then and affect the reputation of all the girls in the family, not just you.”
Née Sun’s tone had softened, so Qin Yining’s response was even more gentle. “Madame speaks truly, your daughter knows now.”
As Née Sun looked at this version of Qin Yining, she suddenly felt randomly that she shouldn’t bully a child who’d led a tough life. When she thought of what her mother had said, née Sun sighed. She had to acknowledge this daughter no matter what, in order to consolidate her position. She might as well do so happily. Besides, once she’d gotten over her anger, she felt that Qin Huaiyuan really didn’t seem to be the sort to confuse the Qin family bloodline. Perhaps this girl really was hers... They might be strangers now, but maybe later...
“You’re dismissed.” Née Sun rubbed her forehead, not looking at Qin Yining anymore.
The girl took her leave with an affirmative reply, meeting Ruilan and Qiulu in the outer room for them to help her into a cloak and the way back home.
Née Sun took a look at Qin Huining’s reddened eyes and cheeks, comforting the girl, “Don’t feel so wronged, she’s a pitiful person after all. Just let this matter go. I have some good ointment here, I’ll have Jin-mama apply it on you in a moment. Your face will heal soon.”
Qin Huining almost broke her teeth from all the gnashing. See! It’s easy to see who’s your real daughter now! Despite this massive malcontent, she couldn’t drive away her greatest backer. She wrapped her hands around née Sun’s arm with a smile, “Mother speaks truly. I’ll do whatever you say.”
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