Chapter 16: Standoff
The old dowager’s rebuke made everyone turn to Qin Yining. Jin-mama had arranged all the servants for Snowpear Courtyard, she’d pulled most of the candidates from née Sun’s side. Qin Yining had just returned for one day, and her servants had arrived only in the afternoon. What time had she had to properly train her servants? If her servants were misbehaving, that spoke to née Sun’s training and had nothing to do with Qin Yining.
With last night’s events fresh in their minds, no one felt that Qin Yining would suffer this rebuke quietly. They all looked at her meaningfully. Qin Huining’s eyes were sparkling with anticipation. It’d be best if this barbarian explodes and goes head to head with Old Dowager!
Qin Yining stood up slowly.
Everyone held their breaths.
Qin Huining clenched her fists eagerly in her sleeves.
Qin Yining… gave a proper curtsey and spoke gently, “Old Dowager speaks truly. I didn’t keep my servants in line, please don’t be angry.”
Her meek manner and gentle tone were extremely soothing and moved people as well. This response was indirect protection of née Sun. Even the old dowager looked at Qin Yining with a more tender gaze. She’s Qin Huaiyuan’s daughter alright. She is forgiving and virtuous by nature, even though she didn’t grow up by his side.
All of the old dowager’s pride and joy in her life lay with her eldest son, and when she looked at the girl who looked so similar to him, her anger began to fade and she couldn’t help but smile. “Mm, just keep an eye out in the future. The teacher that your father has requested for you has almost arrived. Make sure you pay attention to your lessons.”
“Yes, thank you grandmother.” Qin Yining curtseyed smilingly.
“Go and sit,” the old dowager waved a hand.
The tense and charged atmosphere moments ago had been dispelled by a single word from Qin Yining! Qin Huining almost dug bloody crescents into her palms when she saw the benevolent smile her grandmother bestowed onto Qin Yining. Yuxiang still had her forehead on the ground. She was waiting for Qin Yining to argue loudly with the old dowager so she could pipe in at an opportune time about how vicious and cruel to servants the fourth miss was. Who would’ve thought that “the barbarian” would do something wholly unexpected?
A few hints of assessment were in the old dowager’s gaze as she turned to Yuxiang. “What do you want from me? Raise your head when you answer me.”
Yuxiang lifted her head, her dirty face full of coal streaks. The two clean tracks that her tears had cleared were smeared into oblivion again as she rubbed her face. The misses in the room all averted their heads, feeling a bit queasy at the sight. Yuxiang sobbed, “Please give us justice, Old Dowager! Transfer us away from Snowpear Courtyard! I can’t stay there anymore, Fourth Miss will torture me to death!”
The old dowager frowned and flicked a glance at the second madame. The latter immediately understood and rebuked, “Ludicrous! Fourth Miss is a mistress of the household, how would she purposefully torture her servants? Besides, since when have servants been able to pick and choose where they’d like to serve? It’s your great fortune that you can serve at Snowpear Courtyard. Are you trying to start a mutiny to complain to this great honor to Old Dowager and frame the miss?!”
“Please look thoroughly into this, Second Madame! I’m only doing this because I really have no options left! Fourth Miss is too violent! Ruilan and I are like this after serving her for only a day! Fourth Miss kicked Ruilan to the ground and beat her—look at her face! It’s still swollen!” Yuxiang rose to pull at Ruilan and point at the bruised corner of her mouth, then pointed at herself, “And me! Fourth Miss made me boil water for no reason at all and kept me there for half the night, not letting me go to sleep…”
Yuxiang bawled loudly again at this time, and tears once more streaked down to create two pale tracks on her spotted, dusty face. Ruilan on the other hand, wished she could sink straight into the ground. If only I knew how to make myself invisible! Yuxiang seems smart usually, but why did she lose her brains at such a crucial moment?! And it’s one thing for her to be an idiot, why drag me into it??
Ruilan fell to her knees with a thump, scouring her thoughts for ways to save herself. Yuxiang knelt as well and kowtowed again. “Please help us, Old Dowager! I’m risking death today! If I go back, Fourth Miss will probably beat me to death!”
As Yuxiang was going on about this, the looks of those assembled traveled over Qin Huining’s swollen cheeks several times. If they had to point to someone who really could beat someone up amongst them, Qin Yining did seem like the likely candidate. The emperor advocated a policy of virtue, and servants hadn’t been beaten to death in the prime minister manor for many years. No one had ever seen a noble miss able to beat others up. The old dowager had just glossed over Qin Huining being thrashed, but here was a maid with another complaint! They all wanted to see how Qin Yining would react. She could keep it together in front of the old dowager, but no one thought that she’d be able to tolerate a maid.
However Qin Yining remained sitting calmly, looking down at the rug at the foot of the old dowager’s bed. She seemed to be waiting for lint to gather on the rug and didn’t voice a single word of defense. She didn’t even look at Yuxiang from beginning to end. It was as if the maid didn’t exist at all.
Even the old dowager was perplexed by this. It would damage a girl’s reputation if the label of “cruel to servants” was tacked on her. Didn’t she care at all? Or did she not understand the severity of this? The atmosphere grew heavy again. Only Yuxiang’s sniffles could be heard in the quiet room. The old dowager frowned and was about to speak when Ruilan suddenly crawled forward on her knees, then kowtowed loudly three times. She proclaimed loudly, “Old Dowager, don’t listen to Yuxiang! Fourth Miss is innocent!”
“What, what are you talking about?! Didn’t we…” Yuxiang started at these words and whipped her head around to glare at Ruilan.
Ruilan didn’t wait for her to finish and cut in, “Things aren’t as Yuxiang said at all! The fourth miss did make her boil water, but that’s because Yuxiang did something wrong. Yesterday, she stole a lot of the jewelry that Senior Madame gave Fourth Miss. She thought the fourth miss couldn’t read the records and didn’t understand which materials were what. But the fourth miss is intelligent beyond compare and knew what was missing with just a glance.” She looked at Qin Yining with a look of admiration at this point. “The fourth miss didn’t lay it out at the time and only hinted that Yuxiang should return the items. Yuxiang felt that she lost a lot of face and returned the jewelry, but hated the fourth miss for this. When Fourth Miss and the maids were out last night, she withheld the miss’ charcoal and wouldn’t fill the braziers in the main residence. The main house was as cold as a cellar.
“Last night, I was accidentally injured when the two misses fought. Yuxiang made up a story to slander Fourth Miss when I returned. I tried to talk her out of it, but to no avail. The fourth miss happened to return at that time and heard what Yuxiang was saying. All of this added together was why she was sent to boil water.
“How can a maid steal from her mistress and hate her even when the mistress doesn’t punish the theft or say anything?? She even withheld charcoal in winter! This servant feels that Fourth Miss has been kind enough to Yuxiang already. Yuxiang’s actions today violate her conscience!” Ruilan kowtowed again when her words traveled here, “Please look at this thoroughly Old Dowager, don’t listen to Yuxiang’s lies and misunderstand Fourth Miss!”
Standing behind the divider, Qiulu also kowtowed when she heard this. “Old Dowager, this servant also heard Yuxiang slander the miss. She said very ugly things. Ruilan’s words are true, all of the servants in Snowpear Courtyard can bear witness.”
“You—you—all of you—all of you are making this up!!” Yuxiang’s head was splitting apart and she pounced forward to scratch Ruilan’s face. Ruilan crashed to the ground with a “very sincere” cry of shock. Thankfully Qiulu, Jixiang, and the other maids weren’t too far away. They were able to keep the two apart from each other. Yuxiang shrieked, “This is slander! I just said last night that I’d get justice for you, but you bite me instead today! You two-faced thing!”
“Yuxiang, shut up.” The quiet Qin Yining finally stood up. These three words were enough to make the raucous Yuxiang immediately quiet down. She walked over to the kneeling Yuxiang and looked down from a lofty position. The maid felt flayed alive by the frostiness of the fourth miss’ look. She lowered her head to look at Qin Yining’s embroidered shoes instead, bracing for those shoes to kick her in the chest at any moment. However, Qin Yining didn’t do anything and curtseyed to the old dowager instead. “Old Dowager, it’s my fault that this matter has made its way to you. I haven’t kept Snowpear Courtyard in good order. I apologize for having such a matter enter your sight.”
The old dowager had allowed the second madame to respond as she wanted to coolly observe everything that happened, as well as everyone’s reactions. She was quite satisfied that Qin Yining hadn’t demeaned her status to argue with her maid. It was also an impressive demonstration of her newly returned granddaughter’s ability to win over people after just one day, when both Ruilan and Qiulu stepped out to speak for her. Her docile and mature image from yesterday yet lingered in the matriarch’s mind. Qin Yining had the courage to speak out when Qin Huining drove a wedge between their parents, but she didn’t only blindly charge forward as she also knew to preserve her birth mother’s dignity as well.
All of this made Qin Yining much more pleasing in the old dowager’s eyes. This is a girl with courage and intelligence, one who can bend with the wind. She was Qin Huaiyuan’s daughter alright, she even had some hints of a young Prime Minister Qin’s bearing. She waved her hand and had Qin Yining rise. “This has nothing to do with you. This girl is crooked by nature.” It was like the one who’d just hectored Qin Yining for not keeping her servants in line was someone else entirely. The old dowager turned to Qin-mama. “Go ask the others in Snowpear Courtyard for verification. Sell Yuxiang immediately when this matter is confirmed.”
Yuxiang widened his eyes in horror when she heard this. “Old Dowager, you can’t do this! I was born of this house! My father is…”
“I don’t care who your father or mother are. They’re nothing good to raise such an unruly daughter.” The old dowager frowned impatiently. “Lujuan, I’m handing this matter over to you. Since this servant was born in the manor, then go by the book. Take her away. The sight of her irritates me.”
“Understood.” Qin-mama called for strong grannies who gagged Yuxiang with a handkerchief, dragging the maid down. Ruilan was also a bit frightened as she watched the other girl being hauled away. Only one word from Qin Yining was needed at this time, one that shed light on the truth off her attacking her mistress last night, for the same fate to befall Ruilan.