Chapter 46: Wholehearted Sincerity
“F-fourth Miss! What brings you here? W-what a rare guest.” Bitong’s limbs had lost all feeling, and it felt like lead was filling up her head. Her thoughts were sluggish, and her hands subconsciously patted the bulge in her clothes. Her eyes darted every which way as if searching for an escape route.
Qin Yining ignored the obvious signs of guilt. “I was touring my properties and just happened to pass by here. I remembered that Miss Bitong’s family lives here and came to visit Aunt He. Did your mistress give you time off and allow you to come home?”
Bitong’s surname was He, and her name had been He Erya before entering the Qin manor. 1
“Y-yes.” Bitong finally felt her mind start working again and smiled cleverly. “My mistress awarded me some gold, so I purposely came back to deliver it. Things have been a little tight at home”
“Miss Bitong is such a filial daughter.” Qin Yining smiled at the maid’s mother. “You have such fortune, Aunt He.”
“Your praise is too high, mistress. It’s all because the manor is willing to promote her. I hope that you’ll guide her well, mistress.” Aunt He was sixty years old and her sideburns were streaked white. She happily shared in her daughter’s glory when she heard Qin Yining’s praises, her smile adding many more creases to her face full of wrinkles.
Qin Yining laughed and rose. “Miss Bitong must be quite tired from working in the manor. A vacation is rare, and you must have much you’d like to chat with her about. I’ll leave you to it. Steward Zhong, make sure we leave our gift behind.”
Steward Zhong started and immediately took out a chunk of silver from his sleeve when he understood. “This is a gift from the miss, and a favor from House Qin.”
The silver gleamed with a white sheen. It looked to be three, almost four taels heavy. Aunt He immediately kneeled, expressing her thanks profusely. Bitong was also stunned and kowtowed as well. Was she just scaring herself?
Fourth Miss had really been just passing by and wanted to come take a look?
Yes. This must be it. She’d just returned to the manor and must want to create a virtuous reputation for herself.
Qin Yining helped Aunt He up and left with her people after exchanging a few more pleasantries. Bitong remained stunned right where she was, her uneasy heart finally regaining peace when the visitors had all departed.
“Whew~~! That was such a fright!” Bitong gave a long sigh as she patted her chest. Her mother returned from seeing the visitors off. She merrily picked up the silver on the table and bit into it.
“That miss was the official firstborn that the grand preceptor just found, right? She is so kind to give us so much silver all at once.”
Bitong guzzled down a bowl of water and sniffed when she thought of Qin Yining’s benevolent expression just now. “Don’t be fooled by her appearance. She’s the one who beat me up not too long ago. I still have the bruises to prove it! She’s just trying to create a good reputation for herself because she’s just come home.”
“Is that so? She sure doesn’t seem like it.” Her mother responded with concern. “How are your injuries? Are you still serving at the fourth miss’ side?”
“I’m fine, and the fourth miss is a foster daughter now. She’s Miss Huining, and I’m still the most trusted one at her side. See, I’ve come home today because Miss Huining gifted me so much jewelry.” She fished out all of her loot as she spoke, pulling out a strand of pearls here and the agate ring, ear studs there. “Mom, keep these safe for me. Don’t let my sister-in-law see them, she’ll just want to take them for her sons. You need to leave a path for your daughter, don’t you? We were so poor back in the day that the family sold me, but isn’t it still me that’s supporting the family after all these years? I’m going to form my own household in the future, so you have to think more on my behalf.”
Her mother’s eyes were locked onto the treasures on the table and she kept murmuring, “Oh heavens! Oh Buddha! Miss Huining is truly so generous, this is…”
The door creaked open before she could finish. Bitong jumped in surprise, afraid that her sister-in-law had returned. She didn’t have time to cover up her treasure and froze when she saw who it was.
Qin Yining was at the door. “Aunt He, I just gave orders to gift you a bag of rice. Someone will be by from the rice vendor later. I just wanted to make sure you knew.” Her face changed drastically when she caught sight of the jewelry on the table. “Bitong, where did you get all this?”
“The fourth—my mistress awarded them to me.” Bitong smiled stiffly.
Qin Yining took quick steps inside and picked up the crabapple blossom hairpin. She smiled coldly. “This is part of the jade jewelry set that third aunt gave me.”
“Madame Cai of a Hanlin Academy scholar gifted me these today.” She had turned her attention to the pearls and agate ring.
“Imperial Scribe Wang’s wife gave me this today.” She’d picked up the rose shaped ear studs. Finally, she turned and pointed at the dangling jade earrings. “The madame of the left scribe gifted me those. Bitong, explain yourself!”
A loud buzz filled Bitong’s mind as she collapsed in a heap on the ground. When she recalled how Qiulu had been in the storeroom earlier today, cold shudders gripped her and sweat beaded her forehead, rolling down to her chin. A trap! It was all a trap!
That bitch Qiulu actually tricked me!
Wait, waitwaitwait, it wasn’t just Qiulu.
Bitong jerked her head up violently to look at Qin Yining, her heart freezing over. The trap had possibly been laid earlier, right when all the gifts had been delivered! Qin Yining had just been waiting for her to put her head into the noose! She’d been with Miss Huining then and had seen the fourth miss sweep only a cursory glance over the gifts. How could she have memorized who sent what with just one look?! And, how could she have possibly anticipated that Miss Huining would send someone to follow Qiulu?
Bitong had thought that she was dealing with a barbarian with just great physical strength, but who would’ve imagined that she’d have the ability to remember things with just one look?! Or that she would be so shrewd as to create such a diabolical plot?!
Not only had Bitong used force against this fourth miss before, she’d even taunted the fourth miss in front of the doors to the ancestral hall. And… I was the indirect cause of Ruilan being thrown out of the manor… She’d never thought that a formless, soundless retribution would find her like this! The scene went dark before her eyes as she almost fainted from fear.
Aunt He responded in a panic. “Mistress, c-can there be a mistake? My daughter says that these were all gifted to her by Miss Huining. Can there be a misunderstanding?”
“How dare you?!” Steward Zhong’s voice rang like a sonorous bell, startling Aunt He. “Why would the miss falsely accuse your daughter for this little bit of things? Since we can identify where they came from, their gift boxes and lists are naturally still within the manor. We can summon the messengers and ask them as well! Our miss had the good intention to visit and bring you silver and rice. This was giving the utmost face tor you, but you only know to repay gratitude with viciousness!” The accusatory tirade ended on a note of disdain
Aunt He was sobbing by the end, begging for mercy over and over again. Qin Yining furrowed her brow and walked out. Steward Zhong quickly collected the jewelry and followed her out. “Miss, your things.”
“Continue as I said before, I’ll leave the rest to you.” Qin Yining took the items and spoke with her lashes lowered. “Just remember, trouble should not spread to the family and no lives can be harmed in the process.”
Steward Zhong agreed solemnly, once again reminded of his miss’ perceptiveness and understanding of others. “Where are you going now, miss?”
“I’m going to see Ruilan and Miss Tang.”
“Understood, I’ll have someone escort you there, miss.” Steward Zhong bowed respectfully and had the pageboys and guards take Qin Yining back to Cloudsoar Inn. Meanwhile, he walked back in to bark at Bitong, “Do you want to live?”
Bitong raised an ashen face and responded with trembling lips, “Please show me the way.”
Cloudsoar Inn wasn’t too far away from the market, just a short carriage ride’s distance. The pageboy escorted Qin Yining through the door to an out-of-the-way courtyard in the back. They’d just set foot onto the steps of the main house when the mustard-yellow cotton and bamboo door curtains were lifted to the side. A little nun in convent robes and rosy cheeks stepped out. “You’re here, miss!”
Qin Yining couldn’t help stroke Miss Tang’s head when she saw the adorable girl’s round, apple face and large eyes. “Indeed. And how’s Meng’er been these days?”
“Don’t worry, miss, life has very good. Steward Zhong takes good care of me. Oh yes.” Tang Meng pulled on Qin Yining’s hands and walked inside together. “I’ve already healed most of sister Ruilan’s wounds. They’ve already begun scabbing over.”
When they entered the house, Ruilan slowly and stiffly lifted herself off the bed. She was clad in white and wearing slippers, but gingerly dropped to her knees. “Miss.”
“Hurry and rise, be careful of your wounds splitting open again.” Qin Yining quickly reached out to support the maid with both hands. She carefully helped Ruilan back onto the bed and sighed at the maid’s slightly pale complexion. “You’ve suffered because of me.”
“Don’t say that, miss!” Ruilan propped herself up and spoke quickly. “Miss, although we’ve only known each other for a short amount of time and had a misunderstanding before, I’ve long since thought through things. No matter who my mistress is, glory for her means glory for me. If I’d followed anyone else, I would have long since been beaten to death for this matter. You saved my life, miss, and give me generous amounts of ginseng and cinnamon 2 to heal my wounds. I know that you are a kind person, miss. I will never be able to fully repay you for saving my life.” She kowtowed on the bed as she spoke. “I was immature before and did you wrong. You may not mind it, but I still feel guilty. I hope I can still serve you well into the future to repay your kindness.”
“Alright, alright. I understand your intentions.” Qin Yining wouldn’t let her kowtow any further. “What’s past is past, it’s not worth dwelling on our misunderstanding. I’ll obtain justice for your suffering.”
Ruilan was both crying and laughing as she wiped her tears away. “I knew that miss would stick up for me.”
Qin Yining sighed as she sat, taking out the jewelry from earlier. Apart from the crabapple blossom hairpin that third aunt had gifted her, she gave the rest to Tang Meng. “These are all yours.”
“Miss, what’s this?” Tang Meng looked strangely at the items spread out on the bed.
“My father is hosting a banquet at home today and I’ve received many gifts from the Clearists. While it looks like they’re sending me gifts, I’m actually the conduit for them to gift to you. There are some more medicinal herbs, treasures of the study, and others in the manor. They’re all from the Clearists. I’ll give them to you when you enter the manor. Keep these well, Meng’er. Build some personal wealth so you won’t find yourself with nothing when need strikes.”