Chapter 56: Returning In Style
Qin Huining scrabbled at Qin Yining’s wrist with both hands and tried peeling off the latter’s fingers. But Qin Yining’s hand was like a metal clamp, no amount of force loosened her grip in the slightest. Qin Huining was starting to have trouble breathing as her throat remained constricted. She rasped out, “What are you still standing there for? Help me! Get someone!”
Cai-mama and Bitao were scared silly by Qin Yining’s forceful move. Their mistress’ shrieks brought them back to themselves and they came up to rip Qin Yining away. However, Qin Yining had accumulated quite a bit of authority and only needed to send them a freezing glare to make them shudder. Bitong didn’t even dare take a step forward.
Qin Yining flung the other girl away disdainfully. Qin Huining’s knees weakened and she fell to the ground, clutching her neck and hacking loudly.
“Didn’t you lack the face to keep living? The old dowager is benevolent, but I’m a barbarian used to blood and gore. If you’re afraid to take your life because of the pain, I can help send you on your way.” Qin Yining was speaking with utmost tenderness, but the words she was voicing were horrifying.
For a second just now, Qin Huining knew that any struggles were pointless if the other girl truly wanted to kill her. She’d be dead before she could summon any help. And who would believe that the grand preceptor’s daughter could be a murderer? The other Qin family members would just gloss over this matter out of concern for Qin Huaiyuan’s reputation! When had Qin Huining’s position in the Qin family become so precarious?! It was just a matter of wealth and glory anymore, but that her very life was grasped in another’s hands!
Qin Yining smiled when she finally saw fear blossom on the foster girl’s face. “Afraid now, aren’t you? Qin Huining, listen carefully to everything I say next. Your attempt to commit suicide has likely traveled throughout the entire manor by now, and will probably be common gossip for all aristocratic households within the city for the next month. I won’t hesitate to hang you up if you dare try anything in the future. Given your prior history of committing suicide, everyone will think you’re just up to your old tricks again.”
Qin Yining looked at the beam, then at Qin Huining. She reached out hoisted Cai-mama up with a single hand, hefting the old servant like she was a pack of potatoes. The mama’s feet were off the ground, her eyes wide with shock. Qin Yining set her down with a smile and continued in the face of Qin Huining’s terrified look. “Do you see that? I’m not joking with you. I still have the strength to hang you up there. Just try provoking mother again so that she loses face in front of her in-laws, or disturbing the peace at home. We’ll see then who’s faster, people to save you or me choking you first and then hanging you on a beam.”
“It’s late. You can rest now.” She patted Qin Huining’s shoulder and left.
Qin Huining was petrified where she was, staring fixedly at the door. Cai-mama was patting her chest and murmuring, “Is she even human? Is she even human…”
Bitong’s head was lowered as she thought over Steward Zhong’s instructions. The fear and despair in her eyes deepened further. Qin Huining remained quiet for a very long time before suddenly exploding in a shriek and destroying everything in the room in a fit of fury.
Qin Yining had gone to look in on the old dowager again and returned to Snowpear Courtyard when she confirmed that nothing was amiss with the matriarch’s body after all of that.
The next day was when the crown prince would pay a formal visit to the grand preceptor and host a banquet for his teacher. The manor stirred to action before the sun even rose. Steward Zhong also sent over a certificate from the Central Taoist Registry via Jin-mama of the kitchens early that morning. She came with a message. “The silver has been delivered and the two girls amply prepared for.”
Qin Yining started and smiled. “Thank you for making a trip, mama.” She handed over a heavy pouch embroidered with the character for good fortune. “I’ll have to trouble you lots in the future, so please take this token of appreciation.”
“Aiyo, miss you’re the owner, there’s no need to be so polite.” Jin-mama responded with all sorts of reasons to turn down the pouch.
“We’re all family, so why stand on ceremony? Unless, mama, you think too little of me?” Jin-mama finally accepted the pouch when Qin Yining pretended to be angry. They exchanged yet more pleasantries before the old servant took her leave. Qin Yining returned to nibbling on the bird’s nest that the kitchen had sent and pursed her lips while she made some plans. She gave some orders to Qiulu with a smile. “Clean out a side room off of my bedroom. Make sure it’s amply stocked with all necessities and decorations.”
Qiulu nodded and went about her duties, while Qin Yining took Yaoqin and Yuqi, the maids that her father had just given to her, to pay her respects at Garden of Loving Piety.
All was calm at the matriarch’s residence today. It seemed that yesterday’s news of Qin Huining’s suicide attempt had yet to spread.
Née Sun, the second and third madame all headed for the outer residence to oversee the matters of welcoming the crown prince and the banquet. The old dowager was speaking with the girls in Garden of Loving Piety. Everyone had turned out splendidly. They would be greeting the crown prince when the banquet started.
Qin Yining sized up Qin Huining and noticed that the latter was wearing a high collared jacket today, one that was just high enough to cover the marks on her neck. She’d used a suitable amount of powder to hide the née Sun-gifted, swollen redness of her cheek, and was sitting next to the sixth miss. She seemed rather subdued. It looks like Qin Huining’s the sort that only cooperates after violence. A slap is more useful than a hundred lines of earnest concern. She spared the foster girl no further thought since Qin Huining was behaving herself. Qin Yining joined the other girls in amusing the old dowager.
At the fifth hour of the day, the hour of the dragon, a serving girl reported, “The crown prince has arrived and is commencing the disciple ceremony in the front yard.”
At forty five minutes into the hour of the dragon, another runner came in. “The crown prince, the lord, and various masters have gone to the study.”
It was now the sixth hour of the day, the hour of the snake. 1 A merry Jixiang had come back from a quick check on the situation outside. “Old Dowager, the crown prince, three elder masters, and the younger masters have gone to tour the gardens in the back. Senior Madame says the banquet is ready and can start at noon. You and the misses can set out for the Flower Hall now.”
“Noted.” The old dowager nodded with great spirits and inspected the miss’ outfits again. Only fifteen minutes had passed when a serving girl came tearing in from outside, firing off rapidly from the covered hallway, “Old Dowager! Miss Huining’s maids Bitong and Xiao’ai startled the crown prince in the gardens just now. The lord has already thrown the two out and has given orders for Miss Huining to be locked in the woodshed. He will be questioning her later.”
Qin Huining surged to her feet with eyes wide with shock. She looked pleadingly at the old dowager. “What’s, what’s going on? Bitong isn’t with me today because it’s that time of the month. I told her to rest because she was feeling uncomfortable. Why would she run into the gardens at the back and even startle the crown prince…”
The old dowager frowned and spoke to Qin-mama. “Lujuan, go find out what’s happened.”
“Understood.” The mama rushed out.
Qin Yining cast her eyes downward, taking a sip of the warm tea. It was bitter when first hitting the palate, but coming back around with a refreshing taste. Good tea. The girls had all been excited about the banquet at noon but were now on tenterhooks, particularly Qin Huining. Her face was ghastly white and sweat poured down as she frantically guessed what had happened. Why would father want to lock her in the woodshed? Qin-mama returned after a while.
“Old Dowager.” Her expression was quite ugly. “This servant has found out everything. Bitong and Xiao’ai didn’t know that the lord was touring the gardens with the other masters and the crown prince. Both of them had some free time today and were gossiping in the rear of the artificial mountain. The entire entourage heard their conversation. They said… said…”
“Said what? Speak clearly!” The old dowager frowned.
“I brought the lord’s body servant Qitai. He can make a full report.”
“Get him in here!”
Qitai was thirty some years old and had served Qin Huaiyuan for a long time. He was loyal and quick-witted. He didn’t enter the inner room, just knelt outside the divider of magpies alighting on plum blossoms. The girls could see his faint silhouette on the other side. “…the crown prince and our masters were strolling along when they heard two girls chattering. The girls said that the fourth miss is an idiot short on brains because she didn’t even know that she’d been framed by someone else. The maid who stole the old dowager’s bracelet was set up by Bitong, who received her orders from Miss Huining. They also said that the old dowager was an easy one to manipulate as she threw out the fourth miss’ maid just like that.
“This servant was right behind our lord and the crown prince. I heard everything clearly, so the crown prince must have as well. He didn’t say anything, but our lord’s expression was quite ugly. He strongly censured the two girls gossiping and was kind enough to not kill them. He just threw them out of the manor.”
It was deathly silent inside. Everyone was looking at Qin Yining and Qin Huining. No wonder the lord wanted to lock Qin Huining up in the woodshed! She’d set up Qin Yining’s maid! This had even been revealed in front of the crown prince, and was a case of a foster girl plotting against the official daughter! What kind of ugly gossip would this give rise to when it spread? There would definitely be those who said that Grand Preceptor Qin can’t even keep his own house in order, how would he be suitable to indirectly be the world’s teacher via the crown prince?
The old dowager’s face was a blotchy purple in her anger. She viciously threw out her brass pipe and the accompanying tobacco pouch hanging off the stem. It smashed right into Qin Huining’s shoulder, making her break into tears after a cry of pain.
“How dare you cry?! Come, shut Qin Huining in the woodshed. No one may visit her without the senior elder master’s permission!”
“Old Dowager, I didn’t, I really didn’t! This is a setup! Someone’s framing me!”
“You still come up with excuses even at a time like this! Take her away, take her away!!” The old dowager pounded the table angrily. Strong granny servants came in and clapped their hands over Qin Huining’s mouth, dragging her outside.
Silence stretched on inside the house. Many of them had laughed at Qin Yining for failing to discipline her people after Ruilan had been caught for stealing. Some had even gone further to say that Qin Yining was the reason why her servants had ended up crooked. Now that the truth had come out, they all felt a bit awkward when they looked at Qin Yining. More servants reported from outside at this time, “Old Dowager, the Duchess of Ding has gifted two maids to the fourth miss.”
Jixiang entered with the two new maids with a curious expression on her face. When everyone took a look at the maids, they once again looked back at Qin Yining. The old dowager pointed at one of them with surprise. “Aren’t you Ruilan?”
“This servant is Songlan and greets Old Dowager, Fourth Miss.” Rui—Songlan curtsied with a smile.
- 9am-11am ↩