Chapter 15: Tattling
Sixth Miss Qin Shuangning’s “wild wench” was enough to irritate even the most placid person, much less someone as straightforward and tough as Qin Yining. But the latter also knew that if she got into an argument with the sixth miss in front of everyone, the family would only place her on the same level as the sixth miss. There was no benefit in devaluing herself like that.
Losing one’s temper required purpose. It wasn’t a matter of having the loudest voice. If she tried to shout down her opponent, not only would she fail to be intimidating, she’d be taken for a common shrieking harlot out on the streets. No one would respect her the longer time went on. The upper hand came from obtaining the high ground
Besides, she’d just shown her edge last night, and the effects of that were still reverberating within the manor. If she continued in the same vein, she’d really become the barbarian their eyes saw, someone only capable of brawn and not brains. It’d be one thing for outsiders to disdain her, but how would she gain a foothold in this manor without receiving favor from the old dowager and the various madames?
On the other hand, there was no rule that stated the only way to gain the upper hand was to argue back when provoked. Qin Yining might not be familiar with the twists and turns of a woman’s mind, but she believed in the idea that if one was strong enough, it didn’t matter if they faced ten opponents who knew martial arts.
Qin Shuangning, do you think you’re tougher than the wolves of the forest?! She narrowed her charming almond-shaped eyes, her gaze as sharp as arrows dipped in poison. The effect was so cold that it seemed like Qin Yining was moments away from pouncing on the other girl to eat her alive. Qin Shuangning, you’re just a wild beast trying to stare me down!
The sixth miss had always led a sheltered life, so how could she possibly stand such a vicious stare? The hairs on her neck immediately stood on end as chills ran down her back. Beads of cold sweat imperceptibly trickled down the side of her head as she subconsciously swallowed all of her impolite words. She couldn’t find it within herself to voice “wild wench” even once more.
The sisters had crossed swords for all of a single breath, but who would’ve imagined that the shrieking sixth miss who was causing headaches left and right with her shrill voice, would be silenced by a glance from Qin Yining? In particular, First Wife née Yao and Second Wife née Meng found this feat amazing, and snuck curious glances at both girls. On the other hand, Third Madame née Wang smiled with lowered eyes and sipped delicately at her tea cup.
It was rather Second Madame née Su who sniffed contemptuously to break the sudden silence, rebuking Qin Shuangning with a dark expression, “Daughter Shuang! Have you no manners at all? What right do you have to be jumping up and down like this when your elders have yet to speak? Old Dowager has a full grasp of the situation; stand aside!”
This sixth miss was not fortunate enough to be the second madame’s goddaughter, and although she shared the same teacher as her twin sister, her manners had been taught to her by her concubine mother. The official wife of her family branch openly deriding her lack of manners was a slap to both mother and daughter!
Qin Shuangning felt her face burn hotly, as she inwardly seethed. She glanced sideways at the swollen face of Qin Huining. Us sisters share the same fate, Qin Yining got us good this time! She really hated the new fourth miss now.
Qin Yining, followed by the third, seventh, and eighth miss, all walked up to the old dowager, kowtowing in the most respectful gesture of greeting. The family matriarch had been silent this entire time, as inanimate as a statue of Buddha. As the four knelt before her, she finally lifted her eyes, glancing first at the sixth miss and then waving her hand in a noncommittal gesture for everyone to rise.
Qin Yining and the rest shifted to the side. The atmosphere within the room grew a bit heavy as silence once again reigned. After all, the main branch of the family had been party to a great carrying-on last night. The senior madame had publicly fought with the house lord, and then stormed off to her family’s home. Just as everyone was speculating on the reason for their argument, they were surprised by the news that Qin Yining had violently beat up Qin Huining!
Compared to the first bit of news, the second was practically earth shattering. In a learned household such as the prime minister’s, even the young masters wouldn’t physically fight when they disagreed, much less the young ladies of the family.
There were many versions of the story already floating around. Some spoke of how Qin Yining had finally shown her true barbarous nature, while others hinted that Qin Huining had started the fight because she wasn’t satisfied the official firstborn daughter had come back to step on her.
Regardless of who the rumors benefitted, they all ultimately muddied the waters in the manor. The servants were entertained by the hullabaloo, and the outsiders had new fodder to gossip about in the afternoon. The old dowager was reminded of Qin Huaiyuan’s hurried words before he left that morning…
“We must handle this as soon as possible. The emperor is growing old and hates seeing affairs like this break out in his subjects’ homes, especially when we’re all swamped with matters at court. Mother must let others understand that everything is well in our family. How will I be able to administer the nation’s matters if I can’t even keep my household in line? If my political enemies seize this point and exaggerate it out of proportion, the consequences would become disastrous.”
The old dowager’s face sank as the gravity of the situation once again occupied her thoughts. Enough was enough, she needed to close the book on this as fast as possible. Rumors had probably already begun circulating outside, and Qin Huaiyuan’s child couldn’t bear the fallout, no matter what. Otherwise, her son’s political enemies would be given ample ammunition!
Uneducated and unprotected children would only serve as proof of an incompetent father, and if others started mumbling that his daughter’s flaws were inherited from Qin Huaiyuan… wouldn’t that lead to suspicions about his own character?
When her thoughts reached that point, the old dowager grumbled mentally, placing some of the blame for this headache on Qin Huining. If it hadn’t been for the girl’s scheming, this wouldn’t have developed in this way? I can’t even protect her now even if I want to!
The old dowager would rather people say that she’d failed as a grandmother in raising her grandchildren then have people conclude that Qin Yining’s display was a result of bad breeding from her father. Not to mention, the matriarch was not so blind as to not see through Qin Huining’s intentions. She was well aware that she was targeting Qin Huaiyuan’s bloodline. She came to a decision, and her eyes lifted to stare at the silent gathering arrayed in front of her. The old dowager cleared her throat and announced in a stately voice, “You all know what’s happened yesterday.”
“Yes.” All of the women and girls curtseyed in unison.
“Granddaughter Hui is ignorant in her youth and unknowingly incited née Sun’s temper with her words,” the old dowager continued slowly, her every word measured. “Granddaughter Yi couldn’t accept this and taught dear Hui a lesson. These two little girls forgot about coexisting in harmony, and actually ended up fighting instead. I’ve already set them to copying ‘The Classic of Filial Piety’ as a reminder of their folly. This matter is now over. None of you shall bring it up again.”
The old dowager’s words glossed over the details and transformed Qin Yining’s one-sided beating into a mutual fight. Moreover, it also cast the girl as a heavy-handed but well meaning daughter, while vilifying Qin Huining as the one who was being punished for provoking the official wife. Behind the calm eyes of those assembled, the cogs started to turn as glances flicked towards Qin Yining. Ever the most biased of Huining’s defenders, the old dowager was actually lecturing the apple of her eye?
After a moment of jaw-dropping silence, the second madame, third madame, first wife, and second wife assented in unison. The sixth miss looked incredulously at the still piteously crying Qin Huining, while the third miss and eighth miss all studied their feet in careful diffidence. Yet, the seventh miss snuck a curious look at the quiet Qin Yining.
On the other hand, Qin Huining felt like she’d been dropped into a icy pool. Her very core froze and the acrid taste of her broken expectations filled her mouth. Right, Qin Yining is the one who’s tied by blood to the Qin family. All of the love and favor I had vanished as soon as she came back.
In her heart, a hint of a grudge against the old dowager was born. The grandmother, who had loved and cherished her so much, apparently no longer did so, and was just blindly helping her real granddaughter suppress Qin Huining! What gratitude I should have for her care, what ‘love’ have we shared all these years?! When all is said and done, blood is thicker than water! She felt so very, very angry and utterly alone, but she didn’t dare throw a tantrum.
Qin Huining still wanted to live in the manor. She didn’t want to be sent away just because of a fruitless struggle for momentary pride. Tears streaked down her face like a newborn waterfall. Her reddened, swollen face glistened with wet trails, looking a truly heartbreaking sight.
The sixth miss was both anxious and pained at this development. She wanted to comfort her sister, but the second madame pinned her down with a glare when she took a hesitant step forward. The sixth miss didn’t dare talk back to the official wife of her family branch, so after some hesitation, she stepped back and lowered her head silently.
The old dowager rubbed her forehead irritatedly as she took in everyone’s reactions. Life had been easy in the past couple of years. It hadn’t been necessary to untangle the knots of the inner residence for a long time now, and they’d only gotten more complicated with that reprieve.
Qin-mama had a deep understanding of the old dowager’s temper and astutely offered a cup of black tea at the perfect temperature right at that moment. The exquisite tea cup rimmed with gold was her favorite, the tea it carried fragrant and strong. It was flavored with honey that left a hint of sweetness on the taste buds yet settled warmly in the stomach. Like a soothing balm, the tea washed away some of the old dowager’s earlier unhappiness.
Right then, a sharp, sobbing cry traveled into the room. Those more sensitive of hearing were quick to identify it as a girl loudly yelling, “Justice, Old Dowager, I seek justice!”
The voice was quite familiar to Qin Yining, even without her prodigious memory. Even though the voice had cracked from how strenuously it was being used, she could still make out the timbre of Yuxiang’s voice. So it seems she’s going to do what she said! She’s really come to complain to Old Dowager!
The old dowager frowned ferociously and set the tea cup down heavily onto the table. “Who is that outside?! This kind of commotion is ludicrous!”
Qin-mama hastily trotted outside and lifted the door curtains, seeing a maid with disheveled hair and a dirty face being restrained by two serving girls outside. The maid was begging and crying piteously. All of the other maids on duty heaved a sigh of relief when they saw the old servant appear at the door. One of the little serving girls bobbed up at her side to report softly, “Yuxiang of Snowpear Courtyard barged in and said that she has a matter she wishes the old dowager to give her justice for.”
“Seeking justice is one thing, but even if you asked nicely you would still have to see if the Old Dowager is in the mood to listen. And yet here you are, carrying on and making such a fuss. Can you afford the consequences if your words disturb the old dowager?!” Qin-mama’s authority went almost uncontested among the servants, frightening Yuxiang into silence. But when the old servant turned to go back into the house, Yuxiang’s confidence grew again as she mentally repeated that she was the child of a servant, and that her overseer mother was her support.
When the old dowager heard Qin-mama’s words, her expression darkened further. “Who is this?! Bring her in!”
Ruilan and Qiulu had been in the outer hall when they heard the disturbance and were pacing around in an anxious frenzy. Qiulu blanked when she saw Yuxiang enter, but Ruilan knitted her brows together tightly, feeling like something bad was imminent. Yuxiang, on the other hand, arched her brow after seeing Ruilan and smirked proudly. She grabbed Ruilan before the other had time to react and turned on her spigot of tears.
“You’re here too, sister? You’re still serving today after suffering so much last night?! Old Dowager is kind and never mistreats the servants. Come! We’ll have her give us justice!” She forcefully dragged the unwilling Ruilan in with her into the inner hall.
Ruilan struggled free of the grasp with serious effort and almost broke out into tears from fright when she saw the various mistresses adorned with jade in the room, and met Qin Yining’s own coolly composed gaze. Heavens be my witness, I really don’t want to come make trouble for the miss!
Yuxiang had already knelt down in a kowtow, her tears creating two clean trails down her dirtied face. Her bleak appearance made her seem more like someone who’d just returned from a perilous exile. “This servant is Yuxiang, a new second-rank maid of Snowpear Courtyard. I’m here risking death today to seek justice! Please, Old Dowager!” She kowtowed with audible thumps after these words.
The old dowager frowned and looked unhappily at Qin Yining, exhorting, “This is your maid?! Why can’t you keep your servants in line?!”