Chapter 23: A Close Relationship
“Understood, I will surely convey the miss’ intentions.” Ruyi and Jixiang curtsied politely. “We will depart now if the miss has no other orders.”
“Please do as you wish, sisters.” Qin Yining responded with a smile.
Qin-mama also took her leave at this time. “Miss, I’ll be off now.”
“Let me see you out.” Qin Yining lifted her hand in an “after you” gesture, making motions to help the old servant down the stairs with extreme graciousness.
“Here is far enough.” Qin-mama declined courteously, but she was quite pleased, and her image of Qin Yining brightened by a few degrees again. Even though she continuously made polite protestations, the fourth miss insisted on seeing her out the door. The mama curtsied yet again before finally taking her leave for good.
Back in her yard, Qin Yining looked at the items that were forming a small mountain. “Enter the old dowager’s presents in the records and arrange for Zhan-mama in the side wing.”
“Understood.” Zhu-mama led the servants off.
Ruilan was standing next to Qin Yining and murmured, “Miss, something’s off about this. Zhen-mama was here to teach only you yesterday, why have things changed overnight? Did Senior Madame agree to this as well?”
“She must’ve. Zhan-mama is here because of the main branch. If Senior Madame hadn’t allowed this, then the mama wouldn’t have agreed no matter how others cajoled.”
Ruilan flushed beet red with indignation. “This is too unreasonable! They’re bullying you, miss! They envy what you have and thought of a way to share what’s yours!”
“Don’t be angry, where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Qin Yining comforted her maid.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way? Ruilan didn’t immediately understand what her mistress meant by this. She picked up her feet to follow Qin Yining back into the main residence. The maid understood what the phrase meant when she passed by the side wing and saw Zhu-mama closely overlooking the serving girls putting away the palace servant’s belongings.
Zhan-mama had instantly moved to Snowpear Courtyard after accepting the invitation to teach all the girls in the manor. Wasn’t this the clearest explanation? I was so angry just now, but the miss wasn’t angry at all, and she’s the one affected! I was hopping mad, but the miss was as calm as ever and swiftly analyzed the situation clearly. She’s not moved by any favor or disgrace. Ruilan’s scattered emotions quickly settled as a new thought popped into her mind. I’ll definitely go far if I follow the miss!
Time passed swiftly. It was soon the fifteenth of the month, and the day to hand in her copies of “The Classic of Filial Piety”. Qin Yining had been exceedingly busy the past two days, spending the mornings with her sisters and the afternoons in an outer residence study with the teacher. Zhan-mama would even give her private lessons at night, leaving her to copy the classic in her spare time. She rather liked this kind of life. She was a dry sponge thrown into water, furiously soaking up all this new knowledge without tiring.
Qin Yining was a hard worker and highly resolute person. Because she’d experienced a much more difficult life, she didn’t feel tired no matter how tiring this learning process was. When the other girls were complaining of how difficult things were or how tired they were, she remained grateful for the experience. She was sharp witted and could remember almost everything with one glance. Add to that her own efforts and grace when interacting with others, she grew even closer to Zhan-mama after two short days. The mama was dredging up every last bit of her knowledge in teaching Qin Yining.
She’d flipped through the “Tao Te Ching” the past two days and saw the lines “misfortune and happiness coexist and depend on each other; misfortune gives rise to happiness, whereas within happiness lies misfortune”. These lines seemed rather apt for her current situation, making her grin as she took a breather from her packed schedule.
On this day, Qin Yining brought Ruilan and Qiulu with her to the evening greetings at Garden of Loving Piety. They ran into head maid Ruyi giving orders to a serving girl when they entered the residence. Ruyi immediately came over all smiles when she saw Qin Yining, bending at the knee in greeting. “Greetings to Fourth Miss.”
“Hello big sister Ruyi. How is Old Dowager today? Did she enjoy her meal?”
“Old Dowager is well. Miss Huining, Third Miss, Sixth Miss, Seventh Miss, and Eighth Miss are all inside. Please enter as well.” They’d arrived at the covered hallway as they spoke. Ruyi personally lifted the door curtains for the newcomer.
After entering, Qin Yining handed over a newly made crimson-red cape lined with white rabbit fur to Ruilan, and turned past a divider with magpies alighting on plum blossoms to enter the main room. The ladies were all sitting or standing, their postures quite at ease. Qin Huining was handing over an exquisite teacup set etched in gold to the old dowager. She lifted her head to see Qin Yining in an ivory vest ensemble. Her pupils contracted violently at the sight as she placed a smile on her face. “Younger sister Little Creek is here.”
Qin Yining felt quite disdainful of this act. It looked like she didn’t need to give Qin Huining too much credit. Someone as petty as this only knew these kinds of tricks in the end. It was just a name. Those in the countryside called “Dog Leftovers” or “Donkey Eggs” 1 still grew up perfectly fine despite those names. What was the point in constantly harping about this? She couldn’t be bothered with Qin Huining at all and pretended that this person didn’t exist. She greeted the old dowager with a grand gesture.
However, the eighth miss couldn’t stand for this kind of treatment and mocked, “It looks like something’s truly wrong with Miss Huining’s memory. You can’t even remember fourth sister’s name.”
Qin Huining inwardly sneered at the eighth miss for being an idiot. You dare kick up a fuss at me in front of the old dowager? She flushed with anger and her voice trembled, “What do you mean by this, eighth sister?!”
“You don’t understand anything at all! It looks like not only is your memory faulty, but your brains aren’t much either! Senior uncle said that fourth sister’s name is Yining, but you keep making such a big deal out of a nickname! You’re so petty!”
“You!” Tears swam in Qin Huining’s eyes as she looks to the old dowager for help.
The matriarch didn’t like seeing the girls fight in front of her and spoke sternly, “Granddaughter Bao, what on earth are you talking about?”
The eighth miss wanted to talk back to the old dowager, but was restrained by the third and seventh miss. The sixth miss flicked her eyes at Qin Huining, looking sideways back down at Qin Yining. The fourth miss had already made her obeisance before the bickering and had yet to rise. She’d been kneeling for longer than necessary because of them. Qin Huining lowered her head so that no one would be able to see her expression clearly and smirked slightly. A blatant smile was on the sixth miss’ face, whereas Qin Baoning was a bit irked by her own actions.
The old dowager had forgotten about the girl in front of her; she didn’t mean to purposefully give Qin Yining a hard time. She glared at the eighth miss before saying, “You may rise, granddaughter Yi.”
“Many thanks to Old Dowager.” Qin Yining immediately received an apologetic smile from the eighth miss when she rose. She knew that Qin Baoning hadn’t meant for this to happen and so responded in kind as well.
A maid announced at this time, “Senior, Second, and Third Madame have arrived.”
The girls all rose to their feet when they heard this and took their places according to age. Qin-mama showed in the madames in succession of seniority as the old dowager straightened her posture. She bade them all sit after all of her daughters-in-law had made their greetings.
When Qin Huining saw that everyone had arrived, she immediately took a sheaf of papers from Bitong’s hands and proffered them to the matriarch. She bent her knee and spoke with lowered head, “Old Dowager, your granddaughter spoke too quickly and unintentionally caused turmoil in the house a few days ago. These are ten copies of ‘The Classic of Filial Piety’ for your review.”
The old dowager was pleased by Qin Huining’s docile attitude and appropriate words. She noted that the penmanship on the paper was neat and orderly, obvious evidence of clear effort. “Mm, you wrote well.” The old dowager turned to look at Qin Yining. “Where’s yours, granddaughter Yi?”
“I’ll have someone bring them in immediately.” Qin Yining called for Ruilan after she spoke these words. The maid assented and came in with a very thick bundle of papers. She placed the bundle on the short stool in front of the old dowager after curtsying to the various mistresses in the room.
The matriarch picked out a few pieces of paper at random, and her expression immediately darkened after a closer look. “You wrote these?”
“Yes,” Qin Yining quickly responded.
Everyone was busily observing the old dowager’s expressions and couldn’t help but crane forward curiously when they noted the matriarch’s anger. A variety of interesting expressions bloomed when they caught a clear glance. Née Sun’s expression immediately sank. The second and third madame began adjusting their sleeves and hems, as if they hadn’t seen anything. The girls all lowered their heads and avoided looking at each other, with only the sixth miss spurting out in laughter and muttering, “This is your penmanship? A dog rolling around on the paper would do better!”
The second madame looked over very sternly when she heard this, making the haughty sixth miss jump. She immediately fell silent. The old dowager shifted the bundle of papers to her knees and placed them next to Qin Huining’s. The comparison made the differences even more obvious. She was still holding a grudge that née Sun had returned home after arguing with Qin Huaiyuan, so she couldn’t help but denounce her daughter-in-law, “Née Sun, you should oversee granddaughter Yi’s homework more! Look at her handwriting! Plopping a cockroach in ink and having it crawl around ten times on the paper would still result in better penmanship! What a pity for all this paper and ink!”
Née Sun’s face flushed hot and cold, and she glared ferociously at Qin Yining who looking down at the ground. She wasn’t willing to take this silently and fired back, “This isn’t fair, Old Dowager! She’s just come back and it’s not my fault that her handwriting is bad! I want to teach her, but we didn’t have the fortune to grow together as a family!” How awful of Qin Huaiyuan to offend others and cause this piteous mother-daughter duo to be separated!
The old dowager tilted backwards in her anger. This scene seems rather familiar. When that servant Yuxiang had come complaining, the old dowager had still been angry and vented, lecturing Qin Yining. But Qin Yining had accepted it gracefully and protected the old dowager and née Sun’s dignity. But today, her mother was openly retorting in this kind of tone. Née Sun’s not even as clear minded as a young girl!
The atmosphere within the room chilled, and Qin-mama broke the silence after taking a look at the two piles of paper. “Old Dowager has set both girls the task of making ten copies. Now that the two misses have handed in their punishment, should we count them?” She elaborated a bit jokingly, “Let’s see if either one was a little too clever and left out a copy or two.”
The old dowager wasn’t willing for the matter to grow much bigger, so she went along with the old servant and rolled her eyes at née Sun before agreeing lazily, “Then let’s count them.”
- I did a straight translation of things for the humor in them. Dog leftovers literally means the leftovers after dogs have eaten. Donkey eggs means someone who’s clumsy and stubborn. In ancient times, giving a child an ugly childhood nickname was born out of the belief that the child would be hardy, healthy, and easy to raise. ↩