Chapter 31: Teaching Lessons That Should Be Taught
“There’s nothing wrong with that.” A twinkle of mirth appeared in the duchess’ eyes. “You don’t know that girl. I rather think she has the ability to handle it well.”
“Grandmother has that much confidence in her?” Sun Yu smiled, amused.
“I just think she’s a very fine girl,” the duchess responded. “She’s been through a lot of hardship already, and has grown strong enough to survive these storms of life. She’ll be a lot more hardy than the delicate flowers who’s grown up in our sheltered greenhouses. Add her intelligence and generous bearing to the mix, as well as her naturally kind nature… I think we should treat this matter as the beginning of forging a good relationship with her, and a test. How she handles this will prove extremely insightful.”
“Oh grandmother, you compliment her as if she’s a flower amongst flowers. Ah well, this isn’t anything major. Although an important matter, cousin Yi is a girl yet to come of age. She won’t get dragged too deep into things. The worst that could happen is the loss of a shopkeeper. Nothing will happen to her.”
“Right, that’s what I’m thinking as well.” The duchess suddenly grew serious. “If she can’t handle this well, the most she loses will be a shopkeeper. She’s the prime minister’s daughter, those old Clearist antiques 1 won’t blame her. Her father will also be there to bear the brunt. Besides, with your current position at court, why not take the opportunity to throw away this matter if it’s too tricky? Giving it to a little girl to handle will prevent you being labeled as someone afraid of those with power.”
“That’s the idea.” Sun Yu nodded and sighed. “But things have gone wrong with the Tangs, and the Clearists are all looking to me for help. Yet here I am hunkering down, giving the business away to someone else. This doesn’t look good no matter how we spin it. Not to mention, we know uncle-in-law’s personality. What if he decides to ignore it all and leave cousin Yi to the wolves?”
“Qin Meng doesn’t see eye to eye with the Clearists to begin with, even if nothing had happened. Is the Tang matter a small thing? Attempting to murder the empress is a grave crime! Even without the emperor favoring the empress, Grand Preceptor Cao would never let the culprit who tried to kill his daughter roam free in this world. Even if we can get that person back from Prince of Ning, how would we make it past Grand Preceptor Cao?”
“I know grandmother makes sense, but I don’t think the Clearists are wrong in this.” Sun Yu’s face had hardened as a note of anger crept into his voice. “The only problem was that the trampress 2 was too hard to kill. Imperial Physician Tang paid the price of his entire family and still only managed to half kill her. And with the emperor growing more and more decrepit by the day…”
“Ming’er, watch your words!” The duchess’ voice was sharp, forcing Sun Yu to stop. “It’s enough that you understand certain things, but there’s no need to say them aloud. You’ll attract trouble if you act like this outside! Your personality is just a little too hard. You need to learn to be smoother so that your days ahead stay long.”
Sun Yu hastily rose to bow. “Yes, I will follow grandmother’s teachings diligently.”
The duchess felt that the atmosphere had become just a little too heavy, and quickly turned the conversation in the direction of household matters.
In the carriage, Qin Huining was looking piteously at née Sun. She had wiped off her lipstick and looked just like a small animal that’d been bullied, with her plain outfit and the pitiful expression in her eyes. She trained her gaze on Née Sun until her mother sighed.
“Darling Hui, you can’t be like this in the future. You need to consider our family’s dignity when at your maternal grandparents’. You know that they have a different culture and way of doing things. Why did you call daughter Yi ‘Little Creek’ in front of your cousins? She’s been back for quite a few days already, why are you still unable to remember her name?”
Tears trickled down without pause from Qin Huining’s eyes. “I was just used to calling her that. I called her Little Creek at first and then got used to it. I didn’t do it on purpose.”
Not two feet from Huining, Qin Yining suddenly found her lap utterly fascinating and couldn’t hear a thing. Née Sun glanced her way, and then at Qin Huining crying up a storm. Huining has had a tough life as well. She was swapped at birth, and what does a little girl know of anything? It’s not her fault at all, and it’s understandable that she feels so uneasy. Her heart softened at the thought and she handed a handkerchief to Qin Huining. “And what are you crying for? Your makeup’s running all over the place. Anyone who sees you now would think that the Duke of Ding’s household bullied you.”
Qin Huining hurriedly swiped at her face with the handkerchief, attempting to wipe the tears off. She responded anxiously, “I won’t cry anymore, that wasn’t my intention.”
“I know, I know. But you just need to watch your words more carefully in the future. Even a minor joke has the potential to offend, and who knows how all your sisters feel after what you said?”
“The Duke of Ding’s household is kind and gracious. They won’t think much!” Qin Huining blew her nose and offered an innocent smile towards née Sun.
Née Sun’s words caught in her throat; she didn’t know how to respond.Yet at that moment, Qin Yining finally lifted her eyes from her lap. Sharp as a blade, it seemed like her gaze would pierce through Qin Huining. “Miss Huining shouldn’t confuse the two. That others don’t take you to task for your words is their graciousness, but saying those words points to a flaw in your character. How can the two be mentioned in the same breath? Mother is lecturing you on your personality, but do you think you’re in the right because our maternal grandparents don’t pick at your words?”
Qin Huining’s tears spilled forth again, like a reservoir bursting through a dam. Hiccuping and sniffling, she tearfully stuttered. “Little Creek… Yining is right. I… I didn’t mean to.”
“Not meaning to is worse than purposefully doing so. Doing it on purpose means at least you have a basic knowledge of what’s right and wrong, and know that what you did is indeed wrong. You just couldn’t look past the jealousy. But if you didn’t mean to, then you have no idea of what’s right and wrong and don’t understand why you did wrong at all. Putting on an innocent expression after hurting someone is more evil than doing it on purpose.” Qin Yining gave no quarter, shattering the latter’s feeble protests with a fierce gleam in her eye. Qin Huining would only cover her face and cry.
What else could she do? Because of the beating she’d suffered, Qin Huining always shivered now when she met Qin Yining’s eyes. She felt that she would feel fists landing on her any second. And the thing was, she actually couldn’t find a retort against Qin Yining’s twisted logic!
On the other hand, née Sun was turning over her daughter’s words. Each of Qin Yining’s words had struck at her heart like a hammer on a bell. She was impulsive, yes, but she didn’t think she was an idiot. She just acted on her temper too often and was too easily taken in by a few soothing words. Mother said that Qin Yining saw things clearly. I’d dismissed mother when she’d said that. But now that I’ve heard Qin Yining break things down, I have to admit that mother is a good judge of character. But could a girl she raised really possess this kind of nature? Née Sun couldn’t accept something like that. In her eyes, Qin Huining had always been a proper, gentle, mature daughter who got along with her sisters. But since Qin Yining returned, the girl seemed to have morphed into someone else and always had a scheme lurking behind every action and word.
As a mother, she could understand Qin Huining’s unease. But back home, the duchess had hinted covertly at it more than a few times, that even though she didn’t live with Qin Huining, she could tell that there was a flaw in the girl’s character. And now with Qin Yining’s clearly baring her actions…
Née Sun felt like she didn’t know what to think.
Meanwhile, Qin Yining had no desire to continue watching Qin Huining’s crying, I’ve-been-so-bullied act. She went back to studying the patterns of her skirt. At least they were fascinating enough to be worthy of her undivided attention.
The carriage fell silent for a while, so silent that Qin Huining suddenly realized her sniffling and hiccuping was the only sound. Realizing that soon brought on a fit of awkwardness, so she soon fell quiet. But after doing so, she felt that she’d be losing too much face like this as she looked at née Sun staring off in a daze and the quiet Qin Yining. Just when she wanted to say something, a granny servant outside the carriage announced, “Madame, misses, we’ve arrived!”
What she wanted to say remained bottled up, and Qin Huining bit her lower lip angrily. She finally managed to control her emotions before alighting, ensuring a moderately presentable expression on her face.
The group naturally had to head to Garden of Loving Piety first to greet the old dowager. The family was just about to have dinner, so née Sun hurriedly took off her cloak to select food for her mother-in-law, along with the second and third madame. Qin Huining and Qin Yining stood quietly off to the side. The old dowager took note of their expressions as she ate, frowning when she saw Qin Huining’s reddened eyes. “What happened to darling Hui? Why did you cry? Did someone bully you?” The old dowager put down her chopsticks and beckoned Qin Huining over.
After the scene in the carriage, Qin Huining didn’t dare trot out her old tricks. She shook her head mulishly. “Nothing grandmother, how could anyone have bullied me? It’s just some sand in my eyes.”
“Sand in your eyes? Why isn’t there sand in anyone else’s eyes? Come, tell me what grievance you have. Grandmother will stick up for you!”
The second and third madame looked at each other with some interest. Perhaps the girl really had suffered at the Duke of Ding Manor. To née Sun, this scene and the old dowager’s reaction merely verified what Qin Yining had just said in the carriage. She began to grow more and more irritated. How could she let her family lose any face in front of the in-laws?
“Don’t misunderstand, mother.” Née Sun walked up with a smile. “Daughter Hui made a mistake and her maternal grandparents didn’t say anything. It was me who lectured her in the carriage. It’s nothing major, so we shan’t bother you with it.”
Qin Huining gnashed her teeth furiously, but she didn’t dare anger née Sun. She couldn’t afford to lose this backer, so she quickly nodded. “Yes, it was my mistake.”
“Today at the Duke of Ding Manor, daughter Yi’s maternal grandmother gave her a great gift. She was granted the whole of the Institute of Luminous Grace for herself.” Née Sun straightened her back out of shared pride and her tone grew lighthearted. She even cracked a joke. “Our daughter Yi is a wealthy force in her own right now!”
These words diverted everyone’s attention to Qin Yining.
“The in-laws were so generous!” The old dowager exclaimed with surprise.
“Duchess of Ding dotes on our niece very much.” The second and third madame started complimenting her as well.
- A political group of officials who pride themselves on being uncorrupt and virtuous. The raw characters used are usually part of an idiom that means “a breath of fresh air”, and translate literally to clear stream. I’ve made it sound like a political party here, much like the Tories/Whigs/Libertarians, etc. It’s a group of people subscribing to a certain ideology. ↩
- Not a typo! This is a combination of tramp + empress = the people really don’t like their empress. ↩