Chapter 40: Clipping of Wings
“Fourth Miss, you’re simply too polite.” Qin-mama was wreathed in smiles and curtsied respectfully at Qin Yining, then turned to pull the two behind her forward. “Old Dowager keeps thinking of you, miss, and sent this old servant over with two servants when she heard that the lord has forbidden your maids to serve you here. This is Wife Ge, and this is Xiaoling. They’ll serve at your side over the next couple of days.”
The two made docile curtsies to Qin Yining, who smiled back at Qin-mama. “Many thanks to Old Dowager going to this effort and thinking of me.”
“Oh miss, the old dowager is your grandmother, of course she would think of you!” The mama turned to give instructions for the other two to clean up the side wing that Qin Yining would be staying in over the next couple of days. “They’ll bring you the meal boxes over the next couple of days. Just be at peace, miss.”
“How could I not with the old dowager and Qin-mama’s care? It’s nice and quiet here, so I can focus on my studies.”
Upon seeing that Qin Yining’s composure was as usual, with none of the resentment of being punished, Qin-mama could only compliment the girl’s gracious composure. She really is like the lord when he was young. The old servant gave detailed instructions to Wife Ge and Xiaoling to serve the fourth miss well, and also issued further reminders to the granny servant guarding the door. “Don’t think you’re doing your job well in just keeping watch at the door and making sure the miss doesn’t leave. Serving her well is the most important! Even though she’s here to study on the lord’s orders, she’s still his most beloved daughter!”
The granny servant had already snapped to attention at Qin-mama’s arrival. Now enlightened with new perspective, she kept reassuring, “Don’t worry!”
Qin-mama made another curtsey to Qin Yining when she saw that all was arranged for properly and nothing out of order. “This servant needs to go back to Old Dowager. The night grows deep, you should rest earlier, miss.”
“Many thanks for Qin-mama for making this trip.” Qin Yining quickly returned the courtesy and spoke with gratitude.
“This is what this servant should do.” The two exchanged pleasantries as Qin Yining politely accompanied Qin-mama to the doors of the ancestral hall before finally returning to her room.
When Qin-mama returned to Garden of Loving Piety, she made directly for the main house to see how the shifts were arranged for that night. Qin Huining happened to be kneeling on the reclining seat by the window in her room and had cracked the window open a sliver. She saw everything clearly.
“Old Dowager is so kind, hmm? A real granddaughter is deserving of different treatment indeed.” She walked inside with a cold smile after closing the window slowly.
“Don’t dwell on it, miss,” Cai-mama responded. “The old dowager needs to keep up appearances after all. She has her benevolent and virtuous reputation to consider. After all, there will be many pairs of eyes on something of this magnitude.”
“Even you know how many are keeping watch on what that barbarian does, wet nurse!” Qin Huining snorted. “But why doesn’t Old Dowager or my father know? She really ate the heart of a tiger in sneaking out to meet with an outside male! Who knows what kind of base, low acts she’s committed there with how promiscuous she looks!
“She’s lorded it over me since coming back and beaten me! But Old Dowager doesn’t punish her for that and just makes her memorize classics! Even my maternal grandmother’s given her the Institute of Luminous Grace! She’s never given me anything in the fourteen years I’ve been with the family! The entire family is biased towards her now. If I don’t do something now that she’s locked up, I won’t get such an opportunity to in the future!” Qin Huining’s eyes were hooded.
“Miss, should you wait since the lord is quite angry at the moment?” Cai-mama was a bit worried.
“Wait? For what?! How long will I wait for?! Am I to let that filthy barbarian step all over me?!” Qin Huining choked up as tears trickled down like a small waterfall. “You know of my pain, wet nurse. The humiliation I’ve suffered these days is more than all I’ve endured throughout my entire life! How can I wait??”
Twinges of pain assailed Cai-mama’s heart when she saw Qin Huining thus. She made a moue and thought briefly. “Don’t worry, miss. It’s actually rather easy to deal with her. We can’t do anything to her now that she’s in the ancestral hall, so all we need to do is to clip her wings and make it that she has no one trustworthy to use.”
“Do you have a plan?” Qin Huining’s eyes gleamed.
“It’s very simple.” Cai-mama nodded. “Miss, she’s just returned to the manor and doesn’t have many she can trust at all. If we get rid of those she depends on the most, who will dare be loyal to her in the future when she can’t protect anyone by her side? If she has no confidantes in a great family as this, things are as good as over for her.”
“You’re so very right. She won’t be able to do anything meaningful without anyone able by her side. She’ll be ours to do as we wish in the future!” Qin Huining leaned cutely against Cai-mama and sighed. “Thank goodness I have you, or I wouldn’t know what to do at all.”
The mama was quite touched. “I nursed you, miss! Who would I give all of my efforts to, if not you?” When the old servant thought of Jin-mama, she made use of the atmosphere to say, “Just like I serve you wholeheartedly, so does my aunt serve the senior madame wholeheartedly. She’s just following orders. Please don’t blame her, miss.”
Qin Huining naturally knew of Cai-mama’s concerns. Jin-mama had changed her attitude towards the former fourth miss so swiftly, but hadn’t she done so based on née Sun’s attitude as well? Qin Huining actually did hold resentment, blaming Cai-mama for not keeping her family in order, but it wasn’t like she could say that. She only comforted her wet nurse with a smile, then began discussing in detail how their plan should work.
Meanwhile, Qin Yining was having a grand time being punished in the ancestral hall. She wasn’t stinted on accommodations or meals, and she had the ability to remember anything she glanced at. Therefore, even memorizing all four classics for women would be an easy task for her, to say nothing of just the thin “Lessons for Women” and “Internal Lessons” that were part of that set. The only drawback was that the flow of information was rather obstructed. She only heard about née Sun returning home three days later, when Wife Ge and Xiaoling were gossiping quietly.
She felt that née Sun didn’t have a good way of handling things. She would always throw a big fuss and go home in style whenever a fight cropped up. Qin Yining had only returned home for a few days, but had witnessed two occasions of this already. I’m sure even her own family must be sick of her, much less the in-laws. Née Sun was completely banking on the status of her birth to flaunt and fritter away the goodwill that the Duke of Ding had accumulated. Qin Yining felt that she had to take stern lessons from this kind of behavior. Even though she had a good birth as well, she could never imitate née Sun like this if she married as well.
I wonder how Snowpear Courtyard is getting along. Father ordered all the staff to stay inside and reflect. This is a form of protection as well. Not seeing anyone means that they’ll be safe.
Such peaceful times lasted for three days. Qin Jianing had her coming-of-age ceremony during this period, and preparations for her marriage to the son of the Earl of Jiannan started as well. She only learned of all this from Wife Ge and Xiaoling’s discussions.
It was the seventh day that Qin Yining had been grounded in the ancestral hall. She had just finished breakfast and had taken a cup of hot tea from Xiaoling to rinse her mouth when she suddenly heard a shrill scream from outside the yard. “Fourth Miss! Save Ruilan!!”
Qin Yining’s heart skipped a beat. She could tell that it was Qiulu and charged outside. Weren’t those in Snowpear Courtyard all quietly reflecting? What could’ve possibly happened?!
“Fourth Miss, be careful! Don’t trip!” Wife Ge and Xiaoling quickly rang out in pursuit.
Qin Yining pushed open the ancestral hall doors to see two strong granny servants blanking Qiulu. Qiulu’s hair was a complete mess as tears streaked her cheeks. Someone who was usually dependable and taciturn was now a sobbing heap. Qiulu wanted to speak when she saw Qin Yining, but a strong granny servant had clapped a hand over her mouth. The maid’s eyes were bloodshot in her urgency and she kept voicing guttural sounds. Her tears fell even faster. Qiulu must have risked death to come here!
“Stop.” Qin Yining shrugged off Wife Ge and Xiaoling. She took two steps forward to grip the granny servant’s arm and squeezed tightly. The servant immediately let go with a loud cry of pain, and neither of them dared restrain Qiulu anymore.
“What’s going on, Qiulu? What’s happened at home? What happened to Ruilan?”
“Miss, Miss Huining’s maid Bitong came last night and summoned sister Ruilan. Ruilan didn’t want to go at first, but Bitong said something that made her go in the end. She didn’t come back all night.
“News came from Old Dowager’s this morning that a thief had been captured in Garden of Loving Piety last night. The thief was after the old dowager’s things and one of Miss Huining’s maids had captured them. They said it was Ruilan! Old Dowager was greatly angered and had Ruilan beaten with forty hits from a plank, then thrown out of the manor!
“Miss, sister Ruilan is definitely innocent. That punishment will take her life! She has an old mother and younger siblings at home. They’re all dead if something happens to her! Please miss, save her!” Qiulu was a kindhearted and honest one. She didn’t know the value of discretion and just spilled out everything in one go. The granny servants, Wife Ge, and Xiaoling off on the side long since made their conjectures when they heard this.
Qin Yining was also well aware than Qin Huining must be taking advantage of her absence from Snowpear Courtyard to make a move against her people. Not only was the foster girl trying to prune her most trusted servants, but she was also trying to instill the thinking in Old Dowager that Ruilan had turned out bad because of her mistress. If Ruilan really was taken down by Qin Huining, then all her efforts a short while ago were wasted! If she couldn’t even protect those by her side, then how would she keep the servants in line in the future? She finally had someone she could trust, was she to have to go at things solo again now? No! I must save Ruilan!
Although Qin Yining was currently grounded and supposed to be memorizing lessons, she urgently wanted to save her maid and couldn’t think of too much. She was prepared to set out when a voice sounded behind her, “Please hold your steps, miss.”
Qin Yining turned to see Qin-mama. It was unknown how long the mama had been present and how much she’d heard. “Qin-mama.” Qin Yining suppressed the urgency in her heart and politely greeted the old servant.
Qin-mama curtsied a curtsey and spoke gravely, “Don’t forget miss, the lord himself grounded you. You cannot leave unless you’ve passed his test. Besides, even if you go, what can you do with just words and no evidence? There’s clear evidence on the other side that Ruilan stole the old dowager’s jade bracelet. They have proof and witnesses.”
It was as if a ladle of cold water had been dumped over Qin Yining’s head. How could she save Ruilan without proof or witnesses?