Chapter 96: Education
No matter what outsiders thought, Qin Yining understood that in publicly treating her like a son, her father was giving her both face and support. He was reminding everyone present that no matter how many concubines he had, he only had one daughter. No one present was a fool. They naturally knew what Qin Huaiyuan meant to convey with his words, and thus looked at Qin Yining with different eyes.
Even the old dowager felt a bit of regret in throwing her pipe just now. Thankfully, Qin Yining had dodged it. If it’d connected and caused a head injury that ruined her looks, how would the old dowager explain herself to Qin Huaiyuan? As a mother, she knew of the difficulties her son carried. As accomplished as he was, Qin Huaiyuan didn’t have any sons to carry on his name. Not only did Qin Yining look very similar to him, she was also quite intelligent, decisive and assured in her actions. She didn’t seem like a typical girl of the inner residence, and had more than a couple of hints of boyish straightforwardness. No wonder Qin Huaiyuan liked her and was raising her like a son. If I’m going to discipline Qin Yining in the future, I’ll have to hide it from my son.
“Daughter Hui.” Qin Huaiyuan’s sonorous voice caught their attention again.
Qin Huining had been quietly sitting off to the side with her head lowered. When she met his gaze, her heart pounded and she frantically lowered her eyes to curtsey. “Father.”
He flicked a sideways glance at Qin Huining, displeased by the bright red ensemble and the jade and gold ornaments in her hair. He glanced over at Qin Yining and was slightly comforted to see her in an ivory-white outfit free of any hair ornaments. “Daughter Hui is dressed very prettily today.”
Qin Huining swallowed nervously, knowing that her father was admonishing her. She scrambled for an explanation. “Father, I don’t wear this normally either. It’s just that Auntie Cao joined our family today, so I felt that dressing properly for the celebration would be the best show of respect.”
The lord of the manor finally looked at Cao Yuqing. It was the first time he’d truly looked at her since entering the house. The look in Cao Yuqing’s eyes had become extremely gentle; joy and fondness near leaped out of her eyes as she met his gaze.
However, Qin Huaiyuan looked away. “Your Auntie Cao comes from an illustrious family and is well learned. How would she care what you wear? Daughter Hui, the bodies of the Sun males are yet warm. You called the Duke of Ding your grandfather for more than a decade. Even if you possess no other talents, can you not even restrict what you wear?”
“Please forgive me, father. I don’t know what I was thinking. Please don’t be angry.” Qin Huining’s face burned hotly, so red that it seemed like it would drip blood any second. She fell to her knees with a thump.
“You are grounded in Snowpear Courtyard starting tomorrow morning. Don’t come out until you’ve copied ‘The Classic of Filial Piety’ a hundred times over. Reflect carefully on what you’ve done.”
Although Qin Huaiyuan was only lecturing her, doing so in front of so many others made Qin Huining feel like her face had been completely torn away. But father was the head of the household and had the old dowager in the palm of his hand. She wouldn’t dare defy him even if she had ten times the courage. She could only lower her head piteously. “Yes, thank you for your teachings, father.”
“You should conduct yourself better.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled as he bowed at the old dowager. “Mother, I’ve been waiting to study with daughter Yi, so I’ll be taking her with me now.”
The old dowager could only nod. Qin Huaiyuan put on his cloak and headed for the door, calling out tonelessly, “Well, come on, daughter Yi.”
The fourth miss curtsied properly to the old dowager, second and third madame, and her various sisters in farewell before catching up to her father. When they were in the covered hallway, Qin Huaiyuan looked at the sobbing née Sun still kneeling on the ground, as well as Jin-mama and Caiju shivering with cold.
“The senior madame is fragile and she hasn’t fully recovered from her illness last time. Hurry and help your mistress up. Prepare a carriage and send her back to Garden of Tranquility for some rest.” He sighed.
This was protecting the wife after defending the daughter! The old dowager pursed her lips but didn’t otherwise object. She sent Qin-mama out instead to await orders. The old servant immediately rushed to prepare a carriage.
Cao Yuqing had also followed Qin Huaiyuan out. She looked at née Sun’s ashen, tear-stained face and at Qin Huaiyuan standing tall and straight with his arms across his chest. She bit her lower lip in thought. On the other hand, née Sun was greeted with the sight of a beautifully dressed Cao Yuqing, so stunning that it put née Sun to shame, when she lifted her head. Anger and hatred that’d never been present in such intensity before surged into her eyes!
Her family had long since done a thorough investigation and learned that there had been a chance that the emperor was going to deny the Great Zhou envoy’s demand for Sun Yu’s brain. It’d been the trampress who’d goaded him into making the imperial decree, forcing Sun Yu to take a stand with his death. When Great Zhou had distributed their response for all to see and threatened the emperor’s life, it’d been the trampress who’d given the emperor the idea of annihilating the Suns in order to pacify Great Zhou. The spawn of Cao had been the cause of the Suns’ downfall, and the Cao family were the vilest of enemies!
But today, Qin Huaiyuan had welcomed a Cao daughter into his home as his concubine! At the moment, née Sun looked bedraggled, well past the prime of her beauty, as she knelt on an icy and windy night with her tears for company. On the other hand, née Cao looked radiant, her attire gorgeous as she stood next to Qin Huaiyuan with a smile. When old hatreds and new grudges clashed together, how could née Sun keep her calm? She wanted to rip née Cao to pieces and drink her blood!
Jin-mama could sense her mistress’ emotional fluctuations and started panicking. She clamped her hand over née Sun’s mouth and called out to Caiju, “Hurry and help the madame into the carriage!”
Née Sun’s tears covered the mama’s hands as she groaned and struggled. But she had no strength left, and her head slowly drooped to rest on the old servant’s’ shoulder. Resignation and guilt flashed through Qin Huaiyuan’s eyes as he watched his wife silently shed tears. He walked down the stairs. “Come with me, daughter Yi.”
“Understood.” Qin Yining had finished dressing herself and was holding a hand warmer along with Bingtang, Qiulu, and Songlan.
Cao Yuqing took an involuntary two steps forward and called out sweetly, “My lord.”
Qin Huaiyuan’s footsteps paused for an instant, but he didn’t turn as he responded, “Concubine Cao has had a tiring day. Put her up well.” He turned to Qin-mama. “Make sure you arrange for the most fitting servants for Concubine Cao. Not one bit of lacking service can happen. Send her the best of food and clothing.”
Qin-mama nodded with surprise. Did Qin Huaiyuan mean to give née Cao a comfortable life but not touch her at all?
Well, that makes sense. Everyone in the world knew how the Suns had met their end. Qin Huaiyuan had never even once argued with the Duke of Ding. Then he’d just lectured Qin Huining for refusing to wear the appropriate garments of mourning and grounded her, setting her to copy ‘The Classic of Filial Piety’ a hundred times over. How would he possibly accept née Cao immediately? Then again, if he was the type to be in a hurry to sleep with every woman who walked through their doors, it wouldn’t be the Qin Huaiyuan she’d watched grow up. The old servant greatly admired Qin Huaiyuan’s character, and was starting to see more and more of her lord in Qin Yining. The mama smiled involuntarily.
Cao Yuqing watched as Qin Huaiyuan vanished into the distance, the hopeful expectation in her eyes dimming as she sighed lightly. She was invited back inside again by Qin-mama, who well understood her mistress’ wishes. Qin Huining also brightened her mood again. My punishment starts tomorrow anyways, so I might as well sit and laugh with Cao Yuqing.
Everyone feted her like the stars dancing attendance on the moon, surrounding her as they laughed and accompanied her inside. The warm hubbub of conversation soon smoothed any unpleasantness.
Qin Yining followed her father to the study in the outer residence. The two each took a seat on the luohan bed next to the window. Qin Huaiyuan dismissed the maids after they’d served tea. Qin Yining bit her lip and spoke apologetically, “Father, I was too impulsive today and offended the old dowager. Please forgive me.”
“You’re my daughter, so I naturally understand your thoughts and anger.” Qin Huaiyuan’s voice was calm and measured. He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. “You’re smart and perceptive, capable of seeing through things with a single glance. But you’re too impetuous. You seek to immediately make a move right after you assess the situation, and there’s always a right or wrong in your eyes.
“I know that there isn’t anyone who can stand up to you if you argue or fight at home. But outside? If you really run into someone who knows martial arts, you are only slightly stronger compared to other girls, that’s all. What could you do to them? You’re relying on the status of the official daughter at the moment. No one would dare harm my daughter inside this manor. But in the outside world, people will come after you even if you don’t do anything to them. Do I make sense to you, daughter?”
“Father speaks truly, I know my wrongs.” Qin Yining lowered her head in shame. “I really am too impulsive. I can’t help but charge forward when I see injustice.”
“I understand.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled. “But you must remember that filial piety sits on top of all virtues. Although the old dowager is incorrect in her doings, she is still my mother. I believe that you have more strategies in you than just direct assault in trying to improve your mother’s circumstances. You can use your other tremendous methods on Qin Huining, but it’s disrespectful to your elders if you employ them against Old Dowager. Besides, what does it accomplish if you win an argument with an elder? Life will still be difficult for you and your mother in the future, no?”
Qin Huaiyuan had spent most of his days in the outer residence and rarely set foot inside apart from greeting the old dowager. Qin Yining found it quite admirable that her father was able to so clearly analyze the inner residence.
“Father is right. I actually regret my actions as well. I was just thinking that well, since the old dowager doesn’t like me, she still won’t like me no matter what I say or do. She’ll still treat me and mother coldly, so I just did whatever I thought was right.”