Chapter 99: Unexpected Plea For Mercy
The old dowager rose huffily and made her way outside. The second and third madame looked at each other, interest flashing through both of their eyes. Although they disliked the old dowager’s fence-sitting, fawning ways of currying favor with those in power, they’d also always been at odds with the main branch of the family. This was particularly true for the second branch. The third elder master was concubine-born and therefore unloved, but the old dowager still liked the third madame enough because most of the family’s silver came from the third branch. But the second branch? The second elder master was also born of the wife, so why was he so much lower on the totem pole when compared to the firstborn?
Qin-mama stepped forward to support the old dowager to gently persuade, “There’s no rush, mistress. We can set out after putting on a cloak properly and adding some more warm clothing. Mistress is of a dignified age, and it would be disastrous if you caught a cold from the wind.’
The old servant’s words were slow and measured, and landed on the old dowager’s ears like warm rain. After all, they were clearly in her best interests. The old dowager allowed Qin-mama to help her into a cloak and warm hat. She continued cursing the entire time, “That brat definitely wants to lord it over me! It’s only been a few days, but look what she’s up to! What does she want to do in front of née Cao? Doesn’t she know of the difficulties our family is in?!”
Although the old servant was wholeheartedly devoted to the old dowager, she sometimes couldn’t bear to see her mistress be so heartless. But as a servant, she was limited in what she could do. She could only grasp the opportunities presented and go along with the flow.
“Don’t be angry, mistress. Your children and grandchildren naturally have their own fortunes. It only makes for poor health if you become so angry. Not to mention, when has the lord not gone along with what the fourth miss has done? In this servant’s eyes, the lord loves the fourth miss like no other, even raising her like a son. With the lord’s character and talents, his thoughts and actions aren’t something that a humble one like I can understand. But I know that the lord has always had a reason behind his actions. Now that he’s spent so many years at court, the lord has become ever more outstanding. His ability to assess others has also become sharper. Since he’s letting the fourth miss do all this, then surely this is something he wants as well.”
Qin Huaiyuan was the old dowager’s soft spot. In bringing his qualities to the fore, the old dowager was instantly rid of most of her anger. When the old dowager took a moment to think, the old servant’s words made sense. Even though she was angry that Qin Yining was being so domineering, perhaps Qin Huaiyuan really had authorized the girl in private to act this way?
She wanted to go ask her son, but it was the sixth day of the month and a great meeting was being held at court. No one could know when Qin Huaiyuan would return.
When the second and third madame saw the old dowager’s mood no longer as irate, they found themselves without much to say. They knew that although the old dowager was an impulsive character, Qin-mama was the shrewd one. The old servant would hold a grudge if they so much as spoke a word out of line, and the old dowager would believe whatever the old servant said about them.
When the four of them rushed to Garden of Tranquility, the strong granny servants had already changed the four concubines out of their previous clothes. They looked just as bedraggled now as they did luxurious earlier. They were also being dragged out of the house by the granny servants. Concubine Chen had her arms wrapped around a hallway column, holding on for dear life as tears streamed down her face. Concubine Hua was sprawled on the ground with a death grip on the plinth of a column. The yard rang with all manner of curses, screams, and wails.
Qin Yining was supporting née Sun as the two watched the messy spectacle unfold. Qin Huining kept Cao Yuqing company. When they saw the old dowager arrive, Qin Yining helped her mother down the stairs to curtsey. “Greetings to grandmother.”
“Good health to Old Dowager.” Née Sun and Cao Yuqing curtsied as well.
“I’d like to be well, but you don’t haven’t given me a moment of peace yet.” The old dowager’s expression was dark. “How am I supposed to be well? Née Sun, what are you playing at now? How dare you kick up a fuss like this before the first month of the year is even over? The emperor rules the nation with benevolence and wisdom, and no Great Yan noble has ever had the scandal of beating a servant to death. Don’t you go overboard with whatever you’re doing!”
Née Sun had been nurturing a grudge all these days because the old dowager’s distant callousness had thoroughly broken her heart. Now, faced with this bare-faced lecture and her fiery personality, there was no way she would be remaining quiet.
Thankfully, Qin Yining tugged on her hand before she had a chance to open her mouth. The young miss stepped forward and curtsied. “Don’t be angry, Old Dowager. I don’t mean to kill them. They just haven’t lived up to their duties, so I’m merely going to sell them off. It wasn’t mother’s idea today, but mine.”
The old dowager’s sharp gaze stabbed towards Qin Yining as she jabbed at the girl’s nose with a finger wearing a gold encrusted jade ring. “And you! I was going to look for you anyways. You rebellious brat! On your knees!”
Qin Huining’s lips curled up in delight. Let’s see who’s the one beaten up first!
Qin Yining didn’t care about the command at all and was just about to kneel nonchalantly when a graceful hand caught her arm firmly. Surprised, she lifted her head to see Cao Yuqing’s stunning face.
“Please don’t be angry, Old Dowager.” A charming smile illuminated Cao Yuqing’s face even as one arm kept Qin Yining from descending to her knees. If she hadn’t been on the receiving end of the grip, Qin Yining would’ve never thought that the concubine had so much strength to her slender figure.
Qin Huining was also quite perplexed. She was the one who’d taken Cao Yuqing as a foster mother! Why was the concubine helping Qin Yining?
“Old Dowager, allow this concubine to overstep herself. The fourth miss is but a young girl, how can she endure kneeling on such cold stones? The lord would be greatly saddened if she grew ill from this punishment.”
The old dowager was quite soothed by these words. Despite her stunning looks and illustrious background, Cao Yuqing had never walked about with the airs of a Cao daughter. She was unfailingly polite and pleasant to her mother-in-law and followed the old dowager’s will in everything. She even considered things from her husband’s perspective! The matriarch had given orders for Qin Yining to kneel, and even her birth mother had busied herself with being angry and hadn’t protested. It had been Cao Yuqing who’d taken a stand for the girl.
“I’ll forgive you due to consideration for your Auntie Cao.” The old dowager nodded. “So tell me, what’s going on in this yard? Who gave you the courage to sell off these concubines?!”
Qin Yining didn’t know what Cao Yuqing wanted, nor did she have the time to ponder it. The girl walked over to the old dowager to whisper, “Grandmother, can we talk over there?”
The old dowager followed Qin Yining over when she saw how solemn the girl’s voice had become.
“Old Dowager, these concubines don’t respect the rules,” Qin Yining began murmuring into the old dowager’s ear. “I wasn’t going to hold them accountable for this at first because the old dowager is wise and kind. I was just going to view it as keeping around some additional servants. But who would’ve thought that they would be so disrespectful to the senior madame? I feel that the rules of our household can’t be broken like this. Not to mention, we can’t let gossip start about father being too muddle-headed to properly choose concubines, and be known for a restless inner residence. That’s why I had the idea of selling them off. Besides, now that Auntie Cao has joined us, do we really need other concubines?”
The old dowager didn’t want to hear any of Qin Yining’s earlier words. In fact, she heard only the last line. That’s right! Why didn’t I think of that?!
Sadly, Cao Yuqing couldn’t replace née Sun. There still remained an insurmountable difference between wife and concubine. But apart from an official wife in Qin Huaiyuan’s yard, there were other concubines as the same footing as née Cao. Wasn’t that just an invitation for ire from the new concubine? So was Qin Yining actually helping the family out by making such an enormous deal today and helping Qin Huaiyuan clean house?
The more the old dowager thought it over, the more she felt that there wasn’t much fault she could attribute to Qin Yining for blowing the matter up and selling off the concubine. As the family matriarch, the old dowager had to keep her eyes firmly set on the prize. Qin Huaiyuan wasn’t too fond of these four concubines to begin with; he’d always been indifferent to them. Looking at it this way, having just a wife and one concubine seemed to be enough.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Throw these four cheap servants out!” The old dowager nodded almost to her self, and snapped out. “How dare they throw their weight around in front of the senior madame?! Do you think the Qins can be bullied like this?! We fed and clothed you and didn’t mind that you never bore any children. How dare you get all high and mighty like this?!”
The crowd was flabbergasted. What on earth had Qin Yining just whispered to the old dowager? In the blink of an eye, she’d convinced the matriarch so thoroughly that the latter was fully supporting her!
The concubines had thought that with the old dowager’s attitude towards née Sun lately, she would certainly help them get a few stomps in on née Sun and Qin Yining. But the fourth miss had only spoken a few words, and the old dowager had taken the field against them! Although née Sun easily flew into jealous fits, she’d never shorted them on anything. They always wore the best of fabrics in the Qin Manor and had servants waiting on them hand and foot. How could they go back to being an ordinary person? These days of milk and honey would come to an end if they were sold off!
They were so regretful that they wished they could dig out their guts to express their regret! They shouldn’t have stuck their necks out to please née Cao. Now that they thought about it, although née Cao was also a fellow concubine, her background was so much more illustrious than theirs. How could she ever treat them as peers? Not only had they not gotten anything out of this mess, but they’d dragged themselves down instead!
“Mercy, Old Dowager! We know our wrongs!”
“Senior Madame, have pity, please have pity on us!” The concubines screeched and wailed for mercy, the cocky and jeering expressions from moments ago having vanished without a trace.