Chapter 12 Seeing Her Legal Mother again
The carriage stopped at the main entrance of the Grand Commandant’s Mansion. The horizontal inscribed board was radiant in the evening glow as if it had been gilded. Qin Yunuan raised her eyebrows and glanced at the vermilion courtyard wall. This was the place she lived for ten years or so. And this was also the place where her simple dream was buried. She counted days and years, but she never figured out how her story would end. The return was mixed with feelings.
Her feelings were set aside when Qin Yunuan saw Dou Qing’e, her legal mother, in the courtyard. She hid all her emotions under a bland and gentle expression, “Good evening, mother.”
Dou Qing’e had bright eyes, white teeth, and decorous appearance, wearing a jade headband on her forehead. As a woman already in her thirties, she had no wrinkles around her eyes, which was surprising. But her face of grace disappeared after Qin Yunzhuang stepped out of the carriage.
“Yun Zhuang, Yun Zhuang, my good daughter, what happened?” Dou Qing’e shouted and held Qin Yunzhuang’s veiled face. After careful observation, she discovered the three blood stains under the white veil. Her heart was dripping with blood. Dou Qing’e had never scolded or hit her daughter ever since her birth. She had been looking for the best recipe everywhere to nourish her appearance and body. Her daughter would marry The Man in the future.
“It doesn’t matter,” Qin Yunzhuang lowered her eyes, “The imperial doctor said that it would leave no scars.”
Dou Qing’e turned and glared at Qin Yunuan as if she had wanted to spit all her anger out and pour it on Qin Yunuan. But Qin Yunuan’s eyes turned red unexpectedly, speaking timidly, “It was my fault. If I was more alert, if I found out earlier about that white cat, I could have taken the scratches for my sister.”
“White cat?” Dou Qing’e asked back.
“Yes.” Qin Yunuan appeared to be very honest, “The Empress’s cat, Shishi. I’m afraid that cats are in heat during springtime, and they love to scratch people. Sister Shangguan grabbed her, and Shishi seemed to be stimulated by something and started scratching.”
“The girl of Shangguan Family?” Dou Qing’e changed her look again. She turned to Qin Yunzhuang and asked, “Is your third sister telling the truth?”
Qin Yunzhuang figured that her mother took Shangguan Yee as the culprit. After all, her relationship with Shangguan Yee was almost soured. So, she just nodded and admitted.
Seeing Dou Qing’e frowned suddenly and stopped talking, nurse Gui, who stood by her side, got nervous. She thought Dou was blaming her girl, and therefore she was eager to explain, “Yes. I heard from her later that she refused to hold the Persian cat, but Miss Shangguan insisted on handing it. And it was not polite to refuse, so…. ”
“Enough. Too much noise. Now that she was hurt, you’d better treat her nicely. It’s no use gossiping.” Dou Qing’e severely reprimanded, and her eyes ran down everyone with indifference. Now that the Master of the Qin Family, Qin Zhi, was traveling the south with the Grand Prince Sima Ruo, Dou Qing’e was able to manage household affairs on her own, which emboldened her.
After Dou Qing’e calmed down, she peeked at Qin Yunuan from the corner of her eye. Qin Yunuan stood aside quietly, and she couldn’t pick out any problems. Therefore, Dou held Qin Yunzhuang by her hand and said with distress, “Back to your room and rest. The veil might cause airtight skin.” She knew her daughter’s temper. She would never go out of her room with such ugly scars.
Dou Qing’e squinted at Qin Yunuan. Qin Yunuan understood instantly and said with a courteous bow, “Please allow Yunuan to retreat as well.”
Qin Yunzhuang lived in the Caizhi Courtyard, which faced south and took at most a fifteen-minute-walk to reach. Besides, Dou Qing’e prepared a soft sedan chair with green curtains for her precious, wounded daughter and herself. Qin Yunuan felt relieved as they went away.
“Third Miss, shall we return as well? It’s windy at night.” Nurse Liao really cared about Qin Yunuan.
Returning to the back room where Qin Yunuan lived, the fragrance of porridge made by the servant girl next door still lingered. When hungry at night, even a servant girl was free to make porridge herself. But Qin Yunuan and her people could hardly eat a steamed corn bread if anyone disagreed.
It was empty in the yard. The reflection of the silver moonlight on the blue tiles made the room lonesome and serene. A vague silhouette leaned on the doorstep, seemingly waiting for Qin Yunuan to return.
“Third Miss is back! Third Miss is back. Second Master, come out! come out!”
Tong’s voice came. She was a stocky and lovely girl.
Barely had Qin Yunuan entered the room while Qin Baochuan, half of his hair down, rushed into her arms. The little guy was about to hit the sack before Tong’s voice triggered him out.
“Sister, you’re back,” Qin Baochuan’s cheeks were pink and tender, with his eyes as dark as black grapes. He grabbed Qin Yunuan’s hand and wouldn’t let it go. “Sister, Concubine Liu was here in the evening.”
“What was she doing here?” Qin Yunuan became alert.
“I don’t know. She just walked around the yard for a few times, said a few jumbled words, and then left.” Tong replied.
Just for a walk? Qin Yunuan snorted coldly in her heart. It could never be as simple as it seemed.
Concubine Liu was a servant’s child in the Grand Commandant’s Mansion, and later she became the servant girl for Qin Zhi. After Qin Zhi reached adult age, she became his concubine naturally. Liu acted insolently because she stayed in the house longer than almost everyone. However, this honey-lipped woman won the favor of Qin Zhi. Even Dou Qing’e, the Lady of the house, could hardly pick flaws. The two women had a muddled relationship.
Qin Yunuan didn’t rest her heart after she tucked Qin Baochuan in. Gently pushing the door open, she saw Tong coming with a basin of hot water.
“Third Miss, did the Second Master…?” The hot water was prepared for Second Master’s bath. Qin Yunuan’s place couldn’t compare with the Caizhi Courtyard of Qin Yunzhuang, which was with the toiletries available in all varieties. Even in winter, they could only boil some hot water in the iron pot to wipe their bodies.
“He was asleep.” Qin Yunuan closed the door gently, “He didn’t sweat today. Don’t bother wiping his body. Tong, come with me.”
Qin Yunuan didn’t light a candle after entering the room. It was too expensive for her.
“After 1 A.M., you and Maner go and search all the places that Concubine Liu visited.” Qin Yunuan remained quiet and calm, rubbing her face with a towel in the hot water. The heat rose to her face, making her complexion rosy.
“Third Miss.” Tong was obviously surprised. After thinking through, she covered her mouth and understood. “Third Miss is afraid that…”
Qin Yunuan replied with few words, “We could never be too careful. I got some spotlight in the palace today, and I’m not sure if I provoked anyone. Everyone in our yard must be more careful after today.”
Tong was an unsophisticated girl. She would do whatever the girl of her house said.
Qin Yunuan lay on her bed early this night, but she was too conscious to fall asleep. She remembered well that in her previous life, Concubine Liu claimed that she had lost a white jade hairpin the second day after she returned from the palace. The whole Mansion turned upside down to search for that hairpin. Though Dou Qing’e was not willing to do that, she could do nothing when Concubine Liu said that it was a gift from Master Qin for their wedding. And she cherished it a lot.
It turned out in the end that the hairpin was found in Qin Yunuan’s dilapidated courtyard. Qin Yunuan just returned with eighty strokes of rod beating punishment from the palace. Concubine Liu poured her blame onto Qin Baochuan, giving him twenty sticks of beating and also bad-mouthing Baochuan in front of his father. Baochuan had therefore gone down considerably in Qin Zhi’s estimation.
By the time the first ray of sun shined into the room the next day, it was already noisy outside.
“Third Miss, Third Miss, there are so many noisy people outside. I don’t know what they are going to do.” The little concierge girl rushed into Qin Yunuan’s room. She was sent here by Dou Qing’e, seemingly after a mistake when serving tea in Qin Yunzhuang’s room. After all, she was on her legal mother’s side.
“Stop.” Maner raised an eyebrow and yelled, “I think you are noisy.” The girl was not only sluggish in her work but also sneaky. Maner didn’t like her.
The little girl stopped speaking and retreated with a grievance. It was as if she had been wronged.
Maner was preparing to continue combing Qin Yunuan’s hair when she met with Qin Yunuan’s eyes. She sat up and said, “I’m sorry for being too frank. The little girl always likes to eavesdrop behind windows and doors, and I have discovered several times. I was impulsive to blame the girl….” She was going to kneel down as she talked.
“Get up,” Qin Yunuan pulled her up hurriedly, “I wasn’t blaming you. I was just saying that I didn’t find it out in the past. You are a careful girl with lots of ideas.” Tong was honest and simple, but Maner was considerate and clever. Those were the things she failed to notice in the past.
“Third Miss is joking.” Maner was a little embarrassed.
“I don’t misread people.” Qin Yunuan smiled, holding Maner by her hands, “You should care more about everything going on in my yard in the future. An able woman is always busy. You did a great job.”
Maner sighed in her heart. Everyone praised the richness and hearty rewards of working in the Grand Miss’s yard. But nowhere was more peaceful and fuller of human emotions than in Third Miss’s place. Those words warmed her heart.
Maner put Qin Yunuan’s hair into a refreshing and simple hanging bun, decorating it with two pale pink silk flowers, which made her more elegant with her blue dress.
“That’s good-looking,” nurse Liao praised as she came in, “It is simple and elegant. You look like a little girl.” She lowered her voice and said, “Unlike the Second Miss, she dresses like a flower every day. She must have learned that from Concubine Liu.”
“Come here, search for me.” A woman shrilled in the yard. Speaking of the devil, Concubine Liu appeared with a beautiful bright red skirt and all kinds of gold and silver jewelry on her head, looking like a miser.
As soon as Concubine Liu opened her mouth, the twenty or so servant girls and nannies spread out, preparing for a thorough search. And two of them went straight to the backyard with a very clear intention.
“So lively.” Qin Yunuan appeared, leaning against the door frame. She was eye-catching in the warm sunshine with her eyes shining brightly. Qin Yunuan’s servant girls and nannies also lifted their moods, “Concubine Liu seemed to be in a good mood, coming to Yunuan’s place so early for a visit? I also heard from nurse Liao that the cousin from Jianzhou is coming. I thought the whole family should be busy hosting him.”