Chapter 19 Fanning the Flames
In a moment, Dou Qing’e glared at Qin Yuwan and asked her in a loud voice. “Prince Ray?” That was ridiculous! If Qin Yuwan really did that, then she was a bad liar. First, Prince Ray would not entrust a concubine’s daughter to send things for him. Second, an exalted royal member like him would not take those evil things like Ningxianglu as presents.
Before Qin Yuwan replied, Concubine Liu stood up angrily and pointed to the servant girl on the ground. “What are you talking about? I heard that Hong Luan was almost beaten to death when I passed by. How could she say anything? You must have made this up,” she scolded.
The round-faced servant girl trembled and then kowtowed to Dou Qing’e. “I do not dare to cheat you, ma’am. Sister Hong Luan did confess those things before she fainted. I just passed on what she said exactly.”
“Humph,” Dou Qing’e squinted at Concubine Liu. “You do wish for her saying nothing, do you?”
Concubine Liu had nothing to say. She turned back and pulled Qin Yuwan’s sleeves. “Come here. Explain for yourself. Why would you do harm to Yunzhuang? You two are sisters. You must have been framed by someone.” She was exasperated at her daughter’s failure.
Qin Yuwan was standing in the middle of the room in a daze, not knowing where to put her hands. She had hoped that her mother could protect her, because whether she did it or not, she might make mistakes if she said anything, and that would be an opportunity to Dou Qing’e. But now, it seemed that her mother could not do anything to help her.
As she hesitated, Su Chenghai spoke up emotionlessly. “We businessmen all believe in one saying when we travel around the country.” He raised his eyebrows, casting a teasing glimpse at Qin Yuwan who was in tears, and said slowly. “That is, cats hide their claws.”
Was he fanning the flames? Qin Yunuan’s finger on the redwood tea table quivered. She tilted her head and stared at Su Chenghai. At the same time, she felt that he was glancing at her from time to time. So, she turned over without a trace, escaping from the cold and concentrated eyes.
What Su Chenghai said became the straw that broke Qin Yuwan’s back. She knelt suddenly and cried to Dou Qing’e. “Mother, it was not me. I was just a go-between.”
“A go-between?” The eyes of Dou Qing’e were as cold as an ice blade that could kill people. “Why? Do you still insist that you were entrusted by Prince Ray to send Ningxianglu to Yunzhuang? If your answer is yes, then I will come to the Imperial Palace with master’s name card and prove your innocence.”
“No… No.” Qin Yuwan was afraid to tell lies. The legal mother was much too scary, and she knew she couldn’t hide the truth anymore.
“Then tell us the truth.” Concubine Liu shouted anxiously.
“It’s… it’s Shangguan Yee. That day, when sister Yunzhuang returned from the Imperial Palace, Shangguan Yee’s personal maid came to me in private and told me that sister Yunzhuang was irritated by Miss Shangguan. To make amends, Miss Shangguan had found the best incense in the city and entrusted me to pass it on to Grand Sister. She said for fear of annoying Miss Yunzhuang again, I had to tell her it was from Prince Ray, so that she would not refuse.” Qin Yuwan said sobbingly, tears running down her face. Now, she was ugly and disgraceful, as her delicate makeup was totally ruined.
The plot thickened if the Shangguan family was involved. Dou Qing’e squinted. Her eyes narrowed with a shrewd look, and then she knocked the table cape. “That’s just a one-sided story. Do you have any evidence?”
“Yes, yes.” Qin Yuwan took out a butterfly-embroidered handkerchief hurriedly from her cuff. Fortunately, she asked the maid for a token as a proof of her favor to the Shangguan Family, so that she could contact them later. She did not expect to use the handkerchief in this way at this critical moment. “Mother, this is the token that the maid had given me. Look, she said it was embroidered by Shangguan Yee herself. This should prove my innocence.”
Dou Qing’e was not as serious as before. She only asked Xiu Gu to bring the handkerchief to her. As she was thinking about it, a soft and clear voice arose from the crowd. “This handkerchief looks very familiar.”
Qin Yuwan looked back and found that it was Qin Yunuan who was speaking. Without thinking about it, she followed Qin Yunuan’s words. “Exactly, Third Miss. It looks familiar to you, right? You had met Shangguan Yee in the Imperial Palace. It’s her handkerchief, isn’t it?”
Qin Yuwan’s eyes were full of hope and expectations. It seemed that she had taken Qin Yunuan as her lifesaver.
In the face of the tentative inquiry from Dou Qing’e, Qin Yunuan answered with a more peaceful look. “You misunderstood me, Second Miss. I said it looked familiar because I had seen the handkerchief at Yuman Embroidery Shop. If I was right, there will be an orchid symbol of Yuman Embroidery Shop on its right bottom.
Qin Yuwan was quite shocked now. She hurried to unfold the handkerchief and check its right bottom, and then she was dumbfounded by what she saw and tried to hide it. The sharp-eyed nanny Xiu Gu snatched the handkerchief with her agile hands and handed it to Dou Qing’e. “Ma’am, look, there surely is an orchid symbol,” said Xiu Gu.
“Well, well,” Dou Qing’e retracted her eyes and said as loudly as a great bell. “You tried to fool me with a handkerchief and involve Miss Shangguan and Prince Ray into your evil-doing. How scheming you are!”
“No, mother. I really didn’t do that. And I don’t have the ability to get Ningxianglu. Even if I have some abilities, I dare not to hurt my own sister.” Qin Yuwan pleaded. Even Concubine Liu gave up her dignity and groveled with tearful eyes.
“You don’t have the ability?” Dou Qing’e’s voice was getting louder and louder. “You have the ability to induce the young Master Shangguan to propose to you, what else are you unable to do?” Dou Qing’e had no idea how she had charmed the legal son of Shangguan family. Thankfully, Shangguan Rang, the only legal son of Master Shangguan, was a loose man in his nature. After being refused by Dou Qing’e, he turned to other girls after a while.
“Mother.” Qin Yuwan knew that it would be useless to say anything. She groveled in front of Dou Qing’e in a very humble way, but inwardly, she hated Dou Qing’e to the core. Why? Why was she a concubine’s daughter? Because of that, her marriage was dependent on Dou Qing’e. Shangguan Rang was such a good man. He was handsome and attractive and was very gentle with her.
The calmness on Qin Yunuan’s face was replaced by worries. “Mother, don’t we need to check things out again? Though I am humble, I want to say that sister Yuwan would not have done this to sister Yunzhuang despite their conflicts.” Qin Yunuan said cautiously and heaved a long sigh.
“No need to check again. Now things are very clear.” Dou Qing’e said without any hesitation. She was irresolute before, but after listening to Qin Yunuan’s words, she firmly believed in her decision. Besides, were they going to involve Shangguan family in this matter? If so, further contact between the two families would be impossible. Although their private relationship had been broken, she had to save their face.
“Okay, fortunately, Yunzhuang is all right now,” Dou Qing’e said with an indifferent face. Then she said to Qin Yuwan exhaustedly, “After all, you two are sisters. Maybe you didn’t know how to use Ningxianglu for the lack of experience. For the present, you must shut yourself and ponder over your mistakes. You cannot leave your yard without my permission.”
Qin Yuwan was absent-minded. The annual Temple Festival was coming in half a month. It was the only time when young women could come out of their homes. In addition, she had special arrangements with Shangguan Rang.
“Mother, it really was Shangguan….” Qin Yuwan still wanted to explain, but Concubine Liu covered her mouth directly and forced her to kowtow to Dou Qing’e for several times before she took her back to the yard.
Dou Qing’e was unwilling to offend the Shangguan family, so was Concubine Liu. Both of them did not want to continue the investigation, so they could only let Qin Yuwan take the blame. Now, the punishment was appropriately given by one and willingly accepted by the other. And Qin Yunuan enjoyed a great show as a bystander.
“That being the case, please excuse me for my leaving now.” Qin Yunuan stood up and greeted the elders. At the same time, Su Chenghai also stood up and made his farewells. “Please excuse me as well.” He said calmly, as if he had not been affected by the farce at all. It seemed that he was unconcerned about everything.
Qin Yunuan was greatly relieved as Qin Yuwan got grounded. In her previous life, though they did not have direct conflicts, Qin Yuwan had defamed Baochuan in front of their father Qin Zhi many times. Just like Concubine Liu, she had a glib tongue and turned matters upside down. Now, as the father Qin Zhi was coming back, Qin Yunuan was determined to help Baochuan set a good image in Qin Zhi’s heart. Women born in the families of officials only needed to find a good husband, but for men, what they had to do was to start their career, make contributions and realize their aspirations.
On the way back, Su Chenghai went ahead silently, followed by the servant named Xiao Si, who had a broad face and a pair of bushy eyebrows. Every time young servant girls cast glances at Su Chenghai, Xiao Si would make scary faces and made them look away.
But it was not his fault. Su Chenghai was really very good-looking and mesmerizing. No wonder many girls made eyes to him.
Seeing that no one was around, Maner was unable to refrain her admiration to Qin Yunuan. “Third Miss, how meticulous you are! We were so far apart from them at that time, but you recognized the personal maid of Shangguan Yee at just one glance!” Maner praised.
That was true. On that day, Qin Yunuan, who was at a remote corner of the back room, caught the sight of Qin Yuwan exchanging things with a servant girl, who turned out to be Shangguan Yee’s personal maid. At first, she thought Qin Yuwan requested the girl to sell some embroideries for her. But the longer she looked, the stronger she felt that there was something wrong. The servant girl looked quite familiar. What’s more, Qin Yuwan would not be so hard up that she had to make money by selling her embroideries. Although she was also a concubine’s daughter, she had a tough mother to protect her.
“But miss, how do you know that the token from the maid was not a real one?” Maner asked puzzledly.
“You underestimated Shangguan Yee.” Qin Yunuan didn’t know much about her, but she could make some speculations about their interactions in her previous life. “She’s reckless, but not silly. She would not let Qin Yuwan get the goods on her for her wrong doings. That would be shooting herself in the foot. So, I paid more attention to them and found the orchid symbol on the handkerchief. But I did not expect that Qin Yunzhuang would be taken in. She did believe that the handkerchief was from Prince Ray. Maybe girls become unreasonable when they fall in love? Or maybe Qin Yunzhuang was too confident that she thought Prince Ray favored her?”
Frankly speaking, Sima Ray was really a good husband for Qin Yunzhuang. He gave her everything she had ever wanted. Although their marriage was based on interests, it was not surprising that he had some tender affection for such a beauty as they were closely associated.
“Who knows,” Maner pursed her lips and said. “But there is a popular saying among the people. That is, Qin Yunzhuang is the belle of the north, and Li Qiqi is the beauty of the south.”
Qin Yunzhuang and Li Qiqi were the two beauties in Qi. One had a gorgeous face, and the other had a beautiful voice. However, Qin Yunzhuang, the legal daughter of the Grand Commandant, enjoyed a better reputation than Li Qiqi, who made a living by singing at brothels.
“Really?” Qin Yunuan replied coolly. Things like fame and reputation had never been in her consideration. All she ever wanted was a life without grievances, where her loved ones were safe and sound and Baochuan could amount to something.