Chapter 651 The Fallen Handkerchief
It would be easy to investigate which household such a material went to. The palace would have kept records of outgoing gifts.
The Empress had bestowed the material to both her and Commandery Princess Xianyun, but she received only a small roll of the material. She ended up fashioning several handkerchiefs out of the material, which was why she found the current handkerchief so familiar. Lanning recognized it as well.
Most families wouldn’t be able to afford to use such material. Lanning had met many noble ladies lately, but she didn’t know the lady earlier.
Even more familiar was the cluster of orchid embroideries on the corner of the handkerchief. It was her master’s favorite symbol. It was embroidered on some of her master’s small decorative items.
But, she didn’t know why this symbol would appear on this handkerchief.
“Lanning, you can just put the handkerchief away.” Ning Xueyan smirked, staring out the window with a pensive look. The curtain was only partially lifted, so she couldn’t see much of the outside world.
“Your Highness, if it’s not yours, why put it away?” Heng Yuqing asked confusedly, looking at Ning Xueyan in surprise. She never paid attention to Ning Xueyan’s personal items, so she didn’t notice what was strange with the handkerchief.
“Since Lanning picked it up, she’ll be the one to carry it. It’ll be hard for anyone to say who it belongs to.”
Ning Xueyan sneered and ordered Xinmei to put down the curtain again. When the curtain was just about to cover the window completely, a man rushed out and entered her sight.
Her memory was superb, so she immediately recognized the man the moment that she saw him. He was the man beside Xia Yudong. Ning Qingshan and Xia Yudong were the ones trying to harm her at that time, so who was it this time?
Cheng Yu stormed out, just in time to see Lanning turning away from the carriage. He couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief. When he rushed downstairs, he thought that he would run into her on the stairs. Lanning had just left the carriage at that time, and he wouldn’t have taken much time going down the stairs. It was normal for them to reach the stairs at the same time.
To his surprise, he didn’t see her on his way down. He began to panic. It wasn’t until he rushed out and saw Lanning turning away from the carriage that he felt relieved. She wasn’t gone. She just had business to attend to, which caused a delay.
He didn’t dare to run straight up to Ning Xueyan’s carriage, so he strayed deeper into the bookstore and waited for Lanning to come. Little did he expect that Lanning would be summoned by the person inside the carriage before walking far. This time, he didn’t have to wait for long. Lanning, having received Ning Xueyan’s order, slowly walked over.
He calmed down his erratic heart and took two hurried steps, stopping just right beside Lanning. Pretending as if he had just discovered her, he cried out in surprise and stopped in his tracks. “What a coincidence, my lady. We met again,” he said with a look of astonishment.
Lanning paused and looked Cheng Yu up and down with a frown. She took a while to say hesitantly, “Sir, who are you?”
“I’m…” Her question was like a bucket of water over his fiery enthusiasm.
Who was he? Was he supposed to say that he was the man whom Xia Yudong manipulated to frame Fifth Young Lady Ning before?
In all honesty, he and the Crown Princess weren’t at all close, were they? Never mind her, even her maid was confused about his identity. Lanning stood there and looked him up and down for a long time before questioning him. It was obvious that she didn’t remember him at all.
His enthusiasm, coupled with Xia Yuhang’s timely approval, had prompted him to rush out in hopes of getting a glimpse of her from afar. He was content to just speak a few words to her maid. However, Lanning’s cold gaze and question immediately extinguished all of his passion. He was instantly sober.
That was right. Who did he think he was? Even he was fooled at that time. They were both victims in that situation. No matter how he looked at it, whether logic or emotion-wise, he had no reason to see her.
Lanning took a step backward courteously and saluted him. “Sir, please step aside. I want to go upstairs and fetch a book for my master.”
Stumped by her question, Cheng Yu had no choice but to step aside. He watched blankly as Lanning turned toward the stairs on the other side and slowly walked past him.
Xia Yuhang’s servant appeared at the top of the stairs. When he saw Cheng Yu wearing a vacant expression, he asked loudly, “What’s wrong, Young Master Chen? My master asks if you’ve found the person that you’re looking for.”
The servant was standing at the top of the stairs, while Cheng Yu was right below. He had to raise his voice to reach Cheng Yu. This explanation was reasonable enough, but shouting inside the quiet bookstore was too attention-grabbing.
Those who had come to the bookstore to read or find books stopped what they were doing and turned around to look at them. They also noticed Lanning, who had just reached the stairs.
One was a nobleman in elegant attire and the other looked like a noble lady’s maid. It was quite strange for the two of them to have any interaction.
Lanning looked at the servant upstairs, stunned at his question. When she recovered her senses, she glared at Cheng Yu, who was looking openly at her without realizing that he had become the center of attention. She was furious.
No wonder her master told her to put the handkerchief away. Had she come in to find the owner of the handkerchief in vain, only to have this man stop her and the servant upstairs shout at the top of his voice, everyone else would have thought that her master was in an ambiguous relationship with this man.
They would have thought that her master was the owner of the handkerchief that she was carrying.
If that happened, her master wouldn’t be able to argue her innocence no matter how she tried.
Understanding this, she admired Ning Xueyan even more. She took a deep breath and gave up the idea of going upstairs. She came to her senses and, under everyone’s eyes, walked straight up to Cheng Yu. Then, she made a deep bow.
She didn’t try to hide anything. Following Ning Xueyan’s order, she said confidently, “Sir, you purposefully stopped me earlier, but now you’re saying that you’re looking for someone? Who is that you’re looking for? Even though I’m just a servant, I know a lot of people.”
Cheng Yu didn’t think that Lanning would turn around. He was overjoyed, believing that she had finally remembered him, and waited for her to approach him happily. He didn’t expect to hear such words from her. He became tongue-tied as he stood there, unable to say a word in reply.
“Please be direct with your intentions, sir. Even if I can’t help, my master might be able to.” Lanning stood right in front of Cheng Yu with an unyielding posture. She pretended as if she didn’t know so many people were watching them.
“It’s… It’s nothing…” Cheng Yu stuttered.
“Nothing? But it doesn’t seem so. You looked so worried earlier, sir. It was as if you have a lot of concerns. Could it be that you’re involved in some kind of a lawsuit? Sir, this is the capital. If you’ve accidentally offended someone, my master might be able to help.” Lanning looked at Cheng Yu sincerely and frankly. Even though there was a slight frown on her face, it just looked like she was worried about him.
There were quite a lot of noblemen who came to the bookstore, and many of them recognized Cheng Yu. A few of them burst into laughter when they saw the distinguished scholar, the current Third-ranked Laureate, looking awkward because of a maid’s questions.
One of them yelled, “Eldest Young Master Cheng, voice it out if you’re really in trouble. The maid looks like an enthusiastic one. She might just be able to help you.”
“Exactly! Eldest Young Master Cheng, why did you stop her? Why do you look so awkward now? Just voice your concerns. Don’t keep confusing the maid about your intentions.”
A few others couldn’t help but speak.
Even though everyone was talking and laughing, no one suspected that Cheng Yu was looking for the maid or that there was a secret between Cheng Yu and the maid’s master.
The maid stood confidently in front of Cheng Yu, unafraid of the attention. She seemed quite imposing too and didn’t look like she worked for an ordinary noble family. She seemed enthusiastic when she spoke. Even though she was pretty, it was clear that there wasn’t anything ambiguous between the two of them.
Cheng Yu had come to his senses as well. It was at this moment that he realized that he was the center of attention. He immediately blushed and said anxiously, “I… I’m truly fine. I mistook you for someone else.”
“Young Master Chen…” The servant at the top of the stairs was still trying to talk to Cheng Yu but was loudly interrupted by a smiling Lanning.
“Is this your servant, sir? He was so concerned about your affair that he even came out to remind you about it. It seems that you have plenty to be concerned about. If you’re that concerned, please tell my master about it. My master might be able to get you out of your predicament.”
Lanning was looking at the servant on the top of the stairs calmly, but her words were directed at Cheng Yu.
Cheng Yu was never a fool. Running into Ning Xueyan just made him temporarily lose control and forget to be prudent. Moreover, he had always treated Xia Yuhang as a friend and saw him differently from his nominal friend, Xia Yudong. Hearing Lanning’s words now, however, made him suspicious.
He didn’t tell Xia Yuhang anything when he spotted the maid earlier, and Xia Yuhang didn’t ask him much about it either, looking unperturbed. Why would Xia Yuhang suddenly ask his servant to say such seemingly innocuous words and draw everyone’s attention to him?
Something was not right.
Even if he wanted to ask about the former Fifth Young Lady Ning, he knew that he couldn’t at this moment. The Fifth Young Lady Ning was now the magnificent Crown Princess.
If a nasty rumor were to spread, it would harm both of them.
Understanding this, Cheng Yu calmed down and eased his erratic breathing. He raised his head with a smile, looking polite, and said, “I’m sorry. I mistook you for someone else. I thought you’re my cousin’s maid. It’s nothing urgent either. I haven’t met my cousin since she got married in the capital. You just looked like her maid at first glance.”