Chapter 21 The Corpse at the Bright Frost Garden's Entrance
"What happened?" A frowning Ning Xueyan turned around and looked at Mother Han in confusion. She had never seen Mother Han looking this panicked.
"Young Lady, Qingrui was beaten so badly that she's one breath away from dying. First Madam ordered the servants to drag her to the entrance of the Bright Frost Garden, saying that she has avenged Second Madam. A battered and bloodied Qingrui is now lying at our door." A pale-faced Mother Han was sweating all over. Whoever who saw that badly mutilated body would feel an intense fear!
First Madam had Qingrui thrashed and thrown at the entrance of the Bright Frost Garden before leaving with some ambiguous message about avenging Madam Ming. She was a cruel woman, indeed. She wanted everyone to think of Ning Xueyan as a narrow-minded and vicious girl. She wanted to ruin Ning Xueyan's reputation while simultaneously distracting everyone's attention.
Qingrui was a servant of the Bright Frost Garden who served Ning Xueyan. Coupled with the previous dishes incident, the servants thought it was Ning Xueyan who wouldn't let Qingrui off and used Madam Ming's name to force First Madam to deal with her. They thought Qingrui's death wasn't enough for Ning Xueyan, who placed the former's corpse at the entrance of the Bright Frost Garden as a warning!
This action could only be described as malicious!
Her action was considered even more frighteningly cruel and excessive than Madam Ling concealing Madam Ming's funeral!
"Mother Han, let's take a look," Ning Xueyan said serenely. She nonchalantly grabbed a pair of large white candles from the pile of funeral offerings nearby.
Mother Han inexplicably relaxed after seeing how calm Ning Xueyan was. Her complexion improved as well. She nodded and led Ning Xueyan to the Bright Frost Garden.
The moment they arrived at the Bright Frost Garden, an older female servant hastily walked over to them. When she saw Ning Xueyan, she greeted her with a face full of smiles and said serenely, "Fifth Young Lady, the Marquis said you can just remove this person. He also reminded you to keep the manor's reputation in mind." She looked like she couldn't care less about the matter.
Ning Zu'an telling Ning Xueyan to keep the manor's reputation in mind was equivalent to ordering her not to mention Madam Ming's poisoning. Sure enough, Madam Ling was so sure of Ning Zu'an's character that she knew he would force Ning Xueyan to swallow this grievance.
Still, it didn't matter how good she was at predictions. Some things were beyond her expectation!
"Alright." Ning Xueyan nodded with a faint smile. She said nonchalantly, "Please relay my response to Father. Tell him that the Prince said he'd be sending his men to deliver some offerings. Please ask him to receive them."
One would typically send offerings when paying respects to a deceased person, yet the Prince had come empty-handed. Thus, he must not be here to pay his respects to Madam Ming. Even if he had merely stopped by the mourning hall, he would be expected to make subsequent delivery of offerings.
Earlier, while Ning Zu'an was hastily making his way to the inner courtyard, the Prince was heading toward the outer courtyard. Seeing as they were headed in different directions, it was unlikely for them to meet.
"Yes. I will inform the Marquis immediately." Thinking that she had completed Madam Ling's order, the satisfied-looking older female servant nodded and happily turned around to leave. She walked in the direction of Madam Ling's Bright Clouds Garden.
She belonged to Madam Ling, after all. She was also involved in throwing Qingrui at the entrance of the Bright Frost Garden. After completing her job, she went to Ning Zu'an to report the matter. Of course, she didn't forget to mention Madam Ling's motive of wanting to avenge Fifth Young Lady, repeatedly emphasizing how magnanimous her master was in taking Ning Xueyan's side.
One couldn't live under the same sky as the murderer of one's mother. It wasn't excessive even if one whipped the murderer to death!
Ning Zu'an knew something was wrong after listening to the servant. He immediately ordered her to stop Ning Xueyan from revealing the truth. If it was revealed that a servant poisoned the Second Madam of the great Marquis' Manor to death, their reputation would be ruined. He can't imagine the kind of gossip that would arise about their inner courtyard.
Thus, the servant was satisfied after seeing that Ning Xueyan didn't dare to defy her father's order. It was as she had expected. Thus, she happily left to inform her master of this good news.
Qingyu's eyes widened after seeing where the servant was heading. She said angrily, "Young Lady, she..." The servant said that she was going to relay Ning Xueyan's message to Ning Zu'an, yet she was fearlessly running off to the Bright Clouds Garden. Obviously, she was taking advantage of the fact that Ning Xueyan couldn't do anything about it.
Ning Xueyan smirked coolly. "Mother Han, keep watch at the manor's entrance. If a noble guest is here to deliver offerings on his own, greet him..." she whispered into Mother Han's ears. Initially stunned, the latter swiftly nodded.
A crowd had gathered outside of the entrance of the Bright Frost Garden. The maids and older female servants pressed their handkerchiefs against their mouths while gesticulating at the garden.
"I didn't expect Fifth Young Lady to be so vicious. The girl is already dead, yet she's still denying her peace."
"She had the girl executed just for eating some of her food! I pity the girl!"
"Can't believe she'd drag the girl here for public viewing after beating her to death! How wicked!"
"I can't believe the Fifth Young Lady who never leaves the Bright Frost Garden would be so cruel. Whoever who marries her might find all members of his inner courtyard dead..."
As expected, the gossip about Ning Xueyan became increasingly nasty under someone's deliberate provocation. Not only did the servants on the other side of the door not speak up for her, but they joined the bandwagon as well. They all wore disapproving looks.
The servants working in this garden were on Madam Ling's side. They fawned on her by bullying and tormenting Ning Xueyan.
Seeing as the crowd was still smearing Ning Xueyan's name, Qingyu stepped forward and pushed away a chattering old female servant. She yelled, "Quiet! Fifth Young Lady has returned!"
The crowd quietened a little but soon came the jeering and laughing. None of the servants came to salute Ning Xueyan. They cast her a sideways glance and chatted among themselves, none paying her any mind.
"Who's the one who besmirched me earlier?" Ning Xueyan stared coolly at the crowd of more than ten.
"Oh, how dare we, Fifth Young Lady! We're here to see what's all the fuss about after hearing that a corpse is thrown at the entrance of the Bright Frost Garden. We came here to see who committed a crime," a green-clothed maid in the crowd said, laughing.
"Exactly! Us old servants were shocked after hearing someone had died. It's only after coming here that I knew that Fifth Young Lady is punishing a servant from the Bright Frost Garden and we're the one fussing for nothing!" an old female servant holding a teapot chimed in, grinning. Instantly, the rest began interjecting with their own responses. One after another expressed that they were here to join the excitement.
Sure enough, no one in this Lord Protector's Manor—from the masters down to the servants—took her seriously. It must be Madam Ling's order. Otherwise, these people wouldn't be so daring as to slight her to her face.
A somber-faced Ning Xueyan stepped forward and conveniently grabbed the teapot in the older female servant's hand. Without another word, she threw it to the feet of the crowd. The teapot smashed, sending the hot water inside splashing.
No one expected the typically weak and timid Fifth Young Lady to retaliate out of nowhere. Some reacted quickly enough to jump out of the way but some of the slower ones were scalded by the splashing hot water. They retreated several steps, sat on the ground, and tended to their scalded skin. It hurt so much that they were groaning.
They had never seen Ning Xueyan like this. Staring into her ice-cold, ink-black eyes, those yelping in pain after getting scalded quieted down. The girl standing before them seemed to be emanating an imposing, domineering aura.
"Well, why aren't you continuing? I'd like to listen what else you have to say," she said sternly, her gaze as sharp and cold as a blade.
Only now did the servant who held the teapot earlier recover her senses. She continued to argue, saying, "Fifth Young Lady, we... we're just here to join the excitement!" She had reacted swiftly earlier and jumped at the right timing, saving her the pain of being scalded.
"Punishment of 20 slaps!" Ning Xueyan's cold gaze landed on her. Her gaze was so frigid that her pupils carried no warmth.
"Why? Fifth Young Lady, you're the master. I shouldn't be questioning a master who wants to punish her servant, but I serve First Madam. Even if you want to hit a dog, you still have to be wary of the dog's owner. If you want to punish me, give me a reason at least. Otherwise, you won't be able to explain yourself to First Madam!" the sharp-tongued servant argued.
She kept bringing up First Madam without the slight bit of nervousness. In fact, she seemed unconcerned. She even looking smug toward the end of her sentence.
It was Madam Ling who sent her here to stir up the gossip. Now that she saw herself destroying Fifth Young Lady's authority, she became even prouder and surer of herself. She wasn't even addressing Fifth Young Lady, but the crowd of servants instead.
"Pa!" A tight slap sent her twirling in place and she nearly fell. When she saw that it was Qingyu who slapped her, she gnashed her teeth and angrily stormed over to make a scene. She scolded, "You lowly wench! Not even Fifth Young Lady dares to hit First Madam's people, but a lowly wench like you dares? You must be tired of living!"
Ning Xueyan sneered and stepped forward in front of Qingyu. She said sternly, "How dare you, you damned slave! I'm still your master. How dare you act so brazenly in front of me! Who gave you the courage to do so?"
The sudden killing aura radiating from her face fell on the servant like it was tangible. The servant inexplicably shuddered and began losing confidence. She took a step backward, not daring to swing her hand. She felt goosebumps after receiving Fifth Young Lady's cold stare.
However, she swiftly recalled that she belonged to First Madam and had no reason to fear Fifth Young Lady. Noticing everyone's attention on her, she felt a surge of embarrassment and anger. She felt like she had lost face. She immediately gave two nearby maids, both sent over by Madam Ling, a meaningful glance. "Please get out of the way, Fifth Young Lady. If I don't teach this lowly wench a lesson today, she will never learn who the true master of this manor is!"
She reached out to pull Ning Xueyan aside. The two maids also came over, bypassing Ning Xueyan to try and hit Qingyu.
Madam Ling's slaves had disrespected Ning Xueyan in front of the Bright Frost Garden and even tried to hit her maid in front of her! Since when had anyone in this manor treat her as a master?
Ning Xueyan swatted the older female servant's face with the white candle in her hand. Having been caught off guard, the servant was hit so hard that she became disoriented. She subconsciously touched her head and found her hand drenched with blood.
She never thought that the Ning Xueyan who dared not raise her voice even when she was bullied would dare to hit someone. When she saw Qingyu's mocking gaze, hatred and courage filled her. She laughed nastily and said to Ning Xueyan, "Your bravery is off the charts today, Fifth Young Lady! You dare put on airs in front of me and disobey First Madam. Look at the girl lying on the ground. That's what happens to people who don't listen to her!"
She was so determined to suppress Ning Xueyan that she was now speaking incoherently.
"Oh, so this person had offended Mother and that was why she was killed. But why is she left outside my Bright Frost Garden?" Ning Xueyan sneered. The corner of her lips was lifted to form a smirk.
"That will be your outcome if you insist on being disobedient, Fifth Young Lady!" The servant threatened Ning Xueyan, misunderstanding that the latter didn't believe her. She deliberately pointed to Qingrui's mangled, lifeless body on the ground.
After saying her piece, she reached out to pull Ning Xueyan. She wanted to drag Ning Xueyan to the corpse so that the latter had a closer look of Qingrui's miserable state.
However, before her hand reached Ning Xueyan's sleeve, she heard someone's angry rebuke from behind her. "Stop! Where did this mad old woman come from? Why isn't anyone dragging her away?"