Chapter 106 A Maid's Confession
Madam Ling arrived soon after. She looked a little bit old, although pious, in a simple cloth gown without any makeup on her face, instead of wearing her fineries as usual. The bandage wrapped around her ears, in particular, made her appearance inferior to that of the young and charming Concubine Ma.
"Madam Ling, yesterday you said that Concubine Ma had an affair with another man, and was seen by a maid, so she caused the blame of the abortion to shift onto you. Is that true?" Madam Dowager asked.
"Mother, I heard all this from Biyun. I'm also not sure. I was about to ask more yesterday, but had no time since you told me to go to Buddha Hall. Why don't you ask her yourself now?" On her way here, Madam Ling had learned about Concubine Ma's farce. She was startled at first. Now she was staring at Concubine Ma with cold eyes, leaving the judgment to Madam Dowager and deliberately avoiding the fact that Concubine Ma had once been poisoned.
Luckily, she was prepared!
Anyway, it was reasonable to disclose earlier issues first.
Biyun was the maid beside Concubine Ma when the affair had taken place.
"What happened yesterday, Biyun?" Madam Dowager turned to the girl who was kneeling on the ground and asked.
"I also didn't know about it yesterday. Concubine Ma said she wanted to take a rest in the back. But when we reached the pavilion, she said it's a good place up there to meet the Fifth Young Lady. She had me prepare the furnace and some other things. I was quite busy. When I wanted to go up after finishing everything, I saw a man entering the pavilion."
"What! A man?" A mixed expression of anger and shock appeared on Madam Dowager's face. Ning Zu'an had once mentioned this, but just a word.
"Yes, a man. He talked with Concubine Ma intimately. I was standing at the door, daring not to go in. Then Concubine Ma said... said..." Biyun stopped, casting a glance at Ning Xueyan purposely, as if she were afraid to continue.
"Go on. What did she say?" Madam Dowager reproached her.
"She said... said that the Fifth Young Lady would help her elope with that man. That's why she met with him in private with the excuse of having a talk with the Fifth Young Lady," Biyun continued cravenly, her voice becoming lower and lower.
"Nonsense. You mean the Fifth Young Lady would help them elope? What's the matter with the Fifth Young Lady? She has never been close to Concubine Ma. Why would she do that?" Madam Ling rebuked her angrily when hearing the words, as if she were defending Ning Xueyan. This was really effective when she saw the blackening face of Madam Dowager.
Ning Xueyan stayed aside, silently watched Madam Ling's acting, and sneered in her mind.
"I... saw… it. But I am not sure... Then the Fifth Young Lady arrived with some servants. The cup of tea that I brought to Concubine Ma was put beside the Fifth Young Lady by chance. I don't know why that happened after Concubine Ma was drinking it. Then Concubine Ma blamed the First Madam and bit her!"
Biyun spoke out the whole thing vacantly as if she were really uninformed.
But all the clues in her statement went against Ning Xueyan, even the motivation was contained in it. Ning Xueyan did all of this to frame Madam Ling by misleading Concubine Ma into the thought that Madam Ling had intended to hurt her, so she bit off a piece of flesh from Madam Ling's ear.
The clues were so closely connected to each other that even Madam Ma's meeting with Ning Xueyan earlier had turned into Ning Xueyan's excuse to frame Madam Ling.
For her to be able to make such a story in such a short time, Madam Ling was really a person to be reckoned with!
Even Concubine Ma was slack-jawed, forgetting to continue her own acting.
"You will be beaten to death with rods if you frame your mistress. Don't you know that?" said the First Madam in a cold voice.
Biyun shivered. Suddenly she pointed to the crowd and said, "I am not the only one who saw Concubine Ma and the man tugging back and forth. They all saw it."
Those who were pointed to looked rather frightened, and had to walk out from the crowd. They had followed Ning Xueyan to enter into the pavilion by chance.
"You all saw it?" Ning Zu'an couldn't help asking.
"Y... yes. We saw Concubine Ma lying on the ground and a man hugging her... The... the other things, we don't know about either."
Madam Ling was so crafty that she could even make use of such a scene. But this plan was too perfect to be made by her. Not only Concubine Ma, but also Madam Ling herself was trapped. Even her own behaviors had been exposed in the plan rationally.
It looked as if everything had been pre-arranged!
If Ning Xueyan had guessed right, this plan had to be from that person. It was really a perfect plan to blame Ning Xueyan for the scandal of Lord Protector's Manor, and to protect the reputation of Madam Ling, or perhaps, of Ning Ziyan, by sacrificing the lives of Ning Xueyan and that of Concubine Ma.
Unfortunately, since the plan was carried out by Madam Ling, it was doomed to not have good results.
"You unfilial wretch. Did you plan it with this bitch?" Ning Zu'an excoriated her with both anger and resentment, his face showing unspeakable embarrassment. He stared at Ning Xueyan and Concubine Ma ferociously, as if he would strangle them if either of them said yes.
He was a man, a noble Lord Protector. How could he stay calm when such a scandal came from his manor?
"Father, do you really believe I would do such a thing to frame mother? I am wondering since when have I been so exceptionally adept in trickery like mother. Father, will you convict Concubine Ma and me just from a maid's words?" Ning Xueyan laughed abruptly and looked coldly into the fierce eyes of Ning Zu'an.
Did Madam Ling really understand her husband? Would it be okay to let him lose face as a man in front of so many people?
If Concubine Ma really wanted to elope, who was that man? Besides, Ning Xueyan was only the fifth daughter of Ning Zu'an. Few respected her within the whole manor. And no one was more exceptionally adept in trickery than Madam Ling. Moreover, Concubine Ma had always been favored by Ning Zu'an.
Her words were more powerful compared with those from the impotent Ning Xueyan.
Why would she ask for Ning Xueyan's help to elope with another man?
Madam Ling's face hardened. A trace of suspicion showed in Madam Dowager's eyes. Even Ning Zu'an turned his head to Madam Ling. These simple words had changed everyone's thoughts abruptly.
"Father, you blamed Concubine Ma for her private meeting with another man, and me for my collusion. But father, has Concubine Ma treated you wholeheartedly since she came to this manor?" Ning Xueyan continued.
"Marquis, even the sun and moon can bear witness to my love for you. If I didn't want to marry you, I would have told you at that time. Why would I follow you to come here? You are always so kind to me, wouldn't I regret it after receiving your love?" Concubine Ma had a sudden realization and started to sob bitterly with her face hidden behind her hands.
Her words made sense. She was the latest to marry Ning Zu'an and was the most favored by him. Ning Zu'an considered himself to be quite fair to her. Why would she plot to elope with another man? It was really beyond reason. Besides, Concubine Ma was a sophisticated woman. She flattered Ning Zu'an all the time as if he was the only person she cared for.
In this way, it was indeed impossible for her to run away with another man.
Back then, when Ning Zu'an had been fascinated by her and sent servants to seek a marriage alliance, it was she herself who had agreed to his proposal and married him willingly.
"Father, I didn't want to talk about this. But now since I am involved, I have to do so to clarify myself, even if there is a wedge between Concubine Ma and me," Ning Xueyan continued, "They did see Concubine Ma lying on the ground yesterday with a man. It looked as if they were hugging. But the fact is, Concubine Ma was having a rest inside the pavilion. When she noticed that a man was coming, she rushed out and fell down by accident. The man followed and ran into her."
Ning Zu'an was puzzled at first, and then he turned to Madam Ling with a weird expression on his face.
Madam Ling felt something wrong intuitively and showed a sense of panic when seeing such expression.
"Father, if there were someone who is unable to order the servants in this manor, that someone must be me!" Ning Xueyan finished her words with a wry smile. Her helplessness could be easily felt by everyone.
Though she was a daughter of the principal wife, Ning Xueyan could not even order the servants, let alone frame the marchioness, a matron of the manor.
This would be likely to happen if their roles had changed!
"As for her?" Ning Xueyan pointed to Biyun and said insipidly, "If father doesn't believe me, you can make an investigation about who she serves!"
"Marquis, you... you must find out... She was the little bitch who killed my child with a cup of toxicant. How dare I bite the First Madam at the risk of my life if it were not for her." The last words of Concubine Ma dispelled the last doubt of Ning Zu'an.
Concubine Ma was very sophisticated. She had obeyed Madam Ling all the time. But yesterday, she should rush at Madam Ling and bite her. It was clear that she had hated Madam Ling to the utmost degree. The reason for her desperate hatred, as Ning Zu'an had thought, had to be due to what Madam Ling had done to frame her, leaving her no way out.
Just seeing a man and a woman lying on the ground after an accidental collision could prove nothing.
A similar situation had once happened when Ning Zu'an was young and was a guest in a manor. When turning a corner, he ran into a beautiful woman, likely to be a concubine, and was nearly beaten for being considered her adulterer.
He would have lost his entire reputation if Madam Ming hadn't stood out to testify for him!
Ning Zu'an would never tell others, including Madam Ling, about such a humiliating thing. But Ning Xueyan had once heard it by chance from Madam Ming.
Everything made sense. A similar situation, a similar thing, and the same misunderstanding. How well-reasoned it was! There had always been estrangement between Concubine Ma and Ning Xueyan. In no case would the two of them work together to plot against Madam Ling. On the contrary, it was Madam Ling that was likely to pass the buck to them.
It made more sense that Madam Ling had poisoned Concubine Ma, intending to murder her to silence her.
Ning Zu'an's face darkened. He had done nothing wrong, but was deceived by Madam Ling to think that Concubine Ma had betrayed him. If this were heard by those outside the manor, how could he raise his head in front of others? He stared at Madam Ling, Biyun, and those who had borne witness, saying nothing for a good while.
Biyun and the other maids were all frightened and flustered. If Ning Xueyan and Concubine Ma had been set up, they had been set up by them.
This added to Ning Zu'an's suspicions.