Chapter 52 Planning, Maid's Changeable Words
It grew dark. The maid lowered her head and walked hurriedly through the courtyard door. She was from the other manor but nobody had seen her. She looked around, then went straight towards the candle lit room. Knocking lightly on the door, she heard a voice from inside, "Who is it? Please come in."
The maid saw no one around, so she entered and closed the door. From the shadows outlined at the window, it showed two persons talking and delivering something. After a while, the door reopened. Again, the maid looked around furtively, making sure there was no one around, then walked out and closed the door.
Suddenly a scream came from nowhere just as she was about to leave. The sound frightened the maids and older female servants who were working in the courtyard. They raised their heads in confusion, looking around for the source of the scream. They wondered who could be making a sound like that. However, an older female servant, who was standing under the roof, caught hold of the external maid, and asked her, "Which manor do you belong to? Why are you here?"
When they heard this, all the maids and older female servants looked at her.
"I...I got the wrong place, sorry, I made a mistake." The maid explained hastily in shock and dropped her head because of their close scrutiny.
She walked out quickly before she finished talking.
Someone recalled seeing her going into the candle lit room just now, so they exchanged weird looks. A few of the older female servants couldn't hold back their laughter. Although they didn't block her way, they judged her with contempt, thinking that the one inside the room could not be a good man, since he had seduced the maid in such a short time.
It also seemed the maid wasn't a good girl. She was enticed to his room within a mere 4 hours.
They had no idea which manor she was from. But how indecent and unruly she was!
After all, it had nothing to do with them at all. The only thing they could do was to regard this as a joke, which would make them laugh. The one inside the room wasn't their master. They would let Consort Dowager know about this because maybe it would make her laugh and they would get some money as a reward.
Seeing that nobody came out to stop her, the maid felt relieved once she reached the door. She checked her route and returned hurriedly.
After she left, Ning Xueyan and Qingyu showed up round the corner. Qingyu held a food basket containing their dinner.
"My lady, how do you know that Xianghong will be asking around here?" Qingyu wondered. She didn't believe it before but now she saw it in person. She admired Ning Xueyan greatly for leading Xianghong to the monk, after knowing that she would be inquiring about the painter.
The monks dared not say comment on this, especially since the painter was here because of the Princely Heir of Commandery Prince Li. So they just indicated the way without saying anything.
"How can Ning Yuling give up such a great opportunity?" Ning Xueyan turned around and walked back with a cold smile. She was aware that Ning Yuling's viciousness was the same as that of Madam Ling. She would not give up this chance of framing Ning Xueyan. Now Ning Yuling had mistakened the identity of the person inside so she would shoot herself in the foot.
When she reached the corner of the cloister, Ning Xueyan stopped to look around. The view here was great. Even though it was dark, she could see the other side clearly. On the contrary, nothing could be seen from the other side.
They waited for a while, standing under the roof, then they noticed Chen Qing leaving the room stealthily. Chen Qing thought nobody was paying any attention and was about to leave. Ning Xueyan then gave a signal to Qingyu. Qingyu rushed out and collided with him on purpose. A gold hair clasp dropped from Chen Qing's hands. Qing Yu's sharp eyes saw that it belonged to her manor.
Qingyu pretended to be astonished and calmly asked, "My childe, are you the one whom sister Xianghong is talking about?"
"Is something wrong?" Chen Qing picked up the hair clasp on the ground and said this with a sense of fake calmness.
"Sister Xianghong is afraid that you will forget so she told me to remind you again. Please remember it is Second Young Lady. She asks me to give you this, too." Qingyu answered politely in response to Ning Xueyan. She took out a gold head-ornament flower and gave it to him, then she said with a smile, "We all know it will cost a lot if we want this to work. I just hope you, my childe, will not forget my lady."
"Of course I won't. I can guarantee that. But I was told it was Fifth Young Lady." Chen Qing said excitedly. He didn't expect the beauty would really choose him. Now that he received the favor, he must do something worthwhile. He planned to use Madam Ling's gold hair clasp to ask for help. It was better that he need not pay for the help anymore.
"My childe, you heard wrongly. It's Second Young Lady. Please remember this time." Qingyu emphasized again.
Chen Qing did not suspect anything. He nodded and said, "Yes, yes, I won't forget it anymore. Second Young Lady of Lord Protector's Manor, I get it! I won't make the same mistake again."
When he thought that the beauty would rather be with him, and had planned all these, Chen Qing's heart beat faster. He had already forgotten about the portrait which he had asked someone to deliver to Princely Heir of Commandery Prince Li.
The Chrysanthemum Party, held by Honored Consort Ya, was held halfway up the mountain, behind the Cold Mountain Temple. There was a large open space so the party was a magnificent affair. The ground was filled with all kinds of chrysanthemums. There was also a small man-made lotus pond on the west. Although it was not time for the lotus to bloom, the fish inside were very lively.
Groups of red koi carps in the water, showed up leisurely from time to time.
Several pavilions were beside the lotus pond. Princes, Princely Heirs and the daughters of aristocratic families stood or sat inside. They chatted. And they were supposed to choose someone they like. The girls couldn't stopping sneaking peeks at the heirs although they were shy. The most outstanding prince was Third Prince. Fourth Prince was busy today so he did not come.
Third Prince's biological mother was Honored Consort Ya and Fourth Prince's was Honored Consort Shu. Their mothers held high statuses in the palace. But Third Prince was the elder and his mother was the highest-ranking, so he had the upper hand. The girls paid more attention to him.
Even if a girl couldn't be his wife, her future would be just as promising if she became his concubine. Not to mention the fact that Third Prince was a dashing man.
Compared with noble Third Prince, the Princely heir of Commandery Prince Min was popular, too. As one of the most handsome man in the capital, Wen Xueran was born with a pleasing appearance with a pair of bright, amorous eyes. Any girl whom he had his eye on, would always blush and try to avoid his attention.
Being watched by such a pair of beautiful eyes would make anyone drown in its appeal. The romantic feeling it evoked made people's hearts beat fast.
Honored Consort Ya chatted and laughed with a few of the elder madams sitting in the middle pavilion. In the way, she could also observe the crowd.
Ning Yuling secretly peeked at Third Prince, standing on the other side. He looked tall and handsome in the sunshine. In his tight finery, Third Prince showed an extraordinary temperament. His profound eyes, natural Roman nose, and thin lips with its bright smile seemed warm. His gentility swept through the crowd and settled on her, too. He looked at her gently.
"Third Prince is looking at you all the time!" Lin Ziruo, the one who sat beside Ning Yuling, was the daughter of Imperial Supervisor Lin, said this ambiguously while nudging her.
"Maybe it's you he's looking at, instead of me." Ning Yuling replied, blushing. She heard that Imperial Supervisor wanted to let his daughter marry Third Prince. Lin Ziruo had a purpose in mind and it was obvious from her actions.
"How can it be? I heard that Lord Protector's Manor had a marriage deal with Third Prince. Is it true?" Lin Ziruo asked chuckling. She nudged Ning Yuling again. And she expressed herself clearly even though she equivocated.
"You are talking nonsense! How is it possible? It won't be easy to have a royal marriage." Ning Yuling glared at Lin Ziruo. She wouldn't tell her the truth.
"Really?" Lin Ziyan looked doubtful.
"Of course!" Ning Yuling said seriously. But she couldn't stop her complacency from showing, which was easy to see. Especially since her eyes were following Third Prince all this while. When she looked into Third Prince's eyes, she showed great affection. Her pretty eyes became soft and beautiful. This made Lin Ziruo even more jealous.
"How can Lin Ziruo dream of marrying Third Prince? She is just a nasty shrew." Ning Yuling had this cold thought in her mind.
Suddenly, Lin Ziruo inadvertently witnessed something. She reached out to pull Ning Yuling's sleeve after taking a close look and in a mocking tone, said, "Second Young Lady, it looks like Princely Heir of Commandery Prince Li has been staring at you all this while. Look! He's been there for a long time, so he must be watching you. And he appears to be in a trance."
Ning Yuling looked at the direction where Lin Ziruo's hand was pointing. She saw a handsome young man, dressed in finery, staring at her absentmindedly. There was an undisguised stunned look in his eyes. Ning Yuling felt complacent about being stared at by a young pretty noble Princely Heir, but she had to pretend to be unhappy.
"How can he be so rude? How dare he look at me like that? Where are his manners?" Ning Yuling said coquettishly.
"You can't say that. He is the beloved one of Consort Dowager of Commandery Prince Li's Manor. If he hears you, he will get angry." Lin Ziruo said with a smile.
Consort Dowager of Commandery Prince Li? It reminded Ning Yuling of the old lady who gave her a pair of bracelets yesterday. She had a good feeling about the old lady. Thinking of her, she smiled at Princely Heir of Commandery Prince Li spontaneously. She felt happy in her heart but she said coldly, "Why does he keep looking at me? Disgusting!"
"Because you are so beautiful. This heir is too obsessed with you to remove his gaze. Maybe he will ask Honored Consort Ya later for the honor of marrying you." Lin Ziruo teased her and covered her mouth.
"Nonsense!" Ning Yuling said unhappily. She was determined to become the wife of Third Prince now. Other men were not her choice. Although it was noble Princely Heir of Commandery Prince Li, he wasn't good enough compared with Third Prince. She was unwilling to marry him even though she felt satisfied with his adoration.
"I'm telling the truth. See, he is walking towards you." Lin Ziruo nudged her, smiling.
Ning Yuling turned around subconsciously and saw Princely Heir walking straight to her. She frowned a little and turned round, moving off to another road. Now it was party time, a lot of people including Honored Consort Ya were watching. She could not have anything to do with other men. It would make Third Prince and his mother unhappy.