The Plough – Chapter 20

Yue Dingtang has had enough.
Second day of the Lunar New Year, early morning.

Yue Dingtang got up very early. First he went to the University to drop off the papers he had graded at his office, before heading to the hospital.

He thought that Ling Shu would be dressed and ready waiting for him to arrive. Instead when he opened the door, he saw that Ling Shu was lazing in the bed with the two sisters standing on either side of the bed.

Ling Yao as well as Yue Dingtang’s own sister Yue Chunxiao.

“Quick get up and eat something, you can’t go out on an empty stomach?”

“I brought you deep fried dough sticks and soy milk. It’s all freshly made, the dough sticks are still crispy. If you wait any longer they’ll go soft and won’t be good anymore, there’s also some soya sauce. Isn’t dough sticks dipped in soy sauce your favourite. I’ve prepared everything for you.”

“Over here I also have tofu pudding. If you don’t like to eat those, you can drink some chicken soup. It was stewed overnight, Dingtang wanted some last night but I didn’t even let him have any.”

Yue Dingtang still standing at the door:……

It was like he was watching two old hens trying to coax their chick.

The problem was that the “hens” weren’t old, and the “chick” wasn’t a baby.

The sister that he knew also wasn’t someone with that much patience.

Perhaps it was because at home she had two elder brothers and a younger brother who were all independent and had their own successful careers. Since they were young, they didn’t need her to worry about them, so seeing this fair and elegant Ling Shu, who had made all of her motherly love and affections as a big sister suddenly erupt to the surface to disastrous results.

In a nutshell, it was about face.

Yue Dingtang had to admit that when Ling Shu wasn’t talking and didn’t adopt those sloppy mannerisms, he did seem very alluring.

Many women, from the old to the young, would lap this up.   

The two women were not aware of Yue Dingtang’s silent criticisms, and were still trying their best to coax and soothe the little chick.

Just digging Ling Shu out of the bed and sitting up until he is willing to eat a fried dough stick was enough to give them a great sense of accomplishment.

“Have some more, have some more.”

“Eat more slowly, eat more slowly.”

The two women sang the opposite tune, domineering from both sides, but also maintaining a subtle harmony.

Simply because of the person in the middle.

But he had still gained some small advantages and was pretending to be well-behaved.

“Jie, Chunxiao-jie, I want to eat Doupi1腐皮 lit. Tofu skin.”

“What is it?” Yue Chunxiao didn’t understand, “Is it made from tofu?”

Ling Shu: “It’s a snack from Hubei. Last time there was someone selling it at the end of the street. I had it once. It’s bean curd stuffed with glutinous rice and mushrooms placed in a pot and then pan fried, it’s super tasty.”

Yue Chunxiao smiled and said: “Oh that’s easy, my chef at home is from Wuhan, when I get back I’ll ask him to make one, and bring it you for lunch, and some more soup, do you prefer spare rib soup or prawn and tofu soup?”

Ling Yao had a slightly aggravated look on her face: “No need, I’ve already made soup at home for him. I just forgot to bring it over this morning.”

Yue Chunxiao’s mouth twitched: “Look at you, starting again, if you had really made some soup, would you really sit by and let me serve mine right now? Right now spare ribs are expensive,if you have less of it you’ll be fine,but don’t starve Ling Shu because you want to save some face!”

“Yue Chunxiao, this is my brother, what’s it got to do with you. Stop pretending to be a good person and trying to cause a rift between my brother and I!”

“He saved Dingtang, so how can it not have anything to do with me? This is me feeling sorry for him, I can’t stand Ling Shu suffering because of you!”” 
Ling Shu ate one mouthful of dough stick and another of tofu pudding. He lowered his head silently and tried to act like he didn’t exist.

Yue Dingtang almost laughed out loud.

He coughed to put a stop to both sides.

“Jie, Yao-jie, Ling Shu and I have important matters to discuss, you should both leave first.”

Yue Chunxiao only remembered the existence of her own brother at this point in time.

“Did you have breakfast, I left you some at home.”

Ling Yao also added: “If you haven’t eaten yet, I brought an extra portion, it’s in the food box on the table, it hasn’t been opened, I don’t know if you prefer sweet or savoury so I got both.”

Yue Chunxiao glared at her: “Now it’s your turn to be a good person? Wasn’t it you that said you didn’t need me to worry about your brother?”

Ling Yao sneered: “I like that Dingtang is sensible and earnest, what’s it got to do with you?”

Yue Dingtang finally had enough and kicked them both out.

When he looked back, he saw Ling Shu smiling at him.

“They’re arguing because of you, but you’re pleased about it?” Yue Dingtang twitched his eyebrows.

Ling Shu innocently: “The two sisters are just being nice to me, of course I know that.”

His words seemed to hold a thread of rejoice in other people’s misfortune.

Yue Dingtang thought to himself, this person talks to people when he sees people, talks to ghosts when he sees ghosts2见人说人话,见鬼说鬼话 – can’t think of an equivalent in English for this right now so I might change this later but it is basically used to describe someone who is very crafty and flexible, able to speak to anyone and adapt easily to situations. Even someone who is as high maintenance as Yue Chunxiao was mesmerised by him and willing to protect him. If Ling Shu’s father was still alive and had helped him to get a good government job, he might really have climbed up to the top in a short few years

Just like now, him working at the police station, with his slick and seductive skills, it was really like a fish back in water, no wonder it was hard for him to part with this job.   

“Two new developments.”

He lit a cigarette and went over to the window.

“That woman who called herself Yuan Lingbo, we can’t find her. We only know that after she left the station she called for a rickshaw which took her in the direction of the train station. After that we have no more information, I’ve asked people to keep looking, but the likelihood of finding her is slim.”

This was already expected.

Ling Shu said ok, then put the last mouthful of tofu pudding in his mouth.

“And the other thing is about the maid Ah-lan?”

“Ah Lan was adopted3more specifically she was 童养媳 tong yang xi – a girl adopted into a family with the intention of becoming their future daughter-in-law when she was 7 years old she was sold to the Shen family. At fifteen, she had just been married for two months, when her husband died of illness. She was also sick for a while, the family thought she was a burden as she couldn’t work and needed them to feed her, so they kicked her out. It was Du Mianqing who took her in. Do you know Du Mianqing?”

Ling Shu said: “Du Yunning’s aunt, I’ve seen her once, but I don’t really know her.”

Yue Dingtang nooded: “Two years after that, Du Mianqing got married and moved to Wuxi, she left Ah-Lan with the Du family. Mrs Du seeing that she worked quite diligently, and she wasn’t able to gossip or speak so she ordered her to look after Du Yunning, and in the end she followed Du Yunning to Yuan Manor.”

This was all part of the past, and didn’t really have anything to do with the case at hand.

Ling Shu: “So shall we go to the Yuan Manor now?”

Yue Dingtang looked at his wristwatch: “Tonight I have a social event. It’s at the US Embassy. Let’s go to the Manor now and in the afternoon we’ll still have time to go home and get changed. Our old classmate, Lin Dingkang is now an interpreter at the Embassy, he should also be there tonight. It’s a good opportunity for you to go and catch up with him.”

Ling Shu stretched lazily: “I’m not going.”

Instead of a wine reception, he’d rather go home and sleep.

Yue Dingtang already knew that he would be like this and sighed.
“I’m afraid you have no choice. First, your sister wants me to introduce you to some women and I’ve already told her about tonight, so even if you go home you won’t get any peace there. Second, even though at the moment, some of the suspicions have been taken off you, we still can’t prove that there is another person who killed Du Yunning. Although the police have agreed to bail, Smith said you are not allowed to leave my sight.”

Ling Shu: “I don’t really understand social etiquette.”

Yue Dingtang: “I’ll teach you.”

Ling Shu: “I don’t have any formal attire.”

Yue Dingtang: “I’ll lend you some.”

Ling Shu: “I don’t know how to speak, I’m afraid I might offend someone, I’ll be a burden.”

Yue Dingtang: “Then you could just spend more time eating than speaking.”

Ling Shu: “I’m afraid that this face will attract all the women there, displeasing the men there.”

Yue Dingtang: “It’s fine. I believe that my charm is enough to counteract your misgivings.”

Ling Shu:……

Yue Dingtang calmly: “As your old classmate as well as under the orders of your sister, I sincerely advise you to go. Not only for your future marriage but at this kind of event, even your supervisor may not be able to receive an invitation. And the boss of your supervisor, the Chief of Police of the Chinese Special Municipality’s Safety Bureau will also be proudly attending. In this case, if you can be there, what will your supervisor think of you? How would this help your career, you’re a smart person, so I don’t need to say more.”

Ling Shu rubbed his nose.

The two of them dawdled until midday before leaving.

It wasn’t actually Ling Shu dilly-dallying but the doctor had come to do a check up. Originally he hadn’t agreed to Ling Shu leaving the hospital but Ling Shu did ten push-ups in front of him, shocking the doctor on the spot. The doctor reluctantly allowed them to leave for a half a day but said that Ling Shu had to return for overnight observation, and then he signed the papers releasing him.

On the way, Yue Dingtang kept looking at Ling Shu.

Ling Shu was not sure what to make of it and said: “Have I got something on my face? I’ve got a button that isn’t probably done up?”

Yue Dingtang: “When we were at school, your hand was pricked by a flower but you would still rub your hand for a half day and then use a needle to take it out and also put some alcohol on it. Now you have stitches in your head and you can still do push-ups. I just want to see whether the Ling Shu of today is an impersonator.”

Ling Shu touched the wound on the back of his head: “If I hadn’t have done that, the doctor wouldn’t have agreed to let me leave the hospital, if we left without his permission and then my sister came back to see me, she’d be crying and wailing again, I can’t stand women crying.”

Yue Dingtang laughed: “With your personality, you must have been well-liked by the French women?”

Ling Shu thought that what he was saying had a double meaning but he had just been jolted by the car so he was still feeling a bit dizzy and he didn’t ask further.

“Actually, before going abroad my sister told me specifically that I cannot come back with a foreigner, or at least I couldn’t bring her back, otherwise I would have been worrying which one to bring back with me. How about you, haven’t you thought about marrying a foreign bride?”

Yue Dingtang said faintly: “I have a Chinese stomach. It’s good to try some foreign dishes but I can’t eat that everyday. Don’t think that your sister and mine are always at each other’s throats, on this issue, they are in complete agreement.”

He didn’t continue on this topic, he rolled down the car window and looked outside.

“It’s going to snow soon.”

The sky was gloomy, it didn’t look like the afternoon, it was more like the evening.

Without the sunlight, the people on the street were also in a hurry, the jubilation of the second day of the New Year could only be seen from the lanterns and banners everywhere and the attire of the people.

Ling Yao had brought a new set of clothes from home for Ling Shu. Originally it was for him to wear during the New Year but in the end he had ended up in hospital so he only managed to wear it today.

The dark clouds closed in on the city4黑云压城城欲摧 hēi yún yā chéng chéng yù cuī It is a metaphor for extreme tension caused by a negative force which is represented by the dark cloud.

Yuan Manor looked almost like it was being crushed by the dark clouds.
These aged white walls seemed to look even more sinister, even though it was daytime, it still made people feel a bit uncomfortable.

Ling Shu looked up towards the first floor balcony.

That was Du Yunning’s bedroom. That was also where the flower pot had fallen from last time.

After the incident with the flower pot, the police officer on duty took away all the other flower pots from the balcony, so now the balcony was utterly bare, there was nothing there at all.

But the curtain by the window was still fluttering away. It was possible to see even from downstairs and it created an illusion of someone standing behind the window.   
Author Note:

Congratulations to Ling Shu to be honoured with the title of having the bewildering love and adoration of tens of thousands of women.

Yue Dingtang:……

Ling Shu: The ellipsis just reflects the jealousy of the one surnamed Yue.

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24/09/21 – Updated terms to be more consistent with later chapters. Footnotes added.

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