The Plough – Chapter 26

Ling Shu wanted to chop off this hand.
“That’s it?”

In the metal box that contained all of Ah-Lan’s savings, all that was left were about 10 silver coins.

Yue Dingtang looked up at the old butler.

“What was Ah-Lan’s usual salary?”

The old butler without hesitation: “Every month she got three yuan, food and board were both provided by the Yuan family.”

“How long was she with the Yuan family?”

“She entered when Mrs Yuan married into the family, so around five or six years.”

“Was she a big-spender?”

“Not at all, she was very frugal. Even when her hair tie broke she didn’t replace it, just tied up the two ends and continued using it.”

“If she was frugal, how come after five years, this is all that’s left of her savings?”

The old butler naturally didn’t have an answer.

Shen Renjie was afraid that Yue Dingtang had misunderstood and quickly started to explain.

“Mr Yue, we know that this case is very important to our superiors. After we collected the stuff from Yuan Manor, it has been left untouched. What was in there before, is what there is now, no more no less. The metal box originally only had this stuff!”

Yue Dingtang made a sign of acknowledgement. He also didn’t believe that the people at the station had done anything to the box. If the progress of the case has been affected in that way, these people would have had to bear the consequences.

Ling Shu took the metal box.

On the top of the box was printed an advertisement of a candy. The top was already heavily stained with a lot of wear and tear. It looked like it was a candy box from a few years ago.

But around the box there was a knitted wool cover used as a case, wrapping tightly around the corners of the box. Although the knitted wool cover was not particularly refined, made of the cheapest and coarsest wool. According to Ah-Lan’s living conditions, this was already the best that she could do.

From this, it was clear that she put much importance on this box.

Inside the box was definitely a place where she had stored all the savings that she had earned bitterly over the years. She had spent half her life drifting from place to place and being homeless, left to her own devices. The only thing capable of allowing her some comfort was the contents of the box that she had exchanged for her physical toil. If someone had wanted the contents of this box, it would be a very serious matter equal to taking her life.

If the police and the old butler were both not lying then there could only be two possibilities.

“First possibility is that Ah-Lan squandered every penny herself. This must have been because she managed to get even more money and she didn’t need to hold on to this tiny bit of savings. Second reason may be that Ah-Lan’s relatives suddenly came back into her life and she was willing to spend all her money on them.”

Yue Dingtang suddenly said: “Why does it have to be a relative, couldn’t it be a lover?”

Ling Shu: “Where would this lover be from?”

But after a moment, the words of Yue Dingtang made him quieten down.
“Hong Xiaoguang.”

Ling Shu would never have put Hong Xiaoguang and Ah-Lan together.

According to various accounts of the people they had spoken to, this was a handsome young man. Even though the two of them had discovered at his temporary lodgings that Hong Xiaoguang was not actually as cultured and refined as he appeared to others. But as long as Du Yunning was willing to stay in the dream he had weaved, no one would have been able to ever wake her up from that dream. As for Ah-lan, she was an even easier target.

This maid who could neither speak nor read, who probably could not have survived if she had left the Yuan family, her path to the living was when she bumped into her saviours the Du family. But in the end, what buried her was also linked to the Du family.

If there was a person who spoke to her with soft words, who could use sign language to communicate with her, give her unpredecented attention that she had never had,allow her to feel a warmth from someone that she had never ever felt before, like a thread of illuminating light shining into a permanently dark jail cell. That person who had been stuck in that cell would feel like it was a pardon from heaven, as if they had been reborn.

The words of Yue Dingtang opened up a new development for him.

“Where is the key?” Yue Dingtang asked the old butler, “The secret basement that you were talking about, where is the key?”

“It was with Mr Yuan. The key was made into a pendant. He wasn’t actually aware that it was the key so he gifted it to one of his dancers. After I found out, I quickly told Mrs Yuan that it was a family treasure that Mr Yuan Senior had left to her. So she went out and got the key back. After that the key has always been with Mrs Yuan. The old butler was exhausted. “But after her death, I have not seen the key since.”

All the minor details and inconsequential clues began to come together, Ling Shu finally had a faint grasp on the truth.

Hong Xiaoguang and his accomplices behind the scenes found out from somewhere about the gold hidden by the Yuan family, so they created an opportunity to get close to the Yuan family. They made up a person according to the personal tastes and preferences of Du Yunning in order to gain her trust.

Perhaps over the course of their relationship, Hong Xiaoguang was incessantly trying to brainwash Du Yunning, enticing her with a beautiful future that was in complete contrast with her cruel reality. He made her want to escape her exquisite cage and she made the ultimate resolution to elope with Hong Xiaoguang.
This may have also been the reason that she had come to find Ling Shu again because her desire to leave the Yuan family had become greater and greater.

Ling Shu thought about it. At that time, Du Yunning had long given up hope on Yuan Bing, even living in wealth with beautiful clothes and jewellery was no longer enough for her anymore. Her expressions and actions did not seem fake, she would never have thought that the romantic desire that she had longed for was the very thing that led her to her death.

And Ling Shu had thought at that time that Du Yunning was holding an old flame for him. He had been afraid of being involved with a married woman. He hadn’t realised that Du Yunning was only using him as a front to set a trap.

If, at that time Du Yunning had really eloped with Hong Xiaoguang, the witness testimony of the few times that Ling Shu had met up with Du Yunning would have been enough to land him in a predicament. Whilst Du Yunning would have already vanished into thin air, living the happy life in some unknown corner of the world.

But all of this was just Du Yunning’s own wishful thinking.

Not only could she not successfully elope, she even forfeited her life.

But Ling Shu had indeed been pulled into the trap that she had set up, but now unexpectedly he had also become the person to help find out the real reason for her death.

The old butler had worked diligently all his life for the Yuan family, now the dying wish of his former master that was entrusted to him could not be fulfilled. He had long become both mentally and physically exhausted, this was evidently plastered all over his face.

“I can take you to the entrance of the basement, but regarding the key I really have no idea where it is.”

“The matter should not be delayed, let’s move now.” said Ling Shu.

Delays may bring more unexpected troubles. Yue Dingtang naturally agreed with him.

But with only the two of them and the old butler, it was evidently more dangerous.

In case they met the killer from last time, it’d be game over for the both of them.

Yue Dingtang looked towards Shen Renjie.

Without waiting for him to speak, the latter seized the opportunity and said: “Mr Yue, I can go with you as well, do you think we need to bring a few more colleagues?”

According to the old butler, the level underneath the basement was completely filled with gold, so it was difficult to guarantee that someone might not be able to resist. The people of the Municipal Police for the most part acted with morality and conduct, Yue Dingtang understood this to some extent. There were also many officers like Shen Renjie who were easy to read from their body language and actions. However, there were those who were greedy, these types of officers could also be found everywhere. Lastly, there were many Western Officers who used their skin colour to act as if they were a cut above the rest and had no regard for the Chinese officers so they may not necessarily listen to Yue Dingtang’s orders.

Compared to those certain officers, Shen Renjie was a more reliable bet.

“No need, in a bit give me a gun, I need one for protection, let’s prepare ourselves first. In half an hour let’s move out.”

Shen Renjie: “Yes! I will go prepare now!”
Taking the advantage of Shen Renjie going out to get a gun, Ling Shu seized the moment to question the old butler some more.

He could see that the old butler was utterly exhausted, his mind was already starting to wander, if he waited any later the old butler may not be able to respond to any more questions.

“When Mrs Yuan went out, did Ah-Lan go with her?”

“Sometimes she did, sometimes she didn’t.”

“When did she go with her and when didn’t she?”

“Let me think…..when Mrs Yuan went out to dinner parties, she didn’t take Ah-Lan with her. I once heard her say that Ah-Lan wasn’t able to speak so she was afraid that she would lose face and be laughed at by the other ladies. Before the Yuan family also had another servant called Ah-Qing. She was well-spoken and quick-witted, when Mrs Yuan went out, she liked to take Ah-Qing with her. But after a while, when laoye had squandered the family fortune on opium, Ah-Qing was able to redeem herself and she left the Yuan family.”

The old butler was indeed old, talking endlessing and easily going off topic.

Ling Shu had to remind him: “You haven’t said when Mrs Yuan would take Ah-Lan with her?”

The old butler: “Sometimes Mrs Yuan would go shopping, and she needed someone to help carry the things she bought. For example when she went to the department store, or went to see some good friends, then she would take Ah-Lan with her.”

Ling Shu: “What good friends did she see, do you remember?”

The old butler: “I didn’t dare to ask, but once her and Mr Yuan were fighting, he even said some really horrible things, saying that she didn’t have any friends and it was all an excuse to see her secret lover.”

Ling Shu: “And how did she respond?”

The old butler smiled bitterly: “She said that he was heartless so there’s no need to stay chaste. Even if she was having a secret affair, it was because of him. But in my opinion, these were all words said in anger, in the end, he still valued her a lot because, with all the women he had on the side, he had never thought about marrying someone else. It was just his personality…. aiii! I don’t know how to say it, if Mr Yuan Senior was still alive, he would have been a bit more restricted, and it would have been unlikely to have ended up like this!”

Yue Dingtang said quietly: “When Yuan Bingdao was alive he was still not able to restrain his son. Even if he was still alive today, he’d be very old. What could he have done? When Yuan Bingdao was young they thought that his son was an only child, so it was hard to not dote on him, and even if he made a small mistake, it was difficult to not just let it go. It went on for a while like this, but small mistakes turned into big ones, and toleration levels continued to climb with it, ultimately it turned into a huge mistake.”

Yuan Bingdao couldn’t be considered a good person, when he was in Sichuan, he didn’t do a single thing to help the citizens of Sichuan. Instead he abused his power and just looked for other places to build his own wealth. Even when he happened upon the gold, he didn’t use it to do good. Aside from giving a small portion of it to his subordinates, he completely pocketed the rest, setting in motion the events of today. The Yuan family becoming completely ruined, but perhaps this could be considered a form of karma.
However, Yue Dingtang didn’t voice these thoughts out loud to the old butler.

The butler himself knew in his heart, he was merely unwilling to admit it and face reality.

The two people looked at each other silently, Ling Shu broke the silence.

“When was the last time Mrs Yuan took Ah-Lan out with her, do you remember?”

The butler racked his brain but could not be certain: “Perhaps on the 23rd.”

Ling Shu: “Don’t guess, think about it again.”

Butler: “I remember now, it’s definitely the 23rd because on that day Ah-Lan came to find me to say that she wanted take advantage of the fact that Mrs Yuan was going out to go buy a few things for Lunar New Year, so she asked me for some time off and said she would come back a bit later. All these years, she has never once said she was going to buy something for herself, I saw that she was quite pitiful so I agreed.”

23rd January, two days before the Lunar New Year.

That was the last time Ling Shu and Du Yunning met up.

But he never saw Ah-Lan that day.

Perhaps at that time Ah-Lan had already asked for some time off, or perhaps Du Yunning didn’t want her standing on the side so had asked her to leave.

In this world, many things are coincidences. But if everything is a coincidence, then it is no longer random but a certainty.

During this time, Shen Renjie came back into the room.

He gave a handgun to Yue Dingtang.

The most commonly used handgun by the police at this time was formerly known as Browning M1910. Although it was bigger than the Derringer, it was more practical.

“It’s fully loaded and has just been tested, don’t worry! I have asked another two colleagues to come with us. They will guard the Manor outside. If anything happens, we can call out to them and they will immediately rush in to support us.”

Shen Renjie was indeed considerate – he had thought of everything.
Yue Dingtang nodded and put the gun and gun holder directly into his coat pocket.

Ling Shu seemed to smile but didn’t: “Lao Yue, as a professor, you’re still so skilled with the gun. You don’t hesitate at all!”

Yue Dingtang asked with surprise: “Isn’t this how you put a gun away?”

Ling Shu: “But I’m a policeman.”

Yue Dingtang nodded: “The learning capability of a genius is always stronger than that of an idle policeman, what do you think?”

Ling Shu:……

Yue Dingtang patted him on the shoulder: “Don’t be jealous. If you want to learn to be as confident and at ease as me. I’ll tell you my secret when we get back.”

Ling Shu’s mouth twitched, he really wanted to chop off this hand. He secretly said in his head, don’t give me the opportunity, or one day I’ll dig you a pit so deep you’ll never climb out!1不然我铁定坑死你 – Ok FYI the literal translation of this line is “I’ll pit you to death” which obviously makes zero sense in English so yah I tried

……

Yuan Manor.

The two buildings of the Manor were once full of life, but now they were utterly calm under the dense pitch black sky.

The houses in this area are already very expensive, and even if there were people living next door, after several murders, those who could have moved out have done so, and those who could not have moved out had gone to stay with relatives and friends, and will return when the storm has passed.

In the small building where the Yuan family’s servants lived, there was some light after nightfall, but after they were taken away and imprisoned, the place became more and more lifeless and dead and at first glance it looked quite frightening.

“Before the event at the Consulate I asked people to stay here to guard the place, how come there’s not one person here?” Yue Dingtang frowned.

Shen Renjie, hearing the displeasure in his voice, quickly smiled and said: “They must be slacking off when I get back. I will make sure to report them, don’t lower yourself to their level!”

Yue Dingtang didn’t respond.

Ling Shu noticed that he had his hand in his pocket. The pocket where he kept his gun.

The old butler led them into the small building.

Ling Shu discovered that he was walking towards Ah-Lan’s old room.

“The basement entrance is here?”

“Yes it’s under the bed.” The old butler pointed at the mattress where Ah-Lan used to sleep, “We just have to move the mattress and then the entrance is underneath it.”

Ling Shu asked Shen Renjie:“Did someone search here before?”

Shen Renjie:“Yes. Everywhere was searched, the basement wasn’t a secret. There were a lot of pickled goods in there but we didn’t discover that there was another level below it.”

The old butler: “Although the Yuan family has a cook, the pickled goods were managed by Ah-lan. The entrance was also coincidentally in her room but the secret entrance is well-hidden, there’s no way she could have discovered it.”
Ling Shu didn’t believe the old butler, the latter was old and had lost his ability to make astute observations.

Someone like Ah-Lan, who didn’t even have a friend to talk to in the Yuan family. It is inevitable that she put all of her focus on repetitive tasks day in and day out, such as making pickled goods.

Loneliness and boredom had probably made her feel around every nook and cranny of the basement over time, and it was not unreasonable to believe that she had discovered the secret entrance.

The so-called impossibility was merely within the old butler’s perception.

Ling Shu had not yet recovered from his injuries and had “escaped” from the hospital. Shen Renjie could not let Yue Dingtang do it himself, so he took the initiative to lift up the wooden board. Stone steps appeared underneath.

“I will go down first. I will follow the butler. You guys can go behind us. Butler please lead the way.”

The old butler walked in front with his cane, he was still talking endlessly.

“I haven’t been down there for a long time. All the pickled goods were taken out by Ah-Lan who took it directly to the kitchen….”

The lamp in Shen Renjie’s hand swayed with his footsteps, moving forward in the dark step by step.

In Ling Shu’s mind, the darkness below was more like a giant monster ready to devour what little light there was left.
24/09/21 – Updated footnote.

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