The Plough – Chapter 9

What the hell.
“What did you see?”

Ah-Lan couldn’t reply, she could only make unclear and indistinct noises.

But she had an extremely frightened look on her face, so everything that she couldn’t say was already written on her face. She was so freaked that she was trembling all over.
She clutched the corner of her sleeves tightly. With a shaking hand she took out a handkerchief from her pocket to wipe off her cold sweat but because she was overly nervous, all her keys and other loose items also fell out of her pocket. *Cling Clang* these things rolled down the stairs splattering over the floor.

She absently signed with her hands, attempting to explain to everyone what she had seen, but only the old butler could understand her.
“That’s nonsense!” The old butler’s face also changed drastically.

“What’s the matter?” Yue Dingtang asked.

The old butler was humming and hawing: “She, she’s lost her head, you don’t need to bother with her…”

Yue Dingtang’s face darkened: “Speak!”

The old butler helplessly said: “She said she just saw Mrs Yuan, how could that be possible! Mrs Yuan has already passed, plus it’s the middle of the day!”

Even though that’s what he said, it seemed like he was still holding back some fear himself.

The policeman was still hesitant, Ling Shu went up two stairs at once, arriving back at the bedroom.

The room was of course empty with no one in sight.

Just before they hadn’t closed the window properly so that’s why the wind was able to blow it open again.

The curtain was still dancing elegantly in the breeze which was probably the cause of the maid’s illusions.

“There’s nothing, you must be mistaken.” Ling Shu said.

But Ah-Lan was hiding behind the old butler, she didn’t dare to enter.

“Is this yours?” Yue Dingtang went over and passed some things over to her.

Keys, handkerchief, lipstick.

Ah-Lan quickly took back the items, she didn’t manage to hold the lipstick properly and it fell again rolling slowly under the bed.

Ling Shu bent down to help her retrieve it.

When he got up, aside from the lipstick in his hand, there was also a bunch of blackish residue.

But it wasn’t completely black, there was some grey and yellow dust mixed in it, it looked like ash but it wasn’t.

Yue Dingtang: “Patna?”

Ling Shu looked at the old butler and Ah-Lan:“Did Mrs Yuan used to smoke opium?”

The butler stared blankly into space, Ah-Lan was a bit frenetic gesturing like mad with her hands.

“Ah-Lan said, before Mrs Yuan really hated it when Mr Yuan smoked opium, but then one day she suddenly told her to go buy some opium so that she could try it. Ah-Lan couldn’t persuade her against it, so in the end she had to go buy her some. She saw that Mrs Yuan didn’t smoke often, she only smoked it occasionally when she was in a bad mood so she didn’t dare to tell anyone about it.”

Opium has several different grades, and Patna was a high-quality grade.

Usually any person with knowledge and experience abhorred opium, but at present in these chaotic times even if the law forbade it, it was still laid to waste paper.

The poor who were addicted would head to the opium dens after work, those who were rich would naturally smoke at home.

Ling Shu: “When did this start?”

Old butler: “Ah-Lan said approximately a month ago.”

A month ago meant that she was still not addicted, so of course she didn’t smoke often but it was already a step into the abyss.

Just looking at Yuan Bing, it was easy to see how the addiction to opium can change someone into a brute.

Who would have thought, the once beautiful and talented Du Yunning who was loved by all her classmates would end up like this? The memories of happiness and laughter, the naivety of youth, it all seemed like another lifetime ago.

Ling Shu: “Is this lipstick yours?”

Ah-lan gestured with her hands.
Butler: “She said, this is one that Mrs Yuan didn’t want it so she gave it to her.”

Ah-lan nodded whilst pointing to the drawer of the dressing table.

Ling Shu went over to open it, half the drawer was filled with different brands and colours of lipsticks. There were imported western brands as well as new products from Chinese brands.

These days, the wealthy wives are keen to chase famous brand fashion. Since the Chinese market was opened up to foreign goods, clothing and cosmetics such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton are commonplace, and they would compete with each other. Du Yunning’s box of lipsticks couldn’t be considered extravagant, but taking into account the dire state of the Yuan family’s assets, it was a bit ironic.

The butler said: “Mrs Yuan was very generous, when she came home from a day out, she’d often bring me some desserts. There was an old maid, A-Feng who had worked for the family for over a decade and was retiring. Mrs Yuan even gave her a few months extra pay, and bought a few new items of clothing for A-Feng.”

He went back out with Yue Dingtang to the little building,一一 talked to a few more people from the Yuan family but sadly they were not able to get anything useful out of them.

After the decline of the Yuan family, the wages Yuan Bing gave them were sometimes delayed. Except for elderly ones like the butler, everyone else naturally had their minds elsewhere. Some also privately took work elsewhere, waiting for the last driftwood to sink to the bottom, before abandoning ship.

But when it comes to colluding with outsiders to kill the lady of the manor, they probably didn’t have the guts.

These days, they were very jittery, and the Yuan family members were forbidden to leave the manor. Everyone was very scared. The police had repeatedly questioned them, everything had already been asked before.

Ling Shu: “What did Yuan Bing say?”

Yue Dingtang knew what he wanted to ask, he shook his head: “Anything that we needed to ask we already have, he has been living separately from Du Yunning for a long time, although they lived under the same roof, but in a day they almost never crossed paths. On the day of the murder, Yuan Bing had gone to Jin Fen Lou to spend the night with a lady of the night, he never came home that night and has an alibi. Also, when we interrogated him, his smoke addiction was acting up, it wasn’t possible to ask anything of importance.”

Opium addicts are self-centred, with runny noses, they have no way of distinguishing between friend or foe, let alone collude with anyone.

Ling Shu: “Did Yuan Bing say anything about if Du Yunning had any secret relationships with anyone?”
Yue Dingtang: “Yes.”

Ling Shu: “Who?”

Yue Dingtang: “You.”

Ling Shu:……

Yue Dingtang: “A warlord’s daughter-in-law mysteriously dies, his son identifies her suspected lover as the murderer. I don’t need to imagine how those newspapers are going to report this, this is going to be explosive news. Plus, in order to make the story more compelling, they will leave out the two words “suspected”.”

Ling Shu spoke in a low voice: “To save my little life, I am more eager than anyone to solve this case.”

Yue Dingtang patted him on the shoulder: “A heavy burden and a long road ahead.”

Ling Shu: “What about Yuan Bing’s relatives? I remember that the Yuan family was large after Yuan Bingdao died, although he left everything to Yuan Bing but Yuan Bing still had a couple of aunties, at that time, there were multiple lawsuits brought to court, these people have motive.”

Yue Dingtang: “Yuan Bingdao has three younger sisters. The eldest of the sisters married off to the States, the second lives in Hong Kong, the third was the one that had the court case against Yuan Bing but she died from illness last year. She didn’t have any children so there is nothing suspicious here.”

Whilst talking, the two of them left the manor and were ready to get into the car.

Yue Dingtang lifted his head to look up at the first floor balcony.

That was exactly where the deceased Du Yunning’s room was.

Heavy traffic passed often in front of these doors, people came and went. How many days and nights passed when Du Yunning would look out from there into the bustling world.

Her soul had long been imprisoned inside this beautiful cage.

Having a thirst for the outside world but no courage to go out there, envious of the wings of freedom but couldn’t part with the extravagant lifestyle.

Her ending had been almost decided since the day that she had complied with her parent’s wishes to marry into the Yuan family.

But, when he looked up at this moment, something vanished in a flash.

Yue Dingtang’s expression suddenly changed.
Ling Shu was about to tell Yue Dingtang that he wanted to go home and sleep, unexpectedly a massive force came from Yue Dingtang, his whole body was pushed and thrown on to the ground.

He didn’t have time to react, his shoulder hit the ground, he was utterly confused.

“You son of–”

He couldn’t finish because he heard a very loud noise.

Where they were just standing, there was a flower pot in their place.

The pot was completely smashed, the leaves and soil all over the ground, scattered and smashed to pieces.

The delicate rose, without the protection of the soil, died a violent death, but refused to close its eyes in death and die contentedly.

“Mr Yue! Are you both okay!”

The policeman was scared witless.

If Yue Dingtang hadn’t turned his head back to look, and he hadn’t reacted quickly, when this flower pot came down, the consequences would have been disastrous.

“We’re fine.”

Yue Dingtang patted his coat to get off the dirt, then got up at ease.

Ling Shu was holding onto his shoulder, grimacing, trying to choke down a belly full of insults but he had to suffer in silence.

A hand came towards him, Yue Dingtang twitched his eyebrows.

Ling Shu showed no signs of restraint and grabbed his hand with force to borrow his energy to get up.

“The kindness of saving your life, should be repaid by the gushing Spring1当涌泉相报 – this is a phrase from a Qing Dynasty parental instruction book called 《 朱子家训·增广贤文》lol. It basically means that he should pay him back in double for saving his life.” Yue Dingtang deliberately patted the painful spot a few times, and almost pushed Ling Shu down again.

“I’m going up to take a look!” The policeman didn’t wait for Yue Dingtang to reply before he ran back into the Yuan manor.

Yue Dingtang: “There was no wind just now.”
Ling Shu: “There was no one in the room.”

They had just gone to take a look, inside and out. Plus, there was the old butler, Ah-lan and the policeman, altogether five people with ten eyes, unless a living person could become invisible, otherwise it would be impossible that they hadn’t seen them.

What the hell.

Very quickly, the panting police officer came running back out.

“There’s no one in the bedroom There’s no one in the main building at all!”

Of course there was no one. When they had left the place, they had put a lock on the door and the key was in the hands of that police officer, so how could there be anyone.

But it was a clear day, there was no wind nor rain, a plant pot sitting neatly on the balcony, why would it suddenly fall down?

The police officer obviously had also noticed the weirdness, his face couldn’t help exhibit a trace of fear.

Plus, just now Ah-Lan had said that she had seen the shadow of Du Yunning so it was hard to not let one’s mind wander.

“Give me the key, when we get back I’ll tell your commander.” Yue Dingtang held out his hand.

The policeman handed over the key without hesitation.

He was even a bit apprehensive about having to stay here to guard the place overnight.

Unconsciously, they had already spent a whole afternoon at the Yuan family Manor.

The multicoloured sunlight of the setting sun was flowing with crimson, as if recklessly painted on the horizon, evoking a gorgeous expression like an antelope hanging its horns2This term was often used to describe the transcendent mood of poetry. And a super duper fancy way to say that it was a beautiful sunset?? *sweats* that is often used in the mouth of the Crescent Moon Society’s poets3 新月社 was a Chinese literary society founded by the poet Xu Zhimo in 1923, which operated until 1931. It was named after The Crescent Moon, a poem by Tagore..

But Yue Dingtang and Ling Shu felt like two flies caught in the net, bumping around aimlessly without their heads.

The person who was holding this net was invisible.

That person might be the murderer of Du Yunning.

The fire at Xiaoji Noodle Shop might not have been accidental.
Thus, a lot of people will be pointing the finger at Ling Shu.

In case, it gets out into the public sphere….

“Extra! Extra! Shanghai socialite Du Yunning has died a violent death!”

“Extra, extra!” Socialite Du Yunning has been murdered, who is the killer!”

“Read all about it! Freshly printed only two hours ago, shocking contents, limited copies, first come first serve!”

The paper boy was shouting all the way, dashing past them.

Yue Dingtang was sharp, sighted and deft, grabbing hold of him.

“How much, I want two copies!”

“Ok!”

The paperboy grinned, he took out two copies from under the crook of his arm and handed them to Yue Dingtang.

“Is this newspaper a good read?” Yue Dingtang handed him the money and asked at the same time.

“Oh it’s a really good one, look, it’s only been a little while, and there’s only a few copies left, if it was any later, I wouldn’t have had any for you!”

Shanghai had a multitude of tabloids, but they were not as well known as《Shen Pao》or《Ta Kung Pao》. So the tabloids could only take a different approach, relying on street stalls, fabricating or exaggerating rumours or writing in a pompous flowery style to bump on the sales volume and gain a profit.

For example, this newspaper called《Huangpu Xin Pao》,Yue Dingtang had never even heard of it.

He took the newspaper and opened it up and instantly saw a giant headline——

Shanghai socialite Du Yunning has died a violent death!

On it was also two more subheadings——

Her life from a talented young girl of the Republic of China to an Upper-class Socialite, why was she killed?

Childhood sweethearts to a Warlord’s son’s wife, who was she getting mixed up with to get her fingers burnt by the fire4idiom – meaning to play with evil and suffer the consequences?

A gimmicky and eye-catching headline.
Author Note:

== Mini theatre unrelated to the main story ==

Ling Shu: The kindness for saving my life……

Yue Dingtang twitched his eyebrows: Do as you see fit.

The next day, Ling Shu let a vicious dog bite Yue Dingtang, making the dog chase him down three streets, then finally using a meatbone to attract the dog away, saving Yue Dingtang.

Ling Shu twitched his eyebrows: For the kindness for saving my life, I’ve returned in full.
08/01/2022 – Updated.

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