The death of a maid in the back courtyard of the Fu General Manor did not attract any attention at all. If Mo Xuetong had not seen it with her own eyes, she would not have had a second thought about the matter. The amazing flower, however, became a hot topic. Outside the manor, the excited chatter spread the rumor quickly.
Only a day had pa.s.sed, but the news had already spread far and wide.
Old Madam Mo, who had been sick for a long while, finally felt better in time for the banquet tomorrow.
Mo Xuetong woke up early to greet the old madam. She was greeted by joyful laughter when she reached the entrance of the courtyard. She could hear Mo Xueyan's voice. It was obvious that Mo Xueyan was the old madam's favorite granddaughter.
“Old Madam, Third Miss is here to greet you,” a maid reported.
The old madam was cheerfully speaking with Mo Xueyan and Lan Xinru. When she heard that, her expression grew cold.
“Let her in.”
They were in the Mo manor. No matter how much she dislikedd Mo Xuetong, she couldn't let Mo Huawen lose face. An elderly servant held up the curtain for Mo Xuetong to enter.
After her greeting, the old madam ordered Mo Xuetong back to her feet.
“What happened last night? It was the first time your second sister went to the Fu manor, but you didn't even introduce her to anyone. You told her not to go anywhere and then disappeared and left her all alone in the garden. Is that something a younger sister should do?” she asked coldly.
Mo Xueyan had indeed complained about her sister the moment she got back. She did not mention that the princess caught her trying to slip through the inner door, focusing on Mo Xuetong's faults.
Mo Xuetong smiled gently.
“I was indeed in the wrong yesterday,” she said. “I told Mo Yu to take Second Sister around, but she went to the inner doors instead. She b.u.mped into the princess and almost got into a good deal of trouble. After that, I was so worried the princess would punish her that I went to Grandmother for help. I should have kept a better eye on her and been more help. The blame is squarely on my shoulders.”
She turned to smile at Mo Xueyan.
“Second Sister, please forgive me. I am not very experienced at this sort of thing. When I start on something, I forget my other responsibilities.”
Interrupting the princess was no small matter.
Mo Xueyan hadn't even fully processed what had just happened when the old madam turned on her. Mo Xueyan had not mentioned anything about this when she'd returned last night. Annoying the princess meant, at best, a whipping. If the princess was deeply offended, the whole family could have been killed.
Considering the weight of the mistake, the old madam didn't give Mo Xueyan a chance to reply.
“Did you run into the princess yesterday?” she asked anxiously.
Mo Xueyan was frightened by the old madam's anxiety. She didn't dare lie but spoke with an obvious look of hurt.
“I did b.u.mp into the princess, but she didn't say anything. And she let me go after that!”
“The fifth princess did not say anything, but she did punish second miss,” Mo Yu cut in. “She was forced to kneel for a very long time. After that, she even went to look for the old madam of the house. I was so frightened that I went to look for my mistress immediately. We had to tell the old madam about the situation before the fifth princess found her so we could have a plan to appease her.”
The fifth princess was the only daughter of the empress, the n.o.blest among the princess. It was very dangerous for her to complain to the elder madam about Mo Xueyan. Old Madam Mo glared at Mo Xueyan. When she turned to Mo Xuetong, she now spoke with warmth.
“Did the fifth princess say anything when she left?”
Mo Xuetong wasn't sure, but she replied honestly with what she could.
“I heard that the fifth princess was very unhappy. She did not stay in General Fu's manor for long before returning to the palace.”
Of course, she'd also heard that the fifth princess had secretly sent men to look for her. Fortunately, she was with Luo Mingzhu and a few other n.o.ble ladies. When she's heard that, the princess had returned to the manor without summoning her.
Seeing the old madam's rising anger, Lan Xinru cut in, trying to ease the tension.
“Aunt,” she said with a smile, “Yan'er only b.u.mped into the fifth princess because she was careless. The princess is a n.o.ble lady and will not fixate on such a small matter. Since it's already been dealt with, just let it be.”
Mo Xuetong also jumped in to defend her.
“Grandmother, do not be angry. As long as it doesn't happen again, it will quickly become a distant memory.”
Hearing that, the old madam remembered that she had asked Mo Xueyan to go to the inner doors tonight. Hearing all this, she decided she could not allow the girl out. After what happened with the fifth princess, they could have no more trouble at the inner doors. If the fifth princess got news, things would only get worse.
“There will be guests coming to the manor tomorrow,” she told Mo Xueyan, voice firm. “Stay in your own courtyard tomorrow and do not go anywhere and make trouble.”
“Grandmother…” Mo Xueyan whined. She glared viciously at Mo Xuetong. A moment ago, her grandmother had been on her side and she would have been able to go out and sneak a look, but Mo Xuetong had changed her mind completely.
“It's already decided.” The old madam's expression was cold.
“Aunt…” Mo Xueyan turned to look at Lan Xinru and tugged her sleeves pleadingly. Her aunt was around earlier when her grandmother had talked about letting her stand at the inner doors. How could she change her mind?
Lan Xinru looked at the old madam's stoic expression awkwardly. Lan Xinru didn't dare go against Old Madam Mo. The woman was the only reason she'd been allowed to stay here. After Mo Huawen had thrown her out, she'd had to stay in a hotel. She'd been forced to put all her money to rent and food.
“Yan'er, listen to your grandmother and don't make her angry,” she said gently.
When Lan Xinru had entered the capital, her plan had been to marry Mo Huawen. She'd spent the rest of her money endearing herself to the old madam. In a few days, she'd be at the bottom of her purse.
As long as she stayed on the old madam's good side, she might get help tomorrow.
“You're all bullying me!” Mo Xueyan yelled. She shook off Lan Xinru's hand, and, finding no one supporting her, ran out crying.
Mo Xuetong looked worried, as if she hadn't expected things to go so badly.
“Grandmother, I will go and check in on Second Sister.”
The Old Madam's expression softened when she saw how anxious she looked. She harrumphed and shook her head.
“Give her some time to reflect on her actions. There are some people you cannot afford to offend. If the princess had been so lenient yesterday, the poor girl would die without even understanding what had happened.”
Old Madam Mo doted on her legal granddaughter, but she knew when things should be taken seriously. The capital was full of officials and they could not afford to offend anyone. Mo Xueyan was just from a merchant family. She could not afford to offend the princess.
“That's right. It will be fine. I will go and talk to her later. Third Miss is really kind. You must have been very troubled since yesterday. You even came over just to tell us. You have suffered.” Lan Xinru approached her and held Mo Xuetong's hand in a friendly manner, but her words were sharp.
Come just to tell them? Did she mean that Mo Xuetong had come just to pick on Mo Xueyan?
The old madam's eyes sharpened.
“Miss Lan, I did not come just to talk about this. The fifth princess wanted us to tell the elders what had happened. I think Grandmother Mo is the most respected person in our house and I cannot defy orders from the princess. So… I did not expect I would upset Second Sister so much. Grandmother, I will go and apologize to her now.” Mo Xuetong's eyes grew red as she spoke. Her eyes were clouded with tears and she behaved as if she had done something wrong. “Grandmother, I will not speak such nonsense in the future again.”
The satisfaction in Lan Xinru's eyes was replaced with annoyance. Mo Xuetong was right. No one could defy the princess' orders. She had tried to insinuate and reprimand Mo Xuetong for coming specially to tell on Mo Xueyan. But if this was the princess' orders, she had no choice. They could not risk word getting back to the princess.
The Old Madam shuddered as well. That was truly an order that could not be defied. She looked at how sad Mo Xuetong looked and glared at Lan Xinru, even comforting Mo Xuetong softly before telling her to leave.
Mo Xuetong returned to her own courtyard. As she walked back in, Mo Ye stepped up to whisper to her. Mo Xuetong nodded and told Mo Ye to rest.
“Miss, is Miss Lan going to stay at the Old Madam's today and not leave?” Mo Yu asked in confusion. She picked up a stick of incense and lit it. She had already been thrown out from the manor. The old madam's behavior was a slap to Sir Mo's face.
“She will not stay here today. Anyway, the Old Madam would not make things difficult for Father,” Mo Xuetong said lightly. She leaned forward to pick up a porcelain cup of tea. “At most, she will just come again tomorrow. Father has always been filial, and he will not object if Old Madam mentions it.”
“What else does Miss Lan expect to gain? She is a young lady and was thrown out by a man. Now she still dares to show up here. Is she not embarra.s.sed?” Mo Yu pursed her lips.
Most people didn't talk about what had happened in the study. One would only hear about it if they asked around.
Lan Xinru had dared slip an indecent drug into General Mo's drink. When General Mo had found out, he made his anger known. Everyone in the manor found out about it. A lady from a good family would have been so embarra.s.sed that she would want to kill herself. Of course, if she had been a proper lady, she would not have tampered with his drink in the first place. She was hoping that the situation between her and Mo Huawen would escalate and that, once he'd taken her to bed, his honor would compel him to agree to marriage. She acted like a girl from brothel, not a respected guest.
“I heard that Miss Lan's finances are tight. If she continues to stay at the hotel, she will soon be broke,” said Mo Lan. “The Old Madam can only help her out for that long. What's the point?”
It was rare for her to say something like that.
“Since Miss Lan is interested in Father, she will not let go of him so easily,” Mo Xuetong explained, smiling slightly. “There will be some guests over tomorrow. If there was a stir, the elders would not give Father a chance to explain himself. And if Old Madam pushes father again, Miss Lan will more than likely get what she wants.”
“Oh no. What do we do?” Mo Yu asked anxiously. She knew that Mo Xuetong preferred Miss Xu Yan from the General Fu's Manor. Since General Mo had already agreed to the arrangement, they could not afford any accidents.
Mo Xuetong smiled gently.
“It's alright. Father is not an official for nothing.” She turned and picked up the tea leaves that Lan Xinru gifted her earlier. It was said that it was a specialty product from her “hometown” and that she had “picked and toasted them personally.” “Take these and make tea for Father. Tell him that Miss Lan just gifted them to me and I have tried them. They tasted good, so I am giving them to Father.”
She spoke gently, eyes confident. Father had encountered many things like this. He would know how to deal with them.
Not one person in the back courtyard knew what they were in for tomorrow…