Chen Jingyin was sixteen years old this year.
At a banquet a few months ago, she met Qi Yan and fell in love with him at first sight.
Zhi Gui said: “Since then, Miss Chen comes to the mansion from time to time. She never comes empty-handed and brings something she made with her own hands every time.”
Xia Xun asked casually:
“Doesn’t an unmarried lady need to avoid suspicion?”
Zhi Gui hesitated:
“Miss Chen’s words and actions are indeed…… bold. Since Duke Chen does not intervene to stop her, I am afraid that outsiders can’t have a say in it. Those noble ladies, on the contrary, often talk about her, and what they say is mostly inappropriate, so this slave will not repeat it to Young Master.”
Xia Xun looked out to the courtyard in the distance.
In the dazzling sunlight, Chen Jingyin’s dress was glittering so brightly that it stung Xia Xun’s eyes and he couldn’t see her face.
He looked away, picked up the bowl, scraped the rice from the walls of the bowl with a spoon and put it in his mouth.
As Zhi Gui’s expression changed a little, Xia Xun said quickly:
“I don’t like to eat this stuff, don’t bring it here in the future.”
He was afraid that she would see him eating it cleanly, think that he liked it and ask someone to cook it for him every day.
Zhi Gui nodded obediently: “This slave understands.”
Chen Jingyin disappeared in a blink of an eye, led elsewhere by the maidservants of the mansion.
Xia Xun had no interest in her. Zhi Gui put away the dishes and left, and he sat in front of the window in a daze.
Many years ago, the courtyard of Qi Mansion was deserted.
The pond in the courtyard was so dry that there was not even a drop of water. The bottom of the pond was exposed, cracked and covered with weeds for a long time.
The grass was growing wildly, reaching extraordinary heights.
At that time, Xia Xun often climbed over the wall and hid in the grass.
At the beginning, the house was uninhabited. One day, he sneaked in as usual and sat in the grass. Suddenly, there were footsteps behind him.
Xia Xun looked at the sound and the man met his gaze and walked up to him, asking him what his name was and why he was here alone.
Xia Xun asked who he was.
He told him that he had just bought this house not long ago.
Xia Xun said, “There are so many good houses in the capital, why did you buy this one? It’s so broken, you must have been deceived.”
The man told Xia Xun that he was originally the son of an official, but his parents had been killed by a traitor and his family had fallen on hard times, and even his ancestral home had been taken away from him.
He had nowhere to go and in desperation, he used the little money he had left to buy this deserted house and live out his days.
He also told Xia Xun that his name was Qi Yan.
A year later, Xia Xun and his eldest brother went to jail.
In prison, he found out that the “traitor” Qi Yan had mentioned was his father Xia Hongxi.
Nowadays, the courtyard had been newly renovated and the pond was full of water that sparkled and rippled in front of Xia Xun’s eyes.
He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, a beautiful face suddenly appeared outside the window.
When the girl saw him, she was shocked. She lost her footing and suddenly fell backwards.
The maid rushed to help her. In her anxiety, the girl stepped on the hem of her skirt, tripped and landed on the maid.
The scene was suddenly chaotic. The maid hurriedly helped her up. The girl covered her face with a fan in a panic and asked in shame and surprise:
“Why is there someone in the house?!”
Not far away, several maids from Qi Yan’s house hurried this way, shouting at the top of their voices:
“Can’t go here, can’t go!”
“The lord has ordered! No one is allowed to approach the main house! Please take Miss Chen away quickly!”
“Quick! Stop them!”
This Chen Jingyin definitely had no luck, Xia Xun thought.
As soon as Zhi Gui stepped into the courtyard and looked at the messy scene, she walked forward and questioned the maids:
“What are you doing? Why did you bring Miss Chen to a place like this?! The lord ordered no outsiders to approach the main house! If you disturb the young master, wait for the lord to come back, you’ll get punished for sure!”
Except for the maid brought by Chen Jingyin, everyone else knelt on the ground.
They were not kneeling for Zhi Gui, they were kneeling for Xia Xun.
Zhi Gui rebuked: “I won’t defend you! If the young master doesn’t forgive you, just keep kneeling down!”
Xia Xun understood.
They were afraid that he would complain to Qi Yan and worried about being punished, so they knelt down and begged him for mercy.
Chen Jingyin was at a loss and stood there in confusion, covering her face with a fan.
Xia Xun said, “It’s not a big deal. Don’t kneel down. I don’t like a lot of people around. Just leave.”
Once forgiven, everyone scattered, leaving Chen Jingyin and her maid alone.
Chen Jingyin’s cheeks were flushed, and then she remembered to salute.
“I, I didn’t know, I didn’t know there was someone in the main house! They all said Lord Qi had gone to court, so how, how could——?”
Zhi Gui tried to smooth things over: “Young Master Xia is a distant relative of the lord and has come to the capital to live here for a while.”
Chen Jingyin bowed again:
“Hello, Young Master Xia, just now… I made Young Master laugh…”
Xia Xun’s expression was blank; he didn’t say anything.
Chen Jingyin was anxious, intertwining her fingers.
Zhi Gui asked in a soft voice: “Is there anything important for Miss Chen to come here this time?”
Chen Jingyin shook her head repeatedly:
“No, no! I just heard that Lord Qi was injured, so I made a snack with my own hands and wanted to give it to Lord Qi.”
With a look of affection and shyness she said:
“Yesterday, Father came back from the court and said that he saw Lord Qi with gauze wrapped around his hand and he seemed to be injured. I have no medical skills, I was anxious and couldn’t help. So I made some blood-replenishing snacks overnight and tried my best…”
The more she said, the more timid she became, and her voice gradually faded away.
Zhi Gui stepped forward and took the wooden box containing snacks from the maid’s hand.
“This slave thanks the lady for the lord’s sake.”
Chen Jingyin said stubbornly:
“But I want to put it in his room! As soon as he comes back, he will know that I have been here!”
She looked excited, and the luxurious ornaments on her head swayed with her movements.
“That…” Zhi Gui didn’t dare to make a decision and looked at Xia Xun embarrassedly, “Young Master, what do you think?”
Chen Jingyin also turned to face him.
Xia Xun said indifferently: “What should I think? What does it have to do with me?”
Zhi Gui breathed a sigh of relief.
“Since the young master doesn’t mind, this slave will put the food box there.”
Chen Jingyin smiled. She looked at Xia Xun, thought for a while and boldly said to him:
“If Young Master doesn’t dislike it, why don’t you taste it for me. You are a relative of Lord Qi and have a taste close to his, so if you think it’s good, maybe Lord Qi will like it too.”
She blushed and bit her lower lip:
“If you don’t think it’s delicious, I will go back and redo it immediately.“
She was full of longing and expectation, her shining eyes looking straight at him. Xia Xun couldn’t refuse and said indifferently: “Whatever you want.”
Chen Jingyin was overjoyed. She grabbed the wooden box in Zhi Gui’s hand, walked up happily, opened the lid of the box, took out a piece of dim sum and handed it to Xia Xun.
Xia Xun reluctantly took it.
Each piece of pastry had a peach blossom printed on it. The crust of the pastry was crispy and flaky and the filling so gentle it melted in the mouth.
Chen Jingyin eagerly looked forward to his reaction:
“How is it? Would Lord Qi like to eat it?”
Xia Xun gave a vague “en”.
She smiled brightly.
“Great! Now I can go home with peace of mind! When Lord Qi comes back, you must tell him that I have been here!”
Zhi Gui took her to the gates of the mansion and got her in the carriage. She was still saying to tell Lord Qi that she made the pastries herself.
As soon as she left, it felt as if a crowd of people left with her and the tranquility of the mansion was restored. On the tall trees in the courtyard, the birds that were silent for a long time started singing one after another.
Zhi Gui went to put away the food box with the snacks.
Xia Xun leaned back in his chair and continued to look at the pond in a daze, dutifully playing his role of a prisoner under house arrest.
After lunch, he felt drowsy, lay down on the couch and soon fell asleep.
Someone came in and lowered the gauze curtain in front of the couch. He felt the movement and opened his eyes to see that the visitor was not Zhi Gui but another maidservant he had never seen before.
Seeing him wake up, the maid bowed.
“Young Master, upon the lord’s order, this slave will serve you in the future.”
Xia Xun didn’t pay attention to it and asked casually, “Where is Zhi Gui?”
The maid was startled and said hesitantly:
“Lord Qi just came back not long ago, and Zhi Gui… she has other things to do.”
Xia Xun gave her a second glance and saw that her eyes were red and still full of tears.
“Why are you crying?”
Her hand shook and the gauze curtain slipped down.
“No, no! There is sand in this slave’s eyes!”
Xia Xun asked, “Something happened to Zhi Gui?”
The maid pursed her mouth tightly, silent, and shook her head quietly.
Xia Xun said indifferently:
“If you don’t want to tell me, you shouldn’t do such a thing in front of me.”
She knelt down, saying in a shaky voice:
“Young Master, forgive me! To tell you the truth, yes, when the lord came back… He heard that Miss Chen had been here and saw you. He blames Zhi Gui for not obeying his orders and wants to drive her out. This slave and Zhi Gui are from the same town and I feel sorry for her, so I couldn’t help it… I didn’t mean to!”
A figure appeared in Xia Xun’s mind.
——His former maidservant, Shaobo.
Xia Xun was a child of a concubine, had a low status in the family and would often be bullied.
Shaobo grew up with him, one year younger than him. Since he was a child, the two of them had been beaten a lot together.
After the Xia family was cut down, all the servants were dispersed and he hadn’t heard about her since then.
So many years later, Xia Xun still didn’t know whether she was dead or alive.
Zhi Guigui looked about the same age as Shaobo at that time……
Xia Xun sighed and sat up: “Where is Zhi Gui now?”
The maidservant knelt down.
“Young Master, please don’t go and plead for her! If my lord knows that it was me who told you about this, he won’t not forgive me! Maybe he will drive me out too!”
Xia Xun walked to the table, picked up a teacup and slammed it to the ground.
She exclaimed, “Young Master!”
When the servant outside the house heard the commotion, he hurried in and, seeing the debris all over the floor, immediately rebuked her.
“How come you are so stupid?! Are the cups here for you to break??”
Xia Xun pretended to be sullen:
“What kind of tea is this? It’s hard to swallow, go call Zhi Gui to make me tea!”
The servant hesitated, in a dilemma: “That… Young Master… Zhi Gui is…”
Xia Xun asked him coldly: “Do you ignore my orders?”
The servant gritted his teeth, bit the bullet and said:
“How this little one dares! It’s just… Zhi Guii didn’t serve you well, was punished by the lord and is kneeling outside the lord’s study! Why don’t I… ask someone else to serve Young Master?”
Xia Xun walked around the pieces of the broken tea cup on the floor, stepped out of the door and walked to Qi Yan’s study.