Chapter 652 What Is He up to?
Xia Yuhang remained seated upstairs. The screen blocked only his vision, but not the noise. He heard Lanning’s frank words clearly, as well as Cheng Yu’s apology. His face turned pale with anger and resentment.
He didn’t expect to fail at generating rumors about Ning Xueyan’s affair with another man in this rare meeting. That meant that he wouldn’t be able to justify her disappearance as an elopement after kidnapping her. Moreover, he wasn’t the only one involved in this scheme. Madam Wu Yao was in on it, too.
He planned to have everyone witness Ning Xueyan and Cheng Yu’s ambiguous relationship in public. A maid running into Cheng Yu with a handkerchief in hand could be explained as Ning Xueyan ordering her maid to send the handkerchief to Cheng Yu, evidence that the two had known each other for a long time.
Thus, if Ning Xueyan were to disappear one day, the reason that he had cooked up would be a serious attack on Ao Chenyi. It might even ruin Ao Chenyi’s reputation.
However, the situation had changed beyond his expectations. He had no choice but to send his servant outside and say something to plant the idea in everyone that Ning Xueyan and Cheng Yu had a suspicious relationship. That much was enough. He planned to create a small rumor of an ambiguous relationship. The customers at the bookstore were mostly scholars; they were the best at spreading romantic gossip.
Once the rumor started to spread, Ning Xueyan’s disappearance in the future would cause even greater humiliation to Ao Chenyi.
However, he knew that his plan had failed after hearing what Lanning said. There was nothing that he could say that would help, so he let out a low cough as a message to the servant to hold his tongue.
The servant, hearing the noise from inside, said no more. He returned to his position behind the screen.
Cheng Yu was able to explain why he had stopped Lanning earlier. He gave way without being asked to and Lanning continued walking up the stairs. She chose the book that she wanted, paid for it, and made her way back.
Cheng Yu stayed downstairs with his hand clasped behind him, seemingly walking around the bookshelves. His attention was still on Lanning. He tried to speak when she walked past him, only for her to interrupt him rudely.
“Young Master Cheng, I don’t care what you’re doing this for but please understand that your reasons are unjustifiable in front of His Highness, the Crown Prince.”
Lanning kept her voice low as she walked past Cheng Yu, but the quiet sound still washed over his entire body like iced water. Even his heart was cold. He never felt more clear-headed in his life.
The former Fifth Young Lady Ning’s current identity could have put him, and even his entire family, to eternal damnation!
Understanding this, he turned stiff. He could only watch blankly as Lanning walked past him completely. Only then did he exhale slowly and returned upstairs with his body still stiff. He sat down in front of Xia Yuhang and looked squarely at him.
Xia Yuhang felt guilty to receive his stare. He chose to tease Cheng Yu to cover up his uneasiness. “What’s wrong? Did a painting grow on my face?”
“There’s no painting. I just feel like it’s my first time getting a real glimpse of you after so many years,” Cheng Yu replied calmly and looked away. He picked up the cup of tea in front of him and took a gulp.
Xia Yuhang’s smile faltered.
Cheng Yu put down his cup with force and stood up. He cupped his fist at Xia Yuhang and said frankly, “Thank you for your hospitality, Brother Yuhang. Let’s end it here today.”
“Brother Cheng…” Xia Yuhang stood up and reached out to stop him. “Didn’t you say you wanted to chat with me? Why are you leaving so soon?”
Cheng Yu turned his head and snorted. “It hasn’t been that long since I came but I’ve nearly caused a terrible scandal that would ruin my family. If I stay here any longer, I’m afraid I won’t be able to settle the matter even if I turn into minced meat.”
His words carried deep meaning. Xia Yuhang’s smile became frozen on his face.
“There are no fools here. I just didn’t think that I’d fall for your trap after getting in trouble because of your younger brother last time. Brother Yuhang, you’re a nobleman with a good reputation. It’s not suitable for you to befriend a free-spirited person like me. I won’t try to rise above my rank and be friends with you anymore.”
Cheng Yu had figured out the cause and effect of the matter by now, so he was straightforward with his words. He had as good as pointed at Xia Yuhang’s face and accused Xia Yuhang of harming him. He was also humiliating Xia Yuhang by mentioning the latter’s good reputation. It was true that Xia Yuhang used to have a good reputation, but he had become infamous after a series of incidents. He had no reputation to speak of.
Cheng Yu was riled up, too. Xia Yudong had fooled him once here, and now Xia Yuhang had done the same. It was no wonder that everyone in the capital said that there were no good people in Xia Manor. He thought that people were misunderstanding Xia Yuhang but it seemed that Xia Yuhang would even betray a long-time friend. What else wouldn’t he do?
This time, Cheng Yu was thinking of severing their brotherhood.
That was why he was so frank and impolite. After speaking his mind, he flicked his sleeves and left. He didn’t bother looking at Xia Yuhang’s dark expression.
Xia Yuhang, with his good reputation, wouldn’t have dreamed of receiving such treatment in the past. For a moment, his face turned darker and darker.
Looking at his reaction, his servant said quietly, “Eldest Young Master…”
Now that things had come to this point, Xia Yuhang was too embarrassed to stay here anymore. He never thought that Cheng Yu would speak to him like this in public. This was a first for him. He felt too ashamed to face anyone. “Ridiculous! We’re leaving!” he said angrily, stomping his foot. He led his servant out of the bookstore through the back door.
He headed straight for Prince Xiang’s Manor. He wanted to tell Prince Xiang about Wen Xueran. Perhaps, Wen Xueran might turn out to be their trump card at the most critical moment…
Lanning had returned to the carriage. She told Ning Xueyan angrily, “Master, you were right. Someone had laid a trap for you. That servant looks familiar to me. I think he’s Eldest Young Master Xia’s servant.”
When Xia Yuhang visited the Lord Protector’s Manor, he brought his servants with him and only a few of them were capable. She had met all of them, so when she recognized the servant earlier at first glance.
“What is he up to?” Heng Yuqing asked, looking stunned. Then, she said in disgust, “To marry another woman, he abandoned his fiancee and even tried to kill her. Now, he’s trying to harm you. What a terrible person. To think that my mother used to tell me that he’s the best nobleman in the capital.”
In the past, Xia Yuhang was indeed the nobleman with the best reputation in the capital. He was nearly every noblewoman’s dream son-in-law.
“For his benefit,” Ning Xueyan replied softly with a laugh. The corners of her mouth formed a sneer.
She had barely interacted with Xia Yuhang since her rebirth. There was also no possible relationship between them, so why would he target her now? Knowing his character, he must have done it for his benefit. When his interests were protected, he could be the most elegant nobleman with the manners of a distinguished scholar.
However, the moment that someone had conflicting interests with him, a selfish and conceited man like him wouldn’t mind using others as stepping stones.
She was just a noblewoman kept away in the boudoir. There wasn’t much of a conflict of interest between them, but it was another story altogether when Ao Chenyi was involved. It seemed that Prince Xiang, who had just regained consciousness, couldn’t lie still anymore.
The only people who could scheme against Ao Chenyi were Ao Mingyu and Ao Mingwan.
The previous investigation revealed that Xia Yuhang was very likely in Ao Mingyu’s camp. She just didn’t think that Ao Mingyu would still use Xia Yuhang without misgivings after Ning Qingshan’s incident. If one were to put it nicely, one could say that Ao Mingyu was generous and forgiving. To be perfectly frank, however, Ao Mingyu was just as selfish as Xia Yuhang.
Ning Qingshan was so evil that it was disgusting but she was sincere about Ao Mingyu. Didn’t Ao Mingyu feel guilty at all now that she was reduced to her current state? He even trusted Xia Yuhang, who dragged Ning Qingshan into that situation. She must admit that she would sometimes feel that Ning Qingshan’s feelings were a waste.
Heng Yuqing didn’t seem to fully understand Ning Xueyan’s words but she respected the latter deeply after the latter helped her deal with Heng Yuwan and her mother. She nodded subconsciously, reached out for the book that Lanning brought back, and thumbed through it. “Is this book that Madam Wu Yao is basing the poetry competition at the banquet on?”
It was quite a thick book with an index of various topics. Not only were there poems but also zither scores, chess endgames, and even ceremonial scores. The topics in the book were quite diverse. Some of the zither scores were incomplete, so not many would usually read the book.
The book was a useful encyclopedia, but as useful as it was, it was still an incomplete product!
It went without saying that the noble ladies in the capital wouldn’t like an incomplete—or more precisely, partially ruined—book like this.
There were so many great zither scores that they could read, so many chess endgames that they could try and solve. And there was no shortage of poems, be it from the previous or current era, to read. It didn’t feel right to choose this book.
One might not even be able to come up with a poem after reading this.
However, the circumstances were different now. Even though nobody knew what part of the book that Wu Yao would choose, there was no harm in reading and thinking about it beforehand. Perhaps, they might just discover something. It was better than being left in the dark.
That was the ladies’ reasoning. Thus, the book that had always been unpopular in the capital suddenly became a hit. That was also an important reason why Ning Xueyan brought Lanning over as soon as she heard about the book.
She was indifferent about such things but since Wu Yao had invited her, she would look as weak as the Crown Princess if she didn’t attend. It wouldn’t benefit Ao Chenyi. After all, Wu Yao was the representative of the politically-neutral faction.
It wasn’t an average banquet that she could avoid, and she was certain that Madam Wu Yao would give her trouble at the poetry exchange. There would be so many madams and young ladies at the banquet, and all eyes in the capital were on the event as well. If she were to embarrass herself there, she might make it difficult for Ao Chenyi to smoothly become the next Emperor.
Therefore, she would attend the poetry exchange no matter what.
Heng Yuqing was reading the book quietly when she cried out in surprise, “Huh? This looks… a little…” She looked astonished.