The bubbling sound of the donkey meat in the pot filled the air, and the fragrant aroma of the sauce could be smelled from three or four miles away.
Ling Shu picked up a spoonful of tender donkey meat and bravely put it in his mouth, despite the scorching heat. He gasped for air and gave a thumbs up to the Second Master.
"Now this is a true welcoming feast, Second Master, you have great taste!"
"As long as you're enjoying it, that's all that matters. If you need more, just let me know," the Second Master said with a forced smile.
In the next moment -
Ling Shu raised his hand and said, "Waiter, bring us another pound of sauce-covered donkey meat and a large serving of bok choy!"
The corners of the Second Master's mouth twitched. He never expected Ling Shu to take his words seriously.
He decided that from now on, he would never use polite language again.
"Little Ling, since you are a good friend of Dingtang, I won't treat you as an outsider. Let me call you my nephew. Tell me, how did Zhang Chaofeng die? And how did the ivory carved scripture end up in your hands?"
Ling Shu replied, "Uncle, please don't be anxious. Before we talk about that, could you tell us how you met Zhang Chaofeng and where these things came from? Let's be honest with each other, only then can we have a frank discussion."
He took a bite of the donkey meat with great satisfaction, but spoke bluntly.
Old Second Master Guan's teeth itched as he watched Ling Shu's expression, just like Ling Shu's expression when he looked at the donkey meat pot.
"Can you return the ivory-carved scripture to me first?"
Ling Shu asked, "Didn't you say it wasn't yours?"
Old Master Guan chuckled, "I just want to take a look, what if it is?"
With a calm demeanor, despite his heart racing, the old man finally received the ivory carved scripture from Ling Shu.
The ivory was the size of a palm, with a slight yellowish tinge and a lustrous shine. It was as thin as cicada wings or even thinner than rice paper.
However, it was covered in countless tiny characters, smaller than ants. Ling Shu and Yue Dingtang had borrowed a magnifying glass on the road to study it carefully.
Under the lens, every character was clear and the carvings were all from the Buddhist scriptures, including the Heart Sutra, Diamond Sutra, and others in different languages such as Chinese, Tibetan, Manchu, and Mongolian.
The ivory and gold foil were incomplete, but if all the pieces were connected , it would surely become a complete treasure.
"My grandfather loved collecting antiques during his lifetime, and I was influenced by him since childhood. I also have this hobby," Second Master explained.
Ling Shu refused to speak, and even the Second Master couldn't force him by grabbing his neck as he wasn't his real nephew.
Turning to Yue Dingtang, it was unclear whether he was naturally reserved or simply indifferent towards his distant relative, as he didn't utter a single word.
The Second Master had no choice but to continue speaking.
"Last year, when he was seriously ill, I often tended to him. Whenever he was in a good mood, he would offer to reward me with something. One time, he brought out a box from his study and gave me half of the gold leaf and ivory-carved sutras inside.
"Embarrassingly, at that time, the brothers in each room were not united. My eldest and fourth brothers were fiercely competing. The old master was seriously ill and spending money like water. Anything like ginseng, deer antler, and lingzhi were being brought into the house like they were free. The household had no money left, and I was also tight on funds. I had no choice but to take the carved scripture to the pawnshop, thinking that I could exchange it for some medicine money for grandfather. That's when I met Zhang Chaofeng.
"I heard from others that the carved scripture was likely a treasure that was enshrined in the old imperial palace in Shenyang before our ancestors entered the pass. Later, during the turbulent times, it was stolen by those palace maids and eunuchs and sold off. But Zhang Chaofeng told me that they were all fakes. Although the gold and ivory were real, they were intentionally made to look old by people of that time and sold as antiques. Grandfather believed they were real and kept them."
"That doesn't seem right, does it?" As the old man was speaking, he was interrupted by Ling Shu.
"If we were talking about fake blue and white porcelain or famous paintings, that would be one thing," Ling Shu said. "But these carved scriptures are as intricate as grains of corn. They can't be easily forged by just anyone. It's not worth the effort. How could they be fake?"
The old man blushed.
"I thought the same thing," he said. "But I've known Zhang Chaofeng for years. You know how it is with antiques. Throughout the ages, from the Three Emperors and Five Sovereigns to the present day, although it's been thousands of years, there are definitely more fakes than real ones. Even a collector like me can make mistakes sometimes. He talked me into leaving the carved scriptures with him, promising to find a good buyer. But who knew things would go wrong as soon as I left them with him?
"After a few days, I remembered the matter and sent someone to inquire about the progress with Zhang Chaofeng. The person who came back said that Zhang Chaofeng had disappeared a few days ago and had not returned to the pawnshop. It was then that I realized I had been completely fooled! I thought those things had been taken by that bastard, but I never expected them to be recovered. Thank you so much, my dear nephew Little Ling! How about this, you return the items to me, and when my cousin sells them for a good price, I'll treat you to a nice meal?"
"My dear uncle, if these treasures are truly valuable, not to mention priceless, they certainly cannot be compensated for with just one meal. Moreover, Zhang Chaofeng brought danger upon himself for this, and we also took risks. Even if it's just one meal, it's not enough to make up for it."
With a smile on his face, Ling Shu said things that his nephew Yue Dingtang couldn't say.
Ling Shu had no reservations and spoke freely.
The Second Master cursed under his breath at the little brat, but still had to smile and say, "I know the meal must have been meager for you. It's because your second uncle doesn't have any money right now. But when he does, before you leave, he will definitely give you a large sum for your journey. And look, the old master specifically said he wanted to leave something for your mother. Since she has passed away, it belongs to Yue Dingtang. Knowing the old master's love for collecting antiques, who knows what treasures he might have left for you?"
After Ling Shu had eaten and drank his fill, he finally put down his chopsticks and spoke calmly, without any hint of anger.
"Second Uncle, it's not that we refuse to return your belongings. Since Zhang Chaofeng died because of this, can you guarantee that there were no accomplices and they won't track us down? We have investigated and found that after leaving Fengtian, Zhang Chaofeng traveled for months, passing through Tianjin, Nanjing, Anhui, and other places. We have no idea who he met, what he encountered, or what troubles he caused. What if they follow his trail to the Guan family and you become their real target?"
Old Master Guan was indeed startled. He regained his composure and waved his hand, saying, "Impossible. I don't have any enemies. Even if I did, it must be caused by my fourth brother. He's always reading people's fortunes and claiming to have a divine connection. He interacts with countless people every day, and even the Japanese come to seek his advice. His temperament is also very easy to offend people, but it couldn't possibly be me! Good nephew, please return the carved scripture to me first. This time, I will keep it safe and won't let it leak out!"
Suddenly, Yue Dingtang said, "Give the ivory-carved scriptures to Second Uncle Guan."
Ling Shu smiled and didn't mind. He took out a package of cloth from his pocket and placed it on the table, pushing it over.
"Second Master, the six sides of the ivory carved scripture, with three gold foils and three ivory pieces. We have returned the full set."
Second Master Guan untied the knot on the cloth and his face lit up with joy.
"Good nephew, you are truly the lucky star of your uncle's family. As soon as you arrived, my lost belongings were found again!"
Ling Shu took advantage of the situation: "Second uncle, I heard that there is a restaurant called Fulailou in Fengtian City. The chef there came from the capital, and there are people in his family who used to be imperial chefs. The food there is delicious!"
The expression on Second Master's face twitched slightly.
"Well, you're exaggerating. It's not that delicious..."
Ling Shu smiled innocently.
"But we just want to experience it and try something new. We can't come all the way to Fengtian City and not eat anything. When we go back and our friends and relatives ask, are we going to say that we ate cabbage dumplings every day at the Guan family's house?"
"Please, I insist on treating you. We must eat there!"
These words were spoken through gritted teeth by Second Master Guan. After finishing a pot of donkey meat, when it was time to pay, Mr. Guan Er's heart had already shattered into several pieces, unable to be pieced back together even with the best glue.
"You young people stay up late, go have some fun on your own. Second Uncle won't accompany you anymore. Although it's dark outside, there are still some places in the city that haven't closed yet, like gambling houses. You can go take a look, but don't gamble too much. Gambling is just for fun. If you lose too much, you'll lose everything. Second Uncle has no extra money to help you. Ah?"
Second Master was afraid that Ling Shu and his friends would ask him for money, so he didn't want to stay any longer. He immediately paid the bill and left in a hurry, disappearing in the blink of an eye.
Ling Shu yawned and stretched lazily.
"The Second Master Guan is lying."