Ling Shu was sound asleep when suddenly a piercing scream jolted him awake, causing him to flail about on the bed.
"Where's the ghost? What ghost? Where is it?" he muttered, still not fully awake.
Yue Dingtang had already dressed himself.
"I'll go check it out. You go back to sleep," he said.
Ling Shu protested, "Don't leave me alone! I'm already scared enough. What if the ghost sees that I'm young and beautiful and decides to come after me?"
Yue Dingtang retorted, "I don't think a lazy, good-for-nothing like you would be the ghost's type."
Ling Shu rubbed his eyes and got up to put on his clothes and shoes.
"I told you, this old mansion is prone to ghosts, but then again, isn't Fourth Master a protector of the family? What ghost would dare to cause trouble? Maybe they're just bored. Let's hurry over there. If we're early enough, we might even witness a fierce battle between ghosts and protectors!"
Yue Dingtang remained silent.
The Guan family estate was large and labyrinthine.
Even Ling Shu, let alone Yue Dingtang, had trouble finding his way around.
They didn't encounter any servants on their way out, so they followed the noise until they finally came across a group of people.
Among them were female members of the Guan family and the younger generation, whom they hadn't seen much of before.
A faint smell of burnt food wafted through the air, but there was no smoke in sight, indicating that the fire wasn't too severe and had been put out quickly.
But the sound of crying was incessant.
Some were sobbing softly, while others were cursing and crying at the same time.
Ling Shu couldn't make out what was being said and couldn't help but push forward.
The servant of the Guan family who was watching the commotion next to him turned his head and gave him a glance, whispering, "Don't push!"
Ling Shu took the opportunity to ask, "What's going on? Why are they arguing?"
In the dark of night, the servant couldn't recognize him as a guest of the Guan family and hissed, "The warehouse was set on fire, but luckily it was discovered in time and nothing inside was burned. But the Eldest Master said his key is missing."
"Missing a key?" Ling Shu asked.
"The key to the warehouse!" the servant replied.
Ling Shu understood. It was the key that the old master had entrusted to his five sons to open the warehouse.
Suddenly, the Second Master shouted, silencing all the crying and commotion.
"In the middle of the night, making such a commotion, aren't you afraid of being laughed at? Everyone who should leave should leave, women and children, all of them must go back, not a single one can stay. Steward He, you go and tidy up the room next door, clear out a few chairs, and bring up some hot tea and snacks. Big brother, fourth brother, fifth brother, you stay. We brothers will have an open and honest discussion. Oh, and Old Li, go and call third borther over. If he refuses to come, even if you have to tie him up, bring him over to me!"
Old Li and Steward He both agreed and went their separate ways.
The women and children looked at each other and, seeing that the other elders had not spoken, they had no choice but to leave as well.
As people gradually dispersed, Second Master saw that there were still two people standing there.
At first, he thought they were gossipy servants and was about to scold them, but upon closer inspection, he realized they were Ling Shu and Yue Dingtang.
After showing a family dispute to a nephew he hadn't seen in years, he felt a bit awkward and couldn't give him orders.
"Dingtang, I need to discuss something with your uncles, why don't you..."
"Hold on!" Suddenly, the Fourth Master spoke up.
"Dingtang, don't leave just yet. Although you're not surnamed Guan, you're still part of the family. You can listen in and help us reason things out, so that your eldest uncle won't accuse anyone of taking sides."
The Eldest Master angrily retorted, "What do you mean I'm accusing? When did I ever accuse anyone? Give me back my key first before you say anything!"
The Fourth Master replied irritably, "It's not my problem if you lost your key. Don't go blaming me for everything!"
The Eldest Master exclaimed, "You still deny it! During the day, no one was close to me except for you when we argued. Tell me, do you want to monopolize the things in the warehouse?"
The Fourth Master laughed in anger, "I want to monopolize? How could I? You tell me! Second, third, and fifth brothers also have keys. Do you think I could steal them all? We'll open the warehouse tomorrow. Why are you in such a hurry?"
The Eldest Master sneered, "Why am I in a hurry? Someone knows what's going on. You colluded with outsiders to plot against the things in the warehouse. Don't think I don't know. That blond-haired, blue-eyed foreigner has been in and out of our house so many times. Every time, you two whisper in the small room. What kind of conspiracy are you plotting? Only you two know!"
Fourth Master: "Guan Qinzhi, if you don't have any evidence, I advise you to think carefully before speaking. Don't just spout nonsense. Mr. Ivanov is my regular customer. He trusts my abilities and always comes to me when he encounters difficulties. Since you all want to invite witnesses for the opening of the warehouse tomorrow, I have already made an agreement with him. He will be my witness. You may not believe me in the Chinese, but should believe in foreigners, right?"
Eldest Master: "What kind of witness? It's just collusion."
Fourth Master: "What did you say?"
Second Master was getting a headache from the argument.
These two people were born to be incompatible. They couldn't be together for more than fifteen minutes without arguing, like two tireless fighting cocks.
It was better when the old master was still alive, but after he passed away, the eldest son had no one to rely on and became even more unwilling to compromise with his brothers.
Naturally, his fourth brother was not an easy person to deal with.
Old Li hurried over.
"Second Master, Third Master said that he will come tomorrow to open the warehouse. It's already late at night and he can't come now. Even if he did, he would just listen to the argument between the Old Master and Fourth Master. It would be a wasted trip."
Second Master Guan was a little angry. "Third Master is really difficult to please. He's even harder to invite than the Old Master!"
Fifth Master, Guan Shizhi, interjected, "That can't be true. You can try inviting the Old Master."
Ling Shu couldn't help but laugh out loud.
Second Master gave Fifth Master a fierce glare.
Amidst the argument between the Old Master and Fourth Master, Yue Dingtang and Ling Shu finally found out what was going on that night.
It is said that in the middle of the night, the wife of the Eldest Master heard a baby crying outside the door. She woke up her husband and insisted that there was a ghost outside.
The master didn't believe her, but she kept making a fuss, so they both got up to investigate. They found a dark shadow on the ground outside, running away quickly.
The stubborn Eldest Master insisted on finding out what it was and chased after the shadow. His wife had no choice but to follow behind. They chased all the way to the courtyard outside the storage room, where the master's wife saw the shadow rushing towards her face!
She couldn't see what it was and fell back on the ground, screaming and shouting that there was a ghost.
The master rushed into the courtyard and saw that the storage room door was on fire.
The fire came strangely and suddenly, even the culprit couldn't be seen.
Afterwards, the family rushed over upon hearing the news.
Fourth Master accused the Eldest Master of intentionally setting fire to the warehouse, but the latter claimed that his key was missing and must have been stolen by Fourth Master.
The two argued fiercely until Ling Shu and Yue Dingtang arrived.
Fifth Master Guan Shizhi yawned and said, "What's the point of arguing? If the key is lost, just use an axe to break open the door in front of everyone, distribute the goods according to the old man's will, and be done with it! Tomorrow, I'll bring a classmate who is knowledgeable about antiques to be a witness and help verify everything."
Second Master was a little unhappy and said, "Are you afraid that your brothers will deceive you with fake goods?"
Fifth Master impatiently said, "Second Brother, it's no fun for you to keep picking on me like this! Fourth Brother also got a foreigner to be a witness, why are you only talking about me and not him? How about this, from now on, nobody sleeps. We'll stay here until noon tomorrow, open the warehouse, and with so many pairs of eyes watching each other, you should all feel at ease!"
Everyone had thought of this idea, but they were too embarrassed to say it.
Since Fifth Master had spoken up, they didn't have to worry anymore.
Old Second Master cleared his throat and said, "This idea is not bad. Let's have one person from each room watch the warehouse here for the night. When Old Yuan comes down from the mountain tomorrow at noon, we'll open the warehouse. How does that sound?"
Everyone remained silent, which meant they all agreed. Even the nitpicky Eldest Master couldn't find fault with anything.
Even if Second Master didn't say anything, he still didn't feel at ease leaving and was willing to wait here for the night.
"Second Master, let's go back and rest first. We can come back tomorrow," Yue Dingtang suggested.
"Dingtang, don't leave yet," Second Master held onto him and smiled. "You've seen your uncles become a laughingstock, but you're not an outsider. Tomorrow, the things in the warehouse that Grandfather left behind will also have a share for you. Why don't you stay and be a witness? Your uncles all trust you."
"There's no need for that, Uncle. With so many eyes watching, one more person won't make a difference," Yue Dingtang declined.
But Second Master refused to let him go. "It's necessary, it's necessary. Listen to me, I'll have someone bring over some bedding for you. Rest with Ling Shu for a bit and if you want to eat something, Second Master will have someone make it for you."
Ling Shu yawned, "Second Uncle, is there anything to eat at this hour? We don't want to eat dumplings with only vegetables and no meat."
This mischievous child, always bringing up old troubles.
Second Master smiled through gritted teeth, "How could I let you eat that? There's some beef jerky and freshly warmed wine in the small kitchen. I'll have them bring it over!"
No one mentioned who started the fire or who caused the disturbance. It seemed like everyone had forgotten the chaos that had just occurred.
In the small room, Second and Fourth Master each held their ground like two ruling powers, unwilling to take a step forward and afraid to lose their territory by stepping back.
Second Master had someone bring over a reclining chair, along with a pillow and a thick cotton blanket to cover themselves. They swayed back and forth, closed their eyes, and rested comfortably.
Following suit, Fifth Master had someone bring over a reclining chair as well and took a nap next to the Second Master. To prevent himself from falling asleep, he had a trustworthy servant keep an eye on the others.
Soon, the beef and warm wine were brought over.
Ling Shu patted his stomach and realized that he still hadn't fully digested the donkey meat from earlier. He couldn't eat the beef at this time, but he could still drink some wine.
The wine was slightly sweet with a mild aftertaste, likely due to the Second Master's poor tolerance for alcohol. However,
it was perfect for Ling Shu, who had been forcibly awakened. A little bit of wine was just what he needed to make up for his unfinished sleep.
They didn't have any chairs in the room, and couldn't find any at the moment.
Yue Dingtang had someone bring over the entire set of bedding, with two blankets stacked on top of each other to reduce the cold.
They leaned against pillows and covered themselves with another blanket, sitting cross-legged and keeping warm.
With so many people in the room all of a sudden, everyone was feeling a bit restless. Before long, the Fourth and Fifth Masters, who couldn't sleep, began whispering to each other, probably talking whether the Fourth Master's divinations were real or fake.
Seeing that no one was paying attention to him, the Eldest Master grunted and called for the servants to prepare food.
There was a lot of noise and commotion, but Ling Shu, who was a bit drunk, unknowingly fell into a deep sleep.
It wasn't until the sky was slightly bright that he woke up in a daze, realizing that he had been leaning against a pillar before he fell asleep, but now he was lying on Yue Dingtang's leg, using his thigh as a pillow.
Poor Yue Dingtang was uncomfortable even in his sleep, his brows furrowed as if he was being crushed by eight hundred octopuses.
Most people would have hurriedly gotten up upon seeing this scene, but Ling Shu was thinking about taking advantage of Yue Dingtang for a few more moments of rest.
He turned over with a clear conscience and wanted to enjoy a little nap.
Unfortunately, this wish was interrupted by the arrival of Steward He.
"Second Master, Old Yuan has returned!"