The lazy afternoon breeze couldn't even stir a ripple.
And neither could Ling Shu's reaction at this moment.
His expression didn't show any ripples from Yue Dingtang's words.
His hands were still propped up on the round table, his lips slightly curled as he looked at Yue Dingtang, his eyes blinking without a trace of emotion.
Yue Dingtang could still see his faint reflection in those dark eyes.
Ling Shu's eyes were undoubtedly beautiful, with elongated corners that resembled the tender green willow leaves of spring, bringing a sense of romanticism.
He was indeed a very romantic person.
Suddenly, Yue Dingtang remembered a small incident.
It was a time of reading during his youth.
In middle school, there were was often a child sneaking in to listen to the teachers' lectures. He was a poor child who lived next to the school. The teachers had watched him grow up and turned a blind eye to his misbehavior.
He was not only unattractive, but also short. The energetic students would catch him and tease him relentlessly. Sometimes it was verbal ridicule, and sometimes they would lure him with food to make him submit.
The ugly child was bullied to the point where he stopped coming to school.
Everyone thought he had been taken by his family to work, or that he couldn't bear the double humiliation of his spirit and dignity and had decided not to step foot in the school again.
Many years later, Yue Dingtang finally learned that the reason why the child stopped coming to school was because Ling Shu would bring his study notes to the child's home every week and explain the week's lessons to him.
Ling Shu even went to find teachers from different subjects to get an extra textbook and workbook for the child, so that he could keep up with the progress at home.
In this era, there were countless families like the poor child's, who were struggling with poverty and couldn't even afford basic necessities, let alone education. They had many children, but few survived, and most of their descendants ended up doing hard labor, day after day, until their bodies were worn out. This was their fate.
But Ling Shu's intervention gave the child a glimmer of hope, even if it was just a tiny one.
If it weren't for Ling Shu, that person wouldn't even have had the means to change their fate. Yue Dingtang had never heard Ling Shu boast about this matter.
Perhaps in Ling Shu's eyes, it was just an act of kindness from a wealthy young master to a poor child. He didn't plant the willow tree with any expectations, nor did he consider what kind of tree it would grow into or whether it would bear fruit.
Since then, Yue Dingtang knew that Ling Shu was a compassionate person.
In ancient times, a handsome and romantic young man like Ling Shu would have driven countless girls crazy with heartbreak.
Although it is a new era now, when Ling Shu was sick, there were still many dancing girls who took the initiative to visit him.
People who are compassionate are prone to overthinking and making mistakes.
"I don't know Old Yuan," Yue Dingtang heard Ling Shu say.
"Officer Yue, why do you think I know Old Yuan?" Ling Shu asked.
When Ling Shu called Yue Dingtang, he usually had three different ways of addressing him. He only called him 'Dingtang', following how Yue Chunxiao called him, as a joke, often in a cheesy and playful manner. In private, he would address him as 'Old Yue', which was both friendly and humorous, and Yue Dingtang had grown accustomed to it. However, in front of others, he would refer to him as 'Captain Yue', and sometimes, when Ling Shu was making a sarcastic comment or a slight joke, he would accidentally call him 'Captain Yue' as well. It was a bit too much.
Suddenly, the words 'a bit too much' popped into Yue Dingtang's mind.
He had initially kept Ling Shu close by because he found his old classmate to be somewhat mysterious and wanted to observe him up close.
But now he realized that he had delved too deeply into some of the details of Ling Shu's life.
He had crossed a line.
"Ling Shu, this is not Shanghai. The Japanese have infiltrated every corner of Fengtian City, and no one recognizes the Yue family. I don't care if you know Old Yuan or why you followed me to Fengtian, but you better not cause trouble. Otherwise, not only can I not help you, but I may have to personally-"
Yue Dingtang paused, looking at Ling Shu, enunciating each word.
"Hand you over."
Ling Shu smiled, "Old Yue, you're suddenly so serious. You scared me. I thought you were the one who invited me to Fengtian. At first, I didn't want to come. How did it become that I followed you here? Thank you for your warning. From today until I leave Fengtian, I will stay at the Guan family's place and not go anywhere, not even in a sedan chair. Is that okay?"
Yue Dingtang replied, "If you can do that, that's best."
Ling Shu asked, "What did Kagesawa say to scare our Commander Yue like this?"
Yue Dingtang replied, "Kagesawa was only acting on someone else's behalf, but since he mentioned Mr. Cheng, with their abilities, they may be able to investigate our dealings with He You'an. If you want to protect that orphan, it's best to be cautious from now on and not give them any chance to target you. Otherwise, they may follow the thread and the consequences will be unpredictable."
He suddenly changed the subject and asked, "Do you remember Shen Shiqi's death?"
"Wasn't it Chen Youhua, He You'an's accomplice, who did it?" Ling Shu asked.
"After Chen Youhua attacked, he fled, but was quickly silenced. The killer was Mr. Cheng's man. Do you think, since Mr. Cheng was able to find Chen Youhua so quickly, he wouldn't know that Chen Youhua wanted to harm Shen Shiqi?" Yue Dingtang replied.
Ling Shu asked, "But isn't Shen Shiqi loyal to Mr. Cheng?"
Yue Dingtang replied, "He knows too much. Those who know too many secrets, even if they are loyal, should die. Some people often think they are clever, but they forget that the praying mantis catches the cicada, and the yellow bird is behind."
Ling Shu laughed and said, "You didn't beat around the bush like this before. It seems that you and Kagesawa had a deep conversation. Are you planning to give this Buddhist pagoda to Kagesawa?"
Yue Dingtang said, "He didn't ask for it. Instead, he offered to find someone to help me transport it back to Shanghai."
Ling Shu said, "When you give a gift, you must have a request."
Yue Dingtang replied, "He not only has no request, but also wants to hand over all of Mr. Cheng's business in Shanghai to the Yue family."
Ling Shu raised an eyebrow, "You're a professor who teaches, not a businessman. Was this thanks to your eldest or second brother?"
"It was my second brother," Yue Dingtang replied.
"I've heard that the eldest in the Yue family is pro-Western, while the second is pro-Japanese. You're quite diplomatic, but now the Yue family seems to have completely leaned towards one side. This doesn't fit with the stance of pleasing both sides and not offending anyone," Ling Shu remarked.
"In the world, one's actions are not always within their control. So, you'd better watch your words and actions carefully. Otherwise, I won't even be able to protect you," Yue Dingtang warned.
Ling Shu's eyes curved into a smile, "Old Yue, you've said so much, trying to scare me with your stern words and serious expression. But in reality, you're just concerned about me and afraid that I'll get into trouble. You could have just said it directly instead of beating around the bush and rambling on..."
"Ling Shu," Yue Dingtang interrupted, standing up and walking to the round table.
He leaned forward on the table, hands propped up, staring directly at his classmate and subordinate, exuding a strong sense of oppression.
"I'm not joking with you. If you don't listen to my advice and offend the Japanese here, causing trouble, I'll have no choice but to point my gun at you and do what's right. Don't blame me for being heartless when you're six feet under. It's for the greater good. Don't forget our old friendship."
Under his gaze, Ling Shu's carefree expression disappeared, and his smile gradually faded.
"Yes, Captain. I will follow your orders."
Ling Shu stood up straight, straightened his clothes, and saluted Yue Dingtang.
This time, the Second Master did not break his promise.
In the evening, he sent someone to inform Ling Yue and Ling Shu that the new guest rooms were ready, along with dinner, and would be delivered to them.
Dinner was unexpectedly sumptuous, with both vegetarian and meat dishes. The cooking was also quite good, and it seemed to be the handiwork of a master chef from some restaurant. It looked like the Second Master had spared no expense in trying to win over Yue Dingtang.
Ling Shu put down his chopsticks and yawned repeatedly, bid Yue Dingtang goodnight, and went to bed.
The new guest room was actually a separate courtyard, with two rooms, one for each person. Two grown men didn't need to fight over blankets and sleep uncomfortably.
"Ling Shu," Yue Dingtang called out to him.
The latter had just walked to the threshold and turned around, looking confused.
It seemed that he didn't hold a grudge against Yue Dingtang for his harsh words.
"If there's nothing else, I'll go back to my room first. You'll be going up the mountain to pay respects to the old master tomorrow, so you won't need me to accompany you, right?"
Yue Dingtang made a sound of agreement. Ling Shu clenched his fist and yawned, "I'll just mooch off the Guan family for the next couple of days. Don't forget to take me with you when you leave."
Yue Dingtang replied, "The Buddhist pagoda is in my room, and I'll leave the key in the flower vase outside."
"No need to tell me, I can't hear anything," Ling Shu said without turning his head, waving his hand as he entered the house.
The fish soup tonight was very fresh.
It was unclear where the Guan family's chef had obtained the fresh fish, but they had removed the scales and gutted it before simmering it for several hours to extract the essence. They then added a few wild vegetables to the boiling fish soup, creating an exquisite delicacy.
This showed that the Guan family was capable of providing such a meal, but it was a matter of whether they were willing to put in the effort and spend the money.
Yue Dingtang paused with his soup bowl in hand, feeling that something was amiss. He scanned the dishes on the table.
Tonight, Ling Shu ate very little.
He didn't even touch the fish soup.
Normally, Ling Shu wouldn't miss such a delicious dish.
Yue Dingtang was suspicious and got up to go to Ling Shu's room.
The latter's door was only slightly ajar, and it opened with a push.
Ling Shu had already taken off his coat and was sleeping with his head covered, with only half of his hair showing from under the blanket.
Yue Dingtang patted Ling Shu.
"Get up and have some fish soup. There's too much, I can't finish it alone."
"Hmm...?" Ling Shu seemed to have just fallen asleep.
After being forcibly awakened, the blanket moved a bit, and his whole head slowly emerged.
"I don't want to drink it. You can leave it there, and I'll drink it tomorrow morning."
"It'll get fishy when it gets cold." Yue Dingtang placed the half bowl of fish soup he had scooped out himself on the bedside table. "Drink it while it's hot."
Ling Shu rubbed his eyes and sat up, hugging the blanket. "Captain Yue, I just remembered a story that He You'an once told. Mr. Cheng always has someone taste his food before he eats. If that person is fine, then he will eat it."
"I am not Mr. Cheng, and you are not He You'an," replied Yue Dingtang.
"Good point," Ling Shu nodded, picked up the bowl of fish soup, took a sip, and found it to be the perfect temperature.
He then drank it all in one go and turned the bowl over to show Yue Dingtang. "I finished it, can I go to sleep now?"
"Go ahead," Yue Dingtang helped him lie down and tucked him in.
"Captain Yue," Ling Shu called out as Yue Dingtang was leaving with the empty bowl.
Yue Dingtang stopped and turned around as Ling Shu spoke again. "You often say that you can't see through me, but I think it's actually you who can't be seen through. At least, up until now, I still haven't figured out whether you're standing on the shore or have already boarded a ship. And even if you have boarded a ship, which ship did you board?"
Yue Dingtang replied calmly, "It's better to be on the shore or any ship than to drown."
That night, the Guan family went to bed early, continuing the tradition passed down from their ancestors. They rose with the sun and rested with the sunset.
The night in Fengtian City could be lively, but it had nothing to do with the Guan family. Except for the two large lanterns at the door, the Guan family was enveloped in silence.
Even Yue Dingtang slept soundly, falling asleep as soon as he touched the bed.
He didn't even have time to call for someone to clean up the leftover soup outside. Feeling the sudden and intense wave of fatigue, Yue Dingtang couldn't resist his body's instinct and just wanted to sleep like a log in bed.
Amidst the silence, there seemed to be a faint sound.
Perhaps it was the distant rumble of thunder, or perhaps it was the frantic scurrying of a big rat outside, carrying food in its mouth.
Tables and chairs were overturned, vases were knocked over, and there was a woman's scream.
A woman...where did she come from?
And besides, could a rat really have the strength to overturn tables and chairs?
Yue Dingtang wanted to get up and take a look, but his eyelids felt like they were tied to a rock and couldn't be lifted.
His heart was squeezed tightly.
His fingers moved along with it.
Yue Dingtang furrowed his brow, but his eyes were still stuck together.
Boom, boom, boom!
The thunder rolled one after another.
"Dingtang, something's happened!"
As his body was violently shaken, Yue Dingtang suddenly jolted awake and opened his eyes to a blinding light.
He furrowed his brow and closed his eyes again, but the person shaking him became even rougher.
Yue Dingtang grabbed the person's wrist tightly, causing them to cry out in pain.
"Let go of me!" they shouted.
"Stop shining the flashlight in my face," Yue Dingtang replied, his voice hoarse and his throat sore.
"It's already so late, why are you still sleeping? Wake up!"
The voices around him were chaotic and overlapping, some familiar and some completely unknown. The bed was surrounded by people, and Yue Dingtang could barely make out that the person he was holding onto was his second uncle.
"How do I know he's not involved in this too?"
Yue Dingtang rubbed his temple, and slowly sat up against the wall. As his eyes gradually adjusted to the light, he squinted to identify the people in front of him. There were four of the five old masters from the Guan family, as well as Steward He, Old Li, and others.
"What happened? Speak up, one by one," he demanded.
"Second Master's wife died!"
"Ling Shu is missing!"
"The pagoda is gone!"
"The pagoda is in my room," he said.
Yue Dingtang suppressed his headache and pushed through the crowd to take a look. The box that had been placed on his bedside table was now missing. His room was locked from the inside, so someone must have broken in and stolen the box. It couldn't have been him sleepwalking and carrying the box out.
The Eldest Master stamped his foot in frustration.
"Why are you still standing there like a fool?"
Fourth Master sighed, "That Ling guy is the one he brought here. There's no use rushing him. They might even be in cahoots to cheat us. They'll take the Buddhist pagoda away using deceitful means. Better to take it away ourselves before they get any ideas."
Second Master grabbed Yue Dingtang's collar and shouted, "Where did Ling Shu go? I want him dead!"