Chapter 21: Is this enough proof?

As she said it, she raised the wine cup and downed it.

“Are…are you insane…?” Doctor Qi exclaimed.

Shen Ninghua wiped her mouth, and said sorrowfully, “it is just a harmless jar of wine, yet you accuse me of poisoning it. All my efforts to be filial are stained by this. If I can’t prove myself innocent, then I might as well die from the poison.”

Su Shi rushed to Shen Ninghua’s side, with anger flashing across her face, “Doctor Qi, you have seen your proof, so does the wine still have poison in it?”

Doctor Qi was flabbergasted, Shen Ninghua was fine after drinking the wine. It was already the best way of proving that the wine was harmless.

Su Shi continued, “you silly girl, even if you wanted to prove that the wine was harmless, there is no need for you to drink it yourself. Our Shen family has plenty of servants, why would we force the Eldest Miss to personally drink it? You poor girl, you lost your mother at an early age, as your aunt I can’t just stand and watch while you suffer this injustice. Let me drink the wine as well.” She raised a wine cup as she said it, preparing to take a sip from it.

Zhao Shi hurriedly stopped her, and took the wine cup from Su Shi, “sister-in-law, we can always find someone to try it for us, we can’t possibly trouble you to do this.” If Su Shi drank this cup of wine, not only would the people present currently berate her, the Su family would definitely come knocking. And she could not afford a rumour that she tried to kill the child of the previous First Lady. “Ninghua, silly girl, you were always this rash. Why would we not believe you?”

Shen Ninghua shook her head, smiling with a resigned expression, “if I could prove that I am innocent, a few more cups of wine is a small price to pay.”

Su Shi grabbed her hands tenderly, and turned to Shen Dong and Zhao Shi, “brother-in-law, sister-in-law, Ninghua has drunk the wine herself. The wine is clean, yet the servant girl who drank it died. There is definitely foul play here, not to mention Nanny Zhou that was found in the pond. Someone is clearly targeting the Shen family. We can’t just ignore these incidents. We must get to the bottom of this.”

Shen Dong’s expression was twisted to its limits. These incidents, one after another, were getting more and more ridiculous. He turned his attention to Zhao Shi. All the incidents today were very strange, and he could not help but speculate. Has he spoilt Zhao Shi too much, could she have neglected her duties?

Noticing his expression, Zhao Shi grew worried and said soothingly, “master, this incident is really strange, it would be wise to investigate it thoroughly before coming to a conclusion.”

“If sister-in-law wants to investigate, it would be a very easy process. Guards, bring Xue Zhu, Wan Xiang, Liang Yu, and all the servants involved in the wine poisoning here. I would like to see who the foolish scoundrel is who dares to harm the young miss of our Shen family.” Su Shi ordered with a sweep of her hands.

“Sister-in-law, the Fifth Prince and Mister Chu are still present, let’s not trouble them with our own family matters. I will personally question these servants and give a proper explanation to Ninghua and Linghan.”

Su Shi gave a small chuckle, “sister-in-law, this is nothing to be ashamed of.  We are publicly seeking justice for the young missus in this family. Isn’t it better that the Fifth Prince and Mister Chu are here with us? They can be our witnesses so that the public won’t see the Shen family as people without discipline.”

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As she spoke, Xue Zhu, Wan Xiang, and the rest of the servants were brought to them. Zhao Shi’s face turned pale, this wretch, Su Shi, wants to investigate this? She turned to Shen Dong, her eyes pleading:

“Master, what do you think of this?”

Shen Dong’s expression wasn’t anywhere better, but he couldn’t openly take Zhao Shi’s side, “Fifth Prince, Mister Chu, apologies for showing such a laughable side of the Shen family to the two of you, perhaps another day……”

Chu Junyi waved his fan and said, “these incidents happened not long after the Eldest miss came back. If we didn’t know better, people would assume that she was the one who instigated this. It’s fortunate that we are present today and can help you act as witnesses to protect her.”

The Fifth Prince nodded, he observed Shen Ninghua standing by the side, his gaze lingering for a few moments before looking at the pale Shen Linghan, “Junyi is right, Minister Shen, this incident should be investigated properly. I am curious to know who has the ability to cause so much chaos in the Shen family as well.”

Shen Dong clenched his teeth and nodded, he turned to the three servants kneeling on the floor. His gaze filled with hatred, “spit it out! What did you servants do?”

Shen Ninghua had to stifle her laughter at those words. As expected of Shen Dong, as expected of her kind father! He actually used Zhao Shi’s method of pushing all the blame on their servants! They are all servants, without orders from their master, why would they plot against the young miss of the Shen family? Were they tired of living?

The few servants kneeling on the floor were already trembling from fear. Hearing Shen Dong’s words, their minds turned blank. Xue Zhu was less affected than the rest of them. After all, she was a servant under the Old Madam, all she did was to inform them of the incident, she wasn’t guilty of anything. But Wan Xiang and Liang Yu were in trouble. If they did not answer well enough, it would cost them their lives.

“Master, this servant knows nothing, it’s Wan Xiang! She was the one who brought my mother over before she wasn’t seen again, and now she is in such a state. This servant is just here to seek for my mother’s well-being! This servant is innocent!” Liang Yu wailed, kneeling on the floor. His cries were filled with grief, and his face filled with sorrow.

“Quiet!” Shen Dong ordered with a slam on the table.

Liang Yu turned silent immediately and remained kneeling on the floor.

“Wan Xiang, is Liang Yu telling the truth? Why did you go and find Nanny Zhou?” Shen Dong questioned.

Wan Xiang knelt on the floor, her face was completely white as her gaze flickered to Zhao Shi but was frightened by her murderous intent. “This servant…went to find Nanny Zhou…because…because….” she began.

“Spit it out right now!” Shen Dong bellowed.

“It’s…it’s the Eldest miss. The Eldest miss ordered this servant to go. The Eldest miss was narrow-minded, she said that it was revenge towards Nanny Zhou for using the previous First Lady’s dowry. The Eldest miss only said she wanted to punish Nanny Zhou a little, and ordered this servant to call her here.” At this point in time, Wan Xiang could only hope to protect her own family. She hoped that the First Lady would spare her family’s lives on the count of her not betraying the First Lady even until the very end.

Zhao Shi relaxed her clenched fist and her frown lessened considerably.

Shen Dong fell silent at the confession, his expression thoughtful.

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Su Shi frowned and opened her mouth to argue, but was stopped by Shen Ninghua pulling at her arm.

Shen Ninghua gave a bitter smile and whispered softly to Su Shi, “Aunt, this incident began because of me, let me have a few words as well.”

Her voice was not loud, and she sounded very calm. Hearing her words, the anger in Su Shi’s heart lessened and she gave Shen Ninghua a nod.

Shen Ninghua walked towards Wan Xiang and looked down into her eyes, her expression serene, “Wan Xiang, although you have not served me for a long, I do not recall a time where I treated you unjustly. What did I do to wrong you, for you to slander me like this?”

“This servant…this servant did not…”

“Did not?”, Shen Ninghua scoffed, “do not forget, Nanny Zhou was not the only one who used my mother’s dowry. You were wearing my mother’s headdress as well. If I wanted to seek revenge, you would have been an easy target. After all, you were already a servant under me. If I had just killed you, I could just replace you without blinking. The same applies for Nanny Zhou. If I really wanted revenge, why would I go through all this trouble?”

“This…”

“Also, you must have forgotten something else. Nanny Zhou is not dead. She was found in the pond when we were going to search the other courtyards. I have only just came back, there are only four servants with me and they were all always by my side. I really want to know, how would I have gotten Nanny Zhou into the pond? Are you saying that I have someone secretly helping me and planned all this beforehand?”

Shen Ninghua’s voice was loud and clear. Every sentence she spoke was persuasive, compelling her listeners to follow her thoughts.

Shen Dong could not help but look towards Zhao Shi. The only person who could move freely within the house would be this head-of-house. Could everything be planned by her?

Wan Xiang was speechless, there was nothing she could say to rebut that.

Shen Ninghua looked at Wan Xiang, her dark eyes calm and collected, “Wan Xiang, we only have one life. If we lose it, there is no taking it back. Is there anything better than being alive? You can tell me now, who…who asked you to fetch Nanny Zhou?”

Wan Xiang held her breath, she could feel the icy gaze freezing her insides, and could not help but lie down helplessly on the floor, her gaze shifted towards the First Lady, “it’s…it’s……”

Nanny Qin rushed forward and gave Wan Xiang a huge slap on the face, “you are staring at death in the face, yet you do not want to speak the truth! Do you really want your entire family to take the blame with you?” she scolded. Your family’s lives are in the First Lady’s hands. If you don’t want your family to die with you, you better be careful of what you say!

Wan Xiang fell back with a thud. Nanny Qin turned around to Shen Ninghua, “young miss, this servant was never the reliable kind. Young miss won’t get anything from her by asking, it’s better to punish her first.”

Shen Ninghua looked away from Wan Xiang, her expression distant, “then I’d have to thank Nanny Qin for offering her services.”

“You’re welcome, young miss.” Nanny Qin bowed courteously.

Su Shi gave a laugh, “Nanny Qin, weren’t your actions a little too fast? Look, that servant girl is now in a daze. Looks like she won’t be able to tell us the culprit even if she wanted to. Sister-in-law, your servants are all so cunning!” Such an obvious tactic, did you really think the rest of us are stupid?

Zhao Shi could only force a smile, and she scolded Nanny Qin, “Nanny Qin, how dare you interrupt the questioning without permission?”

Nanny Qin dropped to her knees with a thud while facing Shen Dong and Zhao Shi, “now that it has come to this point, this old servant has no choice but to confess, it’s all my fault. Punish me instead, First Lady.”

Zhao Shi panicked, Nanny Qin was the servant that came with her as a marriage nanny, one of her most trusted servant. She had followed Zhao Shi for so long, and Zhao Shi viewed her almost as family. But to protect herself, Zhao Shi had no choice but to ask.

“What are you hiding? Tell us immediately.”

“Yes,” Nanny Qin answered, “this servant found out that Wan Xiang and that Liang Yu had…a hidden relationship. I did not know how to handle this news, so I asked Nanny Zhou for help. Nanny Zhou was more experienced in this, and she forced Liang Yu and Wan Xiang apart. Wan Xiang threatened us then, but we did not waver. Who knew that the girl was so cruel, to seek revenge like this? Wan Xiang, are you still going to hide from your crimes?”

Wan Xiang stood up slowly, her pale face streaked with tears and her eyes liveless, “……yes, it’s all this servant’s idea, this servant had harboured ill-intentions. I did it all to have my revenge on Nanny Zhou and Nanny Qin…” she said before plunging her head on the floor. She could not bear to bring her family into this.

Qing Que rushed forward and checked on Wan Xiang.

“She’s dead.”

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