The second Ren Bao Qing heard those three words, “It wasn’t him.”, he instantly began to wail. With tears running down his face, he cried out, “My lord, I’m innocent ah~, I’ve been framed!!”
Qiu Ruo Ming’s brow furrowed as he tried to digest this, “Young Lady Ju, are you sure?”
Ju Mu Er nodded confidently replying, “My lord, this person’s hands are more scarred than the perpetrator’s hands. Furthermore, one of his scars is a bit deeper, the perpetrator’s hands were not like this.”
Ren Bao Qing kept kowtowing on the ground, his wails of despair getting louder as he cried out, “My lord, please investigate in a just manner, my lord, please investigate justly!”
Long Er’s brows wrinkled too, and he shifted over to pull Ju Mu Er further away from that fellow Ren Bao Qing. He did not want him unexpectedly harming or startling Ju Mu Er. Then, he pulled up another chair for her to sit in. Old Father Ju snuck a glance at the prefectural magistrate and noticed how he did not seem to care about this. Thus, he pulled up another chair beside Ju Mu Er and sat down.
Qiu Ruo Ming closed his eyes as he thought things over, before asking the yamen runners to escort Ren Bao Qing back into his cell. After this, with Long Er and Ju Mu Er, he revealed what had happened during the questioning of Zhu Chen and Ren Bao Qing.
According to him, when the bailiffs had brought the two of them in, Zhu Chen had been quite rattled. With Qiu Ruo Ming personally handling her interrogation, she had confessed in no time. The minute she confessed, Ren Bao Qing naturally could not feign ignorance and soon confessed his side of the events.
It soon came to light, that Zhu Chen had been married to Zhu Fu for many years. Although he treated her quite well, alas he was quite lacking in bed, and as a result of this, the two of them had been childless for many years. What’s more, was that Zhu Fu often blamed her for this lack of offspring. Poor Zhu Chen, she had to bear her own troubles silently, but still, she could not voice them. In the end, after years of being resented by Zhu Fu, all she felt was extremely aggrieved.
Until one day, while she was out shopping for sesame oil, she came across the sesame oil shop on the same street. There she met Ren Bao Qing who had been taking care of the shop at the time. Ren Bao Qing was young, muscular, and fit; just once glance was enough for her to conclude that he had 100 times more vitality than Zhu Fu. Not to mention he often flirted and joked with her, so it was no surprise that her thoughts began to stray.
And thus the two flitted back and forth, she would always visit that sesame oil shop to buy sesame oil, and Ren Bao Qing would often jokingly tease her with hints of something extra. In no time, the duo soon got physically involved and began their secretive, shameless relationship.
In the beginning, Zhu Chen was not without her worries or guilt, but Zhu Fu seemed completely engrossed in the affairs of the shop, thereby somewhat neglecting her. Coupled with the sweet honey-talk of Ren Bao Qing’s coaxing, and her confidence soon grew. Sometimes if Ren Bao Qing were to complain of not having enough money on hand for him to spend, she would even secretly give him some money herself. Consequently, Ren Bao Qing became even more ‘enamored’ with her.
The two of them remained involved with each other for more than half a year, due to Zhu Fu’s lack of awareness, he never found them out. Yet in recent days, the shop experienced a bad loss, and the situation was bad enough that it seemed like they could not continue doing business at all. However, since it was a family business, Zhu Fu truly could not bring himself to sell it, and poured his heart and mind into gaining back the losses and returning the shop to its former glory. While he was whole-heartedly minding the affairs of business; Zhu Chen had gotten even more daring, and frequently stole away to meet privately with Ren Bao Qing.
Who would have expected, that the day before Zhu Fu was murdered, everything would be revealed? Zhu Fu had gone out to the shop, and Zhu Chen had initially planned on taking this chance to go over to the sesame oil shop and meet Ren Bao Qing. Alas, she had no idea that on that very day, Zhu Fu would forget to bring the ledgers with him, and ended up returning home early. Upon his hasty return, he witnessed Zhu Chen exiting the house, she was all dolled up had seemed especially frisky. A thought flashed across Zhu Fu’s mind and he instinctively began to follow her from a distance. And thus, the sordid affair between Zhu Chen and Ren Bao Qing was revealed to him.
Apparently, Ren Bao Qing had even closed shop that day, as he had planned on properly enjoying the warmth and comfort of Zhu Chen, but no one anticipated what happened next. Zhu Chen had barely just arrived and exchanged two sentences of sweet nothings with him when suddenly Zhu Fu came barging in. Naturally, Zhu Fu was absolutely livid, and mercilessly gave the two of them a tongue-lashing. The duo were utterly shell-shocked and kept repeating that it as only a momentary lapse of judgment. They also denied having the daring to sleep with each other and profusely swore to never make the same mistake again, all the while begging for Zhu Fu’s mercy and forgiveness.
Zhu Fu too, was a man who cared about his reputation, so he did not make a complaint to the officials, he merely dragged Zhu Chen back home and gave her another scolding.
Zhu Fu did not sleep that night, while sleep eluded Zhu Chen and she spent the night with her heart filled with fear. When daybreak came, Zhu Fu sat down and told her about how the shop was not doing well, as well as how he felt that he could no longer continue to operate it. Now coupled with how she had cheated on him, he had decided he might as well sell off the shop, and give her some of the money before they parted ways.
It was obvious that he meant to sell the shop, and to expel his wife. How could Zhu Chen be willing to let this happen to herself? Alas, now with her wrongdoings known to Zhu Fu, she had little right to challenge him on this. So she bawled her eyes out, pitifully begging him, but Zhu Fu remained steadfast in his decision.
T/N: Expel here refers to divorce. I wanted to use expel because I feel it is a better representation of the one-sidedness of this particular method of divorce.
That day, he made plans to go and meet the person he had been discussing the sale of the shop with, Shopkeeper Lu.
Under the pretense of sending him some food, Zhu Chen made her way to the shop to find out Zhu Fu’s plans, then she speedily went back to the sesame oil shop to discuss with Ren Bao Qing their next plan of action.
Truth be told, Ren Bao Qing’s feelings for Zhu Chen were not wholly sincere, he merely tolerated her presence in his life, like one would not look a gift horse in the mouth. After all, she gave him money to spend, was easy to fool and, coax, and this was why he continued to meet with her.
However, the latest developments were quite a shock to Ren Bao Qing. If this woman did not have a penny to her name, then why would he bother spending time with her? Furthermore, if he spent some money, he would surely be able to marry a woman younger and prettier than her. Plus, who knew, he might even be able to find another one that would give him money to spend, why on earth would he hedge all his bets on an old woman abandoned by her husband?
Zhu Chen instantly saw through his inner thoughts, and threatened him saying if he did not treat her well, she might as well go all the way, and if she did end up going to the government office about this, neither of them would fare well.
Upon hearing this, Ren Bao Qing hastily tried to reassure her of his faithfulness, but truthfully, deep inside he was unwilling to just give in like this, and had already begun plotting a scheme. He explained to her, “Since that Zhu Fu fellow was unkind toward you, then you can be unjust toward him too. In order for us to pass the days of our future in comfort, why don’t we wait until he has sold the shop, and gotten the money. Then why don’t you relieve him of his wealth, and we can leave this place and rebuild a life somewhere else.”
At first, Zhu Chen did not have the courage to commit to something like that, but Ren Bao Qing endlessly ‘counselled’ her, saying that she was being expelled for no reason, and that this would cause her to be gossiped about among the townspeople, so how did she expect to live peacefully with him in the future? The only solution was to leave this place behind. However, if they wanted to leave then they could not go with empty pockets. Thus, it was obvious that they had to take hold of Zhu Fu’s remaining wealth.
Zhu Chen was eventually convinced by him of the need for this, and the duo agreed on this, they would wait until after Zhu Fu had sold the shop and gotten the money, then they would act. Upon reaching this moment of satisfaction and relief in their discussions, the duo celebrated this plan the way they knew best.
T/N: They slept together again
Alas, neither of them could have guessed what would happen later that day. Zhu Chen returned to their residence, but bumped into one of the tea shop clerks who asked if Zhu Fu had returned home yet. Naturally, Zhu Chen could not answer this, and dismissed the shop clerk, then she went to go and discuss things again with Ren Bao Qing. Having been caught red-handed by Zhu Fu before, this time she went to Ren Bao Qing with a lot more guilt and self-consciousness, she was afraid of Zhu Fu suddenly turning up again, and finding out that they were discussing on how to rob him. If he did report this to the officials, then they were done for.
Since things were like that, in order to avoid being at the forefront of Zhu Fu’s mind, Ren Bao Qing and Zhu Chen agreed not to meet too much in the coming days. They would first try to understand what Zhu Fu was thinking about inside, then only would they come up with a counter-plan. Zhu Chen anxiously agreed to this, and once again returned home.
While she waited on tenterhooks at home, for some reason Zhu Fu still did not return. She also did not dare to sleep, and so she continued waiting… Up until some time in the middle of the night, when the officials had knocked on the door, they were there to tell her Zhu Fu had been murdered. Then, the prefectural magistrate sent for her to come to the office and be questioned.
Zhu Chen was immensely shocked by the news, at first, she thought that Zhu Fu had gone to confront Ren Bao Qing, and as a result of their fighting, he had lost his life. When she finally arrived at the office, she was even more surprised to find that what had happened was quite different from her expectations.
Yet Ren Bao Qing’s statement had been that he had spent the entire night asleep in his bed at home, so he had no idea of what had happened. It was only until the morning of the next day that he heard the residents of the street talking about Zhu Fu’s death.
Qiu Ruo Ming finished explaining all this, before adding, “Ren Bao Qing obviously has a motive, and he fulfills all of the conditions that Young Lady Ju mentioned. He claimed to be sleeping at home during the time of the incident, but has no one to testify for him. Furthermore, he and Zhu Chen did indeed fool around in his shop that day, so they both had the smell of sesame oil on them, that’s why at the office Young Lady Ju was able to smell that. However, now that you, Young Lady Ju, claim that Ren Bao Qing is not the murderer, then it seems like something is amiss.”
Ju Mu Er replied calmly, “My lord, Ren Bao Qing is undoubtedly an ingrate, if it were not for the fact that Boss Zhu’s life ended at the hands of a horrible person, later on, once he had sold the shop, these two people probably would have carried on with their plan. And if any altercations were to arise because of that, who knows what might have happened? However, if someone is guilty, then their heart will carry that guilt, if someone is innocent, then the law will not forsake thee. My lord, you need to be eagle-eyed, we will definitely succeed in capturing the accused.”
Qiu Ruo Ming loudly shouted, “That’s right. If someone commits a crime, then they have to pay for it, and no one should be wrongfully punished. Young Lady Ju, this official regrets to have been dismissive of your abilities earlier. Zhu Chen and Ren Bao Qing truly are poisonous and evil-hearted people, all things aside, their adultery is a crime they cannot escape. After I have investigated this more carefully, maybe I’ll be able to find some more clues.”
It was at this moment that Long Er spoke, saying, “My lord, since the special characteristics of the murderer have been confirmed, it is obvious that this case has nothing to do with Shopkeeper Lu, I wonder when your lordship might be able to release him?”
Qiu Ruo Ming answered, “Second Master Long, although this official now believes what Young Lady Ju mentioned earlier, but up until this moment, all that can only count as hearsay. If that Ren Bao Qing fellow was the criminal then her words would obviously be proven true, yet now that you say he is not the real offender, then how do we prove Young Lady Ju’s earlier statement? I cannot in good faith just use my own belief in your statements to convince the public, thus before the truth is uncovered, I am afraid Lu Si Xian cannot be released.”
Hearing this caused Long Er’s expression to darken, for he knew that Qiu Ruo Ming was trying to use Shopkeeper Lu as a way of controlling him. If Shopkeeper Lu were to be released from jail, then he would no longer care about this mess of a case; but as long as Shopkeeper Lu remained in the cell of the jail, then he would commit all his time and energy into helping them solve the case.
This Qiu Ruo Ming was a sly fox!
Inside, Long Er was not in the slightest bit pleased by this, but Qiu Ruo Ming’s excuse was something that he could not find fault with at this stage. Ju Mu Er’s statement was indeed hearsay right now, if someone were to exaggerate and say that he was in cahoots with Ju Mu Er, this was not an implausible thing. Indeed, this lack of evidence truly complicated matters even further.
Long Er turned to look at Ju Mu Er, who was seated silently beside him, her brows furrowed as though deep in thought. Long Er thought to himself, this silly girl had just been injured yet she was forced to come out, the whole thing must be quite taxing for her too.
After a moment’s thought, Long Er asked, “My lord, did the sesame oil shop clerk seem suspicious?”
Qiu Ruo Ming shook his head before explaining, “That fellow is but a youth of 14 years of age, he’s also small in stature and frail. When the incident occurred he was asleep at home, and both his parents attested to this.”
Long Er nodded, he continued to say, “My lord, about the death of Boss Zhu, the murderer must have planned this. He most likely shadowed him and was only able to take action with knowledge of the victim’s whereabouts. It’s unlikely that it was a sudden crime, because if the murderer had acted on a whim, or entered the wrong door, then it just means that he must be one of the people who were at the inn that night. After the incident the inn was closed off, have there been any developments since then?”
Qiu Ruo Ming said, “The inn did not have many guests that day, and after our inspection, we failed to find anyone suspicious. We even asked the residents who stayed near the inn, and still found nothing suspicious.
Long Er nodded understandingly before asking again, “My lord, did you carefully check through the personal belongings of Boss Zhu?”
Qiu Ruo Ming’s answer was, “Second Master, if you’re trying to insinuate that the crime was one borne as a result of his wealth, then Boss Zhu must have had nothing of value still with him, the murderer ought to have taken it all right? If he was found still in possession of some money, then that must mean that he was killed for some reason other than his wealth, is that right?”
Long Er nodded and Qiu Ruo Ming continued, “I had already thought of this before, and when we checked through the items left inside the house, we came across Zhu Fu’s purse, which was still intact, and there was still a piece of silver left inside it.”
“Just one piece of silver?” Long Er arched an eyebrow at this, “My lord if the murderer had the presence of mind to try and frame someone else for this, he would have been able to think about leaving some money behind inside the purse. My lord, you ought to check, how much did Boss Zhu spend at that inn for his meals and drinks, not to mention his accommodation, would that measly piece of silver be enough to pay for it all? According to what I know of him, Boss Zhu is quite meticulous, if he did not have enough funds, then he would not have lavishly spent his money. Perhaps your lordship might want to continue down this line of investigation and go to the restaurant that he went to the day before, so you can ask about the state of his finances. If we can conclude on the motive of the case, whether the crime was borne out of greed, emotions, or revenge, then we would be able to narrow down the potential suspects, what do you think my lord?”
Qiu Ruo Ming broke into a smile and thanked Long Er for his advice. He arranged for yamen runners to retrace Zhu Fu’s footsteps, and investigate carefully. Long Er saw that he was treating the case seriously and did not seem like he was going through it half-heartedly, thus his worries were soon lessened.
Together with Old Father Ju and Ju Mu Er, they took their leave from Qiu Ruo Ming. Afterward, they got into the carriage, and he escorted both father and daughter back home.
Along the way back, Ju Mu Er did not utter a single word, and without her talking, Long Er and Old Father Ju naturally had nothing to say either. Thus, the trio inside the carriage silently sat through the entire journey until they arrived at the Ju Family’s Wine Shop.
Old Father Ju was the first to get off the carriage, he wanted to help his daughter down, but Ju Mu Er instead seemed to have something to tell Second Master Long. Old Father Ju wore an aggrieved look when he heard this, and after a moment’s hesitation, he retreated to somewhere beside the carriage.
Li Ke who was standing beside them, swiftly motioned for the coachman to follow him to one side, allowing Ju Mu Er and Long Er some privacy.
Once everyone had more or less left them, Long Er asked, “Alright, there’s no one here now, what was it that you wanted to ask me?”
Ju Mu Er bit her lip and softly asked, “Second Master, what if, what if we can’t catch the real suspect in Shopkeeper Lu’s case, would Second Master still be willing to marry me?”
Long Er could not help but raise an eyebrow at her question, he had not expected her to ask something like this, after all, in his eyes, this was a set thing, why would it change? Yet when he looked at the anxious expression on Ju Mu Er’s face, he felt that it must mean she wants to marry him, and he felt a sense of happiness at this. With this sense of joy, his tone naturally became softer, and he answered, “Since I promised you thusly, then nothing will change that.”
Ju Mu Er’s small face lit up as she excitedly said, “Then, that means you’ll marry me, is that correct?”
Long Er saw how naturally the smile came to her, and soon his lips curved into a smile too, but this brief moment was soon interrupted by her yawning, and that meant Long Er too began to yawn after her. He felt quite miffed, that rare atmosphere had been chased away by this clueless chit.
“Are you feeling tired again?”
“Mmm, it’s time for me to rest.”
Long Er could not hold his words back as he pointed out, “You slept the entire day today!”
“That’s because I had to replenish yesterday’s rest, and now I’m sleeping for today. Now that Second Master has reassured me of your intent to marry me, my heart is no longer plagued with worry, so I naturally feel sleepy.”
Truly...Long Er had no words for her.
Ju Mu Er called out to Old Father Ju, who helped her get down from the carriage, then she turned around and said to Long Er, “Second Master, go safely, and try to rest earlier.”
Her voice was soft and silky, and the sound of it turned Long Er’s heart into a mushy mess.
The father-daughter duo of the Ju Family slowly made their way back inside their home. Long Er pulled the carriage door shut, and was about to instruct the coachman to start, when he suddenly heard Old Father Ju cry out. Long Er jumped in shock, and hastily reopened the carriage door. What he saw was the sight of Old Father Ju running toward him like a man beyond his wits, as he ran, the man called out, “Second Master, Second Master!”
Long Er answered, and Old Father Ju’s eyes seemed aglow with excitement as he said, “Second Master, my daughter has agreed! She’ll marry you, she’ll marry you!”
He already knew this!
Long Er let out a sigh, looking at Ju Mu Er who was still standing a distance away, he saw that she had a smile on her face, and was looking in this direction. He was not sure if she had noticed his gaze, but she said, “Second Master, go home ba~ And try to rest earlier!”
Instantly, Long Er felt his heart melt again.
On the way back, he could not help but think, tomorrow I’ll come and see her.
End of Chapter