Episode 122

Not Welcome
1 week ago
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The next morning, Song Caitang met with Wen Yuansi and they headed for the Mi family residence together.

The dark gray outer wall, the old fashioned gate, the stern and grim atmosphere in the family, as well as the three arches to celebrate the virtue of the women in the family they walked past as they were led into the house…

Song Caitang had a good idea of what sort of family this was already.

The Mi family was a legend. It started as just a fairly well to do family, but after the younger Madam Liang married into the family, they made use of their connection to the older Madam Liang and slowly became rose to become a land owner, living off collecting rent. Then when the empress married the emperor, the womanly virtues she promoted were supported by all. The older Madam Liang caught on quickly and displayed virtue in everything she did. And because she was the empress’ nanny, she was well respected by the empress and it soon became more than just any ordinary person.

She loved her younger sister dearly, so she was willing to take care of her and her husband’s family. The Mi family had found a way to climb the social ladder and began to slowly try and groom a descendant to become a court official.

Unfortunately, the Mi family didn’t have members who were talented in this aspect. Only the younger ones were doing better. Most of the older ones remained in Luanze. Only two of them were county magistrates, the lowest rank among government officials.

Perhaps it was because the family knew that they owed everything they had to the older Madam Liang, or perhaps they were very good at buttering up to the right people – the Mi family was very determined to meet the standards for women that the empress wanted, so they were strict on others, and even stricter on themselves. Regardless of whether it was their own daughters or daughters-in-law, all of them had a good reputation. They even had three of those virtuous arches in their home…

When Song Caitang read these details in the case file the day before, she didn’t feel much. But the house alone made her feel a little repressed before she had even seen anybody from the Mi family.

The magistrate was an official who represented righteousness and justice. Since he was here on official business, the Mi family was very courteous toward him and welcomed him via the central gate.

All three brothers were gathered. The eldest, Mi Xiaowen, led the way. His sideburns were graying and he looked quite old. The second brother, Mi Xiaoli and the youngest, Mi Xiaocheng, looked just a little younger. They remained two steps behind their eldest brother and walked slowly on his left and right like bodyguards, making perfect steps as they walked toward Wen Yuansi.

When they got close enough, the three brothers bowed together, but only Mi Xiaowen did the talking, “It is our honor to have Magistrate Wen visit us, and we apologize for not welcoming you before you arrived at our house.”

Nobody could beat Wen Yuansi at knowing the right thing to say at the right time.

He was in his official robes and kept his usual faint smile on his face. He looked elegant, confident, gentlemanly, and his words were like a warm breeze, “Squire Mi, you don’t have to be so formal. If the unfortunate one in this case weren’t your late mother and the Mi family is so greatly valued by Her Majesty, I wouldn’t have paid so much attention and disturb your peace so early in the morning in these official robes.”

The Mi family didn’t have anyone good enough to be an official, but the late Old Master Mi and his wife, the younger Madam Liang, had been conferred titles thanks to their connection to the older Madam Liang.

Wen Yuansi’s words were meant to make the listener feel good, and he had chosen the exact ones his listener liked hearing.

Mi Xiaowen had very deep nasolabial folds, so he was clearly someone who was usually stern and smiled very little. But after hearing what Wen Yuansi said, he had a much warmer and friendlier look in his eyes. That was the sort of comforting magic that Wen Yuansi possessed.

“Thank you for your kind words, Magistrate Wen. I’m sure my late mother would be comforted by them.”

Wen Yuansi waved his hand to show his humility, then went on to introduce Song Caitang, “As mentioned in my letter to you about my visit, this is the coroner I said I would bring along, Miss Song. If it’s something that can be settled at one go, I would prefer not to do it in two rounds. What do you think, Squire Mi?”

Song Caitang smiled and bowed to the old man when she heard Wen Yuansi mention her name.

But the old man did not treat her as kindly as he did to Wen Yuansi. Mi Xiaowen frowned as he looked at her, his frown exuding a dash of contempt, as though he felt that greeting a woman was beneath him.

Song Caitang wasn’t bothered.

She already guessed she would be treated this way after reading the case files on the Mi family. She was here to work anyway, not to try and get into this family’s good books.

But all of this happened within a few seconds.

Wen Yuansi had spoken very quickly with almost no pause in between. He had both introduced Song Caitang, but also said that he didn’t intend to spend too much time on the case, which was what Mi Xiaowen had hoped for. The old man turned away from Song Caitang and continued speaking with Wen Yuansi, “I fully agree with that sentiment. It would be best to settle everything at one go today. If you need anything, just let me know. The Mi family will tell you everything they know.”

“In that case, let’s move on.”

“Magistrate Wen, this way please.”

The Mi brothers led Wen Yuansi to the guest living room.

As he took a step forward, he secretly winked at Song Caitang.

Song Caitang then realized that Wen Yuansi had purposely introduced her very quickly. He had predicted the sort of attitude the Mis would have toward her and didn’t want her to be hurt because of their poor attitude.

When they got to the guest living room, they found that the rest of the Mi family had gathered there. The three wives, along with a whole bunch of maids and servants, were all standing stiffly as they waited for their guests to arrive. Wen Yuansi’s arrival was met with another round of bowing and small talk before everyone was seated.

Song Caitang noticed something weird about the chairs in the living room.

There were a few chairs that were very new and were a completely different set, yet they were paired with an older chair. The position of the chairs was also very deliberate.

The wives were seated on these chairs, and looked like they were next to their husbands, but the chair was placed one entire chair’s space back, which made the living room look really strange.

It was as though these people should not be here, just like these out of place chairs. It was as though their presence was a mistake.

Song Caitang looked down at the chair she was given.

Yep. It was the same as the wives’.

In other words, her presence was a mistake.

Because she was coming along and Wen Yuansi had already said so before he came, the Mi family had no choice but to get the wives to be around as well so that they wouldn’t look rude. But this was something that irked them, something inappropriate.

Song Caitang merely smiled. She didn’t care.

She wasn’t some overly sensitive, self-pitying little girl. As long as she could eventually get her hands on the case, she could pretend that she couldn’t see the discriminatory practices in the room!

Mi Xiaowen and Wen Yuansi were still engaging in small talk and having tea, so it would take a while for them to get to business. Song Caitang took this time to observe the people in the living room.

The three brothers looked very much like each other. The eldest looked a little old and stiff, but the second brother, Mi Xiaoli, was a little plump and looked more easygoing, or rather, he looked like he didn’t have any opinion of his own. The third one, Mi Xiaocheng, was quiet, but everything he said was in agreement and support of his eldest brother, so he was a very obedient younger brother.

As for the three wives, Madam Wang, the wife of the eldest brother, was very much like her husband. She had a stern look on her face, sat very straight and was extremely prim and proper. The wife of the second brother, Madam Sun, had a glint in her eyes and looked like she didn’t like being here but did not dare to protest. She fiddled with her bangle from time to time, like she had a problem with someone in the room. The wife of the third brother, Madam Liu, was even quieter. She kept her head bent and tried to blend in with the background. If one did not purposely observe the people in the room, nobody would have even noticed her presence.

Song Caitang took a second look and realized why.

Madam Liu was doing her best to blend into the background because she had a large, dark patch on her skin on the left of her face toward the neck. It was a dark brown that was almost black, and covered a large part of her left cheek and her neck. It was a bit scary seeing it for the first time.

She probably knew it looked frightening and was already used to avoiding people, so she purposely tilted her head so that her right side faced out.

“My mother has already passed on for four years and nothing has happened. Why are we bringing up this case again?”

Meanwhile, Mi Xiaowen had finally begun to talk about today’s agenda.

Mi Xiaowen had been making a lot of small talk with Wen Yuansi as though this was his usual way of treating guests, so he looked polite and looked like he was only respecting his guests. But in reality, everyone in the family did not like mentioning this case again.

Not only could Song Caitang sense that, but Wen Yuansi could too.

He knew how to sound the other party out with his expressions and words, so he said very confidently, “The new pacification commissioner has taken on his position and he has much love for the people. He does not emphasize on results, but his subordinates cannot do a poor job either. The implication for me is that I have to go through and clear the unsolved cases that have piled up all these years.”

He slowly and gently used the cover of his teacup to push the foam on the top aside, “Squire Mi, don’t worry. This is not a case that occurred when I was magistrate, so I’m just going to go through the case according to the standard procedures. If I notice anything amiss, I will investigate it thoroughly. If there’s nothing amiss, I will close this case for good and you will not have to go through this ever again. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?”

Those were words that resonated well with Mi Xiaowen.

Wen Yuansi first said that this wasn’t his case, so he wasn’t going to bear too much responsibility for it. Then he also mentioned the new pacification commissioner, Liu Qinian. This was a man who supported the empress a lot. Mi Xiaowen didn’t know him personally, but this was someone who would be happy to connect with the Mi family.

On top of all that, Wen Yuansi offered to conclude the case once and for all…

Of course the Mi family was agreeable.

Who would want a case to be stuck in limbo in the courthouse and get questioned every now and then?

“In that case, let me thank you in advance for being so understanding!”

Wen Yuansi smiled faintly, “I’m just doing what I ought to be doing, so you don’t have to be like this. Let’s talk about the case, shall we?”

Mi Xiaowen’s response was quick, “Sure!”

Song Caitang snickered inwardly.

Wen Yuansi was really good at choosing his words. The way he spoke made Mi Xiaowen so happy. That was really impressive.

Madam Wang, Mi Xiaowen’s wife, was the one in charge of explaining what happened then.

She got up, bowed, then said in a calm voice, “My mother-in-law had been bedridden by her illness for some time. A doctor would come to check on her every day and provide a constant supply of herbal concoctions and soups. Because her death became a case, we have kept his medical reports and the remnants of the herbs used in her medicine. The doctor is also from this province, so you can call on him for questioning if you need.”

After she was done with the background, she proceeded with what happened that day.

“My mother-in-law was very ill, so myself and my sisters-in-law would take turns to watch her at night and take care of her. I was on duty the night she passed on. After my two sisters-in-law had greeted her for the day, they left. I fed my mother-in-law herbal soup, wiped her hands and face, then fell asleep. Nothing happened in the first half of the night. Something happened in the later half, so after I checked on my mother-in-law and made sure she was fine, I got up and left…”

At this juncture, she glanced at her husband.

Mi Xiaowen snorted, “The magistrate is asking about the case, so there’s nothing you can’t talk about!” He turned toward Wen Yuansi and spoke on her behalf, “That night, one of my concubines had a miscarriage. It was a girl.”

His brows were tightly knit and his lips were downturned. His expression was clearly one of deep displeasure, and even exuded some contempt. Everyone could see it.

Song Caitang felt saddened.

He felt so much contempt purely because the child had been a girl. Not only did this man not feel upset by it, he even blamed the fetus for coming out at the wrong time and making trouble for everyone!

Wen Yuansi’s expression did not change, “What happened after that?”

“After that, it was the next day already…” Madam Wang sounded a little awkward, “It took too long to settle what happened at night, and it was already daybreak by the time we were done. I didn’t want to disturb my mother-in-law’s rest, so I went back to my room to sleep for a while before returning to her room. And she had already passed on.”

That was…a really vague account.

Song Caitang instinctively glanced at Wen Yuansi and he happened to look her way too. She secretly blinked at him and threw the rest in the living room a quick glance.

He caught what she was trying to tell him.

“Was there any commotion elsewhere that night?” he asked Madam Wang, “Were you the only one who was busy?”

Madam Wang shook her head.

“The concubine had miscarried apparently because she had eaten something she shouldn’t have, something that my second sister-in-law had placed in the kitchen. She was kicking up a really huge fuss, so I had no choice but to call for my second sister-in-law to come over.”

Madam Sun got angry, “What has it got to do with me?”

Her husband, Mi Xiaoli, threw her a disapproving glance, “Watch your tone.”

Madam Sun bit her lip and tried to suppress her anger, “You’re suspecting me again! Like I said before, it’s true that I was the one who put the bird’s nest in the main kitchen, but that was meant for myself to eat, not for your husband’s concubine. She was the one who was greedy and ate it secretly. I don’t know what was wrong with that bowl of bird’s nest or why she miscarried! It has nothing to do with me!”

Madam Wang stared at her calmly but did not respond at her. Her gaze was emotionless as she continued, “That bowl of birds nest was given to her by the concubine’s maid on her own initiative. And that maid had just been transferred from my third sister-in-law’s side.”

When her name was mentioned, Madam Liu quickly straightened up and did her best to tilt her body so that everyone could only see the right side of her face, “That maid had worked for me before, but she was not one of my personal maids, so we were not familiar with one another and had no feud.”

The implications here were very clear.

The eldest brother’s concubine suffered a miscarriage, and the wives of the other two brothers seemed to be involved in some way. The bird’s nest the concubine consumed was meant for the second sister-in-law, while the maid who gave that bowl to the concubine was one who had worked for the third sister-in-law before. In other words, these two might have been the culprit?

What a gripping family drama!

The eldest sister-in-law remained calm throughout and did not accuse the other two or question them. The second and third sisters-in-law immediately defended themselves to say that they hadn’t done anything wrong and the whole thing was an accident. What a mess…

But it didn’t matter how messy things were between the sisters-in-law. Song Caitang and Wen Yuansi only wanted to know more about the case at hand.

So many people had gathered and it had been such a mess that night. Did they have anything to do with Madam Liang’s death?

Wen Yuansi had found an important question to ask, “So, that night, all of you were together, and you never left each other’s sight at all?” In other words, were they each other’s alibi?

Madam Wang shook her head, “The concubine had just lost her daughter and was kicking up a big fuss. All three of us were very busy and we cannot be sure if we were always within sight of each other the whole time.”

The magistrate back then had asked the same question too.

“That concubine was too spoiled and too whiny,” Madam Sun scoffed. She seemed to have thought of something and her tone began to sound sarcastic, “Her daughter died, that’s all. That’s nothing to shout about. Even if the daughter were thrown away or lost, it wouldn’t bother the Mi family, would it?”

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