Chapter 4: Unrecognizable 

Qingfang was exhausted, she sat at the table and dozed off with her head on her hand. She was nodding her head, oblivious to the approaching Second Master Xi.

On the dark corner of the room, Tao Xinhe felt the chill that Gu Ningxi brought at that moment. It’s as if it can penetrate into her bone marrow. He pushed the door open, he even forgot to remove his cloak.

There was an Arhat couch1 next to her legs, but she stood upright, her back ached. Her eyes followed Gu Ningxi’s every move without blinking.

She immediately noticed that there were no traces of the scarf on Gu Ningxi’s neck when he walked into the room.

Could it be that he treasured that person’s gift so much he had to hide it?

Sneering at the scarf in her heart, Tao Xinhe took a closer look. Gu Ningxi’s ink-colored robe was wrinkled, and the side of his face and cheeks were flushed, there were rouge marks on it, and it was so dazzlingly red. There are slight indentations on the corners of his eyes and temples, as if he just got up from the bed.

As Gu Ningxi approached the Eight Immortals Table2 slowly, a faint smell of wine wafted to Tao Xinhe’s nose.

She can’t help but glance out of the window, the bleak waning moon accompanied by several stars is high up in the sky, indicating how late it was. Tao Xinhe reckons it should be midnight now.

Qingfang accompanied her all night, from dinner to now. She hasn’t seen anyone, and it has been two hours.

Gu Ningxi had never went back so late before, what’s more, he didn’t inform ahead of time. Did he not care about the lady in the mansion at all?

Where did this man go all night? Can’t he stop from  partying, drinking and having fun? Did the so-called “Qiniang” who appeared in his eyes this afternoon stayed by his side?

Tao Xinhe found that her speculation about her husband’s whereabouts at night was full of malice, and at the same time, she never forgot to pay attention to his every action.

Facing the dim ginger silhouette under the lamp, Gu Ningxi gently bent down, as if close to her ear, and said in a low voice: “Han Niang? Let’s go to bed and sleep.”

She never thought her husband’s voice was so sharp, and Tao Xinhe never expected to see Gu Ningxi stretching out his hands in the next moment, making a gesture of hugging someone.

It turns out that the feeling of disappointment was like this.

Tao Xinhe felt as if something exploded inside her head, she couldn’t stand all of a sudden, she fell silently on the edge of the couch behind her, her face was stiff while gritting her teeth, her shoulders were arched hard, her limbs were cold, her hands clasped her chest tightly. It seemed to be shortage of breath. One hand pinching the flesh under her skirt. She felt numb.

Not far away, the charcoal basin that makes occasional beeping noises was burning furiously. Why is it still cold? Tao Xinhe didn’t know how she could still be distracted by the charcoal fire, she wanted to hook her lips but couldn’t move a single muscle, she could only hold her breath, staring at Gu Ningxi’s hands, waiting to see his next move.

Gu Ningxi saw Qingfang open her eyes, the two looked at each other, Qingfang seemed to be shocked.

Gu Ningxi withdrew his hand, took a step back, with doubts on his face, He was silent for a while, and said again:

“He Niang?” The tone of his voice was not as soft as before, it has a sense of probing.

Qingfang remembered the young lady’s instructions, so she didn’t dare to make a sound. She just sat down and lowered her head. Tao Xinhe could feel that Qingfang was looking at herself with her eyes.

She feels like a puppet right now, unable to move, let alone give Qingfang any instructions, as if she needed a signal from Gu Ningxi to move.

Without getting a response, Gu Ningxi took two steps back, keeping a sufficient distance from the woman in front of him.

He flicked the non-existent dust around him a few times. He seemed to want to shake off some dirt, then he stood up straight, his whole body was unmoved.

Gu Ningxi frowned, his expression turned grim. He pursed his lips and said after a while gritting his teeth.

“Stand up.” There was a faint urge to gnash his teeth.

Qingfang stood up as he said, and Gu Ningxi looked her up and down, from her hairstyle to her clothes, his gaze seemed to be venomous, his breathing gradually became erratic, and his chest rose and fell violently.

It turns out that the gentleman who has always been dignified like jade still has this out-of-control attitude. Tao Xinhe in the dark claims that she has never seen him like this before, and she secretly mocked herself. How much does she know about her husband?

Not knowing what Gu Ningxi was looking at, Tao Xinhe’s heart seemed to be stabbed. Although she was very close to the charcoal basin, she felt that she, not Qingfang, was under his scrutiny, and she couldn’t help shivering slightly.

The next moment, she saw Gu Ningxi glared at Qingfang, and asked coldly, “Bold! Who are you? Where is Madam?”

Qingfang’s teardrops had already hit the ground in strings, her shoulders twitched slightly, but she still didn’t make a sound. Tao Xinhe’s heart ached, she felt that she was a little cruel. She felt very bad for the dowry maid who had accompanied her for many years.

Tao Xinhe stood up tremblingly, took a deep breath, stepped out from the corner, and met Gu Ningxi’s gaze, almost choking her breath.

She originally wanted to explain the current scene by playing around, Qingfang was wearing her own clothes, and she was wearing a maid’s costume. But Tao Xinhe choked, coughed twice, stood still for the time being, and stopped talking.

Her heart was in a mess, before she could speak, Qingfang ran over in a few steps, cuddling her tightly, and involuntarily conveyed her fear to her master.

One came out from the shadow by the door and stopped, the other stood motionless in the middle of the room, the two were several feet apart.

Gu Ningxi’s eyes swept across Tao Xinhe’s face, his emotions were not at all turbulent, and he was no different from his usual expression when looking at other people, as if he believed that she was just a real maid.

He raised his hand and rubbed his temples, closed his eyes, and snorted coldly, “It’s ridiculous.”

Next, Gu Ningxi unexpectedly turned his head away and shouted loudly: “Someone come here.”

Just after waking up from her husband’s brief gaze, Tao Xinhe shook Qingfang’s cold hand and decided to wait and see what happens.

After a while, Mrs. Zhang, who was on duty at the gate at night, heard footsteps, followed by a hurried reply from the old man outside the window: “This  servant is Mrs. Zhang, please forgive me for not hearing that the second master is back. What are the second master’s instructions?”

The servants of Gu’s mansion responded to Gu Ningxi’s first sentence by reporting his name first, which is also a unique scene in its way.

Gu Ningxi raised his voice and asked the maidservant: “Why isn’t Madam in the house, where did she go?” As if he was the only one in the room, without even glancing at Tao Xinhe. He walked away from the two women. The master and servant walked towards the door together.

“Madam? She has been in the courtyard the whole time. Could it be that she hasn’t woke up?”

Hearing this, Gu Ningxi turned his head suddenly, first looked at Qingfang who was dressed in ginger yellow, and quickly turned his gaze as if hurting his eyes, and locked on the so-called “servant” who had just appeared and was ignored by him, with an expression full of disbelief.

The eyes of the two met, and after a long while, Gu Ningxi looked away first, his eyelashes trembling, and asked softly, and hesitantly: “He Niang?”

“Well, it’s me.” Tao Xinhe replied, her voice was hoarse than usual, she wasn’t able to drink a drop of water after dinner.

She evoked a half-smile and regained her composure, and then thoughtfully moved towards Gu Ningxi: “My husband has been running around for a long time, are you tired? Are you going to bed?”

When Gu Ningxi heard the lady’s voice, he seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, and his whole body softened a little.

He quickly approached to hold Tao Xinhe’s hand, and found that the touch was as smooth and tender as ever, smelling the fragrance of aloes lingering all over her body, he was finally relieved that this was indeed his wife.

Gu Ningxi hugged Tao Xinhe tightly in the next moment, and complained in her ear: “What joke are you playing with your husband? Why did you suddenly change your clothes and hair style? I almost didn’t recognize you. I have wronged my lady.”

Tao Xinhe leaned passively on Gu Ningxi’s shoulder, and the smell of alcohol in her nose became stronger.

She thought to herself, husband, it’s not that you “Almost didn’t recognize me”, it’s that you didn’t recognize me at all. If Mrs. Zhang hadn’t said that I was in the room, maybe you would have walked away.

She raised her hand hesitantly, wanting to hug her husband’s thin back like in the past, but Tao Xinhe just touched the corner of Gu Ningxi’s clothes lightly, before she realized what she was doing, she withdrew her hand immediately, and naturally drooped it by her side.

Sighing from the bottom of her heart, Tao Xinhe thought: It was a little better than I expected. He didn’t completely recognize Qingfang as me. Although there was an obvious misidentification and name, he still stopped before hugging her…

Therefore, her husband can still recognize that others are not me, which is better than when we first got married, but he still can’t recognize me as me.

At the wonton stall in the afternoon, he strode past me once, and humiliated myself, now I was ignored by him.

Tao Xinhe chewed on these feelings of desolation over and over again, as if she had just swallowed three liang3 of Coptis chinensis4, her mouth felt bitter. Tao Xinhe watched Qingfang slip away quietly by the door, leaving the couple alone in the room.

If it had been on normal days without the fiasco of this afternoon, maybe she would be coquettish at Gu Ningxi because of her husband’s oolong joke. She would be willing to give up after listening to a string of touching and lingering love words from him.

But at this moment, she just felt dull.

“Husband, do you want to wash and tidy up?” With these words, she withdrew from Gu Ningxi’s arms, and made a gesture to check the doors and windows that Qingfang had closed when she left, and moved away from him.

Gu Ningxi instantly felt empty in his arms, and before he had time to keep the lady, he had to give up when he saw her rushing out.

He subconsciously raised his sleeves to cover his face and sniffed, only then did he notice the smell of alcohol on his body.

Gu Ningxi frowned fiercely, and hurried to Tao Xinhe’s side to explain: “He Niang, it’s all this husband’s fault. I went out with my colleagues to a banquet in order to celebrate the holidays, and it just happened that Zhang Shangshu5 was going to entertain all the colleagues in the Ministry of Rites after his duty. They dragged me along with them.

I was in a hurry when I left the house, and I wasn’t able to bring any books or paintings with me. Others couldn’t tell me their names, so I couldn’t ask for help. When I arrived at the wine shop, I wasn’t able to inform you. It was really my fault. ”

At the banquet, I wasn’t able to stop everyone from pouring wine. New year is coming and the court will be closed, so everyone was very excited.

I seemed to have fallen asleep after being drunk, and it was already late when I woke up in the backyard of the restaurant. I didn’t have time to wash up, so I hurried back to the house, disturbing the peace of my lady. It was really this second one’s wrong. Madam forgive me.”