Author: Su Youbing
Translator: Renkun27, chiangyushien
“Over this mountain, is Tan Yang County,” Old Tao casually said as he hunched his back, and bowed his head, while peeling a tangerine.
Tao Mo could not help but lift the curtain of the carriage up.
The cold wind in the winter blew in, and everything outside was adorned with silver and dressed in white. Nothing could be seen. Hao Guozi, who was driving the carriage, turned back and asked: “Young Master, do you need anything?”
“No.” Tao Mo was shivering in cold, so he quickly put the curtain down.
Old Tao peeled a tangerine carefully and handed it over to him.
The tangerines have been stored away for a long time, to the point that some had dried up, yet they were still sweet to eat. Tao Mo ate a few pieces, and stuffed the rest into Old Tao’s hands.
Old Tao also bluntly ate it all.
Tao Mo subconsciously groped for his scented kerchief in his bosom to wipe his mouth, but when he reached for it in his bosom, he remembered that he mislaid the scented kerchief in the furnace before and it already got burned. He could not help but feel that it was a great pity. After lingering on Qun Xiang Lou for so many years, he only had this scented kerchief as a memento. He did not expect that it would be gone.
“Young Master, are you cold?” Old Tao moved the heater forward.
“I’m not cold.” Tao Mo felt dejected. After sitting for a while, he could not help but ask, “I heard that there are many rich people in Tan Yang County. Perhaps, it’s not good to get along with them.”
Old Tao replied: “The virtuous ones get deceived by people. Young Master, if you’re afraid of them, they will naturally take unfair advantage of you in the end.”
“How can I be afraid of them?” Tao Mo slightly shrilled, “I must become a good official!”
Old Tao’s drowsy eyelids finally burst forth a silky glimmer of light, “Young Master, you would surely be able to become one.”
Tao Mo seemed to have seen the scene of himself becoming ‘Lord Tao ’ who received the warm welcome from the line of common people in the streets. He suddenly felt his future was bright.
( A wordplay. This was based on 「包青天」which is the fictional nick name of Bao Zheng「包拯」, an official in the Song Dynasty immortalized in stories as a model of honesty and justice. 「包青天」literally means “Lord Bao” and figuratively means “honest and upright official.” Tao Mo just changed to first character to 陶, which is his surname.)
The carriage suddenly shook.
The back of Tao Mo’s head suddenly bumped against the wall of the carriage, and he almost flung into the corner of the carriage.
Hao Guozi lifted the curtain up, peered in, and sullenly said: “The wheel’s broken.”
The wind was blowing hard.
Tao Mo exerted all of his effort to draw back his neck. He wanted to draw his head back into his collar.
“Fortunately, we’re not far from Tan Yang County. We can just walk over there.” Old Tao said to Hao Guozi, “Dismount the horse and place the luggage on the back of the horse. Once Young Master gets admitted into the county’s yamen, send someone to get the carriage.”
Tao Mo was forced to come down from the carriage.
Hao Guozi said: “I don’t know if the former county magistrate already left. If he hasn’t left yet, I fear that we don’t have a place to stay in.”
Old Tao replied: “I have inquired. The previous county magistrate died of illness, and his family had already brought his body back to their home village.”
Hao Guozi muttered to himself: “That’s even worse. We don’t even have someone to guide us.”
Old Tao said: “What‘s to worry about? The old county magistrate isn’t there, but the county magistrate’s assistant, official registrar and the official clerk are always there. Perhaps there are also private advisers. These people are much more familiar and shrewd than the county magistrate.”
Hao Guozi did not speak. He unloaded the luggage and immediately tied the carriage up.
Tao Mo stood on the side of the road. He kept on trembling.
Old Tao took out the heater and asked him to carry it, “This will warm you up a bit.”
Tao Mo barely took two fingers out from his sleeve and pinched it.
A group of three people and a horse set out on a journey once more.
The ice and snow were melting to some degree so the ground was extremely damp and slippery.
Hao Guozi even fell three times before he managed to find his way.
Tao Mo almost fell a few times, but Old Tao would often assist him. No one looked older than he was, but he had the most stable footing amongst the three of them.
Moving slowly like this, they eventually reached the city gates and got into the big city.
After walking for a long time in the uninhabited mountain forest, they suddenly came across with a hustle and bustle. The three men were like having an illusion of dreams.
Hao Guozi rubbed his eyes and said: “This will be our home from now on.”
Old Tao replied: “It may not be for a lifetime.”
Hao Guozi’s eyes opened wide as he asked: “Are you saying that Young Master will be dismissed?”
“Bah.” Old Tao spitted on the ground at once and stretched his hand to rap Hao Guozi’s head. He said in displeasure: “Can’t it be a promotion?”
Hao Guozi wryly smiled and quickly pulled the horse forward.
Tao Mo and Old Tao followed him from behind.
Perhaps, it was the enthusiasm so that Tao Mo felt that his muddle-headedness was finally becoming a bit clearer.
Hao Guozi followed the East Main Street. He continued to look for the gateway of the county’s yamen . As soon as he found the gateway, he knocked on it and handed over the notice to the one who opened it.
( Yamen is the headquarters or residence of a Chinese government official or department.)
When Tao Mo arrived, the people inside already came out to welcome them.
“Your Excellency, the official registrar said that you will arrive after the first month. I wasn’t expecting you’ll be here before the turn of the year. I’m really sorry we didn’t prepare to welcome you.” The man saw Tao Mo was looking at him, full of curiosity, so he introduced himself, “I‘m Zhang Jingyuan’s, the former county magistrate, secretary who deals with criminal cases. My surname is Jin. Your Excellency, you can just call me Secretary Jin.”
Tao Mo earnestly called him, “Secretary Jin.”
Secretary Jin looked ahead of them with wisdom, and his eyes swept around the three and finally landed on Old Tao.
Old Tao said: “Humble me accompanied our Young Master as the gatekeeper.”
His words were modest, but Secretary Jin could see that among the three, he was the hardest one to deal with. He immediately let out a laugh and said: “Young Master traveled a long journey to take his new post. We should go inside the house and chat some more. Please.”
Old Tao saw that he was polite with his words, but the expression in his eyes did not show respect to Tao Mo, so he could not help but frown inwardly.
After they entered another hall, Secretary Jin suddenly stopped his steps and led Tao Mo to sit on the seat of honor, then he sat next to him.
Tao Mo looked at Old Tao with doubt.
Old Tao asked: “Young Master had traveled for the whole day. It was tiring. Secretary Jin, why don’t you lead Young Master to the inner court?”
Secretary Jin was surprised and jumped from his seat. He even tapped his forehead: “I’m so muddled. The problem is, when his predecessor, Lord Zhang, was in his deathbed, he was always worried about him being unable to complete the handover to the newly-appointed county magistrate. Therefore, Young Master, if you can bear with it, please find some time to hand over your inauguration documents, so that I can give the official seal to Your Excellency, and unload the heavy responsibility that was given to me.”
He placed a cudgel in between which clearly did not give people a leeway.
Tao Mo had to take out the inauguration documents and gave it to him. Then, Tao Mo followed him into the study room to take the official seal. He made an effort to keep up to this very moment, but he could not bear with it anymore. He felt a cold spell on his body and his teeth were chattering as he trembled. He was afraid that Old Tao and Hao Guozi would worry, so he had to retreat to one side and secretly endured it.
Old Tao saw that Secretary Jin turned around to leave so he quickly called him: “Secretary Jin, where are you going?”
Secretary Jin smiled and said: “My master is Lord Zhang. Now that Lord Zhang had passed away, and the things he had asked for were completed, of course, there’s no more reason for me to stay here.”
Old Tao asked: “Secretary Jin, why would you say such a thing? My Young Master just assumed office. This is the time when he needs a hand the most.”
“Men die for wealth, as birds for food .” Secretary Jin looked at Tao Mo. He laughed and said, “The new master donated five thousand taels in order to serve as the county magistrate. It can be clearly seen that he who has wealth speaks louder than others. Don’t worry, commendable people will rush in a continuous stream to help him. Why would you still need me? In my opinion, in Tan Yang County, it’s hard to find a complaint but it’s not difficult to find a litigant or a Secretary.”
( A man will do anything in his means to become rich.)
Old Tao still tried to persuade him, but that Secretary Jin flung his hands up in impatience and walked away.
Hao Guozi complained: “This person has a big temper.”
Old Tao looked at Tao Mo. He seemed to be blaming him for not saying a word at that time. However, seeing his lips became purple and his eyes were disoriented, this was surprising. He reached out to touch his forehead and found that it was indeed hot. He hurriedly asked Hao Guozi: “Go and ask for a physician!”
Hao Guozi responded and quickly ran outside.
Old Tao helped Tao Mo into the inner court.
They did not carry a lot of luggage and they left some of them on the way here. The things they kept till the end were rather valuable things, but their valuables could not protect them against cold weather.
Old Tao had to rummage thoroughly through the old things that were left by the previous county magistrate, and in the end, he found two bed quilts. He quickly spread it on the plank bed and asked Tao Mo to lie down. He reignited the heater, placed it near the bed, and personally went to boil water.
When he came back from boiling the water, he still could not see Hao Guozi’s shadow. He thought that since they were still new here, he was unfamiliar with the place and the people so he could not find the place where to find a physician. He recalled that Tao Mo was usually most afraid of cold. During the last winter, he always curled up in his quilt and refused to come out. However, in order to become a good official, he insisted on traveling to take up a new post in advance this time, so he could not help but feel both gratified and sad.
He walked into the room with hot water and heard Tao Mo, who was on the bed, half consciously calling for someone.
When he walked closer, he could hear him shouting ‘Father.’
After that, footsteps could be heard from outside the door.
Hao Guozi led the physician into the entrance.
Old Tao retreated to the side. He waited until the physician took Tao Mo’s pulse and wrote the prescription. He remembered each and every matters that needed attention, that were repeatedly reminded by the physician in his heart.
When everyone was busy, the sky had already had dimmed.
When the wife of the former county magistrate went away, she took all of the servants of the county with her and only left two doorkeepers. Therefore, Old Tao had no choice but to ask Hao Guozi to buy some food outside to get by with for one night. However, starting tomorrow, there would be too many things to work on.
Tao Mo had been sweating for the whole night. When he got up the next day, he felt that his body was still rather weak, but his spirit was pretty good so he got up and draped his clothes over his shoulder then went out.
Hao Guozi was in the middle of bringing hot water to him. He was surprised when he saw him got up so he asked: “Young Master, why did you get up?”
“I’m hungry.” Tao Mo turned back to the inner court and slowly washed his face and rinsed his mouth.
Hao Guozi said: “I bought daily necessities this morning, and I’m making porridge now.”
“Plain rice porridge is not tasty.” Tao Mo said subconsciously.
Hao Guozi squinted and smiled: “In a moment, I’ll go to the town to find delicious food and drink.”
Tao Mo’s complexion changed and after a long time he whispered: “Plain rice porridge is also acceptable.”
Hao Guozi whispered: “I won’t let Old Tao know.”
Tao Mo shook his head.
Hao Guozi sighed, picked up the basin and bowed his way out.
Tao Mo walked around in the room, and simply could not sit still. Just when he heard a voice outside, soon afterwards he opened the door and walked toward the second hall.
The county’s yamen was not big, it was divided into three halls. The first hall was for holding court trials, the second hall was the conference hall, and the third hall was the inner court.
There was a guest in the second hall right now.
When the man saw Tao Mo, his eyes lit up and he said: “Are you Lord Tao?”
Tao Mo nodded.
“Humble me is the current county official clerk, Cui Jiong.” He measured Tao Mo with his eyes, then he smiled and said, “I originally thought about coming to pay my respect last night, but Secretary Jin said that you were exhausted because of the journey and you seemed to be unwell, so I decided to go this morning instead. Your Excellency, you won’t blame me, right?”
Tao Mo looked outside carefully and said: “Did you come here by yourself?”
Cui Jiong was dumbfounded.
Tao Mo asked: “Why is there no one reporting?”