Author: Su Youbing
Translator: chiangyushien, Renkun27
Cui Jiong’s cold sweat trickled down in an instant.
From the time when the previous magistrate was bedridden until the time when he had handed the affairs of the county’s yamen over to Cui Jiong with full authority, he was used to going in and out of the county’s yamen, as if he was treading on his own family’s backyard. How could he think of something like reporting before he went inside? Cui Jiong was in a hurry this morning and he actually forgot that there was a new official. Even the gatekeeper also did not remember it. How unlucky. He was just caught red-handed by the new official!
He bowed down and innumerable thoughts flashed through his mind. Finally, he knelt on one knee and said: “Master, please punish this servant for overstepping his bounds.”
Tao Mo was shocked by this. When he was about to ask why Cui Jiong knelt down, he saw Old Tao and a few others coming in. Tao Mo immediately called him out and asked: “Old Tao, where have you been this early in the morning?”
Cui Jiong saw that Tao Mo was not the least bit concerned about him. Instead, he focused on his servant, and because of this, Cui Jiong immediately felt very uncomfortable. His qualifications and records of service in Tan Yang County were even longer than a few of those previous county magistrates. He was the real local tyrant. Every new county magistrate who took over the office and did not try hard to win him over would fear that he would cause trouble underneath and made their position unstable. This was exactly a thorn in the flesh. This newly-appointed official wanted to show his authority at their first encounter. Very well, since you already did this on the first day, then don’t blame me for making a move on the fifteenth!
He had already begun planning out on how to give Tao Mo a lesson.
When Old Tao entered the hall, he saw a man was kneeling. He could not help but be surprised so he asked: “Who’s this?”
Tao Mo replied: “He is the county’s current official clerk, Cui Jiong.”
Cui Jiong felt rather ashamed. He had been the county’s official clerk for a long time, and this was his first time kneeling on the ground and being stared at by people.
Old Tao then asked in astonishment: “Why is he kneeling on the ground?”
Tao Mo honestly shook his head and responded: “I also don’t know.”
Because of this, Cui Jiong secretly snorted coldly.
Old Tao knew for sure that there must be a reason for this, but it was not good to ask about it directly. He only said: “You still haven’t helped the official clerk to get up.”
Tao Mo bent over to help him up. His hand had barely touched Cui Jiong’s sleeves, but Cui Jiong had stood up by himself.
Tao Mo turned to the others whom Old Tao brought in today with him. He pointed at them and asked: “Who are they?”
“The new servants.” Old Tao said, “The yamen would also need people to clean its facade.”
Cui Jiong originally came to the yamen this early in the morning to take care of this matter, but now that Old Tao had taken care of it, he might as well as let them do the work by themselves.
Tao Mo anxiously asked: “Why so many?”
Old Tao answered: “It’s too much work if we hire any less.”
Tao Mo sighed: “We still don’t know when I can get my salary.”
Speaking of salary, Cui Jiong was enraged in his heart. Traditionally, the imperial court would issue silver every year to the officials which was equivalent to the New Year’s red envelope. However, since the former magistrate had died earlier this year, and Tao Mo had yet to be officially appointed, they had gotten none of it. Cui Jiong had asked the official clerks of the neighboring counties and they said that their silver had been issued a few days ago. It was thus clear that there was silver, but it went into other people’s family’s purses.
Old Tao took the servants away, leaving both Tao Mo and Cui Jiong in the main hall. They helplessly gazed at each other.
After a few moments, Tao Mo started talking first: “Have you eaten?”
Cui Jiong answered: “Yes, I have.”
Tao Mo heaved a sigh and said: “I haven’t. How about if we eat together.”
Cui Jiong’s pursed his lips and then said: “I said I have eaten already.”
Tao Mo asked again: “What about lunch?”
“…” Cui Jiong helplessly replied: “Not yet.”
“Let’s eat together.”
They ate plain rice congee with pickles. Cui Jiong sipped it slowly, and the soymilk fritters that he ate filled all the room in his belly.
Tao Mo was pleased.
“Young master, is it delicious?” Hao Guozi‘s head suddenly popped out from outside the window.
Tao Mo responded: “Ask Official Clerk Cui.”
Cui Jiong was completely stuffed. With much difficulty, he said: “Yes, it tastes pretty good.”
Hao Guozi was contented hearing this and after that, he closed the window.
Cui Jiong asked: “The person just now is…”
“My personal servant.” Tao Mo answered.
“Master must have come from a family of scholars belonging to a highly-cultured household,” Cui Jiong commented.
“Are you talking about calligraphy and painting?” Tao Mo asked.
Cui Jiong : “Oh? Is Master good in calligraphy and painting?” Cui Jiong responded with a question.
“No, I’m not,” Tao Mo responded.
“Master is being modest.” Of course, Cui Jiong knew that he bought his position as the county’s magistrate, but since Tao Mo had shown his authority at their first encounter, he should not blame Cui Jiong for stabbing his aching foot.
“Among so many famous verses of the ancients, I can only remember one.”
“Besides reading, a scholar is not good at anything else.”
Cui Jiong wholeheartedly agreed to this. He came from a family with a martial arts background, but because he did not perform well during the imperial provincial examination, he was transferred to work as the county’s official clerk. It was the same as buying an official post, but he felt that he was truly a capable man to manage this role, so he usually disliked those who used archaism all the time and thought of themselves as noble and virtuous scholars. Above all, there were only a few scholars in Tan Yang County. However, each and every one of those scholars had tongues sharper than a knife.
When Tao Mo saw that Cui Jiong suddenly did not speak, he could not help but ask: “Is there something wrong?”
“Nothing, I just recalled a case,” Cui Jiong replied.
“Case?” Tao Mo’s mood was stirred, “What case?”
Originally, Cui Jiong was talking nonsense. Now, since he was being asked like this, what case would he come up with? He had to answer this question. He thought about it and finally said: “It was a case from a few years ago. A woman committed adultery and killed her husband.”
Tao Mo was puzzled so he asked: “For what reason did you remember this case?”
Cui Jiong replied: “That woman’s husband was a butcher. The adulterer was a local scholar. After the incident, a few friends of the scholar defended him. In the end, only the woman got condemned and the scholar remained unpunished by the law.”
Tao Mo frowned: “Could it be because the scholar was unaware about the incident?”
“How can a woman kill a butcher by herself? It was clearly a sophistry to escape and put the blame on her.” Cui Jiong coldly snorted then he added, “Those legal pettifoggers thought they have read over a few years of writings and have no trouble in arguing, then they went on a rampage. It was really annoying to see how they treated the court as a place to play, relying on their eloquent tongues to turn right and wrong upside down, and deceiving the ignorant.”
Tao Mo listened to him talking with indignation about injustice, but he was confused. “Who are you talking about?”
Cui Jiong awkwardly closed his mouth. “Master, you will get to know them after staying in Tan Yang County for a few days.” After saying that, he sipped on his plain rice porridge. Then he blurted whatever came into his mind and did not wait for Tao Mo to urge him to stay, then he hurriedly left.
After he left, Old Tao knocked on the door and came in.
“Young Master, I have inquired. The county’s assistant magistrate and official registrar posts are all vacant. For the time being, the official clerk holds those two posts concurrently.” Old Tao glanced at the empty bowl on the table and said, “Young Master, just now, why did he kneel down in front of you.”
“I don’t know either.” Then Tao Mo told Old Tao of all the things that had happened after he met Cui Jiong, one by one.
Old Tao frowned as he listened to him, then he said: “I’m afraid he might have misunderstood you.”
“What did he misunderstand?”
“Never mind.” He waved his hand. “He’s not that important here. The most important ones are the legal pettifoggers that he talked about.”
Old Tao responded: “That’s right. The two most famous legal pettifoggers in the world, Lin Zhengyong and Master Yi Chui, both lived in seclusion in a fishing township under Tan Yang County’s jurisdiction.”
Tao Mo’s eyes were shining.
Old Tao shook his head and said: “Young Master, you should not forget what the Old Master told you before his death. If you can be a good official whom everyone praises, that will be the best reward for the Old Master’s spirit in heaven.”
Upon hearing this, Tao Mo’s eyes that were brimming with light slowly darkened.
“After the two famous legal pettifoggers lived in seclusion, they have attracted a number of legal pettifoggers who all came to ask to be their apprentices. As time passed by, this place become the largest gathering place for all legal pettifoggers in the world.”
Old Tao also frowned when he heard the news. That explained why Tao Mo did not have any visits from people who wanted to build social connections with him. Obviously, to be assigned to such a rich and prosperous county, it was actually a trouble that no one dared to touch.
Tao Mo then asked: “So, are these legal pettifoggers against the local authorities?”
“We should not lump different matters together.” Old Tao said at once, “Good legal pettifoggers obviously will stand on the same line with good officials.”
Tao Mo beamed with joy and said: “Yes. So, come to speak of it, having them stay here is a blessing for Tan Yang County.”
Old Tao wanted to say something but, in the end, he did not have the heart to deflate Tao Mo’s enthusiasm.
Although good legal pettifoggers would stand on the same line with good officials, before Tao Mo would become a good official who was truly respected and recognized by the people, it was most probable that not only good legal pettifoggers would not help him, but also those legal pettifoggers with ill-intents would suppress him in all respects.
It was said that the reason for Zhang Jingyuan’s early death was not related to long-term depression.
Having these things in his mind, Old Tao sighed. This matter ended here. They could only take one step at a time.
After he introduced Tao Mo to the new servants and let Hao Guozi arrange their daily tasks, Old Tao invited Tao Mo out for a walk.
As a county magistrate, he needed to be familiar with every blade of grass and every tree in his jurisdiction.
They familiarized themselves first with the streets and walked around along the road from east to west.
When they finished taking a walk, the sky was already dark.
Once Old Tao noticed that Tao Mo’s complexion had turned pale, he suddenly recalled that Tao Mo had just recovered from his illness, so he secretly blamed himself for being too extreme. He then offered: “How about if we look for a teahouse first and go back after having dinner?”
Tao Mo, whose hungry tummy was grumbling like a drum, instantly agreed to his offer.
After making an agreement, they approached a teahouse with a flourishing facade.
As soon as they entered the door, they heard a fellow with a loud voice. He stood in the middle of the hall and shouted: “For only three copper coins, you can find out what the new magistrate looks like now!”