Author: Su Youbing
Translator: chiangyushien, Renkun27
When the two returned to the county’s yamen, Tao Mo’s heart was laden with anxiety. He did not bring this up and just went back to his room on his own. Old Tao called all the servants in the middle of the night and counted the number of servants again. As expected, there was a young male servant who had gone missing. Old Tao knew for sure that this young male servant was the one who made the painting of Tao Mo’s face. He personally took out the contract signed by that person and took it in his arms.
On the next day, early in the morning, Old Tao knocked on the door of Tao Mo’s room, but he saw that Tao Mo had already gotten up. He could not help but wonder: “Young Master, why did you get up early?”
Tao Mo answered: “I’m going out to visit a friend.”
“Could that be Young Master Lu?” They were new to this place, and only managed to befriend with difficulty this Lu Zhenxue over tea.
Tao Mo replied: “No, I want to visit Master Yi Chui.”
Old Tao was surprised and then he happily said: “Young Master, you actually have the same thoughts as me.”
Tao Mo anxiously asked: “Why do you also want to…”
“Master Yi Chui and Master Lin Zhengyong are local celebrities. We just arrived in Tanyang County, so we should pay them a visit.” He knew that even a fierce dragon would be no match for a snake in its home territory. In the officialdom, oftentimes, there were officials who would come to pay respects  because of people with strong backgrounds in their localities. This showed the importance of local connection. Last night’s experience at Ming Cui made Old Tao realize how powerful the local litigants were. Not only were they arrogantly laughing at the law court, even the commoners took delight in talking about it and admired the local litigants greatly. They should not offend such people.
( 栽跟头 – an idiom “come a cropper” meaning if the magistrate wouldn’t acknowledge the local celebrities, they end up falling because of these people.)
“Since that’s the case, let’s prepare two gifts before setting off.” Tao Mo urged.
Old Tao said: “Wait a minute. Young Master, what kind of gifts do you want to buy?”
How could one question stump Tao Mo?
He thought about it and replied: “Formerly, it was you who prepared the gifts for my father’s friends in the business field. You never made a mistake. Now, you can do it as before.”
Old Tao responded: “Young Master, you praise me too much. During those days, every time Master sends me out to prepare gifts, he would inquire about the other person’s preferences beforehand so that I could cater to their likes. However, now I actually know nothing about Master Yi Chui and Master Lin Zhengyong.” Old Tao saw that Tao Mo’s expression softened, so he continued, “A gift can be big or small. If the gift is considered small, people won’t consider it and neglect it. If the gift is considered big, it will violate the taboo and can suddenly turn them into enemies.”
Tao Mo listened and was profoundly affected, “In that case, how can I find out?”
“They are local celebrities, so the townspeople would naturally know them.” Old Tao added, “However, ordinary people may only know the first, but not the second . Even if they know something, they may not know the complete details. Young Master, I think it’ll be better for you to ask the yamen’s previous secretary. With his advice, you will be like a stranded fish put back into the water with ease .
( An idiom which means ‘only partial information.’)
( An idiom which means ‘having got a great aid.’)
Tao Mo said: “Well, that’s a good idea. However, I don’t know if the remaining money is enough.”
Old Tao calmed him down: “Don’t worry, Young Master. I know very well how much money we have and where I should spend it, and I won’t let the entire household have no rice to cook for our meals.”
Tao Mo nodded. “Then go and invite him.”
“Young Master, you may have heard the story of the three calls at the thatched cottage .”
( Similar to what Liu Bei did when he sought the aid of Zhuge Liang, a master strategist then living in seclusion. This literally means making earnest and repeated requests of somebody.)
“Yes, I’ve heard it.” Tao Mo understood his intention, “Who do you want me to ask?”
Tao Mo was dumbfounded, “Isn’t it that he’s unwilling to take the post?”
Old Tao answered: “I’ve inquired that Secretary Jin is very famous in the locality. He’s been the secretary for three periods so he’s very experienced.”
Tao Mo said: “If that’s the case, then why did he refuse to stay and help me?”
Old Tao answered: “Some say, Secretary Jin was once also a famous litigant, but he lost in a contention of mouth and tongue to Master Lin Zhengyong, which led him to taking up the post. However, he never put down his arrogance of a scholar and the cunningness of a litigant. Young Master, if you want to ask him to take up the post, you still need to ask him nicely.”
Tao Mo sighed: “So it’s actually this complicated?”
“On trivial matters, the things of the county’s yamen, the things of the commoners, everything is thousands of times more trivial than it is. Young Master, if you really want to be a good official, you must learn to do everything by yourself and know everything about it. Only through this can we live up to the trust of the court and the love of the people.”
Tao Mo smiled bitterly: “Live up to their trust and love? I’m afraid I have neither the trust of the court nor the love of the people. How can I live up to it?”
“If you don’t have it, then move towards achieving it.” Old Tao knew that he had persuaded Tao Mo. He immediately ordered Hao Guozi to prepare the palanquin.
The county magistrate had his own official palanquin, but there were no palanquin men. Because of this, Old Tao had to pick several young and strong men of similar stature out from the newly hired servants.
However, to lift the palanquin, one must have the knowledge of lifting the palanquin.
One could tell which one was a skilled novice.
Secretary Jin’s house was only two blocks away from the county’s yamen. It was not very far away. However, when Tao Mo came down from the palanquin, it was as if he had sat in the palanquin for a whole year. Not only did his complexion turn pale, but his feet became weak. He could not even stand steadily.
“Young Master?” Hao Guozi supported him with both hands. His eyes were filled with worry.
Old Tao went to relay the message, but he learned that Secretary Jin went to join in a snow-viewing gathering.
There were many litigants and scholars in Tanyang County, so there were also many gatherings.
Old Tao thought they could still meet Master Lin Zhengyong and Master Yi Chui at the gathering. It would be like getting more done in one stroke. Soon afterwards, they immediately asked the men to take them to the snow-viewing gathering in Tai’an Academy.
Speaking of Tai’an Academy, it was also very famous in the locality. Many of the county’s Confucian students graduated from Tai’an Academy before.
When Tao Mo arrived, the door was wide open.
From the doorway, he could see that the interior was facing a field of snow. He did not know who wrote the flamboyantly-written character for the word ‘Snow,’ but it was very suitable for the scene.
Hao Guozi relayed the message and the gatekeeper quickly went to report.
When Tao Mo went inside the garden, the headmaster of Tai’an Academy personally welcomed him.
“I didn’t expect Master Tao would come in person. Please excuse me for not going out to meet you.” The headmaster was in his fifties. He was well-preserved, and his face was glowing with health.
Tao Mo replied to his greeting: “Thank you for your hospitality.”
The headmaster did not want to put on official airs. He was like an average man of the younger generations. He secretly nodded and said: “It’s just that today, there are many local scholars who came to enjoy the snow and write poems in the academies. Master, if you don’t mind it, this simple and crude me may not be able to look after you well enough. You might as well as sit in and join in the fun.”
“I’m so sorry to bother you.” Tao Mo also did not decline and went to the garden on his own.
In fact, he had already been unable to hold back. A moment ago, when he entered the garden, he saw Gu She sitting in the center pavilion. Gu She was dazzling like the moon. There were a lot of people sitting beside him. Each and every one of them surrounded him, with their smiles brimming, and because of this, Tao Mo was tempted to look at him.
The headmaster saw him walk into the center pavilion without looking at the sideway. He quickly said, “Is Master cold?”
“I’m not cold.” Although Tao Mo did not want to, he still stopped.
The headmaster then said: “The pavilion has a cover, but the wind breaks in from the sides, so it isn’t warm at all. Master, why don’t you sit in the hall instead?”
Tao Mo replied: “No need to go to the hall. I can just view the snow in the center pavilion.”
The headmaster thought to himself that all the people who were sitting in the center pavilion were litigants. They usually loathed the county magistrate. You’re so eager to go there. Most likely, you’ll be dejected. This doesn’t matter, but you better not find an excuse to make things difficult for our academy.
How could Tao Mo know his intentions, but when he was about to continue moving forward, his way was casually blocked by Old Tao as he said: “Young Master, Secretary Jin is over there.”
He followed Old Tao’s hand, and sure enough, Secretary Jin was there, sitting on a stone stool, wearing a dark-blue cotton padded coat, sipping a small amount of wine, while chatting and laughing with the other people.
Tao Mo looked at the center pavilion that was around the corner and struggled in his heart. He finally lifted his foot and walked toward the stone stool.
From the moment he came in, the people in the garden more or less listened to him with their ears up. Now that they saw him walking to the stone stool, everyone craned their necks to look.
Secretary Jin seemed to have expected that he would come. He sat on the stone stool as he perfunctory cupped his hands and greeted Tao Mo: “Is the County Magistrate in good condition?”
Tao Mo sighed: “Not good, not good at all.”
Secretary Jin looked askance at him. “Could it be that I made some mistakes?”
Tao Mo answered: “I don’t have a secretary. Secretary Jin, will you be willing to condescend and take the post?”
Secretary Jin replied: “I’m old and weak. I’m already not suitable for the post.”
Tao Mo continued to sigh: “So I’m not good at all.”
Those who were fascinated in eavesdropping to their conversation all calmed down and listened carefully.
Secretary Jin said: “This county has an abundance of capable people. If you want a secretary, it will be as easy as turning your palm over. County Magistrate, why should you worry?”
Tao Mo stretched out his palm, turned it over, and then he looked at Secretary Jin.
Secretary Jin also looked at him.
After a while, Tao Mo said: “I’ve turned it over.”
“So, you’ll follow me, right.” Tao Mo said earnestly.
Secretary Jin slightly pursed his lips. Although he did not want to admit it, this situation now was in fact somewhat like…wooing a woman. “County Magistrate, why are you so persistent?”
Tao Mo thought for a moment then replied: “I remember that there’s a famous saying.”
“Oh? Which one?”
Tao Mo muttered in his mouth once, then he confidently said: “Although the Ruo River is three thousand li long, one only drinks one ladle worth of water from it .”
( An idiom which means ‘there are so many potential lovers to choose from, but you only pick one from among those potential lovers.)
Secretary Jin: “…” If he had known this earlier, he should have waited for him at home.