Author: Su Youbing
Old Tao saw that Tao Mo stayed at home without moving, so he urged him to go out for a walk. It would not be a bad idea familiarizing himself with Tan Yang County’s social customs and etiquettes.
It was close to the end of the year and the wind was icy cold. Pedestrians on the street came and went, buying goods for New Year.
Since they had Old Tao, Tao Mo did not need to deal with these things. He just took Hao Guozi with him and roamed around small shops, like dimsum shops and so on.
Hao Guozi remembered that Tao Mo used to like eating sweet-scented osmanthus cakes, so he bought some especially for him to eat while walking.
As soon as Tao Mo opened his mouth, a gust of cold wind blew in, making his gums feel cold. He only ate two pieces before stopping. He was about to hand the rest over to Hao Guozi, but when he turned around, he bumped into a fine-dressed man. The sweet-scented osmanthus cake in his hand fell to the ground.
Hao Guozi jumped out and said: “Do you know how to walk?”
The man was about to defend himself, but when he saw Tao Mo’s face, his face immediately broke into a color of joy, “Your Excellency Tao?”
Hao Guozi asked suspiciously: “Who are you?”
Tao Mo was suprised and asked: “Wang Pengcheng?”
Hao Guozi measured him with his eyes. Could this be the unfilial son who was beaten several times as punishment? He subconsciously stood in front of Tao Mo and looked at him with caution. “What do you want?”
Wang Pengcheng bowed toward Tao Mo with his hands clasped and said: “It’s good that we met by chance. Your Excellency Tao, humble me wonders if it would be possible for you to let me be your host as a token of my appreciation and invite you over to sit in Xian Wei Lou?”
Hao Guozi tugged on Tao Mo’s sleeve and whispered in his ear: “I fear that he’s up to no good.”
Although he spoke in whispers, Wang Pengcheng still heard it very clearly and quickly waved his hand as he smiled and said: “This Young Master worries too much. I just want to thank His Excellency Tao, that’s all.”
“Thank him?” Where could you find someone who was beaten by the other and still want to thank that person? Hao Guozi became even more skeptical.
However, regardless of the consequences, Wang Pengcheng grabbed Tao Mo’s arm and headed to Xian Wei Lou.
Hao Guozi chased after them, with the intention to break them apart, but he heard Tao Mo say: “It just so happens that I’m already tired. I may as well as take a rest.”
Wang Pengcheng said in repeat: “Exactly, exactly. After eating at Xian Wei Lou, we can go to Ming Cui Ju to sit and rest.”
Hao Guozi stomped his feet and stayed in the same place, but in the end, he unwillingly chased after them.
It was said that this Xian Wei Lou was the most famous restaurant in Tan Yang County. They were always busy entertaining guests like each and every merchants, bigshots, and literati. A slightly passable meal was as expensive as the price for an average family’s meal for a month.
When Wang Pengcheng and Tao Mo arrived, it was already high noon and Xian Wei Lou was almost full.
Wang Pengcheng and the shopkeeper negotiated for a long time before they were able to make a vacancy in the corner. He also directed a shop assistant to move a screen panel to the corner of the lobby and decorate it like a small private room. After going through a lot of trouble, he sat down and said: “Your Excellency, please don’t take this to heart. I really did not expect to meet you by chance on the street. I’m not looking after my guest well enough. Your Excellency, I’ve caused you great inconvenience.”
Tao Mo waved his hand, smiled, and said, “This is quite good.”
Hao Guozi bashfully stood aside and eagerly looked at Tao Mo. He was waiting for him to nod. When he finally nodded, Hao Guozi sat down happily.
“I ordered a few of Xian Wei Lou’s famous dishes. Your Excellency, in a moment, you will be able to have a taste of them. If it’s not enough, by all means, just open your mouth and let me know.” Wang Pengcheng seemed surprised at the fact that Hao Guozi was seated and personally poured tea for Tao Mo and enjoyed the special honors of being served as well.
Tao Mo suddenly remembered that Wang Pengcheng was flogged. With guilt in his heart, he softly asked: “Is your buttocks not bothering you?”
Wang Pengcheng smiled awkwardly and whispered: “Don’t worry, Your Excellency. Those court servants didn’t use all their strength. I applied medicine on it when I went back, it’s already fine.”
He originally thought that Tao Mo would probably ask why the court servants did not use all their strength, and he wondered whether he should tell the truth or not about the court servants intentionally ‘losing a game’ then blackmailing the defendant. However, he saw that Tao Mo only nodded and said, “That’s good.” It seemed that Tao Mo did not care about this matter. He could not help but think that Tao Mo had known everything about the Yamen a long time ago, and also had expected that he would be hit lightly. Because of this, he learned to admire Tao Mo even more in his heart.
“Your Excellency, speaking of which, if it wasn’t for your great plan dealing with it, maybe the grudge between my mother and I wouldn’t have been dispelled so fast.”
Hao Guozi was at a loss, let alone Tao Mo, who was confused.
Wang Pengcheng sighed: “Since the death of my late wife, I’ve had no intention of marrying again. However, my mother’s always concerned about my line of the family lacking a male offspring. She pressured me over and over again. This time, she even stirred up trouble at the court and insisted on forcing me to give in. Your Excellency, if it weren’t for your flog punishment which displayed my mother’s affection for me, perhaps she won’t stay quiet until now.”
Hao Guozi asked with curiosity: “Continuing the family line is an important thing. Why won’t you agree to marry again?”
Wang Pengcheng’s eyes glistened and he remained silent for quite a while.
Tao Mo’s heart was somewhat moved so he said: “Do you feel the so-called ‘The Ruo River is three thousand li long, one only drinks one ladle worth of water from it’ to your deceased wife?” After he said this, he looked at Hao Guozi’s expression, and felt relieved when he saw Hao Guozi nodding.
Wang Pengcheng hemmed and hawed a few times. Just then, the food was served, so their topic was interrupted.
Xian Wei Lou’s dishes were really good.
Tao Mo and Hao Guozi had been living very poorly for quite a while. They rarely ate delicious food like this, so the chopsticks in their hands moved non-stop.
Wang Pengcheng just tasted a few spoons and stopped. With great difficulty, he waited for them to eat and enjoy the food, then he asked: “Your Excellency Tao, I heard that you came to Tan Yang with only two servants, is it true?”
Tao Mo answered: “Yes.”
Wang Pengcheng inquired further: “Then your wife…”
Hao Guozi straightforwardly said: “My household’s Young Master hasn’t married yet.”
“Oh?” Wang Pengcheng’s eyes lit up, then he whispered: “Your Excellency Tao, could it be that your field of vision is high and find no one worthy?”
Tao Mo forced a smile and said: “No, I just don’t have leisure time. That’s all.”
‘Don’t have leisure time’—these four words just poked Wang Pengcheng’s heart, and suddenly made his smile a hundred times brighter, “Your Excellency, if you’re interested, perhaps, humble me can arrange one or two for you?”
Hao Guozi remembered that Tao Mo preferred men and his complexion immediately turned pale.
Tao Mo declined. “My father died less than a year ago. I’m still mourning for him.”
“Oh, so it’s like that.” Wang Pengcheng looked disappointed.
Surprised, Hao Guozi looked at him and said, “You’re quite strange. Previously, your mother asked you to marry and you refused it in every possible way. Now, how come you’re acting as a matchmaker for others?”
Wang Pengcheng looked embarrassed, “I just feel grateful to His Excellency Tao’s punishment that made my mother and I reconcile, so I merely wanted to use all of my meager strength to contribute and help His Excellency Tao. After all, this is the first time that he came to this county, and the inner court probably also needs someone to organize things.” When he talked about the inner court, he seemed to remember something, so he said: “Your Excellency Tao, I wonder if you’ve already visited those two teachers after coming here to Tan Yang?”
Tao Mo was at a loss when he responded: “I’ve never had a teacher in Tan Yang.”
“I mean Mr. Yichui and Mr. Lin.” He lowered his voice.
Tao Mo suddenly remembered that he had talked about this matter with Old Tao before, but it was put aside later on because he could not decide on the gifts to give them. This matter had been put aside up until now. “Not Yet.”
Wang Pengcheng hesitated and suggested, “No matter what, it’s a good idea to go and pay them a visit.”
Tao Mo replied, “I just don’t know what gift will these two teachers like.”
Wang Pengcheng laughed, then said, “Your Excellency, that’s why I said that if you have a wife to take care of the inner court matters, choosing the right gift will be much simpler. Mr. Yichui and Mr. Lin have one thing in common besides being famous litigators, that is, they always follow their wife’s advice.”
Tao Mo scratched his head and said, “Then should I send some gold and silver jewelry to the two ladies?”
Wang Pencheng’s face turned black. He thought to himself, how could this magistrate, who understood the overall situation, be confused with trifle matters. He quickly responded: “Absolutely not. Your Excellency, you’re a man after all. This…I’m afraid it’s not quite appropriate if you’ll give such gifts to the teachers’ wives.”
Tao Mo’s ears became slightly red. He awkwardly said, “I didn’t think it through.” Since he was a child, he had no intention of being close to women, so he rarely took precautions against men and women.
“Well.” Wang Pencheng thought for a moment. “Your Excellency, it’s unusual for me to feel like old friends with you at the first meeting, so I’ll say one more thing.”
Tao Mo cupped one hand in the other before his chest and said: “Please say it.”
“Mr. & Mrs. Yichui and also Mr. & Mrs. Lin, both have their own favorite disciple. Do you know this?”
Tao Mo’s spirit rose up, “I know. It’s Gu She.”
Wang Pencheng was surprised by the brilliance in Tao Mo’s eyes, “Young Master Gu is Mr. Yichui’s outstanding disciple. Mr. Lin’s outstanding disciple is Lu Zhenxue, Young Master Lu.”
Tao Mo nodded. “I know him, too.”
After Wang Pengcheng heard him say ‘too,’ he felt at ease. He smiled and said: “Your Excellency, no wonder you’re so calm. It turns out you’ve already established powerful relationship with Young Master Gu and Young Master Lu. I was overanxious after all.”
Tao Mo knew Lu Zhenxue and Gu She by accident, but it would be a lot of trouble explaining it, so he let the misunderstanding go.
When they ate enough, they left the restaurant.
Hao Gouzi followed Tao Mo on his way back to the Yamen. His brows wrinkled, “I still think that this man’s planning something.”
Tao Mo sighed. “What good do I have for him to scheme?”
“No. Young Master, if you can still remember it, before we went to Xian Wei Lou, he clearly said that he wanted to invite us to sit at Ming Cui Ju as well. However, as soon as we finished eating, he quickly paid the bill and ran away,” Hao Guozi muttered.
Tao Mo laughed loudly and said, “If you keep thinking about Ming Cui Ju, I’ll invite you to go there some other day.”
“The problem isn’t about Ming Cui Ju. It’s…anyway, you should be careful with him, Young Master.”
Tao Mo saw Hao Guozi talk endlessly and he was forced to agree with him.