Author: Su Youbing
Back to the county’s yamen, Tao Mo had long forgotten about the matter, but Hao Guozi was still thinking about it, so he went on his way to inform Old Tao.
Old Tao also felt dubious when he heard about this matter, that Wang Pengcheng was a businessman. May it was because he was grateful or afraid of Tao Mo, the parental official, it was also normal for him to invite Tao Mo for a meal. It was just that this man acted as the matchmaker… Old Tao turned around and went to find Secretary Jin.
Secretary Jin was a local, maybe he could guess the reason behind it.
Sure enough, Secretary Jin laughed when he heard about this matter, “I didn’t expect Wang Pengcheng could even think of such a way to get out of this situation.”
Old Tao saw that there was some other reason behind this act so he asked about it.
Secretary Jin asked: “Did you know from which family was the lady that Old Madam Wang sought to have married to him?”
Old Tao thought, how could I know this? Yet he spoke: “I’d like to hear the details.”
“She’s from the Tong Family.” Secretary Jin saw that he was puzzled, so he added, “Mrs. Yichui came from the Tong Family.”
Old Tao suddenly asked: “Old Madam Wang wants to have an in-laws relationship with Mr. Yichui?”
Secretary Jin intentionally pointed out one thing, “In this locality, Mr. Yichui and Mr. Lin’s prestige are extraordinary.”
“Of course.” Old Tao remarked, “Could it be that Wang Pengcheng’s worried that breaking off the engagement will provoke Mr. Yichui, so he wanted to blame the fault on…”
Secretary Jin was surprised: “Don’t tell me that you also heard the rumor about Miss Tong?”
Old Tao thought, I’ve just found out the relationship between the Tongs and Mr. Yichui, how could I hear about it? Nevertheless, he replied vaguely: “It was just a rumor in the market, I’m afraid it was unaccountable for.”
Secretary Jin replied: “Even though I don’t know whether she was as shrewd as rumored or not, it’s an indisputable fact that she still hadn’t married after her twenties.”
After Old Tao was clear about it, he thanked Secretary Jin and went on his way.
Secretary Jin walked him up, then went back to his desk and sat down.
At first, Secretary Jin thought that this newly appointed magistrate, Tao Mo, was just an unlearned spendthrift. He did not expect that Tao Mo could use some tricks when he really received a case, and even attracted Gu She’s attention. He feared that Tao Mo had some extraordinary skills up to his sleeves.
Since this was the case, he would just aid Tao Mo discreetly. This would also save him the trouble of changing his employer every several months.
At night, Tao Mo hesitated for a long time. In the end, he could not help but tell Old Tao that he would like to visit Gu She and Lu Zhenxue. He also brought up his analysis of Wang Pengcheng’s ‘powerful relationship’ with him, saying that he had no choice but to form a cooperating relationship with the two Masters’ outstanding disciples because he did not have an inner court manager.
Old Tao listened and remained silent for a long time.
Tao Mo could not help but feel nervous.
“Young Master, did you ever think about…” Old Tao slowly said, “…assigning a Young Madam to manage the inner court?”
Tao Mo was shocked, “You know that I’m…toward women…I can’t, I…”
Old Tao listened to his stuttering and said: “The Tao Family will always have to leave behind a descendant.”
Tao Mo bowed his head and kept silent.
“I think this is also the Old Master’s greatest wish before he passed away.”
Once Old Tao blurted out the two words ‘Old Master,’ Tao Mo became listless, then he indistinctly said: “I’ll be in mourning for Father for three years.”
“Of course. Observing mourning for one’s deceased parent is a must.” Old Tao added, “Young Master, it’s just that your mourning for him shouldn’t be known by others.”
Tao Mo said in astonishment: “Why?”
“According to the law, one should not become an official when mourning for one’s deceased parent.”
Tao Mo’s complexion turned white.
Old Tao continued: “Unless the Emperor has a different view on this matter, I’m afraid you won’t be able to use this clause anymore, Young Master.”
Tao Mo haltingly said: “But, I’ve already promised Wang Pengcheng.”
Old Tao replied: “Well, it’s not like he clearly knew about it. However, bear in mind that you can’t bring this up anymore in the future. Naturally, if you’re willing to get married as soon as possible, it would be better.”
Tao Mo said: “Even if I can’t bring it up, I’ve already set in my mind to mourn for Father for three years.”
Old Tao sighed and said: “Young Master, since you’ve already insisted, I can’t say anything more.”
Tao Mo guilty bowed his head.
“As for paying a visit to Mr. Yichui and Mr. Lin, we can’t drag on this matter for too long. Fortunately, it will be New Year’s Eve in a few days. It’s always good for us to give some New Year’s goods during our visit.” Old Tao saw Tao Mo was at a loss, so he added, “Although Gu She and Lu Zhenxue are the two master’s outstanding disciples, the two masters do have disciples everywhere. If we favor one and discriminate against the other, and only get along with them, it won’t do us good. It would be better for us to put this matter off until sometime later.”
Tao Mo listened to what he said and felt it was reasonable and had nothing to refute.
The next morning, Tao Mo was urged by Hao Guozi to get up early. Old Tao had prepared the New Year’s goods and the carriage. The carriage was the one which had gotten broken halfway before. When he got the servants, he ordered them to drag it back and fix it, which was still better than the palanquin.
Tao Mo, who had not fully awakened from his sleep yet, climbed up to the carriage, and fell asleep on the soft pillow that Hao Guozi laid aside. It was unknown how long time had passed when the carriage stopped and a man came up again.
The half-asleep Tao Mo looked up, stared at him and said in surprise: “Secretary Jin?”
Secretary Jin cupped his hands to greet him and said: “Your Excellency.”
“You, why are you here?” Tao Mo sat up with his arm and subconsciously wiped the corners of his mouth.
Secretary jin turned a blind eye: “Your Excellency, I’ll accompany you to pay a visit for New Year.”
“Oh.” Tao Mo raised the curtain and looked out, “Old Tao isn’t coming?”
“He wants to manage some work in your residence.” Secretary Jin said tentatively. “Your Excellency, you seem to rely heavily on him.” In fact, during his stay in the county’s yamen, he could see that this Old Tao was not an ordinary person. He was not only smart and capable, but he was also dealing with matters calmly and steadily, as if everyone relied on him; however, Tao Mo was not really like a Young Master raised from a prominent family.
Tao Mo did not suspect him and answered: “It’s a given. Since my Father passed away, he’s been the only one taking care of me.”
“Is there nobody else in your family?”
Secretary Jin said: “Your Excellency, if you can have a smooth career and rise rapidly in the world, your parents will certainly be a hundred percent relieved in the afterlife.”
This sentence left a deep mark in Tao Mo’s heart, he laughingly said: “I also think the same way. My Father’s lifelong wish is that I can become an outstanding person and don’t have to live in mediocrity and muddleheadedness all throughout my life.”
Secretary Jin said: “Seems like your Father’s a scholar as well.”
Tao Mo shook his head and said: “Actually, my Father’s also illiterate.”
“Oh? But five thousand taels isn’t a small sum, how can an average person donate such a large sum of money?”
Tao Mo was slightly uncomfortable, but he replied: “My Father’s a businessman.”
When Secretary Jin saw his alerted face, he stopped and did not ask further.
Tao Mo sighed with relief.
The carriage stopped in front of the entrance of a large residence. On both sides, there were white walls and red tiles and green trees higher than the top of the walls, which marked the beginning of spring in this piercingly-cold severe winter.
When Tao Mo and Secretary Jin got off the carriage, they saw that Hao Guozi had knocked on the door and relayed the message.
After about half the time needed to drink a cup of tea, a man, who looked like a housekeeper, came out from inside. He received the New Year’s goods from Hao Guozi, turned about, and took them to a waiting hall. After the time it takes for an incense stick to burn, the housekeeper sent them to the flower garden.
The flower garden was mostly desolate and a lone plum blossom was planted near the pavilion. Now that it was blooming season, it was very beautiful. Within the pavilion, there were refined people of graceful bearing, fancily setting off one another. Sitting in the middle of the pavilion was an over-half-a-century-old scholar with a fine beard, bright and piercing eyes, and a handsome visage. Sitting on his left-hand side was a fascinating and charming woman, who was about forty-years old, with a beautiful face, almond-shaped eyes, cherry lips, and a small black mole on the corner of her mouth. On his right-hand side was a young man with starry eyes like pearls, and was the one that Tao Mo was most concerned about these few days.
“I wasn’t made aware in advance of His Excellency Tao’s arrival, please excuse me for not going out to meet you.” The scholar did not leave his seat, but raised his hands, and not the least bit of sincerity, cupped his hands in salute.
Tao Mo hurriedly returned the greetings, “It’s my impertinence to come here in a hurry without informing you beforehand.”
The scholar’s eyes turned and landed on Secretary Jin.
Secretary Jin cupped his hands in salute and greeted: “Mr. Yichui.”
Mr. Yichui’s lips slightly raised, then he pulled his beard, “Alas. Brother Jin, you still regard me as an outsider, just call me Yichui.”
Secretary Jin replied: “Mr. Yichui, you’re famous all over the land. Humble me dares not to overstep courtesy.”
This kind of conversation seemed to have happened many times. Mr. Yichui was not willing to drag it on for too long, so he waved his hand and said: “Both of you, please have a seat.”
Tao Mo trotted to Gu She’s side and sat down.
Secretary Jin had no choice but to sit next to Mrs. Yichui.
Mr. Yichui looked at Gu She and Tao Mo with great interest and said: “I heard that His Excellency Tao just arrived at Tan Yang County not too long ago, yet he’s already acquainted with my little disciple?”
Tao Mo smiled and his eyes narrowed, “It’s fate, I had met him four times.” He emphasized the ‘four times’ one by one.
Seeing Gu She’s eyebrows slightly wrinkled, Mr. Yichui could not help but smile and say: “His Excellency Tao is indeed an observant and conscientious person.”
All of a sudden, Mrs. Yichui spoke: “I wonder if His Excellency Tao is married yet?”
Tao Mo was shocked and shook his head. He also did not know why everyone had to ask him about it in the past few days.
Mrs. Yichui suddenly looked very happy, “Your Excellency Tao, if you don’t mind it, how about if you let me be your matchmaker?”
Secretary Jin looked at Mr. Yichui and found that he only sat there. It was obvious that he did not mind his own wife’s conduct.
Tao Mo subconsciously looked at Gu She.
Mrs. Yichui added: “You can rest assured. She’er won’t compete with you.”
Tao Mo hesitated.
Gu She nonchalantly proposed a toast, sipped his tea slowly and said: “Madam, have you asked Miss Tong’s opinion?”
Mrs. Yichui tapped her chest and replied: “Before I was married, I was also Miss Tong. Of course, I clearly know her opinion, why the need to ask again?”
Gu She was accustomed to common practices like this and did not say another word.
Tao Mo was very excited. He did not expect Gu She would open his mouth to protect him. He blurted out: “I’ll listen to Gu She.”
Everyone in their seats were silent.