Author: Su Youbing
Madam Tong suddenly hit the table hard, then she stood up and brusquely said, “Don’t think you can rely on your father’s name and be a fox who exploits the tiger’s might in our residence! Even though we‘re relatives, we shan’t give you mere younger generations a leeway to spout a stream of empty rhetoric in here!”
The young woman responded nonchalantly, “My Aunt, why are you so mad at me? There‘s just a few things I’m not clear about Yinghong’s matter; hence, I want to ask you questions, so as to keep Yinghong from being disturbed further underground after her death. If by any chance she takes things too hard underground and often pays you a visit here in your residence, it won’t be good.”
Madam Tong sneered and said, “Stop frightening me by speaking of supernatural beings. The Master  does not speak of supernatural things, unnatural phenomena, spirits and demons. I’m not one of those women with shallow knowledge. Yinghong was single-handedly raised by me. If she wishes to come back to our residence to visit me, that‘s all I could wish for.”
( The Master referred to here is Confucius.)
“My Aunt, you’re really sincere.” The young woman forced a smile. “My Aunt, since you made a solemn vow, why not answer my question a moment ago openly? Why did Yinghong have such secret rendezvous with that surnamed Cai for so many years and you didn’t know anything about it?”
“Yinghong has been a sensible girl since she was young and I naturally trust her. If it wasn’t for that Cai Fengyuan seducing her, she would’ve remained within her bounds, stayed at home, and awaited for her to get married. Then she could’ve spent her lifetime in comfort assisting her husband and teaching her children.” Talking about this got her worked up. Madam Tong could not help but wipe her tears with her sleeve.
Master Tong could not help but hold her in his arms.
The young woman spoke, “I can’t believe my Aunt actually loves Yinghong so dearly. It seems that all her complaints about you before her death were all misunderstandings. You never scowled at her with freezing irony and burning satire, right?”
Madam Tong answered angrily, “She did this kind of indecent things. Don’t tell me I don’t even have the right to scold her about it?”
Master Tong suddenly felt stiff all over.
The young woman revealed a somewhat cunning smile. “My Aunt, you already knew about her and Cai Fengyuan. So, every first and fifteenth of the month, you stopped going to Guanyin Temple to burn joss sticks. Does that mean you also sacrificed yourself to offer her help?”
Realizing that she made a slip of the tongue, her complexion grew paler and became speechless for quite a while.
The young woman suddenly put away her smile and fiercely said, “My Aunt! You’ve been married to the Tongs for nearly thirty years and by never giving birth to a son or a daughter, you’ve already violated one of the seven reasons of divorce . If it wasn’t for Uncle’s sympathy for you and for you not having a family to return to, he should’ve cut ties with you a long time ago! You’re detestable not only for being ungrateful, but also for hounding to death three of Uncle’s concubines before this and then you even didn’t let off his own flesh and blood! If it wasn’t for your deliberate indulgence, then how could Cai Fengyuan easily approach Yinghong? They went as far as having a secret rendezvous for many years!”
( In traditional Chinese society, the husband may unilaterally declare a divorce. To be legally recognized, it must be based on one of the seven reasons. In this scenario, Madam Tong failed to bear a son. There are, however, three clearly defined exceptions, under which unilateral divorce is forbidden despite the presence of any of the seven reasons. For Madam Tong’ case, she has no family to return to. Also, it seems like it was implied here that Yinghong isn’t her daughter.)
Madam Tong suddenly felt weak. As she staggered, she took a step back and plopped into her chair.
Master Tong looked at her with eyes filled with disappointment and anger.
Looking at the two who were reticent, the young woman softly asked, “Uncle, until when will you tolerate this woman? Do you really want the Tongs to be without an issue?”
“Enough.” Master Tong’s voice was hoarse.
The young woman was suddenly astonished.
Master Tong pointed toward the door. “Leave.”
“Uncle?” The young woman frowned.
“This is my family’s matter after all and has nothing to do with yours.” Master Tong’s tone was stiff.
The young woman’s charming face suddenly blushed, and soon after that, she dryly said, “It’s me who’s being a busybody. I’ll take my leave.”
Tao Mo looked at the young woman who furiously left, then he looked at the couple who were sitting silently, and finally looked at Gu She who was beside him and asked, “What‘s this all about?”
“It’s as what you heard.” Gu She looked at Master Tong with a vague smile.
At once, Master Tong felt his face become hot, which was a hundredfolds harsher than the young woman’s words, as if he was nothing but an incompetent fool who was not worth attending to.
“Young Master Gu.” He did not dare to turn his face and could only say with emphasis, “My household is in troubled times. I dare not to ask guests to stay. Please do as you two please.”
“Madam Tong…” Tao Mo opened his mouth, but he did not know how to proceed. With regards to Tong Yinghong and Cai Fengyuan’s death, Madam Tong was a mere bystander. Although he could say that she had something to do with it, he also could not put the blame on her. He pondered over this until he felt as though his head could explode. As the saying goes, even an upright official finds it hard to settle a family quarrel. He finally became aware of this.
When he was still hesitating, he heard Gu She saying, “We’ll take our leave.”
Tao Mo was dumbfounded. He hurriedly bid farewell to Master Tong and chased after Gu She.
Outside of the Tongs’ residence, he saw that the young woman had not left. She was only standing in front of Gu She’s carriage.
“Senior Brother.” The young woman smiled, completely void of the aggressiveness she had shown in the Tongs’ residence earlier. “If it wasn’t for your reminder that Madam Tong was behaving strangely and was harboring ulterior motives, I couldn’t draw her out and make her spout all of her years of resentment.”
Gu She responded, “I just don’t like to play the role of a clumsy fool.”
Tao Mo listened to the two carry on with their dialogue and still had a smattering of knowledge. “You mean to say Madam Tong wanted to intentionally harm Miss Tong?”
The young woman smiled and replied, “You‘re probably the first county magistrate to be favored by my senior brother.”
Tao Mo beamed with delight and asked, “Really?”
“Why should I lie to you?” The young woman looked at Gu She. “I just don’t understand, why did Senior Brother, who never spoke to anyone encouragingly, make an exception?”
Tao Mo’s eyes shone and firmly gazed at Gu She.
Gu She calmly said, “I only wanted him to know that the truth he knew was not necessarily the truth. What he knew was actually just the tip of the iceberg.”
Tao Mo was at a loss.
The young woman laughed heartily and said, “Senior Brother‘s still…a solitary flower in love with its own fragrance.”
Gu She indifferently said, “It’s not that I‘m a solitary flower in love with its own fragrance. It’s just that there’s no one else in this world who shares the same admiration with me.”
Tao Mo foolishly looked at him. They were obviously just standing so close to each other that he could touch Gu She’s sleeve as soon as he reached out, but with the utterance of a single sentence at that moment, a wide gap on the ground appeared between him and Gu She.
Tao Mo returned to the county’s yamen looking blue.
Old Tao saw him and asked.
Tao Mo did not dare to mention his thoughts about Gu She. He only talked about the fierce confrontation between the young woman and Madam Tong.
After listening to it, Old Tao also sighed. “Everything came about because of jealousy. The so-called detestable man certainly have something to be pitied on. If people have seven emotions and six desires , they will inevitably love, hate, admire, and envy. A mere thought of doing good; a thought of doing evil; may it be good or evil, they all came from the heart.” After he finished talking, he sighed deeply again. Indeed, it was as if he was affected to some extent.
( The seven emotions refer joy, anger, grief, worry, fear, sentiments, and affection. The six desires refer to lust, vanity, dignity, pleasant sounds, and good life/death.)
Tao Mo asked, “Old Tao, what are you thinking about?”
Old Tao answered, “I’m thinking about my past.”
Tao Mo curiously asked, “What kind of past?” When he saw that Old Tao was reticent, he hastily added, “If you don’t feel like talking about it, don’t force it.”
“There‘s nothing to hide.” Old Tao slowly walked to the window. As he gazed at the dark sky outside the window, he slowly said, “I once betrayed my…master.”
“Your previous master?”
Tao Mo said, “You…how were things with your previous master?”
“Quite good.” Old Tao revealed a gratified smile. “He regained his family property.”
“Regained?” Tao Mo nervously asked, “Was there a scoundrel who unlawfully seized his family property?”
Old Tao answered, “You can put it that way. He had gone through a lot of difficulties and untold hardships along the way. Regrettably, I was blind at that time and could not see his painstaking efforts. I even dropped stones on him when he had fallen into a well and added hail to snow. Fortunately, he did not fail to live up to the…Old Master’s expectations.”
Tao Mo saw that he looked upset, so he consoled him by saying, “If he knew that you think so, he‘ll be very glad.”
“Perhaps…” Old Tao answered with reluctance.
Tao Mo said, “Why don’t you go back and have a look? Perhaps he has already forgiven you.”
“Go back?” Old Tao was suddenly taken aback. He looked at Tao Mo quietly. After a while, he responded, “Yes, I should go back, but not now.”
Old Tao faintly smiled. “How can I feel at ease to leave without seeing you get married and have children of your own?”
“It’s not urgent.” Tao Mo stammered for a little while, then he suddenly looked up and said, “Old Tao, do you intend not to come back after you go back?”
“I dread this isn’t up to me.” Old Tao forced a smile.
When Tao Mo was about to ask again, he heard someone rushing in. Hao Guozi ran in and said, “Official Clerk Cui‘s here.”
Tao Mo recalled that he had sent Cui Jiong to inquire about Cai Fengyuan in the neighboring county before. He hurried out to welcome him.
Cui Jiong was waiting in the reception pavilion. When he saw Tao Mo coming out, he was about to make his salutations when Tao Mo suddenly held him by the arm and ask, “Have you found Cai Fengyuan’s family?”
He shook his head and answered, “The Cai family has long been gone.”
Dejected, Tao Mo heaved a sigh.
Cui Jiong added, “I recall that Cai Fengyuan didn’t come to Tan Yang by himself.”
Tao Mo clapped his forehead and said, “Yes, the innkeeper said before that he was with his friend. Hasn’t that friend ever appear yet?”
Cui Jiong shook his head and answered, “The corpse is still in the morgue, but if nobody will claim it, it‘ll be buried in Mount Yunlin.”
“It’s a place where we bury people who don’t have family and friends.”
When Tao Mo recalled that he and Cai Fengyuan were acquainted, he immediately somewhat had the intention to facilitate his burial. It was just that he had handed over all of his money to Old Tao for safekeeping and he still had to ask for Old Tao’s approval. In the end, he only nodded and said nothing.
Cui Jiong was not close to the county magistrate so he did not stay after he dealt with his business.
Tao Mo pondered over how he could open up about this to Old Tao.