Author: Su Youbing
However, the news brought by Hao Guozi had solved this problem without waiting for Tao Mo to come up with a countermeasure.
“Ghost marriage?” Tao Mo was suddenly dumbfounded.
Hao Guozi nodded and replied, “The man sent by Master Tong did say so. Master Tong said that Miss Tong remained unmarried all her life and he feared that she would be lonely in the netherworld. It‘s hard to come by that Young Master Cai happened to be all alone as well, so Master Tong was willing to pay for both of them to have a ghost marriage and bury them side by side.”
After hearing this, Tao Mo drew the conclusion that when Master Tong talked about Miss Tong being unable to marry all her life and being all alone, it was all empty talk. What he really wanted was to fulfill his own daughter’s wish when she was still alive. This was also good. They could not share the same quilt in life, but if they could be in the same coffin pit after death, this could also be counted as fulfilling the wish.
“Such outcome’s also not too satisfactory. I just don’t know whether Miss Tong and Cai Fengyuan would know about this underground or not.”
Hao Guozi said, “They had it rough in this life, perhaps they could mend their lives in the afterlife.”
Amazed, Tao Mo asked, “Do you believe in the afterlife?”
“Haha, all monks…oh, no…isn’t it that that’s what all eminent monks say?” Hao Guozi added, “There’s probably a truth in this; otherwise, why do so many people believe in it?”
Tao Mo lowered his head and said, “If there is, then it’s good.”
“My father cultivated goodness all his life. If there’s really an afterlife, certainly he could reincarnate in a respectable family and enjoy wealth and high honor all his life. He absolutely won’t meet an unfilial son like me again.”
When Hao Guozi saw him talking, Tao Mo’s countenance was filled with gloom, so he quickly changed the topic, “Young Master, it will be New Year in a few days. How do you intend to spend it?”
Tao Mo thought for a moment, then answered, “It’s for Old Tao to decide on this.”
Hao Guozi pulled him by the sleeve, then ran. “Let’s go and ask him right away.”
“Do you know where Old Tao is?”
“I don’t know. Young Master, do you know?”
“…turn around, then forge ahead.”
Ghost marriage was not something glorious and New Year was just around the corner, so the Tongs dealt with this marriage in an extremely secretive way. Tao Mo and Gu She only learned about this matter after receiving red eggs from the Tongs.
At this time, Tan Yang County was completely immersed in the joyful spirit of New Year. Whether it was Miss Tong or Cai Fengyuan, all of which had been cast aside in the back of everyone’s mind and no one mentioned them again.
The yamen, however, gradually became deserted.
The servants went back home one after another, except for two of them who were homeless. By New Year’s Eve, there were only five people left in the yamen.
Old Tao called the two remaining servants into the hall and offered them seats.
Although only two tables were added, it was livelier than having only three people.
Tao Mo ate in silence.
Old Tao and Hao Guozi knew that he remembered Old Master Tao, so they all did their best to make him laugh. The servants were somewhat restrained at first, but after yellow rice wine was served, they threw all restraints and did not care whether the other party was their master or not.
Faced with their laughter and jokes several times, Tao Mo finally showed his face and began to drink with them.
After drinking a cup or two, he was unable to distinguish the direction anymore.
Hao Guozi and the servants could not hold their liquor as well. Each and every one sat unsteadily.
Old Tao saw that four out of five people were already down. Since it was not fun to watch the night alone, he had to send them staggering back to their rooms.
There was nothing special about this night.
When the doors reopened, it was already New Year.
When Tao Mo woke up, it was already high noon.
He walked to Old Tao’s room with a hangover headache, and when he was about to knock on the door, he heard Hao Guozi shout at the top of his voice, “Young Master, Secretary Jin is coming to pay a New Year call!”
Tao Mo got dizzy by his roar. After quite a while, he asked, “Who‘s Secretary Jin?”
Hao Guozi turned to look at Secretary Jin’s blank face, then he smiled and said, “Young Master, the one whom you’ve made three calls at the thatched cottage to take that secretary post.”
“Three calls at the thatched cottage?” Tao Mo suddenly turned around. Although he was totally illiterate, he had heard the story of Liu Bei who made three calls at the thatched cottage to ask Zhuge Liang to become his military adviser. “Secretary Jin?”
Secretary Jin forced a smile and said, “Master do you remember me now? For a second I thought I had to get a better job somewhere else.”
Tao Mo awkwardly covered his forehead and ran over. “I drank a bit last night.”
Secretary Jin ignored him and handed the basket in his hand over to Hao Guozi. He said, “These are some refreshments personally made by my wife. If Master is bothered by it…”
“I don’t mind it…” Tao Mo promptly cut him off.
Secretary Jin replied, “In that case, many thanks, Master.”
When Tao Mo saw that he was about to leave, he anxiously said, “You rarely come here. Why don’t you stay for a meal?”
“I rarely come here?” Secretary Jin almost could not maintain his smile. “If I remember correctly, I come here every day except yesterday.”
Tao Mo, himself, knew that he made a slip of the tongue. “Yes, yes, yes, I…. I just want to invite you for a meal, Secretary.”
Secretary Jin looked at him suspiciously. Is there anything he wants to say at the dinner table? With this in mind, Secretary Jin was held back from leaving.
The table, which was originally for three, became a table for four and it also became a bit livelier.
It was only Old Tao and Hao Guozi who noticed that when Secretary Jin was eating, he did not focus his gaze on the rice bowl; rather, it was glued on Tao Mo and his face was full of questions.
Old Tao and Hao Guozi secretly exchanged glances.
Hao Guozi picked some vegetables for Secretary Jin. “Secretary, eat some more. You’re too thin.”
Secretary Jin suddenly stopped chewing, then he put back the soybean sprouts which had just been picked up for him, and indifferently said, “If you eat too much bean sprouts, you‘ll naturally become thin.”
Hao Guozi winked at Old Tao.
Old Tao vigorously smiled faintly at Secretary Jin and said, “We placed several herbs in this chicken soup which is very nutritious. Secretary, you might as well as give it a taste.”
Baffled, Secretary Jin looked at him. “I already had three bowls of it.”
When Tao Mo saw that both Hao Guozi and Old Tao took the initiative to take care of him, he thought that he should not sit idly as well. Soon afterward, he said, “This meat is delicious. Please try it, Secretary.”
Is it possible that he hid the hint about the matter in this red braised pork? Secretary Jin looked at the red braised pork dish which was farthest from him. He doubtfully picked a piece of meat with his chopsticks, placed it in his mouth, and savored it slowly.
Both Hao Guozi and Old Tao had a gloomy face.
Tao Mo asked, “Does it taste good?”
Secretary Jin shook his head and said, “I haven’t tasted it properly yet.”
Hao Guozi hastily changed the red braised pork in front of him. “Secretary, taste it slowly.”
Secretary Jin ate one piece. He only felt that the meat was oily but not greasy. It tasted just fine, but he could not think of anything else. In the midst of his thoughts, he suddenly saw a man come in from outside. It was actually Cui Jiong.
“Official Clerk Cui.”
Everyone stood up and greeted him.
Cui Jiong hastily returned the salute. He also came to pay a New Year call. He thought that he would come over after lunch and sit for a moment before he leaves. Who would have thought that he would run into them when they were having their awkward meal time.
Therefore, Cui Jiong, without waiting for Hao Guozi to serve the tea, casually found a reason to take his leave.
Although he came and went in a hurry, it actually gave Secretary Jin a bright idea. Could it be that Tao Mo‘s hinting on the yamen’s ill-gotten gains ?!
( 油水 or yóushui can mean grease, profit, or ill-gotten gains.)
It was well known that the county magistrate‘s jurisdiction was not solely on dealing with criminal cases, but it also encompassed the duty to levy taxes, handle taxes in kind, send relief to disaster-stricken areas, indoctrination, set up schools, and so on.
Among the counties in the nation, Tan Yang had rich and wealthy citizens. They had no need for disaster relief and litigants were rampant, so there was no need to worry about indoctrination and setting up schools. These leaves levying taxes and handling taxes in kind alone in the hands of the county magistrate, which was an enormous source of ill-gotten gains. However, the one who grabbed these illegal gains was not any of the previous county magistrates.
Those county magistrates might have had something to do with it, but the ringleader was none other than Cui Jiong, who had been staying in the county for more than a decade without getting toppled by the blowing wind and getting wiped out by the pouring rain. He had extreme means to obtain these ill-gotten gains and never registered it in the account ledger. Although some litigants knew about this, the water which was too clean had few fish . That Cui Jiong was also known as a man who was usually sensible, so they turned a blind eye to him and let him have his own way.
( An idiom which meant that those who are too critical have few friends.)
However, in the past few days, not long after Tao Mo took office, Cui Jiong received a large denomination of tribute silver from the merchants. Although Secretary Jin did not know what Cui Jiong had promised them, from his perspective, the transaction was already completed. Leaving aside how deep and unmeasurable Tao Mo was in Secretary Jin’s heart, this new official had just taken office. He still did not know what Tao Mo’s preferences were. Cui Jiong rushed to get himself splashed with the stench of fish all over his body and his failure would be truly inevitable.
He inwardly reckoned. This Cui Jiong’s arrival was a coincidence. Could it be that Tao Mo was deliberately giving him a hint? If it was really what he had in mind, then Tao Mo certainly did not want to make a move on Cui Jiong at the moment. Tao Mo must be thinking of using his taste as a pretext to let him curb that Cui Jiong a little bit. Just like that red braised pork; although it was oily, it could not go so far as becoming greasy.
After thinking up until this point, Secretary Jin thought that he had already comprehended Tao Mo’s real intention. Soon afterward, he put his chopsticks down, smiled, and said, “This red braised pork is really well-cooked. Although it’s oily, it’s not greasy. It melts in the mouth and leaves no trace.”
When Old Tao heard him, he thought that Secretary Jin was pointing out something, but he did not know what he meant, so he could only inquire Tao Mo with his eyes.
How would have Tao Mo known that with a single red braised pork dish, Secretary Jin‘s train of thought had already flown a thousand miles away. He only thought that Secretary Jin really liked it, so he smiled and said, “Secretary, if you like it, you might as well as eat some more.”
“No need. Everything must be stopped before it goes too far.” Secretary Jin raised his eyebrows to signify that he already comprehended what Tao Mo wanted to say.
Tao Mo gazed over at the remaining meat dish with regret. Soon afterward, he picked a mouthful into his mouth and said, “It’s a pity that so much was left.”
Secretary Jin who, at this point, had completely “comprehended” it, thought that this newly appointed county magistrate also wanted to take a share of the profits!
“Of course, of course.” He had been a secretary for a long time and was already accustomed to this kind of thing. He would neither revere the county magistrate for his nobility nor despise him for his greed.
In his eyes, whether the person was noble or greedy, he was his master. What he needed to do was only “a matter within his remit.”