Author: Su Youbing
Miss Tong of the Tong’s household had long been a topic of discussion by people during their leisure. Whether it was about the fact that she was in her twenties and yet she was still unmarried, or her vicious temperament, it was enough to discuss her for three days and three nights. Now that she had suddenly hang herself — although it was unknown why, some busybodies had long linked this matter to Tao Mo’s visit to Mr. Yichui’s residence. There were even rumors that Miss Tong did not want to get married to County Magistrate Tao. She cried to her parents, but it was fruitless and thus, she chose to hang herself.
In short, all kinds of rumors shrouded the entire county like snowflakes, and the eve of the New Year became noisier.
Even though Miss Tong was said to have hanged herself, her death caused an uproar, and the county’s yamen still had to conduct an investigation. When Cui Jiong received the news, he took the coroner to autopsy the corpse. Although there were no rumors yet at that time, the Tong’s household was a rich and influential family in the locality and they also had an affinity with Mr. Yichui. He must not treat them without proper respect and examine her from head to toe very carefully.
Miss Tong’s parents cried so hard, but they had no grievances in the least. Obviously, they had foreseen this result.
Cui Jiong interrogated for half of the day. After seeing that nothing was suspicious from the human testimonies, material evidences and the corpse, only then did he return to the county’s yamen to report to Tao Mo.
Tao Mo immediately sobbed when he heard about it. Although he did not intend to marry that Miss Tong, those words from Mrs. Yichui still got them involved in some kind of a relationship. He did not know if Miss Tong was really like what rumors had it — that she took it too hard and committed suicide for fear of being married to him. If this was the case, it was really his big sin.
Three days after Miss Tong passed away, Mrs. Yichui brought gifts and came over to visit.
In the beginning, Tao Mo was oddly ridiculed by her show of goodwill. Now that Miss Tong had passed away, it was impossible for them to get married. Later on, he found out that Mrs. Yichui had heard those slanderous gossips that had spread in the city, and had caused him trouble because of her impulsiveness, so she came to visit this time to offer him her apologies.
Tao Mo originally did not take these things to his heart. He thought that during the time at his hometown, the rumors he had received were more than these and he regarded these as nothing, let alone this purely fictitious matter. He immediately took this opportunity to console her from her grief.
After much consoling, Mrs. Yichui’s eyes were red, “It was Yinghong who didn’t have the good luck. County Magistrate Tao, if she had seen you and found out that you’re actually a tender and considerate man, she wouldn’t have to take things too hard.”
Tao Mo’s face was red being praised like that, “Madam, I’m underserved of these compliments. A dead person can’t come back to live. If Miss Tong knew that you would be so sad like this, she’d feel uneasy in the afterlife.”
“How could she not feel uneasy, I’m just afraid that she hated me.” Mrs. Yichui sighed, “I didn’t kill Bo Ren, yet Bo Ren died because of me .”
( An excerpt from the book “The Thirty-nine Accounts from the Jin Dynasty” which also talks about Zhou Yi [269-322], a high minister of the Eastern Jin Dynasty, whose courtesy name was Bo Ren. This line literally means that although one didn’t have the heart to hurt that person, that person was hurt by oneself and suffered injuries because of oneself.)
Tao Mo stared blankly and said: “Who’s Bo Ren? Why did he die, too?”
Mr. Yichui was dumbfounded, soon afterwards, she burst into laughter and said: “Teacher, you’re exactly as what rumors have it — unlearned and completely illiterate.”
Tao Mo awkwardly responded: “Among the rumors, there will inevitably be some truth.”
“Speaking of which, it’s all my fault. Teacher, I got you entangled into these embroidered stories and malicious gossips. Rest assured, I’ll certainly refute those rumors for you,” Mrs. Yichui promised him.
“Actually, as long as it won’t ruin Miss Tong’s name, it doesn’t matter to me.”
Mrs. Yichui hurriedly responded: “They shouldn’t talk about you like this. Your Excellency, you’re still unmarried. Letting these rumors spread around would only keep the fine ladies away from you.”
“That’s just fine.” Tao Mo blurted out.
“What?” Mrs. Yichui looked at him in dismay.
Tao Mo knew that he had a slip of the tongue, so he immediately looked at Old Tao, who was standing beside him, and asked for his help.
Sure enough, Old Tao lived up to his expectations and said: “What my Young Master meant was, it’s good to keep such women who believe in these rumors away.”
Mrs. Yichui suddenly laughed and said: “Still, it’s Your Excellency who has keen insights.” She had noticed Old Tao from the beginning. She had followed Mr. Yichui for so many years and did not dare to say anything else, yet she still had the ability to judge people. Although the old man in front of her was not outstanding in appearance, his temperament was calm. He was definitely not an ordinary person. Compared to him, it was actually this Young Master Tao Mo who appeared to be awkward, “This Old Master is…” She could not help asking.
Tao Mo replied: “This is my housekeeper, Old Tao.”
Old Tao politely said: “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Yichui.”
“Venerable Old Master, I certainly don’t deserve this favor.” Mrs. Yichui gently waved her hand and pretended to look at the window, “It’s getting late. I better go back home. Your Excellency Tao, may I please trouble you with Yinghong’s case? She suffered many mishaps in her life. Please help her rest in peace in the afterlife.”
Tao Mo did not understand what she meant, but Old Tao did. After sending Mrs. Yichui off, he entrusted Hao Guozi to ask Cui Jiong if there was nothing suspicious about the case, so that she could finally rest in peace.
Cui Jiong originally worked so hard on the case because it had connections with Mr. Yichui and the Tongs. Now, when he saw Mrs. Yichui came to visit and after Old Tao basically dropped a hint, even if he did not know the reason, he also did not grasp this unnecessary intention again. Soon, he dealt with the suicide case accordingly.
When things had advanced to this point, they must come to a temporary closure. Who would have thought that before the first wave subsided, a new wave had risen?
It was another morning where Tao Mo was sleeping in, when the drum outside the county’s yamen was beaten loudly.
Hao Guozi rushed in his room. He pulled Tao Mo up to get him dressed and helped him wash his face, then he hastily sent Tao Mo off to the court after cleaning up.
Poor Tao Mo had not totally awakened yet when he sat down on the chair, until someone knelt down below him.
“You… what’s the matter?” He put forth his strength to rub and rub his eyes.
“Your Excellency! Master, I beg for justice!” Anger was written all over the man’s face and a pair of big eyes stared at Tao Mo like two nails, trying to nail him to the wall.
Tao Mo was terrified by his look. His voice trembled when he asked, “What injustice? Please speak.”
“I want to sue the Tongs and Tan Yang’s County Magistrate for killing Tong Yinghong!”
His voice was loud, and if every word he spoke were thrown on the floor, they would make a sound.
Tao Mo was confused, and after quite a while, he responded: “Tan Yang’s County Magistrate is…me.”
“You are indeed, Your Excellency.” The man thought that Tao Mo was playing dumb, and his anger somewhat escalated.
Secretary Jin looked at him and shook his head. Indeed, the testimony of three men could create a tiger in the market. Although he did not know the relationship between this young chap and that Tong Yinghong, it seemed that he must have been confused by the rumors that Tao Mo really wanted to marry the girl. In the past few days, Secretary Jin also heard a lot of gossip and just chuckled over it, moreover he was also present when Mrs. Yichui talked about wedding matters. It was given that he knew that Tao Mo was truly innocent and could not even be more innocent.
Tao Mo asked: “Why do you want to sue me?”
“Your Excellency Tao! Let me ask you now, do you or do you not want to marry Tong Yinghong?”
“Of course not.” Tao Mo replied quickly.
That man was annoyed, “Your Excellency, a true man must be a man of character, should be able to support both heaven and earth, and handle matters by himself. Your Excellency, could it be that you want to become a good-for-nothing cuckold?!”
“Impudent.” Secretary Jin was unable to listen to him much longer, so he could not help but rebuke. He did not know why Tao Mo tolerated him, but to let such a man blurt out big words at the court was really disgraceful. He turned and said to Tao Mo, “Your Excellency, this man has made irresponsible remarks and is too reckless. Your Excellency, please put order in the court.”
Tao Mo was puzzled as he asked: “How can I put order?”
Secretary Jin was so angry yet laughed, “Use the gavel!”
Tao Mo came to. That gavel which was put on the table was not only worth for its look, but it could also be lifted up and down. He looked at the man, and the man glared proudly back at him.
Tao Mo thought for a moment, in the end, he knocked on the table with the gavel and said: “Every word that I say is true.”
“…” Secretary Jin was not angry with the man anymore, he only wanted to throw out the one who was currently presiding the court.
Tao Mo replied: “It’s not me who spread it.”
The man said hatefully: “Your Excellency, are you brave enough to deny that you’ve ever fancied Yinghong?”
“I’m certain that I’ve never taken fancy of her,” Tao Mo answered honestly.
The man’s face turned crimson with anger. He had planned for the worst before he made the drum rolls. His close friends were also ready. If he had any slight mistake with his accusations, they would immediately invite Mr. Lin Zhenyong’s disciple to become his litigant to defend him. It was better if Tao Mo extorted a confession from him by torturing him and letting him suffer from injuries. He was willing to accept it no matter how serious it was. However, no matter what kind of plans he had, the result in front of him was unexpected. It was as if he was allowed to punch, yet he was punched back with a ball of cotton, which felt like there was no effort exerted.
Could it be that this county magistrate planned to act shamelessly until the end?
He heard that some of the litigants were good at endless wrangling, but he did not expect that this county magistrate was also one of those masters. After thinking about it, he simply crossed his heart, suddenly stood up and said: “Tao Mo! The gods are watching, so don’t think you can get away with anything. Face your conscience. Yinghong died of injustice, how can you sleep at night?”
Tao Mo heard this and touched the spot where his heart was and replied: “If Yinghong really died of injustice, as the parental official, I must preside over justice for her!”
The man glared at him, and suddenly stormed off in a huff.
In his imagination, no matter how Tao Mo endured silently, he would still be enraged by someone looking down at his own court. However, the strange thing was, he walked all the way out from the county’s yamen without any reproach and obstruction. Tao Mo and those servants at the yamen seemed to have lost their voices. Even the angry secretary remained silent.
Looking at his surprised close friends outside the county’s yamen, the man was also at a loss.