Author: Su Youbing
Tao Mo did not succeed in opening the coffin. He was very upset.
Old Tao knew the entire process; nonetheless, he was thankful. It was not a trivial matter to open a coffin to do an autopsy, especially considering it had already been buried. Tao Mo had no tangible evidence in his hands as well. If something really happened, perhaps not only would he disturb Mr. Yi Chui, but he would also have to pay for it with the loss of the official’s hat on his head.
When he saw Tao Mo’s depressed and frustrated mood, he quickly shifted Tao Mo’s attention and said, “Official Clerk Cui has sent someone to look into the identity of that man who beat the drum.”
Tao Mo’s eyes lit up. “Who is he?”
“The man’s name is Cai Fengyuan. He’s a scholar from the neighboring county.”
Tao Mo asked, “He knows Miss Tong?”
Old Tao answered with hesitation, “He shouldn’t know her.” Yet, contrarily, he knew her.
Tao Mo frowned and asked, “Then, how come they know each other?”
Old Tao answered, “Young Master, you can ask Official Clerk Cui to send someone and invite him over to explain how the entire matter had developed.” Since Cai Fengyuan dared to beat the drum to hold court, surely, he had the consciousness to explain.
“That won’t do,” Tao Mo added. “I’d better ask him myself.”
When Old Tao saw that Tao Mo was leaving right after he spoke, he quickly said, “Young Master, you should change your clothes first.”
Tao Mo only noticed now that he had been wearing the official’s gown all along, so he said with regret, “Ah, I actually wore this to see Gu She.”
Old Tao thought to himself, You brought this upon yourself. He pretended to be surprised and said, “Young Master, you went to see Gu She?”
Every time Old Tao brought up Gu She, Tao Mo felt ashamed. He hung his head down and answered, “I wanted to ask him to open the coffin with me.”
“That Young Master Gu’s a scholar. How can he perform an autopsy?” Old Tao asked.
Tao Mo answered, “But he went with me.”
Old Tao was dumbfounded. He was puzzled for a while after pondering over Gu She’s intention for a hundred times. “Perhaps, Young Master Gu’s concerned about Miss Tong’s cause of death. However, he’s Mr. Yi Chui’s outstanding disciple after all. It’ll be better for you not to get too close to him, Young Master.”
Tao Mo had doubts, so he asked, “Since he’s Mr. Yi Chui’s outstanding disciple, I should be close to him. Why can’t I be close with him?”
Old Tao meaningfully said, “Young Master, I’m afraid that the closeness that you’re referring to isn’t what Young Master Gu desires.”
Tao Mo’s face turned red. “I’m going to change clothes.”
Old Tao watched as he hurried back and sighed silently. Why is the practice of cut-sleeve so popular recently?
Tao Mo changed his clothes and looked for a yamen attendant to lead the way. He took Hao Guozi and hurried to the inn where Cai Fengyuan was staying in.
The inn was a bit old. Although it was already noon, there were only a few guests.
The shopkeeper saw the yamen attendant come in through the door, so he hurriedly went out to greet him, “Officer, do you have any commands?”
The yamen attendant asked, “Is that Cai Fengyuan staying in your place?”
The shopkeeper had heard earlier about Cai Fengyuan’s complaint of injustice in morning, so he quickly nodded and said, “Yes, he’s staying in the third room on the left wing of the second floor. He was accompanied by a scholar. I heard Cai Fengyuan calling him Brother Bian.”
The official nodded and asked, “Is he still inside that room?”
“He hasn’t come out yet since he returned this morning,” the shopkeeper said as he secretly stole a glance at Tao Mo, who was standing behind the yamen attendant.
Tao Mo smiled back at him.
The shopkeeper was surprised then asked, “Is this His Excellency, the County Magistrate?”
Hao Guozi jumped out and said, “Exactly. This is His Excellency Tao.”
The shopkeeper was startled and about to kowtow, but he was stopped by Tao Mo. “This isn’t the court. There’s no need to be like this.”
The shopkeeper said, “Your Excellency, I’ll usher you upstairs.”
Tao Mo replied, “Sorry to bother you.”
When they went upstairs, there was a continuous discussion in the hall.
“Hey, this County Magistrate seems to be very gentle.”
“Only on the surface. Usually, all of the new officials are bastards, waiting to get a firm foothold. Hmp! That arrogant idler’s comparable to a ferocious king.”
“I don’t see the resemblance.”
“The last few officials didn’t look like that as well.”
“Sigh. But you needn’t worry. We’re here in Tan Yang. Only the officials are irrational, and the litigants are upright.”
“Haha. You’re right.”
Tao Mo, nevertheless, did not hear the discussion downstairs. When he was looking at the door in front of him, the door opened from the inside. The surprised look on the young man from the court earlier turned into a grin of dissatisfaction, “The County Magistrate’s got a really good nose, so it could smell so far away.”
Tao Mo spoke, “Can I come in and sit?”
“If I refuse, perhaps I’ll be taken to sit in prison by you.” Cai Fengyuan stepped aside to give way to him.
Hao Guozi frowned and said, “Why do you sound rude?”
Tao Mo turned to the yamen attendant and said, “Thank you for your trouble showing the way. You can go back first.”
The yamen attendant asked to be excused.
Tao Mo strode into the room.
Like the lobby in the inn, the room was somewhat old. The only window was stuffed with cloth to block the wind. The brother that the shopkeeper mentioned was not in the room. There was only Cai Fengyuan, who was sitting at the table and ignoring him.
Hao Guozi looked at him with anger welling up from his heart. “Do you know how to treat a guest?”
Cai Fengyuan answered, “Are gate crashers also guests?
Tao Mo spoke, “May I sit down?”
Cai Fengyuan looked away. “Sit if you like.”
Tao Mo sat down slowly and without much effort, moved a chair next to Hao Guozi to let him sit down as well.
“I came here for Miss Tong’s case.” He cut right to the chase.
Cai Fengyuan looked askance at him. “I wonder how much hush money His Excellency Tao’s willing to pay?”
Tao Mo was dumbfounded. “Hush money?”
Cai Fengyuan sneered and said, “Or does His Excellency not want to pay even a single copper, directly threaten me for a period of time, and drive me out of Tan Yang?”
Tao Mo appeased him by saying, “You can set your mind at ease. As long as you have done no evil, not in the least will you be driven out.”
Cai Fengyuan flared up, slammed the table, and stood up. He said, “So the thief cries thief! No wonder you’re able to win over Mr. & Mrs. Yi Chui’s trust. You’re so cunning.”
Tao Mo was confused by his accusations. He blankly said, “Wasn’t it you who complained?”
“That’s right! I’ll sue you. Not only will I expose you in Tan Yang, but I’ll also go to the Provincial Government to sue you, go to the Ministry of Justice to sue you, and go to the Imperial Court of Justice to sue you!” Cai Fengyuan suddenly burst into tears, “If I won’t sue you, how else will I soothe Yinghong’s soul in heaven?”
Tao Mo looked stupidly.
Hao Guozi finally understood what he was saying. “You’re slinging mud at my Young Master. My Young Master has never even seen that Miss Tong’s face. How could he have hounded her to death?”
“See the face?” Cai Fengyuan looked as if he was mad, crying as well as laughing, “Yinghong and I are each other’s sunshine. We have already promised our life and death. I mustn’t take another as a wife, and she mustn’t get married to another in this life. We agreed to wait. Provided I gain a scholarly honor in the imperial examination, I’ll go to the Tongs’ Residence to propose a marriage alliance. Who would have thought…who would have thought that she couldn’t wait for me and left like this?”
Hao Guozi said, “That Miss Tong is already in her twenties. How come you still haven’t attained your goal?”
Cai Fengyuan suddenly cried. His pale-turned-to-blue complexion revealed a faint blush.
Hao Guozi looked at him with interest. “Could it be that you’ve tried repeatedly and failed, gratuitously wasting away Miss’s years, and in despair, she took her own life?”
“Nonsense!” Cai Fengyuan was enraged to the point that his ears and neck started to flush. “If the Tongs and the county magistrate didn’t join hands to force her, how could she have come up with this unwise decision?”
Hao Guozi’s air of cracking jokes came to a stop. He also got annoyed and his face’s color turned to red. “I’ve said from the start that my Young Master had never met that Miss Tong, let alone marry her. Can you not understand?”
Cai Fungyuan replied, “Now that Yinghong has passed away, you can just say anything with ease.”
Hao Guozi blurted out, “My Young Master only likes men. How can he take fancy to that Miss Tong?!”
The room suddenly became quiet.
Tao Mo was embarrassed and unable to show his face.
Cai Fengyuan spoke indistinctly after a good long while, “What proof do you have?”
Hao Guozi angrily gritted his teeth and said, “How can this kind of thing have proof? Don’t tell me you want my Young Master to strip your clothes and push you down on the bed to believe it?”
Cai Fengyuan seemed to have been punched and there was a burst of white and a burst of blue on his face.
Tao Mo blushed with shame, almost like dripping blood. “Don’t speak.”
Hao Guozi knew that he had said too much and whispered, “I obviously pushed him too hard.”
Tao Mo said, “We’re still concerned about Miss Tong’s cause of death.”
Hao Guozi spoke, “Do we still need to ask? It must be because Miss Tong couldn’t wait for the certainty of him passing brilliantly that she felt this life was hopeless. She was depressed and committed suicide.”
Cai Fengyuan pursed his lips. Tao Mo tenderly said, “Young Master Cai, please sit down. How about if you explain what actually happened in detail.”
After Cai Fengyuan knew that Tao Mo could not marry Tong Yinghong, the malice in his heart dispersed. Although Tao Mo was not outstanding in appearance, his eyes were clear and looked calm. So, he could not help but feel a little close. He gradually sat down and said, “I met Yinghong at the Guanyin  Temple. We fell in love at first sight; but unfortunately, we had no chance to talk. Who would have thought that the Heavens showed mercy upon us? Afterwards, when I would go to the temple each first and fifteenth day of the month to send transcribes of Buddhist sutras, I would see her. In the course of time, we finally had the opportunity to talk. I remember that day. It was drizzling outside. We sat on two stools, but I felt very calm. Later on, the first and fifteenth of the month became the time when we would meet each other twice a month. I know the Tong Family is a rich and influential family in Tan Yang, so we agreed to wait for me to pass brilliantly as the number one scholar. A wedding in style following the Three Letters and Six Etiquettes  is a must to marry her. Who would have known, who would have known…”
( Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy.)
( In the ancient times, it was very important to follow a basic principle of Three Letters and Six Etiquette since they were essential to a marriage. The Three Letters include the Betrothal Letter, Gift Letter and Wedding Letter. The Six Etiquettes include Proposing, Birthday Matching, Presenting Betrothal Gifts, Presenting Wedding Gifts, Picking Auspicious Wedding Date, and Wedding Ceremony.)
Hao Guozi could not help asking, “How many years have you two known each other?”
Cai Fengyuan’s lips trembled. “Five years.”