The school in the city was the only school in the area. There were a lot of students. The school was not bad however. The headmaster was a scholar who passed the imperial provincial examination but did not get himself an official position. The people above thought he was quite an honest man who did not have the bad habits of currying favor and making connections so they sent him here as the headmaster of the school. Since he became the headmaster, he did not dare to make a single mistake, nor did he dare to move the money allocated for the school. He only used it wherever it should be used.
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This gave him a good reputation among the students, and scholars also regarded him as a model school headmaster.
Last year, the imperial court even sent a brocade pennant. When it was delivered, the headmaster burst into tears, crying in front of all the teachers and students of the school.
Da Zhuang was also called Da Zhuang in the school, and he was thinking of letting his teacher give him a proper name in the future.
Er Ya held Da Zhuang’s hand as she walked in the city. She opened her mouth wide and felt that everything in the city was so unreal. She had never been out of the village before, and she didn’t know what the world outside the village was like.
There were street vendors selling on the street, but the roads were clean and tidy. Pedestrians and carts and carriages were separated. The vendors were shouting and haggling with their customers. Many women were walking on the street, carrying cloth bags or vegetable baskets. Some of them had their hair rolled up in a bun while others simply used a hairpin to pin it back from the face.
Er Ya was curious at everything she saw, looking left and right, only to bump into a woman in front of her due to the distraction.
“Little lady.” The woman’s eyebrows were curved, her eyes gentle in appearance, “Be careful.”
Er Ya’s face flushed, and she quickly said, “I didn’t mean to…..”
Da Zhuang pulled Er Ya’s hand: “How did I teach you?”
Er Ya said again, “I’m sorry.”
The woman smiled and said, “There are many people in the morning and at night, so be careful.”
Er Ya nodded hurriedly.
The woman looked at Da Zhuang’s clothes and said, “This gongzi is a student?”
Da Zhuang quickly cupped his hands: “I’m studying at Changqing Academy.”
The woman said warmly: “Well-educated and cultured, this gongzi must be a good student. I hope that gongzi will succeed in your studies and be named on the golden list of successful candidates (of the imperial palace examination).”
Da Zhuang was also blushing from the woman’s blessing. The folk customs in their region were all fierce and valiant, where had he ever seen such a gentle woman before? Da Zhuang thanked her again and again, and kept looking back reluctantly after she left.
Er Ya laughed at him in a low voice: “She has already gone away, there is no sign of her anymore.”
Da Zhuang’s face turned even redder: “What are you saying? Hurry up, so as not to delay the time.”
Er Ya covered her mouth and smiled, but she stopped her teasing. Since her older brother began his studies, his skin had become thinner than when he was a child.
The woman walked to the end of the street, and two people came out of a store, following her side by side. One of them whispered, “My lord, I have inquired about it. Last year’s drought affected eight villages and three towns, but only three towns received subsidies.”
The woman, that was, Hong Xiu, walked forward with an expressionless face. She looked straight ahead with cold eyes, and her tone was calm: “Let the provincial government check the file first, I want to see how a small prefectural magistrate could swallow so much silver, and cover the sky with one hand.”
This year’s big investigation was carried out quietly. No one knew beforehand except for the imperial city’s Court of Censors and the emperor in the capital. Hong Xiu was no longer a Commissioner. She had made a lot of achievements and was now the Imperial Censor of the Left, of the fourth rank. And in the imperial city, she could be regarded as a significant person. Outside of the capital, this official position was also enough to startle the local officials.
The local leadership team had a term of five years, but the minor officials below would not move easily.
Hong Xiu was tasked with inspections, and in her experience the general problems were found among these minor officials.
There were also minor officials who would collectively pull those above them into the water with them, but fortunately, His Majesty’s awe and prestige was at its height, and few dared to do so.
Like this place, where even the prefectural magistrate dared to embezzle government money, it was quite few and far between. In the final analysis, the poorer the place, the more embezzling going on.
Because there was no other way to get money, even if it was a collusion between officials and businessmen, there was not much money to be had from embezzlement. The local economy could not improve, so they could only rely on the disaster relief funds allocated by the imperial court every year. They did not dare to take the funds allocated for big towns, but only dared to embezzle the funds allocated for small villages.
Everyone in the big towns knew that if the disaster relief funds from the imperial court did not come down, they could write to the provincial government to ask.
Only the small villages, being closed off and isolated, were unwilling to interact with the outside, so they could only swallow their losses. Perhaps they didn’t even know they had suffered any losses.
Hong Xiu rubbed her brows and said to the man beside her, “Go to the province personally…..forget it, don’t go there, so as not to leak any news.”
The man nodded and asked cautiously, “My lord, what shall we do next?”
If they didn’t reveal their identity, then they were not officials and couldn’t enter many places.
But revealing their identity would free up the opportunity for the corrupt officials to make preparations.
Whether to reveal their identity or not to reveal their identity, neither felt suitable.
“Get ready, go to the village and collect evidence first.” Hong Xiu sighed, “I just don’t know if the village heads of those villages have listed the post-disaster subsidies for the past few years.”
Man: “This lower official does not think it likely, in this kind of place, it is difficult for even the village head to be literate.”
Hong Xiu pursed her lips: “Let’s go and have a look first, we can only stand on the high ground if there is iron-clad evidence.”
What His Majesty hated most was when officials tried to suppress dissidents using groundless accusations. When carrying out business, one must have evidence.
Once there was evidence, neither the prefectural magistrate nor the minor officials involved would be able to escape. Not a single one.
The good times have gone by for too long of a time, these people really didn’t cherish their own heads at all.
This time, Hong Xiu brought a total of 30 people. These 30 people were all talented professionals. If nothing else, their skills in disguise were first-class.
This disguise was not only about clothes and their manner of deportment, but also included work experience. If someone pretended to be a woodworker, they must really know this line of work.
It was also Zheng Qingfeng who valued this major inspection very much, so he gave so many good professionals to Hong Xiu.
The two who followed Hong Xiu had been practicing martial arts since childhood, and had also trained in the military camp. They were admitted to the Court of Censors after several rounds of selection. They were all upright people, and able to obey orders. But curiously, their appearances looked like young masters of big noble families. When wearing clothes that hide their lean muscles, it prevented people from seeing that they were actually well versed in the martial arts.
They entered the village in an ox cart, their cover story that of searching for their relatives. They had been separated during the times of upheaval, so now they were searching village by village.
Hong Xiu was the head sister-in-law of the family, but she was a widow. After her husband died, she became the mistress ans decision-maker of the family.
The first village they went to was Xiaowan Village. As the name suggested, there was a stream running through this village, dividing the village into two. The houses were beautifully built. The people living on one side were the village head and other members of the Zhao clan. Whereas on the other side were all outsider family names.
Among the people with outsider family names, the surname Feng was the one with the largest number of people, so there have not been many fights in this village. After all, the Zhao family did not dare to bully people with outsider family names too much.
There was no inn in the village, so Hong Xiu rented a big house. The family who owned the house was very happy, it was money filling their pockets after all. With these visitors living for a few days, they would make enough to pay for the expenses in the next few months. So they moved away happily to stay temporarily with relatives, promising some benefits to their relatives as well.
Hong Xiu did not hide herself from the village, and occasionally went out for a walk, talking to older women and young wives nearby.
Probably because Hong Xiu was from the city, and she didn’t like to go near the men, and only talked to women. The older women and the young wives in the village all had a good impression of her, and they were willing to please her to see if they could get any reward. And add to the fact that they had no guard and defense against strangers, they would reveal whatever Hong Xiu asked.
Pouring out their hearts like beans into a bowl.
“It hasn’t rained these days?” Hong Xiu asked, pretending to be puzzled.
The woman smiled and said: “It did, only rained last month, although it doesn’t rain very often, but it is better than the previous two years. The first two years were very dry. The stream in our village even dried up, and we could only go to drink the muddy water in the fields when thirsty.”
Hong Xiu: “But during the drought in the past few years, I heard that many villages were digging wells.”
The woman chuckled simply and honestly and said: “It must be a rich village. Our village had no money, so we can’t afford well diggers!”
Hong Xiu had a smile on her face, but her hands were already clenched into fists, her nails sinking into her flesh, but she didn’t feel any pain.
The well-drilling team was paid by the local government, not the villagers.
Thinking about the drought, and how during it these men, women and children could only lie on the ground and drink muddy water. Just what kind of awfulness was this?
The woman continued: “Our life is getting better and better every day, Sister, you don’t know, our Xiaowan Village was notoriously poor in the past, but now it’s better, we don’t need to pay money to send our kids to study! The imperial court also gives subsidies for poor students! My kid is also studying in school, and every year he could even save some subsidies from the court to send back to the family.”
“How could we have ever hoped to have such a good life before?”
Hong Xiu also smiled and said, “The days will get better and better.”
The woman was not without regrets: “It’s a pity that my parents died early. If they lived two years longer, they would have also enjoyed such blessings.”
“Our family raises chickens by ourselves. Sister, if you want to eat eggs and chicken meat, you can come to my house and it will be cheaper for you.”
The woman also said, “I also made blood sausages during the New Year. If you want to try some, come to my house.”
A young wife on the side said, “Little lady, I raise geese and also have sausages at home!”
Hong Xiu inquired around some more and found that the families who raised chickens and geese were all from the Zhao clan, and their fields were better than those of the outsider family names, so they could afford to eat meat. But more Zhao surnames and outsider surnames could barely eat two meals of meat all year round. A family that could raise a few old hens that lay eggs was already considered living a good life.
The village head’s family couldn’t be considered very wealthy either. Both of the village head’s sons became carpenters and worked in the city. They have not married yet, so all the money they earned was given to the family, which was why the life of the village head’s family could be relatively more well-off.
When Hong Xiu visited, the village head’s family was eating a plate of sausages, a plate of wild vegetables and a pot of tofu soup. Seeing Hong Xiu entering the door, the village head was dumbfounded and forgot to wipe the trace of soup from the corner of his mouth.
“This…..little lady, what are you doing here?” The village head asked curiously.
Hong Xiu: “Come with me, don’t bother eating anymore.”
The village head’s wife was also confused, and then shouted: “What are you doing! You, a widow, dare to seduce my man in front of me?!”
Hong Xiu only glanced at the village head’s wife. The two men behind her stepped forward and directly picked up the village head. Hong Xiu said, “Let’s go, go to the village hall.”
The hall was where the village committee worked.
The village head wanted to struggle, but he was held by young men with arms as strong as steel. Just as he was about to call for someone, Hong Xiu lowered her head and whispered in his ear: “This official is here to investigate, the Village Head should careful with your mouth, or I will kill you now, and say that you were the one who embezzled and perverted the law in this area, and with you dead, it will be even more difficult to clear your name.”
The village head nodded frantically and closed his mouth tightly, indicating that he would definitely not yell nonsense.
His wife was locked in the house, and if the village head did not go back, she would not be able to come out.
After reaching the hall, Hong Xiu had her subordinates let go of the village head, and then she gave the village head a proper salute, and said solemnly: “It was a matter of great importance, so I have to take this last resort, and I hope the Village Head is not offended.”
The village head said quickly: “Yes, I’m…..I wonder…..what is my lord doing in the village this time?”
Hong Xiu: “Village Head, please take a seat. This official is here to investigate the heinous criminal behavior of the prefectural magistrate for corruption and perversion of the law and exploitation of the people.”
The village head swallowed his saliva and said subconsciously, “The prefectural magistrate is an honest official!”
Hong Xiu stared at him with unblinking eyes: “Does the Village Head care to repeat that?”
The village head didn’t dare to repeat it. He now knew who the woman in front of him was. Those who were involved in officialdom know that there was a female lord in the Court of Censors. She hated injustice and was ruthlessly fair. Often called the Iron-Masked Yama, towards those officials she set her sights on, even if they didn’t die in the end, they would still lose at least a layer of skin. Countless people hated her, but they couldn’t touch even a single hair on her head. This female lord was protected by the emperor.
There were also rumors that she was the emperor’s female confidante and lover. The emperor remained unmarried for so long because of her, but this female lord was determined to eradicate treacherous evil, so she did not want to enter the harem. The emperor could not do anything but condone his beloved woman.
He couldn’t afford to offend the prefectural magistrate, but he couldn’t afford to offend such a big lord either. The village head said with a crying face: “My lord, you ask me, but I can’t say it…..”
If the prefectural magistrate was pulled down, it would be fine, but if not, wouldn’t he be finished?
If a prefectural magistrate wanted to kill a small village head, then that was simply a matter of raising his hand.
Hong Xiu’s face darkened: “I didn’t expect that the surnamed Meng actually became the local tyrant of this land! He has only been transferred here for two years!”
The village head said tremblingly at this time, “The last one was his cousin.”
Hong Xiu’s face was so dark it could drip ink.
“How did the provincial government even do their screening!” Hong Xiu stood up angrily, and slapped her hand on the table, causing the village head to tremble with fright.
Having dealt with many corrupt officials over the years, Hong Xiu was no longer the Hong Xiu of before, and she had a fierce aura when she got angry. Even those who had gone on the battlefield would have felt intimidated.
Hong Xiu took a deep breath: “It’s fine, continue speaking.”
Only then did the village head realize that he had already said what he was originally planning to hide in his stomach, and he wanted to cry ugly tears: “My lord, I am just a lowly minor official. I may be a village head but village heads don’t have any real power. At most I just deal with quarrels within the village. I don’t dare to talk nonsense about the things that involve those above.”
Hong Xiu: “Village Head Zhao, I’ll show you a clear path. The more honest you are, the better your life will be in the future. I don’t dare to say anything else, but I can promise you this. If you don’t speak honestly, I’ll convict you and surnamed Meng for the same crime. At that time, where will you go to complain about injustice? Everyone outside knows that in the cases I handle, there has never been an unjust, false or wrong case, and none had died without hard evidence.”
The village head trembled, trembled and trembled, and finally said tremblingly: “Magistrate Meng took office two years ago, and first it was the government and merchants colluding. There were a lot of gifts offered every year from the shops which the previous Magistrate Meng had already established a connection with. As for the disaster relief money distributed by the imperial court, they dared not embezzle from the large funds, but the small ones were all embezzled.”
“If it weren’t for the fact that the headmaster of Changqing Academy was a serious person and had a pennant bestowed by the emperor, then the academy would probably already have…..”
Hong Xiu: “The pennant bestowed by His Majesty saved his life.”
The village head nodded again and again.
These small village heads didn’t seem to have real power, and they couldn’t be regarded as proper officials, but in fact, they were watching all the twists and turns carefully. After all, the villages were poor, and it was not uncommon that they would have to rely on the government’s disaster relief money. After studying the situation, they felt that no matter how much, so long as a little money was distributed to the village, life would be much better.
They have found all the doors they could find, but every time it was closed to them.
Not only were there closed doors, but also threats, and even bribes were forgone.
Yes, these poor places with no connections and no way out, even if they want to join a faction, they couldn’t even find one.
When the village head thought about it, he suddenly felt a surge of anger. That’s right, he had entered the city, even if he had to bow his head in front of a small clerk who was not ranked and not an official. He still couldn’t manage to ask for the disaster relief money that belonged to their village.
What was he afraid of? Just what was he afraid of? Now that the envoys of the imperial court were here, and it was even the most fair and just female lord, why not give it a shot?
If he won, their village would not have to live in poverty.
There were many poor people in the village, and when he took out his small salary to subsidize the village, he even provoked his wife to scold him all the time.
He knew that it was not easy for his wife. If not for the fact that his two sons were capable and learned the craftsmanship and left the apprenticeship early, the family might not be able to put food on the table long ago.
There were only two or three households with the surname Zhao who were doing well, and that was also because they had contributed to the village in the early years, and the fields distributed to them were good fertile ones, and their children were all sent to learn a skill.
There were only a few households that had the major surname in the village doing well, let alone outsider surnames.
The village head was bitter. When he first became the village head, he also wanted to lead the whole village to live a good life. What was that saying? To get rid of poverty and become rich, and when they went to the school to study at that time, they often heard some examples, how a village became rich by raising pigs, and another village became rich by raising chickens.
When they listened to this, their hearts swelled, how wonderful it would be if their village could do the same.
Everyone in a village raised pigs or chickens, and could contact merchants to sell them. As long as they were willing to raise domesticated animals, as long as they were raised well, they could live well, and they could eat and dress warmly.
But they soon discovered that it was useless even if they worked hard.
The imperial court would not help them!
They didn’t have the money to buy pigs, build sheds to raise chickens collectively, or buy looms to weave cloth.
The village head said to Hong Xiu, “My lord! If the lord has an errand for me, this humble one is willing to risk life and limb!”
Hong Xiu asked him: “When the time comes to ask you to identify, do you dare to go?”
The village head gritted his teeth and said, “This humble one dares.”
Hong Xiu nodded: “That’s good, show me your village’s record books. Do you remember how many subsidies the government has given you over the years?”
The village head smiled bitterly and said, “Answering my lord, what subsidy? I haven’t seen a single copper coin in the past ten years.”
Hong Xiu was stunned: “Nothing for so many years?”
The village head shook his head: “In the early years, the laoye above was an honest official, but at that time the imperial court didn’t have much money, and the laoye didn’t have a way to make money to subsidize us. The disaster relief funds were all given to the most severely affected villages and towns. The situation in our Xiaowan Village was neither serious nor completely unaffected.”
“Afterwards, he was replaced by the cousin of the current Lord Meng, so even more so we had no share in the funds.”
For more than ten years, from looking forward to the imperial court’s help at the beginning, to now where they learned to bow their heads and accept their fate.
To put it horribly, they actually viciously hated surnamed Meng, but the family surnamed Meng were all so-called virtuous officials, and they had quite the speaking power in the court. The current head of the Meng family had been by His Majesty’s side even before he ascended the throne.
If Hong Xiu knew what the village head was thinking, she would definitely say, “Surnamed Meng had never even registered with the emperor. Who did he think he was?”
But in such an underdeveloped place, no one knew what the capital was like, only knowing that the Meng family came from the capital was enough to scare them.
“Village Head Zhao is sincere. I still have to visit the other seven villages. I hope the Village Head will go with me, except you can’t tell your wife or the villagers.” Hong Xiu said, “But I have made arrangements, and tonight, you will accompany us on our departure.”
The village head was surprised: “What’s the arrangement?”
The next day, rumors spread throughout Xiaowan Village, their village head ran away with the widow! Abandoning his wife and sons! The position of village head was also thrown away! Oh, how sinful! How was that simply a widow! That was a demoness!
The village head’s wife had been crying in the house all day, and she even asked someone to go to the city to call her two sons back.
Those older women and young wives who talked to the widow didn’t dare to speak anymore. They were just glad that they didn’t let their man see her, otherwise, who knew who would have eloped with her instead.
But at this time, the village head was already sitting on the ox cart, and he was even holding rice cakes in his hand, eating deliciously.
This rice cake was sweet. It was made of high-quality rice, and it tasted good even when it was cold. The village head closed his eyes in enjoyment. He had never eaten such a fragrant thing in his life. After all, he only ate mixed grains, as for white rice——aiya, that was what only the former landowners could eat.
Hong Xiu saw that he was eating deliciously, and asked someone to pour him a cup of tea. This teacup had a lid, so there was no need to worry about spilling it when you drank from it in the moving cart, so long as you just drank it from the small opening.
Hong Xiu said to him: “When this matter is over, the new prefectural magistrate will definitely be a sensible one. At that time, all of your villages would have the roads rebuilt and factories set up. You have to take your villagers out of poverty and become rich. At that time, when you look at rice cakes again, perhaps you will even feel sick of it.”
The village head shook his head frantically: “Definitely not, definitely not, I will never get tired of eating this rice cake for a lifetime!”
Hong Xiu was amused by him: “Village Head Zhao, it’s too early to say this.”
The village head smiled ingratiatingly at Hong Xiu.
He didn’t regret leaving with Hong Xiu. If he could really get some benefits for the village, it was fine for him to be in danger, but he just didn’t know how he could explain it to his wife and children when he went back? To tell the truth, they might not believe it, after all the investigation would definitely continue. When the prefectural magistrate was really carted off, he might have already been beaten to death by his wife.
…..His wife was the daughter of a pig butcher. She learned a lot of skills from her father when she was a child. Despite being short and thin, her strength was stronger than that of a man, and her palm could even break wood.
Before, when husband and wife had an argument, and his wife slapped him down, he would be dizzy for quite a while.
Although his wife apologized to him afterwards, saying that she would never hit him again, it still left a psychological shadow on him. Every time they began to quarrel, he would think about that slap.
So before the quarrel heated up, he would shut himself in the room, and quarreled with his wife through the door. After the quarrel, he would wait for his wife to calm down before going out.
You c an fi nd t he la te st cha pte rs at ( th e ir on tr ee bl oo ms. c o m )
It could be regarded as having found a way for husband and wife to get along.
Village Head Zhao touched his face, and he could already predict that he would not be able to escape this time.
Ai, he hoped his sons could help him when the time came.
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