Miss Tong from the Tong Residence was a hot topic in Tanyang County. Regardless of her age, twenty and still unmarried, her boldness alone was enough to be discussed for days and nights. Now that she had suddenly hanged herself, although the reason was unknown, the busybodies had already linked it to Tao Mo’s visit to Mr. Yi Chui. There were even rumors that Miss Tong had resorted to suicide because she didn’t want to marry County Magistrate Tao and her pleas to her parents had been in vain. Thus, she took her own life at such a young age.

In short, various rumors enveloped the entire county like snowflakes, making the pre-New Year’s Eve even more tumultuous.

Although Miss Tong’s death was a suicide, it still involved a loss of life, so the county yamen had to investigate as per protocol. Upon receiving the news, Cui Jiong went with his coroners to examine the body. Although the rumors hadn’t spread at that time, the Tong Residence was a prominent family in the area and had a marital relationship with Mr. Yi Chui, so they couldn’t afford to be negligent and conducted a thorough investigation.

Miss Tong’s parents cried bitterly, but they showed no signs of resentment, indicating that they were not surprised by the outcome.

After extensive questioning, and finding no suspicious evidence or witnesses, Cui Jiong reported back to Tao Mo at the county yamen.

Upon hearing the report, Tao Mo couldn’t help but sigh. While he had no intention of marrying Miss Tong, the words of Madam Yi Chui had somewhat implicated them. He didn’t know if the rumors were true, that Miss Tong couldn’t bear to marry him and decided to end her life. If that were the case, it would be a great burden on his conscience.

Three days after Miss Tong’s death, Madam Yi Chui visited with gifts.

At first, Tao Mo was puzzled by her goodwill, as the prospect of a marriage alliance was now impossible due to Miss Tong’s death. Later, he learned that Madam Yi Chui had heard the rumors circulating in the city, realizing that she had caused trouble for him with her impulsive decision. She had come to apologize in person.

Tao Mo hadn’t been concerned about these matters from the start. Back in his hometown, he had faced even more rumors, so he treated them as if they were nothing. Moreover, this baseless gossip was of no consequence. Instead, he consoled Madam Yi Chui, advising her to grieve and accept the changes.

As he comforted her, Madam Yi Chui’s eyes turned red. “It’s Yinghong’s misfortune. If she had met County Magistrate Tao and experienced your gentle and considerate nature, perhaps she wouldn’t have felt so hopeless.”

Tao Mo blushed at the praise. “Madam exaggerates. Once a person has passed away, there is no return. If Miss Tong knew how sad you are, she wouldn’t find peace.”

“Why wouldn’t she find peace? She would probably resent me,” Madam Yi Chui sighed lightly. “I spared Bo Ren, but Bo Ren died because of me.”

Tao Mo was taken aback. “Who is Bo Ren? How did he die?”

Madam Yi Chui was momentarily stunned, then broke into tears before laughing. “As rumored, County Magistrate, you truly lack knowledge and literacy.”

Tao Mo felt embarrassed. “Some rumors are true.”

“To be honest, it’s my fault for getting you involved in these trivial matters. Don’t worry, I will clear your name,” Madam Yi Chui assured.

“As long as Miss Tong’s reputation remains intact, I don’t mind,” Tao Mo replied.

Madam Yi Chui hurriedly said, “You shouldn’t speak like that. County Magistrate, you are still unmarried. Allowing these rumors to spread will only discourage good young ladies from considering you.”

“That’s convenient,” Tao Mo blurted out.

“What?” Madam Yi Chui looked at him in confusion.

Tao Mo realized his slip of the tongue and immediately sought help with his gaze from Old Tao, who stood nearby.

As expected, Old Tao didn’t disappoint. He said, “Young Master meant that it’s convenient for him if women who believe such rumors stay away.”

Madam Yi Chui suddenly understood and smiled. “County Magistrate, you are indeed insightful.” She had noticed Old Tao from the beginning. After following Mr. Yi Chui for so many years, she had a discerning eye. Although the old man didn’t have a remarkable appearance, his calm demeanor set him apart from ordinary people. In comparison, Tao Mo seemed inferior. “May I ask who this old gentleman is?” she couldn’t help but inquire.

Tao Mo said, “This is my steward, Old Tao.”

Old Tao respectfully said, “Greetings, Madam Yi Chui.”

“Please don’t be overly courteous.” Madam Yi Chui waved her hand lightly and pretended to look outside the window. “It’s getting late. I must leave now. Please take care of the matters concerning Yinghong. Her life was filled with hardships, and I hope she finds peace in death.”

Tao Mo didn’t understand her last words, but Old Tao did. After seeing Madam Yi Chui off, Tao Mo asked Hao Guozi to convey a message to Cui Jiong. If there were no suspicious points in the case, they should let Miss Tong rest in peace.

Cui Jiong had initially been diligent due to the connection between Mr. Yi Chui and the Tong Residence. Now, seeing Madam Yi Chui visit followed by Old Tao’s hint, he understood the reasons and no longer put unnecessary effort into it, handling it as a suicide.

With the situation seemingly resolved, a new wave of events emerged.

On another foggy morning when Tao Mo was still half-asleep, the sound of drums outside the county yamen resounded loudly.

Hao Guozi rushed in anxiously and pulled Tao Mo out of bed, helping him dress and freshen up in a hurry before swiftly taking him to the court.

Pity Tao Mo only fully awakened when he sat in that chair and someone knelt down in front of him.

“What… do you want?” He rubbed his eyes vigorously.

“Your Excellency! Please seek justice for us!” The person’s face was filled with anger, and his eyes stared straight at Tao Mo like two nails, as if trying to pin him to the wall.

Tao Mo felt a chill down his spine from being stared at so intensely. His voice trembled as he asked, “What injustice are you talking about?”

“The commoner wants to sue the Tong Residence and the County Magistrate of Tanyang for driving Tong Yinghong to her death!”

His voice was loud and every word was forceful.

Tao Mo was bewildered and took a while to respond, “The County Magistrate of Tanyang is… me.”

“Indeed, Your Excellency.” The person thought Tao Mo was pretending to be clueless, and his anger rose even further.

Jin Shiye shook his head as he watched. It turned out that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Although he didn’t know the relationship between this young man and Tong Yinghong, it seemed that he had been influenced by the rumors, believing that Tao Mo truly intended to marry Miss Tong. These past few days, Jin Shiye had also heard various rumors, but he dismissed them. After all, he was present when Madam Yi Chui mentioned the marriage proposal, so he naturally knew that Tao Mo was truly innocent.

“Why are you accusing me?” Tao Mo asked.

“County Magistrate Tao! Let me ask you, do you intend to marry Tong Yinghong?”

“Of course not,” Tao Mo replied quickly.

The person became furious. “Your Excellency, as a man, you should stand tall and take responsibility for your actions. Do you want to act like a spineless turtle?”

“Outrageous!” Jin Shiye couldn’t bear it any longer and couldn’t help but reprimand him. He didn’t know why Tao Mo tolerated him, but having such a person freely uttering nonsense in the courtroom was a breach of decorum. He turned to Tao Mo and said, “Your Excellency, this person is speaking nonsense and acting wildly. I request that you restore order in the courtroom.”

Tao Mo was confused. “How should I restore order?”

Jin Shiye became extremely frustrated and laughed, “Use the wooden clapper!”

Tao Mo realized it. The wooden clapper on the desk was not just an ornament; it could be lifted and struck down. He looked at the man, who stared back defiantly.

After thinking for a moment, Tao Mo finally lightly tapped the table with the wooden clapper and said, “Everything I said earlier is true.”

“…,” Jin Shiye was no longer angry at the man; he just wanted to throw Tao Mo out of the courtroom.

The man seemed to be taken aback by Tao Mo’s unexpected response. After a while, he said, “There’s no smoke without fire! How do you explain the rumors circulating in the streets and alleys?”

“I didn’t spread them,” Tao Mo replied.

The man angrily said, “Your Excellency, do you dare deny that you didn’t have any intentions toward Yinghong?”

“Indeed, I had no intentions,” Tao Mo honestly answered.

The man’s face turned red and his neck swelled. He had prepared for the worst before coming to challenge Tao Mo. His friend was also prepared, ready to call upon Lin Zhengyong’s disciple as a lawyer if he made any mistakes. Ideally, Tao Mo would have tortured him, causing injuries no matter how minor or severe. But none of his plans went as expected. It seemed that no matter how he attacked, it was like hitting cotton, without any sense of impact.

Could it be that this county magistrate intended to act stubbornly to the end?

He had heard that some lawyers were skilled at evading, but he hadn’t expected the county magistrate to be so proficient. With this thought in mind, he made up his mind and suddenly stood up, saying, “Tao Mo! There is a higher power watching us. Place your hand on your heart and tell me, can you sleep peacefully knowing that Yinghong died unjustly?”

Tao Mo obediently placed his hand on his chest and said, “If Yinghong truly died unjustly, as a local official, I will definitely seek justice for her!”

The man stared at him, then abruptly turned and left.

In his imagination, no matter how restrained Tao Mo was, he would surely be provoked by his disdain for the courtroom. But strangely, as he walked out of the county yamen, there was no reprimand or obstruction. Both Tao Mo and the yamen runners seemed to have lost their voices, and even the previously angry Jin Shiye remained silent.

Looking at his friend’s bewildered expression outside the county yamen, the man himself felt lost.