The two returned to the county office, and Tao Mo, burdened with thoughts, went straight to his room without mentioning anything. However, in the middle of the night, Old Tao woke up all the servants and counted them again, finding that one of the young servants was missing. He knew it must be the person who painted the portrait, so he personally retrieved the contract signed by this person and kept it close to his chest.

The next day, Old Tao knocked on Tao Mo’s door early in the morning, only to find that he had already gotten up. Old Tao couldn’t help but wonder, “Why are you up so early, young master?”

Tao Mo replied, “I’m going out to visit a friend.”

“Could it be that young master is going to see that young master Lu?” As newcomers, they had only interacted with Lu Zhenxue and the teahouse so far.

Tao Mo said, “No, I want to visit Mr. Yi Chui.”

Old Tao was startled but immediately delighted, “Young master actually had the same idea as me.”

Tao Mo asked hesitantly, “How did you…?”

“Mr. Yi Chui and Mr. Lin Zhengyong are highly respected figures in the area. Since we have just arrived in Tanyang County, it is appropriate to pay them a visit.” He knew that it was difficult to dominate the locals. In the officialdom, there were often people with strong backgrounds who ended up failing when they served as officials in the local areas. This indicated the importance of local connections. The experience at Mingcui Residence last night made him realize how powerful the local litigators were. They not only laughed at the courtroom but were also well-regarded by the common people. He admired them deeply. People like them were absolutely not to be offended.

“If that’s the case, let’s prepare two gifts for the journey.” Tao Mo urged.

Old Tao said, “Wait a moment. Young master, what kind of gifts do you want to prepare?”

The question of what kind of gifts stumped Tao Mo.

After some thought, he said, “In the past, my father’s business acquaintances were all handled by you, and there were no mistakes. So, continue as usual.”

Old Tao replied, “Young master overpraises me. When my master sent gifts in the past, I would inquire about the recipient’s preferences in advance and cater to their interests. However, I know nothing about Mr. Yi Chui and Mr. Lin Zhengyong.” Seeing Tao Mo’s relaxed expression, he added, “Gift-giving can be a minor matter or a major one. If it’s minor, it can be disregarded, but if it’s major, it may cause offense and lead to animosity.”

Tao Mo listened with bated breath, “Then how should I find out?”

“They are local celebrities, and the locals naturally know about them,” Old Tao said. “However, ordinary people may only know one aspect and not the details. Even if they know, they may not know everything. I think it’s best for young master to invite a local scholar who can provide guidance and advice. With a local scholar by your side, young master will be able to navigate smoothly.”

Tao Mo said, “That’s a good idea, but I’m not sure if we’ll have enough money left.”

Old Tao replied, “Rest assured, young master. I know how much money we have and where it should be spent. I won’t let the family go without food.”

Tao Mo nodded. “Then let’s go and invite someone.”

“Has young master heard of the story of ‘Three Visits to the Thatched Cottage’?”

“I have,” Tao Mo quickly caught on. “Who do you want me to invite?”

“Mr. Jin.”

Tao Mo was taken aback. “But he’s unwilling to take on the job, isn’t he?”

Old Tao said, “I inquired, and Mr. Jin is quite famous in the area. He has served three masters before and has rich experience.”

Tao Mo asked, “If that’s the case, why doesn’t he want to help me?”

Old Tao explained, “There are rumors that Mr. Jin used to be a litigator but lost to Mr. Lin Zhengyong in a battle of words, so he turned to officialdom. However, he never abandoned the arrogance of a scholar and the cunning of a litigator. If young master wants to invite him, it will require some effort.”

Tao Mo sighed, “It’s so complicated?”

“In terms of trivial matters, county affairs and the concerns of the common people are a thousand times more trivial. If young master truly wants to be a good official, he must learn to be hands-on in everything and understand the foundations of every matter. Only then can he live up to the trust of the court and the love of the people.”

Tao Mo smiled bitterly, “Live up? I’m afraid I don’t have the trust of the court or the love of the people. How can I live up to them?”

“Since you don’t have them, strive to earn them,” Old Tao knew he had convinced him and immediately ordered Hao Guozi to prepare the sedan chair.

As a county official, Tao Mo had his own official sedan chair, but there were no sedan chair bearers. Old Tao had to select a few strong and similar-sized newcomers from the servants to serve as bearers.

However, carrying a sedan chair required skill.

It was easy to tell the difference between a novice and an experienced bearer.

The county office was only two streets away from Mr. Jin’s house, not far at all. However, when Tao Mo got off the sedan chair, he seemed as if he had been sitting in it for a whole year. His face turned pale, and his legs went weak to the point where he couldn’t even stand steadily.

“Young master?” Hao Guozi held him with both hands, full of concern.

Old Tao went to deliver the invitation but learned that Mr. Jin had gone to attend a snow appreciation event.

Tanyang County had many litigators and scholars, so gatherings were frequent.

Old Tao thought that he might even run into Lin Zhengyong and Mr. Yi Chui at the event, which would be killing two birds with one stone. He immediately had them carry the sedan chair to the Taian Academy where the snow appreciation event was being held.

Speaking of the Taian Academy, it was also well-known in the local area, and many county scholars had graduated from there before.

When Tao Mo arrived, the main gate was wide open.

From the entrance, one could see a cleared area of snow with the word “snow” written on it in an extravagant manner.

Hao Guozi handed over the invitation, and the gatekeeper hurriedly went to report.

By the time Tao Mo reached the courtyard, the dean of Taishan Academy had already come out to greet him personally.

“I didn’t expect Mr. Tao to come in person. It’s a loss for us to greet you from afar,” said the dean, a man in his fifties who had aged gracefully, his face glowing with health.

Tao Mo returned the greeting, saying, “I apologize for the trouble.”

The dean didn’t expect him to be so approachable, like an ordinary young junior. He nodded discreetly and said, “Coincidentally, many local literati have come to the academy today to enjoy the snow and compose poems. If it’s not too shabby and the hospitality isn’t lacking, you might as well join us.”

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Tao Mo didn’t refuse and walked straight into the courtyard.

In fact, he couldn’t wait any longer. As soon as he entered the courtyard, he saw Gu She sitting in the pavilion, radiating a brilliant aura like the moon. Many people sat around him, all gathering around and smiling, making Tao Mo itch with anticipation.

The dean saw him walking straight towards the pavilion without diverting his gaze and hurriedly asked, “Are you feeling cold, sir?”

“Not at all,” Tao Mo replied, although reluctantly stopping his steps.

The dean suggested, “Although the pavilion has a roof, it’s drafty on all sides and not warm. Why don’t you come inside the hall?”

Tao Mo said, “No need to go inside. I’ll just watch the snow from the pavilion.”

The dean thought to himself that the pavilion was where the litigators sat, and they usually disliked officials. If you go up there with such eagerness, you’ll probably come down in disgrace. But that’s alright, as long as you don’t make trouble and give us a hard time in the academy.

Tao Mo had no idea what he was thinking. He was about to continue forward when Old Tao carelessly blocked his path and said, “Young master, Mr. Jin is over there.”

He followed Old Tao’s gesture and indeed, Mr. Jin was sitting on a stone bench in a deep blue cotton robe, sipping wine and chatting with others.

Tao Mo glanced at the pavilion, which was within arm’s reach, struggled inwardly, and finally took a step towards the direction of the stone bench.

As soon as he entered, everyone in the courtyard more or less pricked up their ears to listen for any sound he made. Now, seeing him walk towards the stone bench, they all craned their necks to look.

It seemed as though Mr. Jin had anticipated his arrival. He sat on the bench and casually saluted, “County Lord, greetings.”

Tao Mo sighed, “Not good, not good at all.”

Mr. Jin glanced at him, his eyes askew, “Did I make a mistake?”

Tao Mo said, “I’m missing a mentor. Would Mr. Jin be willing to oblige?”

Mr. Jin replied, “I’m old and weak and no longer up to the task.”

Tao Mo sighed again, “That’s why things are not good at all.”

Others listened to their amusing exchange and quieted down to listen.

Mr. Jin said, “This county has many talented individuals, and finding a mentor is as easy as turning one’s hand. Why worry, County Lord?”

Tao Mo extended his palm, flipped it over, and looked at Mr. Jin.

Mr. Jin also looked at him.

After a moment, Tao Mo said, “I’ve turned it over.”

“…”

“So, follow me,” Tao Mo said earnestly.

Mr. Jin’s mouth twitched. Although he didn’t want to admit it, the current situation was a bit reminiscent of… pursuing a woman. “County Lord, why are you so persistent?”

Tao Mo thought for a moment and said, “I remember there’s a famous saying.”

“Oh? Which one?”

Tao Mo mumbled the words in his mouth before confidently saying, “The weak water has three thousand, but I only take a sip.”

Mr. Jin: “…” He should have waited for him at home.