Thus began the former, sole prince of Fang Jun’s life of doing odd jobs in this remote county. Although he was able to raise an innocent young child into a vicious, cold and ruthless man, and placed him up to the highest throne, he was hopeless in doing chores a typical domestic servant was skilled in. As he had been living in the scheming palace for countless of years of living, there was no need for him to personally handle such menial tasks.
However, at the moment, he seemed to have descended into a useless fool. Clumsily shattering the already few dishes; dropping the second only bucket into the well; instead of cleaning away the dirty stains on the mattresses, it got even more noticeable… so on and so forth. With that, he gained numerous pitying looks from others wherever he went. Ugly, clumsy, and a poor condition… simply a good-for-nothing.
Every day, the kitchen aunty forced him to eat more, and even secretly offering him special favors by giving him fat meat. Indeed, it was a special favor; since most weren’t able to afford fat meat.
Now, he had a clear realization, it was true; that doctor wasn’t lying to him. The county government was really, extremely, awfully… poor. Though it wasn’t as bad as not being able to afford food, it truly was poor. Previously, he ignorantly thought that the food he received was plain. Only after becoming a helper did he realize that the rice and vegetable dishes he received were actually meals for patients, and that he was actually given preferential treatment.
Ever since he started ‘working’, he was rarely able to eat actual rice. His meals mainly consisted of rice vermicelli, congee, or rice paste and so on…And it was even love-filled meals that had ingredients and rice specially added by the kitchen aunty due to her care for him…
Just a mere glance at the furniture in the government office was enough. What a tragic sight it was; its pitifully poor state was as clear as day… Except for the lobby, which was the only court that needed to be maintained so as to not lose respect, the furniture in other areas was either obsolete, had paint peeling out, or attached by a support.
Even the county magistrate’s bedroom wasn’t all that great either. All right, in actuality, it was even worse, and much, much simpler. Except for a bookshelf, a bed, and a small crippled stool, there was nothing there. Not even a wardrobe! Several stacks of wood pieces were nailed below every leg of the bed, bookshelf, and stool. Truthfully speaking, even if there was a wardrobe, there wasn’t any use for it. There were only three outfits on magistrate-daren’s stool – one official uniform, and two changes of casual wear. It was utterly pitiful…
This piqued his curiosity; how penniless could this county magistrate-daren be to land himself in such a shabby state? However, even after working there for a few months, he never did get a chance to meet him. It wasn’t because the magistrate-daren was avoiding him or anything like that. The problem was that they didn’t have the chance to meet.
Every single day, the magistrate-daren was out even before he woke up, and wasn’t even back when he went to bed. That’s why after “working” for so long, he still had no idea of his superior’s appearance.
Nonetheless, he was able to get a conclusion from the words of the second only helper in the county government–this magistrate-daren was greatly respected. By the way, the only two helpers in the government were the kitchen aunty and himself.
The kitchen aunty was dutiful. She cooked for them daily, heading home after preparing dinner and breakfast for magistrate-daren, and then arriving early in the morning the next day to cook again. Since the government was poor, it couldn’t afford expenses and, even more so, hiring. Even though he knew from the kitchen aunty that the city residents were more than happy to help Mo Shu-xiansheng, but the man in question found it impolite to not pay them. Only under everyone’s forceful request was he able to reluctantly agree to let the women in the city, under the condition of them being free at that time, to take turns in helping to cook, clean, and wash laundry.
With him working as an official helper now, he had to share the kitchen aunty’s workload as well. However, not only did he complete his task unremarkably, he even made quite a mess for others.
There were a total of eighteen yamen runners1 and only one advisor in charge of handling accounts, managing the office, and other duties that weren’t under the country magistrate’s job scope. Since they were poor, so the advisor had to, unfortunately, take on multiple posts himself.
All yamen runners were locals. They returned to the government office for breakfast daily in the morning after their patrol, going back home in the afternoon once they were dismissed from work, and then arriving the next day for work again. Although dinner was provided by the county government, to help save the government office’s expenses, everyone would eat at home instead.
As for the advisor? The advisor was dragged into enslavement by the magistrate-daren early in the morning, only returning home when he was dismissed from work at night. Hence, he had never seen him before too. Basically, the only ones left in the huge, worn out government office at night were him and the magistrate-daren, who worked early and returned late.
Even after living in Fang Jun for so many years, he had never seen such a poor magistrate before. Greedy officials were a common sight, and there were also quite a handful of corrupted ones. He did come across a few non-materialistic ones too. Magistrates were “civil servants” after all, so how did the county’s magistrate end up in poverty? He just couldn’t comprehend it.
However, the reason would soon be revealed to him.
During a certain morning, the magistrate-daren had gone out early in the morning. The madam cooking that day wasn’t able to get the groceries as she had something going on then, so she instructed a guy from her family to send him a message, asking him to retrieve the groceries, while stating that the greengrocer had already been informed, and the money had been paid. This wasn’t something new.
After tidying himself up, he went out. Countless passersby, both strangers and people he was familiar with, greeted him along the way, and he greeted them back as well. Thanks to this job at the government office, even though he had no salary and was unable to buy what he wanted, but as the saying went, love me, love my dog; he was able to get the respect and love from the residents due to this job.
Speaking of which, there wasn’t really anything that he wanted to buy. Or should he say, he had no interest in anything. He worked just to eat; eating just to survive; surviving just to work. That’s all there was to it. Neither was he willing to give too much thought into it nor did he want to do so either. It would be best if he just didn’t think too deeply. If he instinctively lived on like an animal, he wouldn’t get depressed. He kept telling himself that.
“Nan Ge Er2 , here for the groceries?” the greengrocer warmly greeted as he noticed his arrival. His vague mumbles were somewhat of a reply. ‘Nan Gua’ was a random nickname he made for himself, with its origin coming from the pumpkin in the corner that he glimpsed at when the doctor asked for his name. Despite noticing the big pumpkin when following his gaze, the doctor didn’t comment on it. He simply nodded to him before leaving. The next day, the whole city knew that there was a new helper in the government, whose name was Nan Ge Er.
“Aunt Wang already told me beforehand,” the greengrocer handed over to him the grocery basket that was prepared in advance. While he was at it, he grabbed a batch of green vegetables near his hand and placed them into the basket. “Nan Ge Er, you have to have a talk with Mo Shu-xiansheng. Even if it’s just minced meat, he should still eat more. Look at how skinny you two are.”
I don’t even know who in the world is your Mo Shu-xiansheng, how should I tell him? He looked at the greengrocer silently.
However, the greengrocer misunderstood what he meant. “Oh my, look at me, I’m seriously… ” he stacked a green cucumber on top as he spoke, “I’ll send some meat over tomorrow. Do you know? Yesterday, the old man living at the east of the county was sick again, so Mo Shu-xiansheng footed a huge amount of consultation fee, and bought quite a few rice grains for Chen-dajie3 and her mother. Gosh…” He shook his head as he mused, “Mo Shu-xiansheng doesn’t even have much money…”
Nan Ge Er silently smirked. He buys rice for others while having gruel for himself. I finally know where this magistrate-daren’s money went to.
“Alright, hurry back for breakfast,” the greengrocer grabbed yet another bunch of parched peas and shoved them at him. “Eat them on your way back. Look at how thin you are…” He shook his head again, “Mo Shu-xiansheng is seriously… Since we get so much help from him usually, what is the harm of letting us help him? Look at your small stature…”
Finding the concern-filled, pitying gaze uncomfortable, he quickly took the parched peas and headed back while carrying a basket which was filled to the brim. The sole reason for his scrawniness was his weak condition. It had nothing much to do with the fact that he didn’t have meat to eat, it just couldn’t be built up. In truth, he felt that even though he lived on a simple, half-full diet daily, his body felt fine.
After getting greetings from countless strangers and people he recognized again, he returned to the office. Since it wasn’t time for breakfast, he rested at the office door for a while, listening to the gossips by the two working yamen runners, before carrying the grocery basket to the kitchen.
As the government was poor, there was a shortage of helpers. It was usual for one to take the roles of two, so he didn’t request help from the yamen runners. However, he knew that if he did request it, they definitely would lend him a helping hand.
Although the government office was old and worn-out, it was impeccably clean. Everyone was considerate in maintaining the hygiene of the office environment –maybe because they knew that he was terrible at cleaning? There weren’t any flowers in the area that was once a garden. Instead, it was filled with greens, onions, and other vegetables.
Currently, he was the only person living in the backyard, a place usually reserved for the government’s family members. Not even a feather could be seen in the area for rearing chickens and ducks. It couldn’t be helped; neither was there money to buy chicks and ducklings nor was there anyone available to take care of them. In spite of its large space, the office was empty, since, except for the necessaries, everything was scrimped and saved upon. ‘Nothing but four walls’ didn’t even come close to being a suitable description of it.
1 Yamen runners: government employees in charge of general services for the government. More info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamen#The_Yamen_Runner_in_Ming_Dynasty
2 Nan Ge Er: direct translation = pumpkin bro(ther).
3 Dajie: term used to address a women older than you. English equivalent= older sister