The three porters who had escaped were captured.
Their luck was truly too rotten. If Fang Feng Sheng hadn’t given a warning, those at the inn wouldn’t have discovered they were missing until the next morning. These porters did the work of escorting goods over long distances, so they naturally had a lot of strength on their feet. Without any weight on them, even if the road had been terribly sodden by the heavy rain, this advantage would have been enough for them to weather through.
Unfortunately, Fang Feng Sheng was sharp and reacted too quickly, and they only traversed a short distance before they were caught.
After searching their bodies, it became clear that Master Wang’s lost goods and silver were indeed in their possession.
After that, without the need for torture, these people confessed.
In fact, they were also people who had bitter fate. On this trip, they aided people in escorting goods, but unfortunately on the way, they lost a package on the road. Because of this, after more than a month of hard work, they didn’t get any pay and were beaten. Not only this, when they came back, they couldn’t find a single job, so they had no other choice but to return home with their tail between their legs.
Unfortunately, they met with heavy rain on the road. Usually, they were used to feeding on the wind and drinking the dew1, but the weather this time didn’t allow them, and they needed money to find an inn to dwell in. At first, they had been depressed and worried about staying at the inn, knowing they had no funds to settle the bill. But at the right moment, the rich and ostentatious Master Wang cropped up. On his first day at the inn, he immediately tossed about his silver and overwhelmed others with his wealth, which inadvertently fell into people’s eyes.
The three porters observed most of the day, had a private discussion, and simply grabbed the opportunity and acted on it. In this kind of bad weather, even if they were found out, no one would chase after them. Maybe by the time they were discovered, they would already be far away. The land under the heavens was so vast. Where could they find them?
So they watched over Chen Si when he went to the kitchen to fetch water, attacked Master Wang who was alone in the room, and robbed the goods and silver and fled.
“We only wanted to rob the silver. We didn’t want to kill anyone.”
“I just hit him with a wooden stick, and he fainted then. I struck him with a light hand, how could he have died?”
Caught up in a murder, the three porters were all scared out of their wits, and after a round of passing the blame onto the other, the porter responsible for the hitting was finally pushed out.
The porter was also confused, unwilling to believe that he had really been the perpetrator of a murder, but the facts were all laid bare.
Others didn’t know what to say, feeling both pity and disdain for them. Those who often traveled all over were most afraid of running into insidious people who murdered for silver and naturally loathed them to the core.
“Young Master Fang truly has incredible foresight and is as keen as a torch. This is all thanks to you.”
“Old innkeeper is too polite. It was merely a coincidence and nothing more.” Feng Sheng was smiling on the surface, but her brows were knitted.
At that moment, a limpid voice cut through the hall.
“The murderer is not him. It’s someone else.”
The one who spoke was Fan Jin Chuan.
The torch lights were as bright as day. Dressed in blue robes, he stood tall, with a square jaw and sword-like eyebrows; this appearance was the epitome of a righteous man. Such a him could easily create an inexplicable sense of trust.
As a result, everyone stared at each other.
Feng Sheng’s gaze flickered as she ambled over, “Brother Fan, how can you say that? If he isn’t the murderer, could there be someone else? He himself admitted his own crime. It’s getting late, and everyone is tired. Brother Fan, you’re probably dizzy from exhaustion too, so let’s go and rest. I’m also extremely fatigued.”
She yawned as she grabbed Fan Jin Chuan’s hand and stalked out of the main hall.
Seeing that Young Master Fang had retreated, the others naturally dispersed. As for the three porters, the old innkeeper had them locked up. They would be reported to the officials only after the road had dried up, and they would then be left to the officials’ disposal.
“Worthy Brother Fang, why did you want to pull me away? Obviously……”
Fang Feng Sheng raised her fan and made a shushing gesture over her mouth, and Fan Jin Chuan immediately fell silent.
The group hurried into the room and Zhi Qiu fastened the door.
“Worthy Brother Fang, quickly let go. It’s too much to keep pulling and tugging like this……”
Feng Sheng noticed that his face was blushing furiously and loosened her hand to explain, “It was also my intention stop you, that’s why I was impolite.”
Fan Jin Chuan peered at her, but for some reason shifted his eyes away again and coughed, “Why did Worthy Brother Fang want to stop me? Does that mean——”
“What does Brother Fan think about this?”
Fan Jin Chuan didn’t hide anything: “This foolish brother just inspected that Master Wang’s corpse. The wounds on his head looked peculiar, unlikely to be the handiwork of one person. The murderer should be someone else.”
“I’m of the same opinion as Brother Fan. The corpse had two head wounds. It could be that Master Wang fell unconscious after the porter struck a stick on his head, and they all robbed the silver and fled. After running away, someone else appeared, who apparently wasn’t after his property, but his life. Unfortunately, the person was too panicked and failed to strike him in such a way that the wounds would perfectly overlap, leaving another trace.”
Fan Jin Chuan was quite astounded. He had discovered the anomaly, but couldn’t accurately pinpoint the reason why the wounds looked amiss. It was simply against his principles to wrongly accuse someone so he brought forward his conclusion, but he didn’t expect Worthy Brother Fang to be more discerning than him. Furthermore, judging by his stance, it seemed like he had already formulated a plan.
“I didn’t expect Worthy Brother Fang to have such an ability. It’s really impressive.”
Feng Sheng was a bit embarrassed by the praise and waved her hand, “Brother Fan praises too much. It’s only because of my family’s literary background.”
Fan Jin Chuan arched his hands, “I still don’t know if Worthy Brother Fang’s family is——”
“I am from Shaoxing, and my father is a private advisor.”
“So that’s how it is.”
“What about Brother Fan? I see that Brother Fan knows how to examine a corpse, which is really unlike ordinary people.”
Fan Jin Chuan hesitated for a moment, “This foolish brother only roughly understands some superficial knowledge, and is currently still learning. As for me personally, this foolish brother can only say that I am a minor official sent to take up a local post, but for reasons cannot disclose my place of duty as of now.”
“I didn’t expect Brother Fan to be an official lord. It’s really……”
Feng Sheng made a gesture to salute, but Fan Jin Chuan held her back.
“I have not yet taken office, and I dare not boast of myself as a lord. Worthy Brother Fang is my close friend, so there is really no need to be so polite.”
“Then I shall no longer stand on courtesy.”
Feng Sheng promptly straightened up in a slick fashion. This was completely out of Fan Jin Chuan’s expectations, so he was a little startled and was unable to hold back.
“Worthy Brother’s sense of humor is quite outstanding.”
“I don’t dare accept your praise.”
“I still don’t know what Worthy Brother Fang plans to do next. Since you have stopped me from speaking out, surely you must have a method?”
Fang Feng Sheng took two steps forward and shook her fan, “The crime scene had been destroyed, the murder weapon was identified, and someone else had confessed first. This case isn’t difficult to handle; the difficult part is getting the real murderer to confess himself in the short time available.”
“Then, what does Worthy Brother Fang mean……”
Last night, Fang Feng Sheng only explained roughly, left with the excuse that she was too drowsy, and dismissed Fan Jin Chuan to his room to rest.
He had buried a lot of doubts, so early today, he had Xiao Qi keep an eye on the movement there, and when Fang Feng Sheng got up, he came over to find her.
“Worthy Brother Fang, what you mean is?”
“Don’t fret too much. Has Brother Fan eaten yet? Why don’t we eat together? Food is the God of the people.2 Anything can be wronged, only the stomach cannot be wronged. Besides, this matter cannot be rushed.”
Feng Sheng shook her fan and headed for the main hall, so Fan Jin Chuan had no choice but to follow.
Now, unlike the previous two days, there was no one in the inn who didn’t know Fang Feng Sheng and Fan Jin Chuan. Seeing that the two of them came to dine together, everyone greeted them.
Fang Feng Sheng ordered two tables, one for Uncle Yu and the other for her and Fan Jin Chuan.
As soon as they sat down, the old innkeeper approached.
“I’ve heard that Gentleman Fan has found proof that the murderer is someone else?”
Fan Jin Chuan was startled, “Heard, heard from whom?”
“This——” the old innkeeper peeked at Fang Feng Sheng and said, “This lowly old man heard that the words seem to have come from the mouth of Gentleman Fang’s servant, and thus are extremely trustworthy.”
Fang Feng Sheng was also a bit stunned and was abruptly irritated, “Which one of you was chewing your tongue outside?” This was directed at the neighboring table where Zhi Chun and the rest sat.
“Young Master, I didn’t.”
“Neither did this lowly one.”
Feng Sheng was so enraged that Fan Jin Chuan had to pull her to sit down, “There is no need to be so angry, Worthy Brother Fang. I’m not afraid of this matter being known.” He then elaborated to the old innkeeper, “Old innkeeper, I did make some discoveries, and I need the old innkeeper’s assistance in this matter……”
For fear of landing in others’ ears, the three transferred to another place to talk. But in the hall, there were numerous people eating, so this movement had long fallen into people’s eyes.
After that, the old innkeeper’s actions confirmed other people’s conjectures, and he led people to investigate again. When probed by others, the old innkeeper consistently maintained his silence, but was compelled to yield out of pressure. Only then did he say that Fan Jin Chuan found something from the hands of the dead Master Wang.
As soon as the owner of the object was found, who the real culprit was would naturally be revealed.
It was the fourth shift3, a time when people were usually the sleepiest.
A black shadow loomed in the backyard. Kui Zi guarding the back door had already fallen asleep. Because the inn was short of manpower, one person shouldered several different tasks. Kui Zi had been guarding for three days and had long been an arrow at the end of its flight.4
There was a large water jar under the perimeter wall, and the shadow stood atop the jar with the intent to leap over, but a voice suddenly floated from behind him.
“Hey, why is this person so stupid he can’t even see through such a trap?”
“Worthy Brother Fang is so clever. I am deeply impressed.”
The person on the wall was as dumb as a wooden chicken, not daring to turn his head.
The fire was blazing, and under the torch stood Fang Feng Sheng, Fan Jin Chuan, and the old innkeeper.
“When did you suspect me?”
Chen Si was tightly bound and had collapsed to the ground in a mess.
“When? Let’s see, it was that night.” Feng Sheng said smilingly.
“In other words, you knew from the start that the murderer wasn’t the porter?”
“Not really. Everything has to be based on conclusive evidence, doesn’t it? But you were too strange. There was obviously no animosity between you and Brother Fan, yet you accused him. Master Wang constantly beat and scolded you, but you appeared loyal and devoted. I’m guessing you accused Brother Fan to utilize it as an opportunity to stir up the muddy waters and stall for those porters, so their absence would only be uncovered at a later time. You had presumed that this was adequate time for them to escape, and in due time, you would have perfectly framed them for this incident after the discovery of the loss of Master Wang’s possessions. Too bad, something unexpected happened.”
“You really were out of my expectations. What do you think you, a scholar, are doing meddling in these matters! If it wasn’t for you, I’d have escaped by now!”
Chen Si’s eyes were red and his face was sinister; his usually taciturn and innocent countenance had long been shed off. He cursed Fang Feng Sheng on one side and struggled desperately on the other, until he realized that it was all futile and released a heavy breath, lying there paralyzed like a dead dog.
“I’m curious as to why you loathed Master Wang so much that you brought death upon him, to the point where you had clearly killed him, but still let off so many blows on his body like you were venting your enmity. My attendant has seen the body, and the deceased has several inexplicable wounds. That is, the crime was committed in such a desolate countryside. If this were the city, a random coroner would have exposed the truth of the mystery right away.”
“What do you know? What does a young lord from a rich family like yours know? He’s an evil spirit, not just to me, but also to Qing Mei. I promised Qing Mei that I would take her away, so we’ve been waiting for this day for a long time…… He was irritable and started a fight the first day he arrived, and although he didn’t want to flaunt his wealth, he was too ostentatious…… So I helped him out a little. I deliberately mentioned the silver and goods in front of the porters, and even gave them the leftover chicken he had bestowed me, but they threw them away……
“……every man has an evil spirit in his heart, and that’s what provoked it. Those guys were useless. If they had just killed him, I wouldn’t have had to expend so much effort, but when they left, I went into the room and found that he was still alive and breathing…… If he were still alive, he would have gone back and beaten Qing Mei again, and I would never have escaped his clutches…… Then to hell with him, as long as he’s dead, I’ll be able to live blissfully with Qing Mei and be at peace forever……”
“Old innkeeper, I don’t think it will rain today either. Have you ordered someone to report to the authorities?” After coming out of the firewood shed, Feng Sheng inquired.
“Young Master Fang, the muddy road is difficult to navigate; neither horses nor carts can pass, and even if this lowly old man sends someone to report to the officials, no one will come. When the road is a little drier tomorrow, this lowly old man will let people go.”
Feng Sheng nodded and said to Fan Jin Chuan, “Brother Fan, I’m going to rest, so you should go and rest too.”
Fan Jin Chuan noticed that she was dispirited and expressed his concern, “Worthy Brother Fang, because of Chen Si’s words just now, don’t think too much. He is pitiful, but in the end, killing people is an unforgivable crime……”
“No, no, no. I’m just awfully sleepy, sleepy to death. I’m going to my room.”
1 餐风饮露: feed on the wind and drink the dew – hardships of travel or a hard life in the open country ; brave the wind and dew ; endure the hardships of an arduous journey
2 民以食为天: Food is the God of the people. (idiom); People view food as the primary need.; Food first, ethical niceties second. Hunger breeds discontentment, etc. Taken from Confucius’ 新序 (Xin Xu).
3 四更 (sì gēng): fourth of the five night watch periods, around 01:00-03:00am
4 强弩之末: lit. an arrow at the end of its flight (idiom); fig. spent force