A Gallop on the Embankment with Spring Breeze Chapter 33: Potential Dangers
Proofread by Fu Tianying
Tian Ronghua felt anxious when he found that the Ma Family was recovering from recession step by step. If this situation continued, Ma Tian'en would definitely become mature one day. At that time, even though Ma Chaosheng passed away, Ma Family could still shrive. However, the future of Tian Family was unknown because his young brother had no interest in water transportation and his two sons were still young. If he ran into some accidents just like Ma Chaosheng did some day, he was afraid that Tian Family would decline more quickly than Ma Family. Guo Qi had been here for several months, but he didn't take any actions against Ma Family; on the other hand, he became more skillful in handling the matters of Tian Family. Did he just regard himself as the true housekeeper of Tian Family?
Early in the morning, Tian Ronghua called Guo Qi into his study, asking him what he was thinking about. Unexpectedly, Guo Qi just stood there and listened to him quietly, neither interrupting nor arguing.
When Tian Ronghua finished his words about what he was worrying about, Guo Qi took out a pile of documents and handed them to Tian Ronghua.
"What are these?" Tian Ronghua picked up in bewilderment. After opening up, he found they were title deeds, and more surprisingly, they were title deeds whose taxes were already paid.
"Those are the lands which were not registered by the government during the reigns of Hongwu period in Ming Dynasty, so they can be dealt as wasteland. If people reclaim the wasteland, taxes and corvée of three years can be exempted." The land around Beijing City is largely wasteland before, and later, in order to encourage farming, the imperial court decreed that anyone who reclaimed the wasteland could be exempted taxes for three years. The purpose was to enable farmers to reclaim the wasteland and give them time to recover from the losses.
During Hongwu period, it made lots of registrations for the present land. However, at that time, the location of the capital was not here, and it was not restricted in measuring in Beijing City. Many pieces of land were not registered and treated as the wasteland. The officers turned blind eyes to this situation.
Tian Ronghua was still confused. What was the relation between buying the land and coping with Ma Family?
Guo Qi smiled and continued to explain, "We and Ma Family, ultimately, both run businesses relying on water transport. As an old saying goes, 'without the skin, how can the hair/fur stand?' What the water business depends on is boatmen. The boatmen hired by each Zha are mostly farmers. They need farming besides boating. The reason why the boatmen of each Zha don't move is related to this. If we lend these lands to boatmen, they will get the title deeds as long as they work at Tian Family for three years. In this way, we can attract boatmen from Ma Family and ask them to work for us."
"That's a good idea. But what if Ma Family follows this practice and attracts our boatmen?" Tian Ronghua felt a little hesitant. Although there were always competitions between each Zha, it never happened as they tried to rob each other's boatmen apparently.
"Don't worry. I can buy these lands mainly due to the fact that the officer has to pretend to be blind because we have the backing of Marquis of Wu Ding. It is not easy for Ma Family to buy these lands. If the lands are bought through legal procedures, it will cost much in terms of taxes. It will not have much attractions to those boatmen. If these are real wasteland, who will be willing to reclaim? So, don't worry, what I can do is what Ma Family can't do." Guo Qi said proudly.
"Then just have a try." Tian Ronghua felt uneasy but didn't know why. Guo Qi was more decisive than he thought. For such a big thing, he didn't mention it to him in advance. It was uneasy to ask a tiger for its skin!
After Guo Qi went out for a while, Tian Ronghua still sat there, absorbed in his contemplation, and even didn't realize his brother, Tian Fuhui, was here for some time.
"Brother, I just came from mother's home. She said she would burn incense at the temple with sister-in-law. Will you go with them? I think Guo Qi is capable, you can ask him to do more, so that you can ease yourself." Tian Fugui said directly, but there was much care in his words.
"Guo Qi is an outsider, so how can I hand him important things? You are not a young boy, and I want to assign you some business things. In several years to come, your two nephews will be grown-ups, and then, how will they think of you?" Tian Ronghua said anxiously, with a feeling of wishing iron to turn into a steel immediately. He felt there was one word unsuitable for him to say---even the playboy of Ma Family cheered up, how could you have a mood to play every day?
"That would be better. When my nephews grow up, you can entrust your business to them. I will stand by and give them some advice." Tian Fugui said proudly without feeling shame. But after he observed the expression of his eldest brother, he thought: Not good! It was the sign of a storm. Then he quickly glanced at the room and tried to figure out some words.
"Brother, I remember there is a potted plant in your study, but where is it now? If you don't want it, you can give it to me. I think that blossoming is beautiful."
At first, Tian Fugui just tried to find something to talk to his brother, but after that, he found his brother didn't reply. Moreover, he stood from the seat, wearing a serious expression. Tian Fugui looked at Tian Ronghua in confusion, then he recovered from wandering, "It is just a potted plant. Why don't you care about some business except this trifle? I threw it away. By the way, don't tell this thing to others, do you know?"
"Emmm...yes." Actually, Tian Fugui still wanted to ask something, but when he saw the expression of his brother, he knew there must be something unusual. So he didn't dare to ask but to nod obediently.
"Alright, you can go, I need to deal with some things." After that, Tian Ronghua sat on the seat again and looked through the account books on the desk.
When Tian Fugui stepped out of the room of his brother, he felt uncomfortable but couldn't tell the reason. Just now, the expression of his brother was too strange. It was merely a potted plant, why couldn't he mention it to others? Here was an idea. Suddenly, Tian Fugui got a good idea. He could ask a gardener for the reason.
In light of this, Tian Fugui found a gardener in his family immediately and asked him: "I am tired of the original plants in my room, and I think the potted plant in my eldest brother's study is beautiful, so would you please get one for me?"
"There are many plants in master's study, could you tell me which one you just mentioned?"
"It is the plant with pink blossoms. I remember that it lies behind the collection of book of my eldest brother. The period of blossoming is very long. It flowers vigorously in summer. Don't you give it to my eldest brother?" Tian Fugui tried to describe specifically according to his memory.
The gardener thought for a while and suddenly got enlightened, "Oh, what you mean is that potted oleander. Although its blossom is beautiful, it is poisonous. It is not displayed by me for the master; it is the master himself who brought it back. I also reminded the master of it. Later, the master listened to me and asked me to throw it away. I suggest you not have it. If you like blossoming plant, you can have Chinese rose, for it blossoms all year. That potted oleander came from the south. We northerners don't know about that. I learned it from a gardener from the south by accident. Once poisoned by oleander, people would die if they didn't receive treatment in time."
The old gardener chattered. Only one word occurred to Tian Fugui's mind: poisonous. Unconsciously, he asked, "What's the reaction if people were poisoned by the oleander."
"I didn't see it. I only heard that people would feel abdomen pain and die of fast heartbeats." The gardener said embarrassedly. All this is just what he heard from others and he didn't see it himself. But now that he knew it was poisonous, he might as well not grow it.
In Tian Fugui's mind, he suddenly recalled one person that he couldn't forget but was not willing to think of at this moment--- the dead housekeeper. Now he remembered the time when that plant was thrown away; it was exactly soon after the housekeeper died. Surely it doesn't mean that.... When the thought occurred, Tian Fugui tried hard to suppress it. It's impossible. The housekeeper worked decades of years for my eldest brother and was trusted by my brother most. My brother wouldn't do that. It was just coincidence. The housekeeper took poisons himself. It had nothing to do with my brother.
The gardener didn't know whether he said something wrong when he saw Tian Fugui walked away like a ghost. He paused for a short while and then continued to work slowly.