A Gallop on the Embankment with Spring Breeze Chapter 34: Crisis
Proofread by Fu Tianying
"Something's wrong, Childe." Uncle Wu hurried in. While talking with a few shopkeepers, Ma Tian'en saw the anxiety of Wu Uncle, and let shopkeepers leave at once.
"Take it easy, Uncle Wu. Have a sip of water. Is the granary haunted again?" Ma Tian'en joked.
Uncle Wu wasn't in the mood for a joke. Running all the way, he said anxiously with sweat on the top of his head, "A dozen of boatmen decided to quit today. Though there are a great number of boatmen at our wharf, it is not really a long list of qualified and experienced ones so far. Those experienced boatmen are in charge of boats. In the event of a sudden incident, the novice boatmen simply can't handle it. Moreover, they get everyone in a tizzy. I am afraid more would follow them and quit. They are so determined that I could not persuade them. I made a private inquiry and found that they would be boatmen in Tian family for it had given each of them a separate piece of land, free of taxes for three years. In this case, even if we give them higher wages, they would not stay." Uncle Wu sighed and got a little intense, "Tian family is rather vicious. Though in different dams, we all live by the river, how could they be so brutal? No such precedents happened before. Some of them are among Ma clan, so I am thinking if they won't come back, I would ask the leader of our clan to expel them from Ma clan."
"This is no good. As the old saying goes, man struggles upwards. It is reasonable for them to choose an employer with better pay. If we reject them from Ma clan, more people would feel bitterly disappointed. What's more, not all boatmen are Ma clan." Ma Tian'en became mature after going through so much recently. Since Tian family decided to do it, they would not be afraid of disturbance. The bigger the trouble, the worse the effect on the Ma family. However, who had given them the courage to break the custom of not poaching each other? Suddenly, Ma Tian'en remembered the hostile sight after the lion dance competition.
"Uncle Wu, is there a new butler lately? He is not from Tian family."
"That's true. There is something about him. It is said that he managed everything tightly in Tian family in a short time. Do you suspect that new butler did all this?"
"It's possible. We have been competing with Tian family for a long time. Tian Ronghua seems like the type who wouldn't get boatmen at the cost of land. We should first find out the details and seek corresponding approaches." When they thought of the matter, the whole thing seemed weird indeed.
Uncle Wu left. Ma Tian'en couldn't help but go to Wu Zhong for help, but Wu Zhong went to the imperial college and had not come back yet. By evening, the informant came back and said the lands were bought by the butler of Tian family. Though they were fertile lands, they were not registered, so they were sold as barren lands. However, the country squires who sold the lands said they were forced to sell at a low price by the officers. If they did not agree to sell, all the lands would be confiscated or they need to pay back all the unpaid land taxes.
It got even weirder. How did Tian family let officers buy lands for them? Is that Hu Chunqiu coming out again?
Stranger still was the new butler. No one knew where he came from. No one had seen him even before that. It seemed like he was just falling down from the sky.
It seemed that they should check on the butler of Tian family. Since a lot of things happened in Datong Gang these days, and Grandfather was injured and had not yet recovered, Ma Tian'en would figure out what happened by himself. Thinking of it, Ma Tian'en arranged some servants to send her grandfather a newly obtained ginseng of a hundred-year-old age to help him recover from injury.
Ma Tian'en told him about the boatmen's resignation as well as her own ideas after Wu Zhong came back. Wu Zhong was satisfied that Ma Tian'en knew to investigate first rather than rush into anything.
"You did a good job. Tian family poached boatmen away on the surface, but behind the scenes lies something deeply rooted in Tian family. Even though we solve the problem of boatmen, there may be worse things. We need to dip a little deeper on the butler's antecedents. Maybe he is the one responsible for the problems. However, the only thing that counts right now is to solve the resignation of boatmen. What will you do?"
"Uncle Wu suggested that we give them a pay rise to keep them. But I am not going to do that. Since they would be allured by higher wages today, they will leave eventually if they are offered even higher wages someday. You can't promise that they will be loyal to Ma family. I would like to take this opportunity to nurture some boatmen with the fiercest loyalty to Ma family."
"You do grow up. Misfortune might be a blessing in disguise. Replace those poorly managed boatmen with obedient ones, and then misfortune would be the truly blessing in the end. However, have you thought about the way of recruiting new boatmen?" Wu Zhong admired Ma Tian'en for her fortitude. No matter what she encountered, she tackled it head on with strong will and resolve.
"That is why I am here to ask you for help. Though we have a large number of boatmen at the wharf, I am not sure who are qualified for the captains in charge of the boats."
"Do you know the story of Mao Sui who recommends himself? The awl has to be in the bag to stand out, so it's the same with people. We can figure out a performance evaluation system just like examinations of scholars at different levels. What do you think of it?" The man in charge of one boat was called captain of the boats. Though not being a captain ever, Wu Zhong was familiar with it for he grew up by water. A qualified captain, besides excellence in swimming, sailing and management, should be remarkably good at business for sometimes captains need to decide the temporary shipment of goods except for the fixed goods to be transported.
"It's a good idea. A man of ability shall be the one in charge regardless of seniority. I will discuss with Uncle Wu about the details." Wu Zhong stopped him when Ma Tian'en was about to leave.
"Why not discuss with Uncle Wu tomorrow? For one thing, it is late at night. For another, better not to make immediate decisions about important matters. New ideas will come up for one night. You just calm down and then decide the details tomorrow."
"Okay." Ma Tian'en readily followed the good advice. All of a sudden, she turned around to hug Wu Zhong. With the whole body frozen, Wu Zhong was thunderstruck, feeling nowhere to put his hands. Ma Tian'en said "Thank you, teacher. I will ask my father to give you a higher wage when he recovers." Finishing her talk, she released her hands and walked towards the door with a smile.
Wu Zhong was confounded in an instant and then reacted, "Aren't you in charge now? Why not give me a raise now?"
"You know, I am not a generous one!"
Early the next morning, Ma Tian'en found Uncle Wu and told him his idea. Uncle Wu thought for a moment before he said, "To guarantee that the people we choose are reliable, we used to select the captain of the boat from the Ma clan with family connection. The open recruitment could not be able to do that. We have no way to guarantee the boatmen we recruit publicly are reliable. What if something goes wrong?"
Ma Tian'en said with a smile, "Uncle Wu, among those who are poached by Tian family, how many are not the men of Man clan? Is there anyone we know little about their background? The more we are familiar with them, the harder it is for us to manage them. Why not implement fair competition and just let the fittest survive?"
"I feel terribly sorry for... " Uncle Wu felt embarrassed when he heard the words of Ma Tian'en. After all, he had a good relationship with those boatmen ordinarily. However, they left regardless of kinship and acquaintance. It's natural for people to forsake thinner kinship for the sake of gold.
"I think that a set of rules shall be made. The captain of the boats should not be lifetime but time-limited. We could select new captains when it is due. Moreover, reserved captains should be selected in advance. If anything goes wrong with captains, there will be reserved ones to replace them. Uncle Wu, since you are experienced, you are the right one to lay down corresponding rules and regulations." Ma Tian'en knew that Uncle Wu felt a little ashamed, so he kept telling how good he was.
"Since Childe thinks highly of me, I will formulate the rules within three days. Then you can finalize details on the layout." Uncle Wu admired Ma Tian'en for her rigorous planning and meticulous mind. Last time when Ma Tian'en caught the "ghosts", she was just driven by her own sheer force of will. But now she possessed the manner of being the master of the household.