"Do you feel thirsty?"
As he stood at the door welcoming the guests who came up the mountain, Old Yuan suddenly turned around and asked.
Ling Shu shook his head.
Old Yuan muttered to himself, "Strange, why am I suddenly so thirsty? I definitely won't have time to boil water now."
Subconsciously wanting to touch his nose, but also afraid of messing up his unreliable beard, Old Yuan had never been so nervous before.
He thought it might be because he had never played a role that required him to act mysterious before. When he pretended to be his older brother in the past, he just had to stand there with a black face and not say anything for a long time.
After thinking for a while, Old Yuan found the reason.
"You talked so much just now, why aren't you saying anything now?"
It turns out that Ling Shu had become mute, and he wasn't used to it!
The other party looked at him innocently and said, "Didn't you tell me not to speak?"
Old Yuan replied, "Speak, speak, speak. But let me tell you, I can't say those deceitful words. Later on, it's up to you to speak, but the most important thing is to safely transport Mrs. Jin up and down the mountain. He even made use of his own mother for this opportunity, so we can't mess this up!"
Ling Shu muttered something indistinctly.
Old Yuan was not pleased and asked, "Is your tooth hurting?"
Ling Shu replied, "I'm afraid my beard will fall off."
Old Yuan: ...
He began to feel that relying on Ling Shu was an unreliable behavior, but it was too late to regret now.
Old Yuan had already seen Deputy Mayor Jin.
He walked in front with a young man, followed by a butler, and at the back were eight people carrying the coffin.
The mountain road was not too rugged or steep.
For someone like Deputy Mayor Jin, who had reached the end of his life, he walked with a civilized cane in hand and although he was a bit out of breath, he still appeared composed.
"Stop!" shouted the person carrying the coffin, and the eight bearers halted their steps.
But the coffin was not lowered.
The steward hurriedly ran up and asked the Old Yuan and his companions.
"Master, do you have any stools? We need four."
"Yes, we do. Disciple, go get them for the gentlemen!" replied Old Yuan.
"Yes, Master!" said Ling Shu as he turned and went inside.
In no time, he brought out four identical stools and placed them neatly under the coffin.
Only then did the eight bearers gently place the coffin on the stools.
It is considered unlucky to not reach the destination before the coffin is lowered during a funeral procession. Although Mrs. Jin had come to the Guanyin Temple to make a vow, she was not here to bury her husband. Therefore, there were still certain customs that needed to be observed. Old Yuan hurried forward and bowed to Deputy Mayor Jin.
"Mr. Jin, it's been a long time. I hope you've been well."
Deputy Mayor Jin nodded and returned the greeting, "Thanks to Master Taoist's blessings, I'm doing well. I'm just getting old and can't climb mountains anymore. I want to introduce you to Mr. Song, a bigshot in the Municipal Bureau. He has a bright future ahead of him, and in a few years, I might have to rely on him for help. Master Taoist, you must treat him well. Maybe if Mr. Song is pleased, he'll allocate funds to renovate your Guanyin Temple."
Mr. Song was in his twenties, dressed in a suit and exuded talent. From head to toe, he looked like a privileged elite who had studied abroad.
Upon hearing this, he smiled modestly and politely said, "Mr. Jin, you flatter me too much."
At first glance, Ling Shu couldn't quite place where he had seen this man before.
It took him a moment to realize that this Mr. Song was none other than the one he had recently met at the Feilengcui dance hall.
After a brief rest, the coffin of Mrs. Jin was sent to the side hall for temporary placement.
The eight men went ahead to the halfway pavilion to wait.
Deputy Mayor Jin appeared quite relaxed and even had the leisure to admire the scenic mountains.
Mr. Song, being much younger, did not have the same inclination for melancholic poetry and instead stood at the door for a while before stepping into the main hall.
Old Yuan wanted to accompany them, but he was stopped by Mr. Song.
"Let the old Taoist accompany Mr. Jin, and this little Taoist can accompany me."
Old Yuan's first reaction was: why was Ling Shu considered his peer, even with a fake beard on his lips, while he was just an old Taoist and had to be called "old"?
Then he realized the real issue: if Ling Shu stayed, it meant he couldn't help in the side hall.
There was only Yue Dingtang left there.
Could he transfer everything to the box within an hour?
Looking at Ling Shu, he showed no signs of anything unusual, and instead bowed slightly to the other party with his hands in his sleeves.
"What does Mr. Song want to see?"
"Anything is fine. If Mr. Jin wants to burn incense in the main hall, I won't disturb him. Can you take me around?"
"There is a stele forest left by literati from the Ming and Qing dynasties behind the temple. Shall I take you there?"
"Sure." As they exchanged questions and answers, they gradually walked further away.
Old Yuan's heart was suspended in mid-air, staring at their backs for a while.
"Is everything ready on your end?"
Deputy Mayor Jin's voice was close, almost a whisper.
Old Yuan snapped out of his thoughts and quickly whispered back, "Everything is arranged. Who is this Mr. Song?"
Deputy Mayor Jin replied, "His father holds an important position in the Municipal Office. He is officially his father's secretary and comes from a well-connected family. Yesterday, when he heard that I was coming to offer incense and make a wish, he suddenly said he wanted to come and take a look. He claimed he had never been here before. I couldn't see anything unusual, just be careful."
Old Yuan asked, "When will the old lady return to Beijing?"
Deputy Mayor Jin said, "The night is long and full of dreams. You should leave tonight. I have already booked three tickets for you. You will go as followers of the Jin family. When you arrive in Beijing, someone will take care of you, so you don't have to worry about anything."
Old Yuan nodded and his voice suddenly rose, "Please come in, Mr. Jin!"
Deputy Mayor Jin hesitated, "Is your friend reliable?"
Old Yuan replied confidently, "Don't worry, he is my brother in life and death, and he is also very eloquent."
Although he reassured others with his words, he couldn't help but worry. He wished he could stretch his ears for dozens of meters to hear what they were saying.
In fact, most of the time, it was Ling Shu who was doing the talking.
"Do you see that mountain peak over there? Doesn't it look like an old man bowing with his hands clasped? After every wind and rain, clouds gather at the summit, and white smoke rises, just like the white hair on an old man's head. That's why it's also called Bai Tou Peak."
"It is said that there are hundred-year-old Lingzhi mushrooms and ginseng on the peak, and the ginseng has even become sentient. When people dig for them, they run all over the mountain. But I have never seen it myself. It's just a story passed down by the old shopkeeper in the city's pharmacy."
"And look at this winding road, it's so secluded and picturesque. Although our Fuyu Mountain may not have the same fame as the Three Mountains and Five Peaks, it is not without its charm. The mountain may not be high, but it is home to immortals and spirits. It's no surprise that bodhisattvas choose to stay here and manifest their powers."
"Young man, why do you grow a beard at such a young age?" Mr. Song suddenly spoke up, but asked a question that seemed unrelated.
Ling Shu grinned, "Isn't this just to appear more mature and steady? Master always says that young people are restless and cannot be trusted. With this bit of facial hair, Mr. Song will be more patient and willing to listen to my ramblings, right?"
Mr. Song stood with his hands behind his back, casually looking around, while Ling Shu followed half a step behind him.
"I heard from Old Jin that your temple is very accurate in fortune-telling and face-reading?"
Ling Shu laughed, "I'm afraid you've got it wrong. Besides me and my master, there are only three people in this Guanyin Temple, including the cook. My master was even considering letting the cook go because the temple expenses are too high. If fortune-telling were accurate, why would the temple have such a small following?"
Mr. Song nodded, "I must have remembered incorrectly. Old Jin never said such a thing."
Ling Shu maintained his smile and warmly asked, "Do you like the scenery here and feel inclined to donate some money to the temple?"
Mr. Song laughed heartily and replied, "Not really."
Ling Shu's face immediately fell.
Mr. Song found it amusing and asked, "You're a little Taoist priest, but why does your accent not sound like a local?"
Ling Shu explained, "Well, I'm originally from the south. My father passed away early, my mother remarried, and my stepfather moved to the northeast. Since our family was poor and my stepfather already had children, I didn't want to be a burden and decided to follow my master and become a monk."
Mr. Song asked, "So you're a member of the Zhengyi sect?"
Ling Shu chuckled and replied, "Yes, I follow my master. But he's still single, so I'm in no rush to move ahead. I'm still young, there's no need to hurry!"
Mr. Song said, "You're quite eloquent. Why don't you follow me? I can't promise you'll get rich and promoted, but it'll be more than enough for a comfortable life." He suddenly stopped and looked up and down at Ling Shu with interest.
Ling Shu pretended to be crazy and talked endlessly, hoping to delay time as long as possible. Mr. Song was the only variable in this situation.
As long as he wasn't present, Yue Dingtang's side could arrange everything smoothly without any mistakes.
After the other party's probing words just now, Mr. Song's shocking statement didn't faze Ling Shu at all.
He remained calm and collected.
"Mr. Song, you're joking. I come from a rural area and can make the nobleman laugh for a while, but if I stay by your side for too long, I'm afraid I'll make frequent mistakes and you won't find me amusing anymore. Besides, look at my leg. I've been disabled since I was young, following my master with a limp. I'm grateful to be able to make a living, but I dare not dream of climbing higher. If you're willing to come to this Guanyin Temple often to burn incense and relax, my master and I will naturally welcome you!"
"You have self-awareness," Mr. Song replied.
After saying this, Mr. Song didn't bother him anymore and walked towards the path leading deep into the woods.
For a moment, Ling Shu had an evil thought of jumping from behind and choking Mr. Song to death, but his rationality stopped him from this dangerous idea.
If Mr. Song were to die, all their efforts would be in vain.
"But this guy talks too much, rambling on and on. Just when he was about to test the waters again, if it weren't for his quick wit and calm demeanor, he might not have been able to smooth things over if it was Old Yuan who came instead.
The Beilin Stele Forest wasn't very big, after all, not many people knew about this place.
Most of the inscriptions on the steles were left by local scholars during the Ming and Qing dynasties when they came up the mountain to enjoy the scenery and exchange literary works.
They couldn't compare to the famous calligraphers and poets throughout history. Mr. Song, who had little interest in Chinese studies, quickly wandered around and reached the end.
"Let's go back and find Old Jin," it had only been half an hour, so Ling Shu couldn't let him leave so soon.
"Mr. Song, are you hungry? You should try the most famous roasted chicken nearby."
As soon as he heard the accent of Mr. Song, he knew that he was not a local.
Although he spoke sharply and looked quite shrewd, his demeanor was that of a young master and he didn't seem down-to-earth. In some ways, he could be easily fooled.
"Roast chicken?" Mr. Song's expression showed some interest.
Having climbed the mountain early in the morning, he must be hungry.
Ling Shu's heart leapt with joy and he continued to persuade him, "My master caught two wild chickens yesterday and there is still one left. I will pluck it and roast it with some leaves from the mountain. This will make the chicken even more delicious and tender. Please follow me!"
"Wait a minute," Mr. Song said, "I'm not that hungry yet. Take me to offer incense to the Buddha first and ask if Mr. Jin is hungry."
Since he was not willing, Ling Shu could not force him, otherwise it would be suspicious.
"Then I invite Master Song to follow me," said Ling Shu.
In the main hall, only the Deputy Mayor was present. He stood before the Bodhisattva, his hands clasped together as if silently reciting scriptures to pray for his mother's blessings.
He was surprised to see Ling Shu and the others return so quickly.
"Why not stay a little longer?" he asked.
Mr. Song smiled and replied, "There are wild chickens in the kitchen that have not yet been cooked. The young Taoist and I thought you might be hungry, so we came back to have something to eat."
The Deputy Mayor waved his hand and said, "We should not eat meat in front of the Bodhisattva. Since I came here to pray for my mother, I should be devout. You young people can go ahead and eat."
Master Song said, "If the Deputy Mayor doesn't eat, then I won't either. We can just have some plain porridge and vegetables later. Where is Master Yuan?"
The Deputy Mayor replied, "Master Yuan went to the side hall to recite scriptures and pray for my mother. If Master Song doesn't mind, he can sit with me for a while."
Mr. Song said, "I shouldn't disturb Mr. Jin's sincere prayer, but I wonder if Master Yuan minds if I observe. I want to broaden my horizons."
Deputy Mayor Jin couldn't help but glance at Ling Shu and shook his head slightly out of Mr. Song's sight.
But Mr. Song didn't wait for Ling Shu's response and walked out.
The Guanyin Temple was not very big, and the side hall was easy to find.
On one side was the Laojun Hall, and on the other side was the Luohan Hall. Buddhism and Taoism blended together, with unique folk characteristics.
The door of the Luohan Hall was open, and Mr. Song went in to pay his respects before heading towards the Laojun Hall.
"Does Master Yuan need to close the door while reciting the sutras?" he asked, looking puzzled.
Ling Shu said, "You may not know this, but my master recites a secret scripture that is not passed down in our sect. It helps to save the souls of the departed and accumulate good karma. The late Mrs. Jin was a devout Buddhist, which is why Guanyin Bodhisattva appeared in Mr. Jin's dream. It's her blessing. However, this secret scripture cannot be taught to just anyone. I have been studying under my master for years and still haven't been granted the privilege. Please wait outside for a moment, my master will be out soon."
Mr. Song smiled slyly and said, "So you recite scriptures in the Laojun Hall while Guanyin Bodhisattva appears in Mr. Jin's dream? That doesn't seem right. I'm not a practitioner like you, so I will go in quietly and won't disturb anyone's peace."
As he spoke, he strode forward confidently.
Ling Shu didn't have time to come up with a way to stop him and couldn't use force, so he had to follow behind and speak loudly to remind the people in the side hall.
"Mr. Song, please walk slowly and watch out for the slippery road. Oh no, there's a pit in front of you, be careful!" Ling Shu was getting a bit anxious.
At this point, even if Old Yue and the others had finished packing up the goods, they might not have had time to sprinkle soil to cover up the evidence.
They still needed to close the coffin again, pretend to chant scriptures and pray for blessings, and act as if nothing had happened.
If they made Mr. Song suspicious, everything would be in jeopardy.
In just a few seconds, Mr. Song had already walked to the door of the side hall and reached out his hand!