(The JUDGE claps twice; a clerk enters.)
JUDGE DEE: Please bring us some tea.
(The clerk leaves.)
IMPERIAL CENSOR: The Imperial Court has taken note of your efforts to deal with the crimes at your previous position and here at your current one. There are still those at the Court who remember your grandfather, the Imperial Minister, and many more your father the Illustrious Prefect. (Beat.) Some of your cases, however, are thought to be somewhat unorthodox, and the rumors concerning the kind of men, and even a woman, you have employed as your investigators have raised more eyebrows. Hence it was decreed that I should come and observe.
(The clerk enters with steaming tea in two cups on a tray for the two men and leaves after setting the tray on a small side table.)
JUDGE DEE: There were times when the classics and consultation with my fellow members in the Imperial Service shed no light and I had to (shrugs) improvise. I have much to learn and would be grateful for instruction.
IMPERIAL CENSOR: You came close to scandal with the accusations of Widow Bee. (The CENSOR’S face showed his distaste for such matters.) Elder Hua, the Retired Prefect, was initially much annoyed that you proceeded to investigate the death of his daughter-in-law after he had pronounced her death a misadventure. But he is an upright man and soon realized that you, not he, would be held responsible for any wrong-doing that is undetected or unpunished.
JUDGE DEE: The Widow was … is a strong-willed person and was determined to have her way. But I believe we have uncovered evidence that she committed the murder and also her motive for doing so. Inspector Hong is about to confront her with what we know and the witnesses we can bring against her; he should have her confession soon.
IMPERIAL CENSOR (earnestly): That is good, for even the false accusations of a person of dubious morality like the Widow can taint (with emphasis) the reputation of an upright servant of the Imperial Court.
JUDGE DEE (nods to signify his agreement, and then changes the subject): I am pleased to hear that Honored Elder Hua does not hold a grudge. It was a horrible death that his daughter-in-law suffered and for her sake as well as that of her mother I felt it necessary to pursue the truth.
IMPERIAL CENSOR (with a slight hesitation): Ye-es.
JUDGE DEE (calmly and deliberately): If the death had been that of Young Hua the groom, I have no doubt that there would have been an inquiry. (Beat.) If the death had been that of the Illustrious Prefect himself, I am certain that the imperial authorities would have moved heaven and earth to uncover the truth.
(The IMPERIAL CENSOR remained silent but increasingly thoughtful.)
JUDGE DEE (firmly): A young woman of humble birth is not, Your Excellency, any less a subject of his imperial majesty. She deserves no less of our effort to find the truth of her unfortunate death.
(Both men reached for their tea and drank in solemn silence.)