As Zhuang Zhong gave all his attention to the bones, he did not see how others were about to be choked to death by Feng Huan’s words.
The skull was washed with water and dried. Using his naked eye, Zhuang Zhong noticed that there were no open seams or bone fractures. He then proceeded to open the red umbrella he brought. This may be a crude and simple way, but it allowed one to filter the natural light and use the ultraviolet rays to examine the bones. Essentially, it would make it easier to identify any blood spots or stains that a person may have due to being injured before dying. Also, despite possessing ultraviolet lamps, Zhuang Zhong had felt it was not convenient to take them out at this time, so he could only use Song Ci’s method.
When Zhuang Zhong saw a lack of reddish-brown markings, he frowned slightly. It appeared the person had not died from an external force hitting him. Listening to what Madam Wu had said, Zhuang Zhong had assumed that if Uncle Wang was killed by someone else, the perpetrator would have most likely targeted the head area. After all, wounds on the other parts of the body would be too obvious, while head injuries would be easier to conceal due to hair. Besides, most of the autopsies conducted here were mostly not too meticulous and had high chances of omitting information, such as the Chinese nail murders in history.
Before this, when Zhuang Zhong asked Madam Wu if she checked under the hair, she replied she had not, so he had assumed a head injury. However, now it seems to be not the case. Zhuang Zhong then continued his examination on the whole body, not even leaving out the toes, but there was no fracture or blood markings.
As Zhuang Zhong arranged the bones properly, Madam Wu asked anxiously, “What is your conclusion?”
“Now, we can only conclude that his death was not due to external force.”
Madam Wu sighed. Just now, when she saw Zhuang Zhong trying his best but still ended up finding nothing, she had already resigned herself to fate. “Let us just stop here. Back then, we were unable to find anything. Now, three years later, what can we do? At least I have tried, so being unable to find out anything is also the will of the heavens. Even if there was something sinister behind his death, I do not think that my husband will blame me too much for not finding anything.”
Zhuang Zhong was serious when he said, “It is still not yet time to draw a conclusion, as this is only the first stage of the examination. Besides, anything involving human life is a large matter, and an autopsy cannot be completed in such a short time. One would have to investigate all possibilities before a conclusion can be inferred. As we have only just started, Aunt should not be too anxious.”
Seeing this, Madam Wu’s hope was revived again. Although there was no evidence, she firmly believed that Wang Fu was murdered. Since Zhuang Zhong had said so, she will hold on to the end.
The post-mortem examiner, who initially felt contempt towards Zhuang Zhong, had also changed his perception to a modest one. While outsiders only looked on in interest at the commotion, those in the profession were able to recognize skills. As someone who had been in this business for more than 20 years, the post-mortem examiner could see from a glance that this young man was not an ordinary person. With some skills in performing autopsies, it was then no wonder that Prince Si Zhao would push him forward to examine the body.
Originally, the post-mortem examiner had thought that Wang Fu died of an illness. However, when he sensed the atmosphere, he became more careful and said, “If his death was not caused by external force, he may have died of poisoning. Why not try testing for it with a silver needle?”
Zhuang Zhong waved his hand in disagreement. “There are many poisons that cannot be detected by silver needles. Most importantly, any corpse that has decayed will produce a kind of poisonous substance, which will cause the silver needle to turn black once it comes into contact with it. Therefore, the blackening of a silver needle is not a direct indicator of whether a dead person was poisoned or not, and this method of testing cannot be relied on.”
The post-mortem examiner could not help interrupting, “There are poisons that are undetectable by silver needles?”
“Yes. As arsenic is non-toxic and tasteless, it is mainly used to poison others. This then caused the spread of misinformation that a silver needle could detect any poison due to the fact that arsenic can be detected with a silver needle. However, this is not the case. If you all do not believe me, you can grind rosary peas into powder and test it with a silver needle before feeding it to a chicken. Like this, you all would then understand.”
Rosary peas are red beans that are highly toxic as those poisoned would suffer from ulcers in their gut, leading to death.
When those around heard Zhuang Zhong’s clear instructions, they ended up believing him despite not testing it out yet.
The post-mortem examiner continued to ask, “If a silver needle cannot detect signs of poisoning, how do we go about testing for it then? You mentioned just now that the silver needle would blacken when coming into contact with decaying bodies. Does this mean that this method cannot be used to prove whether someone died of arsenic? “
In DaYou, silver needles were used to identify for signs of poisoning. So when Zhuang Zhong rejected such a method with detailed examples, he, as a post-mortem examiner, was faced with even more questions.
For someone who heavily relied on various instruments in his forensic examinations, Zhuang Zhong was also facing a difficult situation in identifying death by poisoning. However, it was not a totally impossible feat to test whether the poison contained arsenic.
Zhuang Zhong looked around before turning to the governor. “My lord, can I borrow one of the swords of your yamen runners?”
However, before the governor could respond, a sword was already thrown out. It was fortunate that Zhuang Zhong had quick reflexes and caught it in a flurry. Luckily, the sword was also sheathed before it was tossed, or he would have been cut.
The corners of Zhuang Zhong’s mouth twitched. This sword was thrown out by Feng Huan, and it could be seen from the sheath and hilt that it was not something ordinary. By just selling the gems on it, one could already acquire a lot of money! Obviously designed for traveling, it could cut down bad people and also be exchanged for money when one was in a pinch.
“My lord, your knife…”
Feng Huan impatiently interrupted, “So wordy, just start!”
Instantly changing the subject, Zhuang Zhong said, “I just wanted to say that one is not enough.”
Feng Huan swept his eyes over him, grabbed the knife from Hou Shu’s body, and threw it to him. Frightened, Zhuang Zhong thanked him and asked his aunt, “Aunt, I will be cutting off Uncle Wang’s hair. Will that be fine with you?”
Madam Wu was temporarily at a loss before nodding to agree.
Zhuang Zhong then proceeded to cut off a bunch of Wang Fu’s hair before placing it on one of the swords in the fire. Coincidentally, that sword belonged to Hou Shu, and his face turned green upon seeing his sword being ruined. However, as someone following Prince Si Zhao, he could do nothing but curse secretly in his heart.
It was only when the hair began to smoke that Zhuang Zhong placed the other sword on it. As the two swords were very heavy, adding up to at least forty or fifty jin, his hands had started to tremble. Nonetheless, he gritted his teeth and held on. If it was not for proving that he did not tamper with anything, how could he be in such a miserable state!
At this time, his hands suddenly emptied. When he looked up, he realized that Feng Huan was helping him to carry it.
“Why did you become so absent-minded? Keep going.” Feng Huan’s tone was unkind.
However, Zhuang Zhong was extremely grateful in his heart. As the others did not know what he was doing, they only cared to look on while this Feng Huan was pretty attentive.
After waiting for a long time, the other sword did not have any reaction. Zhuang Zhong shook his head. “When he was alive, Wang Fu had never been poisoned with arsenic before.”
With his neck stretched longer than that of a goose, the post-mortem examiner could not bear it anymore and asked, “May I ask what was the meaning of doing what you had done?”
“If a person was poisoned by arsenic, the amount of poison in the liver and kidney is the highest in the first few hours. The other parts, bone, and muscle, will be lower. As the amount ingested is usually not small, the whole body has a significant amount of the poison by proportion too. So, if the person just died, one can try to detect it using the liver. However, now what remains is just the skeleton, so we can use the hair or nails to test whether it has poison. Additionally, after such a long time, the poison may also accumulate in the hair and nails, so it would be the best way without damaging the bones. Most importantly, if he was really poisoned, there would be a layer of “white frost” on the surface of the knife, which is the residue of arsenic.” Here, Zhuang Zhong tried to explain it in a way where everyone could understand, as the specific principles could only be hidden.
This was a test method discovered by a chemist named Johann Metzger in 1790. However, it could only prove that the substance has been soaked in arsenic and cannot determine whether the arsenic was absorbed into the body. In order to determine whether arsenic was absorbed in the body, one would have to use nitric acid.
In fact, judging from the appearance of the corpse, Zhuang Zhong did not believe that Wang Fu had been poisoned by arsenic. Nonetheless, for the sake of caution and the purpose of teaching this method to the post-mortem examiner, he ended up attempting it. Besides, Zhuang Zhong has also always been willing to coach the inexperienced or those who were willing to listen to his teaching, hoping that this could help resolve more unjust cases.
Thus, when the post-mortem examiner saw that Zhuang Zhong was willing to speak, he became bold and continued to ask, “Why is that so? How did you, this young man, learn of this?”
Zhuang Zhong placed his palms together and said, “Amitabha, Dharma is boundless, and only the Buddha understands everything.”
It was not that he did not want to explain, but it was just totally impossible to do so! To explain this, one had to start teaching from basic chemistry, and he did not have so much time to spare. Importantly, he was also unaware of how much these people could accept, so such advanced knowledge could not be easily passed on lest he caused some trouble.
When the post-mortem examiner heard such words, he did not dare to ask further.
The governor asked, “So it was not a case of poisoning or external force. Besides dying from an illness, are there still other ways?”
Here, the post-mortem examiner interrupted, “There is still death by suffocation and drowning.”
Zhuang Zhong nodded his head. “If this was a death of suffocation, the signs on the corpse would be obvious. Aunt, was the dead Uncle Wang’s eyes open and protruding while his face appeared blue?”
As Wang Fu’s final appearance was deeply imprinted in Madam Wu’s brain, she immediately opposed Zhuang Zhong’s words. “He appeared yellowish-white with no traces on his face and body. There was also no swelling.”
“From your words, it seems that death by suffocation is highly unlikely. With a post-mortem examiner present back then, it is also not possible for such a mistake to be made. Besides, with only the skeleton left, it would also not be easy to check for signs of suffocation. So let us start from drowning then.” Actually, in Zhuang Zhong’s heart, he already had a speculation. It was just that he was trying hard to refrain from using such a method that he was dragging this matter on for so long. After all, this method was not very accurate.
The post-mortem examiner asked, “Drowning? How do we test when only the bones remained? “
For drowning cases, one had to appraise the diatom in the bones. They had the ability to provide many useful information, but Zhuang Zhong’s forensic case was lacking a microscope. Hence, he could only use the method recorded in Song Ci’s Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified, which most of the people in DaYou would find unacceptable.
Zhuang Zhong did not answer and only said, “Kindly wait a moment as I make a pot of clean hot water.”
As soon as they heard such words, the people present were speechless.
As an impatient person, HouShu could not help but make an uproar when he was told to wait in suspense. “At this point in time, you are still thinking of drinking hot tea? Just drink a bowl of cold tea to quench your thirst. What are you dilly-dallying for?”
In a rare moment of playfulness, Zhuang Zhong rebuked, “It was Uncle Wang who wanted to drink water, not me.”
Wearing a white mask, a large part of Zhuang Zhong’s face was covered, and one could only see a pair of bright eyes. However, despite saying such strange words, there were signs of laughter in those eyes. It was obviously a hot summer day, but such a creepy feeling caused the people there to break out in cold sweat.
Feng Huan raised his eyebrows with a face full of appreciation. He then raised a foot to kick HouShu. “Go and look for some hot water.”
With such a kick, HouShu staggered a few steps. He then grabbed his bottom and complained while grimacing, “I am not supposed to be bullied like this! I am still the son of the left official at the Ministry of public works! Why did I become a coolie here?!”
When Feng Huan gave him a cold gaze, HouShu immediately disappeared completely. When he appeared again, he was already holding a flask of boiling hot water. With such fast speed, everyone was amazed.
“Is it clean?” Zhuang Zhong opened the lid of the flask and took a look.
After hearing this, HouShu became unhappy, “Young Master, how could the water I found not be clean? If an official came, the water could even be used to make tea for him! Ouch—”
After being hit by Feng Huan’s horsewhip across his head, HouShu was extremely angry, “I have already said that you should not hit my head!”
Despite the ruckus HouShu made, no one paid any attention to him. This included the Wang family elders who had focused their attention on Zhuang Zhong’s actions. After going through all this today, all taboos had been broken. Even if their hearts were unwilling, they could not object as he was backed by someone. Therefore, instead of stifling themselves in a corner, they might as well watch on and see how Wang Fu died. In addition, although the young man looked young, he was trusted by Prince Si Zhao, so he must not be someone ordinary. All of this had then made them feel that Zhuang Zhong would be able to find something from the bones.
Zhuang Zhong placed the head in a basin before opening the lid of the flask and looked at the hot water. After noticing that there was no contamination, he then poured it onto the skull. As the hot water entered bit by bit, an infinite amount of ash flowed out of the nasal holes.
Zhuang Zhong’s eyes narrowed as he went forward to examine the residue carefully. He then said coldly, “Wang Fu was killed!”
-For this chapter, the author referenced quite a lot of things so I had tried my best to make it as understandable as possible. However, for the use of hot water to test for drowning, I was unable to find any relevant information about it through a general search online or in Song Ci’s translated text so I am just assuming that it was true XD
-ML also showed his attentive and caring side in this chapter! Looking at HouShu now, I have a feeling he would be bullied by the both of them in the future