Xiaocao and Madam Liu, who stayed at home, weren’t idling around either. Taking advantage of the warm sunshine after the snow, they lifted up the straw thatches and shook off the snow on top. The smiles on mother-daughter’s faces were even brighter than the sun as they looked at the green vegetables, which were bathing in the sunshine and unaffected by the spring snow.
Madam Fang, who had come to visit with her daughter, was shocked by the greenery in front of her when she entered the courtyard. She felt as if she had entered spring ahead of time. Madam Fang chattered endlessly, “Your vegetables are growing so well! Younger Sister Muyun, we also made straw thatches and tried to grow a vegetable garden according to the way you taught me. A few, sparse seedlings just sprouted, but they had wilted due to the heavy snow yesterday. I don’t even know if they can survive…”
Madam Liu couldn’t contain the joy on her face and said with a smile, “Xiaocao’s father just lets her do whatever she wants. I couldn’t stop them, so I just let them plant the vegetables with the thought that we’re just wasting several bags of seeds. Unexpectedly, the vegetables that little lass planted actually sprouted. Your garden isn’t growing very well, could it be that the soil isn’t fertile enough? As you know, our yard has been deserted for many years and has accumulated a thick layer of foliar fertilizer.”
Xiaocao quickly said, “The seeds for greens and mustard greens were scattered more densely in our backyard. When it gets warmer in a couple days, Auntie Zhou can take some back to grow in your garden.”
Madam Fang’s younger daughter, Zhou Shanhu, wasn’t much older than her and had a lively personality. Every time she came, she would be envious of Xiaocao’s family’s greeneries. When she returned to her own home, she would water and fertilize her family’s vegetable garden. She wanted the vegetables in her yard to grow faster so that she could eat them as soon as possible. When she woke up this morning, she had cried bitterly at the sight of pitiful state of the vegetables, which were all frozen.
When Zhou Shanhu heard what Xiaocao said, she immediately grabbed Xiaocao’s hand with a grin and asked, “Really? Are you really giving some to us? But… aren’t you guys going to sell the vegetables in town?”
Xiaocao held her hand and walked towards the rear courtyard. As they walked, she said, “Shanhu, you should also know that if the crops are planted too densely, their growth will also be affected. If you and Older Sister Linglong come take some away tomorrow, it will benefit our family too. We got two laborers for free!”
“Hey! So that’s what you were planning!” Zhou Shanhu laughed and tried to pinch her tender cheeks, while Xiaocao smiled and dodged her. The two young girls were chasing and frolicking beside the vegetable garden, while Zhou Linglong followed behind them, smiling quietly.
In the Yu Family’s main house, Madam Li was complaining to her mother in-law.
“Mother, I think that Second Brother in-law’s family earns more than ten copper coins daily from selling braised food! No matter what they probably earn more than a hundred copper coins. So that means they get three taels in a month, which is more than the income we get from our fishing boat!” As Madam Li thought of the shiny silvers, she felt as if there were twenty-five kittens hiding in her heart—there were a hundred claws scratching her heart!
Of course, Madam Zhang was also envious of the second branch’s income, but she couldn’t just go take it from them. The old man wouldn’t agree. Last time, when she got the braised food recipe from the second branch, that damned old man was angry at her for several days!
When Madam Zhang thought of how the old man was being ‘partial’, she slammed the rough ceramic cup in her hand heavily on table and vented her anger at Madam Li, “What’s the point in talking about this? Can you get the money? It’s all your fault! You can’t even properly clean the pig offal and offended all the customers. Now, even if we stole the braised food that Xiaocao made and sold them, no one would be willing to buy them!!”
Madam Li’s face went from blue to white after being scolded. She thought inwardly: ‘How am I the one who offended the customers? Weren’t you the one who was so greedy that you refused to give them refunds? You even shamelessly threw a tantrum! Even those rough men on the docks avoid you whenever they see you…’
Her eyes darted around for a moment, and then she stealthily changed the topic in order to redirect her mother in-law’s anger, “Mother, I can’t believe Second Brother in-law would act like this! He earns so much money every day, but he didn’t even think of his parents. He appeared like such a good son in the past, but who knew… Tsk tsk, he was never sincere and was just pretending all along!”
Madam Li was seriously stirring up problems for no reason. Before Yu Hai’s family had split from the household, they had to hand in all their income. If they also handed in all their money now that they were living separately, what would their family eat and drink with?
Madam Zhang snorted and angrily replied, “He’s a good son? He’s completely disregarding his parents’ life or death, while his own family is eating and living well! How is he good? He deserves to be crippled! It’s karma!”
In the room, the mother in-law and daughter in-law were venting and making Yu Hai out to be a worthless person. However, they hadn’t expected that an evil idea would emerge within the heart of a dark figure under the window, who had overheard them.
The sky was clear and boundless the next day. The snow from a couple days ago had already melted and seeped into the soil. Xiaocao and her sister were walking home with a basket in their hands.
Their baskets were completely empty. Xiaocao happily hummed as she touched her bloated purse. Xiaolian also had a delighted expression on her face and said to Xiaocao, “Little Sister, the manager of the restaurant at the docks asked you to help make a meal for a table in the morning. Are you going to prepare the same dishes as before?”
Xiaocao smiled and said, “This time, the guests are from the south, so they don’t like spicy food and prefer sweeter flavors and vegetable dishes. I’m going to make new dishes on the basis of ‘pearl balls’ and ‘shredded pork with bean sauce’. For the fish, I’m planning on making ‘sweet and sour fish’. Since it has a sweet and sour taste, the southerners will definitely like it. Our family’s bok choy and mustard greens should be ready to eat. The vegetable dishes will be ‘sautéed mushroom and bok choy’ and ‘minced garlic with mustard greens’. For the staple food… ‘three delicacies vegetarian crystal steamed buns’ would be a good choice. It’s exquisite and delicious! To be able to eat bok choy and mustard greens during this season, the guests will surely enjoy the meal!”
While the sisters were happily discussing the dishes for the meal and how much they had earned with the two taels that they were given, a dark shadow suddenly flew out from the withered bush on wayside and blocked the sisters’ path.
Xiaocao was alarmed in her heart. She looked around and noticed that there wasn’t anyone else on the road. Although they had two people, they were only children who weren’t even nine yet. The other person had covered his face with a mask. Though he wasn’t very tall, he looked very sturdy. Thus, he was more than capable of dealing with two thin and small girls.
“Take out your money! Otherwise, I’ll kill you!” The masked man tried to make his voice sound deeper and pretended to sound vicious. But there was still a faint sense of immaturity within his voice.
Upon hearing him, Xiaocao had determined that he wasn’t very old and should be at the age when his voice was changing. They had earned more than two hundred copper coins from peddling this morning. In the purse, she not only had the money they earned this morning, but also a deposit of two taels from the restaurant’s boss. She was really reluctant to hand it over obediently.
She stalled for time as she tried to think of a way to get away, “Don’t act recklessly! There’s a lot of pedestrians on this road at this time. Roadway robbery is a felony. If you get caught and sent to the yamen , you will first be punished with fifty strikes. Even if you don’t die, your skin will tear off!”
When the masked man heard her, all the flesh on his body trembled. He tightened his grip on the stick in his hand, pointed at the sisters, and angrily said, “Cut the crap and quickly hand over the money!!”
Xiaocao looked around and quietly squeezed Xiaolian’s palm. She suddenly had a look of surprise and loudly shouted behind him, “Uncle Zhao! Did you come to sell game?”
As soon as he heard that it was the skilled fighter Hunter Zhao, the masked man was so scared that the stick in his hand fell to the ground. He turned around and looked behind himself, while he got ready to escape.
The moment he turned his head, Xiaocao pulled Xiaolian and ran in the opposite direction with all her might.
When the masked man saw the empty path behind him, he finally realized that he had been fooled. He scolded at them, “Stinky brats, I definitely skin you alive when I catch you!” After that, he swiftly ran after the sisters.
Although the sisters took the lead, their legs were short and weak, and was soon caught up by the robber. He furiously reached out his hands and pushed Xiaocao very far away. He said fiercely, “You dared to trick me! If I don’t beat you up until you’re crying for your parents, then I won’t go by the surname of…”
He wasn’t so foolish as to tell them his family name, and swiftly stopped himself before he exposed his own surname. He angrily sent a hard slap towards Xiaocao’s direction.
However, at this time, Xiaolian suddenly strode forward and blocked her younger sister. With a sharp sound of the clap, Xiaolian staggered several steps backwards and fell to the ground after being hit. Her fair and tender face instantly became swollen.
Xiaocao rushed towards her to help her up. Her heart ached as she blew on her red and swollen face. She had always protected people who were close to her. For her younger siblings in her previous life, she had been in countless fights with people who had bullied them. She had ‘gloriously’ won the title of a tigress!
She tightened her fist and clenched her teeth. Directly fighting with the opponent would be her last resort. Based on his reaction when she tricked him earlier, he should know Hunter Zhao, Uncle Zhao. In addition, she had this lingering feeling that there was a sense of familiarity from the robber. She suspected that he was someone she knew and could possibly be someone from Dongshan Village…
[Yaaawn… Stop guessing. There’s no one else other than your eldest paternal cousin, who’s lazy, gluttonous, and a good-for-nothing!] The lazy voice of the little divine stone sounded in her ear as the little golden kitten on her shoulder stretched its back.
Yu Ge, Yu Heizi? Xiaocao looked at the other person’s plump figure, who had a sharp rooster-like voice. He appeared to be tough on the outside, but was timid inwardly… It really was him!
Little Divine Stone nonchalantly said, [Little girl, do you want me, this Divine Stone, to use my power and teach that fellow a lesson?] Although the little celestial stone had recognized Xiaocao as its master, it usually didn’t treat her with high esteem.
Xiaocao knew that Yu Ge, appeared fierce and malicious, but he was actually cowardly inside. She recalled how, on the day she woke up, he got so scared that he nearly wet his pants because of a few words. A plan was forming within her mind…
Yu Heizi had secretly eavesdropped on his mother and grandmother’s conversation. He found out that Xiaocao went to the docks every day and earned over a hundred copper coins. Since he was young, his stingy grandmother had always stealthily fed him delicious food behind younger siblings of the second branch’s back, but she had never given him more than two copper coins for allowance. It wasn’t even enough to buy a piece of candy from a peddler.
One hundred copper coins was like a fortune to him. He thought about all the things he could do if he had a hundred copper coins. He would be able to buy two fragrant sesame pancakes stuffed with several pieces of beef and have a good meal in town. He could also buy a pearl hairpin for Xiaoxiang, who liked to dress up, to make her happy.
The next morning, he had heard that the two little girls, Xiaocao and Xiaolian, were the ones going to the docks today, and thus an idea formed in his mind.
 Yamen (衙门) - government office in ancient China, which works as a courthouse, police station, etc.Previous Chapter Next Chapter