Chapter 107 - Interrogate

Xiaocao took Xiaolian and drove the donkey cart to the West Mountains. At the foot of the mountains, she fetched a good deal of spring water with a bamboo tube. On the way back, she soaked the multicolored stone in the spring water. A faint but cheerful voice sounded in her mind, [It’s so comfortable… The spring water in the mountains are definitely more pure, so it can help this Divine Stone restore my power faster…]

Xiaocao was pleasantly surprised. She had originally thought that the little divine stone had used up all its power and would fall into a slumber for three to five days like last time when it treated her father’s leg.

The little divine stone seemed to have read her thoughts and triumphantly said, [Little girl, aren’t you underestimating this Divine Stone? Previously, I had just accepted a master and my power had just began to awaken. Thus, I exhausted all my power in order to save someone. But it’s different now. This Divine Stone’s power has been gradually improving. Earlier, my power was only temporarily depleted. If I soak in the spring water, I will be able to replenish the energy that was consumed in four to six hours.]

Little Divine Stone wasn’t going to tell Xiaocao that every time it exhausted its power to help her or the people around her, its energy and power would be enhanced. This was the reason it was willing to help those weak humans again and again. If it continued like this, one day it would be able to recover all its power, break through the confinements of this realm, and return to Goddess Nuwa’s side!

Xiaocao looked up and saw dark clouds coming from the west. With concealed aggression and fury in her gaze, she sneered and whispered, “So four to six hours! Little Glutinous Dumpling, are you willing to help me out again? Let the rage of vengeance ignite!”

At dusk, thick, dark clouds weighed down on the sky, hiding the vast scarlet sky of the west. The sky appeared very heavy, as if it was going to fall down. The repressed heavens seemed like it was carrying a heavy baggage, while the indifferent wind rushed through the streets and lifted up patches of the withered leaves.

The workers of the shops on both sides of the streets prepared to close up. On the street, the pedestrians walked against the cold wind and rushed to get home before the storm.  

The entrance of Zhang Ji’s Carpentry Shop was surrounded by curious onlookers. In the middle of the crowd, on a donkey cart, lay a lifeless young man who had no trace of blood on his face. Next to the cart, the young man’s family, with grief and indignation, stared fiercely at the shopkeeper, who stood in front of the woodworking shop.

The ugly and ferocious-looking Shopkeeper Zhang stood at the entrance with a worker who wielded a club in his hand. He grimly shouted, “Where did this group of country bumpkins come from? They actually dared to blackmail me, Old Zhang. Don’t you know who I am! Hurry up and leave. If you want to do make trouble, then I’ll send you to the yamen after a beating!”

A thin and pretty young girl confronted the sinister shopkeeper without fear. Her hair was tousled by the wind, causing it to stick to her small, pale face. Whether it was during ancient times or modern times, never underestimate people’s curiosity for gossip. More and more people were gathering over. The whole family and Zhang Ji’s Carpentry Shop were completely surrounded by the massive crowd of people.

Xiaocao, who eyes were like bottomless pits, swept her gaze around the crowd and cried sorrowfully, “Fellow countrymen, this severely injured youth lying on the donkey cart is my eldest brother, who’s an apprentice of Zhang Ji’s Carpentry Shop!

“Shopkeeper Zhang is mean and cruel. He often beats, scolds, and abuses his apprentices. He doesn’t even treat them like humans. It hasn’t even been half a year since my pitiful older brother worked here, but there isn’t any part of him that isn’t wounded! Today, he had even been beaten until they broke his ribs and injured internal organs. Even Doctor Sun of Tongren Medicine Hall said that it’s difficult to cure these serious injuries!

“My pitiful older brother is only ten years old, yet his life is already hanging on a thread! Shopkeeper Zhang, shouldn’t you give us an explanation?”

Although Zhang Ji’s Carpentry Shop was very famous in Tanggu Town, Shopkeeper Zhang was also infamous for being greedy, cruel, and immoral.

Among the onlookers, a gray-haired old man sighed and shook his head, “What a sin! How can he be so ruthless to such a young child?”

The worker of the store next to Zhang Ji’s Carpentry Shop wasn’t surprised and calmly said, “Shopkeeper Zhang of Zhang Ji’s Carpentry Shop is violent and frequently gets angry at the staff in his shop. It’s even worse for the shop’s apprentices. They’re provided with the worst meals, while they also have to do the hardest jobs. Moreover, they often get beaten for no reason whatsoever. As a result, very few of the people who come to the woodworking shop to be an apprentice have stayed a full month.”

“I know that kid Yu Hang. He’s very diligent and honest. Although he seems thin, he does nearly all the heavy and tiring transportation of timber without any complaint. Unexpectedly, he also couldn’t escape the fate of being cruelly beaten. Ay… You guys should have known better. Why didn’t you inquire about the place before sending your child there? Isn’t that the same as sending your child into the pit of hell?” Another store’s shopkeeper added with a voice filled with pity and regret.

“What are you people talking about! Be careful with your words! To maliciously slander and defame me right in front of my face, do you think that I, Zhang Dongming, can be easily bullied?” When Shopkeeper Zhang was young, he was a well-known ruffian in town. There were more than one murders associated with him, but he was the younger brother in-law of the official registrar, who the county magistrate placed great importance on. Every time he caused trouble, the problem could be smoothly settled, and thus he became more and more fearless.

After being threatened by his fierce gaze, the people who whispered in the crowd immediately shut their mouths. Some of the more timid had even quietly withdrew from the circle for fear of being recognized by Shopkeeper Zhang and that he would take revenge on them in the future.

Madam Liu, who had gradually stopped crying, instantly burst into tears again when she heard his words. Standing next to the donkey cart, she gently touched her son’s pallid face and cried, “My dear son! It’s all Mother’s fault! At that time, I should have done my best to stop you from being sent here even if I ended up with the reputation of being unfilial. Every time I saw you, you would tell us that everything was fine. You told us that you were eating and sleeping well and that we didn’t have to worry about you… Why are you so foolish? If you had told Mother about your situation, I would have brought you home no matter what!”

Yu Hai’s veins were popping out as he clenched his fists. He gritted his teeth and said, “Shopkeeper Zhang, I sent my son, who was alive and well, to your shop, but he ended up being on the verge of death. I want to know, what is the reason you would be so cruel to a ten year old child?”

Zhang Dongming was a little afraid of Yu Hai’s tall and strong physique. However, when he saw the weak woman and young children around him, and that there were many people with weapons beside him, his confidence immediately boosted up again, “That’s right. I was the one who hit him, so what are you going to do about it? Not only did he steal the head craftsmen’s food, but he also stole money from the shop! I’m already considered soft-hearted for not beating that thief to death!”

“That’s impossible! My eldest brother won’t steal from others! You’re wrongly accusing him!” Little Shitou clenched his small fist and swung it at Shopkeeper Zhang with resentment.

With his hands behind his back and a confident expression, Zhang Dongming ordered one of the workers behind him, “Go! Bring out the things that we found in Yu Hang’s room!”

A moment later, the worker brought out a washed-out handkerchief, which contained several strings of copper coins. Each string had about fifty copper coins. Shopkeeper Zhang took the money and showed it to the crowd and sneered, “Have you looked clearly yet? There are a hundred and fifty copper coins here. Everyone should know that apprentices don’t receive a wage. But we have found so much money at the head of Yu Hang’s bed. If he didn’t steal it, then where did it come from? Also, the fellow who lived with him said that he often smelled food in the middle of the night… The head craftsmen’s meals had always been served by Yu Hang. So where did the food that he secretly ate at night come from? Well isn’t it very obvious now!”

Seeing the ‘evidence’ that Shopkeeper Zhang presented, the onlookers immediately changed their stance and said, “That’s unexpected. Yu Hang seems like such an honest child. I wouldn’t have expected him to do such a thing!”

“Don’t judge a book by its cover! I can understand stealing the head craftsmen’s food since he’s still a growing child and probably couldn’t stand the hunger. But, to be so greedy as to steal the boss’s money, that’s unforgivable!

“If he got caught stealing, then there’s nothing to say even if he was beaten to death…”

…… 

When Xiaocao saw the people who had just cried injustice for them, turn against the ‘thieves’ one after another, she couldn’t help but straightened her back and shouted, “Shopkeeper Zhang, you’re accusing my eldest brother of being a thief, but did you personally see it? Or did you personally catch him stealing money? Isn’t it too arbitrary to judge my older brother as a thief just because you found a few copper coins in his room? Dear folks, can we also randomly accuse you of being thieves if we find some money in your pockets?”

“No way! The money in my pocket is mine, which I worked hard to earn. How can it be stolen?”

“That’s right, that’s right! It’s also a crime to make false accusations!”

…… 

Xiaocao’s clear eyes swept across everyone’s face and she spoke in a strong and imposing voice, “That’s right! In the same way, my father and I were the ones who gave my eldest brother the money when we came to send or pick up my younger brother from town! I never expected that my older brother was reluctant to use even a single coin and saved up the money, and thus led to such a disaster!”

Zhang Dongming glanced at her disdainfully with his murky triangular eyes and said, “Little girl, you should also use your brain when lying! If you family has money, they wouldn’t have sent their child over to be an apprentice! To say that you had provided him with dozens of copper coins each time, do you think that everyone is stupid?”

When faced with everyone’s doubtful eyes, Xiaocao wasn’t flustered and calmly said, “My family probably didn’t have the ability to do so half a year ago! But now! Although we’re not operating a big business like Shopkeeper Zhang, we do have a small business at the docks and are capable of earning two or three hundred copper coins a day! Let me ask you. I feel sad to see my eldest brother not being able to eat well and wear warm clothes, so I sent him some food and money. Is anything wrong with that?”

Suddenly, a voice came out of the crowd and shouted, “I recognize this little girl. She sells one copper coin meat dishes at the docks. When I was a porter at the docks, I had bought her family’s braised food before. The braised food that Miss Xiaocao makes is delicious and they have excellent business. If you’re too slow, they would be all sold out already!”

This voice had confirmed the authenticity of Xiaocao’s words, so she continued, “Shopkeeper Zhang, the string of money in your hands were all personally strung together by me. I made the string with the different colored threads that my mother’s leftover embroidery threads. I have sent money twice and given him food once, which is something that the workers in your shop should know about…”

“Last time, when I came out to shop with my classmate and passed by Zhang Ji’s Carpentry Shop, I left twenty copper coins for my eldest brother…” Little Shitou spoke up once again.

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Myst's Thoughts

Translator: Myst