Yuan Sinian’s eyes lit up and he said, “This name is good. It’s much more elegant than salted duck! Let’s just call it osmanthus duck! Around the Mid-Autumn Festival this year, this old man will come try Little Lass Yu’s cooking again. It’s settled then!”
Yu Xiaocao didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. ‘Headmaster Yuan, who promised you?’ Ay, she could only blame herself for being so talkative and ended up incurring a ‘debt’!
When the three siblings came out of Zhenxiu Restaurant, the sun was already setting in the west. Third Young Master Zhou was somewhat worried and said, “It’s pretty late already. You guys still need to go through a mountain road on your way back to Dongshan Village. It’s better to stay a night in town and go back tomorrow!”
Yu Xiaocao flatly refused him. If her doting old father didn’t see his children coming home tonight, he would be terribly worried. Ay! One of the bad things in ancient times was that communication was inconvenient. If there was a phone, they could just make a call, and everything would be settled.
Seeing that she had already decided to leave, Zhou Zixu quickly fetched his beloved horse from the stables and insisted on sending them home. In his eyes, the eldest of the three siblings wasn’t even ten yet. If they encountered any mishaps on the way, there wouldn’t be anyone to help the three children. He was worried!
However, he also didn’t consider the fact that he was only thirteen or fourteen years old as well. What would he be able to help them with? But his concern was quite heartwarming.
Yu Xiaocao declined several times, but she couldn’t defeat Third Young Master Zhou’s determination. Thus, a donkey cart accompanied by a little red horse rushed into the distance under the boundless red sky. The silhouette looked very harmonious, as if it was a freehand landscape painting…
Little Gray’s constitution had been transformed by the mystic-stone water. It was very healthy now and its speed wasn’t inferior to the little red horse that Third Young Master was mounted on. If Xiaocao wasn’t about to vomit due to the jolting of the cart, Little Gray would have gone even faster.
Seeing that Xiaocao seemed to feel unwell, Third Young Master Zhou said with a slight sense of concern, “I already reserved the rubber wheels for you, and it is estimated to be done by next month. At that time, you won’t feel as uncomfortable when traveling long distances anymore.”
“Thanks a lot, Third Young Master!” Yu Xiaocao’s small face was ghastly pale and her lips seemed to have lost all the colors it originally had. Despite feeling so uncomfortable, she was concerned about the watermelon seeds, “Third Young Master, last time I asked Brother Xiaoduo to send you a message about helping me get some watermelon seeds. Are there any updates?”
Zhou Zixu nodded slowly and said, “I saw it in a gardening store in the prefectural city last time, so I have already sent someone to go buy some. So don’t worry! When have I ever procrastinated on your matters? When the seeds arrive, I’ll have Xiaoduo bring them to you!”
At this time, the sky had already darkened, and the cart had also entered rugged mountain road. On both sides of the curved road were tall trees and shrubs that were as tall as a person, from which came faint crowing of night birds. In the quiet and dark mountain forest, it sounded especially forlorn and bitter, and made one’s hair stand up on end.
The Yu Family’s old residence was at the foot of the West Mountains, so they had heard the crying of all kinds of birds. Thus, they weren’t really scared. However, it was different for Third Young Master Zhou. When had he ever gone to the mountain forest at night? He was obviously nervous about the crowing and cooing of the night birds.
“Don’t be scared. It’s just the cry of an owl! Owls are useful birds that can catch field mice!” Yu Xiaolian suppressed her laughter and comforted Third Young Master Zhou, while secretly laughing at him for being so timid in her heart.
Zhou Zixu somewhat regretted not bringing a handy weapon with him. Had he brought along his bow and arrows, which he practiced with every day, he wouldn’t be afraid. He looked at the dark shadows of trees surrounding him and felt somewhat scared as he asked, “In this mountain… will there be wolves?”
“Wolves? Probably?? But, ferocious animals usually hide deep within the mountains, unless it’s a year of disaster and they can’t find food. They only come down to harm the villagers when they can’t find food in the mountains. There’s a lot of pedestrians on this road every day, so there probably wouldn’t be a pack of wolves or anything appearing randomly.” Yu Xiaocao comforted him. After all, he was just a thirteen or fourteen year old child. Moreover, he was a young master who was used to being pampered and living a leisurely life. Hence, it wasn’t disgraceful to be scared.
“In front… what’s that bright glow? I heard that wolves’ eyes glow at night. Could it be…” Zhou Zixu secretly swallowed his saliva and his hands, which were holding the reins, was sweating slightly. He looked around to see if he could find a club or something that could be used to protect the three siblings with.
Little Shitou giggled and said, “Older Brother Zhou, have you ever seen a wolf with one eye glowing? Wouldn’t that be a one-eyed wolf then? Moreover, wolves’ eyes are bluish green at night. The light in front is a pale-yellow color, so it’s obviously someone walking at night with a lantern.”
“That’s strange. Who would walk on the road with a lantern this late at night?” Yu Xiaocao muttered to herself.
As the donkey cart steadily progressed, the pale-yellow light got closer and closer. The person carrying the lantern seemed to have heard the clattering of the horse’s hooves and the rumbling of the cart, and called out with slight hesitation, “Is it Xiaocao?”
“Father? Second Sister, it’s Father’s voice!!” Little Shitou paused for a moment, and then cried out cheerfully.
“Father! It’s us!!” As if she had found a pillar of support, Xiaolian shouted loudly towards the light.
The donkey cart swiftly arrived at the location of the light and they saw Yu Hai holding a white paper lantern. He stood at the side of the road and breathed a long sigh of relief, as if he got rid of something that was weighing on his mind.
“Father, why did you come?” Yu Xiaocao moved over and waited for Yu Hai to get on the cart before asking.
Yu Hai glared at the three siblings and scolded, “Why did I come?! Look at what time it is. The moon is already hanging up high on the treetops, yet you guys still aren’t home. Can your mother and I not be anxious? I reckon you guys were having too much fun in town and forgot to come home!”
Zhou Zixu hastily explained for the siblings, “Uncle Yu, it was my fault! Xiacoao was teaching Head Chef Wang and his students how to make osmanthus duck. It took quite a lot of time, so they ended up coming back late. If you need someone to take responsibility, then I should be the one to blame!”
Yu Hai was completely focused on the three siblings since he was afraid that something had happened to them, and thus he had just noticed that Third Young Master Zhou was escorting the siblings back. He quickly expressed his gratitude, “We have troubled Third Young Master. It’s already quite late, so you should go back quickly!”
Zhou Zixu looked at the pitch-dark road and agreed, but for a long time, he was reluctant to turn around. Seeing this, Xiaocao turned to her father and said, “Father, it will take Third Young Master over two hours to get back. It’s dark and windy at night, so it really quite worrying. Aren’t we almost home? Why don’t we let him stay for a night? It will also be closer if he goes directly to the docks from our house tomorrow morning!”
Seeing that Third Young Master Zhou wasn’t much older than his eldest son, Yu Hai really did feel somewhat worried to see a half-grown child going back by himself. Thus, he said to Third Young Master, “Third Young Master, if you don’t mind, you can stay over at our house for a night. What do you think?”
“Many thanks to Uncle Yu! I’ll be troubling you guys then!” Zhou Zixu smiled gratefully at Xiaocao. Little Sister Xiaocao was indeed a very considerate person. Her suggestion was exactly what he had hoped for.
After passing this section of the mountain road, the large tree at the entrance of Dongshan Village could be seen. A dark figure could faintly be seen pacing under the tree. Needless to say, that familiar figure was Madam Liu, who was worried about her children.
Madam Liu saw that Third Young Master was here, so she didn’t say anything and only said with concern, ”You guys must come back earlier in the future. Your father and I felt so anxious while waiting for you guys ah!”
Yu Xiaocao jumped off the cart, pulled on Madam Liu’s hand, and acted like a spoiled child, “Mother, you can rest assured that this won’t happen again!”
When they arrived home, the hot water was already ready on top of the stove. After Third Young Master Zhou and the Yu siblings finished bathing, they soaked their feet in hot water and warmed up their bodies.
That night, Third Young Master Zhou, Yu Hai, and Yu Hang slept on the kang bed in the main room, while Madam Liu, Xiaolian, Xiaocao, and Little Shitou stayed in the east room. Little Shitou protested, “Mother, I’m also a boy. I want to sleep on the same kang bed as Father and Older Brother!”
“Men and women don’t sit at the same table after the age of seven. You’re only six years old, so there’s no need to be so particular about that. Hurry up and sleep!!” Yu Xiaocao disregarded Little Shitou’s protest, took off his outer garment, and shoved him into the blankets. Little Shitou wailed and resisted but was suppressed by the women in the family.
Next door, Third Young Master Zhou was lying on the warm kang bed as he looked at everything in the room through the dim oil lamp. Although the house had been renovated, it still looked old and worn-out. However, the room was furnished in a simple and neat manner.
A layer of wallpaper was pasted on the cob wall, which looked like it was about to peel off, beside the kang bed. The cotton inside the mattress under him had already hardened, but it had been washed until it was clean and fresh. The quilt, which he was using, should be newly made. It was fluffy and soft and had the delicate scent of Chinese honey locust…
Zhou Zixu thought he wouldn’t be able to sleep in a different environment, but he hadn’t expected that he would start to feel sleepy within fifteen minutes. While he was half-asleep, he could faintly hear the sound of unconstrained snoring beside him. He didn’t feel that it was noisy, and he slept even more comfortably instead.
Since his birth, he had always lacked a father figure in his life. If he had a father in his life, would he also be like Xiaocao’s father and love him from the bottom of his heart? Would he also be accompanied by the sound of snoring as he slept?
Zhou Zixu woke up to the merry singing of the birds. When he first opened his eyes, he seemed to have forgotten where he was, and appeared somewhat confused.
“Pfft——” He was suddenly startled awake by a girl’s burst of laughter.
When he looked up and saw Xiaocao standing by the door and smiling, he panicked slightly and hastily shrunk into the quilt.
“Why are you hiding? It’s not like you’re naked… Ai-yo! Mother, why did you hit me?” Yu Xiaocao experienced sorrow after joy. She clutched her head and pouted with a wronged expression.
Madam Liu tapped her head as if she regretted that her children didn’t live up to her expectations. She chided, “Just look at you! Is that something a girl should say? Aren’t you afraid that Third Young Master will laugh at you?! I reckon you should stop running around so much and learn some proper manners.”
“Mother, Third Young Master isn’t a stranger. Aren’t I just making a small joke with him?” Why make such a fuss? Yu Xiaocao blinked her innocent eyes and did her best to act cute.
Zhou Zixu interceded for her, “Auntie, Little Sister Xiaocao is still young. Besides, the current emperor had proposed to improve the status of women. So there’s even a women’s academy in the capital. Nowadays, women aren’t encouraged to never leave the house and stay inside all day anymore.”
“Girls can also go to school? Later, let’s send Xiaocao and Xiaolian to study in school. Our Xiaocao is very smart, so maybe she can pass the examination and become a female county official!” Yu Hai guffawed with a proud expression on his face.
Madam Liu glared at him, “You, why are you also making trouble? Third Young Master is talking about the capital. Where is there a women’s academy in our little Tanggu Town? It’s enough for a girl to recognize a few words. What’s the point of them studying in school?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Feel kind of sad for Third Young Master...