Yu Xiaocao took out the piping hot roasted chicken and the osmanthus duck, wafting out a tantalizing aroma, and placed them in front of Headmaster Yuan. Yuan Sinian was about to abandon his elegant and scholarly pretense in order to take the food into his hands when he suddenly noticed a few teachers in the vicinity out of the corner of his eye. He hurriedly reinstated his classy mask and said, “Ahem ahem, I, the headmaster, am an honest person who doesn’t take presents!”
Xiaocao roasted him endlessly in her mind, ‘I wonder where all of that food I brought over previously went, hm? Now he says he doesn’t take gifts, he’s truly a sly old man!’
Argh! Her younger brother needed to rely on this old man for his future, right? She had no choice but to continue this play, “Headmaster, I must tell the truth. I came over today because I had something to ask. Do you have time to talk with me?”
Headmaster Yuan raised his head even higher as he stroked his beard, “You’re only just asking me about something, no need to bring gifts over right? What’s going on? Just tell me directly! A gentleman must be magnanimous and understanding, there’s nothing you can’t discuss with me!!”
Psh! Still pretending, does he like to act that much? Xiaocao deliberately placed the two packets of oiled paper filled with food back into her basket as she smiled, “Headmaster Yuan is truly honest and magnanimous. So admirable!”
Although Yuan Sinian’s head was angled forty-five degrees up, his eyes were still blatantly fixed at the food. When he saw that Xiaocao putting the food she was going to send him away, he immediately became anxious. However, he couldn’t reveal his inner turmoil and could only use his eyes subtly to hint at her.
Yu Xiaocao deliberately pretended to not understand his unspoken plea and continued to speak in a louder voice, “Headmaster, I overheard people saying that someone could pay five hundred taels to get on the admission list for Rongxuan Academy. If that’s true, you need to leave me a spot. My younger uncle is also a scholar. Although his talents are average, he tries very hard…”
The expression on Headmaster Yuan’s face immediately changed. He didn’t care about food anymore and looked sternly at Yu Xiaocao, “Where did you get that news from? Since the start, my Rongxuan Academy has always only cared about the aptitude of potential students and not the depth of their pockets. I, Yuan Sinian, founded this school for the sake of finding worthy talents for the imperial court and not for getting rich! Let’s not talk about just paying a paltry five hundred taels, even if someone who couldn’t pass the admission examination came over with a mountain full of gold and silver, I still wouldn't let him into the school!”
Once there was a young son of a wealthy family from Jiangnan who had just missed passing the entrance exam by just a smidge. The father was willing to give the school half of his assets for the sake of his son’s admission. However, they refused it. Luckily the man’s son was hardworking and studied very hard for another year before he managed to pass the entrance exam.
“Headmaster Yuan, don’t be angry! This is what happened. My grandmother went to the melon store and told us she wanted five hundred taels from us. From what I can tell, she wanted to use the five hundred taels to have my younger uncle enter Rongxuan Academy. So I did my best to placate her and told her that I would come to the academy to ask you if that was true!” Yu Xiaocao briefly described the situation to the older man.
Headmaster Yuan very quickly calmed down and frowned, “Let me think about this for a bit. I think there are two situations. The first is that Rongxuan Academy may have a spy who's using the admission quota for his private gain.The second is that your family encountered a swindler who is using your younger uncle’s desire to enter the academy to cheat him of his money. Come with me to rest in my office for a bit, I need to talk to the head lecturer and school administrator about this…”
Xiaocao agreed with him and followed Yuan Sinian’s personal assistant into the headmaster’s office. This wasn’t the first time she had entered this room, which was steeped in a scholarly atmosphere and was full of interesting antiques. She placed the oiled paper bag full of food onto the table and then took a book from one of the shelves to browse through.
The servant brought in a cup of fragrant tea and saw the oiled paper bag oozing oil onto the piece of paper that the headmaster had just written on. He felt his heart ache at the sight: the characters that his headmaster wrote were more valuable than gold! He then noticed Xiaocao casually flipping through the only book that was said to be written by Wang Youcheng and a feeling of nervousness bubbled up in his heart. He was afraid that the little girl wouldn’t be careful and damage the book.
Yu Xiaocao, who hadn’t finished middle school before she dropped out in her previous life, felt like her head was going to explode as she looked at the traditional characters in the book. Although she had spent a little time studying along with Little Shitou, so she could recognize some more commonly seen characters, most poetic verses had more obscure characters that were impossible to guess. She managed to find a few verses she had seen previously in school and did her best to appreciate it while scratching her head.
Yuan Sinian, along with the head lecturer and administrator, entered his office and saw this exact scene in front of him. A young girl, plainly dressed, with an old book in her hands. Her large and lively eyes seemed to take in everything.
“Little girl, looks like you have read books before too!” Yuan Sinian revealed a gentle smile on his face.
Xiaocao hurriedly placed the book back in its original place on the shelf and grinned, “I only learned a few words with my younger brother. I took a book off of your shelf without asking your permission first, please accept my apologies.”
Yuan Sinian laughed, “What’s wrong with liking to look at books? However, let’s first talk about what you told me earlier!” Head Lecturer Liang’s face was solemn and serious as he said, “Our academy doesn’t have anyone here who is selling admission spots for money! Miss Yu, I’m afraid you must have encountered a swindler, right?”
The administrator had seen Xiaocao a few times before and had a good impression of her. He proposed, “I think that you should probably report this to the authorities, ok?”
Headmaster Yuan sonorously proclaimed, “We absolutely cannot tolerate a criminal who is using the school’s name to defraud people!! Shishu, take my message to the county yamen. This concerns our school’s reputation, we absolutely need to get to the bottom of this!!”
When Yu Xiaocao saw that what she had wanted had occurred, she said her farewells. She looked at the time and noticed that it was about time for classes to get out. That group of little fellows, who constantly cried piteously for food, must have been waiting for so long!
Naturally, Xiaocao didn’t know that as soon as she left the office, the three men left in there, whose combined age was over two hundred years old, almost started fighting over the contents of the oiled paper bag. In the end, Headmaster Yuan acted as if he conveying a large favor and decided to give the other two men half of the chicken and duck.
When Yu Xiaocao arrived at Little Shitou’s dormitory, four pairs of dark eyes stared piteously at the door. The table in front of the little fellows, other than the portion of green vegetables that Little Shitou took out, only had bowls of white rice on it. Okay, looks like they were all waiting for her chicken and duck to complete the meal!
When they saw Xiaocao appear, the little fellows all immediately looked towards the basket in her hand expressionlessly. Once they saw the basket had two full oiled paper bags, they cheered and ran towards Xiaocao. Such a group of practical boys!
“Second Sister, when they heard that you were called over by the headmaster, they all became gloomy and couldn’t help but wonder if they weren’t going to be able to eat delicious food today!” Little Shitou stifled his giggles and watched as the other boys fought over the chicken legs. At least they had a conscience and knew to leave him some too!
Previously, the food that Xiaocao had brought over had been taken by the headmaster several times. Later, she learned to bring two portions of food along. Obviously, this time wasn’t an exception either!
Xiaocao smiled as she watched the little boys eat her food with endless praises, “There’s enough portions of the roasted chicken and osmanthus duck to fill everyone’s bellies. Slow down and don’t choke!” Little Fatty Sun gnawed on a duck leg as he opened his greasy little mouth to say, “Second Sister! I’m super happy that I got to dorm with Little Shitou. Last time when we had a break and I went home, my mother even said I got fatter! There’s nothing to be done though, Second Sister’s cooking is just too delicious! Second Sister, bring some oyster sauce vegetables next time. It’s less greasy and I need to lose weight.”
Liu Jinye calmly split the roasted chicken and duck into four portions and placed his portion inside his large bowl. He ate slowly, so if he had to fight for his share against Fatty Sun and Monkey Situ, he would end up losing every time. Thus, he made his bowl his own territory. He always grabbed his portion early to avoid Fatty Sun taking all of the food away.
When he heard that, Liu Jinye slowly swallowed the chicken meat in his mouth and smiled, “Isn’t it easy to get some green vegetables to eat? The dining hall has a lot. If you want to lose weight, it’s even easier. Just eat the food from the dining hall for a whole month and I’m sure you’ll lose ten catties!”
Fatty Sun frowned and a long-suffering expression appeared on his face, “Forget it! Can the boiled vegetables in the dining hall even compare with our Second Sister’s skills? The food is only fit for pigs to eat, how can I possibly stomach it? If you want me to spend a whole month of eating the food in the dining hall——let me just die fat instead!”
Everyone burst into some good-natured laughter.
“Xiaocao? It’s really you ah! I thought I had mistaken you for someone else!!” A familiar voice suddenly sounded from the doorway.
Everyone turned their heads around to take a look. Little Shitou immediately greeted the person, “Brother Xiaowen! Have you eaten yet? My second sister just brought some roasted chicken and duck from Zhenxiu Restaurant over, come eat some!”
Zhenxiu Restaurant’s roasted chicken and osmanthus duck? Rumors said that it cost five taels each and had now increased to ten taels apiece. Despite the increase, the supply still wasn’t enough to meet the demand. The Yu Family had progressed as his mother had said——their life had gotten much better!
However, now the Qian Family had better days too. His family no longer had to worry about selling their ducks and even their duck eggs sold well now. They now made dozens of taels from selling their ducks to Zhenxiu Restaurant. In addition, his mother had recently hatched a flock of small ducklings and even caught a bunch of ducks in the wild to raise. Now, they had around four to five hundred ducks at home! After getting the sweet taste of profit, the Qian Family was now preparing to expand their duck business by a lot!
Qian Wen looked at Xiaocao. It had been a long time since they last saw each other, and the little girl had grown in height a bit. Her fair and clear skin looked so tender that one could almost pinch water from it, and her pair of large eyes seemed to be able to look into the depths of a person’s soul…
His mother had told him that the roasted chicken and osmanthus duck at Zhenxiu Restaurant had a lot to do with this little girl. In addition, in the spring, the watermelons that the other villagers didn’t see much use for had even been sold for over five hundred taels. Furthermore, that wasn’t even including the Yu Family’s braised food business at the docks and their seafood product wholesale business...he felt like the distance between his and her family seemed to be growing larger and larger...
However, he didn’t think that was a problem! The teacher said that with his current level of schooling, he could participate in the children’s examinations next year. If he could easily pass the entry level exams, then he would become the first person from Dongshan Village to pass the prefectural exams. In addition, at that time, he would only be fifteen years old. Now that his family’s circumstances had improved, he planned on taking the next set of exams to become a graduate and then become someone who had passed the imperial exams! By that time…
“Brother Xiaowen, this chicken leg is for you!” A fragrant aroma coming from Little Shitou’s hands suddenly interrupted his thoughts.
Qian Wen smiled at the little fellow and replied, “I’ve already eaten! You should eat the chicken leg instead!”
Usually Qian Wen made sure to look out for Little Shitou. The older boy studied very hard and, with his own efforts, was in the top third of the intermediate class. Little Shitou not only liked this older brother from his own village but also respected him quite a bit. The little boy persevered in trying to give some of the delicious food to Brother Xiaowen, “Even if you’ve already eaten, you can still have a taste of the chicken leg! It’s really very good!!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s Thoughts: Shitou’s buddies at school are quite hilarious!