Chapter 222 - Springtime

The village chief’s youngest daughter swiftly grabbed the box and opened it. She cried out, “Wow! It’s a pair of dragon-phoenix bracelets! Look at the details on the dragon and phoenix, they look almost real!”  

Madam Zhang snatched the bracelets over and weighed them in her hands. They felt solid and decently heavy. The amount of silver used to make this pair of bracelets had to be around three to four catties worth! Such an expensive gift needed to be carefully put away to avoid other people conveniently stealing them. 

Li Xiaomeng also took out a pair of silver hairpins from the jewelry box and spoke to Yu Caidie, “Look at this. This hairpin has twin lotus flowers on one stalk at the top. The flowers are opened perfectly, so it must mean ‘one’s married life is crowned with happiness and satisfaction’. The hairpin feels quite heavy in my hands, so it must be made of solid silver. Ai...I really envy you. I’m not as lucky as you to have such a generous Second Brother.”

“This pair of earrings is quite festive. The fiery red color is perfect for the times. Caidie, tomorrow you should wear this pair at your wedding ah!” A matron with a round face placed the red coral earrings next to Yu Caidie’s face to see how they looked. A new bride, dressed entirely from head to toe in red bridal clothes and veiled with the red covering, along with these red earrings, would absolutely look auspicious and lovely tomorrow!

The village head’s youngest daughter curled her lip and remarked to show off her own experience and knowledge, “Wang Family’s daughter-in-law, what do you know ah?! This is made from red coral. My fourth sister-in-law also has a pair of stud earrings made out of red coral, but it doesn’t use as much material as these and the color is not as fine. Even those cost around ten taels ah! This pair of red coral earrings must be worth at least two times more than my sister-in-law’s!”

Who would have thought that this young girl had a good pair of eyes. However, her eldest brother was wealthy while her other older brother was the county magistrate’s secretary! From their influence, it could be seen that she was a lot more worldly compared to the other village girls!  When Madam Zhang heard this, she hurriedly packed up all of the jewelry into the small box and held it against her chest as if she was afraid someone was going to take it from her. She spoke to her youngest daughter, “Caidie ah, this stuff is too expensive. Mother will keep these for you. Tomorrow is the day of the ceremony and we’ll use these as a part of your dowry. With this jewelry, your well-off husband will also look at you in a better light!”

Although they managed to get back most of the money that was swindled from them, there were many uses for money in the future. No matter how much she loved her daughter, she couldn’t give her a dozen or so taels for her dowry. The second son of the Yu Family still had a conscience and didn’t forget his younger sister.

Madam Li, who had been silent in the time, secretly left the east room and pulled Yu Dashan into a secluded area of the courtyard. She quietly complained, “Why is Dahai acting like this? Is he trying to steal your thunder as the older brother? He just easily sent over gifts worth dozens of taels! To the daughter of his enemy, is he crazy or stupid?”

Yu Dashan had also heard the activity within the room while he was in the courtyard, so he didn’t feel very good and had a ball of anger boiling inside of him! When he heard Madam Li’s words, he threw a heavy slap at her face, “What do you mean by ‘the enemy’s daughter’? She is his biological younger sister, and also my sister! You have such a nasty tongue, if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all and sew your mouth shut!! It’s none of our business what type of gifts they send to her! We haven’t split from the family, so all of the money is in Mother’s hands. Therefore, no one can fault us for only gifting her a silver lilac!”

Madam Li wasn’t one to take a beating while sitting down, so she immediately exploded after getting slapped. She put both her hands on her fat waist and shrilly hollered, not caring about the noise she made, “Yu Dashan, you spineless coward!! If you have that much energy, then you should vent when you go out. Hitting your wife isn’t the heroic thing to do!! If you feel ashamed, then go make more money! All you know how to do is to use that run-down fishing boat, yet you don’t make much money. You’re not even as good as our son, who’s working at the docks!”   

A few of the village matrons hurried over to mediate their argument, but Madam Li wasn’t one to listen to the persuasions of other people. The more she screamed, the more energetic she became. It was only after Madam Zhang came out of the room and glared at her did Madam Li promptly cease. Madam Li was quite afraid of her mother-in-law, a woman who even had the guts to kill someone.

Other than that little episode, Yu Caidie’s wedding the next day went quite smoothly. Her husband’s family had all pretty much heard of Yu Hai’s name. They all knew that he had a godparent relationship with the lord imperial envoy and also had a working relationship with the imperial merchant family, the Zhou’s. Consequently, Yu Caidie’s in-law’s, who had previously looked down on the Yu Family arrogantly, were now very polite to them. They were especially courteous to Yu Hai as her second brother. The groom also called him “Second Brother” in a manner that was more respectful than when he was addressing his own older brothers. 

Not long after Yu Caidie got married, the first snow of the year unexpectedly floated down. Lady Fang’s child in her belly slowly grew larger. Living in a house halfway up the mountain with the northern snows didn’t make it easy for her to traverse in and out. Thus, Xiaocao negotiated with her own parents to allow her godmother to live in their home at this time. 

Presently, their family home was much more spacious. There were five rooms constructed out of bricks that were surrounded by a perimeter wall that separated the space into two courtyards: east and west. In the middle was a moon-shaped gate. The whole family lived in the east courtyard that had three rooms. The east side of that courtyard had two wings, while the west side held the kitchen and junk room. The west courtyard had two rooms that had been empty this whole time. The plan was to leave those rooms for Yu Hang when he got married and had a household of his own. 

When Xiaocao proposed this idea to her parents, the two of them naturally didn’t have any issues. After several months of contact, the two families were closer than most blood-related families. Fang Zizhen and his wife truly treated their youngest daughter as if she was their own blood and bone. Even though Lady Fang was now pregnant with her own child, she didn’t change her treatment of Xiaocao one bit.

Every time Fang Zizhen returned from the capital, he always had a bunch of gifts for them. In fact, a lot of these gifts couldn’t even be found in the prefectural city. Despite that, they weren’t particularly valuable, just more novel. The reason was simple. Fang Zizhen knew that if he bought something expensive, the Yu Family wouldn’t take it from him.

Naturally, the more her godfather traveled to and from the capital, prefectural city, and Dongshan Village, the more jewelry Xiaocao amassed. Her one jewelry box was now two, and, by the trend, would soon become three. There was nothing she could do though since her godfather would always think of bringing a gift back to her every time he went out. And what did little girls like? If it wasn’t jewelry, then it had to be pretty material to make clothes, right?

She was pretty sure that all of the jewelry stores in the capital and the prefectural city were familiar with General Fang Zizhen. Almost every couple of months, this giant brawny man would grace a jewelry store and scare away all of the matrons and young maidens inside. Afterwards, he would ask the shop assistants to show him the newest and latest jewelry most suitable for a young girl around ten years old. Without even asking the price, he would buy all of them to take back. His two assistants had now become servants who were only there to settle the bill...

Yu Hai also pampered his daughters and had a similar mindset to Fang Zhizhen. Fortunately, Xiaocao wasn’t a true young girl of ten. Otherwise, between her two fathers, one biological and the other adopted, she might have been spoiled until she didn’t know right from wrong!  When Fang Zizhen and his wife heard Xiaocao’s idea of having them live in the courtyard next door, after thinking a bit, they both agreed. A house halfway up the mountain was truly not a good place for a pregnant woman to live during the winter, especially after snow fell as the roads would become slippery. In fact, yesterday, their daughter had stumbled in the snow. Luckily, she was dressed in thick layers and didn’t hurt herself. Otherwise, Lady Fang would have blamed herself to death. 

The couple also had a manor in town. However, if they moved into town, then they’d be farther away from their daughter and it wouldn’t be as convenient to see her. If a blizzard came by, then carriages wouldn’t be able to drive for a few days. The two right now felt that going a single day without seeing their daughter would create a feeling of loss, let alone a few days.

The couple weren’t delicate flowers. After all, it was just lodging at the Yu Family’s residence for a winter, that’s all ah! If they were afraid of outsiders gossiping about them, then they could just broadcast that they were renting the rooms. As long as Fang Zizhen said that he wanted to rent a place to live, even the village chief would have to let him rent his own house even if he had no place else to go.

They acted on what they agreed on! The next day, the couple, along with their servants, moved into the west courtyard of the Yu Family’s residence. The west courtyard had been designed to be an independent single family living space. It had two wings, a kitchen, and a storeroom. Fang Zizhen didn’t have a lot of servants with him in Dongshan Village, so the servants were assigned the west wing. One room from the east wing was given to his two assistants.

Li Li and Wu Yun would occasionally come by in the afternoon to report to him about the harbor’s matters. Why did they pick the afternoon? Wasn’t it because they wanted to bum off the evening meal and the next morning’s breakfast off of them? Fang Zizhen, his wife, and the rest of their servants were all used to these two staying over, so when they moved, they didn’t forget to leave them a space either.  

Wintertime was the idle season for the villages. Everyone generally stayed at home, resting during the winter. Furthermore, at this time of year, there wasn’t as much business at the docks either, so all of the temporary workers left and returned home. The regular workers (the salaried ones) could also take turns going back home to rest. Having about a dozen days a month to rest at home was quite nice!

The Yu Family liked to congregate on a kang bed together during the winter. This year was also the same. They didn’t do this to save on firewood, as all of the rooms had their kang bed fires going. Why did they do this in rooms that didn’t have people living in them? That was because Xiaocao had her father bring more than twenty wooden chests over into the rooms and fill them all with soil. The soil filled boxes were then put on the kang beds and planted with some vegetable seeds. Some examples included: lettuce greens, Indian lettuce, romaine lettuce, garlic shoots, garlic chives and so-forth...that’s right, Xiaocao was trying to grow vegetables out of season!

The Yu Family’s kang beds all faced the windows, and the windows all had glass in them. Thus, the cultivated vegetables on the kang beds had plenty of sunlight. With the right temperature, enough light and Xiaocao adding some diluted mystic-stone water, the out of season vegetable sprouts grew quite well. The Yu Family never lacked green vegetables to eat during the winter, a time when other people could only become rabbits and gnaw on cabbage and daikon. 

Lady Fang, who was being pampered and protected at every turn due to her pregnancy, also had lots of green vegetables to eat. Thus, she felt like winter, which usually felt long and arduous, had unconsciously slipped away.

Right after they celebrated New Years, the Yu Family started to weave straw mats before the ground had thawed. Last year they were able to sell their vegetables at a good price because they were able to bring them to market a month before other people could. This year, with experience under their belts, the Yu Family had carefully prepared the front and back courtyards in advance.   

The courtyard this year was multiple times larger than last year's. The front courtyard’s two spaces combined had to be around three to four mu. Naturally, the back courtyard wasn’t much smaller. 

Before the first breath of spring came around, Xiaocao had already sprinkled various vegetable seeds onto the ground. As for tomatoes, cucumbers, and hot peppers, she had also started to incubate them on the kang bed in one of the wings. 

All of the members of the Yu Family, including Little Shitou, who was off on his winter break, had the same task every morning when there was plenty of sunlight. They had to lift up all of the straw mats and allow the new vegetable sprouts to bathe in the warmth of the morning sun. When the sun moved towards the west and the temperature started to drop, they all had to carefully cover the sprouts under the thick straw mats again. Every time she had to do this, Xiaocao sighed in regret that this time period didn’t have thin plastic films to use. Otherwise, she would build a large vegetable greenhouse, which was much easier to use compared to the straw mats!

The west courtyard’s fields hardly needed any members of the Yu Family to go there. Lady Fang’s two capable handmaids, along with the rest of the servants, had taken over the care of the fields there. Zhenzhu and Linglong were all born in the Xia Family, so they were very good at being personal servants. However, they had never looked after fields before. Nevertheless, they both had a fine hand at lifting and covering the straw mats. When they first saw a tiny sprout coming through the ground, the two maids were so happy that they chattered at their mistress for half a day. With every passing day, the sprouts grew taller and larger and the satisfaction within their hearts grew as well…

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Myst's Thoughts

Sanguine’s Thoughts: Haha, I love how Madam Zhang wanted to ‘shame’ Yu Hai by having everyone look at the dowry gifts he brought and ended up only showing the rest of the villagers that he is a generous person.

Translator: Sanguine