Chapter 297 - A Glimmer of Hope

His son, Little Doudou, ate with delight. In front of him was the grasshopper sauce that Xiaocao especially made for children. It didn’t have any chili peppers and there was some sugar added. The sauce tasted savory with a hint of sweetness and was a hit with children. Little Doudou ate the sauce with a large pancake. When they left, he was so stuffed that he could barely move and had to be carried back by his mother.

When they got home, Yu Bo threw a temper tantrum at his old mother. He wailed that he had been working so hard in the prefectural city, yet she, his mother, was impeding his progress. Now the royal prince had such a bad impression of him. Even if he passed the exams in the future, it would be hard for him to be able to hook a large patron like Prince Jing’s Estate. After saying all of this, he started to sob loudly like a child.

Madam Zhang panicked. She had originally wanted to help her son, yet she had overestimated her own capabilities. She watched as her youngest son sobbed his heart out and her eyes also turned red. She stamped her feet and said, “I’ll go apologize to the royal prince and tell him that this was all my idea. I was the one who brought you down! I’ll kneel in front of him and have the royal prince change his opinion of you!”

Madam Zhao hurriedly pulled at her mother-in-law as anger bubbled within her heart. She silently cursed this pig of an ally, yet she could only persuade the other woman in a virtuous and sweet manner, “Mother, don’t go off and do something again. Please leave my husband a road to walk on ah!”

“How could you say that, I’m trying to help Xiaobo…” Madam Zhang glared fiercely at Madam Zhao with her red-rimmed eyes.

When Madam Zhao saw her country-bumpkin mother-in-law’s eyes crusted with gunk, she hurriedly looked away as she continued to gently persuade, “Mother, that royal prince does not look like a man who changes his mind easily. If you kneel in front of him, he not only will not think you are pitiful but also think that you’re trying to threaten him. I’m afraid that it would only cause the opposite of your intended effect.”

Madam Zhang instantly was at a loss, “Then...then what can be done ah?! So he’s just fated to misunderstand our Xiaobo ah!”

Madam Zhao, after all, was the daughter of a man who passed the county-level exams and had grown up in a scholarly family. She thought for a bit and then said, “There is nothing we can do at this point! Once this issue slowly fades from his mind, my husband can then use the chance to see Father-in-law in the future and show off his outstanding side. More exposure will lead to more familiarity, and, in time, the royal prince will change his mind about my husband! Husband, right now you need to spend all of your time closeted up and studying at home. If you’re able to pass the exams next year and get a high-ranking, then, at that time, the royal prince will see you with a fresh pair of eyes!”

Yu Bo wiped the tears from the corners of his eyes and sniffled a bit before he looked gratefully at Madam Zhao, “It is still my wife who is knowledgeable! That’s right, the royal prince himself had said it, solid learning is the most important of all. Next spring, I will absolutely have good results on the exam to prove my true talent!”

After finishing the fight, Yu Bo spent the rest of his time behind closed doors cramming. Other than eating or going to bed, he didn’t leave his books even once.

Madam Zhao had a few more tricks up her sleeve. She noticed that her second brother-in-law’s children all seemed to really like Doudou, so she went over every couple of days to call on them with her son.

Little Doudou also really liked going over to his second uncle’s house. Every time he went, Older Sister Xiaocao would always give him something good to eat. Sometimes it would be a plate of delicious fried locusts, and sometimes it would be a perfectly roasted sweet potato.   

Other times, it would be a piece of boiled corn, and occasionally it would be a batch of salt and pepper sunflower seeds.

The sunflower seeds were also goods that Royal Prince Yang had brought over from the western hemisphere. He gave Xiaocao a few seeds and allowed her to plant some on the perimeter of the back courtyard’s wall. When the locust plague was approaching, Yu Xiaocao, with the help of the little divine stone, promoted the ripening of the sunflowers and managed to get enough to make four to five catties of dried sunflower seeds. She set aside a portion to be used as seeds later and the rest had been roasted to become snacks. After Madam Liu tasted the roasted seeds, she hid two catties worth of sunflower seeds and said that she was saving them for guests during the New Year celebrations.

Madam Zhao’s skill at the feminine arts were quite good, so her embroidered flowers and plants looked vivid and lifelike. She gave Xiaolian and Xiaocao each an embroidered handkerchief. After receiving it, Xiaolian wanted her younger aunt to teach her how to embroider. However, she was out early every day and only returned in the evening, so she only had time to learn in the evening. Thus, Madam Zhao came over every evening and diligently taught Xiaolian how to embroider.

The Yu Family didn’t let her teach for free. Because Xiaolian had to pack up the stall late, the Yu Family ate dinner later than a lot of people in town. Every time Madam Zhao brought Doudou over, they arrived just in time for dinner at the Yu Family’s. Thus, they allowed the two of them to eat dinner at their house.

At first, Madam Zhao tactfully refused and stated that she had already eaten. Madam Zhang,  like the vast majority of other villagers in Dongshan Village, only had two meals a day at her house. One meal was at nine to ten in the morning and the second meal was around three to four in the afternoon. By the time the Yu Family in the old residence had dinner, it was already seven at night. So when Madam Zhao said she had already eaten, she wasn’t lying.

Yu Xiaocao had already found out through Little Doudou just exactly when the two of them ate their second meal and what they ate. Madam Zhang only gave each person a bowl of watery gruel and a small plate of salted vegetables. By the time seven o’clock rolled around, all of the food they had eaten at three to four in the afternoon had pretty much been digested. Thus, when Little Doudou saw the table full of flatbread made with more white flour than coarse grain, and all of the tantalizing dishes, drool had long pooled in his mouth.

Yu Xiaocao knew what type of personality Madam Zhao had. She wasn’t the type of person who liked taking advantage of others like Madam Li. Thus, she didn’t have any ill will towards the woman. The originally healthily plump Little Doudou had been starved into a slender sprout. This made her feel bad inside. No matter how hard it got, children shouldn’t have to suffer this much, right?

Thus, Xiaocao persuaded her aunt, “Younger Aunt, you’re helping to teach us the feminine arts so you’re also considered half a teacher to us. It’s only right and fair that the disciples provide their teacher a meal. Please don’t decline the invitation anymore. If you continue to be this polite, how could Xiaolian and I have the nerve to bother you in the future?”

Madam Zhao couldn’t refuse at this point and brought her son to the table to eat a bit. The next day, she deliberately came over half an hour later in order to come at a time when the Yu Family had already finished eating dinner.

However, as soon as she entered the courtyard, Yu Xiaocao rubbed her rumbling stomach and said, “Younger Aunt, can you come over a bit earlier next time? We’ve been waiting for you to eat and we’re about to faint from hunger.”

When she saw that the Yu Family was sincerely inviting her over for the evening meal, Madam Zhao finally received it gratefully. After eating a couple of meals there, Madam Zhao had a new understanding of how her second brother-in-law’s family was doing.

They had just experienced the locust disaster, so most families were tightening their waistbands. Most were just eating what they could, especially the evening meal. After eating that, most villagers would soon go to bed and didn’t have to do any hard work. Thus, the vast majority of families didn’t eat much for their second meal. 

However, Yu Hai’s family still had plenty of large flatbreads to eat. Furthermore, every meal they had at least four dishes and a soup. The flatbreads were also made with more fine grains than coarse. Sometimes, they even used white wheat flour to roll out some noodles. Every two to three days, they would also stir-fry a couple plates of meat. The meat had apparently come from Royal Prince Yang’s hunting. The meat changed from wild boar meat, wolf meat, hare meat, and wild pheasant meat.

After half a month, her son’s thin little face had regained some plumpness and he also became much more cheerful. Without her guidance, her son would run over to his second uncle’s home to play. He spent his time with Older Brother Shitou and Older Brother Fangping. They fed the chickens with locusts, gathered river snails to eat, or ran around with the other village children to the beach to gather seafood. At night, when he was dreaming, he would even yell, “Older Brother Shitou, I dug up a clam…”

Although her son had gotten tanner, his body was getting stronger and his appetite improved. For the sake of her son, she could only brazenly bum a meal off of her second brother-in-law’s family. His family was honest and kind. Most of the time they would even let her bring some food back for her husband. However, they only had one request: the food could only be eaten by the three of them. 

After a month passed, all three of them had gained some much needed weight and they looked much more healthy. When Madam Li noticed this, she stood in the middle of the courtyard and hollered, “There are some people, who look all noble and virtuous, but are actually sneaks who hug onto the thighs of others and lick their feet! No matter if the leftovers are delicious or trash, they’ll still willingly take it back home!”

Madam Zhang naturally knew that Madam Zhao often went to the old Yu Residence. However, she always brought some good food back for her son. When she saw that her son had grown fatter, Madam Zhang was able to turn a blind eye to this. If there were people willing to help her raise her son and grandson, at no cost to her, what did she have against it?

When she heard Madam Li’s harsh words, Madam Zhang screamed at her, “If you have the ability, then why don’t you go hug their thigh too? I bet that, from the way you look, you wouldn’t even be able to cross the threshold before they shoo you away. If you don’t have the ability, then don’t stand here like an idiot!”  

Madam Li shut her mouth. Her mother-in-law was right. Last year, she had been caught in the middle of Yu Hai’s melon fields and even ended up crushing some immature melons and not yet grown melon plants. Ever since that happened, no one at the old Yu Residence welcomed her again. Sometimes she would brazenly go over to try her luck at pulling up some scallions or vegetables in the garden, but she would always be unceremoniously driven away by the fierce Yu Xiaocao. After her mother-in-law peacefully separated from her father-in-law, they had drawn a clear line between the two families. Thus, she had even less of an excuse to wheedle even one copper coin from them. 

Every evening, she would stealthily watch from the crack in the door as Madam Zhao brought food back home. She could barely hold back the saliva in her mouth as she silently cursed Yu Hai’s whole family for their wealth and their persistence in fawning over her younger brother-in-law. She was certain that they were only doing this because they could bask in the glory of her third brother-in-law once he became a high-ranking official! What was the point in cursing though? Her husband, who was an unreliable and wooden man, could only watch stupidly from the side as other people ate good food and drank rich things. 

Time passed and it was at the point when the vast majority of villagers in Dongshan Village could barely eat one meal a day. If more days passed, then the families would start going hungry. At this time, good news passed from the docks——the grain ships that had gone down to the south to bring back reasonably priced grain were now here!!

When Royal Prince Yang heard the news, he rushed over to the docks to organize the situation. The bodyguards under his command had already surrounded the perimeter in a tight formation to prevent the hungry commoners from causing a riot.

Fang Zizhen also brought along some soldiers to help keep the peace. More than half of the construction on the harbor had been completed. The dockworkers were currently hauling all of the grain off the ships and moving them into the warehouses that had already been finished. The grain would be sold the next day.

Another batch of grain had been sent to the yamen’s storehouse under the guard of the soldiers. They were preparing to open shops in Tanggu Town and the docks at the same time. The price of grain had already been decided and it would be almost the same price as it was before the locust plague. Coarse grains would be sold for five copper coins a catty and fine grains ten copper coins a catty. Because all of the grain would be sold for the price they had bought it for, the imperial court was going to undertake the costs of transportation and labor involved.

When the news disseminated, a lot of the villagers rushed over that night and started to line up in front of the stores. Because the Yu Family had a good relationship with Royal Prince Yang, the people of Dongshan Village found out first. Thus, if someone looked closely at the long, winding line, they’d be able to see the villagers from Dongshan Village in the front and middle of the line but not at the end. 

Several hundred ships had been dispatched to haul enough grain to supply the victims of the disaster area. Thus, there was no quota imposed on the grain. Some families had been scared after going hungry and planned on storing more grain at home. Thus, they took out all the money they had to buy some reasonably priced grain. 

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Myst's Thoughts

Sanguine’s Thoughts: I sometimes don’t quite know how to feel about Yu Bo and his family. Sure he’s never been truly bad to Yu Hai and the others, but he was complicit in his mother’s horrible treatment of them and had lived like a king in town while the rest were starving in the beginning of the story. Yu Bo is passively selfish in my opinion...

Translator: Sanguine