It had been snowing heavily since the beginning of winter. Dongshan Village had entered a complete stage of hibernation. Every night, a big gray wolf patrolled and stood guard with his two silly sons. Peace had been restored at the foot of the West Mountain. The five members of the Liu Family went back to live in their new house.
The courtyard in the west side of the Yu Residence was left unused after Royal Prince Yang returned to the capital. Old Yu had moved into the wing room of the West Courtyard and said that he would help look after this side of the house. Yu Hai and his wife tried to persuade him to move into the main room, but he stubbornly refused.
As soon as winter came, Yu Xiaocao started having ideas again. She told her father to make a lot of shallow boxes, dug out a lot of fertile black soil from the pond, and put them in the boxes. After that, she placed the wooden boxes on the unused kang beds and sprinkled some vegetable seeds in it. The kang bed in the room was heated every day, so it was naturally as warm as the spring. With mystic-stone water to promote the growth of the crops, the vegetable seeds soon sprouted with long leaves. A lush green color appeared in the wooden boxes.
Old Yu was overjoyed. Whose family could grow green vegetables in the winter? His young granddaughter was indeed extraordinary! Since this old man came to the old residence, his illness and body had quickly recovered due to the filial piety of his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. Old Yu now felt that his body was full of vitality, and as if he become more than ten years younger, there was limitless energy in his body.
The vegetables in the two main rooms and several wing rooms of the West Courtyard were carefully looked after by Old Yu every day. The firewood in the woodshed was piled up like a mountain. In addition to the portion of dead branches that the members of the Yu Family cut down and brought back from the mountain, some of them were bought with money. When they bought the firewood, Old Yu felt somewhat distressed. He felt that there was firewood all over the mountains, so they could just cut some back when needed. Why did they have to waste their money to buy them? Moreover, there was enough firewood at home. Would they be able to use up so much firewood? Now, it seemed like the lass Xiaocao had planned to grow green vegetables on the kang bed since autumn.
Old Yu felt that this winter had been quite fulfilling. He checked the stove at least seven to eight times a day for fear that the fire would go out and their family’s vegetables would freeze. However, Xiaocao had specially instructed him to use the water in the vat within the main room when watering the crops. The vat in the main room was placed next to the stove, so it had a suitable temperature that wouldn’t freeze the delicate vegetables.
In actuality, every day after Yu Hai filled the vat with water, Yu Xiaocao would drop a few drops of mystic-stone water in it.
The East Courtyard had three main rooms. Yu Hai and his wife occupied one room. Xiaocao shared a room with Xiaolian, while Yu Hang and Little Shitou shared a room. All the other rooms with a kang bed were used to grow vegetables. The main rooms had bigger kang beds that could sleep five to six people. In order to not waste the extra space, the kang beds were divided so that people slept on one side while the wooden boxes used to grow vegetables were placed on the other side.
After Old Yu moved back to the old residence, his oldest brother Yu Lichun often visited him. He didn’t have much to do in the winter. The women and children were busy cleaning and preparing for the new year. There wasn’t much that Yu Lichun could help out with, so he came out for a walk. As he walked, he arrived at the old Yu Residence.
As soon as he entered the gates, he saw his brother carrying firewood and heating up the kang beds in all the rooms. Yu Lichun slightly furrowed his brows and shouted, “Hey, Third Brother, why are you heating up all the kang beds of all the rooms in the daytime? Do you think that it’s easy for the kids to get the firewood? Why are you causing trouble?”
Old Yu turned around to look at his oldest brother, and then continued to add firewood into the stoves. After that, he waved mysteriously to Yu Lichun and said, “Eldest Brother, come take a look inside the room and you will know why I’m heating the kang beds!”
Yu Lichun followed his brother into the main room. After pulling away the thick wolf skin curtain, his eyes were filled with the verdant color on the kang bed. He stood there and blinked hard, but found that he didn’t see wrongly and that the green color still appeared in front of him.
“This… these are vegetables? Chives, garlic bolts, bok choy, spinach, potherb mustard… Third Brother, did you grow all these vegetables?” There was some uncertainty within Yu Lichun’s shaking voice.
Old Yu was amused by his oldest brother’s expression. He chuckled and said, “How can I have the ability? It’s Xiaocao and her father. I’m only helping them look after the vegetables. Eldest Brother, this box of chives can be reaped soon. I will cut a batch and send them to you on Little New Year . Tell Sister-in-law to make chives and pork dumplings for you!”
The Yu Family’s two wild boars had grown to over one hundred catties after winter. Before Royal Prince Yang returned to the capital, they asked the butcher in the neighboring village to slaughter them. Old Yu’s brothers’ families and the Liu Family of Xishan Village all received ten catties of pork. Each family also got a few catties of the wolf meat that was stored in the icehouse. Thus, Yu Lichun’s family could eat lavishly for New Year even if they didn’t buy meat.
Yu Lichun didn’t act courteous with him and happily said, “Great! I love eating chives and pork dumplings. Third Brother, take good care of them. I’m waiting to eat the chives that you planted ah!”
Old Yu proudly flaunted, “This is nothing. In the wing rooms of the West Courtyard, there are chili peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. Xiaocao is even more careful than I am. Those crops have already bloomed, so I reckon that we would be able to eat ‘stir-fried eggs and tomatoes’ and ‘sauteed eggplants with pork’ before the New Year! Eldest Brother, you must not tell anyone else about this ah! Our family didn’t plant a lot of vegetables. If others find out and want to borrow some chives and chili peppers, we won’t have enough to eat!”
Yu Lichun rolled his eyes at him and said, “Do you think your eldest brother is stupid? Do I need you to remind me?” He looked in the other rooms in the West Courtyard, and then came out with his hands clasped behind his back, looking satisfied. It was going to be Little New Year soon. He seriously anticipated being able to eat dumplings with chives fillings in the winter! If they had an ample quantity of chives, he should ask his wife to make some ‘pan-fried chives cake’ and add an egg… After Yu Lichun came out of the old Yu Residence, he couldn’t stop smiling. When he met the villagers, they would ask him what he was so happy about, but he just answered them vaguely. Third Brother was right. This was a matter that only their own family members should know about, and it shouldn’t spread it out.
Little New Year was quite important for the people in the north. During the past year, Third Young Master Zhou had been running all over the place and seldom returned to Tanggu Town. When he occasionally came back, he would only stay for three to five days before leaving again. In order to properly spend time with his mother during the New Year, he had returned to Tanggu Town before Little New Year and would leave after the fifteenth of the first month.
When Yu Xiaocao heard that Third Young Master Zhou had returned, she cut a box of chives, got two catties of each vegetables that was ready to be harvested, and put them in a bamboo basket. She covered them with a quilt to prevent them from freezing. In order to show the importance of this friend and business partner, before the Little New Year, she personally drove the little donkey cart and delivered the basket of vegetables to Third Young Master Zhou.
The Zhou Family was one of the most prestigious families in Tanggu Town. The two branches of the Zhou Family lived right next to each other, but each of their compounds had individual entrances. Third Young Master Zhou’s second branch had a relatively smaller compound, but at the moment, Third Young Master Zhou and his mother were the only members of the second branch, so the house appeared quite spacious. Speaking of Third Young Master Zhou’s mother, she was also quite pitiful. While Third Young Master Zhou was away from home, she had to stay in such a big courtyard alone. So she must be very lonely. It was no wonder that Third Young Master Zhou would set his eyes on Xiaocao’s family’s little roe deer. Raising a pet could send away some of the loneliness, right?
Yu Xiaocao stopped her donkey cart in front of the small entrance of the Zhou Family’s Second Branch, and then knocked on the door. Yu Xiaocao had worked with Third Young Master Zhou for more than two years and they usually met at Zhenxiu Restaurant, so she had never been to the Zhou Estate. Therefore, when the doorkeeper opened the door, he looked at Xiaocao for a moment and asked, “Little girl, who are you looking for?”
Yu Xiaocao smiled sweetly and softly replied, “Hello, I’m looking for Zhou Zixi, Third Young Master. May I know if he is at home or at Zhenxiu Restaurant?”
The doorkeeper looked at her doubtfully. Why would a young girl, who was around the age of ten, look for his young master? She was trying to cling onto his young master at such a young age? Did she not take a look at herself? With his young master’s current status, would just any random cat or dog be able to match with him?
“My young master won’t see you. Hurry up and go back to where you came from!” The doorkeeper was convinced that she was someone who wanted to climb up the social ladder, so there was a trace of disdain in his voice.
The smile on Yu Xiaocao’s face froze for two seconds, and gradually faded. She stared fixedly at the doorkeeper and said, “How do you know that Third Young Master won’t see me when you didn’t even report it? Since when is the doorkeeper of the Zhou Family able to make decisions for the masters?”
The doorkeeper was slightly flustered by her frightening gaze, but he felt that he was dutifully doing his job, “Is our young master someone who would easily meet just any random person? Hurry up and leave. If you continue to cause trouble, I will have someone drive you out!”
Yu Xiaocao was angry that she was amused. People often said that ‘it was easy to provoke the King of Hell, but it was harder to deal with the little goblins’. The ancients were indeed speaking the truth! She was about to say something, but she heard a familiar voice behind her, “Miss Yu, what are you doing here?”
When she turned around, she saw the head manager of Zhenxiu Restaurant looking at her with surprise. With a pout, Yu Xiaocao said with slight grievance, “My family grew some green vegetables on the kang beds. Thinking that there weren't a lot of vegetables to eat in the winter, I came to deliver some to Third Young Master. I didn’t expect that I couldn’t even enter the door! If I had known that the Zhou Family’s threshold was so high, I wouldn’t have bothered to come to be snubbed!”
Seeing that the head manager was very polite to the little girl, he wondered in his heart, ‘Who exactly is this little girl? Did I offend someone that I shouldn’t have?’
The head manager glared at the doorkeeper and said, “Who gave you the right to stop the guests on your own initiative? Miss Yu is a very important person to the young boss. If you chase her away, you won’t be able to stay in the Zhou Household any longer! Are you going to quickly report this to Third Young Master?”
When the doorkeeper heard this, he seriously wished that his parents could give him two more legs. He had never thought that a young girl dressed in such ordinary clothing would be an honored guest of Third Young Master. Based on the head manager’s tone, the master seemed to attach great importance to the young girl! In order to make amends, he needed to run faster!
When the doorkeeper breathlessly reported ‘Miss Yu has come to visit’, Third Young Master Zhou, who was in the middle of chatting with his mother, abruptly stood up from his chair with a slightly excited expression.
Second Madam Zhou looked at her son, who had slightly forgotten his manners, and asked with a chuckle, “Is this Miss Yu the noble benefactor that Xu’er mentioned?”
Third Young Master Zhou smiled slightly, and his eyes were full of nostalgia as he said, “That’s right! At that time, Son just couldn’t stand seeing the manager of Fulin Restaurant cheat the siblings of the Yu Family, and thus spoke up to help them. Unexpectedly, I met my noble benefactor. Miss Yu has the remnants of a recipe book from the previous dynasty. Oyster sauce, roasted chicken, roasted duck… Nearly all of the money-making dishes of Zhenxiu Restaurant were created by Miss Yu according to the remnants of the recipe book.”
 Little New Year (小年) - a festival that falls on the 23rd or 24th of the twelfth month of the lunar yearPrevious Chapter Next Chapter
Even if Xiaocao has never been to his house, with how close Third Young Master is with Xiaocao, I'm kinda surprised that his servants don't know about her.