Hearing her son’s grateful words, Second Madam Zhou nodded and said, “Sure enough, those with kind hearts are blessed! Based on what you’re saying, Miss Yu is also a kind and righteous person. Quickly invite the guest in!”
The doorkeeper stood outside the second gates and anxiously waited for the reply from inside. He desperately hoped that the senior servant of the inner gates would reply with the message, ‘don’t know her’ or ‘don’t want to see her’. But, instead of seeing a senior servant or maidservant of the inner gates, his master’s hurried figure appeared in front of him.
“Where’s Miss Yu?” When Third Young Master Zhou walked by the doorkeeper, he asked in a slightly pressing tone.
It was in the middle of winter, but the doorkeeper was drenched in cold sweat. He stammered, “In reply to Master, Miss Yu is still waiting outside the main gates…”
“Nonsense!! Zhou Dafu, you have been working as the doorkeeper for more than twenty years, yet you still don’t know our Zhou Estate’s rules of hospitality?” Third Young Master Zhou stopped his anxious footsteps and finally took a proper look at the doorkeeper. He could see a sense of guilt and uneasiness from his expression, and he immediately guessed that this lowly servant must have acted snobbish again!
This Zhou Dafu relied on the fact that he was the son of Second Madam Zhou’s wet nurse, and often fawned on the superiors and bullied the inferiors. However, with the wet nurse controlling him, he didn’t cross the line and didn’t cause too much trouble. Thus, Third Young Master Zhou and his mother would turn a blind eye to his behavior. They didn’t expect that this lowly servant didn’t repent, and his behavior worsened in the past two years!
“Don’t follow me anymore. Go receive a flogging and then tend the horses at the stable!” Third Young Master Zhou knew that this lowly servant had slighted Yu Xiaocao because she was a child dressed in ordinary clothing.
Zhou Dafu knelt remorsefully in front of Third Young Master Zhou, and his head hit the ground heavily. He begged for mercy, “Master, this lowly servant knows that I have done wrong! Please consider the hard work and contribution of this lowly servant’s mother to the second madam and give this lowly servant another chance!”
Third Young Master Zhou didn’t stop and walked around him, saying, “The wet nurse can’t help you forever. Her merits had long been used up by you, this unworthy son!” After saying that, he left him with the view of his merciless back.
Zhou Dafu deeply regretted it. From being a doorkeeper, which was a position that could reap the most profits on the side, he was suddenly demoted to be the stinky and tiring horsekeeper that was the least likely to get fringe benefits. He practically fell from the sky to the ground ah! Who would have known that such an ordinary little girl would be so important to his master ah!
The new doorkeeper always remembered this incident as a warning to himself, and never treated anyone rudely after taking the position, especially people from the Yu Family. This had unknowingly improved the reputation of the second branch… This shall be recounted later.
After Third Young Master Zhou dealt with the doorkeeper, he nearly trotted all the way to the main entrance. As soon as he went out the door, he saw Yu Xiaocao trembling as she talked with the head manager. Her fair and tender face had turned red from the cold.
“Xiaocao, when did you come? Quickly come into the house and warm your body!” Zhou Zixu felt a sense of pity in his heart. He felt slightly more irritated at the tactless doorkeeper, and regretted that he had just let him off too lightly.
Yu Xiaocao took her hands out of her sleeves, rubbed her frozen face, and rolled her eyes at him, saying, “My family grew some vegetables on top of the kang beds. My father wants to thank you for taking care of us and insisted that I bring some over for you! Who would have known that the threshold would be so high at Third Young Master Zhou’s house? Ordinary commoners like us can’t go in…”
The head manager didn’t expect that Miss Yu, who was usually smiling, turned out to be such a hot-tempered little girl. She even dared to taunt their future head of the Zhou Household! He suddenly coughed twice and helped his master explain, “Miss Yu, it’s that lowly servant who looked down on people. It has nothing to do with our master…”
“How can there be no relation? This shows that he doesn’t have keen eyes for people. He doesn’t know his subordinates well enough to put them in suitable positions!” Yu Xiaocao pointed at the bamboo basket on the donkey cart and said to Third Young Master Zhou with a terrible expression, “Take it! This is for your family, so quickly unload it. I need to hurry back!”
Third Young Master Zhou personally took the bamboo basket down from the donkey cart and said with a flattering smile, “Alright! It’s all my fault. Is it okay now? It’s your first time visiting my house, so you should at least come in for a drink. Otherwise, if other people find out, they would say that my Zhou Family doesn’t know proper etiquette!”
“Humph! You’re already driving your guest out, yet you’re still afraid of other people talking about you?” Yu Xiaocao still didn’t have a good expression on her face. She pointed at her own little donkey and said, “You’re just going to leave my family’s Little Gray here? What are you going to do if it freezes here?”
Third Young Master Zhou knew that the speed of the Yu Family’s little donkey wasn’t inferior to that of a horse. Moreover, it had a sense of humanity, which was extremely rare. He hurriedly ordered the servants behind him, “Why are you guys still standing there? Quickly unload the donkey cart. Lead Little Gray to the stable and serve it with fine fodder.”
The servants unloaded the donkey and led the donkey away. A servant, who wanted to curry favor with the master, wanted to take the bamboo basket in his master’s hands, but Third Young Master Zhou evaded him and said, “I can hold this basket. Just go and do what you need to!”
In this way, Third Young Master Zhou carried the bamboo basket and personally invited Yu Xiaocao inside. The second branch of the Zhou Family lived in a compound with four sections. Beside the main entrance was a row of back-facing rooms that the servants lived in. After walking a few steps inside the main gate, there was a big and tall screen wall. With a turn, they arrived in the outer court, which was rectangular shaped. After going through the festooned gate, it was the main court that the masters lived in. The mountain corridor connected the east and west wing rooms, which was where the male offspring resided in. The second branch of the Zhou Family didn’t have many children, so Third Young Master Zhou was the only one living in the second-gate courtyard. The elders lived in the third-gate courtyard, and thus the person who lived here was the mistress of the Zhou Family——Second Madam Zhou, who was Third Young Master Zhou’s mother. The backside building was located in the fourth-gate courtyard. Generally, the daughters of the family resided there, but it was also unused at the moment.
After looking at each of the courtyards, Yu Xiaocao couldn’t help but think of a line from Ou-yang Xiu’s poem, ‘How deep the courtyard is…’
The courtyard that Second Madam Zhou resided in was decorated in a simple and refined manner. It could be seen that the owner was a calm and simple person. When the clever maidservant, who stood outside the main room, saw her master leading a young girl over, she quickly pulled open the curtains with a smile and said with a clear voice, “Madam, Miss Yu is here!”
A gentle voice sounded from inside, “Quickly invite her in——"
“Young Master, Miss Yu, the madam asked you to come in!” The maidservant’s smile was very sweet. She glanced at Yu Xiaocao with a slightly curious gaze, and then immediately shifted her eyes.
Yu Xiaocao, who frequently accompanied Princess Consort Jing, had experienced bigger situations, so she naturally wouldn’t act overcautious. With a gentle smile, she nodded at the maidservant, and then followed Third Young Master Zhou into the room.
There was a fireplace burning inside the room, so there was a warm feeling when they entered. Yu Xiaocao felt that she had finally come back to life again. She really didn’t want to experience the feeling of being left outside on such a cold day again.
Second Madam Zhou didn’t have a very beautiful face, but she appeared gentle and kind. Her eyes showed concern as she asked, “Good child, you must be freezing, right? Quickly come warm up by the fireplace!”
Yu Xiaocao politely bobbed a greeting at Second Madam Zhou, and then sat down beside the fireplace in a natural and refined manner. Second Madam Zhou felt slightly surprised. Didn’t they say that this young girl with the surname Yu came from a fisherman’s family? Why was her speech and behavior even more calm and polite than some of the noble young ladies in town?
Yu Xiaocao chatted with Second Madam Zhou in a completely relaxed manner, “Madam, we, farmers, don’t have any presentable gifts. In the winter, everyone wants to eat some fresh green vegetables. My family tried to grow leafy greens on the kang beds, and we unexpectedly succeeded. My parents said that Third Young Master Zhou has treated us very well during the past few years, so we picked a few batches of green vegetables for Madam and Third Young Master to have a taste.”
Third Young Master Zhou sat on the seat next to his mother. He opened the quilt that covered the basket and revealed the fresh green vegetables inside.
Second Madam Zhou looked at it with delight and said with a smile, “I dare not say that we have taken great care of you. It was actually your Yu Family that helped my Xu’er. These green vegetables are well-grown and looks very appetizing.”
Second Madam Zhou’s personal maidservant, Qiu’er, said with a smile, “Miss Yu is so considerate! My madam usually prefers vegetarian dishes, and thus winter is the most difficult time of the year. In the winter, there aren't many vegetables other than radishes and cabbages. Our madam would slim down a lot every winter! With these green vegetables, our madam would be able to eat another bowl of rice for lunch!”
Two lovely dimples appeared on the side of Yu Xiaocao’s mouth. Her pair of big eyes curled as she said, “If Madam doesn't mind, I can send some more over when you’re almost done eating.”
Second Madam Zhou quickly said with a smile, “Your family probably didn’t plant much, so it’s better that you keep the fresh vegetables to eat for the New Year?”
“Madam, don’t be so courteous. I can’t guarantee that the vegetables that my family grows would be enough for everyone in your estate to eat, but it’s more than enough for you and Third Young Master!” Seeing that Second Madam Zhou didn’t look down on her because she was a little peasant girl and spoke to her in an amiable manner, Yu Xiaocao's heart had completely relaxed.
Third Young Master Zhou helped her, “Mother, Xiaocao never says things out of courtesy. Since she said she would send it to us, then she must be sincere about it. You don’t need to treat her like an outsider. That’s being too courteous ah!”
“This child, you’re seriously not being polite at all!” Second Madam Zhou gently glared at her son and revealed a helpless smile.
Third Young Master Zhou grinned cheekily and said, “Mother! If it wasn’t because Xiaocao was unwilling, I would have long become sworn siblings with her. Don’t Mother often sigh about not having a considerate daughter? It’s a pity that Xiaocao already has a godmother…”
“This child, did you even ask if Miss Yu agrees to this? To have such wishful thinking!” Second Madam Zhou also liked this polite little girl, who was neither humble nor arrogant.
Yu Xiaocao quickly said with a smile, “Madam, you can just call me ‘Xiaocao’! Even if we don’t become adoptive relatives, the relationship between our families won’t change!”
The three of them joked and laughed for a while, and the atmosphere was very warm. At noon, Second Madam Zhou asked Yu Xiaocao to stay for lunch. So Yu Xiaocao showed her skills and made several delicious vegetarian dishes like ‘thousand shredded tofu’, ‘steamed choy sum with minced garlic and vermicelli’, ‘fragrant baked mushrooms’, ‘three shredded vegetables’, ‘candied sweet potatoes’, and more. Second Madam Zhou was full of praises for the dishes.
In addition to green vegetables, there were also ten or so catties of potatoes. Yu Xiaocao also taught the Zhou Family’s cook several recipes for cooking potatoes so that Second Madam Zhou, who favored vegetarian dishes, had several more vegetable dishes that she could eat in the winter.
Third Young Master Zhou saw a business opportunity from the potatoes. He heard from Xiaocao that they had planted quite a lot of potatoes for next year, so he took the advantage by striking first and ordered all of the potatoes. He also bought all of Yu Xiaocao’s recipes for potatoes at a high price. He was confident that Zhenxiu Restaurant’s turnover for next year would reach a new peak!Previous Chapter Next Chapter