Before the opening of the braised food shop, Little Shitou and his classmates were all taken to the prefectural city by Rongxuan Academy. Why didn’t Yu Xiaocao privately cook for Little Shitou before the college examination? That was because the academy was doing a group training for all the students participating in the exams!
During the day, the teachers arranged intensive pre-examination training for the students. In the evening, Headmaster Yuan called Little Shitou over to his house. He reviewed the readings, pointed out the pros and cons, and explained the methods of improvement. Little Shitou had made great progress in this period of time, and he felt more confident in the college examination.
After he entered the courtyard from the side door, Little Shitou followed the fragrant smell to the kitchen and saw his second sister and oldest paternal aunt busily working inside. Yu Xiaocao was going to test the oven today. She took out a roasted duck with a golden-brown color and an attractive fragrance from the hot oven. The fire shined upon the contented smile on her face, and her eyes were filled with a sense of satisfaction.
“Second Sister, how did you know that I would arrive at the prefectural city today, and even prepare a roasted duck for me?” Little Shitou had been focused on studying in the past half a year and didn’t go home at all during breaks. He didn’t even know that the family was going to open a braised food shop, and thus happily asked under the impression that they were preparing the food for him.
Yu Xiaocao put the roasted duck that was on the hook on a plate. When it cooled down, she tore off a leg for him and said with a smile, “Try it. This is the new oven roasted duck that Sister came up with. How is the taste?”
Little Shitou hurriedly took a bite and carefully savored it. Then he repeatedly nodded his head and said, “Delicious! It’s not inferior to the taste of Zhenxiu Restaurant’s ‘fruit-scented roasted duck’! I’m not worried about Second Sister’s culinary skills at all!! Let’s eat ‘one duck three dishes’ for lunch. I’ve been staying in the academy for half a year, so I'm desperately craving it!!”
Although the food at the academy had gotten better in the past half a year, it was still mostly vegetable dishes. At times, when they provided meat dishes, the food would be snatched up by the wealthier students. During the past half a year, visits from family were forbidden, let alone delivery of food. Even when he went to Headmaster Yuan’s home for tutoring, he would complain endlessly about missing his second sister’s cooking.
As Little Shitou gnawed on the duck leg, he asked, “Did you guys rent out the stores in front? That’s not a bad idea. We can at least get some profits. What kind of business are they doing? The layout looks quite neat and tidy…”
Yu Caifeng, who was cleaning the kitchen, looked at him with a smile and said, “We didn’t rent out the shops in front. We’re going to open a shop ourselves! Didn’t you notice that there are more stoves in the kitchen, as well as an additional oven?”
“Is our family going to sell food? That will definitely make a lot of money. Second Sister has such excellent cooking skills, so if we open a restaurant, there’s no way that Zhenxiu Restaurant can compete with us!” Little Shitou blindly worshiped his second sister and was full of confidence in her.
Yu Xiaocao glared at him with a smile, “Your second sister is only good at cooking a few dishes, so how can I compare with big chefs who had devoted themselves to cooking for decades? Don’t make such comments outside, lest others laugh at your arrogance behind your back!”
After that, she told the little fellow about their collaboration with Oldest Aunt’s family in opening the braised food shop. Making braised food was her specialty. Not only did she have secret recipes, but she also had mystic-stone water as a cheat. There was an absolute guarantee for the taste. Little Shitou was also full of confidence in his family’s braised food shop. He repeatedly asked when it would open so that he could promote it to his classmates who lived in the prefectural city.
“You don’t have to worry about the shop. The exam will be in three days, so your task is to relax your mind and focus on studying!” Yu Caifeng was afraid that her young nephew would be distracted at this important moment, so she solemnly reminded him.
The Yu Family had been farmers for many generations, so they were all looking forward to having a county-level official in the family to bring honor to their ancestors. In the past, the Yu Family had put all their hopes in Shitou’s younger uncle, Yu Bo. Now, they also had Little Shitou and more hope. Thus, they naturally attached great importance to this matter!
Yu Caifeng thought about it and asked Little Shitou, “Shitou, your younger uncle is also participating in this exam, right? Did he come with you? Did he say where he was staying?”
Yu Xiaocao didn’t want to be too involved with Madam Zhang and she also didn’t really like that selfish uncle of hers, so she interjected, “When we came to the prefectural city last time, Younger Uncle stayed at his classmate’s house. There’s no need for us to worry so much. Oldest Aunt, try this roasted duck. Is there anything that needs to be improved?”
Yu Caifeng also wasn’t very close with this younger brother of hers. Madam Zhang accepted the Liu Family’s betrothal gifts of twenty taels, yet she didn’t prepare any dowry for her at all. When she made her utmost efforts to argue for what was right, Madam Zhang told her that the money was used for her younger brother’s tuition in a bold and confident manner.
Since she was young, Madam Zhang had been partial to her youngest son. She and Yu Hai didn’t have enough to eat and warm clothes to wear, while Yu Bo and Yu Caidie could eat an extra egg or fine grain steamed bun every day. They didn’t know that Madam Zhang was secretly cooking a separate meal for her biological children behind their backs. However, they weren’t stupid. These matters would naturally be exposed over time. Yu Caifeng had a lot of complaints about Madam Zhang’s partiality, so she also didn’t really like this younger brother of hers.
In her heart, Yu Hai was her only real brother who was born of the same mother! Hearing her niece's words, Yu Caifeng stopped thinking about Yu Bo’s matters. It was getting closer to the opening time of the shop, and she was also getting increasingly busy. The renovation in front could be completed today, so she needed to go over and clean up everything. Last night, her husband and Yu Hai had gone back, saying that they would slaughter two of the pigs first and deliver them over. It was going to be even more busy tomorrow.
There were also a dozen or so vats of pickled vegetables, which were all made by her and her niece. How exactly did her niece’s brain grow? She actually had so many recipes for pickled food! The salted vegetables should be ready in the next two days. She must taste them carefully and let her little niece know if they’re tasty.
Yu Xiaocao and her aunt were very busy, and Little Shitou wasn’t affected at all. He still studied and rested according to his schedule at the school. During his breaks, he also helped them to the best of his capabilities. He laughed and talked every day with no trace of tension.
Yu Xiaocao praised him, “Not bad! Other than one’s own knowledge, one’s mentality is also very important for exams. You need to learn how to destress yourself! Headmaster Yuan also said that, with your capability, if you perform like normal, you definitely won’t have a problem passing the exam to be a county-level official! If you do well enough, you might even receive government grain! You’re still young, so even if you don’t do very well, you can just wait for the next college examination. Maybe you can place first in the college examination…”
“Pah, pah, pah! The words of a child carry no harm. Deities, please don’t listen to her…” Yu Caifeng put her palms together and bowed in four directions, and then she had Yu Xiaocao spit three times. She chided, “Is there an older sister like you? Why are you saying such unlucky words? Our Shitou will definitely pass the exam this time!!”
Yu Xiaocao touched her nose and awkwardly said, “Aren’t I just trying to not give Younger Brother too much pressure? One can achieve success if one goes into a battle with a light heart! Younger Brother, do your best on the exam! Show your true capabilities. I’m waiting to show off that I have a younger brother who is a county-level official ah!”
Little Shitou smiled and said, “Second Sister, don’t worry. I’m not nervous at all. Thank you for doing so much for this family, and making sure that I can study at ease. For your sake, I will definitely pass the exam to be a county-level official this time. I’ll let you know that all your hard work was not done in vain!!”
Little Shitou understood very clearly within his heart! He couldn’t imagine how this family would end up like without his second sister! Since his second sister got her head hurt and toured around the netherworld, she had turned into a completely different person. Her previously timid and cowardly personality was gone.
Before they separated from the family, she dared to play mind games with Madam Zhang and fought for welfare for her family. After the separation, she used her endless recipes to gain the respect and collaboration with Third Young Master Zhou. The family also planted vegetables, watermelons, corn… Outsiders all complimented his father as an expert in farming, but he knew very clearly that all of his family money-making businesses came from his second sister.
He once had a dream, in which his second sister didn’t survive and died in the hands of Eldest Paternal Aunt. After his father was bitten by a bear, he didn’t get treated for his severe injury and died! Older Brother was accused of stealing. After he was beaten to death by the shopkeeper, the murderer got away unpunished. His mother worked hard to support the family with her sickly body, and finally spat out blood and died in the winter when he was eight.
For his sake, Eldest Sister sold herself to be a maidservant. Afterwards, she was ‘promoted’ to be the master’s concubine by the mistress. After she got pregnant and gave birth to a child, they killed the mother and kept the child. She died at a young age.
As for him, since the age of twelve, he had been doing manual labor at the docks, barely earning enough for a living. But, when the two factions on the docks were fighting for territory, he was injured by mistake and broke his legs. Without any money for treatment, he ended up being disabled for life and could only beg for a living. On a cold winter day, he froze to death on the streets. That year, he had just turned twenty years old…
When he woke up from the nightmare, he couldn’t stop himself from crying, for fear that his current happy life was just a mirage. He feared that it was just an illusion he had before he froze to death. That morning, for the first time in his life, he, the headmaster’s favorite pupil, skipped class and fled to his family’s farmstead. He knew that, during the busy farming season, his father and second sister would stay at the plantation to supervise the autumn harvest and autumn planting.
From afar, he saw the thin and delicate yet very energetic figure of his second sister. Under the radiant morning sun, his second sister was full of energy as she directed the tenant farmers to take all the grain to the granary. Her ruddy and lively face, as well as her sweet and bright smile, warmed up his frightened and cold heart.
So fortunate. It was so fortunate that the miserable life was just a nightmare. His second sister was still alive. With her around, that nightmare definitely wouldn’t come true! At this moment, Yu Xiaocao became the pillar of support within his heart. Upon seeing her, all the black clouds instantly dispersed.
That day, he just watched his father and second sister from afar. While everyone was busily working at the farmstead, he just stayed there motionlessly for the entire day. He didn’t eat lunch, but he wasn't hungry at all. It wasn’t until the evening that his heart finally calmed down completely, and he quietly left the plantation. When he got back to the academy, he was scolded severely by the headmaster. The next day, the teacher had even hit his palm with a ruler.
Holding his swollen palm, he felt incomparably calm within his heart. In the following days, he studied even harder. Second Sister changed their lives, so he also had to work hard for his second sister and support her in the future…
“Hey, why are you in a daze!!” Yu Xiaocao smacked the back of her younger brother’s head and shouted, “Tomorrow is the exam, so you need to completely relax for today and don’t read books! The glass windows that we ordered have arrived, so come check it out with me!”
Little Shitou grinned brightly at her and nodded, “Alright! Second Sister, if there’s anything that I can help with, just tell me!”
“What can you do with your thin limbs? Stay on the side and don’t cause trouble!”
“Second Sister, I can work! I have strength…”
“Go away, go away! Stop hindering our work…”
‘Second Sister, thank you!!’Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Their lives would have turned out so differently without the current Xiaocao...