“Where’s Little White?” Usually when Liu Huifang went into the back courtyard, that little proud white dog would always give her a look of disdain. If she tried to tease him, he would even bare his teeth at her! Little Black had a much better temper. In fact, Little Shitou often pulled on the black dog’s mouth here and there and he never got angry. Instead, he would also play along.
“That fellow is quite smart. When he found out that Xiaocao couldn’t bring him along to the prefectural city, he got angry and ran up into the mountains to find his father, Big Gray. It's fine. Ever since that pack of wolves came down the mountain last year and got destroyed, there haven’t been any savage beasts around the mountain!” Yu Hang watched as Liu Huifang entered the back courtyard and fed the rabbits and prepared the chicken feed. He also hurriedly went up to help as he inwardly exclaimed that Liu Huifang was a hard working little lass.
After adding some water into the chicken coop, Liu Huifang was just about to leave when she saw the little roe deer called Tiny romping about in the vegetable fields. She was afraid that the animal might trample the vegetable and stealthily went over. When the little roe deer wasn’t aware, she caught it and held it in her arms.
Perhaps it was because she had fed her home’s chickens today with feed containing mystic-stone water, but the little roe deer didn’t try to flee when she came closer. It was only after that it was caught in her arms and turned its head back to look that the animal was startled. The little fellow froze for a second before it started to struggle. The little roe deer had a surprising amount of strength and easily broke out of the confines of Huifang’s arms.
“Oh no!” Liu Huifang knew that the Yu Family’s siblings all adored the little roe deer. She was afraid that the roe deer might hurt itself, so she inadvertently let out a cry of alarm when it leapt out of her arms.
However, it was a false alarm. In midair, the little animal rotated its body three hundred and sixty degrees and lightly landed on the ground. Within a blink of an eye, it ran into its little den and hid behind the building to look at her. If the little roe deer could talk, it would definitely let out a long sigh of relief and say, “Oh my goodness! I was almost caught by a human. The master was truly right——I need to be cautious every moment!”
When Madam Liu got back home, it was just in time for her to see her oldest son escorting a little girl out of the gate. The little girl’s face was flushed a bright red and she seemed a bit shy. After looking a bit closer, she realized that it was Shuanzhu’s Huifang. Madam Liu went into the back courtyard and saw that both the chickens and rabbits had been fed. Furthermore, last night, the wind blew hard and the trellis for the cucumbers had fallen over. Now, the trellis had been rebuilt and standing tall. After asking around, she found out that Huifang was the person that fixed it.
That night, when Yu Hai got home, Madam Liu couldn’t help but ask her husband, “Isn’t Brother Shuanzhu’s eldest daughter about the same age as Xiaosha, ah?”
“Yup! Our oldest was born at the start of that year, and his daughter was born at the end of that year. Why are you asking about this?” Everyday Yu Hai went back and forth between the prefectural city and Dongshan Village. In addition, he was also in charge of slaughtering pigs, so he was quite busy. His youngest daughter had begged him to hire someone from the village to help. However, he felt like there was nothing much to do these days. The family had Madam Liu and Yu Hang to keep an eye of things, so he was more than able to keep up with the work. Thus, he decided to not take her advice for now.
Once it was time to harvest the wheat next year, he would have to supervise his family’s farmstead as well as the young royal prince’s eight hundred mu plantation. By then, it wouldn’t be too late to hire someone to help.
Madam Liu pursed her lips and smiled, “After the New Years passes, our family’s Xiaosha will be fourteen. He’s the oldest in the family and in the future will be the head of the family. We need to start considering his future marriage prospects early. Furthermore, we have to make sure our eyes are wide open when picking out brides for him. We need to find a girl who is hardworking and generous and avoid someone like Madam Li or Madam Xiong. Women like them, who only know how to be lazy and take advantage of others, would only cause a lot of unnecessary trouble for the family. We need to make sure the family will be peaceful and in harmony in the future!”
Yu Hai was a bit hesitant, so he asked, “Isn’t it a bit too early to start considering marriage for him? Xiaosha is only thirteen years old and we’ve only had a better situation with our family in these past two years. He’s only started hitting his growth spurt and still looks like a large child…”
“How is it too early now? It’s not like we’re trying to get him married this instant. We first need to look at the prospects among our close friends to see if there are any suitable maidens and give the two children some opportunities to interact with each other. If they end up liking each other, then we can start discussing a possible engagement. This would likely take at least two to three years of work. By that time, our oldest son will be around sixteen to seventeen, which is the perfect time to get married!” Madam Liu silently lamented in her heart. In a flash, all of her children were getting older and she was slowly getting older as well...
Yu Hai scratched his head and said, “How about we wait until I get Xiaosha’s opinion in two days? I’m afraid that he’s still too young and doesn’t see girls that way! Oh right, so why did you suddenly start thinking of this today?”
“Today, Brother Shuanzhu’s Huifang came over to give us two little hens. I wasn’t home at that time, so Xiaosha was the one who invited her in. That child Huifang is truly a hardworking little lass. When she saw that our family’s chickens and rabbits hadn’t been fed yet, she quickly made sure to give them their food. She even fixed up the cucumber trellises that had fallen over yesterday night. When Xiaosha was escorting her out, the little lass had her head lowered and looked shyly at our son. Do you think that Huifang is somewhat interested in our son?”
“We can’t let this type of talk out as it can affect that little girl’s reputation ah!” Yu Hai thought about his son, who resembled his wife. His son had a finely sculpted face and was growing quite tall. Everyone who saw him complimented with the phrase ‘a good looking young fellow’. It probably wasn’t a lie that his son was a good prospect.
Madam Liu glared at him and indignantly said, “Do I need you to remind me? Aren’t we talking behind closed doors right now ah? Our family’s Xiaosha has a good height and also handsome looks. Furthermore, his family’s situation is not bad. I’m also not someone who would be an evil mother-in-law to my future daughter-in-law. Whoever marries into our family will truly fall into the honey pot ah!”
Yu Hai guffawed, “Are there people like you who compliment themselves so much?”
Madam Liu stretched out a hand to pinch Yu Hai’s side as if she was trying to be fierce. However, that image was soon shattered when she couldn’t hold back her giggles, “Was there anything I said that was not right ah? However, we really need to make sure we get our oldest son’s marriage settled sooner rather than later. Everyone says that the eldest sister-in-law is like a second mother. We need to find someone who will be fair and reasonable, so she’ll treat Xiaocao and the other siblings well.”
She had already thought about the other girls in the village who were around the same age as her son. The village chief’s youngest granddaughter was younger than her son by two years and had been pampered since she was little by her grandfather and grandmother. At the age of eleven, she still had an innocent manner like a little porcelain doll. How could she possibly take up the mantle of being the eldest sister-in-law?
The Zhou Family’s Zhou Shanhu was good buddies with Xiaocao and Xiaolian, so they wouldn't have to worry about their relationships with her in the future. However, that lass was a bit carefree and wasn’t always careful with her words. She wasn’t a reliable girl…
And then there was Zheng Xiaocui, who had recently come over more recently to the Yu Family to play. Although the girl had decent looks, she was full of petty thoughts. In a glance, Madam Liu could tell that she had a selfish nature at heart. Most of the Yu Family’s businesses and wealth was all created by her youngest daughter, so, in the future, the Yu Family would not stint on her dowry. If Xiaocao had a selfish eldest sister-in-law, then she would definitely be unhappy by the size of Xiaocao’s dowry when the time came.
After weighing all of the possible prospects in the village, it was still Brother Shuanzhu’s daughter who was the most suitable. Although she wasn’t the most beautiful, she still could be considered quite pretty and cute. She had an egg shaped face and eyebrows curved like willow leaves. Her eyes were also not too large nor too small...her only flaw was that her lips were on the thicker side . However, everyone always said that girls with thicker lips had good personalities and good fortunes.
Outer looks were only secondary. Huifang was also a hardworking little girl. It was said that the reason why the Liu Family decided to raise all of those chickens was because that lass came up with the idea. In fact, she even especially came over to ask Xiaocao for advice! Furthermore, she did almost all of the work in raising those two hundred some chickens and she was very good at handling all of the details. Even Shuanzhu’s wife didn’t need to do much with the chickens. Before she was occupied with raising chickens, Huifang also brought her younger sister and brother along to cut fishwort for the piggery. Between the three of them, they managed to earn a couple hundred copper coins in a month!
In addition, Brother Shuanzhu had a good relationship with her husband. Both of them were also realistic men and knew where their roots came from...the more she thought, the more Madam Liu thought that the lass Huifang was a pretty good match with her son.
Yu Hai noticed that his wife was tossing and turning on the kang bed as if she was a pancake being flipped around. It was obvious that she was having trouble falling asleep, so he quickly intervened, “Don’t think too much! Our son is still young and maybe in a couple of years he’ll have his own ideas and find someone he likes, right? Although they say that parents and the matchmaker should choose the child’s partner, we also need to consider whether our son wants to marry the girl or not, right?”
When Madam Liu heard her husband’s opinion, she thought he was right! It didn’t matter if she thought the girl was good or not. If her son didn’t like her, she couldn’t force him to marry her, right? However, at this time her son still wasn’t interested in pursuing girls, so she needed to strike early and advise him. He needed to know that finding a wife shouldn’t be based on the girl’s looks alone; her personality was the most important part!
The next morning, Madam Liu called her son over and secretly hemmed and hawed over the matter. At first, Yu Hang didn’t quite understand what his mother was talking about. Later on, once his mother became more blunt, his face started flushing a bright red. He exclaimed, “Mother, how old am I right now? Before I turn sixteen, I won’t even be thinking about finding a wife!”
Madam Liu slanted a look at her son and blandly stated, “I’m not telling you to decide on your future wife right now! I only want you to start considering your options. If there’s anyone you like and is a good choice, we can strike when the iron is hot and start negotiating with the other family. That way we can avoid all of the good prospects being stolen by other people in the future!”
“Are there any capable men who are unable to find wives? Even Uncle Ergou was able to find a wife despite his poor character, so why should we worry? Mother, if you have nothing better to do, you can go into the prefectural city to look around. Our family’s braised food shop has been open for about two months now yet you don’t even know what’s happening there!”
When the topic of the conversation came to the prefectural city’s braised food shop, Madam Liu’s attention was immediately refocused on it. She sighed and said, “It’s not as if you don’t know either. Our family will be selling vegetables until the first frost comes and your father spends all his time going back and forth between here and the prefectural city. But someone needs to keep an eye at home. If I’m not doing it, how is that okay ah?”
Yu Hang laughed, “Mother, isn’t there still me at home? Right now the weather is gradually getting colder, so fewer and fewer people are coming over to sell seafood. Third Uncle alone should be able to handle it. Thus, I can help you keep an eye on things at home. If you don’t feel comfortable with me alone, isn’t there also Xiaolian ah? Around half of the pigs in the piggery had already been used and we already have two storehouses filled full of fishwort, so Xiaolian can also find some time to help us here. How about the next time Father goes into the prefectural city, you also go along and take a look?”
The Yu Family’s vegetables were all more cold hardy than other people’s. Other people's cucumbers and string beans all started to freeze right after the start of autumn, yet the Yu Family’s vegetables were still able to grow without problems. The front courtyard’s spinach, lettuce and mustard greens were still as tender and delicious as before. There were also a few other vegetables that were growing out of season that still flourished in their garden.
There was a limited amount of vegetables the Yu Family could produce, so they were only able to supply Zhenxiu Restaurant and a few other families they were familiar with in town with them. There were a lot of families in town that didn’t lack money. All of them complained that the Yu Family didn’t plant enough vegetables for them to buy a portion. Yu Hai and Yu Xiaocao discussed this matter together and wondered if they could take a portion of the hundred or so mu they had on their farmstead and use it to plant some vegetables in the future. Although raising vegetables was more tiring than grain crops, it was more profitable as well!
After hearing her son’s advice, Madam Liu thought about the family’s situation. The front and the back of the west side of the courtyard were all planted with autumn vegetables, while the east side of the courtyard all had the usual matrons helping out to harvest. Normally, she only helped to weigh the vegetables and count the money. Her son should be able to handle everything on his own.
Madam Liu was still not completely convinced, so she stepped back and had her son manage everything on his own for a few days. She discovered that her son was even more nimble than she was and better at calculating receipts. Thus, she relaxed completely. One day, at the end of October, Madam Liu sat on the cart that transported live pigs to the prefectural city and entered the prefectural city for the first time in her life.
 Traditional standards of Chinese beauty preferred small rose bud-like lips on women.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s Thoughts: Thirteen might seem a bit early to our modern eyes to consider marriage partners, but it was quite normal for peasant families in the past (not just in ancient China, for example, King Henry VII’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was married at 12 and had him at 13 in the 1400s). I like how Madam Liu referenced how they couldn’t find someone like Madam Li or Madam Xiong for her son, bwahahahaha.