The blistering heat of summer had arrived. All of the young maidens in the capital had switched to wearing light and airy cotton clothing. The Imperial Plantation was backed against the mountains and had a clear creek surrounding it. When the wind blew over it, it felt cool and refreshing.
Yu Xiaocao was currently wearing a short dark green riding habit with narrow sleeves. It was paired with a pair of thick, soft boots. She energetically directed the tenant farmers on the plantation to plant the fruit trees in the already dug up holes. Royal Prince Yang was quite efficient. In just two days time, he was able to deliver all of the fruit trees that she wanted.
There were ten peach trees, ten pear trees, ten citrus trees and ten apple trees. She also had fifteen apricot trees, plum trees and persimmon trees. There were a bit more grape vines, around twenty or so. This was the first year she was trying to cultivate these fruit trees and it also wasn’t the right season to move and plant them. Thus, the prince didn’t give her too many in fear that if they died, she would be very sad.
Most of these samplings had already flowered and borne fruit in the past. As long as they were planted well and taken care of, it was likely they would bear fruit in the following year. She didn’t know where Royal Prince Yang had gone to get such good fruit trees but it was likely he exerted quite a bit of effort.
Each fruit tree had its roots with a bunch of soil attached and their root systems had been preserved very well. After the trees were all planted, Yu Xiaocao personally took over the task of watering these trees. Xichun and Wutong held the water buckets as they followed their young miss from behind. They watched as she went back and forth between the bucket to get dippers of water. She was bent forward constantly to water the trees properly. Xichun eagerly stated, “Young Miss, you should rest for a bit. Let this servant try instead!”
Yu Xiaocao put the ladle into her hands and smiled, “Watering plants isn’t something that requires a lot of skill. You only need to make sure that each tree gets two full dippers of water. I know you’re worried about me. Relax, in the future, if the entire hillside is full of fruit trees, then I will make sure to assign people to take care of them. We won’t have to do the hard labor then.”
Xichun cheerfully replied, “It’s only watering a few plants, nothing too tiring! Young Miss, do you think we’ll be able to eat some peaches and grapes at this time next year?” Yu Xiaocao used her hand to fan her face and smiled as she nodded, “Yes. If the trees are taken care of, they might even fruit early!”
“Then...will they be as delicious as the honey peaches you brought from Dongshan Village?” Xichun was a natural foodie. Last time, after finishing her tasks well, the master had rewarded her with a peach. Since eating that peach, she couldn’t seem to forget about it.
Yu Xiaocao replied in a forthright manner, “Don’t worry, these peaches will be even more delicious. If you don’t believe me, next year at the start of spring, I’ll have my family back at Dongshan Village ship some peach branches over. We can graft the branches on these small peach trees. I promise the fruits will be incredibly good!”
“Graft? Is that what you mentioned before, Young Miss? Using pumpkin vines to grow watermelons?” Xichun was very interested in this concept.
Wutong, however, found her question hilarious, “How can pumpkin vines possibly produce watermelons? Xichun, are you feverish right now? Be careful what you say unless you want to get made fun of by other people.”
Xichun was originally only a second-ranked maidservant. However, the young miss was starting to see her in a different light. Wutong gradually felt more and more unhappy about this. In front of her master, she managed to control herself. However, she was starting to reject the other maid in surreptitious ways and this was one of her methods.
Xichun had a generous and magnanimous personality. She smiled innocently and said, “Older Sister Wutong, don’t just take my word for it! The young miss said that you can gra...graft watermelon sprouts onto pumpkin vines. The resulting melons from these two vines are large and sweet. Furthermore, they’re more resistant to disease and pests harming them! We should do our best to learn about these farming methods that the young miss in charge of. That way we’ll be able to help her more in the future!”
This maid was always forthright and outspoken. She didn’t have any other intentions in what she said as she only wanted to persuade Wutong to take more interest in the young miss’s farming affairs instead of being narrowly preoccupied with managing that small inner courtyard. However, her good intentions, in Wutong’s ears, became a sarcastic criticism of her own inability to take care of her master, as if she was not detail-oriented enough. Anger immediately blossomed in Wutong’s heart and her expression darkened. She deliberately used coarser movements when watering the plants and ‘accidentally’ splashed Xichun’s pants and shoes with some water.
All of this was observed by Yu Xiaocao. From her perspective, there would be conflicts wherever people were. It was pretty normal for maids to fight for favor and power. In some ways, it could be a good thing as it would spur them to compete with each other and therefore elevate all of their abilities. However, the people that she could not tolerate were those who relied on small tricks, gossiped behind people’s backs, or gave their rivals the cold shoulder.
After choosing her four main maidservants at the onset, she discovered that Yingtao was efficient and responsible with a good handle on managing affairs. Thus, she gave the job of managing the pharmaceutical manufacturing to her and it was thriving. Yangliu had a steady temperament and was obsessed with cooking. She was also hardworking and her culinary skills improved by leaps and bounds. At the rate she was going, she was soon going to surpass her master’s skills. Thus, Yu Xiaocao had no qualms in handing over the management of the braised food store that was opened in conjunction with the emperor emeritus in the capital to Yangliu.
Pipa was on the slower side and only had average abilities. She also wasn’t very ambitious but her ability at taking care of Xiaocao’s inner courtyard wasn't bad. Thus, other affairs outside of the residence weren't suitable for her. Wutong had illusions of grandeur and was on the more selfish side. She was also more prone to petty actions but she didn’t have a lot of ability. As long as her maids abided by the rules and showed restraint, Xiaocao wouldn’t treat them poorly. However, it was possible that as time went on, some of them might become more bold…
“The sun is quite fierce today. How come you’re not wearing a hat out?” Zhu Junyang had been roaming around the hills and had caught two wild hares, one wild pheasant, and gathered some pheasant eggs. He noticed that her face had turned bright red from the sun and hurriedly took off the straw hat from his head and placed it on Xiaocao’s head.
Yu Xiaocao shook her head in dislike as if she wanted to have the hat fall off her head. However, Zhu Junyang stopped her from doing so, “Keep it on. Otherwise, your skin might start peeling from the sun exposure and you won’t be pretty! You should delegate this type of hard labor to the tenant farmers and servants. Why do you always need to do everything yourself?”
“You also said that this isn’t the season to plant fruit trees. If I don’t keep an eye on them and the fruit trees die, wouldn’t that waste all of the effort you expended to get me these trees?” Xiaocao touched her somewhat hot face. When she got back, she needed to use some mystic-stone water to cool her skin down. What if, like Royal Prince Yang mentioned, her skin got burnt by the sun and started to peel? How could she go and see people then?
[It won’t! As long as you put mystic-stone water on your face a few times, I guarantee that your skin tomorrow will look as smooth and flawless as a boiled egg. It’ll be tender, glowing, and soft to the touch…] A tiny golden kitten appeared out of nowhere and scrambled towards a fruit tree. It batted at one of the branches with a tiny paw.
“It’s so cute! Where did such a tiny kitten come from? It’s so small; was it just weaned from its mother’s milk?” Xichun stared at the adorable cat with stars in her eyes. She desperately hoped she could bring the creature back so she could take care of it.
Zhu Junyang bent down and picked up the kitten by the scruff of its neck. He examined the cat, which was hissing and growling at him, head on. Its angry demeanor was very similar to its master’s! He happily placed the little kitten in his palm and let the creature gnaw on his thumb with its tiny milk teeth. He smiled at Xiaocao, “You also brought your cat along? You’ve been raising this little fellow for a few years now, so why is it still so tiny? Seems like it hasn’t grown at all.”
Yu Xiaocao took the little divine stone from Royal Prince Yang using both of her hands and gently stroked its soft and glossy fur. She casually remarked, “Who knows ah? I picked it up at around this size when I was in the mountains. Perhaps this species only gets this big ah?”
Xichun quickly finished watering the remaining few fruit trees and threw the ladle down to run over. She looked at the tiny adorable kitten in her master’s hands and asked curiously, “Young Miss, is this cat yours? How come I don’t see it usually?”
“This fellow is more wild than tame and often runs off to who knows where for a few days. Not only you, I haven’t seen it since I came to the capital. I even thought that it had gotten lost and wasn’t able to find its way. I would not have expected to encounter it at the Imperial Plantation!” Yu Xiaocao smoothly constructed a lie without even batting an eye.
“The Imperial Plantation is quite a distance away from the capital. Did it run all the way here by itself?” Xichun’s eyes opened wide and looked very similar to the little golden kitten's large and cute eyes.
Yu Xiaocao shook her head and replied, “Who knows ah? Perhaps it was hiding in some corner of the carriage. Little Glutinous Dumpling is very smart and clever!”
Xichun extended her hands and asked her master, “Young Miss, you should let this servant hold the kitten instead. You might get tired!”
Yu Xiaocao gave the maid a sidelong glance. If you wanted to hold the little kitten, then just say so instead of making an excuse. How heavy could a tiny kitten about the size of a person’s palm be? Despite the little divine stone’s protests, she handed it to Xichun.
Xichun hurriedly held the little kitten close to her as it was struggling to get out. She continuously comforted the cat, “Little Glutinous Dumpling, don’t be scared, be sweet...Young Miss, it seems like Little Glutinous Dumpling is a bit shy of strangers. Am I scaring it right now?”
“Not at all, the little fellow is extremely bold and brave. In fact, it even teases the wolves it encounters in the mountains!” Yu Xiaocao wasn’t making things up this time. The little divine stone was a bit bored for a period of time and went off to bother Big Gray. Big Gray ended up chasing it everywhere.
“Wow! It’s so amazing!” Xichun’s eyes immediately became dazzled with stars again and she instantly became the little divine stone’s biggest fan. The little divine stone could sense the maid’s worship and it became unduly proud and arrogant. Thus, it allowed her to hold it for a bit.
Zhu Junyang glanced at the fruit trees, which still had their leaves slightly curled under the sun. He suddenly stated, “Little lass, are all of the people at the plantation usable? If there are any who are not good, make sure to tell me. I’m now in charge of everything at the Imperial Plantation. If there are any people who are not usable, we have the power to change them out!”
Yu Xiaocao carelessly waved a hand at him, clearly not interested in the topic, “With Steward Wang around, those people with ulterior motives will have to weigh the pros and cons before acting. It’s not like I’m the only person here at the Imperial Plantation. Furthermore, don’t I have the emperor himself as my backer? As long as the emperor treats me with importance, those people with grievances can only obediently follow my orders anyway. I have to go into the palace to report anyway so it’s not as if they can do anything! As for those people who dislike me, they can only grumble underneath their breath and say a few sour words behind my back. It doesn't matter what they say as long as they obediently follow their orders, right?”
“Alright! As long as you don’t think those guys are eyesores, then you can continue using them!” Zhu Junyang sincerely didn’t want his little lass to be wronged in any way. He thought for a bit and decided to let those unruly people jump around a bit. He was confident he could find their weak points easily. When that came...heh heh, he wouldn’t be lenient with them!
Yu Xiaocao’s eyes flickered with a light and she changed the subject, “I heard that you bought the neighboring plantation, right? What plans do you have for it?”
“Oh? You have an idea for me? Just say it. What sort of crazy idea did you come up with now?” Zhu Junyang had a good grasp on all of her expressions. Whenever her eyes got this particular look, he knew that the little lass had come up with another idea.
“I want to take advantage of the warm weather to grow some watermelon seedlings. I plan on grafting them on some disease and pest-resistant gourd vines. By the time the Ministry of Works is done developing the plastic film, then we can make some giant greenhouse tents and grow watermelons and cantaloupes in there. If we can get some Hami melon seeds, that’d be even better!” Yu Xiaocao never let a money-making method slip through her hands.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s thoughts: Kaching kaching!