Little Shitou was crouching in front of the entrance and combing Tiny’s fur with his little hands. When he heard the trotting sounds of horses, he lifted his head and looked towards the direction of the sound. He noticed that the youth leading the group looked somewhat familiar, so he couldn’t help but squint his eyes to check more carefully.
“Young Master, that five-room house with a courtyard in front is Uncle Yu’s residence. From this servant’s inquiry, there were only a few households within the entire village with such a big house, but…” Third Young Master Zhou’s personal manservant, Simo, paused hesitantly for a moment.
“What?” Third Young Master Zhou had already recognized the little kid in front of the door from afar. It was Xiaocao’s foolishly cute younger brother. This should be the place!
Simo also saw the little boy dressed in a patched-up green quilted clothing and sighed, “With Uncle Yu’s abilities and the size of this house, the Yu Family should have decent living conditions. However, the clothes on his children were even more shabby than the other children in the village.”
“Look, isn’t that Miss Xiaocao’s younger brother? His worn-out clothes should have been thrown out long ago. Recently, they should have earned at least sixty to seventy taels from selling game to Zhenxiu Restaurant. It’s almost the New Year, but they’re still unwilling to buy a new set of cotton-padded clothing for the children…”
Zhou Zixu frowned slightly and said, “Uncle Yu doesn’t look like someone who would mistreat his children. Could it be that they have some undisclosed difficulties?”
Having personally experienced the struggle for power and constant scheming within his family, Zhou Zixu would think deeply about every situation he encountered. Wasn’t his own family like this? Had his grandparents not been around to control the family, with the display of his talent in business over the past two years, the second branch would had been devoured by his greedy relatives long ago. Uncle Yu probably also had his own difficulties that he couldn’t express.
“I remember you! You’re the third young master of the Zhou Family, right?” Little Shitou stood up and raised his head with a beaming smile.
Zhou Zixu dismounted from his horse, ruffled the little guy’s messy hair, and said with a warm face, “Little Shitou, who are you calling ‘Third Young Master Zhou’? Call me ‘Third Brother Zhou’! If you make a mistake again next time, then I’ll punish you!”
“What kind of punishment?” Little Shitou blinked and asked curiously.
“I’ll punish you…” Zhou Zixu took a box of pastries from Simo’s hands and smiled, “You will be forbidden to eat the pastries that Third Brother Zhou brings over!”
Little Shitou eagerly stared at the exquisite food box within Third Young Master Zhou’s hands and slowly read the name on the box, “Lian… ji… Pastry Shop! Is it the ‘Lianji’ with the biggest storefront and the most expensive pastries in town? Doesn’t this box of pastries cost a lot of money?”
Zhou Zixu was somewhat amazed and said, “Oh, Little Shitou is so young, but you can already read?”
Little Shitou shyly scratched his head and said, “When playing at Wuzi’s house, I learned a few words from Brother Wen…”
“Little Shitou is so smart! I heard that your second sister is sick?” Zhou Zixu asked.
“Yes! She’s very sick. If Eldest Granduncle hadn’t lent us money, my second sister might have…” The little fellow lowered his head and appeared to be in low spirits. He and his older sister were both very obedient, but why does their grandmother dislike them?
“Shitou, who are you talking to? Aren’t you going to hurry up and gather some firewood while the weather is good? All you know is how to play! Everyday, you’re only concerned about eating and not doing any work! Moreover, we have to provide for a chronic invalid! I must owe you people something!” Madam Zhang’s jarring shrieks traveled over.
Zhou Zixu couldn’t help but furrow his brows, ‘He’s such a young child, yet he’s already being ordered to work?’
Just as he was deep in his thoughts, a mean looking old lady with a fierce gaze came out of the door. With her hands on her waist, she made a stance of a shrew who loudly cursed in public.
Seeing three imposing people in front of her, Madam Zhang forced down the curses that was about the come out of her mouth. In front of the courtyard was Zhou Zixu who was obviously born of noble status, Madam Zhang’s originally threatening manner immediately withered down. With her shoulder drooped and head shrunken, she asked in a timid voice, “You… Who are you looking for?”
Simo had disdain for the wicked old woman’s double standards and differential treatment, so he had a face of contempt as he asked, “Is this Yu Hai’s residence?”
“Yu Hai? Had Yu Hai offended great lords? That damn bastard is always causing trouble for our family! This young master, Yu Hai hasn’t returned from hunting in the mountains. Whatever he did has nothing to do with us!” Seeing the grim expression on Simo’s face, Madam Zhang was so scared that she spoke incoherently, scolding and breaking off relationships.
Simo was even more displeased and impatiently interrupted her, “Yu Hai isn’t home, but Yu Xiaocao should be home, right?”
“Xiaocao? Is she also involved? I knew that wretch was sharp-tongued and would eventually stir up some trouble. Isn’t this… That troublemaker is causing trouble for our family…” Madam Zhang was completely bewildered as she murmured.
“Is she here or not?!” Simo’s expression was even more ugly when he noticed that his young master had narrowed his eyes, which was a sign of his anger.
“Yes… In the west room!” Madam Zhang trembled in fright when he suddenly raised his voice. They wouldn’t be implicated by the noblemen’s anger, will they?
Zhou Zixu threw the reins to Simo and walked into the courtyard with his steward. He looked around briefly before he turned to enter the small and cramped west room.
“Third Young Master Zhou, you’re finally here!” It was rather dim inside the room and Zhou Zixu’s eyes hadn’t adapted to the light inside, so he was surprised by Xiaocao’s voice.
Zhou Zixu glanced around and saw the simple furnishings in the room. There was a large kang bed, on which the quilts were old and shabby, but tidied up. An old rattan trunk was placed at the head of the bed. Beside the kang bed, there was a wooden table that was about to fall apart. There wasn’t anything else in the room besides these simple and old furniture. Even the lowest ranked servants of the Zhou Family had better living conditions than them.
Zhou Zixu’s brows were tightly creased and said unhappily, “What happened to the money that you earned? Where did all the money go? The quilt is already so stiff, so how are you still able to use it? Your family had earned quite a lot of money from selling game, so don’t hesitate to spend it…”
“Shh… shh…” Xiaocao swiftly pulled on Third Young Master Zhou’s arm. If she wasn’t so short, she would had already covered his mouth with her hand!
“Third Young Master, I have bad health and easily fall ill, so my family has borrowed a lot of money for my medical treatment. These days, the money that my father earned from hunting wasn’t even enough to repay the loan! How can we afford to buy new bedding?” Yu Xiaocao amplified her voice and spoke towards the direction of the door.
Zhou Zixu followed her gaze and saw the harsh-looking old lady and a fat woman in the yard looking into the room from time to time.
He signaled Simo with his eyes. Simo went out of the west room and stood imposingly in front of the door. With a grim expression on his face, he appeared like he was a door god  as he stared at the two sneaky women, who were greedily watching them.
The two women were both only fierce at home, so they recoiled in fear and went back to the main room when they saw Simo’s stern gaze.
Madam Li looked into the courtyard warily and whispered, “Mother! Who are these people? They look like they came to demand a payment for a debt! Did Second Brother-in-law borrow money from a loan shark? They charge really high interest rates, so lending one tael means that we have to pay back ten taels!”
Madam Zhang couldn’t help but panic, and scolded, “Yu Hai refused to tell us how much that wicked girl, Xiaocao’s, medical fees cost. Third Daughter-in-law said that there’s ginseng in the prescription, so it must be expensive! She’s such a waste of money. Even if we sold her, she wouldn’t be worth the money of the ginseng! That scourge, if I knew earlier, I would had strangled her and thrown her down the mountain!”
“Mother, what should we do now? They sent three people over, so Second Brother-in-law must had borrowed a lot of money. If Second Brother-in-law can’t repay the debt, they wouldn’t take the things in our house to pay of the debt, will they? No way! I have to securely hide all my valuables…” Madam Li was somewhat unsettled and wanted to go back to her east room.
Madam Zhang also felt extremely anxious, so she swiftly pulled Madam Li back and rebuked, “What valuable things do you have in your room? Eldest Son wouldn’t be keeping a secret stash of money behind my back, right?”
Madam Li’s face stiffened and hastily said, “Mother, we wouldn’t do that! Dashan is the most devoted and dutiful son, so he wouldn’t have such thoughts. Didn’t I return to my maiden home recently? My mother gave me a piece of cloth and secretly hid some money in there for me. Mother, you’re the most understanding and reasonable. You won’t confiscate the money that my maiden family gave me, right?”
In fact, this wasn’t something that Madam Zhang hadn’t done before. Every time her second daughter-in-law’s maiden family came to visit, they would always leave goods or money for her. However, everything eventually ended up in Madam Zhang’s pockets. Moreover, she didn’t even forget to leave them a warning. If they didn’t turn everything in, then she wouldn’t pay the medical fees for the two chronic patients of the second branch.
However, Madam Li’s maiden family had a stronger background, so Madam Zhang didn’t dare to give her the same treatment. Madam Zhang would pretend that she didn’t see Madam Li constantly bringing things back from her maiden home since half of the things she brought back would be used by her grandson.
“Alright, alright! Would they care about the few copper coins that you have? If you’re so worried, then go. But be careful and don’t offend the nobles!” Madam Zhang was also waiting for Madam Li to leave so that she could move the money in the cabinet to a hidden place. She didn’t want to send money down to the bottomless pit made by her second son.
Seeing that it had finally quieted down in the courtyard, Zhou Zixu glanced at Yu Xiaocao and sat on the kang bed, “Alright, they’re gone now, so stop pretending to be poor!”
“I don’t have a choice either! You don’t know about our family’s situation! The old lady forbids the children from keeping a secret purse, especially our second branch! She’s always monitoring us as if we’re thieves! If she found out that I have money, wouldn’t she turn the second branch upside down!” Yu Xiaocao didn’t shy away from talking about the situation in her family.
Every family had their own difficulties. Zhou Zixu shook his head and whispered, “Well, if the money continues to stay in your hand, then it will eventually be exposed. You should just take it out and invest in a business with me!”
He had just made a casual remark, so he hadn’t expected that Yu Xiaocao had been waiting for him to make this suggestion, “I had heard from Xiaolian. What kind of business is so difficult for Third Young Master Zhou that you have to pull me into it?”
“Hey! Something that’s too difficult for me to handle? Is there anything that I, Third Young Master Zhou, can’t do?” Zhou Zixu glared at her and said, “In gratitude for your help, I had wanted to take you along to make a fortune! However, let’s just forget it since you said that…”
“No!” When Yu Xiaocao saw that he was going to leave, she hastily pulled him back. She was also joking earlier. If it was something that even the Zhou Family, who were imperial merchants, couldn’t handle, then what would a fisherman’s daughter like her be able to do?
“Alright! You, Third Young Master Zhou, has a magnanimous heart, so don’t be bothered by a little girl like me! So, what kind of business is it? Tell me the details!” Yu Xiaocao smiled and repeatedly bowed with her hands clasped.
Of course, Zhou Zixu wasn’t really angry at her, so he smiled and tapped her forehead, “You! Stop putting up this weird act! I want to open an oyster sauce production factory and sell the products to the big restaurants in the neighboring cities. But, as you said, the oyster sauce doesn’t have a long shelf life. Thus, I wanted to ask to see if you have any solutions to this problem.”
 Door Gods (门神) - divine guardians of doors and gates; protect the family against evil and bad things, while bringing peace and good fortune to the familyPrevious Chapter Next Chapter