Chapter 59 - The Past

The villagers in the yard were all either friends with Yu Hai and his wife, or neighbors who lived close by. When the second son of the Yu Family was carried home due to a serious injury, Madam Zhang hid and claimed to be poor at the mention of paying for the medical treatment. However, no one was surprised by her actions since it was already a common occurrence for the villagers.  

Shuanzhu’s wife couldn’t help but feel somewhat sad within her heart. She had heard the elders at home talking about Madam Zhang. Madam Zhang was Old Yu’s second wife after his wife’s death, and she was also the cousin of Yu Hai’s deceased mother. At that time, when the newly widowed Madam Zhang was driven out by her cruel in-laws, it was Yu Hai’s bedridden mother who had graciously taken her in. Later, when Yu Hai’s mother died of illness, Old Yu saw that Madam Zhang was rather sincere as she took care of Yu Hai and his older sister, so he married her as his second wife.

The eldest son, Yu Dashan, was Madam Zhang’s son from her previous marriage and only two months older than Yu Hai. The third son, Yu Bo, and the youngest daughter, Yu Caidie, were Madam Zhang and Old Yu’s biological children.

When Yu Hai’s mother was still alive, Madam Zhang had acted hypocritically and treated Yu Hai and his older sister even better than her own son. Thus, when Yu Hai’s mother was lying on her deathbed, she had entrusted her children to Madam Zhang. However, shortly after Yu Hai’s mother passed away, Madam Zhang exposed her true colors.

Under the pretext that the family was in bad circumstances, Yu Hai and his older sister were only given porridge, which was so diluted that a person’s image could be reflected in it, and a small piece of bean paste pancake every day. In front of Old Yu, she would pretend that everyone was eating the same food. However, she had actually kept the good things for her own children to secretly eat at night.

When Yu Hai was young, he had climbed trees to get eggs, gathered wild fruits, and searched for seafood in the sea because of hunger. When he got older, he learned how to catch pheasants, wild hare, and small game in the mountains by himself.

Being pure and filial, he had never selfishly enjoyed the pheasant and wild hare that he caught by himself. He always took them home and had his father prepare it for the entire family to eat. However, Madam Zhang would pick out the drumsticks and hare legs for her own children to eat. Thus, Yu Hai and his older sister could only eat the parts without much meat. When Old Yu chided her, she would respond plausibly by saying: ‘Our third son and youngest daughter are still young, so Second Son should yield to his younger siblings…’

When Yu Hai was in his teens, he began to go fishing in the sea with Old Yu. Within two years, he had become one of the best fishermen in the village. Every time he went to the sea, he caught much more fish than the other people. Moreover, he often caught rare and precious fish species. Hence, the wealthy families and famous restaurants in town all liked to buy the fish that he had caught.

Yu Hai also frequently hunted in the mountain with Hunter Zhao. They would bring back some game every time, but most of the time, Madam Zhang was unwilling to let the family eat them. So, most of them were sold in town in exchange for money, which was securely kept in her own purse.

Gradually, the Yu Family moved out of their shabby ancestral home and built a five-room tiled residence at the east side of the village, near the sea. In the past two years, they had also replaced their broken fishing boat with a new boat. With Yu Hai’s abilities, the Yu Family had leaped from a well-known poor family to a relatively well-off family in the village.

Madam Zhang had complete control over the family’s finances. It was impossible to even get a single penny out of her hands. Even the money used to purchase groceries for the family was meticulously calculated over and over again. Every day, they ate coarse grain pancakes, bean porridge, and pickled vegetables. At times, they would just cook the vegetables from their garden in boiled water, without even adding any oil. Except during the New Year, there wouldn’t be any trace of meat at home.

Even the people that rarely worked and the poorest families in the village ate better food and wore warmer clothes than their family. There wasn’t anyone in the village who didn’t know that the old lady of the Yu Family was like a mouse entering an oilcan——an entrance without an exit.

The eldest daughter-in-law’s, Madam Li, maiden family lived close by and had decent family circumstances. Furthermore, Madam Zhang had taken almost all of the family’s resources to prepare the betrothal gifts in order to get this marriage for her eldest son. From time to time, Madam Li would take her son back to her maiden home to eat a sumptuous meal. She always returned with various bags, which were all snuck into her room. However, Madam Zhang would just turn a blind eye to her behavior. As a result, both mother and son ate so much that their body turned into the shape of a ball. They were completely different from Yu Hai’s wife and children, who all looked emaciated and haggard.

Yu Hai had chosen Madam Liu as his wife by himself and asked his father to hire a matchmaker to arrange the marriage. At that time, the fat and ugly daughter of a general store owner had taken a fancy to Yu Hai, who was tall, handsome, and capable. They had already invited someone to tell Madam Zhang that they didn’t need betrothal gifts. Moreover, they had also prepared a dowry of thirty taels.

For ordinary families in the fishing village like the Yu Family, their annual expense would only be about three to five taels. Although they got a decent income from fishing every day, they had to pay for the third son’s, Yu Bo, schooling fees. Moreover, they had to prepare the money needed for his future examinations. They also had to prepare for their youngest daughter dowry. At that time, thirty taels was quite a large sum of money to the Yu Family, so of course Madam Zhang was interested.

Just when she made up her mind to agree with this marriage proposal, Yu Hai and Madam Liu’s marriage had been settled. Madam Liu came from an average family and her older brothers had just recently gotten married, so they only gathered several taels as her dowry after making much effort. It was naturally far worse than the thirty taels that the general store owner had suggested. The thirty taels that she was about to receive had suddenly disappeared, so of course Madam Zhang would view Madam Liu as an eyesore.

After Madam Liu married into the family, she became responsible with nearly all the chores at home. She had to cook, do the laundry, and gather fishwort and firewood. She also had to feed the chickens and pigs. Moreover, she was also responsible for taking care of the family’s two plot of land. Even when she was pregnant, Madam Zhang didn’t allow her to rest. She scolded her throughout the day, while nitpicking at everything she did.

Before Madam Liu had completed her confinement period [1] after the birth of her youngest son, Little Shitou, she had already been ordered to wash clothes in the ice-covered river. As a result, she had fallen ill and suffered the lingering effects of the chronic disease. During the winter and rainy days, she would cough incessantly. Sometimes, she coughed so much that she would have trouble breathing and her face would turn blue due to the suffocation. Furthermore, she had nearly died on several occasions.

Every year, Madam Liu had to see a doctor and take medication for her illness, which was a major expense. Moreover, Yu Xiaocao was born with a weak constitution and would constantly fall ill. Each time Madam Zhang had to pay for their medical fees, it was as if someone dug up her ancestral grave. The old lady would scold them every day while saying that she was raising two medicine guzzling fiends who were bottomless pits…

In the past, seeing Yu Hai’s ability to earn money, Madam Zhang would make complaints, but she still took out money to pay for the medical fees.

Due to Madam Zhang’s persistent urging today, Yu Hai had followed his close friend, Zhao Bufan, to hunt in the West Mountains. However, they had inadvertently disturbed a bear that was hibernating within a cave. In order to save Hunter Zhao, Yu Hai’s leg was bitten severely by the bear, and his back was also scratched into a bloody mess. He seemed as if he was barely breathing now.

However, he was considered rather lucky. Even though his blood vessels had nearly ruptured, he was able to endure until the doctor arrived from town. They had originally thought that the best physician in town would provide them with some good news. However, after examining Yu Hai’s injuries, Doctor Sun of Tongren Medicine Hall only shook his head and said, “Do what can be done and leave all else to fate.” After that, he reluctantly wrote a prescription for them, while saying that the medication probably won’t be effective and that they were only seeking peace of mind.

A dosage of medicine cost approximately one tael and it might not be able to save the life of the Yu Family’s second son. There was no way that Madam Zhang would let the money that she painstakingly saved up be wasted. With a family filled with sick and weak people, if Yu Hai couldn’t wake up, they would all become burdens for the Yu Family in the future. If Yu Hai survived with an amputated leg, he would also just be a burden to the family since he had lost a leg.

Shuanzhu’s wife had already seen through the current situation. If Madam Zhang could make the decisions, then she would definitely kick Yu Hai’s entire family out of the house without hesitation. However, Old Yu was still had the final say within the family. Furthermore, Madam Zhang was afraid that the other villagers would gossip, so she didn’t dare to brazenly mention this suggestion.

Ay! How would Yu Hai’s family survive under Madam Zhang’s control in the future? Shuanzhu’s wife couldn’t help but worry for them!

There was a heavy scent of blood drifting in the air. Yu Hai, who was lying on the bed, looked deathly pale and was barely breathing. Every time he went hunting in the mountains, he would be able to earn at least four or five hundred copper coins. But now he was only covered with a worn-out cotton quilt that was faded and patched-up.  

It was dark and cramped inside the west room, which was mostly occupied by a kang bed. At the head of the bed, there was an old rattan case, while a table held up by numerous planks was placed on the side of the bed. And that was all. Yu Hai and his wife, who were the main laborers in the family, had to live in this crowded room with several children.

Yu Hai was still alive, yet the second branch was already being treated in such a way. If…

“Hurry up and pay Doctor Sun for the medicine!” Old Yu, who was dragged into the main room by Madam Zhang, suddenly shouted. The villagers in the courtyard looked at each other speechlessly. Had Madam Zhang seriously shed all pretense of cordiality and refused to pay for Yu Hai’s medications?

“It’s five taels! Even the doctor had said that it was probably useless to eat the medicine! Doesn’t Xiaocao have Doctor You’s medicine box? We can just use some of the medicine inside to have peace of mind. Five taels is enough for a month’s supply of brush and ink for our third son!” Madam Zhang’s growl sounded like a female beast guarding her child.

Old Yu’s voice sounded once again, “Do you think I don’t know how much money you have saved up? If there is even a glimmer of hope, we should do our best to make our last efforts. Otherwise, will your conscience be at ease? Aren’t you afraid that Xiaocao and her siblings will resent you?”

Madam Zhang was unwilling to comply, “It’s not that I don’t want to save him, but the doctor already said that taking the medicine won’t help. So, why are we still wasting our money? It’s better to just save the money and help Second Son raise his children…”

As the old couple argued in the main room, the neighbors in the yard looked sympathetically at the west room and shook their heads incessantly.

“Uncle Yu——” A man with a strong-built, who emitted a strong sense of vigor and appeared valiant, entered the gate of the Yu Family’s courtyard. He was the person that Yu Hai had saved today, Zhao Bufan.

When Madam Zhang heard his voice, she immediately rushed out of her room. Although she appeared thin and petite, she was actually quite strong. She grabbed the front of Zhao Bufan’s clothes and hollered at the top of her voice, “You damned Hunter Zhao! If it weren’t for you today, would our family’s Yu Hai be lying on the bed and on the verge of death? I don’t care! Our second son got injured because of you, so your Zhao Family should be responsible for the medical fees! Also, if anything happens to Yu Hai, then your Zhao Family will also be responsible for taking care of the widow and orphans of the second branch!”

At the end of the day, Madam Zhang had never cared about Yu Hai’s life and death. The only thing that she was ever concerned about was money, money, and money!

“Don’t worry, Auntie! Brother Yu Hai have saved me from this misfortune. If it hadn’t been for him, I would have died long ago! I, Zhao Bufan, am an honest and dauntless man, who will never act ungrateful and treacherous! I have already killed the bear that injured Brother Yu Hai and sold it in town…”

With a greedy expression on her face, Madam Zhang interrupted Zhao Bufan before he had finished speaking, “Hunter Zhao, please come into the room to talk!”

Disregarding the bear’s fur and gallbladder, the bear’s paws and meat alone could be sold for quite a large sum in town. 


[1] Postnatal confinement period (月子) - a month long confinement period after giving birth to let the new mother recuperate and rest

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Myst's Thoughts

Any guesses on where the money is going to end up?

P.S. Sanguine and I are both going to be on vacation for the next 2-3 weeks, but don't worry, the chapters will be released on schedule (if you guys haven't noticed it's 7am EST daily  ). Feel free to leave any comments and suggestions, and also check out the FOG channel on volare's Discord server!

Translator: Myst