Madam Liu replied with embarrassment, “Little Han, there’s not much to do here. With your Auntie Zhou here to help, you really don’t need to help us…”
“Auntie, your words wrongfully make me an outsider. I consider Xiaocao and Shitou to be as close to me as true siblings are. We’re all one family, so don’t make it into separate ones. In the future if anything comes up, please speak up!”
Little Shitou was gleefully happy and a large smile bloomed on his face, “Brother Han, in the future our two families will live closer, so coming and going will be much more easy! I used to eat your family's food all the time, but from now on you should come over and taste my second sister’s skills! My second sister is a really good cook; she even made bean flour noodles taste better than wheat flour noodles!”
“Alright! Then in the future my stomach will be very fortunate!” Zhao Han raised his head to look at Xiaocao’s back for a second and then bent over again to cut the weeds.
Perhaps it was because the family branch had split off, but Little Shitou finally revealed his lively side as a small boy. He chattered non-stop but it didn’t delay his work. The small sickle in his hand flashed constantly in being swung around.
The little roe deer next to him had seemingly also been infected by his excited mood. It leapt through the underbrush and would occasionally lower its head to snip a plant off and present it like a treasure to Xiaocao, as if it was trying to ask for compliments and rewards.
On the other side, Madam Liu and Madam Fang also kept busy. The two of them worked as they talked.
After looking at the shabby old house, Madam Fang couldn’t help but say, “The Yu Family’s matriarch really is something! Brother Dahai earned so much money for the family but they only gave two taels to you. What can you do with two taels, it’s not even enough to fix the house! Younger Sister Muyun, if you don’t have enough money, feel free to tell me. We don’t have a lot at home but we definitely can take out several taels worth. The weather is still cold now, so no matter what you guys should get that house fixed up.”
Liu Muyun was so moved by her words that tears came to her eyes. She threw herself into pulling up more weeds to hide her emotions and replied quietly, “Thank you in advance, Danian’s wife…”
“What are you thanking me for? In the future, we’ll be neighbors. A relative afar is less use than a close neighbor. If there’s anything I can do to help, please tell me!” Madam Fang swiftly swung the sickle across the ground to cut the weeds. At a glance, one could tell she was a hardworking woman.
The family on the west side opened the gate in their rear courtyard and let a flock of ducks into the pond behind the residence. When the person saw that there was activity here, she came over to look things over and said, “Hey! Dahai’s wife! You guys are really moving over? Oh my oh my, Uncle Yu and Auntie Yu are really heartless. How can anyone live in this shabby old house…”
Yu Xiaocao raised her head and saw a woman with high cheekbones and thin lips. How come the more she thought about it the more she felt that the woman’s words seemed to be implying that she was taking delight in their poor circumstances?
“Don’t give her any attention! If you take Madam Mao’s words to heart, then you will really die of anger. Just pretend it’s a sparrow chirping and you’ll be fine.” The Zhou Family and Qian Family were the only two neighbors within a one kilometer vicinity of the old residence. The Zhou Family raised chickens, and the Qian Family raised ducks. The market for chicken eggs and live chickens were obviously better than the demand for ducks. The Qian Family’s daughter-in-law, Madam Mao, also had a sharp tongue and a big mouth, and whenever she saw Madam Fang she only had prickly words to say.
In the beginning, Madam Fang would also bicker a bit with her. Later on, after the two families had come to an understanding, she knew that Madam Mao didn’t truly have any personality problems besides her ability to make someone hate her as soon as she opened her mouth. Most of the women and girls in the village had all shied away from her as a result of that. It was only Madam Fang who didn’t let it bother her too much in an effort to keep the peace between neighbors.
Madam Mao apparently also realized that what she said earlier didn’t sound too good, so she hastily interjected, “If you need someone to help you fix up the house, come to my house and ask. My husband may not have any other skills but he sure is strong. In the future we’ll be neighbors, so it’s right and proper that we help each other. Don’t stop your work on account of me, I need to go to the docks to see if there are any fish for sale. I need to buy one for my son, Wen’er, to nourish his body…”
Madam Fang quietly commented, “Madam Mao’s eldest son goes to school in town and it’s said that he’s doing quite well. She’ll brag about him at any opportunity she can get. Like today, Qian Wen is coming home today to take a break and she has to bring it up.”
“I know, I know! Brother Qian Wen is really awesome, and he even placed first on the last exam!” Little Shitou interjected as he followed Zhao Han like a little tail, roving around happily.
Madam Liu watched her noticeably more lively son and smiled gently, “All parents treasure their children. In a mother’s eyes, their own children are always the best.”
Madam Fang thought a bit then smiled, “That’s true, that’s true! Even though my son, Hua’er, doesn’t have scholarly talents, but since he was young he has helped his father peddle goods on the streets. He doesn’t think it’s hard work and instead takes great pleasure in it. We have about a hundred or so chickens at home, but with my two daughters at home, I hardly have to ask and they’ll take care of them…”
Madam Liu glanced at her two daughters who were both steadily clearing out the weeds. Her eyes revealed a faint glow of happiness and she said, “Our children are all sensible and hardworking…”
Yu Xiaocao turned her head around and grinned, “Mother, Auntie Zhou, you should speak softer! If people overheard this conversation, they’ll all think the two of you like to give false praise!”
Madam Liu and Madam Fang both laughed and looked at her. Madam Fang replied, “Splitting the family was a good thing. Xiaocao’s personality has become more lively; she’s even making fun of us.”
Madam Liu nodded her head and said, “Cao’er’s body has also gotten better, and she’s become much more lively. As her mother, I now feel a lot more relieved. If only her father’s leg would get better…”
“It’ll get better, it’ll get better! Good things will happen to good people, Brother Dahai’s leg will definitely be cured!” Madam Fang had also heard of Yu Hai’s wounded leg and hastily comforted Madam Liu.
“Second Sister, Second Sister! Look! Brother Xiaowu and I found some wild pheasant eggs in the grove, there are three total!” Later on, Eldest Sister can boil them, then Father, Mother, and Second Sister can each have one to eat!”
Just as everyone had almost finished clearing the weeds from the front and back courtyards, Little Shitou, who had gone out with the next door neighbor, Qian Wu, came back. No one knew where they had gone, but Little Shitou still had leaves and grass in his hair as he held the pheasant eggs in his hands with a large grin on his face.
The second daughter from the Zhou Family, Shanhu, deliberately teased him, “You want your eldest sister to help cook the eggs, but you’re not giving her a share. Little Shitou, are you not afraid of Xiaolian accusing you of being biased?”
Little Shitou glanced at Xiaolian, and then gleefully replied, “Older Sister wouldn’t do that! Father is injured while Mother and Second Sister’s bodies are weak. If Eldest Sister had good food to eat, she would also give it to them first.”
Madam Fang rubbed the little guy’s head and smiled, “Younger Sister Muyun, your son is so sensible. People like us, ah, we don’t need to envy other people, we just need to live our own lives to the fullest.”
No one wanted to monopolize the three pheasant eggs. Thus, Xiaocao proposed to use them to make egg drop soup. Every single member of the five person family happily drank a bowl of the soup.
At around lunch, Xiaocao’s maternal grandmother, three uncles, and aunts all came over with a borrowed ox cart. The cart was stuffed full with household goods meant to be used in this new home. The largest items were tables and stools, the smaller items were pots, bowls, ladles and basins. Some were new and some were items that were pre-owned.
When Yu Hai first got injured, Grandmother Liu had come over the see them and even left behind two taels for her daughter to give to her grandson and granddaughters to buy food to eat. As soon as the Liu Family left, the two taels were confiscated by Madam Zhang who said that she needed to take them to pay for Yu Hai’s medical fees.
Xiaocao’s maternal grandmother, Madam Yao, could tell that her daughter and grandchildren’s complexion had all improved a lot, and felt the worries ease in her heart. She hugged Shitou closely and spoke to Madam Liu with a slightly choked up voice, “It’s good to split, it’s good to split! At least in the future you won’t have to be your mother-in-law’s punching bag anymore.”
Madam Liu wiped the corners of her eyes and smiled, “Yes, that’s true. Although our future may be a little harder, it’s good to be the one in charge of the household. I don’t have to think about other people’s moods or worry about my children being beaten and scolded. Living in hardship will still taste sweet.”
Madam Liu’s maternal family lived on the other side of the mountain, and they only had four plots of dry land to farm. Thus, they also didn’t have a very comfortable life. Madam Liu had two older brothers and one younger brother. The eldest one, Liu Pei, had a strong and muscular body. During the off season, he often went out to take temporary jobs. His wife, Madam Han, usually went to the docks to sell things and could often earn a couple bits to subsidize the income at home.
Eldest Uncle’s family only had two girls. The oldest one was named Liu Feiying and was fourteen years old. She was already betrothed and was just waiting until she reached marriageable age, fifteen, before she married. Their second daughter, Liu Feiyan, was around the age of Xiaocao’s eldest brother, Yu Hang. The two families had even joked about having them marry each other in the future.
Second Uncle, Liu Han, was an honest and hardworking man. He was the expert in planting, and the few fields they had were managed by him and Cao’er’s maternal grandfather. The output from these fields were somewhat better than other people’s. Although Second Aunt, Madam Hu, was a little bit selfish, she didn’t have any other glaring problems. She had birthed two sons and a daughter, so she felt that she was superior to Eldest Aunt, who didn’t have a son.
Third Uncle, Liu Hao, was the youngest in the family and it could be said that Madam Liu had done half of his upbringing. Therefore, he was the one closest to his older sister. The year before last, he had married Madam Bian, and they had a son who had not yet turned one. Liu Hao had been apprenticed to a village carpenter and had learned woodworking. Thus, he often went out to find carpentry work to make money. Third Aunt, Madam Bian, was skilled at embroidery and could often sell her work every month.
The Liu Family had not split its branches off, and the three sons were all filial and respectful. All the money they made was given to their mother, Madam Yao, to keep. However, Madam Yao was not like the stingy and parsimonious Madam Zhang. Other than spending the money on the family’s food and clothing, from time to time, she would also give her daughters-in-law some spending money. The Liu Family had few providers but a lot of mouths to feed, so they didn’t have a lot of income. Thus, they weren’t able to save a lot of money from year to year.
The previous evening, Madam Yao had heard that her daughter and son-in-law had split off from the family. Madam Liu had a lot of young children and an injured husband. In addition, their branch was only given three plots of sandy land and an old, broken-down, three-room house. With her daughter having such poor resources, Madam Yao couldn’t idly sit by. This morning, at dawn, she had packed up household goods, such as bedding and utensils, and borrowed an ox cart to rush over there.
The Liu Family lived in Xishan Village and the West Mountain was in-between Xishan Village and Dongshan village. Traversing by foot through the forests of the mountain usually only took one hour. However, bringing an ox cart over required skirting around that area on a different road, which took twice as long as the mountainous trail.
Before the sun rose, Madam Yao and her sons and daughters-in-law left home to go to her daughter’s new home. They had only arrived at noon and even had to eat their breakfast of dried rations on the road.
When she saw that the old house’s roof had almost fallen off, Madam Yao felt angry and distressed. Their in-laws were really too excessive! They almost let her daughter and her son-in-law leave with barely any clothes on their backs. Having a stepmother really meant that one had a stepfather! Madam Yao was also very familiar with Madam Zhang’s shrewish and crafty personality. Even if she confronted the old woman, it would be of no use.
She fished out a bulging embroidered pouch from her pocket and stuffed it into Madam Liu’s hands and said in a voice choked with emotion, “Yunzi, the pouch has ten taels in it. Take it and use it to fix the house. The earlier you move out, the better it is, so you can avoid the enmity of others. As for those three plots of land, don’t worry about them. This past year, we have more sweet potato seedlings than before, so during spring I can have your brothers come over and help you plant some…”Previous Chapter Next Chapter