Chapter 67 - Building a House

Madam Liu also knew that her maternal family’s circumstances were not great. Saving a couple taels a year was considered good for them. Because she had a weak constitution, her mother would subsidize her from time to time. When her children’s father had an accident, the family had already taken over two taels to help…to be able to give her ten taels now, she didn’t know where her mother had gone to borrow the money.

She pushed the pouch back and said, “The mud bricks on the house are still usable. As long as we chop some trees down to fix the beams of the roof and then rethatch it with straw, it will be livable. Mother, you and the family also don’t have an easy time at home. My older brothers and their wives all live frugally and it’s only with great difficulty does the family get to save some money. How could you continue to subsidize, me, a daughter who has already gotten married?”

Madam Liu’s eldest sister-in-law, Madam Han, took the embroidered pouch from Madam Yao and stuffed it into her younger sister-in-law’s hands and said, “You and your family will be living in this house, so it’s important that it gets completely fixed. I already looked it over, the kang beds in all of the rooms are unusable. Also this bamboo fence…Younger Sister’s family lives far away from the village and next to a large mountain, this fence is not safe enough. With all these expenses, ten taels may not even be enough! Quickly take it, don’t be polite to your own family members!”

The expression on her second sister-in-law’s, Madam Hu, face continued to darken. The family had so little resources but her mother-in-law had taken all of it and given it to her younger sister-in-law. A married daughter is like spilt water. How could the maternal family continue to subsidize her? She didn’t have the guts to rebel against her mother-in-law’s wishes but when she heard her elder sister-in-law’s words, a tiny sneer slowly grew on her face. She twisted her head around and lightly “tsked…”a breath.

Second Son Liu Han heard her, and he frowned and gave her a glare in warning. The expression on his face seemed to say, ‘if you decide to be a shrewish woman and say something unpleasant, then you’re in for it when we get home’.  Madam Hu had a cold-hearted, selfish personality but Xiaocao’s second uncle could keep her in check. She knew that her husband was very filial, and she usually only dared to bicker with her fellow sisters-in-law. However, in front of her mother-in-law, she never had the guts to say a word. 

After receiving a glare from her husband, Madam Hu immediately settled down and lowered her head. Not a peep could be heard from her.

The third son, Liu Hao, unloaded a sack of sweet potatoes for the cellar and grinned, “Older Sister! Just take the money. If you don’t, mother will be angry ah!” 

Madam Liu wanted to persist in refusing but Yu Xiaocao came up and took the pouch for her and said, “Mother, this money is the sum of Grandmother’s, Uncles’, and Aunts’ good heart and intentions for you. You should take it. That being said, we really do need this money. If you feel guilty about taking it, then think of it as a loan. Later on we’ll return it after we earn some money.”

“That’s right! Yunzi, you’re not even as clever as your child! You must be Xiaolian, right? After not seeing you for a few days, it looks like you’ve become a lot more pale.” Madam Yao linked her hand with Xiaocao’s and repeatedly complimented her.

Yu Xiaocao gently giggled, “Grandmother, I’m Xiaocao. Xiaolian took Little Shitou with her to pick up firewood.”

Yu Xiaocao and Xiaolian were twins, so naturally, they looked very similar to each other. However, when Xiaocao was first born, she had a very weak body and was the thinner and paler of the two. On the flip side, Xiaolian had grown up doing household chores with Madam Liu, so her skin was on the tanner side. When the two girls stood next to each other, it was very easy to tell them apart. However, after consistently drinking mystic-stone water for half a year, Xiaocao’s body had recovered immensely and Xiaolian’s skin had become more white. It was becoming more and more difficult for people to distinguish between the two.

Madam Yao watched the energetic Xiaocao contently and spoke to Madam Liu, “With Xiaocao’s health better, it must be a large weight off of your shoulders. From my point of view, it looks like your complexion has become more rosy too. Did your mother-in-law have a sliver of conscience and decide to invite the doctor over lately for you?”

“How could she ever bear to spend money on me? Whenever I got ill in the past, she always accused me of faking it and refused to let Xiaocao’s father to get the doctor, let alone now. I feel like my body has gotten healthier over the past half year. Also, Dahai had surreptitiously made me take medicine the whole winter without the rest of the family’s knowledge. Although I felt more tired lately taking care of the children’s father, I still think my body feels more limber and dexterous than before. The other day I had fallen asleep on the side of the bed inadvertently but the next day I didn’t get sick. I think my illness has finally healed. Mother, please don’t worry about me anymore.”

Madam Liu felt baffled and joyful at the same time. If even she fell ill in the household, then their family really had nowhere to go.

Yu Xiaocao rubbed the five-colored stone on her wrist and sniggered inside.  The Liu brothers first cleaned and organized the wooden rooms. After fixing them more or less, they started to move the items they brought inside. Madam Liu took her two daughters-in-law (Author’s note: Third daughter-in-law’s child was still young, so she couldn’t pull herself away to come) and cleaned up the courtyard in another round. Before any of them could stop and take a break, they rushed home with the ox cart.

Although Madam Yao wasn’t entirely satisfied with leaving things as they were, but she knew that with her daughter’s family of five all squeezed into one room, even if they stayed overnight there would be no place for them to sleep. They needed to get back to Xishan Village before the sun set. Thus, they only said, “We’ll see you again in two days”, and left in a hurry.  In contrast, the three Liu brothers stayed behind to help their younger sister and her husband to fix their house before planting season started.

Yu Hai was an honest and kind hearted man. If another family needed help, as long as they asked him, he would always help them enthusiastically. He had a good reputation in Dongshan Village. When the villagers heard that he needed to fix up the old residence, many of them came one after another to help. 

The oldest son of Dahai’s Eldest Uncle, Yu Lichun, knew how to lay bricks. Under the urging of his father, he stopped taking outside jobs and came over to help. For the next several days, Yu Lichun brought over his three sons and two grandsons, and they were always the first to arrive and last to leave. Although Dahai’s Second Uncle, Yu Lixia, lived far away, he only sent over one son over as he himself wasn’t feeling well.

A bunch of Dahai’s old friends who had played with him since they were tots had also come over to form dirt bricks, build a wall with the bricks, and cut down lumber...and they all did so enthusiastically. Hunter Zhao, who was good friends with him, also punctually came over every day with his son, Zhao Han, to deliver game and help them after they finished hunting. In addition, their new neighbors on their left and right also come over every day without anyone to ask.

Generally speaking, when you had people over to help you with your house, you needed to be responsible for two meals. All of these people knew that Yu Hai had just split from the family and didn’t have much food in storage, so all of them brought their own food over every day and refused to eat even a mouthful of theirs. The whole family felt incredibly grateful and Xiaocao had finally experienced the simple and good-natured kindness of those who lived in the ancient times.

Many hands make light work. The work on the three-roomed house, courtyard, and wall had been finished in ten days. Madam Liu shed tears of joy when she saw the brand new house with its large and spacious courtyard. The three siblings chattered in the courtyard with bright smiles on their faces. They were incredibly happy—all of them finally had a home of their own...

The Liu brothers had chopped enough firewood to fill the whole storage area in the kitchen and also cleaned up the well before they left. After letting the house air out for two days, Yu Hai, whose leg has healed enough for him to walk on crutches, brought his family to move in.

During the past ten or so days, other than Old Yu and Dashan coming over every afternoon to help, not even the shadow of the other family members were seen. With the house finished, Yu Hai invited the villagers and neighbors over to celebrate. Only then did Madam Li bring her son over to visit. 

Whenever anyone in the village constructed a new house or moved into one, it was necessary for them to celebrate with a party. The construction of this house was done entirely by the help of others. In addition, most of the materials used was from the local area. The muddy clay used for the bricks were dug from the side of the village levee. The beams and rafters came from lumber from felled trees in the mountains. Even the rice straw thatching came from the villagers gathering it up from all over the place.  

Originally, Xiaocao wanted to buy some ceramic tiles for the roof to create a house that was similar to the current Yu Residence. However, when she remembered she only had ten taels on hand, she discarded that idea. Once again, she regretted investing all of her money in Third Young Master Zhou’s business venture. She looked on the bright side and consoled herself by thinking, ‘A sod house is also good, warm in the winter and cool in the summer…’

Argh! This Third Young Master Zhou was so busy. At the start of spring, he was so busy that his feet barely touched the ground. Not only was he establishing the workshops but he was also planning on opening a Zhenxiu Restaurant in the capital. He travelled constantly between the capital and Tanggu Town, and no one ever knew exactly where he was. Xiaocao had actually wanted to ask him for help but she could never find him!

Luckily, the house had been restored and it didn’t take more than a few taels to do it. Yu Hai felt deep gratitude in his heart for the villagers who had helped them. Thus, when they were preparing for the party, he made sure to get some good food to thank them. 

When Hunter Zhao heard that Yu Hai only received two taels after splitting from the family, he felt both angry and guilty at the same time. In order to save him, Yu Hai had almost died to the bear’s fangs. After killing the bear and selling it, he gave the Yu Family three hundred taels and said it was for Brother Yu Hai’s medical fees. However, he had never thought that Yu Hai’s callous father and ruthless stepmother would funnel the money Yu Hai had sacrificed life and limb for into their own pockets. 

In a rage, Hunter Zhao wanted to find Old Yu and giving him a talking to, but Yu Hai stopped him. Yu Hai said the three hundred taels were considered repayment for all of the years Madam Zhang spent raising and nurturing him.   Zhao Bufan felt deeply guilty towards his Brother Yu Hai and often gave them some game to strengthen Yu Hai’s body. In addition, he and his son enthusiastically worked on their new house. For the upcoming banquet, he also especially entered the mountain and caught more than ten pheasants and hares for them.

Yu Hai didn’t decline his gift and also bought fifty chicken eggs from their close neighbor, the Zhou Family. At the town market, he bought about ten catties of meat. At the end of winter and beginning of spring, there were not any green vegetables for sale. However, each and every family stored plenty of white radishes and cabbages in their cellars. Furthermore, most also had the dried vegetables from autumn. Families with a good relationship with them had also sent some, and Madam Liu also went to the market and bought some.  

Madam Yao had heard that her daughter was giving a party for the villages and was afraid she had more work than she could deal with alone. Thus, on that day, she brought over her eldest daughter-in-law to help. Her daughter’s courtyard was large and spacious with tall, lofty walls surrounding it. The three-room residence spanned from north to south, and the inside of the rooms were sparsely decorated and seemed empty and desolate. However, for a family of six, the house did not seem overly crowded.

Little Shitou pulled on his grandmother’s hand and enthusiastically toured the house for her, such as: which room was his parents’ room, which room were for his sisters, and which room was for him and his oldest brother...He even brought her to the shed for firewood and kitchen. One by one, he dutifully showed them all for Madam Yao to see.

“Tonight Grandmother and Eldest Aunt will be living in this room, which is usually for older brother and me. I’ll be sleeping with mother and father!” Little Shitou’s eldest brother, Yu Hang, was still an apprentice at the carpentry shop and seldom came home. The owner of the carpentry shop was not a reasonable man. He had only let Yu Hang off for half a day when their father got injured, and he was only given a day to help with constructing their new house. At that time, it was obvious he had gotten much thinner.

His older brother wasn’t at home, so in order to save on firewood, Little Shitou slept on the same kang bed as Yu Hai and Madam Liu. However, to show off that he also had his own room, he deliberately said it like this.

On this day at dawn, Yu Xiaocao had followed Madam Liu in starting the work early. The previous two days, she had written the menu. The non-vegetarian dishes were: braised rabbit meat, sauteed spicy chicken pieces, Chinese cabbage stir-fried with meat, stewed white radish with pork, and scrambled eggs.

The vegetarian dishes were: pan-fried turnip cake, stir-fried daikon, deep fried radish balls, lightly pickled sweet and sour radish, spicy stir-fried Chinese cabbage, stewed tofu and cabbage , dry stir-fried Chinese cabbage, and sauteed assorted pickled vegetables.

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Myst's Thoughts

food pic1, pic2, pic3

Translator: Sanguine