Chapter 85 - Accepting a Disciple

Little Shitou confidently dipped a fingertip into some water and wrote his name in large, broad strokes on the wooden table—Yu Fan.  

Yuan Sinian ate his braised food with obvious pleasure as he intently watched the little fellow write. When he saw that the boy’s handwriting had character and style, he smiled, “Not bad, that child did a good job in teaching! Yu Fan, do you want to come with me to Rongxuan Academy to study?”

Shopkeeper Jin was listening to their conversation at the side and his heart filled with envy and jealousy. This little fellow was quite fortunate. He had an older sister who was talented at cooking. Despite the fact that the boy only knew how to write his own name, Great Scholar Yuan had personally recruited him into the academy. His son, on the other hand, wasn’t the most talented person but he had relied on his own abilities to test into the school. It was only because of him…So many regrets, ah, he regretted his previous actions so much! 

Little Shitou blinked a couple of times and then beamed a smile, “Old mister, thank you for your good intentions. However, we don’t have enough money saved up to pay for my tuition. After we have enough money, then I’ll go into town to find you…”

Shopkeeper Jin hurriedly reminded them, “Teacher Yuan is a famous scholar in our times. The Rongxuan Academy that he established is one of the best schools in our whole Great Ming Dynasty. There are many people who want to enroll but have not been accepted! Little fellow, don’t miss this opportunity!”

“Wow! Sir, you are truly too incredible!! In the future, I want to be like you and become someone that other people respect!” Little Shitou exclaimed in admiration as he looked at Yuan Sinian. For the first time in his life, the clever and bright little boy had found someone who he admired greatly.

“Haha! Little fellow, what’s the point of being like me? Don’t you want to become a high-ranking official so that your parents and siblings will never be looked down upon or bullied again?” Yuan Sinian guffawed as he was in a good mood. Speaking childishly was the best way to manifest the inner child in one’s heart.   

Little Shitou’s round face creased in worry from the inner turmoil in his heart and said, “Then...from what you’re saying, becoming an official is also not bad. I want to become someone like you, where everyone respects me, but I also want to become a high-ranking official and make sure my parents and siblings live comfortably. Would that be too greedy of me?”

Yu Xiaocao thought his words were too funny, knocked on his head, and said, “You haven’t even entered the academy yet and you’re starting to think this far in the future? The reason I wanted to send you to school was to let you become a cultured and educated individual. Do you think becoming a government official is that easy? You need to pass many rounds of imperial examinations. Just look at Younger Uncle, he’s already studied for more than ten years and he hasn’t even passed the county level exams! If you have a larger head, then you’ll have to wear a larger hat. Don’t become too arrogant, otherwise when you fall it will hurt more!” 

Yuan Sinian placed down his chopsticks. After eating all of that meat, he was pleasantly stuffed, and he stroked his beard in contentedness. He smiled and said, “Little fellow, what your older sister says has some truth in it. However, as people, we should always have a goal and dream to shoot for! Naturally, it needs to be a realistic goal. Idle daydreams and overambitious targets are not a good idea! Alright, it’s getting late, we should set out again. Little girl, I always keep my promises. You can send your younger brother to the academy earlier as the school can waive some of the fees and expenditures for the students who receive excellent grades. In addition, we often reward books, writing brushes, and inkstones too. I’d like to say again that the taste of your braised food is really quite good. I’d like to eat it again in the future.”  

When Shopkeeper Jin saw Great Scholar Yuan getting up to leave, he hurriedly came forward and politely helped him carry the luggage. He thought that Teacher Yuan’s mood seemed to be pretty good, so he worriedly opened his mouth and said, “Teacher, everything was my fault. My family has been merchants for six generations, and I only had a son in my middle age. Thus, I dote upon Zhuo’er too much. I will change, in the future I will definitely change! Ever since Zhuo’er has been expelled from the academy, he doesn’t eat or drink anymore and almost died this past winter. Can you...possibly give him another chance?”

Yuan Sinian silently looked at the gilded and magnificent carriage in front of him and faintly glanced at him from head to toe. He then said, “One cannot achieve glory and triumph without having been through trials and tribulations. Being a scholar has always been a hard and unprofitable job. It’s easy to be extravagant after being frugal, but it’s hard to become frugal after becoming accustomed to luxury. I can give you another opportunity, but if Jin Wenzhuo is unable to become accustomed to hardships, then it’s better to leave now than later!” 

“He can! He can!! My Zhuo’er can definitely bear hardships!! Thank you, Teacher Yuan, thank you…” When Shopkeeper Jin saw that his efforts had finally produced the result he desired, tears immediately streamed down his face. He was so happy that he couldn’t contain his glee as he repeatedly thanked the scholar.  

The happy and content Shopkeeper Jin took the stuffed Great Scholar and left the noisy and bustling docks. Neither of them could forget that little girl who sold braised food at the docks. She was the one who had given them their heart’s desire and allowed them to obtain happiness...  

Thus, Great Scholar Yuan Sinian became a frequent visitor at the Tanggu Docks. He would often take a two hour cart ride from the town to the docks to ‘fight over food’ with the rough dock workers. Heh heh, naturally, Xiaocao wouldn’t let him really squeeze and elbow the workers to buy braised food. After all, he was also her younger brother’s teacher!

“Father, Mother! We met Brother Xiaowen’s respected teacher from the academy today. He agreed to let me enter the school to study!” Little Shitou was excited the entire way home and incessantly asked Xiaocao if he could really go to town and study at the school. Was this real? He asked so many times that Xiaocao thought it was simultaneously hilarious yet sad at the same time.  

Yu Hai was in the middle of chopping firewood and stopped at this moment. He came up, took the heavy basket from his daughter’s hand, and then ruffled his son’s hair. The smile on his face was full of helplessness and guilt, “Shitou, Father knows you really want to study, but our family’s current circumstances are not good enough to allow you to...you’re still young right now, let’s wait until next year to go to the academy, is that ok?” 

Their next door neighbor’s, Old Qian, oldest son had gone to the town’s most famous academy and passed the entrance exam. This was no longer considered news in Dongshan Village. It was said that Rongxuan Academy had already taught two students who had received the top score, one second place candidate, and one third place scholar in the imperial palace examinations within its first ten years of operating. All of the villagers said that the Qian Family had gotten their chance to produce a high-ranking official! 

Luckily, the Qian Family also raised about two hundred ducks at the time of his admission. By selling duck eggs and duck meat to the restaurants in town, they were able to make some money. Otherwise, they wouldn't be able to afford the tuition, which was almost one tael a month. The vast majority of families in the village made nowhere near that much.

Having an extra tael for the family to spend was one thing, but their current circumstances were so dire that, had it not been for Xiaocao selling braised food for the past two days, they would be scrambling to find three hundred copper coins. Ah! He was such a useless father as he couldn’t satisfy his child’s desire to go to school…  

Xiaocao noticed that her father was blaming himself, and so, she stepped forward to pull gently on his arm. She smiled, “The headmaster of Rongxuan Academy liked the taste of this daughter’s braised food today. He had promised us that we can hold off on paying the fees for now and then give them what we owe once we earn the money. The headmaster also said that the academy tests its outstanding students from time to time and can even waive the tuition fees for those who do well. The tests occur every three months. As long as Little Shitou studies hard, all we need to save is about three months worth of tuition for him…Don’t be worried, Father, once your leg is completely better and we’re past the season when the animals are giving birth, you can go hunting to subsidize the family again. In about a month, our vegetables will also be ready to go to market. Won’t we soon make enough to get three months worth of tuition?”

Yu Hai rubbed at his leg that still couldn’t take too much weight and lightly sighed. After getting it massaged every day by Xiaocao, his leg had already recovered immensely. Now he didn’t need to use crutches to walk anymore, and he could also do some regular work around the residence. 

Previously the town doctor had told him that ‘the leg cannot be saved’, which made him almost want to die. To be able to have his leg recover up to this much, even the doctor from Tongren Medicine Hall felt that it was a miracle. He should really be content with his situation. But, to have his leg fully recovered, to be able to hunt in the mountains, that was his true heart’s desire that he couldn’t help but wish for. 

When Xiaocao saw that her father had lowered his head and was thinking deeply about something, she turned her attention to Little Shitou. She rubbed at his little face that was gradually gaining some flesh and grinned, “Our Little Shitou just needs to wait a few more days. After I make more money, I’ll make you two new pieces of clothing and then you can attend school with a spanking new wardrobe! When our next door neighbor Brother Xiaowen gets back, we can ask him what we need to prepare for the academy. We definitely can’t let Little Scholar Yu Fan get bullied there!” 

Little Shitou was apparently very pleased with the nickname “Little Scholar Yu Fan” and laughed happily, “Second Sister, you don’t need to prepare anything! I heard Brother Xiaowen talking about it. The academy has a place for its students to live and a place for them to eat. You also don’t need to make new clothes for me. The people at the academy only despise those who are inelegant not those who are poor! As long as I do well there, no one there would dare to slight me!” 

“Hm, they laugh at those who are inelegant but not the poor, is that a phrase you had learned from Brother Xiaowen? Little brother, you’ve also seen how good our business is. Don’t you think making you a couple of new clothes is a drop in the bucket now? No need to talk more, just bring out our purse and count how many coins we got today.” While they were walking back home, the little fellow had felt the heavy purse the whole way back. The jaw-splitting grin on his face seemed to be permanently there, and he looked like a little money grubber.

Madam Liu and Xiaolian put down their embroidery and took the basket that held the pig head meat and intestines. They smiled at Xiaocao, “Go rest a bit! Let us do the cleaning, okay! Relax, although we may not be able to help you with creating the seasoning but we can definitely be your assistants in everything else!”

Xiaocao was also happy to let them do the hard work and gleefully counted the money with Little Shitou. Their haul from today was clearly much better than yesterday’s. They managed to sell all of the braised food for a total of a hundred and thirty copper coins. If they added the mace of silver that Shopkeeper Jin had given them, then they had earned more than two hundred copper coins today! 

At the docks today, she had asked about the prices of items in town. A bolt of homespun cloth at the market sold for around two hundred and thirty-four copper coins. If they got Little Shitou a few feet of cloth and then about half a catty of cotton to make two pairs of cotton-padded clothes, it shouldn’t be a problem financially anymore. However, they currently didn’t have enough money to buy the four scholarly essentials of ink, brushes, paper and ink stone. She had heard that those things were quite expensive!  

Apparently, they needed to work hard for a few more days to make it! Xiaocao stared blankly at the pile of copper coins and was racking her brain for other ideas to make more money.  

“Second Sister, can the small yellow croakers we caught yesterday be braised into something that we can sell? The older uncles at the docks had all asked me whether we would be selling braised food in the afternoon!” Little Shitou was also trying to think of solutions for the same problem that bothered Xiaocao. 

Having a daily income of two hundred copper coins had given him a taste of sweet success. If they continued on their trajectory, after five or six days, they would have enough to pay for his tuition fees! With a stable income at home, he could also study at the academy with ease. It was a pity that they could only buy one pig’s head and one pig’s worth of offal from the market a day. Those ingredients didn’t make enough braised food to last for the whole morning!” 

Small yellow croakers? She actually knew quite a few methods to prepare this fish, such as: ‘dry fried small yellow croaker’, ‘salty and crunchy small yellow croaker’, sweet and sour small yellow croaker’...these types of dishes were all very delicious but they took a lot of time and effort to make. In addition, they needed to spend money to not only buy the small yellow croakers but also the seasonings and oil used in the recipes. If they were sold for a copper coin per two pieces and they subtracted the manufacturing costs, she’d bet that they wouldn’t make much profit...

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Myst's Thoughts

Sanguine’s thoughts: Food bribery? I’d totally take that! Also, Xiaocao, stop torturing me with food cravings!

Translator: Sanguine