When Brother Six came out of the guest house, he noticed that Xiaocao was still standing there. He raised his eyebrows and asked, “Thank you very much for your help today—is there anything else you need?
Xiaocao took out a string of copper coins from her embroidered pouch and lifted it towards him, “Brother Six, this is the money leftover from buying all of the ingredients, here take it….”
The table of food only required half a catty of pork belly, a catty of pork leg meat, five duck egg yolks, fish that they had caught on their own, and dried tofu and cabbage that were of little monetary value. Altogether, it only cost about one tael and three hundred copper coins to prepare the whole meal.
However, Brother Six didn’t extend his hand to receive the money. He glanced at her hand indifferently and said, “No need! A table of food at Zhenxiu Restaurant would cost at least thirty to fifty taels. When you calculate it, it’s I who gained the advantage! Thank you for helping me keep a very big client of mine!”
Xiaocao gleefully put the money back in her purse and patted the bulging pouch. She grinned, “What are you thanking me for? I’m very happy I could help you! It’s not early anymore, Brother Six, you should head out and do what you need to do.”
By making a few dishes, she was able to earn at least a tael in income. She wished that this type of business could happen several times a month! When she thought of Brother Six’s important client rewarding her with five taels, Xiaocao felt even more giddy and ecstatic. She had not only made enough money to pay for her younger brother’s school fees but also had some leftover to buy at least two sets of clothes for everyone in her family and the materials to make a couple of warm blankets!
“Cao’er, what happened that made you so happy?” As Yu Hai pushed the wheelbarrow, he noticed that his daughter who was sitting on top would occasionally snigger from time to time, which perplexed him. For the past half year or so, his younger daughter had seemed excessively sensible and mature. Sometimes he felt like there was a soul of an adult living in that thin and slightly built body of hers.
XIaocao looked around them before she fished out a large piece of silver from her chest pocket. She waved the money in front of her father and said, “Look! What do think this is…”
“Is that silver? What a large piece, it must be worth around five taels right?” A look of surprise appeared on Yu Hai’s face as he questioned her, “Cao’er, where did that come from?”
“Brother Six’s important client gave it as a reward to me. He said that the food I made was even more delicious than the best restaurants in the capital!” Xiaocao’s face glowed with pride, and if she was a little puppy, her tail would have been pointing straight up.
His younger daughter rarely showed her childish side, so Yu Hai chuckled, “Of course, my Cao’er is the best! If I didn’t know better, I’d believe that the God of Food had entered your body!”
“Hee hee! It doesn’t matter whether the God of Food is with me or if it’s the blessings from the God of Fortune, as long as I can make money then it’s fine! In about two days, do you think Brother Qian Wen will be coming home for a break? Tomorrow is market day at the docks. We should buy some cloth and cotton and make Little Shitou two sets of new clothing…” Xiaocao chattered happily and words flowed out of her mouth in an unending stream. Seeing that she was happy and excited, Yu Hai simply nodded and agreed with everything she said.
With Yu Hai pushing, the over twenty kilometer road home didn’t seem as long as before. They both rested at the midpoint, and Xiaocao rolled up the leg of her father’s trouser and started to massage his injured leg with practiced movements. She felt as if her dad had worked too hard walking and said, “Father, we have around seven to eight taels right now. How about instead of getting new clothes and blankets we get an ox cart instead?”
Yu Hai wiped the sweat off his face and drank a mouthful of sweet and delicious water that had previously been boiled. He felt as if all of the fatigue on his body had been quickly washed away. Xiaocao had especially prepared some mystic-stone water for her father to bring along, so it was natural that it had that effect.
When he heard her suggestion, he laughed, “Seven to eight taels is only about enough to buy an ox alone. If we wanted a cart to go with it, even if we provided the wood, it would still require an additional couple hundred copper coins. The money our family has right now is just about enough to buy a donkey cart instead…”
“A donkey is faster than an ox, so it’s probably better to have a donkey pull a cart then! Father, how much would a donkey cost? How about we buy a donkey and then have Third Maternal Uncle help us make a donkey cart. In a few days, the vegetables at home should be ready to be sold. If we had a donkey cart, wouldn’t it be easier to bring them to market?”
In her previous life, it was rare to see a donkey around, even in the rural areas. She could faintly remember that her family had raised a donkey when she was young. She had even been carried by her father as he drove the donkey cart to go to the town market!
Yu Hai felt his heart skip a beat at the idea. The plots of land in the front and back courtyards were already lush and verdant with growing green vegetables. After growing for over twenty days, the produce should soon be ready to be picked and sold at market. If they didn’t have a cart, they would need to rely on someone hauling the vegetables by foot to get them into town. It would be quite an effort!
“One male donkey should be around four to five taels. If we add on the cart, I’d reckon that Cao’er wouldn’t be able to wear new clothing then…” Yu Hai looked briefly at his daughter’s worn and patched clothing with a pang of guilt. The weather was getting warmer but none of his children had any presentable clothing to wear. As a father, he had really let his children down.
“It’s not a problem. If we spend all the money, we can earn more later! We should still buy a donkey first, so that in the future, whether we’re going to the docks to sell braised food or going into town, it’ll be a lot easier for us to travel!” The corners of Xiaocao’s mouth curved up into a grin and a feeling of excitement rushed into her heart—very soon her family would be the owners’ of a cart!
“Alright! When we send Shitou to the academy in town, we can conveniently stop by the ox and horse market to look. If there’s a suitable animal there, then we can buy one then! In the future, when Little Shitou goes into town, we can drop him off and pick him up easily with the donkey cart. Your mother will also feel relieved too!” Yu Hai made the final decision and could not be swayed from the idea of getting a donkey cart!
For the next couple of days, the entire Yu Family bustled around, busy with their tasks. Xiaocao and Yu Hai went to the docks in the morning to sell their braised food. During that time, Little Shitou would bring his older sister, Xiaolian, to the pond behind their house to catch fish. Madam Liu spent her time in the house working on sewing a couple pieces of clothing for her youngest son. She had seen that the neighbor’s boy, Qian Wen, was now wearing a long robe. Thus she copied the style and crafted an indigo-blue colored long robe for her son.
At noon, Xiaocao came back to the house to take an hour nap. When she got up, she helped her mother and Xiaolian to prepare the fish to make pickled fish. In the afternoon, Xiaolian and Little Shitou would go to the docks to sell more braised food.
It was actually quite funny. Xiaolian had been going to the docks for about four to five days now, but none of the customers at the docks had realized the two girls were different people, except for Brother Six. Little Shitou said that Brother Six seemed to be very surprised when he came over once to buy pickled fish, but the man didn’t say a word.
Xiaocao and Xiaolian were a set of identical twins. In the past, Xiaocao had a sickly constitution and had stunted growth since birth. Her body was thin and weak, and she had a deathly pale pallor. On the other hand, Xiaolian had followed her mother around doing household chores for years. Although her body was also thin, it had a strong foundation and her skin was tanner. It was still easy to tell the two girls apart, even if they weren’t standing right next to each other.
At the present, things had changed. With the little divine stone by her side every day, Xiaocao had been slowly nourished by its power until her body was strong and healthy. She even grew a decent amount of height in the past half year and had almost caught up to Xiaolian, who had previously been half a head taller than her. As for Xiaolian, she had been washing her face every day with the mystic-stone water. In addition, everything she ate and drank had been touched by the stone’s water. Thus, her previously somewhat coarse and tanned skin had been transformed into soft and bright skin.
Now if someone glanced at the two of them, there was hardly a difference between the two. However, those who were familiar with the two girls could still in a glimpse catch the differences. Xiaocao’s eyes were always bright and Xiaolian, from time to time, would reveal a cute and silly expression...
From what Shitou was saying, it seemed like Brother Six, who she had only seen a few times, was able to tell the difference between her and Xiaolian with one look? Xiaocao was a bit puzzled by this scenario.
However, she quickly put that thought to the back of her mind as other ideas came to the forefront. Because they could earn almost three hundred copper coins a day, the whole family labored busily with an optimistic outlook towards the future.
Time passed quickly until it was the day that Qian Wen was coming back for his break. In this time period, possibly due to the influence of the transmigrator who established the current dynasty, all of the schools in the country were using the modern day schedule: five days of study with two days of break. Other than the people who rented apartments in town to live in, most of the other students boarded at the dormitories. On the first day of the week, classes started at 7 am in the morning, and on the fifth day, classes ended at 5 pm. This meant that those who lived close to home could spend three nights and two days there!
Yu Hai intentionally brought some braised food over to the Qian Family when he called on them. He wanted to ask them for guidance and get help in determining what Shitou need to bring to school and other such details.
When Qian Wen found out that Little Shitou had been accepted into the academy by the recommendation of the headmaster, he felt simultaneously happy for the little boy and a tiny bit of envy grew in his heart. The headmaster of Rongxuan Academy was the most famous scholar of his generation. All of the students in the academy had wanted to enter the school based off of his reputation.
However, the headmaster rarely taught the beginner classes. In fact, even the intermediate and higher level classes were infrequently graced by his presence. Great Scholar Yuan only gave out pointers and coached the students who were close to participating in the metropolitan civil exams.
If one could catch Great Scholar Yuan’s attention, then obtaining first place at the examinations would not be difficult at all. The graduates from the academy who had achieved first to third place in the imperial examinations had all been personally guided by the headmaster himself.
Little Shitou had just turned six but was bright and eager to learn. He frequently came over to Qian Wen’s residence to learn how to read and write characters. The little fellow learned quickly and only required one to two repetitions before he could remember it. Qian Wen would have never expected that the boy would be so lucky that the headmaster would recognize his talent while selling food at the docks...
The early morning of spring had a chilly nip in the air. The branches of willow trees by the road had already started to become tender and flexible. One could occasionally see a few strands of green within the patches of withered grass. All of this combined started to make people feel like spring had finally arrived.
On the days when Old Zhang wasn’t delivering firewood to town, he could always be found at the crack of dawn at the crossroads with his ox cart. Rides were offered to a few villagers who needed to go to town and the cost for the ride was one copper coin a person. Old Zhang could make some spending money from this.
Usually, it was considered a good day if he could earn around ten to eighteen coppers from his ride services. The vast majority of villagers were frugal and didn't want to spend that one coin, so they mostly used their own legs to get to town.
Today was the end of the two day break for students. There were a few children in the nearby villages who all studied at the schools in town. Although most of them weren’t at Rongxuan Academy, having scholarly talents alone was enough to make their parents proud. Those families who were able to pay the schooling fees naturally didn’t lack that one copper coin for the ox cart ride. Thus, all of those parents who dearly loved their children would always spend a copper coin to let them hitch a ride to town whenever Old Zhang wasn’t hauling firewood.
Old Zhang was flabbergasted when he saw Yu Hai and his two kids next to Qian Wen. He asked curiously, “Dahai, are you going into town to get your leg checked out?”
Yu Hai’s entire face was wreathed in happiness as he shook his head, “No, Older Uncle Zhang. My leg has already healed. Cao’er and I are bringing Shitou to town to go to school!”
“He’s going to town to study? The yearly tuition is quite a lot, isn’t your family…” Old Zhang didn’t continue his train of thought and merely looked sympathetically at Yu Hai.
Yu Hai’s expression didn’t change and continued to smile brightly, “The academy told us that we can delay paying the first two months of tuition. After a few days, when my leg is completely better, I’ll go hunting in the mountains. Won’t I have the schooling fees then? No matter how hard or rough it gets, I can’t hold my children back!”
“You still dare to go up the mountain?! The last time you came back you were all bloody! It truly scared the heck out of all the villagers! Just be a little bit more poor, ah, who knows what’s in those mountains? The less you go the better!” Old Zhang begged Yu Hai to reconsider out of concern.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s Thoughts: Our Little Shitou is going to school! If he lived in our times, he’d be going to either kindergarten or first grade.