Chapter 96 - Haggard

Two elderly men, who were around seventy years old, were unexpectedly fighting over a fish in public like they are a child. When the teachers in the canteen saw this side of the famous scholar, his grand and dignified image within their hearts instantly toppled down. Good gracious! Was that really the aloof and mysterious Headmaster Yuan? He was obviously an old urchin!

Taking advantage of the time when his old friends were pushing and blocking each other, Supervisor Meng also came over. He had just tasted a piece of braised pig head meat when he was pushed away by his friend who was trying to protect his food. Great Scholar Yuan was so angry that his face had turned red. He loudly shouted, “Good! You are all stealing my culinary delicacy! This old man! This old man will break off relations with you both!”

Xiaocao and her father were both stunned by the scene. If they weren’t in Rongxuan Academy, she would’ve thought that Great Scholar Yuan was an impostor. This… they were the three most important people of Rongxuan Academy. If they become hostile towards each other because of the braised food she had brought, then she would have sinned greatly.

She hurriedly walked forward and persuaded, “Headmaster Yuan, please quell your anger. If you don’t mind, every time Little Shitou returns after break, I will bring some small side dishes for you……”

Headmaster Yuan had been waiting for her to say this, so when he heard her words, his anger turned into happiness. He said, “Good girl, this old man didn’t misjudged you. You really have a good heart! Shishu, have you finished eating? If you’re done, then bring Yu Fan to the primary class’s dormitory and help him settle down.”

Shishu was slightly astounded within his heart. He was just a small new student from the primary class, yet the headmaster had asked him, his personal assistant to personally find a place for him to settle down. It was apparent how much the headmaster valued this small child!

Although Shishu was surprised, he didn’t reveal any of his feelings on his face. He replied with a ‘yes’, and said to Yu Hai and his children, “Please come with me!”

The headmaster’s personal assistant, Teacher Shishu, actually came to the primary class to help a new student named “Yu Fan” to complete the enrollment procedure. He had also personally arranged a room for the new student in the dormitory. This news quickly spread throughout Rongxuan Academy. Everyone was very curious as to who the new student was, to be able to make Teacher Shishu do all of that for him.

Little Shitou didn’t know that he had already become well-known on his first day at the academy. At this time, he had just happily set his little bag down on his bed in the dormitory. He reached out his hands and touched the loose and soft new bedding. Seeing that the dormitory was complete with a desk and stool, he immediately felt that he was very privileged to be able to live and study in such a comfortable environment. He secretly made a firm resolution to study hard and not disappoint his parents and older sisters!

Xiaocao looked at her little brother’s roommates. One of his roommates was about ten years old, while the other one was slightly younger and looked around seven or eight years old. There was no contempt reflected in their eyes upon seeing the ragged clothes that she and her father were wearing. At such a young age, they already had a sense of propriety, and were neither arrogant nor rash. Thus, Xiaocao’s tensed heart finally relaxed.

Little Shitou had just settled down when Qian Wen came inside the room with a porcelain bowl in his hand. The two students from the primary class hurriedly got up to greet their senior.

Qian Wen slightly nodded his head towards the two younger students, and then said to Little Shitou, “I got some food for you. Eat it quickly because there’s a morning reading class later. The primary class had already started school about a month ago. So, if you have anything you don’t understand, you can come and find me. I live in the third room from the left over there.”

Little Shitou was very worried when he heard that he had missed out on nearly a month of class. So, when he heard Qian Wen offering to help him, he replied, “Thank you Brother Xiaowen. I will frequently ask you for guidance if you don’t feel like I’m a bother. I have already eaten breakfast, so you should bring the food back to eat yourself!”  

“The evening meal starts around three in the afternoon. Since you ate breakfast so early in the morning, if you don’t eat something now, how will you be able to endure until the afternoon? You won’t be able to learn anything with an empty stomach!” Qian Wen pushed the porcelain bowl towards Shitou, urging him, “Quickly eat!”

Xiaocao saw that the rice inside the bowl was made with a mixture of white rice and millet. Although there were only radishes and white cabbage topping it, they had used a decent amount of oil to stir-fry the vegetables, which was about the same as the living standards of ordinary families. She suddenly asked, “Brother Xiaowen, how much does one serving of this meal cost?”

“It’s only one copper coin for a bowl of white rice mixed with millet and vegetables. If you want white rice only with the same vegetables, then it will cost two copper coins. It will be five copper coins for white rice with meat… If you don’t want rice, it can be exchanged for steamed buns. There are buns made with wheat flour, as well as mixed grains…” Qian Wen understood her meaning so he reported all the prices of the food from the canteen to her.

As the saying goes, ‘be thrifty at home and spend liberally while traveling’. So of course Xiaocao wouldn’t mistreat her younger brother, who was studying away from home. He had a two-day break after every five days of studies. She set aside eight copper coins daily for his meals and counted an additional ten copper coins as allowance, and thus gave Little Shitou fifty copper coins in total.

Qian Wen was somewhat surprised to see Xiaocao giving Little Shitou fifty copper coins. His living expenses for five days was merely thirty to forty copper coins. His family’s living conditions were much better than Xiaocao’s, but she was still willing to give her brother that much money.

Little Shitou looked at the string of coins her older sister handed to him and refused to take it all no matter what. He said, “Second Sister, just two copper coins is enough for me to eat for a day. Why are you giving me so much money? Our family isn’t rich. In order to earn enough money to pay for my school fees, everyone in the family has been busy without rest. You can just give me ten copper coins for five days!”

Xiaocao pulled him aside and resolutely gave the string of coins to him. She said, “Just take the money first. If you can’t use it all up, then use the rest to buy paper and brushes. Shitou, you are at an age when your body is growing. Don’t always think about saving money and eat something good from time to time!  You should know about your second sister’s ability. The money I earn from selling braised food is enough for our family’s living expenses. Quickly take the money, or else I’m going to be angry...”

Little Shitou’s eyes reddened as he accepted the money. Sniffling his nose, he said, “Father, Second Sister, rest assured because I will definitely study hard…”

“Studying is important, but your health is even more important! You’re still young and you have never left home before, so you must learn to take care of yourself. Remember to dress according to the weather...” Xiaocao’s eyes were tearing up. It was as if she had returned to her previous life when her younger brother had left home to study in another part of the country. However, she was unable to send him off at that time because she had to take care of her braised food shop. Thus, all her worries and concerns were turned into successive words of caution. 

Little Shitou wiped away his tears and tried to dispel their reluctance to part with laughter, “Second Sister, you really are Mother’s daughter. Even the words you say are the same as hers!”

Yu Hai forced himself to smile and said, “Isn’t it because both your mother and older sister care about you? They’re worried about you… Alright, quickly eat. Don’t be late for your first class.”  He turned towards Qian Wen, solemnly cupped his fist together, and said, “Xiaowen ah, Shitou is still young and he is also new to the academy. Please help me look after him.”

Qian Wen hastily bowed in return and laughed, “Uncle Dahai, I would’ve looked after him even if you didn’t ask me to! Don’t worry! Besides the teachers in the academy, there are also staff who oversee student life for each row of houses. There’s also a doctor dedicated exclusively to the academy. If any of the students have a headache or fever, he can receive free treatments from the doctor. Uncle Dahai, Shitou is very hardworking, so he won’t have any problems!”

Xiaocao came out of Rongxuan Academy with reddened eyes. Ever since she transmigrated into this unfamiliar world, she had always been accompanied by this sensible and clever little boy.

When she was bedridden, he had gotten bird eggs for her, chatted with her and laughed with her. When they dug for wild herbs, he held a little basket and worked even harder than her. He had always stayed by her side when they went to the docks to sell braised food…

In her heart, she had already regarded Little Shitou as her real younger brother. He only six years old, yet he had to stay in town to study at the academy all by himself. She was extremely reluctant to part with him and didn’t feel reassured at all.

Yu Hai felt very happy about the deep bond between the sister and brother. He comforted her, saying, “Cao’er, don’t be sad anymore. You will be able to see him after five days. At that time, let’s come early to pick him up! Didn’t you say you wanted to go to the ox and horse market? Let’s go!”

Xiaocao rubbed away the tears in her eyes, sniffed her nose, and cheered up, “Let’s go visit Eldest Brother at the woodworking shop first… Mother made a new pair of shoes for him. Let’s give him the shoes.”

The father and daughter pair went to the main street and arrived at Zhang Ji’s Carpentry Shop. Perhaps it was because Yu Hai was present, the shop assistant had an ugly expression on his face but he didn’t deliberately make things difficult for them. He immediately called Yu Hang out.

After not seeing her older brother for a few days, Xiaocao felt that her brother had gotten even thinner. There was a sense of weariness within his withered and yellow complexion. Although he forced himself to appear energetic in front of them, they could still see how exhausted he was.

“Older Brother, is it tiring to be an apprentice here? Or is it because you aren’t feeling well? Your complexion doesn’t look good…” Xiaocao asked with concern. After all, Yu Hang was only eleven to twelve years old. Most of the work in woodworking shop required physical strength, so it was considered strenuous work for a young boy like Yu Hang.

 The sensible Yu Hang was afraid that he would make his family worry, so he laughed heedlessly and said, “Business has been doing well these past few days. Even the head craftsmen had to work overtime. I’m merely an assistant who stayed up a little later. After the busy period passes, I will be fine!”

Yu Hai sighed deeply as he looked at his son who was acting like an adult. He wanted to say something but after hesitating for a while, he swallowed back his words. Xiaocao looked at her father and said, “Father, our family’s daily income is very good now. We also lack people helping at home. Why don’t we bring Eldest Brother back home?”

Yu Hang didn’t wait for his father’s response and interjected, “Second Sister, I am really fine! Which head craftsmen didn’t start as an apprentice? After enduring for two years as a newcomer, I will be able to start learning woodwork. Don’t worry, your older brother’s health is great!”

Xiaocao stuffed the bundle she was holding into her older brother’s hands and said, “Older Brother, this is a pair of shoes that mother made for you. There’s also a hundred copper coins inside. Take it……”

Yu Hang lowered his head and looked at his shoes which had his toes exposed. He quickly replied, “I will take the shoes, but take the money back! Our family isn’t well-off. I have enough to eat and drink here, so I don’t have any need for money.”

 Xiaocao stubbornly stuffed the string of coins into her brother’s hands and said, “Xiaolian and I take turns to sell food at the docks. Our business is doing very well, so our family's circumstances aren’t as difficult as you think. In just a few days, we were able to scrape together enough money for a month’s worth of tuition for Little Shitou. So, a hundred copper coins isn’t much. When you’re away from home, it’s best to have some money on you for emergencies.”

Yu Hai also urged, “Your younger sister is right. Just take it! You are growing right now, so buy some food and eat it when you’re hungry at night… We won’t delay you any longer. Quickly go in.”

After leaving the woodworking shop, the father and daughter didn’t speak for a long time. When they were almost at the ox and horse market, Xiaocao finally said, “Father, after a few days, let’s bring Eldest Brother back. It’s hard to live as an apprentice……”

Yu Hai nodded his head and replied, “En.” After that, he didn’t say anything else and just sighed.

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Translator: Vi