Chapter 99 - A Chance Encounter

Originally the plan was to give out dividends once a month. However, Shopkeeper Jiang had noticed that the father and daughter in front of him were wearing shabby clothes and thought that they were embarrassingly short of money, so he decided to give out the money early. 

Yu Hai refused to take it and shook his hand, “We can’t take this, we absolutely can’t take this! It’s only a few recipes for pickled and salted vegetables, so how can we take your money?! You guys had to do all of the labor and buy the ingredients. We haven’t done anything to earn the money. If this came out, wouldn’t people criticize us behind our back?” 

Shopkeeper Jiang hastily replied, “Brother, you are wrong! Why do you think the new Zhenxiu Restaurant in town can compete against the established Fulin Restaurant? Isn’t it because they have a few unique and special dishes that other places don’t have? That’s how they attracted a lot of customers over. If Zhenxiu Restaurant had wanted to sell the recipes of their new dishes, I believe that even if they set the price to over a thousand taels per recipe, there would still be people willing to buy them! I have never seen anything like the recipes that your precious daughter gave us, so they are absolutely worth it! If you wanted to make these pickled vegetables and sell them in town yourself, you would have made much more money than what I’m giving you. However, your daughter has a kind heart and only wanted twenty percent of the earnings. If you calculate it out, we are the ones taking advantage of you! Brother, quickly take the money, you guys deserve it…what’s wrong? Do you think it’s too little?”

Overwhelmed with the situation, Yu Hai couldn’t help but back away from the enthusiastic man. He glanced at his daughter out of embarrassment, silently asking her to help. Xiaocao quickly interjected, “Uncle Jiang, at the time, I had already come to an agreement with Brother Jiang Yu. We were supposed to receive dividends once a month, but it hasn’t been a month yet, right?”  

Shopkeeper Jiang obviously had done a lot of business so he suavely replied, “I just felt really happy after making some money! Just take these five taels as start of a great beginning, it’ll bring good fortune to us! In the future, we’ll divvy out the money once a month as agreed upon!”

There were people in the store who wanted to buy some pickled vegetables, so Shopkeeper Jiang stuffed the five taels into Yu Hai’s hand without saying anything, and lifted up the cloth curtain to help them. Yu Hai hesitated as he wasn’t sure what to do with the money. Xiaocao merely smiled, “Since Uncle Jiang said it this way, then let’s just take the money!”

When Jiang Yu saw the father giving the money to the seven to eight year old girl, he thought it was odd, ‘Is he not afraid that the little girl might lose the money...’

Right after that interlude, Xiaocao dictated a few more recipes for pickled and salted vegetables to Jiang Yu and had him write them down. This time, the recipes were of a different variety than the previous ones she gave him. The recipes were for: red pepper paste, sweet bean paste, and, the more complex, shitake mushroom sauce, and peanut and sesame seed sauce. 

Jiang Yu acted as if he had just received the most precious treasure in the world. He carefully placed the handwritten recipes into his pocket. Once he and his father learned how to make them, he would destroy his written copies. This way, these unique and flavorful products could only be made and sold at their store and would become their trade secret... 

Xiaocao bid her farewells to Jiang Yu and walked out of the inner room. When she came out to the main room, she saw a handsome young man dressed in brocade who was looking at the vats of fermented vegetables in the store with a frown on his face. Shopkeeper Jiang was at his side, patiently explaining the different types of products that were available.

The attendant next to the youth quietly said, “Third Young Master, if you wanted to eat salted and pickled vegetables, you could have just ordered me to come here. There’s no need for you to personally be here, right? …be careful, don’t get your clothing dirty!”

The youth raised his head to look over at Xiaocao when he heard some noise. A look of surprise crossed his face, as if he was astonished that he would meet her here. 

Xiaocao grinned widely when she saw that his eyes were opened wide with surprise, “Third Young Master Zhou, you’re finally back from the capital, eh? When did you come back?” 

Apparently, this finely dressed young man was the youth she hadn’t seen for almost a month, the third young master of the Zhou family——Zhou Zixu. As she approached, Zhou Zixu abruptly said, “What the heck, Yu Xiaocao. You clearly have some good recipes for sauces in that head of yours, but you don’t even invest in your own production. Instead, you privately started cooperating with someone else!” 

On the other hand, Yu Xiaocao recalled that all of the money she had painstakingly saved up had been lured away by this bugger at the end of last year. Had she had some cash on hand when their branch split from the family, then their circumstances wouldn't have been so bad! The Zhou Family was the richest family in Tanggu Town. Did they really need her tiny stash of cash to start up a condiment factory? This bugger must have deliberately wanted to cause her trouble!! 

“As soon as I entered the restaurant today, I overheard the people in the kitchen making a racket. Can you guess what it was about? Apparently, they were arguing with each other on how to make a small plate of food! Zhenxiu Restaurant’s purchasing staff had bought a plate of small fish at the docks!!” Third Young Master Zhou gritted his teeth as he frowned at Yu Xiaocao. A bitter and worried expression surfaced onto his face. 

“What’s wrong? How does me selling some snacks at the dock in any way affect what you’re doing?” Xiaocao couldn’t understand why he was looking at her with such an aggrieved expression in his eyes. She was the person who should have been annoyed, right? 

“I heard this dish was called ‘pickled fish’, right? How did you make this? The small bones in the fish are so soft that it’s indescribable, and the taste is incomparable! This truly is a magnificent dish that is full of flavor!”    

Third Young Master Zhou had also tasted one piece that day and thought that the flavor profile was very good. When the head chef of Zhenxiu Restaurant tried it, he could tell that it had been first been fried and then steamed. However, no matter how much he tried, he was unable to make a result that tasted as authentic and good as the original. In fact, he even pondered inwardly. ‘I never would have thought that such a simple looking pickled fish would require such a tricky technique to make perfectly.’

As soon as the words came out of his mouth, the youth seemed to realize it didn’t sound right and abruptly corrected himself, “I wasn’t trying to make you tell me your secret method. I was mostly wanted to show my surprise, that’s all. How do you have the time to stroll the market today, Xiaocao? Why didn’t you go to the docks to sell braised food instead?”

Xiaocao smiled, not all offended, and said, “Third Young Master is too complimentary. My crude method is nothing special, it definitely won’t be able to be taken out in more formal situations. Today my mother and Xiaolian went to the docks while my father and I ran some errands in town——Third Young Master Zhou is buying some pickled vegetables today?” 

Third Young Master Zhou nodded his head and replied, “Recently, our family’s matriarch hasn’t had a good appetite and has no interest in eating. Earlier on the streets I overheard that this store’s pickled and salted vegetable products have a good flavor, so I wanted to buy some and show some respect to her…”

After she had a good understanding of the elderly lady’s preferences, Xiaocao recommended that Third Young Master Zhou buy some sweet and crispy radishes. They were crunchy and had a fresh taste; thus, they were the best for increasing a person’s appetite.  

Third Young Master Zhou nodded his head and then had the store weigh out some radishes for him. He also asked the manager what the other products in the store tasted like. With the help of Shopkeeper Jiang, he got to taste a few different types of pickled vegetables. Afterwards, he selected the ones he liked: wine-marinated beans and spicy cabbage. When he settled the bill, he also took out a piece of silver that was worth around two taels. 

Oh alright! If you wanted to find someone who was rich and had money to spare, that’s your guy right there! 

“I heard that your branch of the family had split off from the rest? Separating is good. We don’t have to surreptitiously give you the dividends after the factory is up! If you have any other difficult situations, don’t worry and come to me for help!!” Zhou Zixu said with a face full of sincerity.

‘Is it a little too late to be saying these words? When we had just separated families, I would have shamelessly asked you for some help, pride be damned. But now...we’ve already survived the most difficult situation, what’s the point in making these promises now?’ 

With just these few thoughts, Yu Xiaocao quickly dismissed Third Young Master Zhou! Before Zhou Zixu left, he didn’t forget to remind her that she had some stock in their condiment factory. She needed to think up more condiment and seasoning recipes up! She shouldn’t just place all of her efforts on a small pickled and salted vegetable shop! 

After waving goodbye to Third Young Master Zhou, Xiaocao went to a cloth shop that Jiang Yu and his father had recommended and bought a few bolts of cotton cloth that differed in color. She also got four blankets worth of quilted fabric and spent almost a tael on ten catties worth of cotton filling.  

Cotton had become a commonly grown crop during the previous Yuan Dynasty. At the initial start of the Great Ming Dynasty, the country was still settling down from the chaos of war, and vast acres of land had been left fallow. Thus, the output of cotton had decreased dramatically, and prices had risen without falling. After the current emperor ascended the throne, he energetically encouraged the people to open up land and start farming. He implemented a series of policies that lowered taxes and reduced the forced labor requirements. The prices of grain and cash crops slowly decreased and stabilized a bit. However, for the vast majority of the poverty stricken commoners, the price of cotton, which was seventy copper coins a catty, was still considered a somewhat luxurious purchase.

After the father and daughter pair finished buying cloth and cotton, it was already ten minutes to 3 pm. With a giant bag of cotton to haul around, it would be hard to shop around even if they wanted to. Thus, the two of them headed in the direction of the ox and horse market to retrieve their donkey cart with their large and small bags of goods in tow.   

The old man who was helping them keep an eye on the donkey took their five copper coins and looked at the skinny, sick donkey that was lying on the ground. He silently prayed that the animal wouldn’t fall over dead right this minute.  

In his younger days, the old man was a good hand at raising animals. Now that he was older, he no longer could keep up, so he set up an area for people to leave their animals and carts. Every day he could earn a decent amount of money. If his business hadn’t been slow today, he would not have accepted this arduous and thankless task to watch over a sick donkey.  

In accordance with Xiaocao’s instructions, he made sure to give the donkey a bowl of water to drink every hour. He thought it was a little bit odd that the donkey wouldn’t even sniff at other types of water and instead only happily drank the water that was in the little girl’s pouch.  

After drinking two bowls of water, the donkey, who had been close to death’s door, seemed to be more and more energetic with every passing minute. By the time it had its third bowl of water, it could actually stand up and even whinnied a couple times, asking him for some food to eat.  

Was it possible that there was some medicine that was put in the water pouch? In a moment he needed to ask them who had made it, it was actually quite efficacious.  

The five copper coins paid for not only the board of the donkey but also its feed and water. Although they had given him their own water, he still needed to give the donkey fodder from his own stores. After eating its fill, the little gray colored donkey knelt back down to take a nap. Despite its obvious thinness, the animal still looked rather lively.  

When it was almost three in the afternoon, Yu Hai’s silhouette with the slight limp appeared in front of the old man’s sight. The father and daughter pair both were loaded down with large and small bags; they had clearly bought a lot of things.  

The little donkey seemed to have a connection with them, and, as soon as it saw its little master, it immediately stood and opened up its large, limpid eyes. It cheerfully whinnied at the two people in front of it.   “Little Gray, are you okay?” Xiaocao ran swiftly to the little donkey’s side. She used her right hand, which had the multi-colored stone on her wrist, to gently pet its back, and have the little divine store to heal it from head to toe again. 

The little donkey comfortably closed its eyes and rubbed its head continuously on Xiaocao’s arm. The expression on its face was obvious——so comfortable ah!

Yu Hai exclaimed in surprise, “It really got better! Looks quite energetic too! I’m not sure if its able to walk all the way home though...Cao’er, we should have Old Zhang help us bring our goods back today.” 

The little donkey whinnied spiritedly a couple of times as if it was trying to say that it was okay. Xiaocao smiled and patted its head, “Father, by this time, Grandpa Zhang’s cart is probably all full with people now. Where would he have room to put our stuff? In any case, cloth and cotton isn’t very heavy, so let’s try to have Little Gray pull it home.” 

Yu Hai skillfully put the cart harness onto the donkey and then placed all of their goods onto the cart. After thinking a bit, he helped his daughter onto the vehicle. If the donkey couldn’t pull the cart, he could help it by pushing the vehicle on the side. After all, his daughter was only eight years old and had been running around all day. He didn’t want her to get more tired by walking all the way home.   This was the first time Yu Hai had led a donkey cart. However, as they left the ox and horse market, the little donkey seemed to really understand what he wanted and closely followed behind him and didn’t need any direction from him at all.  

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Myst's Thoughts

Wine-marinated Beans

Sanguine’s thoughts: Mmm, pickled vegetables. I like them with congee or fried foods. So refreshing!

Translator: Sanguine