Chapter 538 - Changes and Developments

These old officials gossiped privately amongst themselves. Who among them had drunk the fruit wine the emperor emeritus had given them? Those who used to be bedridden for most of the year could now get out of bed and move around. Who among them had a body full of old injuries after battling for the throne with the emperor emeritus? After drinking the grape wine that was given to them, they no longer felt the pain of those old injuries in the winter. Their legs and feet had also become more nimble as well…

Even taking the emperor emeritus as an example would work. When he was young, he spent many years out on campaign and was famous for risking his life. Consequently, he constantly added on new injuries on top of the old. Ten years ago, he had abdicated from the throne and gave it to his imperial grandson. He was in his early sixties then but resembled a doddering old man with illnesses all throughout his body. When his old injuries flared up, he wasn’t even able to mount a horse then.

But what about now? He was in his seventies but resembled a man in his early sixties and seemed even younger than he was ten years ago. It was as if he had obtained a second spring in his body. His body was full of youthful vigor now and his complexion glowed with health. During the autumn hunt, he even competed with men much younger than him and had killed quite a bit of game with his arrows.

In the eyes of these old officials, these changes in the emperor emeritus were linked heavily with the fruit wine. Although fruit wine had just started being used by the emperor this year, those old generals with a good relationship with the emperor emeritus had tasted some grape wine with him before. When they went home, they couldn’t forget the taste of that beverage.

Therefore, in many people’s hearts, the fruit wine was more effective than the most miraculous medicine being produced by Tongren Medicine Hall. There were plenty of old men whose bodies were deteriorating, yearning to stay in power, and reluctant to retire from their official posts who privately tried to investigate the origins of the fruit wine. However, other than the imperial family, very few people knew about where the wine came from. Of the people who had an inkling, they kept their mouths shut and refused to divulge the secret. Thus, they could only stay disappointed!

However, going off topic for long was not good, so it was best to go back to the maidservants by Xiaocao. Out of the four personal maidservants she had first chosen, Xiaocao now only had Wutong and Pipa left by her side. Pipa had a steady and introverted temperament, so she was currently in charge of managing all of the affairs at the Yu Residence.

Originally, Xiaocao had been planning on giving this task to Wutong. After spending two plus years with her mistress, this maid had tempered herself and was now very loyal and skilled at managing people. However, Wutong personally made the decision to stay by Xiaocao’s side as a personal maidservant as she felt she could continue to learn a lot more and sharpen her skills. Nevertheless, she did a very good job in managing Xiaocao’s courtyard. Everything was clear and orderly under her management and the maids in the courtyard were more afraid of her than they were of their master. Because of this, she had trained quite a few useful maidservants.

If Wutong was considered her left hand, then Yingchun, who had gradually matured, could be considered her right hand. Although the little lass was a bit talkative at times, she resembled a completely different person on the outside. She was very decisive in her actions and never made her master lose face.

Tanchun was the youngest of the bunch and was currently studying very hard with a teacher to learn arithmetic. She noticed that her mistress seemed to labor hard over the account books every day and wanted to help her mistress out. Thus, she secretly learned how to read account books by her master’s side. When Xiaocao noticed that she was quite diligent about this, she hired a specialist to specially teach her. She wasn’t the only student. In the future, as the family’s businesses increased, she would need more and more people who had the ability to read and balance account books. Right now she was recruiting more talent for the future!

Tanchun’s goal was to become the best bookkeeper under her master! In the past, accounting and bookkeeping were only done by men but times had changed! Her mistress had said that women could hold up half of the sky. She wanted to become the best female accountant in the nation, one that would make men envious of her skills! However, the most important task right now was to carefully learn the ‘Arabic numerals’ and the ‘multiplication tables’ that her master had talked about.

Consequently, the maidservants under her were now even more busy than herself. Yu Xiaocao felt a bit embarrassed about this fact. However, with people willing to help out, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with delegating the management of her industries to these maids she had personally taught herself, right?

Thus, the maids that accompanied her on this outing were still Yingchun and Wutong. Ah! She also had the two bodyguard maids that Zhu Junyang had sent to her, Chunhua and Qiushi. Speaking of them, Xiaocao felt a bit remorseful for what had happened to these two maidservants.

After the hunt had ended, these two had disappeared for a long period of time. At first, Xiaocao had thought that that fellow Zhu Junyang had taken them back for a mission. After all, it wasn’t easy to raise and keep female hidden soldiers who were skilled at martial arts. Later on, she discovered that her assumption was wrong. In fact, Chunhua and Qiushi had the crime of not protecting their master well and were duly punished. They were bedridden for a whole month after that.

If it wasn’t for the fact that Zhu Junyang worried that Xiaocao would feel sad if he gave her new people, these two maids wouldn’t be able to even keep their lives. Every time he thought of his little lass confronting that starved and half-mad tiger, helpless and alone, Zhu Junyang had a desire to go out and slaughter people.

Although the little lass had put up an external act of being perfectly fine, she had had nightmares for several nights in a row. If another weak and delicate noble maiden had been in her place, they would have become severely ill from the fright and might have laid in bed half-dead.

In Zhu Junyang’s eyes, making the two maidservants, Chunhua and Qiushi, bedridden for only a month was a sign of mercy for them. After all, they weren’t able to protect his little lass well. Since the two of them had escaped the death penalty, they were even more loyal to their ‘savior’ and now naturally accompanied Xiaocao wherever she went.

Little Black and Little White also came along. To them, the mountainous deep forests in Dongshan Village and West Mountain were considered their true home. Thus, the tiny little patch of mountains behind the Imperial Plantation wasn’t enough for them to play around in. It was only during the trip to the hunting grounds that they were able to show off their true natures and they nearly terrorized almost half of the beasts living there. However, these two didn’t stay with Xiaocao as she traveled back. Instead, they ran on the small side roads around them. At this time, they were probably already back at the West Mountain, playing around.

Speaking of time passing, it had been a long time since Xiaocao had visited the braised food shop in the prefectural city. Her eldest maternal aunt’s family had bought a residence in the prefectural city to make it easier for them to keep an eye on things and they had moved over. The braised food store and pickled vegetable store continued to grow and grow. They even bought all of the shops in the nearby area to expand and create a giant workshop. The two stores were now a wholesale business run by her maternal aunt’s family.

“Right now ah, we have hired around thirty or so women to help out with our stores. However, the most vital areas involving the recipes and manufacture of our goods are being taken care of by the servants that we have bought off of the market. Other than Huang Xiaomei and her family, we also bought another dozen servants. Five of the new ones are also from one family.” Liu Xiaoyan noticed that Xiaocao seemed very interested in this and pulled her into the back courtyard to view the kitchens.

About a dozen or so back courtyards of the previous small shops had been renovated into one large area. The place was split into the braised food kitchen, the smoking kitchen, the roasted duck and chicken kitchen…the braised food kitchen was the largest out of them all as that was the most popular product they sold.

“Mother and Father spend all day managing this business. In order to understand the account books better, my parents have both learned quite a few words. My father also learned how to use the abacus recently and is quite skilled at it now! Since my parents have never undergone formal learning before, they find it a little hard. Younger Brother, on the other hand, was sent to a school to learn how to read when he reached the age of six. As for myself and my older brother, we hired a tutor over and we spend two hours each night learning how to read and write. Sometimes, my parents will also sit in on the lessons!”

Liu Xiaoyan brought Xiaocao into the braised food cooking room and there were a dozen large stoves all roaring with warmth. On top of the stoves were large cauldrons that simmered with large puffs of steam coming out. The entire room was filled with the dense fragrant smell of braised food. The workers inside all were wearing snow-white smocks paired with light green aprons. They also all wore white caps on their heads. Although the room was a bit chaotic inside, it was still very clean and hygienic.

“Xiaocao, you always emphasized the importance of having a clean and tidy kitchen. Even though the scope of our business has gotten larger, we have not relaxed our restrictions on cleanliness. Every day, I’m in charge of making sure each worker is following all of our cleaning procedures. As soon as I discover that someone has broken the rules, I fine them with three days' salary. If they end up violating the rules three times, then they are sentenced to wash pig intestines and do the most dirty and tiring work in the business.” Liu Xiaoyan was quite satisfied with the way she handled things here. At least she didn’t make her younger cousin lose any face.

Yu Xiaocao nodded her head in satisfaction and then turned to see a familiar face. Xiaomei’s mother was no longer the cowardly and timid woman as she first was. Now, she ordered the people below her with a practiced ease as she monitored the people in charge of mixing the spices and adding them to the bubbling cauldrons. When she saw Yu Xiaocao and her cousin enter, she revealed a warm smile and came up to greet her masters.

Liu Xiaoyan excused her from greeting them in a manner that really bespoke of a head manager. The two of them exited the braised food area and she smiled, “For the past two years, it wasn’t just my family who has improved and matured. In the past, Xiaomei’s mother would turn red even from speaking to someone. Now, she’s a bustling and energetic woman and very suited to being the head manager of the braised food operations.”

She paused for a bit and then continued, “My mother listened to your advice and delegated all of the normal working responsibilities to other people. It’s like you said, there’s no point in making a lot of money if you’re exhausted every day and you harm your body from working too hard. The pickled vegetable store is now under the control of Huang Xiaomei. She’s pretty much learned all of the techniques and recipes you came up for the pickled vegetables. Furthermore, she’s very proficient at them. In a moment, I’ll take you to the neighboring pickled vegetable store. Do you want to try her handiwork?”

“The braised food kitchen is under Xiaomei’s mother’s management. As for the smoked food kitchen, that’s under the family we bought later and is managed by Lanying, who is the wife of the man of that family. Their whole family had migrated from Sichuan province and the people living there are all good at smoking foods. Thus, she was able to quickly get accustomed to things here.”

“Since we ration the number of sales of roasted chickens and ducks every day, we don’t need to make too many. Thus, I usually manage that kitchen. The two people I have under me are also quite nimble and agile, so I’m sure before long I won’t need to be there in person anymore. Then I can focus on handling the day-to-day money management!” Liu Xiaoyan liked the feeling of exchanging so much money that her hand cramped. Thus, no matter how busy their sales were every day, she was still very happy.

“At the moment, many of the braised food shops in the prefectural city get their goods from us. Not only that, but there are also quite a few wholesale buyers from the nearby Zhou Prefecture who come here to buy large quantities of braised food and picked vegetables. Although we sell wholesale items at a slightly lower price, the increased quantity that is sold more than makes up for it ah!” Whenever she got started about the booming business, Liu Xiaoyan could talk all day. In fact, if you gave her three days to talk about it, she’d likely be able to fill your ears without stopping without repeating a single thing.

“It’s around mid-morning right now, so there shouldn’t be too many people at the retail store. However, there are plenty of customers at the wholesale business. Let’s go and take a look!” Liu Xiaoyan pulled Xiaocao to walk to the west. There was already a long line of people already waiting there.

“The wholesale business opens at the crack of dawn until the end of midmorning, when most of the customers are gone. At that time, that’s when the retail stores become more busy. Fortunately, we have hired enough people and they are all good hands at work.” This was all said in a slight boasting tone. Was she trying to fish for compliments?

Yu Xiaocao was quite surprised by the booming braised food and pickled vegetable business in the prefectural city. Two years ago, she would have never dreamed to have it expand to this state. Although the stores were under the ‘Yu Family’ in name, the management had pretty much been taken over by her eldest paternal aunt’s family.

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Myst.2's Thoughts

Sanguine’s thoughts: I like how Xiaocao’s paternal aunt’s family has developed.

Translator: Sanguine