At the start of spring, Zhuang Xiaomo went to look at his account books and the results stunned him completely. In one winter, he not only made back all of the money that Uncle Yu had lent him as well as the money he spent to buy the donkey cart, but he also made three hundred taels to spare.
He was only idle for a few days, fixing up the store, when the Yu Family’s early ripening watermelons were ready to go on the market. Thus, a new episode of business began for him. The watermelons could be sold until the end of summer. Furthermore, when that time came, the surplus grapes, pears and apples that the Yu Family couldn’t eat also came on the market. Following that, it was the start of the busy season for the greenhouse grown vegetables and fruits again.
They were currently right in the middle of the busy season for the greenhouse grown vegetables and fruits. Every day, a whole cart full of vegetables and fruits would be sold out before noon. Furthermore, he always had a list of customers who reserved more goods to be delivered in the afternoon. Thus, Zhuang Xiaomo took advantage of the noon period, when no one was in the store, to drive his little black donkey and cart to get replenishments. He wasn’t expecting that Xiaocao would appear at this time.
It had almost been half a year since Yu Hai last saw his youngest daughter and he missed her dearly and worried about her. At the end of autumn, someone from the capital had especially come over to give some good news to them. They said that his youngest daughter had saved the eldest imperial prince during the autumn hunt and had been titled a royal princess as a reward. Everyone else only saw the glory and honor that his youngest daughter brought to their family but how could they understand a father’s worried heart?
There were many skilled experts protecting the eldest imperial prince. If Cao’er was the one to save him, then how dangerous of a situation must have it been at the time? His youngest daughter had no skills at fighting so he didn’t know whether she had gotten frightened or injured from that time. She always only gave them the good news and not bad. As her parents, how could they not fret over her?
For the past few months, Yu Hai and Madam Liu tossed and turned at night on their bed. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were so busy with the greenhouse business, the two of them would have long packed their luggage and visited the capital to take a look. Fortunately, their youngest daughter understood their anxious hearts and very quickly set a letter over telling them that she would be back in the twelfth month to visit. She was planning on staying to happily celebrate the New Years with them. Only then did the two of them restrain themselves from visiting the capital. They impatiently waited for the twelfth month to arrive.
When they heard the faint yet clear sound of his youngest daughter’s voice and raised their heads to see her tiny figure in the distance, the two of them could no longer restrain their worries. Yu Hai smiled apologetically at Zhuang Xiaomo and couldn’t be bothered to take off his gloves or arm guards before he started running towards his youngest daughter, who was already at the entrance of the farmstead. In order not to delay the business for their customers, Madam Liu called her father-in-law and eldest son over to take over. One of them could weigh while the other one dealt with the money and records. Only then did she follow her husband from behind and run towards her youngest daughter.
“Father!” Yu Xiaocao jumped off her horse and threw herself at her father’s arms like a bird coming back to nest.
“Be careful, be careful!” Yu Hai watched in alarm as his youngest daughter leapt off the back of that high horse. He hurried over to catch his youngest daughter’s delicate body.
He felt his youngest daughter’s icy cold face and looked at her nose which had turned bright red from the cold. Yu Hai remarked worriedly, “It’s the middle of winter, why did you ride a horse home? What’s wrong with sitting in a nice and comfortable carriage…”
“Carriages go too slow and I wanted to get back earlier to see Father and Mother ah!” Yu Xiaocao saw her mother huffing and puffing as she ran over and threw herself at her. She fiercely hugged her mother’s soft body and couldn’t help but rub up against her mother in a spoiled manner.
Madam Liu tapped her head and remarked in a scolding tone, “You ah! It’s not as if Mother and Father will run away. What’s the difference between getting back a day or two later? If you got sick from the cold, however, then we would feel really bad ah——aiya, your tiny hands are like ice cubes. Quickly, come with Mother to go inside and warm up. The kang bed has had fuel burning this entire time!”
Madam Liu pulled on her youngest daughter’s hands and continuously blew hot air on them. Yu Hai took off his gloves and used his large, warm hands to envelop them and rub them to add heat. Before long, Xiaocao’s hands had thawed.
The largest courtyard in the farmstead was the one occupied by the Yu Family. It was a simply crafted four-sided courtyard with a main structure that had three rooms and two side rooms on the left and right. Yu Hai and his wife took their youngest daughter into their own room and had her sit on the bed after taking off her boots. They noticed that her four maidservants had also been frozen until their faces turned red and their lips turned blue. Madam Liu stated, “We don’t have that many customs in the countryside. The four of you should also sit on the kang bed to warm up ah.”
Wutong and Yingchun had previously experienced sitting on the same kang bed as their master before, so they readily went up. Chunhua and Qiushi, on the other hand, had been scrupulously trained and they refused to go on the bed. Instead, they would only compromise on sitting a small stool next to the kang bed.
Wutong noticed the stubborn looks on their faces and persuaded them, “This room doesn’t have a heated floor or heated walls. Only the kang bed provides warmth here. If you two get sick from the cold and can’t take care of our master, you’ll end up making our master worried. If Royal Prince Yang was also here, he wouldn’t say anything either about you sitting on the kang bed.”
Yu Xiaocao held onto her comfortable hand warmer and deliberately pretended to be angry as she raised her eyes, “Chunhua, Qiushi! If you want to keep me as your master, then sit down! Otherwise, at the start of spring when we’re back at the capital, you should go back to the hidden ranks ah! I absolutely cannot keep servants who do not listen to my orders!”
When Chunhua and Qiushi heard this, they hurriedly knelt down in alarm to apologize. Hidden soldiers who had been sent back had either committed an unforgivable crime or had some sort of other fault. It was obvious what their fate would be then.
Madam Liu came with two bowls of ginger-sugar soup and saw the two maidservants kneeling on the icy cold floor. She hurriedly said, “Cao’er, even if they made a mistake, we shouldn’t let these people kneel for this long ah! Quickly let them get up in order to avoid harming their knees.”
“Return back to the ranks or listen to my orders unconditionally. You two can choose one!” Yu Xiaocao took the bowl of ginger-sugar soup from her mother’s hands and drank it in one gulp. The warm and toasty liquid warmed up her insides and pushed away the cold from her body.
Chunhua and Qiushi both vowed that they would listen to her orders. Yu Xiaocao pointed at the free space on the kang bed, “That’s good, then you two should sit there. You won’t refuse this time, right?”
The two maidservants exchanged looks and obediently pulled themselves onto the kang bed. They sat at the very edge of the kang bed with their legs tucked under them. Yu Xiaocao revealed a faint smile and said, “Erya, give the bowl of ginger-sugar soup to these two older sisters. It’s best to drink it while warm so it can drive away the cold!”
Wutong suppressed the smile coming on her lips as she watched the two maidservants obediently take the crude bowl of porcelain over and drink the soup in a few sips. She also drank down her own ginger-sugar soup and said, “We don’t need to worry about your loyalties. However, you two really need to understand your true position here. Are you Royal Prince Yang’s maidservants or our young miss’s? If you’re with our young miss, you naturally should listen to her orders. Our young miss has a kind and generous heart and is not very strict about the customs. As long as you do your own work properly, there’s no need to walk on eggshells around her.”
Chunhua and Qiushi both nodded their heads and thanked her for her advice. Before long, Madam Liu came over with two plates of pastries and placed it on the small table on the kang bed and said, “It must have been tiring to travel so quickly here. Eat some pastries for now. The pot is stewing a small wild pheasant. Tonight, we’ll eat dinner early and rest early. Tomorrow, we’ll go with you back to Dongshan Village.”
Yingchun saw that her mistress’s mother was going back to the kitchen and perceptively jumped down. She put on her thick fur-lined boots and chased after the older woman, “Although my skills are not as good as yours, Madam, I can still be of great help in the kitchen.”
Madam Liu shook her head at her and pushed the maid back towards the room, “No need, we don’t have so many customs in our family. Go back to the room and warm up completely first!”
“Then…this servant will help the madam manage the fire! The stove is much warmer than being on the kang bed. This servant will be gaining a favor from this!” Yingchun said all of this with a cheerful smile on her face, making Madam Liu unable to rebuff her offer.
Yu Xiaocao had the protection of the little divine stone on this journey so she didn’t feel like she had gotten exposed to the cold. In addition, she had also added some mystic-stone water to the water that her maidservants drank every day. Thus, they weren’t harmed from exposure either. Before long, they all warmed up. When they saw that the madam was in the kitchen cooking for them, the maidservants couldn’t sit still anymore. Unfortunately, not a single one of them had any talent at cooking. They could only enter the kitchen to do chores like washing vegetables and cutting them. Madam Liu thought that they were in the way and sent them all out.
Yu Xiaocao rolled up her own sleeves and began to cook. She made Sichuan poached fish in chili sauce, spicy chicken pieces, and spicy congee. Eating spicy food in this type of weather warmed a person’s belly up. The four maidservants were quite frightened by the fact that they had let their master cook food for them to eat. It was truly disgraceful of them. When they got back to the capital, all of them worked hard to learn how to cook. Although their food wasn’t as tasty as the food made by cook maids, they were still edible. But this was in the future.
After living on the farmstead for a few days, Xiaocao realized that the scope of the greenhouse business here in Tanggu was not in any way smaller than the one in the capital. Just from wholesale alone, they sold tens of thousands of catties of vegetables and fruits every day. This basically meant that they made a few thousand taels in income every day. It was likely that Yu Xiaocao no longer knew just how much wealth her own family had at this point.
During those days, Yu Xiaocao brought her four maidservants along to also help on the farm. Chunhua and Qiushi clearly had martial arts skills as both of them had much more strength than the average person. Containers holding over a hundred catties of vegetables were easily moved around by them like it was no big deal. The male workers on the farmstead were all so shocked that their eyes nearly fell out of their heads when they saw those two maids working. As for Wutong and Yingchun, they stayed with her. One of them worked the scale, while the other worked on the books. They cooperated quite nicely together and helped save Yu Hai and his family quite a bit of work.
As New Years got closer and closer, Madam Liu finally was able to hand her work to Yingchun and have some time to herself. She took her daughter and her remaining three maids to spend lots of time perusing the markets to buy items for the New Years celebrations. It wasn’t easy for her daughter to make it back for the holiday to celebrate together. Thus, she needed to make sure they bought everything they needed.
In reality, the family had their own supply of fruits and vegetables and it was very easy for their family to buy any chickens, ducks, and seafood they needed in the village. Thus, there wasn’t much they needed to buy. However, shopping was a woman’s pleasure. Every day, they left with empty baskets but would always come back with packages, large and small, with them. Chunhua and Qiushi had become their bag holders and ended up with all sorts of shopping bags hanging off of them every day.
On the twentieth day of the twelfth month, Madam Liu took her daughter with her back to Dongshan Village with a giant donkey cart filled to the brim with goods.
This time, when Yu Xiaocao came back, she didn’t bring any of the ceremonious gear that was befitting of a feudal princess or royal princess rank. Thus, the villagers were much more welcoming and casual when they saw her. Seeing their familiar faces with their warm smiles, hearing their familiar voices with the hard to forget village accent, Yu Xiaocao sometimes thought that this sort of simple and honest life was what she really wanted. No matter how much glory, splendor, gold, silver, and treasures one had, one couldn’t buy sincerity or the warmth of true friendship. It couldn’t buy a simple honest life. Homesickness suddenly struck her…
“Xiaocao!” Liu Huifang had already transformed into a slender and pretty young maiden. She had just accompanied her father to deliver a cart full of chicken eggs and didn’t expect to see her childhood friend at the mouth of the village. Now, Liu Shuanzhu’s entire family were occupied with their chicken-raising business. They now had almost a thousand chickens at home. Although the hens didn’t like to lay eggs as much in the winter, they still had some eggs every few days or so. Selling those eggs to the Zhou Family’s factories was also a good source of income.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s thoughts: No place like home.