Author: Feast of Masks
Translated by Gumihou
Edited by Gumihou
Xue Gouzi’s sudden fainting fit sent the entire Xue family into a complete mess.
To deal with the situation, Third Uncle Xue Qingbai borrowed an ox cart from the eldest uncle’s family to invite a physician from the capital. The physician took Xue Gouzi’s pulse and found nothing wrong with Xue Gouzi. Aside from being a little weak, he was free from diseases. In fact, he was already recovering from his previous illness.
As for the pain in his head, even the physician could not find the cause.
After sending the physician away, Grandmother Zhao immediately pulled an unhappy face.
She was a woman in her fifties with white hair neatly pulled back behind her head. Her long face and droopy eyes, which looked almost like upside down triangulars when she frowned, gave off a very unpleasant feeling.
There was no need for Zhao’shi to say anything to convey her dissatisfaction. Instead, it was Sun’shi who spoke up, “Zhao’er, not that Fourth Aunt wishes to criticise you on anything, but girl, ah, don’t you think you are making too much fuss over nothing? Are you trying to create trouble for the family? Even if you’re a bit unhappy, it’s silly to-”
Before she could complete her sentence, her man, Xue Qinghuai pulled her aside, saying, “Enough, it’s best to say fewer words. Zhou’er is not an ignorant child. Moreover, Gouzi is truly sick, so it is good to have a physician take a look at him so that the rest of the family can be at ease.”
“What do you mean to say fewer words? I hardly said anything-”
“You’re still taking-”
The couple continued to argue, pushing and pulling as they left the room. Eldest Aunt Yang smiled at Zhao’er before turning to her mother-in-law, “Mother, let us leave as well so that Gou’er could rest more comfortably.”
Zhao’shi flashed a glance at Gouzi resting on the kang bed and snorted coldly. Then, with a sharp flick of her head, walked out. It was clear from her posture that she was very angry.
In fact, her anger was also not unjustified. The Xue family could not be considered as wealthy. A single doctor’s visit will cost one or two hundred coins. How many times could the Xue family afford to spend this kind of money?! Moreover, according to the physician’s attitude when he took Xue Gouzi’s pulse, Zhau’shi guessed that Xue Gouzi must have been faking his illness for attention. It would be strange for Zhao’shi to be happy about the whole matter.
In Zhao’shi’s opinion, the two brats from the second branch were always making trouble to torment the family. However, since her eldest daughter-in-law intervened, Zhao’shi naturally would not say anything more.
Generally speaking, among the three daughters-in-law of the Xue family, she favoured Yang’shi the most. After all, her eldest son’s status was not ordinary, therefore, Zhao’shi was willing to give some face to this eldest daughter-in-law.
After Yang’shi and Zhao’shi left, the only people left behind were Third Uncle Xue Qingbai and Third Aunt Zhou’shi. These two generally had little to say and did not stay long. When Zhou’er thought of how Third Uncle still had to work, she sent the couple out with a smile.
Once they left, she turned and saw Xue Gouzi lying on the bed in a daze, looking as though he had lost his senses.
Not thinking too much about it, she came over to the kang bed and stroked his head, “Gou’er, don’t think too much. They might not believe your headache, but elder sis believes you. You just rest well and do your best to recover. Don’t overthink matters anymore.”
Xue Gouzi glanced at her, his mouth felt dry and his throat tight, “Zhao’er…”
“What is it? Are you uncomfortable anywhere?”
When he felt the pair of rough yet very warm hands touch his head and face, an inexplicable feeling of gratitude and groundedness that he had never felt before washed over him.
She did not die, and neither did he.
Although he did not like some of what she did, and even hated her as a child bride, he never thought of letting her die. How could he ever be the type of person to deliberately kill his own wife and son?
Even so, Xue Gouzi felt very anxious. The dream was just too real. After going through over 70 years of dreaming, it was as though he had already experienced an entire life time. Now that he had woken up, he dared not look back.
Hot stream of tears suddenly flowed from her dry eye sockets.
This really frightened Zhao’er. She never thought that her little man would ever call her this way, or allow himself to be intimate with her. Seeing him like this, she put her arms around him and hugged him close, anxiously asking what’s wrong.
When he continued to cry in her arms, Zhao’er could not help but wonder whether those people had really wronged this little man or that he was just overthinking matters again. From Zhao’er’s point of view, her little man must have kept a lot of his thoughts bottled up and rarely revealed his thoughts. Otherwise, he would not have suffered such a serious illness so suddenly.
She patted him on the back, cradling him close and comforting him like she once did when he was a child. She soothed him by saying, “Don’t be afraid, Gou’er. Even if they refuse to send you to school, elder sister will send you. Elder sister will use all her resources to send you to school.”
In the end, Gou’er was still a recovering patient from one long illness. After going through another major incident, he fell asleep after a small dinner of simple porridge.
Zhao’er covered him with a quilt, before sorting out the shoulder basket she had brought back.
The basket was filled with needlework-related things such as needles, thread, and random pieces of cloth. Zhao’er had bought these pieces of cloth scraps from an embroidery workshop in the nearest town. It was part of the business she had started, providing the local village women with materials to make purses, and then carrying these purses back to the workshop to be sold.
There were no adults in the Second Branch room. Although the Xue family provided food for the entire family, Xue Gouzi would need brushes, inkstone, and papers to study. Not to mention other necessities such as clothing, bedding, and other odds and ends, all of which would require money.
Getting money out of Zhao’shi would be more difficult than ascending to the heavens. Although Xue Qingshan verbally promised to treat his nephew like one of his own sons, Zhao’er could clearly see that only the main house children’s lips shone with oil and Xue Juncai never lacked things like brushes, inkstone and papers. In contrast, her little man was as thin as a bamboo pole and the blading brush he used was one that Xue Qingshan had long since stopped using.
Zhao’er had always been rather independent, and she could not bear to see her little man wronged. Therefore, she could only do her best to think up ways to make money. Such opportunities were few and far between in the countryside, which was why she tried her luck in town. So long as it was within her ability and did not require any capital, she would attempt it.
In the past few years, she had sold vegetables collected from the village, collected work required from the embroidery workshop to distribute to the village women with good craftsmanship and even looked for mountain products to sell.
She had done this many times. With her sweet mouth and thick face, the boss of the embroidery workshop could not help but give in to her persuasion. He even sold her the cloth scraps cheaply, which were very important to her current business. Right now, she was sorting and cutting up cloth to make purses, as well as other accessories. By providing the materials, she could make more money by just paying the village women for their labour instead of just earning the few pennies she gets from transporting the item to town.
If it wasn’t for these little businesses, who knows what would have happened to Xue Gouzi when he fell ill this time? In the first place, Zhao’shi refused to give them money for medicine. Zhao’er had to use her earnings to purchase them. Moreover, she even had to hide her money, lest the rest of the Xue Clan find out about it.
The corners of Zhao’er’s mouth tightened at the thought.
She had always been rather efficient and nimble. As she picked through the cloth scraps, she threw away the extraneous thoughts and instead concentrated on tidying off a space on the table and spreading out the cloth scraps. With a pair of scissors, she cut the oddly shaped scraps into more uniform pieces.
This was how Zhao’er kept the scrap cloth’s origin a secret. By providing the villagers with a set amount of cloth to use to make purses, she could make more money this way. If others realised they could buy large amounts of scrap cloth, she would be robbed of this money-making venture.
Zhao’er wanted to rely on this method a little longer to earn money for her little man’s studies. To her eyes, if Xue Juncai could go, her little man could also do it. Zhao’er had always been very practical in her ways. She had already guessed that the main family would not be so kind-hearted and allow good things to fall on her little man’s head.
It is better to depend on herself than to rely on others.
This was something that she understood when her blood father and grandmother had sold her off for money.
When the work under her hands was finally done, Zhao’er looked over at her little man and found him still sleeping. The sky had already darkened, so she quickly tidied up her work and hurried out.
Nighttime Yuqing Village was very peaceful. The light of the silver moon shone upon the many footpaths. Though it was not entirely clear, it was not completely dark either.
Zhao’er walked a long way, but did not startle so much as a dog.
This was not an ordinary ability. One should know that nearly every household has a dog and these dogs were always alert against intruders at night and would bark at anyone who came near their door. If a thief wanted to break into any of the houses here, they would naturally avoid households with dogs.
Zhao’er tended to walk a lot at night and eventually developed this ability.
Of course, a lot of it also had to do with Hei Zi who was walking beside her.
Hei Zi was a common rural dog. However, he was bigger than most average common dogs. Within the whole of Yuqing Village, not many dogs could beat Hei Zi. Because of Hei Zi, Zhao’er dared to roam the deserted night lanes alone.
She walked along a familiar path to one of the houses. Oddly enough, it was as though these people were waiting for her. When she arrived, the gate was kept open even though night had fallen. As soon as she crossed the gate, the family dog rushed over. Before it could reach her, a black shadow flashed in front of her and threw the dog down. The family dog was so frightened that it quivered pitifully on the floor, not daring to even whimper.
Zhao’er gloated, taking pleasure in other’s suffering, “You never learn!”
Someone came out from the house. The person laughed and said, “Hei Zi has come to bully our Wang Cai again. Hurry in and have a seat, Zhao’er.”
“I won’t be coming in today, Aunt Gui Hua, I need to get home quickly.”
Zhao’er handed the things in her arms to the other person and accepted a bunch of things from the other. After wrapping the item in cloth, she went to the next house.
Zhao’er visited five households in total.
While she was anxious to make money, there were not many village women with good sewing skills. Moreover, she prefers working with tight-lipped people. Otherwise, before the money could reach her hand, the business idea would have reached the next village over, cutting off her opportunity to earn anything.
It had already happened to her back when she collected vegetables from villagers to be sold in town. People who could not maintain a secret wagged their tongues about her, causing others to point fingers at her all day. While she was not afraid of being talked about, the criticism eventually reached Xue Gouzi ’s ears. Some villagers even made fun of him, causing too much friction between herself and the little man. From then on, she could not collect much vegetables from the village. Even those willing to sell to her would only do so at a high price.
In the end, her only choice was to collect vegetables from other villages. The work was not easy, but she learned a very valuable lesson about keeping secrets that day. To make money, she must do so sneakily. Only by earning money in secret could she become rich.
When Zhao’er arrived home, Xue Gouzi was still sleeping soundly on the kang bed.
She drew some water to wash her face and hands before climbing onto the kang. There was only one kang in the second branch’s room. She had always been sleeping on the same bed with Xue Gouzi ever since she was a child and was used to it.
Heizi slept below the kang bed. Just as Zhao’er entered the house, he slipped in behind her and chose an apparently random place to lie down. The dog’s eyes were closed, but the two ears were upright and twitched from time to time.
Before lying down, Zhao’er turned around to look at her little man. She had to touch his forehead for a moment before feeling at ease enough to lie down and fall asleep.
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Compared to the second branch, which had only two rooms and a single kang bed, the main house’s accommodation was much more luxurious. The entirety of the east rooms were occupied by the main house. Right now, Yang’shi was speaking with Xue Qingshan.
Yang’shi told Xue Qingshan what happened today. After hearing all about it, he immediately frowned.
He was not at home during the day and naturally missed what happened at home. Recently, it was popular for decent families to invite scholars to preside over major events like weddings and funerals. How could village folk afford to invite a Xiu Cai to their homes? They could only afford to invite a Tong Sheng scholar.
Even so, they were all scholars to these simple folk, so long as they had a scholar to preside over the ceremonies, it was good enough.
Earlier that day, Xue Qingshan had been invited to a wedding in a nearby village. Not only was he not expected to bring gifts, but in addition to eating and drinking at the best table, he would also be given some lucky money for gracing the event with his presence.
Even so, practically everyone living in the countryside was fairly poor. Therefore, the lucky money would not be a lot. At best, it would be a dozen coins.
Xue Qingshan enjoyed this kind of work best. At times like this, he would assign some random essays for his private students to memorise before going out to enjoy himself for the rest of the day. Nobody said anything whenever he did this. Beyond just receiving free money, he was most pleased with himself at times like this.
As he sat as a guest of honour, men who came for the wedding would come to speak with him, hoping to rub off a bit of his prestige.
A Tong Sheng Scholar Master, ah! How often do you get to meet one in person?
Naturally, it would be even better if he could rid himself of this Tong Sheng label and become a Xiu Cai Master instead. Even in his dreams, Xue Qingshan hoped to achieve this goal. However, after many years of setback, he could not help but developed an understanding of his own limitations. Even so, he could not help but place this hope upon his son.
Too bad there is someone blocking his way now.
Xue Qingshan had a lot of wine earlier his plump white face was now bright red. On top of that, there was this choking feeling pressing on his chest and he began to curse, “What is that Gouzi brat fussing about now? I gave him a little face and now he’s showing his true colours acting all spoiled!”
Yang’shi sighed faintly, “Who told you to rashly agree to your second brother’s demand back then? It is hard to get off this tiger, but the one who truly suffers is our Juncai.”
“Back then, under those circumstances, second brother seemed so sincere, wanting a favour from his elder brother before his death. I agreed without thinking much, but who would have thought he would demand such a thing from me? If I had known what he wanted, I would have done all I could to shut him up, but there were too many witnesses at the scene. Moreover, he was injured because of me. If I failed to honour this one promise, how would I stand tall before other people?”
Naturally, Yang’shi knew all of this. Even so, it was hard for her to reconcile her feelings. For the sake of that one nonsense promise, the main house had been permanently shackled with this burden. When her son wanted to study at a private school, they had to launch it as a surprise and even had to beg Xue Gouzi’s generosity in ‘allowing’ her son to attend school alone. As though they owed him anything.
Why should she feel bad about it?
She had always been a bit proud, and being put into the position of a villain made her angrier. Her eyes flashed with fire as she sneered, “Since he had fallen ill, my father-in-law was about to speak on our behalf, so I could only endure. However, the brat had been ill for too long, and after making such a fuss today, even Mother is angry with him. Earlier, I had Fourth Sister-in-law hint to Mother about how Gouzi is probably faking his illness. I believe Mother is now convinced that he is faking his illness.”
Xue Qingshan’s eyes brightened. He said, “This is good. I shall speak to mother and father about it, let them ruminate over this in their heads for a bit.” As he wrapped his arms around Yang’shi he chuckled, “My wife is so clever, to pave the way so early.”
Yang’shi flashed him a glance. The couple laid down for the night, no words were exchanged.
Author has something to say:
Zhao’er: Gou’er, elder sis’s Gou’er
Xue Little Gou: QAQ the f*ck, with this kind of shadow over my heart, how could I ever like her in my past life?!
Gumihou: I guess it’s difficult to appear like an adult when you’ve been treated like a brat all this while.
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