Before she could speak, Zhimin’s wife unhappily spoke, “Haixing’s wife, you can’t just say things willy nilly! Shuanzhu and Dahai are good friends so it’s natural that their children are well acquainted with each other. What’s wrong with them talking to each other? As their elders, we shouldn’t gossip needlessly as we don’t want to inadvertently tarnish the reputation of the girl!”
Haixing’s wife sneered in her heart as she thought, ‘You’ve been advertising your daughter with every sentence you say, so aren’t you afraid of damaging her reputation?’ She then deliberately commented, “I think the lass Huifang is pretty good. Last year, during the hard period, she even had the guts to catch one hundred to two hundred chicks to bring back home to raise. This year she has even more chickens at home. She even used the money she made last year to build a stand-alone chicken coop and yard to raise them! I heard that these few hundred chickens are all taken care of by her and her younger sister alone. Shuanzhu’s wife doesn’t even have to do anything!”
Zhimin’s wife's eyes started to sprout fire and glared fiercely at her as she said, “If you think she’s good, then how come you don’t go ask her to become a wife of one of your sons? Isn’t your oldest son about the same age as Huifang?”
“What are you saying? My son is younger than her by a year! That being said, her family may not think my Xiaochun is a good match…” Haixing’s wife glanced at Xiaocao, who was quietly eating breakfast underneath the grape trellis, and then returned a fierce glare at Zhimin’s wife.
Zhimin’s wife was about to say something when the two topics of their conversation walked in. Liu Huifang politely greeted them by saying ‘Auntie’ to all of the matrons present. The other matrons, who were enjoying the show, all warmly responded back. Only Zhimin’s wife neutrally replied with a ‘mhm’ and instead treated Yu Hang with a much more warm and welcoming greeting.
“Older Sister Huifang, you’re giving us some more chicken eggs again? Didn’t we say that you don’t need to send any more to us ah? My family has a few hens at home and they also lay around five to six eggs a day, so we have more than enough to eat!!” Yu Xiaocao put down the bowl of congee in her hands and came over. Her voice had hints of rebuke but her attitude towards Huifang was very warm and close.
Liu Huifang grinned as she placed the basket on the stone table under the grape trellis and picked one grape that was half purple and half red in a matter-of-fact manner. She didn’t even bother to wipe the grape before putting it in her mouth. After swallowing the sweet and juicy fruit, the smile on her face became more broad as she said, “Didn’t you say yesterday that you were going to make peanut and sesame flaky pastries ah? My younger sister and I are salivating over the prospect of you making them, so if we don’t give something back, how could we just take the food that your family makes?”
“Older Sister Huifang, you’re being too polite! Alright, since you said it that way, then I’ll have my older brother take you to the back and pick some peaches. When the pastries are done, you can bring some back!” Yu Xiaocao transferred the eggs into another basket and then stuffed the now empty basket into her older brother’s hands.
Liu Huifang snatched that empty basket back and smiled, “I still have a couple hundred chickens clucking and waiting for me to get back to feed them. How do I have the time to wait for you to finish making the flaky pastries ah?”
As she talked, she placed the basket at the crook of her hand and walked towards the gate. Yu Xiaocao shouted towards her, “Then...in a moment, when the pastries are done, I’ll have my older brother send you guys a batch. There’s also the peaches. They are quite sweet this year, so I’ll have my older brother pick a basket for you…”
Liu Huifang heard that Xiaocao kept mentioning Yu Hang, so she turned around and gave her a somewhat embarrassed glare. Then her face flushed when she saw the mischievous glee on the younger girl’s face. She then fled the courtyard in quick steps, as if there was a rabid dog chasing after her. Yu Xiaocao laughed in the courtyard and Yu Hang poked at her small face and said, “What’s so funny? You made her angry from your teasing!”
“Tee hee, Older Brother, do you feel bad for her?” Yu Xiaocao grinned until her eyes became lines and gave her older brother a knowing look.
Yu Hang was a bit flustered from the look in her eyes. The handsome youth felt both embarrassed and angry so he snapped at her, “Stop speaking nonsense!”
“Mother——Older Brother’s yelling at me!” Yu Xiaocao immediately became a tattle-tale and puffed her cheeks like a little blowfish. After thinking a bit, she then roguishly said, “Hmph! In a moment, when the flaky pastries are done, I’ll personally go over and give them to Older Sister Huifang. You won’t have the chance to get into her good graces then!”
“Do whatever you want to do ah! Stop pulling me into this!” Yu Hang felt a bit bashful when he noticed that his sister had seen through his intentions. Since Huifang’s family was raising chickens, he often went over to their residence to buy chickens with his father. Thus, he spent more and more time interacting with Huifang. Yu Hang was also getting older and was reaching the stage where he became interested in girls, so he started to have an impression of Huifang. If he had the opportunity to have a conversation with her, he would feel incredibly happy within his heart. However, after being teased by his younger sister, he felt a bit resentful but he didn’t reject these feelings.
After they finished eating breakfast, Yu Hang stepped into the kitchen and watched as Yu Xiaocao made flaky pastries. Before long, he was given the task of beating the eggs. After thinking a bit, he realized that they were missing a person in the residence today and asked, “Eh? How come I didn’t see Royal Prince Yang today? Doesn’t he always come over very early usually?”
Yu Xiaocao was currently crushing roasted peanuts into small pieces and she pursed her lips, “Him ah! He went back to the capital a few days ago. You’ve been busy in the melon fields these past few days, so I guess you didn’t notice earlier?”
Yu Hang resisted for a bit and then he finally couldn’t stop himself from roasting the other youth, “I’ll say ah, how much free time does Royal Prince Yang have? He spends at least half a month each month on his lands. Does he not have any tasks to do in the capital now?”
Yu Xiaocao had never bothered to find out just what type of work Zhu Junyang had to do. She thought for a bit and then guessed, “Perhaps...he’s just an idle royal prince? With a title and lands, isn’t it normal for him to spend more time on his own lands?”
After hesitating for a bit, Yu Hang finally asked the question that had been tormenting him, “Younger Sister, in the future...will you marry Royal Prince Yang ah?”
“If he still wants to marry only me by the time I turn eighteen, then I’ll marry him! What else can I do?” If there was a man who was willing to wait for her for that many years, that meant that it was worth it right? That being said, now that he’s managed to control his inner demon, the young royal prince didn’t really have any large flaws besides being a little arrogant from time to time. She was willing to be merciful and grant him his wish of marrying her!
Yu Hang lightly sighed and then softly asked, “Younger Sister, do you like him? I really don’t want you, for the sake of preserving our family, to sacrifice yourself…”
Yu Xiaocao stopped what she was doing and then looked at him in surprise, “Is that what you’ve been worrying about ah? Don’t worry, even if I refused the young royal prince’s request, he wouldn’t threaten our family for this. He’s not that type of person! I’m still young, so I’m not sure whether or not I like him that way. In any case, I don’t hate the fellow right now! So, Older Brother, you don’t need to feel guilty towards me! That being said, am I the type of person to silently suffer?”
Yu Hang thought for a bit and then lightly shook his head. With Royal Prince Yang’s status and power, he was always afraid that he would force his younger sister to do something. As her older brother, he was powerless to do anything about it, so he felt quite helpless and resentful about this.
Yu Xiaocao continued to comfort her older brother until he finally looked a bit more cheerful. After she finished baking two patches of flaky pastries, Yu Xiaocao sent him off to give a batch to the Liu Family along with some peaches. She then called Steward Yingtao over from the other room and sent her to the West Mountain’s residence with a box of flaky pastries.
After Xiaolian finished inspecting the piggery, she came in from the gate. Currently, they were raising around three hundred pigs in the piggery and they were all about half grown. Everyday they ate so much food that it surprised everyone. All of the more hardworking children in the village would always cut a few baskets of fishwort to sell to the Yu Family so they could earn a few copper coins as spending money. Ever since Royal Prince Yang sent them some capable stewards and senior servants over, Xiaocao also sent one of them to the piggery. That person managed the piggery very well and it was even better than when Xiaolian was there last year.
“Younger Sister, right now is low tide, do you want to go diving right now?” Recently, Xiaolian had spent a lot of time in the water with Xiaocao and Zhuang Xiaomo, so her swimming abilities had also gone up a notch. Her diving skills had also improved perceptibly.
Xiaocao wanted to go out to the deep sea to dive to find some superior grade abalone and sea cucumbers. If she went out with Xiaolian and Zhuang Xiaomo, it’d be hard to shake them off. She shook her head, “I won’t go today. Go see if our neighbor Shanhu wants to go and bring her along instead!”
The current mentality of people was that men and women should not touch when giving or receiving things, and it was quite embedded within society. If Xiaocao didn’t go along, Xiaolian definitely wouldn’t go to the beach with Zhuang Xiaomo as they’d be a single man and woman together alone. Although Xiaolian was still a young girl of twelve, there were still differences between men and women. She was afraid that other people might start gossiping about this.
Xiaolian remembered that Zhuang Xiaomo had told her yesterday that he wanted to take her to an area that had a lot of seafood underwater. If she suddenly changed her plans today, she was afraid that he would wait for no reason. After thinking a bit, she changed into her swimsuit underneath her outer clothes and then took her bamboo basket with her as she went to go find Shanhu next door.
Not long after Xiaolian left, Yu Xiaocao also secretly changed into her swimsuit and left in a different direction to go to the beach. She found a secluded area and then stashed her outer clothes into a small rocky cave. Then, she dove and swam in the water like the descendant of a fish. Before long, a gray-blue dolphin about two meters long appeared and gleefully swam circles around her as if it was a little dog who hadn’t seen its master for a long time.
A small golden light next to Xiaocao gradually became bigger and then formed into the shape of a little cat. The little dolphin curiously used its long mouth to poke at the golden kitten but was pushed back by the little divine stone’s claw. The cat could swim and actually swam very well. If other people saw this, they would definitely think they were only dreaming or in a fantasy world.
With the little divine stone by her side, Yu Xiaocao didn’t need to worry about having to surface up to breathe. In fact, even the increasing water pressure that occurred as she dove deeper wasn’t a problem. She climbed onto the little dolphin’s back while the kitten stayed on her shoulder and the three of them swam deeper into the ocean.
Before long, Yu Xiaocao had filled up her little bamboo basket with seafood. This time, her harvest was truly too good and full of variety. In the deep ocean waters, the little golden kitten gave off a golden glow and she could see everything in the ocean very clearly. Giant abalone and fat sea cucumbers came to her hands easily. Yu Xiaocao also caught a one meter long lobster that weighed about a catty. It was going to be the perfect supplement to the Yu Family’s table.
[Master, not far from here, there’s a giant fleet of ships in the ocean! They have a somewhat bad smell coming off of them!] The little divine stone seemed to sense something and gave her a warning.
Fleet of ships? If she was remembering correctly, they should still be in the waters that were owned by the Great Ming Dynasty, right? If these were ships from the Great Ming Dynasty, the little divine stone definitely wouldn’t be giving her a warning. She needed to surface up and take a look. Yu Xiaocao was a very brave little girl and patted the little dolphin’s head and directed it to the surface. The little dolphin very obediently swam in the direction she wanted.