In the early morning, the silvery singing of birds woke up the sleeping earth . The little rooster that was in the back courtyard raised its head and puffed its chest before it valiantly stretched out its neck to crow, ‘cock-doodle-doo’ . At the front and back of the house, all of the deep green leaves on the vegetables in the garden had shimmering drops of dew shining on them .
In between the rows of vegetables, there were a few matrons dressed in plain, patched clothing . They were picking the vegetables industriously and using clean water to wash the dirt off before placing them in bamboo baskets . These baskets would later be loaded onto carts that came from town .
At a corner in the front courtyard next to the residence, there was a grapevine twined onto a wooden frame with bunches of grapes heavily hanging . There were a few bunches that had ripened early and the deep purple fruits seemed to glitter like crystals and emitted a sweet aroma . The sight of these grapes made the matrons tsk in wonder and one of them commented, “Madam Liu, your family’s soil is really very good . Anything you guys plant turns out well and even ripens early . Like these grapes for example . Anyone else planting them can only harvest them at the start of autumn to eat . Your rack of grapes will probably be ripe in a couple days ah?”
“That’s right ah! Are these grapes a new variety that ripen early that the royal prince brought back from the western hemisphere?” Another young matron asked in a voice full of envy . Who didn’t know that the royal prince regarded the Yu Family highly? No one knew just how the Yu Family caught his eye, but he came over every day!
Madam Liu bent over and pulled all of the weeds out of one area . She smiled at the women working, “I also don’t know where this grape vine came from . When that girl, Xiaocao, planted it, I said that she was doing work for nothing as it wouldn’t live! It was only planted last year but this year it’s already grown a lot of grapes . When the grapes are ripe, each of you can bring two bunches back home so your children can taste them . ”
“No need! If your family’s grapes entered the market now, I’m sure that people would buy them even at one tael a bunch! Tanggu Town has plenty of people with money to spare!”
“That’s right, that’s right! They even scramble to buy watermelons for five taels a piece . This year, your family planted over a dozen mu of watermelons and it still wasn’t enough to keep up with the demand . Especially the prefectural city’s demand . Cart after cart of watermelon was sent there and each cart earned around one to two hundred taels . That’s not watermelon anymore; they’re all pure money!”
This was also something to be envied but not obtained! The Yu Family had the talent at cultivating watermelons . It was said that in the neighboring village, there was a wealthy landlord, Li Sancai, who had heard that the Yu Family from Dongshan Village had made a fortune from planting watermelons . No one knew where he had gotten the seeds from, but he planted a few dozen mu of them . However, the Yu Family’s watermelons had all sold out now yet his watermelons were only about the size of a fist . Furthermore, these watermelons were few in between and couldn't compare to the yield of the Yu Family’s .
Madam Liu only smiled but didn’t say anything in response to these matrons . Her family had made quite a bit of money by selling the early ripening vegetables, watermelons, and braised food . Naturally, there were a lot of people who were envious . With the royal prince as their backing, no one dared to do any nasty tricks . However, there were plenty of people who tried to reproduce their success, like the neighboring village’s Li Sancai . Perhaps that man had gotten a batch of seeds that weren’t good which caused his melons to grow poorly . She didn't know whether they would be better once they were ripe…
The matrons’ discussions became louder and louder, so Yu Xiaocao opened the door to her room while rubbing the sleep away from her eyes . She used her other hand to ruffle through her hair, and it was obvious that she was still quite groggy .
There were a couple matrons in the field who had male children at home around Xiaocao’s age, so their eyes lit up when they saw her . Immediately, their voices became much more welcoming . Haixing’s wife grinned until her eyes became a line and said, “Oh! Xiaocao’s becoming more and more beautiful with time . Look at her little face, so white and tender . She resembles a well-bred young woman more than those daughters of the wealthy families in town!”
“What is that phrase . . . a natural born beauty! Dahai’s wife also has good looks . In fact, all of her children are perfect specimens . Dahai’s wife, is your Xiaosha fourteen this year? It’s almost time to find a wife for him…” In these past two years, the Yu Family had become one of the wealthiest families in the village . As their children got older, they became the target of everyone who had marriageable children and were now being eyed like a prime piece of meat by this pack of ‘hungry wolves’!
Madam Liu looked at the matron who had asked the question with a somewhat embarrassed manner and sighed before she said, “You all don’t know my children’s personalities . Every single one has their own opinions . As their mother, I can’t lightly make this decision without asking for their own opinions!”
Haixing’s wife’s eyes opened wide as she stated, “Since ancient times, don’t all parents with the help of the matchmaker decree the marriages of their children? As their mother, if you don’t take charge of this issue, who else would be able to?”
“That’s right, that’s right! Dahai’s wife, it’s not that I’m trying to use my seniority to lecture you, but you and Brother Dahai spoil your children too much! In all of our families, if our children don’t listen to us, then we would beat them! Didn’t both of my older girls have their marriages decided by their father and me? And look at them now, aren’t their lives pretty good?”
The matron who had asked about Yu Hang’s marriage prospects earlier was the wife of the village chief’s nephew . Everyone called her Older Brother Zhimin’s wife .
“That’s because you know how to raise children and love your girls, so you made sure to find them families that would take care of them . ” Another matron next to her, who had a good relationship with her, interjected in a flattering manner .
Zhimin’s wife revealed a proud and smug smile and didn’t seem modest at all as she stated, “Since we’re on the topic of raising children, then I won’t be shy in saying that all of my daughters are good hands at both farming work and household work . Especially my youngest daughter . She has a fine hand in embroidery . She recently made a pillow cover that was embroidered with ducks playing in the water and it sold to the embroidery shop in town for one tael . The shop even said that they would definitely take her work in the future!” After speaking, she used a self-satisfied expression to glance at Madam Liu .
Madam Liu was concentrating on her task at hand and didn’t notice . Xiaocao, on the other hand, was currently washing her face and hands underneath the grape trellis and saw everything . She silently laughed inside . Recently, her brothers and sister were as popular as peach blossoms . Her older brother, who was growing handsome and had a steady and hardworking temperament, was the current target of a lot of people . However, she had a hunch that her older brother had a glimmer of a liking towards Older Sister Huifang . In the future, she needed to find some time to question him a bit .
When Zhimin’s wife saw that Madam Liu wasn’t responding, she felt a bit upset inside . As the mother of the girl, she wasn’t supposed to be the one to send out feelers . However, the Yu Family was truly too popular right now . Xiaosha, as the oldest son of the Yu Family, also looked very reliable .
Xiaoyun was her youngest child and had older brothers and sisters above her, so she pretty much had never done hard labor in her life . Other than embroidery, she only knew how to cook a few basic dishes . If she got married to a regular family in the village, she would need to work on the farmland and do housework . She truly couldn’t bear for her youngest daughter to do that!
Thus, she eyed the Yu Family’s oldest son as her future husband . With the Yu Family’s current financial circumstances, they could easily afford to buy two servants to do all of the hard labor . Therefore, when her youngest daughter married over, she could have an easy and comfortable life!
As these thoughts went through her head, Zhimin’s wife continued, “Dahai’s wife, you need to be careful when deciding Xiaosha’s future bride . He’s the eldest of the family and everyone says that the eldest sister-in-law is like a second mother . You need to find a gentle and virtuous girl, someone who's generous, kind-hearted and filial . Otherwise, all of his younger siblings, as well as you two when you get old, will suffer in the future…”
There were people in the village with rude and unreasonable wives who ended up kicking their husband’s parents out from the home . Thus, Zhimin’s wife’s warning wasn’t entirely unwarranted .
“Older Brother Zhimin’s wife, just directly say that you think that your family’s Xiaoyun and Xiaosha are a good match . What’s the point in skirting around the subject and doing verbal gymnastics ah?” The matron who piped up also had a daughter at the suitable age . When she heard Zhimin’s wife pointed hints, she became unhappy . Wasn’t it obvious that she was insinuating that her daughter was virtuous and generous while other people's daughters were rude and unreasonable shrews?
The right situation hadn’t unfolded yet, so how could Zhimin’s wife allow her spoiled youngest daughter’s reputation to get ruined? She glared at the other matron and replied, “I was only mentioning this to remind Madam Liu out of the goodness of my own heart since my husband and Brother Dahai have a good relationship . Why did you bring my daughter Xiaoyun’s name into the mix? My Xiaoyun has a sweet appearance, is good at the womanly arts, and also has a gentle personality . She’s never gotten into any conflicts with anyone . Such a sweet and obedient daughter, I want her to spend an extra couple of years by my side ah!”
The other matron sneered as she thought, ‘Yes, your daughter has never gotten into any conflicts with anyone, but why don’t you also mention that your youngest daughter is so shy that when she encounters an outsider, she blushes and can't even say a word? A girl from a farming family has been so spoiled that she’s like a young miss from a wealthy family . She can’t do hard labor or coarse housework . We’re all farming families, so who would marry their son to a girl like her?’
This matron personally thought that her own daughter was good . Her daughter had a lot of strength and could even do the work of the man! However, she conveniently forgot that her daughter also had the figure of a man, with broad shoulders and big muscles . From the back, one might even mistake her for a man…
All of the matrons gleefully gave their own opinions to Madam Liu on the topic of ‘how to choose the perfect wife for the eldest son of the family’ .
“Huifang, why are you here so early?” The sound of Yu Hang’s voice could be heard from the main gate . When the matrons heard him talking, they all craned their necks to see .
They saw Liu Shuanzhu’s eldest daughter, Liu Huifang, with a small bamboo basket on her arm . She was smiling sweetly at the Yu Family’s eldest son as they talked .
“Older Brother Xiaosha, you didn’t go to help with the seafood buying business today ah?” Liu Huifang’s eyes were sparkling and there was a light flush on her cheeks . She had the figure and liveliness of a young maiden, and, under the glow of the morning sun, looked so lovely that she could make someone’s heart skip a beat .
Yu Hang didn’t notice that he had unconsciously revealed a gentle smile and his voice had also become gentle and warm, “The seafood buying business has already been transferred over to Eldest Granduncle’s family for now . Recently, I’ve been helping my father in the melon fields . ”
“Speaking of the watermelon fields, I haven’t yet thanked Older Brother Xiaosha for giving my family a watermelon that other time . I had never eaten such sweet and delicious fruit before in my life!” The snacks of the children of farming families were usually only limited to the surplus they had from their own trees or fields . Most of them couldn’t bear to spend money on them, especially fruit that was so expensive they could scare a person!
The smile in Yu Hang’s voice became even more apparent as he softly replied, “As long as you like it! My younger sister planted a peach tree in the back courtyard and they’ve ripened in the past couple of days . In a moment, you should bring a basket home . . . for your parents and siblings to taste . ”
“Didn’t Xiaocao say that she wanted to use the peaches from that tree to make canned peaches and peach jam ah? Did you ask for her permission before you give away her peaches to other people?” Liu Huifang’s voice was very crisp and clear and seemed quite cheerful .
The sound of Yu Hang chuckling could be heard, “My youngest sister isn’t a petty person . She naturally wouldn’t be too stingy to let go of a few peaches . That being said, you’re her good friend . Even without me mentioning it, she would definitely give you a few ripe peaches to take home to try . ”
The matrons in the courtyard all exchanged looks after seeing this interaction . Haixing’s wife only had two boys in their teens in her house, so she wasn’t very interested in Yu Hang’s marriage . She flashed a teasing look at Madam Liu and said, “Looks like we don’t need to be worried about Xiaosha’s future marriage . It looks like he already has his eye on a girl . ”