Xiaocao and her siblings dodged her happily, “We already ate in the kitchen . You can touch Younger Brother’s tummy . It’s as round as a bloated frog . Mother, you eat it!”
Madam Liu clearly didn’t believe them . She was very familiar with her mother-in-law’s stingy character . Her mother-in-law knew exactly how much of each ingredient was in the kitchen . It was alright for the coarse grain, but without her permission, they were strictly forbidden to use things such as wheat flour, rice, and eggs .
Xiaolian and Little Shitou also patted their bellies to ensure her that they had really eaten . So Madam Liu slowly fed the noodles to her husband . Yu Hai’s heart ached for his wife and refused to eat alone . He insisted that he would only eat after Madam Liu took a bite . In this way, the couple shared the bowl of noodles, taking a bite one after another .
Under Yu Hai’s insistence, the family of five enjoyed the two fried eggs that were found at the bottom of the bowl together . The small fried eggs were incomparably precious within Yu Xiaocao’s heart because they contained strong familial affection and love .
“Father, Mother! I think that we should take this opportunity to leave this family and live by ourselves!” Yu Xiaocao had already reached the breaking point of her endurance for Madam Zhang’s stingy and harsh character . In the past, when her father was still able to hunt and fish, Madam Zhang definitely wouldn’t allow them to leave . But it might not be the same now!
“Splitting from the family? Your grandparents are still alive, so they won’t agree to dividing the family!” Madam Liu felt somewhat sad within her heart . They were still uncertain about whether her husband could keep his leg . Moreover, the condition of her health made it impossible for her to do heavy labor and their children were still too young . What would they rely on to feed the family if they separated from this family?
Yu Xiaocao didn’t agree with her! With the little divine stone as her special weapon, the injury on her father’s leg would eventually recover . Although there was the possibility of him being crippled, he would still be able to do ordinary handcrafts . After being nourished for months with the mystic-stone water and herbal medicine, her mother’s health had almost completely recuperated . As long as they could separate from this family, with her expert skills in braised foods, they would definitely live in better conditions than right now!
“Grandmother and Eldest Aunt must be eagerly looking forward to us leaving this family! In their eyes, our second branch is just a major burden . As for Grandfather, we will definitely have a chance to way to convince him!” That’s right! She had been waiting for an opportunity, a perfect opportunity to suggest splitting up the family!
While Yu Xiaocao and her family were discussing the matter of dividing from the family, Madam Li was also speaking ill of the second branch in the main room, “Mother, since Second Brother-in-law got injured, there isn’t a single able-bodied worker in the second branch . Furthermore, Second Sister-in-law and Xiaocao are both medicine guzzling fiends . Think about it . We have already spent dozens of taels in the past several days . Although Second Brother-in-law has woken up, Doctor Sun have also said that one of his legs was going to be useless even if he woke up! Second Brother-in-law’s family is filled with sick and weak people who are all relying on us to support them . Mother, our family’s situation just got a little better off . We can’t let them drag us down . ”
Madam Zhang received an extra three hundred taels as income, but when she saw the money in her hands gradually decreasing every day, it was as if someone was cutting her heart over and over again . When she heard her eldest daughter-in-law’s words, she angrily pounded on the kang bed several times and said,
“What are we supposed to do then? Do you think we can just kick them out? Even if we disregard the fact that your father would definitely disagree, the villagers’ gossip and criticism alone would be enough to drown us!”
“But we can’t just waste all our money on them without anything in return!” Madam Li viciously wrung the rough-cloth handkerchief within her chubby hands, feeling frustrated .
Madam Zhang glanced at her and said, “What ideas do you have? Let me hear it…”
All the meat on Madam Li’s face squished together as she smiled and said, “My maiden family knows a trafficking matron , who does business with the wealthy families in town . She even has business with some of the rich people in the prefectural city . I heard that a wealthy merchant in town, the Zhou Family, wants to buy a batch of young girls… That trafficking matron has offered the high price of eight taels for the trade . ”
Madam Zhang lifted her brows, “You mean… we should sell their eldest daughter?” She pointed towards the direction of the second branch’s room .
“Who would want that unhealthy wretch, Xiaocao? Xiaolian is competent and well-groomed, so we can definitely sell her for a good price!” Madam Li replied with a crafty smile and narrowed her beady eyes, which had nearly disappeared into the wrinkles of fat in her face .
If they sold one of the useless brats, not only would they earn a few extra taels, but there would also be one less person to feed . Moreover, Xiaolian had a stubborn personality and was also the most disobedient . Without her, it would be even easier to control the second branch! Madam Zhang became interested in the idea…
In the early morning of the next day, Yu Xiaocao carried a bundle of firewood and followed behind Xiaolian . Her heart ached for the weak and small figure in front of her, who was nearly covered up by the mountain of firewood on her back . Thus, she would reach out her hand to help support the firewood on Xiaolian’s back from time to time . Little Shitou, who was also carrying a bundle of firewood, followed behind them .
Originally, Xiaolian had planned to gather firewood by herself, but Xiaocao and Little Shitou both expressed that they wanted to ‘share bliss and misfortune together’ . Thus, they went out to collect firewood together . It was currently the end of winter and the beginning of spring, so dried firewood could be readily found on the West Mountains at this time . Hence, the siblings had obtained a fruitful result this morning .
Yu Xiaolian, who had known how to take care of her younger siblings from an early age, took on the task of carrying most of the firewood . She only allowed her frail younger sister and younger brother to carry some firewood as a token of helping out . In her previous life, Yu Xiaocao had always taken care of her younger siblings, so she felt somewhat weird being taken care of now . She had repeatedly expressed that her health was fine and that she could carry more, but Xiaolian rejected her every time she made the suggestion .
“Eldest Sister, Second Sister, there’s a guest at home!” As soon as Little Shitou looked up, he saw Madam Li eagerly invite a colorfully dressed middle-aged woman into the courtyard . Thus, he curiously ran over .
Yu Xiaocao and Xiaolian looked at one another and saw the doubt within each other’s eyes . The woman was dressed in a satin jacket and had a golden hairpin on her head . However, normal villagers wouldn’t be able to afford these items . The Yu Family also didn’t have any relatives like this . So, who exactly was this person?
“Based on how Eldest Aunt fawns on her, could it be that she’s here for Brother Heizi?” Heizi, whose real name was Yu Ge, was already thirteen years old . In ancient times, he should be approaching a marriageable age . Yu Xiaocao couldn’t think of any other reasons for the snobby Madam Li to treat that woman as if she were her own mother .
“Xiaolian, I’ll go take a look!” After Father got injured, Yu Xiaocao had been worried and took care of him for five days straight without going out . It was seldom that they would have a guest, so this incident sparked her inner curiosity .
She jogged into the yard with the firewood on her back while Madam Zhang and Madam Li were happily welcoming the woman into the main house .
Hearing the movement, the woman stopped in her tracks and turned to look at her from head to toe . Her critical gaze, as if she was examining a piece of good that she had just received, made Yu Xiaocao feel extremely uncomfortable .
“Is she the one? She has a decent appearance, fair and clean . Just a little too thin!” Trafficker Zhuang twitched her mouth in a picky manner .
The Zhou Family in town had just released a batch of maidservants, who had reached marriageable age . Thus, they needed to buy twenty to thirty young girls . For the past several days, Trafficker Zhuang had been extremely busy due to this matter . The Zhou Family was a major client of hers, so she couldn’t mess up this deal .
Yesterday evening, someone came to inform her that there was a competent and honest young girl for sale at Dongshan Village . So, she hired a carriage early in the morning and rushed over . She hadn’t expected that the little girl would be so thin and small that she didn’t even look the age of eight or nine .
Madam Li evasively moved away after she made contact with Yu Xiaocao’s cautious gaze . She vaguely replied, “It’s not her, but her older sister . She’s very competent and can do most of the work at home! Her father suffered a serious injury and her mother is weak and sickly, so the family is in need of money . If not, we wouldn’t have been willing to do this!”
Trafficker Zhuang looked around the five-room residence, which was bright and spacious, and the fence in the yard, which was made of sun-dried mud bricks . She smirked inwardly as she thought: ‘Looking at this house, this family doesn’t seem like they’re so short of money for them to sell their children!’ But, she’s only here to do business, so it was none of her concern . She never interfered with the dirty matters in other people’s homes .
Yu Xiaocao wasn’t an ignorant child . She could feel that something was wrong based on Trafficker Zhuang’s examining gaze and Madam Li’s guilty expression . Thus, she asked with alert, “What are you going to do with Xiaolian?”
“Go, go, go! What is a child doing here when the adults are talking?! Go somewhere else to play!” Madam Zhang impatiently waved her hand, as if she were shooing away a little chick . After that, she turned to smile at Trafficker Zhuang and said, “Let’s talk inside, in the room…”
“How is it none of our business? If you guys are trying to scheme against our second branch, then of course it has something to do with me!” Yu Xiaocao shouted as her suspicions increased .
“Who talks to their elders like you? Is this how your mother teaches you? For the past eight or nine years, we’ve been raising you, feeding you, and even providing medication for you . Yet you grew up to be an unfilial child who dares to rudely contradict your own grandmother . We should have just let you die from your illness at that time!” Seeing the impatient expression on Trafficker Zhuang’s face, Madam Zhang grinded her teeth and screamed loudly .
Madam Liu heard the screaming from the kitchen and swiftly walked out . She pulled Yu Xiaocao behind herself and apologized repeatedly, “Mother, she’s still a young child who doesn’t know anything . Please don’t take a child’s actions to heart…”
Madam Zhang continued to shout arrogantly, “You’re the only one who thinks that this useless wretch is a treasure! You damned brat, go kneel in your room and reflect on yourself! You’re not allowed to eat breakfast today!!”
Yu Xiaolian came in with the heavy firewood on her back . When she heard Madam Zhang’s words, she quickly threw the firewood down and rushed to her younger sister . She stood in front of Xiaocao and said, “My younger sister was seriously ill right before the New Year . If she falls sick again, won’t you have to spend money for the medicine? Grandmother, I’m willing to receive the punishment in place of my sister!”
Trafficker Zhuang had experienced and encountered numerous situations before, so she immediately knew that the child’s grandmother and eldest aunt were planning on secretly selling the child without the parents’ knowledge . Trafficker Zhuang had always had a good reputation in Tanggu Town . Otherwise, she wouldn’t have so many customers of high social status . Thus, she naturally wouldn’t ruin her own reputation just for a young girl .
Trafficker Zhuang smiled at Xiaolian and praised her, “Well, you’re quite faithful and righteous . Although you’re somewhat tanned and thin, you will look decent in two years after growing up a little . When noble families buy maidservants, a good character is the one important quality that they look for . These two girls, one is clever and sensible, while the other is honest and trustworthy . Moreover, they look exactly the same . Old Lady of the Yu Family, if you sell both your granddaughters to me, I’ll give you double the price!”
Earlier, Madam Zhang had already heard Trafficker Zhuang say that an eight or nine year old girl would be worth five taels at most . If the price was doubled for two girls, then it would be twenty taels . Not only would she earn back the money that was spent for the second branch’s medical fees recently, but there was also some surplus . If she added that to the money Hunter Zhao got from selling the bear… Madam Zhang suddenly got so happy that she smiled until her eyes disappeared .
 Trafficking matron (牙婆) – a woman trafficking young girls as slaves, concubines, etc .