“It’s fine, it’s fine. It’s good that you guys came back safely. How was your trip to the county today?” Madam Liu-Zhao asked.
Mu Yangling nodded. “It went well.”
As soon as she finished speaking, Mu Shi pushed the cart forward. Mu Yangling quickly took out a piece of pork and a small bag of sweets from the cart and stuffed them into her aunt’s hands. “Aunt, this is for you. I bought some sweets for my cousins.”
Madam Liu-Zhao quickly pushed it away. “I can’t accept this. You should give it to your brother. It’s not the new year yet, don’t spoil them. Take this meat back to your pregnant mother.”
Although the Mu Family did not lack meat, wild pigs were still different from domestic pigs, for the latter had a much higher fat content. On the other hand, it was rare to see meat in the Liu Family unless it was a festival.
“There’s more for my mother here. This is for Great-uncle. Please accept it.” Mu Yangling pushed it back. They had specially bought more for their family.
Shu Wanniang said gently, “Cousin-in-law, just accept it. It’s to show appreciation for you accompanying us today.”
Mu Shi also said, “We still have more here.”
After thinking for a moment, Madam Liu-Zhao accepted it. With a hearty laugh, she said, “Then go back quickly. The dew is heavy tonight. Don’t catch a cold.”
Mu Yangling responded. Seeing that her aunt had turned around and left, she carried her brother onto the cart and held her mother’s arm. “Let’s go home quickly.”
Little Bowen sat on the cart excitedly with a red face and bright eyes as he gazed ahead. He shouted, “Let’s go home!”
When they got home, Mu Yangling went into the house first and lit the oil lamp. Only then did Shu Wanniang slowly enter the house.
“I’m going to cook. Bowen, come and help me start the fire.” Mu Yangling took the vegetables from the cart and entered the kitchen.
Shu Wanniang heaved a sigh of relief and said to her husband, “You’re finally back. I was afraid that you wouldn’t be able to make it back tonight.”
“I already said that I would definitely rush back. You worried too much.” Mu Shi helped her sit down on a chair and said, “It’s dark and windy outside. You and Bowen shouldn’t have gone out since you two aren’t in good health.”
Looking at the things they bought, Shu Wanniang saw that there were also two bolts of fabric inside. She asked, “Why did you buy fabric?”
“The leather goods sold well this time, so I bought things with the spare change. It’s been a long time since you and the children made new clothes, so I bought two bolts of fabric. Later, you can make new clothes for the children and a set for yourself.” After Mu Shi took out five taels of silver to pay the tax, there were still 43 taels of silver left. Thus, he simply took out three taels of silver to buy some stuff and only brought back the remaining 40 taels.
In the kitchen, Mu Yangling stood and thought for a while. In the end, she stir-fried a dish of chives and scrambled eggs. Then, she cut up pork, cabbage, vermicelli, and other vegetables and stewed them in a pot.
Looking at his sister’s actions dazedly, Little Bowen protested, “Mother doesn’t cook like this.”
Mu Yangling glared at him and said, “It’s good enough to have something to eat. Anyway, it’s not bad.”
Pouting, Little Bowen said softly, “But it doesn’t taste good either.”
However, his sister was too strong, so Little Bowen’s protests were ineffective. In the end, Mu Yangling brought out a pot of stew.
Shu Wanniang had just tidied up the things that Mu Shi had bought. When she saw the two dishes on the dining table, she suddenly felt helpless. “Ah Ling, from tomorrow onwards, you have to learn culinary skills from me seriously. Otherwise, what are you going to do when you get married in the future?”
Mu Yangling said nonchalantly, “In the future, I’ll just marry someone who can cook.”
Shu Wanniang tapped her forehead and said, “You’re really shameless. No matter what, you have to learn some culinary skills.”
Little Bowen nodded vigorously. “Otherwise, other than Father and me, no one will eat your cooking in the future.”
Mu Yangling was unconvinced. “This is home-cooked food. I think it’s quite delicious, neither salty nor bland. What’s wrong with moderate-tasting food?”
“But they all have the same taste.” Little Bowen shouted. “Sister, no matter what ingredients you use, they all have the same taste.”
Seeing that he was shouting aggrievedly, Mu Yangling decided not to hold it against him. She pretended not to hear him and sat down to eat.
Pouting, Little Bowen looked at his father and mother. Shu Wanniang promised, “Mother will cook tomorrow. Just make do with this today.”
Only then did Little Bowen snort and pick up his chopsticks.
After dinner, Mu Yangling took out the candy she bought for Little Bowen and said, “I’ll give you two every day. It’s enough for you to eat for a month.”
Little Bowen swallowed his saliva and pestered Mu Yangling. “Sister, give me more.”
“You have to think carefully. If you eat more now, you’ll finish it soon.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Little Bowen could only push the paper bag back reluctantly. “Then help me hide it well.”
Mu Yangling took out a candy and stuffed it into his mouth, then smiled and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll definitely hide it well for you. Other than me, even Father won’t be able to find it.”
Little Bowen was very assured about this. His parents would certainly not be able to find things that his sister meant to hide.
The family sat together to rest and chat. Only then did Mu Yangling have the time to ask her father, “Father, why did you give Owner Zhang five taels of silver as tax today? Didn’t you only have to pay 1 tael 600 copper coins?”
“Owner Zhang introduced us to the itinerant merchants, so we have to express our gratitude,” Mu Shi said with a smile.
“Then you could have given it later.”
Mu Shi smiled slightly. Although his daughter understood the hurdles, she was still not tactful enough. He said, “That would be too obvious. No one knows better than Owner Zhang how much tax money I’m supposed to pay. By giving him five taels of silver, he naturally knew that I was trying to please him. If I paid 1 tael 600 copper coins in tax, then took out five taels of silver separately, it’d have been too blatant. Ah Ling, you have to remember that some things are best done quietly. If you are too indiscreet about it, you’d appear snobbish instead.”
Shu Wanniang looked at her husband with trust in her eyes.
Mu Yangling looked at her rough-looking father and then at her mother, who was smiling gently at the side. For the first time, she understood why a well-bred young lady would willingly live in the countryside with her father, with no resentment in her heart.
In the past nine years, she might not have understood her father.
Mu Shi calmly accepted his daughter’s admiring gaze and asked, “I was about to ask you too. How did you become acquainted with Young Master Qi and Young Master Fan?”
He would accompany his daughter whenever she left the village, thus he knew everyone his daughter knew. Hence, he did not understand when his daughter had the chance to meet those two noble young masters.
“I met them yesterday when I was hunting in the mountains. They got lost in the mountains and must have been hungry for a long time. So, I caught a wild rabbit and pheasant for them and pointed them in the right direction. Who knew that they would run into us today and even help us?”
“See, those who do good will be rewarded.” Shu Wanniang said gently, “If you siblings are in a position to help others in the future, try your best to help them and be kind to them, understand?”
Mu Yangling and Little Bowen nodded in agreement.
“Alright, go to sleep quickly. Tomorrow, Father will go into the mountains to hunt some prey and send them to the Wafting Fragrance Eatery in town. Ah Ling, you’ve been traveling all day today. Sleep a little longer tomorrow.”
Mu Yangling cheered and ran to the kitchen to boil water, then take a shower, before going to sleep.