Seeing that she was about to drool, Mu Yangling waved her hand in front of her eyes and chuckled. “Hungry? I cook very quickly. Do you have pickled vegetables at home?”
Blushing, Ma Xiulan felt ashamed of how stupid she must be looking right now. She replied softly, “We have pickled vegetables at home. Grandma marinated a lot.”
“That’s perfect. Let’s stew the pheasant with pickled vegetables. It’d be even better if there’s potatoes.”
Ma Xiulan hurriedly said, “We have potatoes at home too.” But why hadn’t she heard that wild pheasant had to be stewed with pickled vegetables and potatoes?
Of course, Ma Xiulan had never heard of it because it was invented by Mu Yangling. Her cooking philosophy had always been to add some pickled vegetables to remove the fishy smell of pheasants, because she wasn’t fond of ginger. As for potatoes, not only were they delicious, they were also incredibly filling. In addition, they served to absorb the oil.
Mu Yangling said, “Go get the potatoes and pickled vegetables. I’ll boil water to remove the pheasant’s feathers.”
Ma Xiulan got anxious. “Cousin, let me do it. You’re a guest.”
Mu Yangling waved her hand and said nonchalantly, “You’re still young. Besides, I’m not a guest. Hurry up and go. Otherwise, there won’t be a delicious lunch waiting for your grandmother when she comes back.”
Ma Xiulan had no choice but to go to the vegetable garden to pluck potatoes while Mu Yangling went to the kitchen to boil water.
Madam Ma-Zhang, who was secretly paying attention from afar, twitched her lips when she saw that Ma Xiulan had only plucked two potatoes. The guest was stingy, and so was the host. She decided it was not worthwhile to freeload this lunch, and that she might as well eat at home.
She turned around and left.
Mu Yangling and Ma Xiulan did not know that the two of them had secretly successfully repelled someone who had wanted to freeload.
Mu Yangling had always been a fast worker, so by the time Ma Xiulan ran back, water was already boiling on the stove and she had even fetched water to clean the kitchen.
Ma Xiulan looked at her in a daze. Seeing this, Mu Yangling took out the paper bag containing the candy, opened it, picked up a candy, and stuffed it into her mouth. She stuffed the rest into her hand and said, “This is for you and your older sister. Hide it quickly.”
Ma Xiulan said timidly, “This… Cousin, you should eat it.”
“I have more at home. My parents asked me to bring it to you. Hide it quickly and don’t let anyone outside see it.”
Ma Xiulan grabbed the paper bag tightly and looked at Mu Yangling with eyes as bright as stars. “Thank you, Cousin.” Then, she turned around and ran back to her room to hide the candy.
Seeing that her face was red with excitement when she came out of the room, Mu Yangling looked away and said, “Where do you keep your rice? Go measure it and cook. The boiling water is almost ready. I’ll help you deal with the four wild animals.”
Mu Shi was afraid that Great-aunt wouldn’t eat the food even if she brought it over, so he specially instructed Mu Yangling to help them clean it up. This way, they wouldn’t be able to sell it and could only eat it themselves.
Moreover, the rabbit skin could be sold separately. A complete rabbit skin could be sold for eight copper coins. Mu Yangling had learned how to peel the skin from Mu Shi, and her skills were not inferior to the butcher in town. Pinching the two dead rabbits, she used a pair of scissors to cut an opening on their heads before skillfully peeling the skin down their backs.
In no time, a complete rabbit skin appeared in her hand.
Mu Yangling smiled and washed it before drying it on a rock in the courtyard. She said to the dazed Ma Xiulan, who was squatting on the ground and washing pickled vegetables, “This rabbit skin is good stuff. After you dry it, sell it to a butcher in town. One piece can be sold for eight copper coins. If the fur is dressed, you can sell it for 12 copper coins.”
Ma Xiulan’s eyes lit up. “Then, then can you help us dress it?”
Stunned, Mu Yangling said, “Your family doesn’t have the tools, and I’m not very good at it…” The most important thing was that if she dressed the fur, Great-aunt would definitely stuff it into her hands and make her bring it back. This was also why Mu Shi wanted his daughter to skin the two rabbits after bringing them over. He knew his aunt too well. She was a woman who was unwilling to owe favors and was also competitive by nature. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have not gone back to beg her brothers and nephew when her life was so difficult.
Ma Xiulan was only slightly disappointed, but then she quickly cheered up.
Since an egg cost one copper coin, eight copper coins meant eight eggs. How much would two rabbit skins fetch? In any case, it could definitely be exchanged for many eggs.
Ma Xiulan moved even faster. Not only did she wash and cut the pickled vegetables, but she also peeled and cut the potatoes.
On the other side, Mu Yangling also removed the feathers of the two pheasants. She placed one in a bucket and iced it with well water while cutting the other.
“You can keep this one for dinner. Go and start the fire now. It’s almost time for lunch. Your grandmother and sister should be back soon, right?”
Ma Xiulan looked up at the sun and nodded fiercely. “They should be back soon.”
Madam Ma-Liu and her eldest granddaughter were harvesting in the fields. It was the autumn harvest now. Although their family did not have much land, because only the old grandmother and weak granddaughter could work, they were very far behind.
Feeling dizzy from the sun, Madam Ma-Liu looked up at her eldest granddaughter and saw her lowering her head to harvest the grain crops in front of her. She couldn’t help but purse her lips.
With her health deteriorating, she did not know how long she could live. Her eldest granddaughter was only nine years old, but because of malnutrition, she looked to be only six or seven years old. If she died, one could imagine what would happen to the two children.
It would be great if one of the two children was a boy. Then, the clan would definitely help her raise the child.
Madam Ma-Liu shook her head. Her grandson had died more than four years ago.
“Alright, let’s go back for lunch first. We’ll come back in the afternoon.” Madam Ma-Liu called her eldest granddaughter and calculated in her heart. “We should be done in two days.”
Ma Xiuhong put down her scythe, straightened her back, and walked over calmly. “I still have to carry it out for threshing.”
Madam Ma-Liu sighed. “Let’s take it slow. I just hope it doesn’t rain.” As the grandmother was old and the granddaughter was young, at most, they could only carry half a load out each time. The two granddaughters could only work together to carry a basket. Each harvest would take about 10 days, but it would take them four days to carry the loads out.
Because Madam Ma-Liu was afraid that someone would steal her grains, she slept in the fields with the blanket every night. She wondered how much longer she would live.
The two of them packed up and walked home. When they passed by the threshing floor, they bumped into Madam Ma-Zhang, who was also going home for dinner.
Smiling, Madam Ma-Zhang said, “Fourth Aunt, why are you only back now? There’s a guest at your house today. You should hurry back and take a look.”
Madam Ma-Liu frowned. “Who could possibly visit?”
“Aiyo, I heard that it’s your grandniece. She carried such a big basket over.”
Madam Ma-Liu opened her mouth slightly and tightened her grip on her eldest granddaughter’s hand. Quickening her pace, she said, “Thank you for telling me.”
“You’re welcome, you’re welcome.” Madam Ma-Zhang smiled.
The person beside her could not help but lower his voice and ask, “Did Fourth Aunt’s grandniece really carry a basket to visit her?”
Looking pleased with herself, Madam Ma-Zhang replied, “Why would I lie to you? But that basket is full of leaves. From the sounds of it, she came because her mother wanted to eat Fourth Aunt’s pickled vegetables.”
Many people in the surroundings pricked up their ears to listen. When they heard this, they shed tears of sympathy for Madam Ma-Liu. How many years had it been since any relatives came to her house? Now, someone came and it was to take advantage of her.
Someone frowned and felt injustice for Madam Ma-Liu. “Fourth Aunt Ma is already suffering enough. Why are they still taking advantage of her?”
“Maybe it’s a relative who leads an even tougher life.”