The alley where Xiao Hua lived was called the East Yuling Alley.
There were several dozen families living there. These were all decades old households, and they were all extremely familiar with each other. When a new, unfamiliar family moved in, they were naturally extremely curious.
But this new family kept their doors tightly shut, and never seemed to go out. They did see a woman go out to buy groceries once, but when she returned she closed the doors tightly behind her.
This was why Auntie Ma came to the door. It could be described as trying to get to know her neighbors, but also as trying to get some information about them.
Xiao Hua’s explanation to Auntie Ma was that she was a widow with two children. As for Chun Cao and Ding Xiang, one was her older sister and the other was her younger sister.
Without mentioning the sisters part, Ding Xiang and Chun Cao’s jaws already dropped when Xiao Hua said the word “widow”. Chun Cao was a little calmer than Ding Xiang because she knew long ago that this was madam’s planned disguise after leaving the estate. Now that she had two children, this disguise looked even more convincing.
But what about his highness? He got killed off just like that?
Only now did Chun Cao realize that women can be really ruthless when they were sulking.
Seeing two widows in one household, Auntie Ma felt sympathy for the young and old in the pavilion. She came over every few days to chat. When she saw Chun Cao and Ding Xiang struggle doing household chores, she even gave them a few pointers.
She also brought along her daughter-in-law, as well as some friendly young married women nearby as guests. After some back and forth, Xiao Hua’s group started getting to know the people living in the alley. When Ding Xiang went out for groceries, there would be people greeting her and some of the women would invite her to go along with them.
Only after Ding Xiang got to know these women a little more through grocery shopping together a few times did she realize that they saw her as a widow as well. Considering her age and her getup, Ding Xiang could only rub her nose and admit to it. Madam had become a widow, and now she had become one too.
Zhuo’er and Yi Yi got a few more playmates. They were all children who lived nearby. The oldest was six and the youngest was two or three. The little goofballs took the two of them out to play, and they got to know the other children living in the alley.
Xiao Hua and Ding Xiang didn’t feel at ease letting Zhuo’er and Yi Yi play outside. Every time, one of them would follow behind. After a few hints from the other families in the alley, they realized that those people weren’t any more at ease compared to them, but rather that there were so many people in the alley, and they would all help keep an eye of them.
Didn’t they notice none of them closed their gates? The adults would be doing their own things back home while keeping an eye on the playing children. Also, the older uncles and aunties from those households were idle, and would sit outside chatting while also helping keep watch.
There was a grandpa who lived in the alley called Old Chief Li. He was old and without any descendants. He lived by himself, and would sit outside his pavilion all day, only going back at night. If any of the children tried to run out of the alley, he would shoo them back inside.
At this point, Xiao Hua was able to feel at ease. She also learned to keep her gates open, letting the two children play outside in front of their pavilion.
A period of time passed like this. Not only Xiao Hua had more smiles on her face, but Chun Cao and Ding Xiang were the same way as well. Things were lively every day and the neighborhood was full of affection and friendship. Compared to life in the Jing Prince Estate, these were truly the days.
When meal time came, the entire alley would be filled with people yelling for their own children to come home and eat. At this time, someone from the small pavilion would call Zhuo’er and Yi Yi home to eat as well. Sometimes it was Xiao Hua, and other times it was Ding Xiang or Chun Cao.
Zhuo’er and Yi Yi were very popular amongst the group of children. First of all they were both good looking. The adults cherished them and the children their age also liked them. Secondly, the two of them weren’t like the other children, throwing a tantrum whenever things didn’t go their way. As time passed, children of all ages all enjoyed playing with the two.
Most importantly, Zhuo’er and Yi Yi had a very gentle mom. At least in the hearts of those children, she would never yell at people, and wouldn’t whip their butts. She would even give them some delicious cakes occasionally. If only their own moms were like her!
Therefore, every time Yi Yi and Zhuo’er came home for meals, there would always be a couple children tagging along.
“Big fatty is here? Come eat lunch at auntie’s.”
Big fatty was the son of a household in the alley that sold pork. He was five years old, and was very brawny from birth.
Ever since Yi Yi joined the group of little fellows, big fatty would always follow her around. He even told the group of children that Yi Yi was under his protection, and that he would beat up whomever dared to bully her.
When Chun Cao told Xiao Hua about this, she was extremely amused. Such a young child knew to take someone under his wing.
Only after did she find out that big fatty’s father, butcher Zhang, was a famous tough guy in the alley. Whenever he saw someone picking on the weak, he would say these words. Big fatty learned it from him.
“Thank you auntie.”
Seeing this young child formally express his gratitude, Xiao Hua didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
“No need, no need. Auntie is happy that big fatty can come eat at her place. Yi Yi and Zhuo’er weren’t able to eat by themselves in the past, and now they’ve learned to do so.”
Yi Yi was sitting on her little stool in front of a little table waiting for the food to be ready. Similarly, Zhuo’er also had his own little stool and table. Xiao Hua noticed that many children had this setup at home, and asked someone to make two sets for her.
It was truly useful. The little fellows sat at their own tables with their own bowls, and were able to more or less use a spoon and eat by themselves.
Of course, their movements were still rather untrained, and they got rice everywhere. However, Xiao Hua had put a cloth cover over them and it just needed to be removed after the meal.
This cover was also an idea from their neighbors, who were afraid their kids would get food on their clothes which would be hard to wash off. Xiao Hua had used a piece of cloth to make one for Zhuo’er and Yi Yi.
“Let auntie fill up your bowl with rice and pull up a stool for you. You can sit and eat with Yi Yi at the table.”
“Sure.” Big fatty said crisply. He pulled up the stool by himself and sat next to Yi Yi.
The three children each had a bowl of rice. Big fatty’s bowl was a little bigger. They each ate the same things: rice, vegetable soup, vegetables, fried eggs and a small piece of boneless chicken breast.
“Auntie, the food at your place is really good.”
“Come more often if you like it.” Xiao Hua beamed and said, giving Ding Xiang a look of praise.
Ding Xiang’s eyes contained a smile. Someone complimented her cooking. Even though he was just a child, it was still something to be happy about.
After eating, Xiao Hua fetched some water and used a towel to wipe the mouths and hands of the three children. She cleaned Zhuo’er and Yi Yi first before also doing the same for big fatty.
“Auntie, why don’t you be big fatty’s mom. Big fatty likes you.”
Zhuo’er quickly flicked his little gaze over and said, “Not allowed.”
Xiao Hua was a little embarrassed. She smiled and said: “This won’t do. Auntie is Zhuo’er and Yi Yi’s mom. I can’t be big fatty’s mom.”
“Really?” The little fellow was disheartened.
“That’s right.” Xiao Hua stroked his little head, “Big fatty has his own mom. You can’t randomly recognize other people as your mom.”
“But big fatty doesn’t have a mom.”
Xiao Hua was suddenly speechless, and looked at Chun Cao. Chun Cao nodded.
Xiao Hua’s expression became complicated, and she didn’t know what to say. “If big fatty likes the food here, you can come eat every day.”
The child was easily distracted, and hearing this, he no longer looked bothered and quickly smiled once more.
“Auntie, big fatty needs to go home now. Otherwise dad will give me a beating if he can’t find me later.”
“Then don’t run too fast or you’ll trip and fall.”
Xiao Hua’s days become smoother and smoother. Zhao Da on the other hand was at a loss.
It was because the people in the alley were too nosey. Every time he or his subordinates entered, there would always be someone asking this and that. After several times, there would be people who acted as though they were the census bureau, asking them where they lived and where they came from, and why they always came to the East Yuling alley. They told them not to linger around if they had no business here, or they would report it to the authorities.
Zhao Da was extremely embarrassed at being interrogated. He said that he had relatives there, but no one believed it.
Actually they couldn’t be blamed for not believing him. Zhao Da’s group was too strange. They were always in the alley but never doing anything, merely wandering around. They looked very suspicious. Many of the households with children suspected them of being child traffickers.
Therefore, whenever Zhao Da’s group came, there would always be people following them around. Sometimes it was aunties, sometimes it was uncles. They didn’t even let them off during meal times, following behind them while carrying their bowl.
Zhao Da was very helpless. He knew this couldn’t go on, and after putting a lot of thought into it, he paid a high price to purchase a small pavilion in the alley.
How high of a price?
Xiao Hua’s pavilion happened to be for sale since the entire family who lived there planned to move out. She bought it for a little over eighty taels at market value. Zhao Da’s pavilion had to be purchased at a high price to entice the owner to move. He spent a total of two hundred taels, which was over twice the market price.
It’s fine if it was expensive. His highness’s assignment was more important. Living a little closer made it easier to protect them.
Only after moving in did Zhao Da realize what life was currently like for his madam and his little master and mistress.
The madam wore common clothing, and looked like a normal commoner. Although she rarely went out, she would occasionally interact with her neighbors. The little young master and mistress were even more frightening, and were dressed like street rats. Not just this, they would run around playing with a bunch of dirty children. They either watched ants or dug up worms, making Zhao Da angrier the more he saw.
This news was naturally sent over to the estate.
It was worth mentioning that Zhao Da’s pavilion was diagonally across from Xiao Hua’s. It was extremely convenient to keep an eye on them.
With two new households moving in to the alley in a short period of time, Zhao Da’s group naturally fell under observation.
According to the aunties’ and uncles’ observations, this new household contained four or five men. None of them were married because there were no women. They didn’t do anything during the day, and rarely went out. Most of the time they sat in the courtyard with the doors wide open, and it wasn’t clear what they were up to.
The news spread quickly throughout the alley. Soon, even Xiao Hua heard about the weird household that moved across from her. Her neighbor Auntie Ma even especially warned Xiao Hua not to go out if she didn’t have to. She said that their household full of women should just call out if anything happened, and everyone would come over.
Xiao Hua didn’t show it on the surface, but she had some doubts in her heart. As expected, Ding Xiang came back the next day and confirmed that it was Zhao Da’s group living there. Xiao Hua’s expression became inexplicably gloomy. Ding Xiang and Chun Cao didn’t dare make a sound.
But since they had already moved in, could she still prevent them from following her? Xiao Hua could only pretend nothing had happened.
After living there a few days, Zhao Da quickly understood the characteristics of the people in the alley. He also understood that his group of people truly seemed weird. Normal people weren’t like this.
In his helplessness, he could only force himself to interact with others. He would occasionally bring out some meat or alcohol, and share some with the men in the alley. During their drinking, he would reveal a few things about his family.
For example, he mentioned how they were all brothers whose mother passed away. Their group of brothers were hired escorts for caravans, and normally waited to receive new commissions during the day. It wasn’t that they refused to marry, but due to their special occupation, and their poor and ugly appearance, no one was willing to be with them.
Zhao Da spoke rather pitifully, and soon won the sympathy of the men in the alley. Therefore, the women also found out about their situation. It seems they had truly misunderstood them, and thought the worst of these good people.
Thereafter, some men in the alley would occasionally seek out Zhao Da and his brothers for a drink, and even let them know that their women back home would help them keep an eye out.
Keep an eye out for what?
Only after Zhao Da lay on the kiln that night did he understand what they meant.
Spoilers in notes below. Also reminder that when author says “tomorrow” it may not be in the next chapter. Our release schedules probably don’t match up.
The Jing Prince is really good at keeping his composure, so he won’t be going over that quickly. However, his wife did become a “widow”, so who knows if he can really keep his composure. This author remembered everyone’s suggestion from way back when to make her a widow.
Well, little Jing will come tomorrow because someone will come to our widow’s door with particular attention. Cough cough….feels like Xiao Hua is really mean.
To the readers who are worried the children will suffer, no need to worry. Life isn’t actually that hard for them. After all, they have her savings, and don’t need to worry about food or clothing. Furthermore, the two are only around two years old, and are only just forming their memories. They don’t understand if their food or clothes are good or bad. They would rather have some playmates their age and properly play for a bit….
Of course, whether their dad would feel heartache over this, we won’t worry about that….